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Author Spotlight: Getting Started with Ausma Zehanat Khan

Festival Staff / February 1, 2017

Ausma Zehanat Khan holds a Ph.D. in International Human Rights Law, is a former adjunct law professor, served as the Editor-in-Chief of Muslim Girlmagazine, and somehow also found time to write one of the best debut mystery novels of 2015, The Unquiet Dead,the first in her Rachel Getty and Esa Khattak series.

During the Tucson Festival of Books, Khan will be at panels talking about thrillers on an international scale and how current affairs inform her writing process. Today, though, she took some time from her schedule to talk about where she finds inspiration for her books and how her previous experience continues to strengthen her fiction.

What inspires you to write your books?

A deep desire to communicate ideas, histories, and places of common ground that are outside mainstream narratives. A belief that I have something to say as a writer that my audience may not have heard in quite this way before.

Does the mystery genre allow you to tackle current events and issues from a different angle or way that you may not be able to in other types of fiction? If so, how?

Most people are intrigued by a mystery, and their desire to puzzle it out for themselves is a unique way of drawing readers into a world they may not be familiar with. I approach very difficult and troubling material this way because I think mystery readers are willing to grapple with the darkness of the human heart.

How did your work with Muslim Girlmagazine inform your personal writing?

It gave me a better sense of two things: how marginalized and misrepresented the voices of American Muslims are, and how much beauty and diversity there is in this particular community. I view my work editing MGM and my writing of mystery novels as part of a continuum: I’m committed to representing human rights issues and to providing a counter-narrative to a reductive and often destructive portrayal of Muslims in the West. The end goal I’ve set myself is to do work that’s truthful and humanizing.

What does the day-to-day business of being a writer actually look like for you?

When I have a manuscript due, I write for about six hours a day, for a period of three to four months. For a couple of months before I begin, I conduct exhaustive research. And every day, I carve out a little time to interact with readers and work on the public side of my writing. Because I write about current political events, I also have to keep up with a lot of news, from many different perspectives. Once I’m in a book, it’s all-consuming.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

It’s easiest to write when you know what it is you want to say: what is the story you want to tell or what is your unique point of view? And I’ve found that I have to get a lot of bad writing out of the way before anything good emerges from my pen, so writing consistently is helpful, though there can be a lot of variety in one’s routine—I don’t think there’s any one-size-fits-all approach, except to keep at it.

What are you working on right now?

I am currently working on the fourth book in my Khattak/Getty mystery series. Esa and Rachel are investigating the disappearance of Audrey Clare, the sister of Esa’s closest friend. Her disappearance is connected to the Syrian refugee crisis.

Where can we buy your books?

Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, and Indiebound. And hopefully, your local bookseller as well!

You can find Ausma Khan at the following sessions at the Tucson Festival of Books:

  • "Passport to Death" panel on Saturday at 11:30 AM
  • "Breakout Women of Mystery" collective panel on Sunday at 10:00 AM
  • "Killer Current Affairs" panel on Sunday at 1:00 PM

She will be available at the corresponding signing areas after each of these sessions, and books will be available for purchase.

Nikki VanRy is a freelance writer in Phoenix, AZ. She writes about books at Connect with Nikki on Twitter at @nnsteele.

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