From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Sara Saab, Author Of A Trail of Demure Virgins

Sara Saab, author of A Trail of Demure Virgins, came wailing into the world at Al Najjar Hospital, Beirut, Lebanon, in the winter of 1984. The prime witnesses each recall a single stand-out feature of the event: her mother, the musk of hard liquor on the skin of the attending obstetrician, and her father, the worrying Klingon dent scoring the tiny nose of the ruddy and slick infant. This crease soon disappeared, but little Sara didn’t. Nowadays Sara works too hard and — embarrassingly — aches too much in the heart whenever confronted by rock anthems or perfect sentences. Every explanation for her actions can ultimately be traced back to her unruly fern of a hairstyle.

Sara has had / has / will have work in Electric Velocipede, the Vignette Press‘s The Death Mook, Word Riot, and a selection of fine campus literary journals and zines.


Tell me a little about “A Trail of Demure Virgins.” What was the first image or phrase or impetus that made you sit down and spin it out?

The story was written in a few drafts but the original impetus was very strong: on family roadtrips in the mountains of Lebanon, I was always struck by the Virgin Mary shrines left by the roadside. They’re all over the place, but as far as I can tell, never signposted. Who puts them there? Who brings the fresh flowers and incense? And why? The most recent explanation I’ve heard is that they mark the sites of fatal car crashes, but I have yet to close the case…

Without giving too much away, the very end of the story came to me word for word as this suspended image of irony and chaos.

Where do you get your ideas?

I trap them on glue pads. The little rotters squirm worse than mice and the ones that’ve gotten particularly grotesque and mangled trying to make an escape — those ones turn into the best stories by far.

Going back to your bio, what makes a sentence perfect?
In a certain sense I think a perfect sentence is nothing more than an emotionally moving battery of words. There’s this feeling of both intellectual and poetic closure at the full-stop. The strange thing is I don’t think these are all that rare a species. A lot of my favourite authors and poets make them look effortless. Maybe I’m more impressionable than most?…

What natural talent would you like to have that you don’t?

A discerning ear for musical composition, notes, pitch, and so on.

Who are your favorite heroines or heroes in fiction?

Colonel Aureliano Buendía for the cold in his bones, impossible to kick, and for his searing nostalgia.

What’s your favorite place?

I’m obsessed with urban centres. The capital of Lebanon, Beirut, is high on the list — such a sweet-talking, grease-fingered badass! Effortlessly seductive.

I also adore Melbourne and Toronto, which are both places I’ve lived.

What’s your favorite historical era?

Can I say modernity? Modernity. Not for the everyday comforts or anything, but because I find it fascinating where we’ve gotten ourselves in terms of art, expression, self-awareness. Specifically, the subcultures that have gained and lost ground in the post-WWI landscape really capture my interest.

And since I’ve just outed myself as somewhat academically inclined, I’m also totally bowled over by the way various forms of nihilism and deconstruction might oppose the need / wish to belong, and how that manifests itself in modern self-identities.

Erm, geekspeak over.

I am generally pro- any era where pirates, rogues, camel caravans and/or Asterix & Obelix would feel at home.

“Modernity” is, I think, a rare answer to that question, but it’s one I like. Are you interested in the future (and future-set stories) as well, or do you like to be firmly anchored to the contemporary? (Plus pirates, of course.)

The bits of contemporary culture I’m drawn to are future-facing. Think about the subcultural leanings associated with youth culture. Those are deeply influenced by the past, but by the same token, they are non-stop mutating, always on the verge of becoming the next fad. A few years ago it might have been the goth movement to claim a certain style, and it may be the emo movement that’s inherited the genetic descendant of that mode of expression, whereas tomorrow the same dogtag or hairnet might mean something very different to another niche of kids. That constant evolution, the game of hot-potato with self-expression, is gloriously future-bound, just like the Star Trek Enterprise!

But on that note, I’m not as much curious about hypothetical futures or future worlds in literature — with the exception of post-apocalyptic tales, which I love, being a rather macabre soul.

Join us for an open discussion of A Trail of Demure Virgins and Sara’s author spotlight below.

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