Heidi Noroozy – Traveler, Translator, Writer
I write multicultural fiction inspired by the places I have visited around the world.
As a student in Leipzig, East Germany, I sampled Hungarian wine at the Auerbachs Keller, the underground restaurant where Johann Wolfgang von Goethe set scenes from his tragic play, Faust. While living in Switzerland, I biked around my family’s Bürgerort (ancestral village), explored the Jura Mountains near Neuchậtel, and never passed up an opportunity to sample Swiss fondue. These days, I regularly travel to Iran, where I have pondered the ancient past amid the ruins of Persepolis, baked translucent bread with Kurdish women in the Zagros Mountains, dipped my toes into the azure waters of the Caspian Sea, and observed the dichotomy of a publicly religious yet privately modern culture. My work has appeared in World Literature Today, Nautilus Magazine, and several anthologies and has been translated into five languages.
What brought you to writing? When I was in college, I studied languages and world literature and wrote stories on the side. When graduation approached, and it became time to put some thought into a career, I decided to combine my two loves, language and writing, and become a translator. I had a vision of translating works by my favorite German novelists. But the reality is that we all have to make a living and, as any writer will tell you, literature doesn’t pay the bills. Not even literary translation. So I became a patent translator and continued to write stories on the side.
Do you write in more than one genre? I write short stories and novels, but the short form is my favorite. I’ve written murder mysteries, capers, thrillers, and political satire. More recently, I’ve begun to write literary fiction as well.
What kind of research do you do? My stories usually begin with a place. I never leave the house without a small Moleskin notebook in my pocket. Perhaps some detail or snippet of conversation will come my way, and I whip out that notebook to jot it down. I’ve written entire travelogues in my little notebook while on extended trips to faraway locations.
Research always gives me a good reason to travel. When writing my short story, “Trading Places,” which was published in the online magazine, Nautilus, I went back to Leipzig for the first time in thirty years to check out locations for my setting. Set in the city’s socialist past, the story is about a graffiti artist who paints satirical political slogans all over town in an attempt to inspire a workers’ uprising, similar to the Polish Solidarity movement. I discovered that the city had changed a lot since my student days, so I enlisted the help of a local friend to scout out places that still held the old socialist atmosphere. And I filled my Moleskin with personal stories I learned from the people I met along the way.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? I use both real and fictional places. In Trading Places, I set the story in real-life Leipzig, but some streets and businesses no longer exist or have been renamed since German reunification. I am currently working on a novel that takes place partly in New England and partly in Iran. The early chapters are set in a fictional town in Vermont because I wanted the flexibility to alter the setting to fit the needs of the story. The Iranian portion of the story unfolds in two real places (Tehran and Shiraz) and one fictional village on the Caspian Sea. I chose the real places for authenticity, but again I wanted more flexibility for the Caspian Sea setting, so I made up a town. However, it’s based on a real village situated on the shore of the inland sea. I simply added a few features that don’t exist in the real place and changed the name.
The photo is of an Iranian fish market near the Caspian Sea.
How do you come up with character names? I collect names all the time. I keep lists of them on my computer, and when I come across an interesting one, either through my reading or in real life, I jot it down and add it to my list. Websites of baby names are a great resource, especially for foreign names. Often they list the meaning of the name as well. This can be fun when picking Iranian names, which sometimes refer to mundane objects or abstract concepts: Mozhgan (eyelashes) or Arezou (wish). I named one hot-tempered character Atesh (fire) and gave the name Noor (light) to another, who helped the protagonist find what she was seeking.
Has an association membership helped you in your writing? I’ve been a member of Sisters in Crime for many years, and it is likely the reason I am published at all. It is a wonderful group for both support and learning craft. Also, I always run my work past several beta readers, both in a critique group that meets twice a month (on Zoom at the moment) and others with whom I exchange completed manuscripts by email. Many of these readers are people I met through Sisters in Crime.
The former Stasi headquarters in Leipzig, Germany, now a museum.
How can our readers contact you?
My Cold War short story can be read here: https://nautil.us/issue/6/secret-codes/trading-places
This was a fascinating interview. I often use a real place and change it up just enough so readers are kept guessing where it is.
Hi, Heidi. So nice to read this interview and learn more about you and your writing process. (I didn’t know that you wrote short stories! Shame on me.)
Hi Heidi! I too, collect names and bits of conversation while traveling. I’ve been accused of being a professional eavesdropper in train stations, airports and foreign cafes—but I think it’s part of being a writer. So glad to hear I’m not alone! And, for the record, I love Leipzig.
Hi Debra! Leipzig is a very different city today than it was when I lived there. Much for the better. I go back there on every trip to Germany to revisit old haunts and long-standing friends. I still think of it as my German home.
Glad to meet you, Heidi! So impressed by your traveling savvy, (I’m a poor traveler) and interesting how your traveling and writing intersect! Much success!
Thanks, Madeline! At least you can travel vicariously through books.
I agree with Heidi that Sisters in Crime is a great organization to further our writing careers. It’s interesting to use real cities in your books as there is so much information on Google Earth and so far I haven’t needed to re-organize a city for purposes of the story.
Yes, Alec, I use Google Earth too for settings. It’s a great resource.
What a fascinating life Heidi has led. I can’t wait to read her books (I’m ashamed to say I haven’t yet) . As alway, George, your blog interviews are interesting and illuminative. Keep ’em coming!
Ana, you will have to wait until I’ve actually published a novel! In the meantime, there are som short stories of mine here and there…
So fun to learn more about you, Heidi. After high school, I was an exchange student in Switzerland. Your travels to Iran really fascinate me.
Vinnie, I love Switzerland! I’m Swiss on my dad’s side and still have some cousins there. A few years ago, I visited my family’s ancestral village. In the archives at the church there, I discovered that my family traces its roots back to the year 800. The Swiss are meticulous record-keepers.
I also carry a little notebook when I travel, and I love that places tend to be the starting points for your stories! I always mean to jot down names I like, but never seem to do it, I need to get more disciplined about that…
Michelle, I’m afraid that name collecting has become a bit of an obsession for me. No discipline necessary. I’d be lost without my little black book.
I envy your ability to read the works of foreign authors in their native languages. I’ve never cared much for translations, due to the fact that so much is dependent on the translator, but I’ll bet yours are first rate. Good luck
Thanks, Michael. For a long time, translation was not taken seriously as a profession, at least in the English-speaking world. That’s changing now and the translations have also improved. Some of the major writer’s organizations, like PEN and the Author’s Guild, support translators. The Man Booker International Prize now recognizes translators as well as authors, which helps raise the profile of the profession and promote good translations.