Thursday, August 6, 2009

Mahbod Seraji's "Rooftops of Tehran"

Born in Iran, author Mahbod Seraji came to the United States at the age of 19 and settled in Iowa, where he earned his bachelors, masters and Doctorate degrees from the University of Iowa. He currently lives in the San Francisco Bay area, where he works as a management consultant.

His newly released debut novel is Rooftops of Tehran.

Here he shares his tale about taking the first step in seeing a novel adapted for the movies--getting it into the hands of a powerful Hollywood player:
Marshal’s question of who should play my main characters in Rooftops of Tehran, if the book was ever turned into a movie was intriguing to me for a good reason. When an Advance Reader Copy of Rooftops was sent to me to proofread, I took it along on a trip to Iran, aiming to use the painfully protracted time on the plane to complete my assignment from my editor. Of course I have to admit that I loved holding my new book in my hands, feeling it, smelling it, looking at the title on the cover, at my name. My book was published, a childhood dream had come true – I couldn’t possibly part with it so soon after receiving it in the mail.

On the morning of my return from Iran, I was in the first class lounge of the Airport in Tehran, when I heard a loud group enter the room led, much to my surprise, by Annette Bening, dressed in a long overcoat, a pair of black jeans and a black scarf covering her blond hair. She was smiling, and looked confident with the commanding presence of an Oscar winning actor. She was walking toward the coffee counter accompanied by Alfre Woodard and Sid Ganis, all of them in Iran on a cultural exchange program according to the papers. It’s funny how a person like me pretends to be unaffected when in the presence of such big name celebrities.

A few minutes later we all boarded the plane. Annette and Sid sat two rows in front of me. Breakfast was served after takeoff, and the lights in the cabin were dimmed, and Sid fell asleep right away, while Annette started reading a book.

I wish she was reading Rooftops of Tehran,” I thought with a smile, since my book had not even been released yet. But then a thought flashed through my head which I fervently began to dismiss. “No, this is my first copy,” I bickered bitterly.

“But you have another one at home,” my alter ego argued back.

“This copy is special to me!”

“Oh, get real. Write something inside the cover and hand it to her.”

Suddenly, Annette stood up. She carefully stepped over the stretched body of Sid, mindful not to wake him, and walked to the bathroom by the cockpit.

“Write it,” the bad guy inside me screamed again.

I quickly scribbled something and rushed up to her as she came out of the bathroom and started to open the overhead compartment where she had stored her carry on. “Can I help you with your luggage Ms. Bening?”

“Shush…,” she pointed to the almost lifeless body of Sid. “He’s asleep,” she whispered.

The look on her face was not friendly, and I immediately felt like running back to my seat, but it was too late. “I’ve written a book,” I mumbled. “Here, can you take it?” My voice cracked. I knew I was blowing it. “I mean, may I give it to you?” I corrected myself.

“Yes,” she whispered, a tiny splash of a smile sneaked up to her face. She took the book, and I rushed toward the bathroom, sick with nausea. I’d given my first book away and in such a disgraceful clumsy manner. She would never read it. I wouldn’t read a book written by a guy who sounded like me.

I took an Ambien in the bathroom, and went back to my seat, avoiding eye contact with the person in row 2 seat A. The damn Ambien was no match for my crowded disturbed mind and for the feeling of melancholy that had suddenly engulfed me.

We landed in London several hours later, and she and her gang walked out of the plane in front of me. I was feeling miserable. I don’t know why. It certainly wasn’t because I had given the first copy of my book away (after all, I had another one at home, as my alter ego had reminded me so forcefully).

When I got home I shared the story with my wife, who excitedly assured me that this was nothing short of a miracle, and that soon people from Hollywood would be calling to ask my opinion on casting Ahmed, Pasha and Zari, my main characters. So many possibilities…. We talked for a long time and I have to admit I enjoyed the exploration and the dreaming process.

A few weeks later I received an email titled Rooftops of Tehran from a young woman named Annie, who worked at Heathrow’s First Class Lounge. She said that she had found my book on a table - It had been left there for a long time, and no one had claimed it. So she had taken it home, read it and fallen in love with it. She had shared it with her sister, Naf, who also loved it, and now the two of them, my biggest fans in the UK, were telling all their friends to read the story. Annie added that she knew the book was not released, and was more than willing to mail it back to me. I sat back in my chair and speculated on what could have happened for a long time. Had Annette dumped my book? I began to laugh, and called my agent, my publisher and my wife and for some reason we all found the story utterly humorous. Then, I wrote Annie a note and thanked her for her wonderful email, for her generosity in reaching out to me, and for her gracious offer to send the book back, but I begged her to keep it till I could send her signed copies of the actual release.

Since that day I have been thinking a lot about how the world is full of lovely people like Annie and Naf, but I haven’t thought at all about who could play my characters in a movie.
Learn more about the book and author at Mahbod Seraji's website.

--Marshal Zeringue