Years ago, I came across a Kindle free promo for a book called Thorn. It looked cool and, well, FREE, so I went ahead and made my first venture into eBooks. Guess what? It was awesome. Not long after, I started talking to the author and found out she was awesome. To prove it, I’ve asked her to drop by for an interview today and show you all herself!
Welcome, Intisar! It’s been a while. Can you tell us a little about your latest release, Memories of Ash?
Memories of Ash starts up a year after Sunbolt ends, once Hitomi has had a chance to recover from what she did to herself (trying to be spoiler-free here) and study some magic with her new mentor, Brigit Stormwind. But our pasts don’t tend to leave us alone, and Hitomi’s past comes back with a vengeance when Stormwind is called before the High Council of Mages to answer charges of treason—charges brought forward by none other than Hitomi’s old nemesis, Arch Mage Blackflame. With Hitomi’s fine-tuned sense of honor she isn’t about to let her teacher be unjustly imprisoned, and thus begins her next adventure. Using equal parts magic and trickery, Hitomi must sneak into the seat of the High Council itself to free her mentor. If she succeeds, she’ll spend the rest of her life running from rogue hunters. If she fails, she’ll be enslaved by the Council and slowly drained of her magic until she dies.
Yes, DO go check this one out guys. What’s the weirdest thing you researched for this book?
Not too many truly weird things, but I did research some fun things! I learned about the eastern method of tattooing called tebori. I researched the basic structure and design of historic row boats in South Asia, and then ended up cutting that chapter (*sob*). And by far the most fun, I researched the Festival of Guilds, a three day celebration that used to take place annually in Ottoman-era Istanbul, complete with parades, sporting competitions, theatre, street performances, and “the burning of the fortresses” (massive wooden models)… pretty much all of which made it into the book!
One of my favorite things about your books is you bring a massive array of cultural influences from this world while still making it unique to your fantasy worlds—something I don’t believe many writers do well. Is there a particular approach you take to writing diversity?
My approach to writing diversity is to pull from world cultures I am somewhat familiar with and then research the heck out of them in order to gain a deeper familiarity with the culture and place. If possible I talk to people from the cultures I’m writing, if not I do my best and figure a little error is allowable given that it’s a fantasy land. For example, in Memories of Ash, the great city that Hitomi visits is based on historic Ottoman Istanbul. I read first-hand historic accounts from visitors to the city, pulled on my own memories of visiting the old parts of Istanbul, and then spoke with Turkish friends to both name the city and act as a sounding board for some of the details. The city itself plays a relatively small role in the story, but having a sense of culture, gender norms, architecture, food—all of these create a more robust world. Of course I took licenses, but usually they were relatively minor and related to introducing magic to the world. So, I replaced the great government-run universities with the Mekteb-e Sihir, or School of Sorcery. I think the biggest road block for me was learning to get past the euro-centric worldview of most fantasy. Once I was able to envision a world with different cultures, and characters who were from those cultures, writing diversity suddenly became twelve kinds of awesome.
I am constantly boggled by your depth of research. Do you have any advice for authors wanting to incorporate more diversity into their stories?
1. Diversity = Complex Realities. I think in writing diversity it is vital to remember how complex the world is and how wonderful that diversity of experience and reality really is. Writing characters of diverse backgrounds and experiences is going to change your story, create new nuances and depths of meaning to interactions, and that’s a beautiful thing. And remember diversity implies many things, and the intersection of those things as well—gender, age, culture, mental health, ability, religion, and on… Red alert: if the culture or background of your character doesn’t impact the story, you haven’t quite got a grasp on who they are yet. So, creating an African American cis/het male character who’s lived experience is exactly like a white character’s ignores the probability that he has seen and dealt with institutionalized racism since childhood. That doesn’t mean your book has to be all about racism—but realize that your story should not be whitewashing the background, culture, and lived experience of your characters.
2. Be respectful and learn without judgement. It’s really important to recognize that just because we don’t understand something in a culture, or like it, doesn’t mean we should be critiquing it in our work. Don’t like arranged marriage? Given that it isn’t part of our culture, maybe you don’t understand it. Either way, don’t write it (and the inevitable storyline of running away to seek freedom, or hoping the abusive husband dies an early death) until you’ve done a LOT of research on it, including talking to people who have chosen arranged marriages and reading first hand positive accounts. It’s always easy to find the negative perspective on something, especially something generally misunderstood in the West, so seek out those alternative viewpoints. If you absolutely must write the running away/abusive husband slant, don’t base that story in another culture, because you’re going to end up adding to bigoted stereotypes that people from that culture have to live with every day. It’s both disrespectful and hurtful. OR, make sure your main character has a totally different, positive experience and grant this negative experience to a side character, so that you can explore (and allow readers to appreciate) both the good and the bad.
3. Don’t cherry pick. Don’t jump onto the bandwagon of “Jinn are cool!” or whatever happens to be the next craze, or try to create your own, while only importing that particular element into your story. For example, if you’re writing about Native American mythology, you’d better have some Native American characters, and the one who saves the day or ends up being the Chosen One by the spirits better not be the white character. Then follow points one and two above—so you don’t just have people with, say, Native American names, but you’ve figured out / researched what tribe(s) they’re from, their belief system(s), their history under American governance (or oppression), and their cultural norms. Sure they know how to navigate American / white culture, but that doesn’t mean they don’t also know how to navigate and love their own heritage, culture, and practices. Throwing in a few names and stealing a mythology is cultural appropriation, not writing diversity, so be thoughtful about what you do, and try hard. It’s okay to mess up, but you’ve got to be trying to make it work. Not sure if you’ve done well? Seek out beta readers from the backgrounds you’re trying to portray and ask them.
Great advice! I’m going to have to ask you back for a blog post just on that, LOL. What is your writing routine? Do you have a regular one?
I write almost every night, once my little people are in bed. Since I’m a homeschooling mama, I usually only have a couple times during the week when both my kids are out of my care and I can write in the daylight hours. The vast majority of my writing happens once they’re asleep. As for routine… I grab my laptop, sit down wherever I can (usually my bed, sometimes my desk), check-in on e-mail and social media (I try to keep this brief), and then get to work.
I do often manage to write online with friends—we check in on Facebook, log off for a writing session, and then check back in at the end of it. (Shout out to Melissa Sasina and you, Elisabeth, as awesome online writing buddies!) This helps keep me accountable and makes writing much less of a solitary endeavor. But when we don’t have a writing session planned, I really don’t have any rituals or habits other than to sit down and start typing.
Shout out back! What for you is the most rewarding part of being an author?
Sharing my stories. Really. Sometimes that sense of having shared comes from a tweet by a reader who enjoyed a book, sometimes it’s reading a new review that’s showed up, sometimes it’s just knowing that my books had a good day of sales and that means someone, somewhere in the world, is jumping into my worlds and (hopefully) enjoying the read.
That truly is an amazing part. If you had a superpower, what would it be?
Writing one-draft wonders. I love writing, and I’m even learning not to hate editing, but the revision process is still the most difficult part of the whole equation. If I could just write a gem of a first draft each time, and not have to do more than tweak a few sentences for consistency before publishing, I would be the happiest little hamster in the cage. (I have no idea what that means. I think I would probably hate being in a cage, but it sounded good when I wrote it. Now we see why I need revision…) Most novels require between 4 and 6 rounds of revision for me, which can be grueling and sometimes take years. Meanwhile, the first draft may only take a couple three months. So yeah, being able to write awesome novels straight off would be fabulous.
Haha! We’d all love that, I think. Thanks so much for dropping by! 🙂
Don’t forget to visit Intisar and her books in the links below!