Geetanjali Mukherjee

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

How I Write: Authors on Their Writing Process - Intisar Khanani

Today's interview is with YA fantasy author Intisar Khanani.

1.   When did you first start writing?
I’m one of those people who was always writing. I stapled my first books together when I was three or four, and never stopped. I’ve always had stories and characters in my head; even if I wasn’t actively writing, I was still telling myself stories as I went through my days. But I only started writing seriously, to publish, when I decided to leave work to stay home with my kids.

2.   What are your books about? Are you self / traditionally published or hybrid?
I write young adult fantasy, but more specifically, my stories have strong women, difficult situations, and very real issues at heart. These are stories for people who are looking for both adventure and depth, excitement and sorrow. They are also stories that are set in a diverse world—in a world that is built on races and cultures that exist in our own world, but have been erased from the fantasy worlds we have traditionally been fed. So these books are also for people like myself, who grew up looking for a smart, capable heroine that looked even just a little bit liked them, or traveled through a city that might feel like home. These books are for the people like me who grew up twenty years ago, and needed a world that included them in more ways than one—and they’re for the girls growing up now who are still looking for that.

Because of the type of stories I write, I found it easier to self-publish (my first book came out before the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement began—and after two years of fruitlessly seeking an agent). I’ve been grateful to be able to reach a great many readers through that. I may eventually try out a hybrid approach, but for now I’m quite happy to continue independently publishing.

3.   What's your writing process like? Do you outline? Do you write by hand / type / dictate?
I’m somewhere in between a plotter and a pantser. I work almost exclusively on the computer, and only go to my notebook when I’m stuck on something. To begin, I usually write a 2-3 page synopsis describing the main characters and the overall arc of the story. Then I write the novel. The beginning tends to look a lot like the synopsis, the middle has some similarities, and the end is its own beast. By the time I finish revisions, the synopsis rarely has anything to do with the story. I’m not really sure what you call that process…

4.   What's your editing process?
Sit down and bleed? I usually give the story a read-through, making notes on post-its as I go. I stick these in a notebook, organized by chapter, and then work my way through them. Once I’ve done all that, I rinse and repeat. Once the story is coherent enough to actually be read by anyone else, I go through at least two rounds of beta-reader feedback, which helps immediately. I use the post-it method with this as well, including their feedback along with my thoughts. It’s slow, miserable, and absolutely necessary!

5.   Any favorite apps / software / technology for writing?
I use Scrivener, a writing software that helps organize your writing within a project. It allows you to visually “see” your chapter list, move scenes around easily, and—ideal for an indie author—generate professional e-book formats at the drop of a hat.

6.   Describe your desk / writing corner / favorite writing spot.
My desk is crammed into the space between our bed and the wall. I’m actually quite proud of the desk as I made it myself (okay, I bought the legs pre-made from Home Depot, and it doesn’t have any drawers), but the awful truth about me is I am utterly disorganized. I am currently writing this while sitting on my bed, because my desk is covered in mounds of books and papers. I need to do something about that. Tomorrow!

7.   Do you listen to music while you write? 
Nope. I need quiet to write—not the absolute quiet of noise cancelling headsets, but the relative quiet of a “the kids are in bed” household. Music actually distracts me.

8.   Do you ever get writers' block? What are some ways you get around it?
I either get writers’ block because I’m avoiding some deep emotional truth in my story, in which case I need to make myself write my way through it, or because I’m stumped about how to work something out. In the latter case, I will resort to pen and paper to work through it, and if that doesn’t work, I will usually give myself a break from the story for a week and work on something else. The space and time usually gives me enough perspective to be able to start back on the project after the week has passed.

9.   Do you now, or did you ever have any day jobs? Did they add to or detract from your writing?
I started out of university working with a consulting firm that worked primarily with hospitals. I loved the hospital side of things, but wanted out of the business office, so I went back to school and got my Masters' of Public Health. I then worked with our local health department for the next seven years on various projects, ranging from minority health issues in general to maternal and infant health and reducing infant mortality, to improving food access and addressing diabetes and obesity. I loved the range of projects I was able to work on, and the many opportunities to work with communities to improve community health. But five years ago, my first daughter had been born and I was working only ten hours a week. Not too long after that, as my second daughter’s birth neared, I decided I wanted to stay home. I do still miss my work, though, and hope that I’ll be able to go back to it someday. As for writing while working, I did draft four or five novels, though I didn’t do much editing—I just hadn’t gotten that serious about writing yet.

10.   How do you make the time to write?
Once the kids are in bed, I head straight for my laptop and get to work! What that means is we really don’t have many evening engagements, and my poor husband usually has to schedule movie nights with me. There’s definitely a trade-off involved, but I spend my days with my kids (and my husband is often around since his job is more flexible), so the evenings become my work-time.

11.   What project are you working on now?
Once Memories of Ash releases, I’ll be working on the next book in The Sunbolt Chronicles, as well as a companion trilogy to my debut novel Thorn. The trilogy follows the adventures of Rae, introduced in my free short story, The Bone Knife.

12.   What books do you like to read? What are you reading now?
I love reading YA fantasy all its many forms. I just finished reading Nimona by Noelle Stevenson—it’s a fantastic graphic novel if you haven’t heard of it before. It was recommended to me by a friend who thought one of my villains probably looked a lot like Sir Goldenloin. I read some of the original webcomic and found it absolutely hilarious and quite thought provoking, but I’m really bad at following these thing so I was over the moon when it came out in book form!


Intisar Khanani grew up a nomad and world traveler. She has lived in five different states as well as in Jeddah on the coast of the Red Sea. Until recently, Intisar wrote grants and developed projects to address community health with the Cincinnati Health Department, which was as close as she could get to saving the world. Now she focuses her time on her two passions: raising her family and writing fantasy. Intisar's current projects include a companion trilogy to her debut novel, Thorn, featuring the heroine introduced in her free short story The Bone Knife, and The Sunbolt Chronicles.

Memories of Ash

In the year since she cast her sunbolt, Hitomi has recovered only a handful of memories. But the truths of the past have a tendency to come calling, and an isolated mountain fastness can offer only so much shelter. When the High Council of Mages summons Brigit Stormwind to stand trial for treason, Hitomi knows her mentor won’t return—not with Arch Mage Blackflame behind the charges.

Armed only with her magic and her wits, Hitomi vows to free her mentor from unjust imprisonment. She must traverse spell-cursed lands and barren deserts, facing powerful ancient enchantments and navigating bitter enmities, as she races to reach the High Council. There, she reunites with old friends, planning a rescue equal parts magic and trickery.

If she succeeds, Hitomi will be hunted the rest of her life. If she fails, she’ll face the ultimate punishment: enslavement to the High Council, her magic slowly drained until she dies.

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