Saladin Ahmed and “The Throne of the Crescent Moon”
A finalist for the Nebula Award for his short fiction, Saladin Ahmed has ventured into novel-length works with Throne of the Crescent Moon, out this month from DAW Books. The novel is a lovely blend of adventure and intrigue, with a definite element of the horrific. In a land of djenn and ghuls, holy warriors and heretics, the Khalif and a mysterious master thief are engaged in a power struggle suddenly overshadowed by a series of brutal supernatural murders. Doctor Adoulla Makhslood, “the last real ghul hunter in the great city of Dhamsawaat” is retired from his days of hunting monsters. But the killings bring him out of retirement, assisted by a holy warrior named Raseed. When they encounter a tribeswoman who is also on the path of killers, the plot of Throne of the Crescent Moon kicks into high gear, with ever more intricate layers of complication.
New York Times Bestseller Kevin J. Anderson called the novel “Colorful, magical, exciting, and moving,” while Hugo winner Elizabeth Bear wrote that it “offers a glimpse of a dusty and wonderful fantasy city through the eyes of three engaging, unconventional protagonists.” Throne has already garnered starred reviews from the library journals, as well.
Ahmed has been “writing little stories (often SF/F/Superhero-themed) pretty much since I can remember. But as an adult, I started writing poetry, and that was my focus for many years.” He published “poetry in obscure venues for years,” but his first fiction sale was to the excellent magazine of “literary adventure fantasy,” Beneath Ceaseless Skies. That online short story serves as “a sort of prelude to Throne of the Crescent Moon.” Omnivoracious caught up with Ahmed via email at “Biggby Coffee on Woodward Avenue in Detroit” to find out more about his influences and his novel.
Amazon.com: What kinds of books do you remember being part of your childhood?
Saladin Ahmed: Well, once I got past picture books, I read a goodly amount of fantasy, from acclaimed classics like The Hobbit to oft-maligned tie-in pulp like RA Salvatore's Icewind Dale Trilogy. But, more than anything, I read—over and over and over—comics (mostly Marvel) and RPG books (mostly AD&D 1e).
Amazon.com: Can you give us a sense of the household you grew up in, and the place of books in it?
Saladin Ahmed: I was born to working-class parents who self-educated themselves “above” their social station via voracious reading. We lived check-to-check for most of my youth, but my Dad always tried to find funds for me to order something from Scholastic Book Club or buy something at the comic book store.
Amazon.com: Who are your literary heroes, and in particular, what is it you love about Moby Dick?
Saladin Ahmed: That first one's a very long discussion—but some names that come to mind: Fritz Leiber, Borges, Melville, Maxine Hong Kingston, Whitman, Naguib Mahfouz, Chris Claremont, Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, Malcolm X, Robert Jordan, Kerouac, Lorca, Emma Goldman, Andre Breton, and Gary Gygax. What do I love about Moby Dick? Everything—the characters, the plot, the way it handles moral and political and cultural issues, its often-underestimated humor. But, above everything else, it's Melville's voice. No one, before or since, “sounds” like that. Makes my heart swell just thinking about it.
Amazon.com: What’s your writing process?
Saladin Ahmed: Pretty much all on computer, all done 9 to 5, Monday through Friday, while my kids are in daycare. Tons of outlining. I enjoy writing once the flow is going. And when it's going really well it's like good drugs or new love. But getting “into the zone” can be a miserable process...
Amazon.com: How long did you work on Throne of the Crescent Moon, and how much did it change from the original idea in your head?
Saladin Ahmed: It took about three and a half years, mostly part-time, with some entire months off at a couple of points. The world, characters, etc., stayed pretty consistent, but the shape of the thing changed greatly—much shorter and faster moving in its final form than the flabby beast it began life as. [The hardest thing was] finding time. I'm not someone who (knock on wood) has had huge problems with writer's block. My problems have more to do with pragmatic matters of finding the time and mental energy to get it done.
Amazon.com: This is your first novel, but you’re no stranger to the genre community or to publication. That said, has anything thus far surprised you, being a first-time novelist?
Saladin Ahmed: The most mind-bending thing for me is seeing my books show up in libraries all over the country. Something delightful about seeing my nerdy Arab-influenced fantasy landing in Wichita Falls, Texas. Shout out to all the librarians out there!
Amazon.com: What’s the dumbest thing about being a writer?
Saladin Ahmed: How much time one must spend stressing about feeding oneself and one's kids.
Amazon.com: What are you working on now?
Saladin Ahmed: BOOK II, BOOK II, BOOK II! And teaching my almost-two-year olds to use the potty, but I guess that's not what you meant.