An old crone, a space witch, and a boy-child walk into a gom jabbar…

This article was originally posted on my newsletter. Subscribe here for a free Bulari Saga novella.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before…

“In the week before their departure to Arrakis, when all the final scurrying about had reached a nearly unbearable frenzy, an old crone came to visit the mother of the boy, Paul.”

I first read those words in high school, when my drama teacher, Mr. Lemieux, handed me a worn paperback and said, “I think you’ll like this one.” 

Frank Herbert’s Dune opens with mystery and promise as young Paul Atreides overhears a conversation between his mother and the visiting Reverend Mother: What’s a gom jabbar? he wonders. What will he find on Arrakis? Who is this woman who calls and dismisses his mother like a common serving wench?

“Paul fell asleep to dream of an Arrakeen cavern, silent people all around him moving in the dim light of glowglobes….”

Paul’s fear and excitement and anticipation for his family’s move to Arrakis immediately ignited my own curiosity as a teenager.

What new world was I about to explore?

I’ve re-read Dune a half-dozen times over the years since I blazed through that first paperback in highschool. It’s a familiar world now, and one I love re-immersing myself in.

I grew up in the desert. I love the desert. And it would be a lie to say that my desert planet, Bulari, wasn’t in part inspired by Arrakis.

Dune was also my first exposure to “Middle Eastern culture.”

I put that in quotes, because of course Dune is science fiction set far in the future, and the culture in question is “Fremen.” As a teen, I assumed that the elements of Middle Eastern culture in the series were simply seeds from which Herbert had grown a unique world.

(Of course, much of what I thought was unique was simply lifted wholesale from Arab culture. It was my unfamiliarity with the Middle East that made me feel like Herbert was a genius for creating Arrakis.)

With the movie coming out later this month — (I AM SO EXCITED!!) — there’s been a lot of criticism of the story that has me feeling contemplative about my love for it.

Herbert’s storytelling, characters, and vision are epic — but I can hold my unabashed love for the story alongside my desire to listen and learn. 

After all, Dune was written by a white man nearly 80 years ago. Fundamentally, the story is a white savior myth, and no matter how badly I want to see an excellent adaptation of the source material, any adaptation will be made using problematic bones.

A few years after I read Dune for the first time, terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Centers, and that curious sci-fi word, “jihad,” was all over the news.

I realized that I knew absolutely nothing about the Middle East or Arab culture despite the fact that it felt familiar after years of drinking in the lavish descriptions of Frank Herbert’s Arrakis. 

I went to college and took Middle Eastern studies classes. I sought out Arab authors and started learning from them. I tried to expose myself to art, stories, writing by Arab creators.

Earlier this month, I thought I might reread Dune in anticipation for watching the movie. Instead, I decided to spend time seeking out other voices that will help me broaden my perspective.

What I’m hearing is an overwhelming disappointment that despite being heavily influenced by Arab culture, there are no Middle Eastern or North African actors cast in main Fremen roles (like Chani and Stilgar).

“The great irony of the new adaptation is that it seeks to criticize exploitation,” write Laila Ujayli and Zaina Ujayli for Inkstick Media, “while perpetuating cultural exploitation in its casting. In a film critiquing resource exploitation from the desert, inhabited by indigenous peoples who wear Maghrebi clothes, speak in Arabic words, and are manipulated by a parody of Islamic theology, Arab actors will speak no lines denouncing imperialism or exploitation.”

(FFS, Hollywood, we’ve been over whitewashing casts a dozen times in the past few years alone!!!)

The cast looks amazing. But as a viewer, I can’t help but be disappointed myself that I won’t get a chance to experience a richer version informed by the perspective of Arab actors.

As much as I’m excited for this movie, it’s a white man’s adaptation of a 80-year-old work by a white man. I read science fiction to explore new worlds and meet people with different lived experiences than my own. 

And as comforting as it is to revisit old favorites, I always want to bring new perspectives with me on the journey.

Am I going to see the movie later this month?

I’m going to go watch the hell out of it.

(I am 100% team “Would betray my ancient order of space witches for this photo of Oscar Isaac.”)

And I’m also going to make sure I’m doing the work of listening to Arab creators who are telling their own stories, rather than letting Frank Herbert and Denis Villeneuve define the narrative.

Cover photo by Jimmy Larry on Unsplash

[Podcast] A conversation with Bookpod

I love to read, but I don’t have a ton of time, which is why I’m always looking for book recommendations. If I’m going to read something, I want it to be good!

That’s why I’m so excited to tell you about this new book recommendation podcast that’s hitting earbuds near you.

(Is that a thing I can say? Earbuds near you? Guess I’m going for it.)

Logo for BookPod: the Indie Filter Podcast, a book recommendation podcast. Image is headphones on a book.

Bookpod: the Indie Filter Podcast, is specifically aimed at helping readers find indie authors they love. Ben and Sarah Nadler read indie-pubbed books to find their favorites, then interview authors to talk about their books.

They alternate between author interview episodes and book recommendation episodes.

