Hey internet people, it’s me, Slick Dungeon! Even in my dusty old dungeon I occasionally find a gem or two that shines brightly. Even better, occasionally an amazing author will drop by and let me chat with them for a bit. Today I was able to interview Zamil Akhtar, an author who earned from me not one, but two, five star reviews. He’s written Gunmetal Gods and the follow up to it Conqueror’s Blood. You should all check out his books and give them a read if you haven’t. Thanks Zamil for joining me and let’s get right into the interview!
Slick: You’ve described your first book as “Game of Thrones meets Arabian Nights”. I’d say that’s quite an accurate description, although your books are more than a simple mashup of two books. They have their own feel and characters but are reminiscent of both of those worlds. What appealed to you about merging these worlds?
Zamil: Whenever I would read A Song of Ice and Fire or watch Game of Thrones, I’d be mesmerized by the worldbuilding. It was one of the first fantasy worlds that to me felt both real and wondrous. I knew that it was mostly inspired by English history, and so as a writer desired to do something similar but based on Middle Eastern history. Whenever writing a fantasy story based on the Middle East, Arabian Nights is a great place to start for inspiration because it has so much lore. So I brought the politicking, wars, and historicity from Game of Thrones and then took the fantastical elements like djinns and simurghs and general feel of the world from Arabian Nights.
Slick: Your first book was mostly told from the point of view of two men who were set on a path to war for various reasons. Your second book is told from the point of view of two women. What made you decide to go that route? Did you find writing from certain perspectives easier than others?
Zamil: The idea for the sequel was to show a different side to war. While the first book is viewed from the perspectives of fighting men and generals, the second book takes the perspective of those not fighting the wars directly but rather causing them. I wanted to tell a more layered story that focused on politicking, intrigue, and mystery. The two women who are the main characters of Conqueror’s Blood just grew out of that idea naturally, as did the harem setting and all the factions involved. I found writing Zedra most challenging because motherhood is a huge part of her character and not having children myself I don’t have those direct insights.
Slick: Can you tell us a little bit about your writing process? Do you have a routine or do you just sit down when inspiration strikes?
Zamil: When I’m working on a project, I try to write every day, no matter what. It’s like a car battery — if you don’t use it, it goes dead and then it’s difficult to jump start. So I will write as soon as I wake up and have my coffee ready. Normally I’ll aim for a minimum of 2500 words a day, but when I really get going I can hit 7000 words a day.
Slick: That’s an impressive word count!
Slick: When I first read Gunmetal Gods it reminded me of a book I read recently and loved, Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed. Would you say that book was an influence on your writing? And do you have any book recommendations of other authors that you really enjoy?
Zamil: Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed is one of my favorite books. It’s the book that taught me how to describe food. It’s the best prose writing I’ve ever experienced and I’ve never felt so transported to a different world since reading it. Saladin Ahmed is doing great things with Marvel but I still wish he’d write a sequel. There are too many other authors I could name, but I’ll just plug Suzannah Rowntree who is also writing Middle Eastern fantasy. Her book A Wind from the Wilderness, which is about a Syrian boy from the 7th century who time travels hundreds of years into the future to the time of the First Crusade, was a SPFBO finalist in 2020.
Slick: I’m still waiting for the sequel to Throne of the Crescent Moon too. I’ve added Suzannah Rowntree’s book to my TBR list and I hope others check her out as well.
Slick: One of the things that stands out to me in your stories is when we see an intensely personal moment where a character has a personal connection with another and moments later we can be seeing the most terrifying gods and creatures coming almost out of nowhere to just do what they want. How do you balance the personal stories with the cosmic powers in your books? Do you find writing one type of scene more enjoyable than the other?
Zamil: The scenes where characters interact tend to come more naturally to me than the cosmic horror scenes, but I enjoy writing both and I love contrasting them. I think even right now, a giant space monster could appear over earth and just start destroying our cities — it’s not impossible because we don’t know what’s out there in the insanely vast cosmos. Then you would realize how insignificant that argument you just had was…which is what I want the characters to reflect on.
