Today I'm very happy to share with you all an interview with indie author Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali. She's an amazing person: a full-time oncology nurse, a full-time mother--and a full-time writer! How does she pull it off? Let's read the interview and find out!
On to you, Khaalidah.
1. First of all, tell us a bit about yourself. What do you do apart from writing?
Honestly, I try to do as little as possible. But don't mistake me, I'm not a slug. I'm so busy in my day to day life that when I'm not busy, doing "nothing" is the only activity that really sounds good, outside of writing.
I work full time as a breast oncology nurse at what is currently the #1 cancer center in the country (USA). My average work day is about 9 hours and I serve as support for two phenomenal physicians in an ambulatory center specifically for breast cancer patients.
I am wife and the mother of three children ages 22, 20, and 11. They are all brilliant in their own rights. The eldest, my son, is a walking compendium everything you did and did not ever want to know, and my two daughters are terrific artists.
I home school my 11 year old.
Along with my husband I maintain an organic garden most of the year.
And I am trying to learn to draw too, with the help of my two artist daughters.
But, let's not forget the writing. This is something that I love to do and one day hope to do full-time.
2. Your debut novel "An Unproductive Woman" was released in 2011. Tell us a bit about it. Where did the inspiration come? What is the book's message?
I wrote An Unproductive Woman about 15 or so years ago. After its completion I tried to find a publisher or an agent... anyone who might be interested in my tale. Needless to say, there were no bites. Then I got busy with a new baby and school and working and the manuscript sat in a box for several years. Then about five years ago I got a call from a rep at Xlibris (not sure how they knew about me) and the opportunity to publish sort of came alive for me again. I self-pubbed with Xlibris in about 2008, spent lots of money and got very little. Then, I became busy again because I went back to school. I just let AUW, hang out for another while. About a year and a half ago, I told Xlibris bye-bye (mostly) and I redid the cover of AUW, formatted it for Kindle and started networking on various social media outlets. I realized that I could do this on my own.
But, uh, you did ask me specifically about AUW, didn't you? Well... in short, the story is about a couple who has been married for several years without children, and what the husband does to remedy that. There are issues of polygamy, religion/faith, betrayal and forgiveness, love and hatred, and redemption. The story mostly follows Asabe, the wife. She is a superstar, let me assure you.
The characters are Muslim and the story takes place in Senegal, Africa, but this is by no means a book strictly for Muslims or Africans. I believe that this story has some very universal threads running through it and I believe it will have an appeal for anyone who has ever loved anyone else, or who has been hurt and subsequently found forgiveness for and from someone else, or someone who would just like a good cultural read.
3. What was the hardest thing about writing "An Unproductive Woman"?
Ah, well now, that is an easy question to answer. It was easy. AUW wrote itself.
Writing AUW was a very cathartic experience for me as I was experiencing a very spiritually and emotionally challenging time of my life. I was learning how to patiently persevere through certain hardships, how to be a better person even when I didn't know how to be, even when it was the hardest thing for me to do. I was buoyed by the indomitable fortitude of my protagonist Asabe. I aspired to be like her.
4. You're an experienced self-published author. Is there any advice you would give authors who are considering the self publishing route?
Absolutely! JUST DO IT. The biggest mistake that I made when I pubbed AUW was letting Xlibris get my time and money. Anyone can do it for themselves. The resources and how-tos are widely available and even free online. There is a thriving, helpful and friendly community out there in cyber land. All you need to do is reach out at places like Twitter and Goodreads and the many writing communities online. There is an amazing group of bright and talented people out there who actually want to help you succeed. They will cheer you on.
Also self-pubbing can cost little to nothing. Certainly, if you want to produce a quality product, you may want to hire someone to edit for you, and it you’re not artistically or patiently inclined, you could hire someone to work with you to design a cover.
Nevertheless, I think self-pubbing is the best thing since sliced bread. That said, as a result of the new self-pubbing craze, there is a lot of uncensored crap out there, let’s face it, but there are also a ton of talented people we may have never gotten the chance to have their work read otherwise.
In short, go for it. Believe in yourself and take the chance.
5. Finally, what projects are you working on now?
The Hinterland Chronicle: Bilqis.
You can check out the genesis of Bilqis here.
Bilqis will be the first of several interconnected books that will not necessarily be sequels to one other. The idea came from several different sources and odd as this may sound, I have been working on this series of overarching stories for the last six or seven years without being fully aware that I was.
In its simplicity, the idea for these tales came from my fear. I am very negatively affected by some of the things I often see in the news, religious hatred, racism, murders and betrayal, wars with no discernible purpose, general cruelty and disdain for those who are different, the casual destruction of our planet and her resources. It terribly saddens and frustrates me.
The Hinterland Chronicles explores what would happen in a world when, with the best of intentions, the government decides that in order to alleviate the problems of religious separation, hatred and violence, it outlaws the practice of religion altogether. The proselytes, or believers who chose to remain steadfast to their beliefs, whatever they may be, are relegated to life in the hinterlands which is a vast depleted wasteland. Bilqis, a physician who lives within one of the major cities, is forced by a series of circumstances to decide what she really believes. The story has a sort of 1984 flair.
A few years ago, I started a serial novel online called Honor & Truth, with my daughter The Artist. She did the art and I wrote and pubbed a chapter every two or so weeks. H&T spanned 30 chapters and had a similar storyline. I eventually stopped writing H&T because I believed it had too many plot holes for me to continue and also because my daughter, just entering college at the time, didn’t have the time to dedicate to the art. I decided to stop where I was and give it another go after creating a solid outline. Funny thing is, I kept getting hung up in the outlining process. I eventually realized that I was choking the story by not allowing it to spread out. When I relented and let the story have its way, Bilqis joined the fray and a couple of other stories that I’d started in the past but never finished were incorporated as well. What I have in front of me right now is a series of at least three books that all take place in the hinterlands and I’m seriously excited about it. Anyone who has followed H&T will recognize some of the same characters in Bilqis.
I’m pushing for a pub date of January 1, 2014, but I’m not holding myself too tightly to that. I feel like I’m making decent progress though.
I’m also working preliminarily on a manga with my daughter called One Knight. One is a hacker/thief/game pirate who decides to use her skills to do good.
All of my writing has some very common similarities. I make a concerted effort to write strong women and people of color. Not necessarily all in one, and not necessarily exclusively. While definitely improving, the vast majority of our literature and games these days, regardless of the source, does not feature accurate or fair representations of people of color. Look at the book covers these days. They all look the same. I want to create literature that speaks to all people and that is representative of the world we live in, which is global, multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-faith and absolutely rich with diversity. That’s my soapbox. Heh.
Nadine, I want to thank you so much for featuring me on your site. I appreciate the opportunity to talk about what I’m working on with others. It helps to keep me motivated and hopefully I can motivate others to reach for their own dreams. Also, I want to wish you good fortune in your own writing endeavors.
For writing updates and musings.
Thank you for the interview, Khaalidah! I hope to feature you again next year when you release your new project!