I know Sarah through a local weekly write-in we both attend, so I was thrilled when she asked me to come on the show. Our conversation is featured on episode four of Bookpod. (You can listen to it here.)

In the episode, we talk a bit about my personal story, how I got into writing, the importance of finding a good writing community, and my inspirations for the Bulari Saga. It was a super fun conversation.

One of the cool things about Bookpod is that each author reads a bit from their book. So if you listen to the end, you’ll get a little sample of Double Edged (the first book in the Bulari Saga), as read by yours truly. Apologies for not being a professional narrator, but I guess that’s part of the charm. 🙂

I know Ben and Sarah have a good collection of author interviews recorded, so I’m really excited to see where this podcast goes as they keep releasing new episodes.

If you’re looking for a new book recommendation podcast, give Bookpub a shot!

(And if you have reader podcast recommendations of your own, leave ’em in the comments. I’m always looking for new podcasts to put in my earbuds.)

(PS. You can find other interviews with me on my press page.)

How — and Why — to Recommend a Title to Your Library

As a child, I devoured books.

In the summers, I sucked them down like Otter Pops from my grandmother’s freezer, tucked in the crook of tree branches or sitting on swingsets or lounging on the couch or under my blankets at night.

During the school year I carried them onto the playground or read them under my desk thinking the teacher wouldn’t notice. My fifth grade teacher — tired of telling me to put my book away — once kept me in at recess as punishment.

My punishment? To stay inside and read?

It was heaven.

We lived out in the country, so in the summers, when the school library was closed, a stop at the library was a mandatory part of our weekly trek into town. I remember scooping books up by the armful and carrying them joyfully to the check-out stand, each week pushing against the upper limit of what I was allowed to check out.

And each week, I read every one of those books before we brought them back.

I remember growing older, starting to venture beyond the aisles of brightly colored chapter books. Wandering upstairs to grown-up fiction section to seek out dragons and mystics and murders. Agatha Christie and Terry Pratchett and Patricia C Wrede and Mercedes Lackey and Frank E Peretti and Ursula K Le Guin and anything else that caught my fancy.

I would have bankrupted my parents if it weren’t for the library.

For that matter, I’d bankrupt myself now if not for the library.

I want people to get my books at the library

As an author, I love libraries. I love that places exist where people can get books for free. Where the ability to experience the joy of a story isn’t limited by your bank account.

(Though I’ve paid my fair share of late fees, let me tell you!)

A month or so back, I asked my newsletter subscribers what are some of the tropes or themes that make them automatically buy a book, and I got back a significant response from people who say they read so much they’re only downloading free books these days.

That’s possible to do — especially with so many indie writers offering free newsletter magnets and first-in-free series. But what happens if you fall in love with a series and want to support the author — but are still on a budget?


I’m telling you, getting books from the library is a fantastic way to support an author.


Most indie authors aren’t automatically distributed to libraries. You’ll see more showing up as ebooks, but finding an indie book in print is tough.

Here’s where you can help! If you want to see a book from a specific author, you can recommend your library purchase it.

How to recommend a title to your library

Indie authors can distribute ebooks to libraries through Overdrive, a fantastic app that lets you borrow ebooks and audio books from your local library.

(If you read ebooks or listen to audio, seriously you should use Overdrive!)

Once you’re logged in with your library card, do a search for, hypothetically, “Jessie Kwak”.

More than likely, your local library will tell you they can’t find this “Jessie Kwak” person.

Overdrive screenshot 1: how to recommend a title to your library.

Never fear!

Just scroll down in the app, and you’ll see search results that aren’t owned by the library:

Overdrive screenshot 2: how to recommend a title to your library.
Overdrive screenshot 3: how to recommend a title to your library.

Hey, hey!

There’s my books.

If you want to recommend a title to your library for purchase, click the “Recommend” link at the bottom of the book card.

(From that screen you can also read a sample of the book, add the book to your history, or view other books in the series. Just click the three vertical menu dots.)

For more information on how to recommend a title to your library, check out this helpful post on library recommendations over at OverDrive.

Why aren’t all indie books available to recommend to the library?

Super good question. It has to do with how a book is distributed.

Basically, if a book is in Kindle Unlimited, the author has to exclusively publish it at Amazon — which means no library distribution. My Durga System novellas are all published wide, which means you can get them on any ebook platform (and at libraries).

The publisher of my first novel, Shifting Borders, has kept it in KU — which makes it “free” for paid KU subscribers, but not available to libraries.

If you’re curious and want to learn more, Lindsay Buroker just wrote a detailed post about why some books are in KU and others are widely available.

(And why some authors would make that choice. Full disclosure, I’ll be releasing the Bulari Saga exclusive with Amazon for the reasons Lindsay outlines, but I’ll make it more widely available as soon as I can.)


That’s what I’ve got for you.

I hope that was helpful, and — if you’re in a library ebook recommending mood I’d greatly appreciate you recommending my books. 😉

Oh — and if libraries have been a big part of your life, I’d love for you to let me know in the comments!

BONUS POINTS if you had to use a card catalogue to find the book you were looking for! 😉