Dora Levy Mossanen was born in Israel and moved to Iran when she was nine. Her family was forced to leave Iran at the onset of the Islamic Revolution. They eventually settled in Los Angeles. She earned a Bachelor’s Degree in English Literature from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) and a Master’s of Professional Writing degree from the University of Southern California (USC).
Dora is the bestselling author of the widely acclaimed novels Harem, Courtesan, The Last Romanov, and Scent of Butterflies, translated into numerous languages, and is the recipient of the prestigious San Diego Editors’ Choice Award. She has been featured in various publications and media outlets, including Sh’ma, The Los Angeles Times, KCRW, Radio Iran, Radio Russia, JWT, and numerous television programs. In 2010, Dora was accepted as contributor to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference.
She writes for the Huffington Post and reviews fiction for the Jewish Journal. Dora’s widely anticipated novel Scent of Butterflies was published in January of 2014 and is now available online and in bookstores.
I had the chance to interview Dora recently:
When did you move to the United States?
I came to the United States for a short visit with my daughters in 1978, unaware that fate had other plans in store for me and that Los Angeles would become home.
What is your education and background?
I have a Bachelor’s Degree in English Literature from University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) and a Master’s in Professional Writing from University of Southern California (USC).
When and how did you become an author?
I became an author by chance, since I once dreamed of becoming a reporter. But at the end of the first semester at the USC School of Journalism, my professor looked me straight in the eyes and announced that I’d better forget about becoming a reporter because I’d end up being a lousy one – not her exact words but not far from what she meant to convey. I didn’t have the required chutzpah, she added, to shove the microphone in someone’s face at the moment of tragedy and ask difficult questions. I was offended at the time, although in my heart I knew she was right. Having delivered her verdict, she suggested I apply to the Master’s of Professional Writing, since my talents lay elsewhere. The rest is history. My thesis ended up being my first novel Harem, and for many years now, I can’t imagine doing anything but writing.
Where do you find inspiration for your novels?
My richest source of inspiration is the Persian community and culture, as well as my colorful extended family, my great grandparents, grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles. In addition, I’ve been blessed with an invaluable source of knowledge and history in my late grandfather, Dr. Habib Levy, a renowned historian, who wrote The Comprehensive History of the Jews of Iran. The Outset of the Diaspora. He was the one who introduced me to Mahaleh, the Jewish Quarter, recounted his experiences as the dentist of Reza Shah, and what he went through as the first Jewish man in Reza Shah’s army.
I am also inspired by everyday life, both the ordinary and extraordinary. Events others might not notice, or dismiss as unimportant, end up becoming rich fodder for my stories. Having said that, books remain a constant source of inspiration I cannot do without.
How long do you usually spend on each project?
As long as necessary until I am certain I’ve accomplished what I set out to accomplish, which is to create the best work I am capable of producing. The time I spent on each of my novels varies. Courtesan took me three years. Scent of Butterflies took me nearly 20 years. Why it took me so long to write Scent of Butterflies is an interesting life story that space here won’t allow.
What advice do you have for the next generation, particularly for aspiring writers?
Become a writer only if this is your passion and you must write and there’s nothing else in the world you’d rather do, because writing can be difficult and disappointing and fraught with rejection. But if this is your passion, the rewards can be wonderful. In order to succeed, make sure to get your stubborn backside on that chair in front of your computer and keep it there for a few hours a day, no matter the lure of the outside world. Be disciplined, work hard, and persevere. Be engaged with the world, and you’ll find inspiration in the most unexpected places. Take in and digest every unfolding detail because life is the skeleton around which your stories are built.