Let’s Read & Write Better Fantasy: Interview With Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali

Indie Author Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali

 

We (women) are a powerful force, but it is not our fists that propel us, it is our minds and wiles.

–Khaalidah

Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali is one of the most quick-witted and humorous people you can e-meet. She’s an indie author passionate about her writing, and how it fits in with our world, our culture, and attitudes.

I just had to bring her in and ask her a few questions, as well as pester her about her plans for a full-length fantasy novel. Let’s give her a warm welcome!

Interview

Khaalidah, I enjoy reading your blog and your musings that intersect books, entertainment, and culture. Explain how you think all three influence each other.

For me, as an author, everything in my life influences, to a degree, everything else.  I think that I am like many authors in that I spend more time in my head than I do in the real world, or at least I’d like to, and every sensory experience I have leaves a mark on me creatively.  So much so that these influences sometimes creep into my writing while I am unaware.  I once wrote a character who saw in infrared and who had silvery irises.  Can anyone say Riddick?  I’ve watched that movie so many times I probably know the dialogue by heart.  I swear I didn’t realize the similarities until one of my children pointed it out to me.

And of course, cultural and societal trends influence the themes in our literature and our games.  Our fascination with dystopian literature, I think, speaks volumes about our feelings about the environment and social, racial, religious, and cultural prejudices and injustices.  Am I getting too deep here?  Ha.  To make this long story short, all of these things go hand in hand and it is my belief that we often use our creative voices to speak out against or in favor of issues we feel deeply, even when we aren’t aware that we are.

That’s an interesting observation. In some ways dystopian literature reminds me of the noir genre, because you usually have a protagonist standing in contrast with a decaying society (structurally, or morally). The hero or heroine exposes the gritty, bleak environment. I know you’ve also discussed in more than one post on your blog how the current fantasy and YA fantasy book world can sometimes deliver the wrong message when it comes to the “heroine.” Can you elaborate on that?

Ah, yes.  Thanks for handing me a soap box.  Ha.

I love SF&F.  Adore it.  Relish it.  Personally I don’t read much YA, but when I do, it is because it falls into the SF&F category or the premise of the book has truly intrigued me, but usually because I am pre-reading with my youngest daughter in mind. She’s a tween, and that is a precarious place to be.  Too young for adult themes, too smart and perceptive to be fed a bunch of bunk.  I’m truly disappointed in the cookie cutter choices in YA these days.  Most of the heroines, as evidenced by the very pretty, very uniform covers, are thin and Caucasian and deeply in love with someone.  There is little diversity with regards to the characters and they are not reflective of the world we’re living in.  Of particular annoyance are the SF&F stories set in the far flung future where every character is Caucasian.  How likely is that?  Where are the fat people?  The Muslims, the Jews, the Sikhs and Buddhists, or the Stoics?  Where is the flavor that only diversity can bring?

Included in my critique are the stories wherein women are presented as weak not just in body but in mind, and where a woman’s strength seems to be measured by how much she can act like a man.  We (women) are a powerful force, but it is not our fists that propel us, it is our minds and wiles.  I’d like to see more fully formed women of strength and diversity in  current literature.

Now that would be very intriguing to see! I’d love to delve into more books with diverse characters, especially protagonists. And when it comes to the heroine–you know I’m right there with you. No weak women here–but no guys in skirts, either. I like my heroines balanced–which, by the way, brings me to the heroine in your novel. I loved Asabe. She didn’t have to lift a finger to dominate anyone–her words and presence of mind showed her strength. When you wrote “An Unproductive Woman,” what did you want readers to experience? What message did you want to impart?

I didn’t have anything in mind that I wished to impart to my readers while writing AUW, which is probably why it was so easy for me to write. I wrote AUW in my late twenties (ahem… about 15 years ago) and I was working my way through a personal and spiritual upheaval.  Writing AUW was a cathartic experience and Asabe, the protagonist in AUW, buoyed me with her strength.  People often say that they see Asabe in me and visa versa.  I take that as a supreme compliment, although I can not take credit for being anything like her.  She is a truly strong woman.

