Saladin Ahmed Interview

It's evident that Saladin Ahmed's Throne of the Crescent Moon (Canada, USA, Europe) was one of the most eagerly anticipated fantasy debuts of 2012. Hence, I invited the author to answer a few questions so that he could introduce himself to potential readers.


- What's the 411 on Saladin Ahmed? Tell us a bit about your background?

Born in Detroit in the seventies. Raised in an Arab immigrant community. Fantasy nerd pretty much from day one. These days, harried father.

- Without giving too much away, can you give us a taste of the tale that is THRONE OF THE CRESCENT MOON?

Always tough, but:

The Crescent Moon Kingdoms, land of djenn and ghuls, Khalifs and killers, is on the brink of civil war.To make things worse, a series of brutal supernatural murders strikes at the heart of the Kingdoms. And it's up to Doctor Adoulla Makhslood to solve them.

"The last real ghul hunter in the great city of Dhamsawaat," Adoulla just wants a quiet cup of tea. But when an old flame's family is murdered, he is drawn back to the hunter's path. Recruiting old companions and new, Adoulla races against time--and struggles against his own misgivings--to discover a plot for the Throne of the Crescent Moon that threatens to turn Dhamsawaat, and the world itself, into a blood-soaked ruin.

That's a modified version of the jacket copy. But honestly, I prefer Scott Lynch's summary:

"Flashing swords, leaping bandits, holy magic, bloodthirsty monsters, and sumptuous cuisine... what more do you want me to do, draw you a map? Read this thing."


- How well-received as THRONE OF THE CRESCENT MOON been thus far?

Reviews have been overwhelmingly positive. Starred reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and Library Journal (where THRONE was also Debut of the Month). Pretty decent backing from both Barnes and Noble and Amazon. And wonderful book bloggers and indie bookstores have been pushing the heck out of THRONE. More rewarding than any of this, though, has been the response from readers. 'Thank you' emails, cosplay ideas, recipes based on the book - this kind of enthusiastic response is a big part of the formula for keeping my mind and soul invested in this world I've created.

With all of that said, though, let me also say that it's very very very hard out here for a debut author. For everyone other than a handful of fortunate authors, fiction is an awful way to make a living. Especially being a recent father, I always have my eye on the bottom line of sales numbers. And the picture, in general, ain't pretty. Even for books that look annoyingly overhyped from the outside, it's a real struggle to get 'buzz' to translate into sales. This is not the kind of thing most writers want to be fretting about, but the new normal economy leaves us little choice...

- Can you tell us a little more about the road that saw this one go from manuscript form to finished novel?

Well, some of THRONE's ideas and characters had been in the back of my head for years. But once I actually decided to write a novel, the manuscript itself took about three and a half years (part-time) to write. I was very lucky to have had a lot of very seasoned beta readers for the manuscript. After that, I was very lucky in that I swiftly acquired an agent (the amazing Jennifer Jackson of Donald Maass Literary Agency) who promptly sold the book (and two sequels!) to my dream editor/publisher (Betsy Wollheim of DAW Books).

And then there's the wait between selling the book and seeing it hit store shelves. No one ever talks about that, but man, it's a mindfuck.

- How would you describe your work to someone who hadn’t tried your books before?

Somewhere between sword-and-sorcery and epic fantasy. Somewhere between homage and snappy comeback. Somewhere between Lankhmar and medieval Baghdad. Somewhere between wide-eyed 80s fantasy and the 'new gritty.'

- What can readers expect from the upcoming sequels? Any tentative titles and release dates?

The sequels expand significantly in scope, moving toward big-battle, court-intrigue, continent-striding high fantasy - while still retaining the earthier sword-and-sorcery soul of the first book. A good deal of Prisiclla Spencer's gorgeous map will be explored. Readers will learn much more about the djenn, who were only mentioned in Book I. And, eventually, they'll witness the Crescent Moon Kingdoms' version of the Crusades...

Oh, and ninjas. Almost forgot the ninjas.

No titles yet. Book II should be next spring, Book III a year later.

- Will you be touring during the course of the winter/spring to promote THRONE OF THE CRESCENT MOON? If so, are there any specific dates that have been confirmed as of yet?

I'll be at Penguicon (MI) in April, Wiscon (WI) in May, and the Science Fiction Research Association conference (MI) in June. I'll also be reading at the University of Michigan-Dearborn in late April and at the Arab American national Museum (both in MI) in late May. A little further down the line, I'll very probably be at Worldcon in Chicago and/or World Fantasy in Toronto. Exact dates/times will be announced on my blog.

- You have been a prolific short fiction writer these last few years. Do you have a different approach when you write short stories and novel-length projects?

For me it's basically the same process, and just a question of scale. Outline plot, think about character motivation, craft good sentences... The big difference for me is doing these things for two weeks or doing them for a year.

