The Equation for Why blog series is about the idea of ikigai, or “the happiness of always being busy”. In it, I talk to inspiring women writers who honour their joy, one word and one story at a time.
Who is Deborah Rodriguez?
Deborah Rodriguez is the author of the international bestsellers The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul and Return to the Little Coffee Shop of Kabul. She has also written two memoirs: The Kabul Beauty School, about her life in Afghanistan, and The House on Carnaval Street, on her experiences following her return to America. She spent five years teaching and later directing the Kabul Beauty School, the first modern beauty academy and training salon in Afghanistan.
Deborah also owned the Oasis Salon and the Cabul Coffee House, and is the founder of the nonprofit organization Oasis Rescue, which aims to teach women in post-conflict and disaster-stricken areas the art of hairdressing.
She currently lives in Mazatlán, Mexico, where she owns Tippy Toes salon and spa.
Deborah's latest novel, Island on the Edge of the World, is out now with Penguin Random House. Check out my review here.
Why "Island on the Edge of the World"? Why was this the story you needed or wanted to tell?
Haiti had been on my radar for a few years as a story location, but like most I knew very little about the country other than the earthquake, Vodou, and the fact that it's the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. It wasn't until my research partner had been hearing a lot about Haiti from her old college roommate that things changed. She said, “Deb, we need to talk.” And that is when she told me about her conversations, and told me that I had to watch this shocking documentary called Poverty Inc. I was horrified at the unintentional harm that was happening in the name of providing aid, and the orphanage situation sickened me. Honestly, it wasn't about me telling the story, it was about the story wanting to be told.
I usually ask authors about how they came to writing, and how they discovered that writing was their purpose—their "why"—in life, but I sense from your own story that perhaps writing is a way to express and explore other callings in life, around humanitarian and charitable work. Am I on the right track? Can you talk me through how and why you write, and your relationship with writing?
You are spot on. I am a humanitarian who just happens to like to tell stories. Six books in, and I still have a hard time thinking of my self as a writer. I feel more like a storyteller. I love that I have the opportunity to tell a story that can move a reader in a way that could alter their view of the world in a positive way. I have always enjoyed and respected different cultures, religions, and ways of life, and now am able to experience that via writing books that take place in these fabulous locations. My relationship with writing can be complicated. Sometimes, my head is in control, and other times it’s my emotions running the show. There are times when I put my fingers on the keyboard and nothing comes out. I am looking at an empty page. And then there are those moments when I really think I nailed it, but when I reread, it’s just nonsense. When it comes right down to it, I am a verbal storyteller. I like to hear the story before I try to get it down.
Why is it important for you to connect with others through stories, particularly fiction but also your non-fiction books?
Telling stories just feels natural to me. I was born into a family of hairdressers, and storytelling is in our blood. I have entertained my clients for years with my stories, so now the audience is just a bit bigger, and I don't have to stand as long on my feet while I’m telling them.
What are your writing routines or rituals?
I would say that my writing rituals and my life are a bit unconventional. I burn the midnight oil and do lots of my writing at night. I don't sleep much. My family has a small spa in Mexico, and I love being in the spa during the day. But I feel my most creative at night.
My book development process is rather fun. I get a storyline in my head, and then work on finding an interesting location. Then I pack my bags and head out the door. I interview everyone and anyone who will talk to me, and absorb everything around me. And if all works out, I come back home, and test out the story on all the clients at the spa. It is then that the writing begins.
Thank you for the work you do with women all around the world; it is hopeful and humbling, and an inspirational example of someone living their "why". I'm interested how your experience with women all over the world might shape your answer to my last question! What advice might you give to women who are looking for their own purpose in life, be it writing or something else? How can they find it and what tools can they use?
This answer may surprise you. About three years ago, I thought I might write a book in which my main character would be a hypnotist. I started researching everything I could about hypnosis, and realised that my stereotypical image of a hypnotist was not correct. I didn't feel I could really get into the head of a hypnotist without having more knowledge. The more I researched, the more fascinated I became in the process. I decided, in the name of research, to attend a hypnosis academy. Long story short, I fell in love with the art of change through hypnosis. I now work with many women, helping them search inside themselves to find their purpose, to feel they are enough, and are worthy. I can’t tell you how life changing all this has been for me. I have learned that the answers we need for our purpose are always right inside us, and sometimes we just need a guide to help find it. I love being that guide.