Aliya Anjum is the author of the new women’s fiction novel Saffron September, about a Pakistani-American woman’s mid-life search for love and marriage. She has also written short stories and books in several other genres, including a non-fiction travelogue and a collection of horror stories. Stay tuned next week for a review of her short story “The Demon’s Promise”!
You’ve been writing since you were eight years old; what inspires you?
Books have forever been a part of my house and reading inspired me to write. When I was very young, I wrote short snippets and poems. I had those little booklets with me well into my late teens, but unfortunately, I lost them later. After growing up, writing was something that I enjoyed and it gave me an outlet to express my views.
You write in a variety of different genres, both fiction and non-fiction; what is your favorite genre to write in?
Non-fiction is much more challenging to write, firstly because of the research involved and secondly, because of the fact that non-fiction does not have a huge market. I enjoy writing fiction, therefore; there is less research required and story-telling is always enjoyable. Within fiction, YA fiction is exciting and fun to write.
What is your writing process like?
For fiction I begin with a character and her/his story in mind. I don’t mind-map my story, so it develops as I write it. A writer gets to live in the world he/she creates and then there are surprising things that the mind conjures up. It’s fun and spontaneous that way. I write best when I am writing a short story in one go or when I wrote my novel “Saffron September: A Muslim Woman’s Story” in 35 days straight. Unlike some writers, I can’t continue writing a story over a long period of time, because then it gets harder and harder to get back inside the character’s mind and world.
You currently live in Karachi, Pakistan. What is your favorite thing about living there?
Karachi is one of the ten largest cities in the world. It’s a cosmopolitan city, which never sleeps. You can drive down a road at 3 a.m. and you’ll find traffic. It’s a city of paradoxes, where a Mercedes and a donkey cart can be seen sharing the road. Karachi is the intellectual and commercial capital of Pakistan, so it’s an exciting city, and a shopping paradise where you can buy almost anything that is sold anywhere in the world. I am so glad I have lived here almost all my life.
How did you feel about living in America when you came to Philadelphia for graduate school?
You meet people from all over the world in America, thanks to the spirit of diversity, opportunity and racial integration. America is a world leader in technology, education and innovation, there is much to learn from it. It also has so many fun things to offer, such as Six Flags and Disney World, which delighted my inner child. Tourism is well-developed and it’s great to explore the country. My university had an extremely beautiful campus and when in autumn the leaves changed colors, it was picture perfect. I also saw snow for the first time in America and loved it.
Saffron September is a result of my observations and experiences in America. It lay inside me and I decided to breathe life into it by penning it down. It is fiction, but it’s close to the truth. The most flattering thing that occurred after I wrote the book was an anthropological research book I read about Muslims in America. It corroborated most things I had written.
Your book is very informative about Muslim religion and culture. What fact about Islam would you say is the least known or most misunderstood by outsiders?
I would say two facts and not just one fact; the status of women and violence. Voices that speak for Muslim women often aim to strengthen negative stereotypes, for personal gain. When I began writing my book, I searched Amazon to see what books were available in the Muslim-American or Islamic Fiction category. The available books were stories of veiled women and their extreme suffering at the hands of Muslim men. On a writer’s forum I sought feedback for my book cover, and to my utter amazement I discovered a fictional fixedness viz a viz Muslim women and the face veil. The veil, of course, is a symbol of oppression in the Western mind. There are 1.3 billion Muslims in the world, and the stories of average Muslims are never told. Reading only the stories of sex slaves, child brides and battered women is akin to watching the Jerry Springer show and concluding that it represents mainstream America.
Violence is a much larger issue that has its underpinnings in globalization, geo-politics, post-colonialism and Political Islam, but it’s erroneously linked to the Qur’an.
Do you have any advice for aspiring indie writers?
Indie publishing has given writers unprecedented opportunities. If you’re an aspiring writer, the time to turn your dreams into reality is now. However, be true to yourself and write about subjects that you feel passionate about. Be open to advice and criticism, but do not let anyone change you or make you lose heart.
What is your next project?
I am currently wrapping up a novella, titled Love or Arranged: A Modern Marriage Dilemma. After this, I hope to pen another travelogue as I proceed for a long-awaited vacation at the end of the year.