I'm so excited to be hosting Ausma Zehanant Khan on the blog today! Winner of the Barry Award, the Arthur Ellis Award, and the Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award for Best First Novel, her works include the Khattak/Getty series that has been optioned for television by Lionsgate.
Ausma is a former Editor in Chief of Muslim Girl magazine, and she holds a Ph.D. in International Human Rights Law. She has practiced immigration law in Toronto, and she's also taught international human rights law at Northwestern University, as well as human rights and business law at York University. Her latest novel, The Bloodprint, was released on October 3rd to positive reviews, including this one from the Washington Post:
And now, here's my chat with Ausma!
Hi, Ausma! Welcome and congrats on The Bloodprint. Can you tell us a little about the story and what inspired it?
Thank you so much for having me! The Bloodprint is a classic quest story: two women warriors set off to find a sacred text that they believe will help them defeat the oppressive rule of the Talisman. The Talisman have banned the written word and all forms of knowledge, just as they’ve enslaved women. Arian and Sinnia, two fierce and gifted members of a group of mystics known as the Council of Hira, are determined to save the people of Khorasan from Talisman rule—if they can find the Bloodprint, they stand a chance of doing so. The story is set on the Silk Road—it represents one possible future of a broken history. My family roots lie in Afghanistan, India and Pakistan. The rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan has been disastrous for the rights of women, and as an ethnic Pathan/Pashtun, I’ve been wanting to write about the devastating consequences of tribalism and oppression in the name of faith. An entirely different reading of tradition is possible, one that is ethical and empowering. So the idea of The Bloodprint was born.
All boiled down, The Bloodprint is a story about feminists taking on the patriarchy, which I love! Can you talk a little about creating inspiring heroines?
Thank you so much, Megan! What I find inspiring is when people try to do the right thing even when the odds are stacked against them. It’s not that you succeed at bringing down Goliath, it’s that you try because you know you deserve better. So I wanted to bring that spirit to writing Arian and Sinnia, my lead characters. They commit everything in their battle against the Talisman when there’s little chance of success, precisely because they know who they are and what they’re worth. They can imagine a better world, so they fight for it—I see that in real life with women around me all the time, and that’s what I find inspiring.
What part of the writing process do you find most challenging and how do you tackle it?
Getting enough time to thoroughly research a book is the hardest thing for me. Reading extensively is an important part of my preparation, it gives me a strong sense of familiarity with the subject matter of my books. As life continues to get more hectic, I can’t read as much as I’d like to, but I do try to spend an hour reading each night, even while I’m writing.
The Bloodprint is Book One of The Khorasan Archives. What’s the best (and the hardest!) thing about tackling a four-book series?
The best thing is how much time and space you have to tell your story—you can build whole worlds, you don’t have to be over-reliant on exposition, and you have this really satisfactory period of time in which to take your characters on a journey. You don’t need to think of everything at once, which means new ideas have time to take root in your story—and this is something I absolutely love—the freedom and flexibility. But the flip side is that it becomes quite challenging to keep track of your characters and to keep the pacing even over the series. Sometimes the story gets away from you and then you have to reel it back in, which can be painful.
The world you’ve created for The Bloodprint is extremely detailed. What are your tips for writers attempting to craft imaginative, yet authentic fantasy settings?
Ah, great question. The Bloodprint takes place in an alternate future but it’s built on the ruins of a world we know. When I’m writing about a place, I try to travel there and see it firsthand. I interview people about their lives, I take hundreds of photographs, I watch documentaries, and I read a lot of history as background. So my experience is quite immersive, but that’s what helps me catch all those little nuances and tensions. When I can’t travel somewhere, I just try to read more and I find that reading poetry is fantastic for imagining a new world, as poetry forces you to think new thoughts and conceive of the world in new ways.
What has been your most rewarding experience as an author so far?
The best thing for me is when a reader really connects with my books at a personal level and reaches out to let me know. So often you don’t know if your stories have any resonance or make an impact, so getting to chat with people who’ve actually read your book is pretty amazing. An early reader of The Bloodprint told me she’d finally seen herself represented authentically in fiction, and that meant everything to me.
What are you reading, or otherwise currently obsessed with?
This is going to be a long answer, I’m afraid! I’ve been reading all these amazing works that have come out recently or are coming out: Saints & Misfits by S.K. Ali, The Library of Fates by Aditi Khorana, The City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty, The Code of the West by Sahar Mustafah, Rebel Seoul by Axie Oh, Want by Cindy Pon, the Goddess series by Amalie Howard, The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole. And for The Bloodprint series, I’ve been reading a lot of books about the Silk Road…probably my favorite is The Golden Road to Samarkand by Wilfred Blunt. I will also admit to being completely obsessed with The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu by Joshua Hammer. The title alone says you have to read it.
And finally, what’s one steadfast piece of advice you would give to other writers?
I know everyone has a style or process that works best for them, but what I’ve realized is that I have to get a lot of bad writing out of the way before anything worth reading comes out. I spend a lot of time thinking, writing and re-writing, so for me, that’s a process that works.
I hope you enjoyed this interview as much as I did! The Bloodprint should be at the top of everyone's fantasy reading list, and I have to thank Ausma for taking the time to share a wealth of advice on how to get settings right! Be sure to add The Bloodprint your Goodreads list, or (better yet!) order your copy RIGHT NOW from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or your local indie.
Follow Ausma on Twitter at @AusmaZehanat. And for more information, check out her full author website at ausmazehanatkhan.com.
And, as always,