Author Interview: Intisar Khanani

Today I’m pleased to welcome YA author Intisar Khanani to Off the Page for a chat about her latest book, Thorn.

Intisar Khanani grew up a nomad and world traveler. Born in Wisconsin, she has lived in five different states as well as in Jeddah on the coast of the Red Sea. She first remembers seeing snow on a wintry street in Zurich, Switzerland, and vaguely recollects having breakfast with the orangutans at the Singapore Zoo when she was five. She now resides in Cincinnati, Ohio, with her husband and young daughter. Intisar writes grants and develops projects to address community health with the Cincinnati Health Department, which is as close as she can get to saving the world. Her approach to writing fantasy reflects her lifelong passion for stories from different cultures. She is currently writing a trilogy set in the same world as Thorn. This is her first novel.

1. Tell a little about yourself, what you do when you’re not writing, what are your aspirations for the future??

I live in Cincinnati, Ohio, with my husband, mother-in-law, and 2-year-old daughter. We’re expecting another addition to our family this July, which is why it’s been so exciting to get Thorn out this spring. I expect things will be a little crazy this summer! When not writing, I’m playing with my daughter, being a mom in general, and reading whatever I can get my hands on. I just left my job with the Cincinnati Health Department, working to improve community health through various initiatives addressing issues like infant mortality and access to food. I’m planning to take a swing at being a full-time mom, and continuing to write and publish my stories.

2. When and why did you start writing??

I started writing about the time that I learned how to write (a fully-illustrated and well-stapled story about a good little fish who went to school being my first full-length book). I’ve also loved reading and making up stories of my own, writing them down was a just natural extension of that.

3. Have any particular novels or writers influenced your writing??

Probably too many to account for! Growing up, I loved Jane Austen, Patricia McKinley, Dostoyevsky, and T.S. Elliott to name a few. I would read widely and voraciously, and while I’ve gotten more selective as I’ve grown, I expect those early loves have influenced my writing in certain but indefinable ways.

4. Give us some back story about Thorn, where and when did you write it??

I drafted Thorn during my senior year of college. I wrote it as a challenge to myself; I’d always loved writing but the idea of a novel was slightly intimidating. I decided to take a well-loved fairy tale (The Goose Girl) and write it as a novel, one chapter a week, as an exercise in novel-writing. I finished well before graduation, but it still took me another ten years of picking it up and putting it down before I felt ready to publish Thorn—thirteen revisions in all!

5. What inspired your story??

As I mentioned above, Thorn is a retelling of the Grimms’ fairy tale, The Goose Girl. All the basic plot elements and general story arc come from that. But Thorn carries a lot more than the fairy tale does, delving into questions of betrayal, deceit, justice and mercy. Clearly, betrayal came from the original story, but as I worked through my revisions, getting to know my characters, the other themes emerged. I’ve found this to be true with other novels I’ve drafted since: my first draft is story with perhaps one big question. Once I read through what I’ve written, the other issues that my characters are struggling with begin to emerge and I focus on those through my revisions.

6. What was your favorite part of Thorn to write??

I loved writing the climax; it’s when my main character, Thorn, really comes into her own. She’s faced with a nearly impossible task, and she doesn’t hesitate. She takes the fight she’s been avoiding for most of the book and owns it.

7. Are you working on any other projects at the moment??

Far too many! Right now, I’m focusing on revising a trilogy that is set in the same world as Thorn. It starts a short time after Thorn ends, but focuses on a new main character. Some of the characters you’ve met in Thorn will reappear, but the story line is new. I’ve also got about three other novels in my back pocket that I desperately want to finish revising…

8. Any advice for aspiring authors??

Write, write, then write some more. Revision may be painful, but it is also the second most important thing you can do after writing. It helps to have a couple writer friends to share your work with (mutual support is a wonderful thing). And, finally, believe in yourself. As long as you are writing, you’re a writer.

9. Do you have any tricks to your trade, bottomless coffee, a magic pen, a special muse??

Not really. I do need peace and quiet to write, which is tougher to get than it may initially sound like, given our growing family. I end up writing a lot at night, once everyone who can be convinced to go to bed is fast asleep. 🙂

10. Which fictional character would you like to take to dinner and why?

This is an evil question. I would much prefer a banquet, so I could choose my top, oh, forty characters. Seriously, though, I think I’d like to have dinner with Elizabeth Bennett (Pride and Prejudice). She’s witty, observant, and fun. Or maybe Hermione Grainger. Honestly, I’d be happy to have dinner with an evil stepsister, just to get inside her head for a minute.

Thank you Intisar Khanani for stopping by. Be sure to check out her fantasy novel Thorn.

Princess Alyrra’s strength lies in silence. Scorned by her family, she avoids the court, spending her time with servants. When her marriage is unexpectedly arranged with the prince of a powerful neighboring kingdom, Alyrra feels trapped. As the court celebrates her match, dark rumors spread about the unexplained deaths of the women of her new family. Alyrra begins her journey with mounting trepidation; betrayed while traveling, she seizes an opportunity to start a life away from court.

Walking away from a prince whom she doesn’t know should have been easy. But from the moment she sets eyes on him, Alyrra realizes that her freedom could cost him his life. Without any magical defense of her own, she is plunged into a lethal game of sorcery and deceit. Now Alyrra must decide whom she can trust and what she’s willing to fight for—before her silence proves fatal.


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