Louisa lived in Japan for four years, first as an undergraduate student and then on a Fulbright fellowship, while completing her Ph.D. in cultural anthropology at Columbia University in New York.
Her lifelong interest in foreign languages and cultures is reflected in her writing, which focuses on multicultural and historical themes.
Growing up in Hackensack, New Jersey, I loved doing creative things: writing short stories, painting and drawing, expressing myself through gymnastics and dance. Making art was a need like breathing or drinking water. But I was academically minded too, so I completed a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology. . . which can happen when you can’t put a good book down.
On the art side, I kept painting, including illustrating my own picture books. From writing and illustrating picture books (unpublished), I found my way to the distant shores of young adult fiction.
After taking courses in The Writing and Publishing Program at Simon Fraser University (Vancouver, Canada), I wrote my first manuscript, THE RED PRINCE, to answer a few burning questions: What if Alexei Romanov, Russia’s deposed crown prince, really had survived his family’s execution in 1918? Where would he have hidden? What would he have done? What does it feel like to have to become someone different?
Through fiction writing, a miracle of alchemy occurred. The two halves of my existence were drawn together: the intuitive, creative side and the methodical academic one, which has always loved foreign cultures, languages and history.
Writing my first novel made me want to write another, so I wrote PRICELESS, the story of a seventeen-year-old Syrian girl named Noor, who finds herself in Boston dealing with the trauma of her country’s implosion, while solving America’s biggest art heist.
I was inspired to write this novel by what I saw happening in the news: the violence raging in Syria as the country’s president bombed and massacred his own people. I wanted to tell a story that dealt with this violence, while depicting my Syrian main character, Noor, as someone with interests and dreams that lay outside it. I didn’t want to deal in stereotypes. For instance, my Middle Eastern characters aren’t focused on religion or dealing with the issue of whether to wear the hijab. Noor is more interested in becoming a professional artist and she happens to be a pretty amazing crime sleuth!
As I was writing PRICELESS, the U.S. presidential campaign was also heating up. I watched events unfold, including the election and its immediate aftermath, and realized for the first time how fragile, special and coveted democracy is. I wanted PRICELESS to express this too. If people and the press aren’t vigilant (and sometimes even if they are), democracy anywhere can crumble.
New project: I have recently begun research on a story related to my own family’s Ottoman Empire past. In 1919, the Greek army (which included my grandfather) occupied the Turkish city of Smyrna (present day Izmir) in a bid to create a modern “Greek empire.” In retaliation, the Turkish army burned the glistening, cosmopolitan city of Smyrna (where my grandmother lived) to the ground. In the aftermath, a forced population exchange between Greece and Turkey took place in 1923. The Treaty of Lausanne, as the exchange was called, became a notorious model of ethno-religious “purification” for the rest of the 20th century.