May 11, 2016

5/9/2016 – Sophomore Slump with Saladin Ahmed

Artist: Saladin Ahmed

Location: Parks & Rec Diner


SA – Coffee (black), cinnamon roll

SRS – Coffee (black), 1/2 waffle + 1 egg (over hard), side of bacon

Being a writer is sort of a slippery profession. Compared with other kinds of art-making, it is incredibly low overhead; for the most part, the materials are time and ideally a quiet space to write. And reading material. On the other hand, it’s just you and the page, you and the page, you and the page. It can be a lot of white space. Most writers I know like to read books by writers on writing, if for no other reason than it confirms that all of us struggle, at times, to connect with a fruitful process.

You know when the universe keeps putting something in your path? Two weeks ago, at a thought-leadership summit, someone mentioned the name Saladin Ahmed to me and thought I should get in touch. I took that suggestion with the usual grain of salt and mentally slated some vague intention to look into it. But the name, at least, stuck with me enough that when someone in my social media feed happened to retweet a particularly pithy little political statement, it pinged in my brain – Saladin Ahmed, again. Okay, let’s check this guy out.

Who writes a fantasy/sci-fi novel kind of by accident? Well, Saladin does, as his doctoral thesis. And I do too, actually, back in my frustrated NYC ad agency days, when I spent my nights writing just to keep my brain from dying. Saladin’s book saw publication, however, and has gained him a great deal of interest, a Hugo Award nomination, and 45K followers on Twitter (it’s easy to see why; his feed is funny and extremely on point).

But then Saladin and his wife relocated back to Metro Detroit, where Saladin grew up, to raise their twins – the day-to-day of which is mostly taken on by Saladin. I have no illusions about the amount of energy and focus it takes to manage and rear small children, and as a writer I cannot think of anything more antithetical to the writing process, except construction noise or being poked incessantly with swords. So it comes as no surprise to me that Saladin’s growing family represents (in addition to great joy!) a major disruption to his process as a writer, and that the disruption has much-delayed the anticipated follow-up to his first novel. I wrote my first novel nine years ago, and I’m still trying to recover from it, with no excuse as good as having twins.

But writers gonna write, yo. It’s interesting to see that in a culture of ever-narrowing attention spans, there is more than one way to communicate with an audience and get your ideas across. Fantasy authorship is a notoriously long-form enterprise, and seems to cultivate a kind of slow-pacing in its practitioners. I think it’s smart of Saladin to vary his output – developing a comic book script, working on article pitches, and firing off snappy tweets as he can – to stay in well-rounded shape as a writer. I may not have another novel in me, but I sure can fire off 750-1,000 words without breaking a sweat. If I can just do that 60-100 times in a row on the same subject…I guess I’ll be there.

Yeah, because it’s just that easy.

Saladin doesn’t have anything impending, as far as events, but I heard a rumor he’ll be roaming around Motor City Comic Con this weekend, and of course you can read Throne of the Crescent Moon, if you haven’t already (mine’s on order!) – the key to good writing is good reading, I find, so I’m looking forward to checking it out.

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