Saladin Ahmed has been a finalist for the Nebula Award for Best Short Story and the Campbell Award for Best New Science Fiction or Fantasy Writer. He also was a finalist for the Harper´s Pen Award for best Sword and Sorcery/Heroic Fantasy Short Story. His stories appeared in ‘zines/podcasts including Strange Horizons, OSC´s Intergalactic Medicine Show, Beneath Ceaseless Skies and Apex. His fantasy novel Throne of the Crescent Moon released from DAW Books in February. He´s an accomplished poet who has won honors for his work. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Brooklyn College and an MA in English from Rutgers University, and he´s taught creative writing and currently mentors writers seeking professional careers. His name´s pronounced Sal-uh-deen. He currently lives in Michigan with his wife and boy-girl twin children. He can be found on Twitter as @saladinahmed, on Facebook and via his website at www.saladinahmed.com.
SFFWRTCHT: Let’s start with where did your interest in SFF come from?
Saladin Ahmed: The short answer is from my Dad. Dune, Tolkien, Barlowe’s Guide to Extraterrestrials were all on his bookshelf. And he took me to see everything from ET to The Last Unicorn, even when we had little money for movies.
SA: A lot of what I read – and reread, and reread – growing up wasn’t even novels. Comics, AD&D books, movie monster books, etc. etc. In terms of novels my tastes were basic heroic fantasy – Tolkien, sure, but even more so 80s and 90s stuff like Dragonlance and Wheel Of Time. People bash WoT, but even with it’s flaws I’d put the first few books up against any secondary world fantasy.
SFFWRTCHT: Did you ever play D&D with your dad?
SA: No, but he did encourage the heck out of it – more than many 80s parents, to be sure!
SFFWRTCHT: Interesting. Were you involved with cons and fandom? Cosplay?
SA: Very peripherally – my Dad had friends in the scene, but it wasn’t his scene. Went to a couple of Trek cons as teen.
SFFWRTCHT: How did you get your start as a writer?
SA: Again, blame my Dad. Summer after 1st grade he had me write or tell a little story to him on his lunch each day.
SFFWRTCHT: How do you define fantasy and what makes a good fantasy story or novel?
SA: I guess swords! isn’t an intelligent answer? There’s as many answers to those questions as there are fantasy writers. I’ve only written one true SF story – and it was about God! Pretty much consider myself just a fantasy writer…It’s the mode that I feel in my bones.
SA: The inevitable coming together of my heritage – and a long quest to reaffirm that heritage – and my D&D geek side.
SFFWRTCHT: For those who haven’t read it just yet, The book deals with Dr. Adoulla Makhslood a ghul hunter and his apprentice, dervish, Raseed. Ghuls, djinn, what are the origins of these and what are they? Are Zarniah´s group, the Badawi a real people group/band?
SA: The creatures in Throne and its sequels are mostly highly modified versions of beings from Islamic literatures and cultures. The Badawi are my very modified fantasyland version of the Bedouin.
SFFWRTCHT: Why did you choose an Arabic setting for your novel?
SA: Well, it’s a made up world – not truly Muslim or Arab – but the influence was a natural from my upbringing.
SFFWRTCHT: What is your greatest challenge in writing Arabic related fantasy?
SA: Making the unfamiliar feel archetypal.
SFFWRTCHT: Did you read any ancient epics? Or mostly 20th century epic?
SA: Yes – Read lots over the years, but for the novel probably the biggest ‘olde tyme book’ influence is the 1001 Nights. Throne has some pretty random influences peppering it – 18th Century British literature, Walt Whitman…
SFFWRTCHT: Trans-Western fantasies like yours appear to be a trend. How do you think Throne compares to, for example, Desert of Souls?
SA: I think that Howard Andrew Jones is a better mystery writer than I am and he can sustain 1st person for a whole novel!
SFFWRTCHT: Do you read/write in more than one language?
SA: Not really – my Arabic sucks.
SA: The world building is half historically meticulous and half Lankhmar nuttiness. Way more work than shows up in Book 1.
SFFWRTCHT: I figured that. How much world building/research did you do before sitting down to write?
SA: A lot! books and books and more books. Also some stuff filtered in from travel to the Middle East and North Africa.
SFFWRTCHT: Do you have a set number of books planned for the series?
SA: Contracted for three. Were I to do Book 4 it would likely be a prequel. Lots of cool ideas there, but we’ll see…
SFFWRTCHT: Which are your favorite creatures from Throne, and why?
SA: Only mentioned in Book 1, but right now I’m all about the djenn – classic djinn mashed with elf/vamp immortal tropes.
SFFWRTCHT: Do you worry about the inclusion of real faith elements scaring off any readers?
SA: I try not to. I hope it’s generated more interest than hostility…
SA: Not a huge one – book one was pretty polished when she got it. I expect Book 2 to need more hands-on help. That said, Betsy has just been amazing. Feel very blessed to be at DAW.
SFFWRTCHT: What´s your writing time look like? Planned time? Grab it when you can?
SA: I’m learning structure because I have to. I’m main caretaker for twin toddlers so only write when they’re in daycare.
SFFWRTCHT: Do you use any special software or music playlist? Snake charming music perhaps?
SA: White noise!
SFFWRTCHT: Do you have any more short stories coming soon?
SA: Two in the next year: one story in an anthology about the sea (historical Islamic adventure). And one for an Orc anthology that’s basically 80s Dragon Magazine fiction with a dash of Raymond Carver.
SFFWRTCHT: What´s the best writing advice you have to offer new writers who ask?
SA: READ! And have others critique your work honestly but helpfully.
SA: I’ve only read Effinger of those – but he’s great. Not an influence exactly, but love him.
SFFWRTCHT: When can we expect book 2?
SA: Should be out around February 2013.
Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012 along with his book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing and the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 which he edited for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited a novel for author Ellen C. Maze (Rabbit: Legacy), a historical book for Leon C. Metz (The Shooters, John Wesley Hardin, The Border), and is now editing Decipher Inc’s WARS tie-in books for Grail Quest Books. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SF Signal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.