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Monday, June 11, 2012

Interview with Saladin Ahmed (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Saladin Ahmed Website 
Order “Throne of the Crescent MoonHERE 
Read FBC’s Review of “Throne of the Crescent Moon” 
(Author Photo Credit: Al Bogdan & Saladin Ahmed)

Saladin Ahmed has written a fantastic debut however he didn’t just appear out of thin air. His short stories and poetry had won him many fans and much adoration before his fantasy debut earlier this year. His roots led him to write a debut much different than what fans have been reading for many decades, and was also one of the best books I have read this year. In the forthcoming interview Saladin speaks about his past, his writing background, his plans for the future Crescent Moon Kingdom books and then some more…

Q] Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic. To start with, could you tell us what led you to be a writer in the first place? Also could give us a brief bio? 

SA: I was born in Detroit and grew up in the nearby Arab American enclave of Dearborn, MI. My father introduced me to fantasy and SF when I was very, very young, and he used to have me write little stories and comics for him when I was in first grade. He was always deeply supportive of my creativity, and I feel very blessed for that.

Q] You have taught creative writing at Rutgers University and are also a writing mentor. How does that influence your writing? In that role do you look at writing from different angles? Or is it the same but with a different objective? 

SA: I wish I could say it helps me avoid certain writing pitfalls, but honestly, it doesn't. Quite often I find myself making the same mistakes (or, to put a more positive spin on it, learning the same lessons) over and over. And, often enough, these are the same mistakes I gently correct when made by my students or private clients!

Q: So for someone who hasn't read any of your novels, how would you describe the type of stories that you write, what would be your pitch for the Crescent Moon Kingdom Series? 

SA: One reviewer called THRONE OF THE CRESCENT MOON 'Sword and sorcery with a lot more under the hood,' and – being from the Motor City - that works for me. Another way to put it might be "Wide-eyed 80s fantasy meets The New Gritty fantasy meets the Arabian Nights."

Q] Speaking of the series, how many volumes have you planned for this series? How far along are you in the next book, and is there anything you can tell us about books two, three and the series beyond(if there are any plans to extend beyond a trilogy)? 

SA: Most readers have said that THRONE OF THE CRESCENT MOON works great as a standalone, but it is also as the first book of a trilogy. I'm currently writing Book II of THE CRESCENT MOON KINGDOMS, which should be out mid-2013. Books II and II will expand in scope quite a bit, both geographically and in the scale of conflict. Analogues to the djinn and to the Crusades will feature prominently, and the political fallout form the first novel will fuel the story threads in the subsequent titles.

If the series proves popular enough to justify a fourth book, it would possibly be a prequel detailing some of the earlier adventures of the series' older protagonists. But that's just a guess.

Q] You have written two stories called “Where Virtue Lives” and “Judgment of Swords and Souls” set in the same milieu of the Crescent Moon Kingdoms. When you wrote them did you imagine them as leading onto your debut series? 

SA: Absolutely. “Virtue” will give potential readers a good, if rough, taste of the world of the Crescent Moon Kingdoms – and will show those who've already read THRONE OF THE CRESCENT MOON how Adoulla and Raseed came to be a team. Meanwhile, “Judgment” introduces readers to Layla bas Layla, a character who will become very important in Book II.

Q] What made you choose fantasy over other genres for your first book? 

SA: I spent many years in grad school in English, so I've read a lot in a variety of genres. But adventure fantasy is my bread and butter as a reader, and probably always will be. So it's only natural that I came to that genre as a writer.

Q] I was especially intrigued by the Falcon prince character, how did his creation come about? In the case of your book, it is never really clear as to where he stands on a moral scale? Was this intentional and will we get to know more about him in the future books? 

SA: The Falcon Prince is a pretty straight Robin Hood/Thief of Baghdad tribute. But yes he also sort of offers a glimpse at the dark underbelly of the 'dashing thief' archetype. Without giving anything away, I'll say that the final scene (when the Falcon Prince and Adoulla are alone) is inspired by the climax of Alan Moore's Watchmen – our hero has to make a hard decision about what to expose and what to keep quiet.

And yes, there is LOTS more of the Falcon Prince to come!

Q] Your book though a debut, eschews the current trend of breadth-happy fantasy, surprisingly the slimness has not robbed the story of its richness. How did you go about your writing, especially since so many writers love to thicken their plots so as to say! 

SA: It took work! The original outline for THRONE included a lot of material that will appear in Book II and III, but ultimately I chose to keep a fairly tight focus, plot and geography-wise. The sequels will expand quite a bit on these fronts, with multi-thread plots and map-spanning journeys.

Q] In your SF signal podcast you briefly touched upon Batman and revealed that you find the character to be incredibly boring or unrealistic. Coincidentally your main character shares some background with Bruce Wayne as well. Could you expound a bit more on your thoughts? 

SA: Well, they are both clever men who were both orphaned by criminal violence. But I think the difference is largely class-based. Bruce Wayne is a rich kid, so he can look upon his parents' killer as inhuman "criminal scum," completely sociologically Other from the Waynes. Adoulla grew up a street kid, and has ot face the harder fact that the guy who killed his parents is, in some sense, one of 'his people.'

Q] How much of the world of the Crescent Moon kingdoms will you be exploring in the future books, I ask as I’m particularly curious about the Heavenly Wall as shown and what lead to its creation? 

SA: Quite a lot of the map included in the book will be explored in Books II and III. Rughal-ba (the nation that the Heavenly Wall protects) will be central to the action, as will the off-map 'Warlands' – which is basically the Crescent Moon Kingdoms' analogue for medieval Europe.

Q] Earlier you mentioned that your father instilled a love for reading SF & Fantasy, what books did your father encourage you to read when you were growing and as a father yourself, how do you look forward to sharing that same passion with your children? 

SA: My Dad shared so many books, I'm not sure where to begin. But The Hobbit, Moorcock, and Barlowe's Guide to Extraterrestrials stick out.

My own kids are only two, so we're mostly doing picture books. It's just wondrous wathcing them get involved in a story, though. I'm going to try The Little Engine That Could on them soon!

Q] Your main character Adoulla Makhslood has a tinge of melancholy to almost all of his thoughts and actions and this perhaps colors his actions in the book’s plot. Will you be exploring more about the doctor’s background in the future to give the readers some clues about his melancholy? Will he be getting the peace, which he so dreams about? 

SA: That melancholy is a sort of inheritence of the other genre form which Adoulla is drawn – the noir detective story. Readers will certainly learn more about Adoulla in future books – but you'll have to read t find out how things end up for our fat old ghul hunter.

Q: Lastly as a writer, what are your aspirations? Where do you see yourself in a decade from now? 

SA: I'll dodge the second part of that question, since I'm much more focused on where I see myself next week. :) But my writerly aspirations are pretty simple: To provide as many readers as possible with the same sort of wonderful immersion that I myself get from fantasy novels -- and to make enough money to help feed my kids while doing so.


Paul Weimer said...

Interesting interview (not least because of the shout out to SF Signal).

The noir detective strand in Throne of the Crescent Moon is something I didn't grok at the time, but now seems absolutely obvious when pointed out...

Mihir said...

Thanks Paul, yeah the noir roots aren't quite apparent at first however they are definitely there as you noted in your reread.


PS: that SF Signal podcast along with the previous two were really great.

Melissa (My words and pages) said...

Hey, how did this one get by me? I'm going to have to add it to my list. Great to meet you!


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