- There are a number of different perspectives as to the function secondary-world or epic fantasy carries out for readers. Le Guin once wrote that such fantasy deepened and intensified the mysteries of life, while R. Scott Bakker has put forward that humanity is neurologically ill-equipped for a modern, rationalist world and this leads some to seek access to a pre-modern worldview (or the fiction of one) where reality conforms to the mind's irrational, evolutionarily hardwired expectations. Others have denigrated it as mere escapism, an alternative opiate for the masses.

What is your view as to fantasy's function?

The power of escapism is important to me, but the desire for escape has implicit critique built into it. So I guess I'd say good fantasy takes the reader away from our world, but also helps the reader look at our world with different eyes.

- I felt that THRONE OF THE CRESCENT MOON was a throwback book, reminiscent of sword and sorcery and action/adventure fantasy novels from the 70s and the 80s. To a certain extent, it felt as though your debut was an homage to works from that era, with the traditional tropes and everything in between. In a day and age and in a market where it appears to be all about twisting and breaking said tropes, were there reasons why you chose this particular approach?

Hm. I think 'throwback' is taking it a bit far.

Certainly, there are things in the novel that hearken back to Weiss and Hickman or Jordan. There's a genuinely EVIL power behind our villains. Our heroes, for all of their complications and flaws and damage and pettiness, *are* ultimately heroes. Magic is all over the place, and there are neon-bright RPG influences. There aren't any F-bombs in the book.

But THRONE is at least as much a push-back as it is an homage. The whole notion of royalty is ripped open rather than romanticized. The main hero is the opposite of a young farm boy discovering his power. Our band of companions hang out with hashi-smokers and hookers. Quasi-Arabia is at the center of the story, rather than being relegated to 'the exotic land across The Big Honkin' Eastern Desert.' Etc.

So yeah, equal parts love letter and battle rap, perhaps?

- Cover art has become a very hot topic of late. What are your thoughts pertaining to that facet of a novel, and what do you think of the cover that graces your book?

I love it. I think it's stunning. It's straight-up, deep-niche fanboy gamer-ish fantasy art. Jason Chan is a 21st century Larry Elmore. And that's what I've always wanted.

Every once in a while, I wonder if the cover discourages some readers from taking the book seriously. Would THRONE be getting a different kind of attention if the cover was more sedate or abstracted? No way to know, and fruitless to care... I'd rather just admire my Dragonlance-meets-Arabian Nights fanboy fantasy come to visual life.

- Here's a quote from my review: "With the plot occurring in a pseudo-Islamic world and with Saladin Ahmed himself a Muslim, I was expecting more insight and depth regarding the religion, the traditions, and the customs of the various races and societies. The vast majority of SFF authors are Christians, and thus their depictions of Islam or pseudo-variations of that religion are tainted by their own religious and spiritual beliefs. Hence, I was hoping that the author would delve a bit deeper and offer us something a bit different, something a bit more genuine in that regard. Mind you, my expections stemmed from the fact that I thought that Throne of the Crescent Moon would be an epic fantasy novel and not a sword and sorcery offering. Depth habitually gives way to action and adventure in sword and sorcery. In addition, from a marketing standpoint, publishing an Islamic fantasy novel in the USA may not be the key to achieving commercial success at the moment. Still, it will be interesting to see and discover more of the world and its people as the story progresses in the upcoming sequels."

Although religion is a part of the tale, was it your intention to tone it down for fear of putting off some readers?

Absolutely not. And I think religion's pretty central to the novel. Obviously, YMMV, but Adoulla's magic, Raseed's superhuman prowess, Zamia's leonine powers - they're all explicitly divine in nature. Characters' speech and even internal cognition reflect a theistic worldview. But it's *not* an Islamic worldview because this is a secondary world - so maybe religion looks different than readers expect it to? This is a funny one, because some readers have been put off by what they found to be the *excessive* religious expressions...

- The fact that there is a website dedicated to your work is an indication that interaction with your readers is important to you as an author. How special is it to have the chance to interact directly with potential readers and soon-to-be fans?

It's pretty much the best thing ever. I've benfitted tremendously from an online community of readers, and I don't know what I'd do without them.

- Given the choice, would you take a New York Times bestseller, or a World Fantasy/Hugo Award? Why, exactly?

BESTSELLER BESTSELLER BESTSELLER! I love the World Fantasy Award in particular for generally highlighting the work of important, but not necessarily blockbuster, writers. But I've got twin toddlers at home, so this one's a no-brainer.

- More and more, authors/editors/publicists/agents are discovering the potential of all the SFF blogs/websites/message boards on the internet. Do you keep an eye on what's being discussed out there, especially if it concerns you? Or is it too much of a distraction?

The internet is definitely a distraction, but it's also a necessary tool for me both promo-wise and socially. And I'm a compulsive ego-googler and review reader. I'm pretty sure that a good 50% of writers who say they don't read reviews are lying.

2 commentaires:

Paul Weimer said...

An excellent interview.

I knew I had to read the book for certain when Saladin unveiled that map a few months before the book publication. Never underestimate the power of a map.

Cecrow said...

He's probably right about that last one. It's got to be tough, trying to avoid reading reviews of your work.