I had the great fortune of meeting today’s visiting professor when we were both members of an online critique group six years ago. Mina Khan was one of the early readers of my debut release Man Law and as I write this intro, I’m feeling a bit nostalgic. The road to a publishing contract is not an easy one and I’m thrilled to welcome Mina to Romance University to share her journey.
I have been writing since third grade and the dream of being a published author has been in my heart for a long time. In my quest to find my writing voice I have written poetry, screenplays, literary short stories, news, food writing, chicklit, and mysteries. My non-fiction started earning money and it would have been easy to let go of the fiction-part of my dream, but the stories refused to leave me alone.
Despite many people shaking their heads at my stubbornness, I kept writing, reading and taking classes to grow myself as a fiction writer. And along the way I gathered three pieces of advice that focused me as a writer and helped me get published.
I’d always heard the advice “Write what you know” and resisted it. I didn’t want to write about the ordinary reality I knew, I wanted to write about fantastic adventures and larger-than-life characters.
Fortunately for me I attended a live session with writing guru Donald Maass and he said: “You have to bring your authentic experience to the page, to the characters. The more you put yourself out there, the more readers love it.”
The phrase “authentic experience” clicked inside my head. What could I, as an individual, bring to the page? For my novella, THE DJINN’S DILEMMA, I delved into stories of djinns and ghosts from my Bangladeshi childhood, brought in my experience as a journalist in Texas, and added a liberal dash of what I love about men as a grown woman.
The second advice, also from Maass, is make your characters care about something you care about. For most of my life I have defined and redefined myself as life changed. So besides being a love story, THE DJINN’S DILEMMA is also about identity and acceptance – accepting oneself and others for our strengths and weaknesses, for who we are.
The third piece of advice that worked for me: “Write the book you want to read.” Throughout my life I have been mistaken for Hispanic, Filipina, Chinese, Thai etc. and that’s okay. Being an Asian with freckles did make me hard to classify, and for the most part I consider myself a global nomad with an American passport.
So I wanted to write characters who straddled different worlds. My hero, the assassin Rukh, is part human and part djinn (genie) and can pass between the two parallel dimensions. My heroine, Sarah Jasmine White, is of Afro-Caribbean and Caucasian origins. And the two of them meet in Austin, Texas –one of the most diverse and eclectic places I know.
As a result, my debut story ended up with an Eastern djinn mythology and mixed-race characters – some naysayers reacted by saying the story was too exotic and would appeal to too few. Wouldn’t sell.
Well, it did sell, and yes, I have had to explain a few times that djinn (pronounced gin) is the same as genie. But do I regret writing the story the way I did? No. Here’s a bonus for you – the best advice I ever got and it’s from Cookbook Author Nancie McDermott: “When people say it can’t be done, what they mean is they can’t imagine it…the way you can.”
RU Crew, have you received great advice you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you.
Join us on Friday when Heather Webber joins us to talk about the good, the bad and the ugly of being an author.
BIO: Mina Khan is a Texas-based writer and food enthusiast. She daydreams of hunky paranormal heroes, magic, mayhem and mischief and writes them down as stories. Between stories, she teaches culinary classes and writes for her local newspaper. Other than that, she’s raising a family of two children, two cats, two dogs and a husband.
She grew up in Bangladesh on stories of djinns, ghosts and monsters. These childhood fancies now color her fiction.
You can find her at:
- Weekly Lecture Schedule for November 28-December 2, 2011
- The Bollywood Revolution – South Asian Authors and Romance
- Trish Milburn on Setting as Character