Many years later I decided to publish AUW and it is at this point that I started to think about my audience and how I wanted them to experience AUW.  Someone close to me suggested that I promote among Muslims, since the characters are Muslim.  I threw that idea away.  Certainly I want other Muslims to know that there is a piece of timely literature out there that is inclusive of them, but I feel that AUW is far too universal a tale to direct to Muslims alone.  This is a story about heart-ache, and marriage, and family, and faith, and forgiveness, and truth, and happiness.  Today, I want the people who read AUW to know that even though the characters are African and Muslim, they will still be able to see themselves in the story.

How has your culture, faith, or values affected your writing?

Culturally, I’m an American of African descent.  My world view is affected by this and I think that I see the world with a certain degree of open-minded yet arrogant skepticism.  Did that make sense?

In terms of my faith, as a Muslim, there are certain boundaries that I will never cross as regards my writing.  You won’t see me writing heavy romance, sex scenes, or gratuitous violence.  For one, I’m not a girly-girl so romance just about kills it for me anyway.  As for the sex scenes and any ill-placed vulgarity, well, I just think that’s weak writing any way.  Less is more, subtlety, and all that jazz.  In other words, if you have to beat me over the head with it…
But to be completely serious, I am not just a Muslim in name, but I do practice my faith, though not perfectly, and I just can’t see writing something that I would feel obliged to repent for.  Or something that I wouldn’t want my children to read one day, or my mother.

Well said. I think it’s important for authors to establish their own boundaries and be comfortable with their work. You know, I was so proud to let my grandmother read my debut novel, and she told me “I loved it, and it wasn’t X-rated, either.” (Which prompted me to ask Nana about what she usually read). Do you ever plan to write a fantasy novel? I remember reading in one of your profiles that you liked Zombie movies–how about a zombie book?

Actually yes, I do plan to write a fantasy book.  I’ve already started outlining and world-building.  I don’t have a title for the book yet, but the titular character is named Amana and she is a princess.  I’ve even drawn a full color 18″ by 24″ map of her country.  The idea for the character came from a picture that my daughter drew about four years ago.

Amana

It was a pencil on paper sketch of a beautiful girl and I fell in love with her immediately.  I begged my daughter for several months to digitally paint her and let me have the picture.  I immediately started to build a story for her. I do love zombies!!!  But alas, I would never seriously undertake writing a zombie story.  There are already way too many, I think.  I wouldn’t likely ever read a zombie book either.  A comic? Sure.  A movie?  Absolutely.

Okay, okay, so no zombies, but fantasy, YES! Please share with us what you’re currently reading, and who are your favorite authors?

I don’t really have any favorite authors.  I either like them, or I don’t.  Sorry, I know that wasn’t an unexciting answer.  I don’t have many favorites in anything, to be honest.
Right now I am finishing up The House of Closed Doors by Jane Steen and Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed.  I just finished Mass Effect: Revelation and just started Mass Effect: Ascension.  On my “immediate to read” list I have among a few dozen others, Conspiracy (Emperor’s Edge #4) by Lindsay Buroker, Crystal Rain by Tobias S. Buckell, and Quiet by Susan Cain.

Thanks, Khaalidah, for letting me pick your brain. Please keep us updated!

Find AN UNPRODUCTIVE WOMAN @ Amazon

Visit Khaalidah’s blog

Follow Khaalidah on Twitter

Comments

  1. Told ya she was cool! And inspiring. She inspired this guy to start an anthology and even contributed some of its greatest stories! Although her interest in Mass Effect is beginning to make to wonder if I’m missing out on something… ;:I

  2. Thanks for the kudos guys. I enjoyed the opportunity to do this interview. it was fun and Alesha asks some terrific questions!

Leave a Reply to matthewwilliams Cancel reply