Slick: Well, now I’m picturing a space monster come to devour us… To be fair, if that happened, I would be much less concerned with meeting a deadline at work.
Slick: While Conqueror’s Blood is a direct sequel to Gunmetal Gods, I didn’t feel like a reader had to have read the first volume to enjoy this one. Why did you decide to switch from the more expected route, where we might be following along from the point of view of Kevah and his journey?
Zamil: I knew from the time I was writing the ending of Gunmetal Gods that the sequel would not have Kevah as a main character. I wrote Gunmetal Gods to function as a standalone, so Kevah had a resolution to his story by the end and thus couldn’t be the driving force for the next book. As a writer, I also enjoy doing something different with each book, so I suppose readers should expect the unexpected going forward.
Slick: Kind of like expecting a giant space monster to start destroying our cities. I’m looking forward to being surprised by your writing in the future.
Slick: Do you have plans to continue this series of books and if so do you have a guess as to when the next volume might be ready?
Zamil: I will definitely continue it. I am aiming for an early to mid 2022 release for Book 3.
Slick: Some of the creatures in your book kept me up late at night with horrible images in my head (that’s something I enjoy by the way). Is there a source of inspiration for the gods and other beings in your book or do they just come from pure imagination?
Zamil: I love watching, reading, and writing horror. My brain is also full of terrifying images from all the horror I’ve consumed throughout my life, and this is something I enjoy too. Cosmic horror is my favorite sub genre, so I’m inspired by the likes of Lovecraft, Jinjo Ito, Stephen King, and others. Growing up in the Middle East, I would hear so many stories about djinns and all the things they would do, some of it being quite benign and others horrific, so that thread also inspires me.
Slick: While there are several characters from the first book that show up in Conqueror’s Blood most of them play a more minor role here. Are there plans for those characters to be featured more prominently once again in later volumes?
Zamil: Right now I’m in the planning stages for Book 3 so many things are up in the air, but I do love the Book 1 characters and want them to feature prominently. Since my books are about half the length of a typical Song of Ice and Fire novel, I have to be careful how I balance characters so that there are not so many on the page that they all feel insufficiently developed.
Slick: Are there genres outside of fantasy or dark fantasy that you enjoy either reading or writing about?
Zamil: I love science fiction. Right now I’m reading the Three Body Problem series and it’s blowing me away with so many awesome ideas. But I don’t think I’m quite ready to write a hard sci-fi novel as they seem to require a tremendous amount of research and I was never the best at science in school.
Slick: You and me both as far as science goes!
Slick: What’s one bit of writing advice you would give to aspiring authors?
Zamil: Early on, look to identify the problems in your writing and fix them. Seek criticism from others, have a thick skin, and don’t take things personally. This is how you get better.
Slick: That seems like sound advice to me.
Slick: If people would like to find out more about you and your writing, where should they go?
Zamil: My website ZamilAkhtar.com is a good place to check out my novels and short stories.
Slick: I’d recommend everyone go there and sign up for your email newsletter as well. I’m on your list and you tend to send out some great content about other authors as well as information about your own books. It’s worth it for sure.
Slick: How can people get a copy of your books?
Zamil: My books are available on Amazon. You can check out my author profile here.
Slick: Any final thoughts you would like to leave us with?
Zamil: Thank you Slick Dungeon and everyone who took a chance on a new author and read Gunmetal Gods. It’s not even been a year since I released it, but what was once a hobby is now a driving force in my life. I hope to bring more awesome stories to the Gunmetal Gods series and other series I’m planning in the near future!
Slick: When you do, I’ll be right there ready to read what you release and I encourage everyone else to do the same. Thanks so much for taking time out of your day to do this interview with me and I hope we can talk again on your next release.
Well, there you have it folks. go out and get Zamil’s books and try not to think about giant space monsters coming down to destroy our cities.
I bet I can guess what you’re thinking of right now!
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