Saturday, May 24, 2014

Interview with Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Day Al-Mohamed

Hi there, Danielle and Day!  Thank you both for stopping by to talk to us today!

Danielle: Hi, Luke! ::::waves:::::

Luke Reviews readers will likely be very familiar with the name Danielle Ackley-McPhail (Bad-Ass Faeries, frequent contributor to Defending the Future, etc.), but could each of you give us a brief introduction to yourself?

Danielle: I am a woman of many voices. Not one to limit myself unnecessarily, I write fantasy, urban fantasy, science fiction, science horror, military science fiction, steampunk…pretty much anything and everything that inspires me. I love creating of any type, sewing, cooking, sculpting, and, of course, writing. I do believe that I put together my first book when I was twelve and haven’t stopped since. They have fortunately improved in quality.

I have worked in publishing for over twenty years and I’ve been published for over thirteen years. Currently I have six novels to my credit, three short story collections, one writers guide, seven edited anthologies, and I have contributed to over fifty other anthologies or magazines.

On the other hand, Day Al-Mohamed is making her first appearance on Luke Reviews with Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn.  Can you tell us some more about yourself, Day?  Do you have any other works interested readers can look for?

Day: I’m very excited about this first novel. I love writing, fiction, non-fiction, poetry, comics, even a couple of short films, but novel-length work has always been a bit intimidating. J  I feel like I’m just getting started on some grand adventure!

As to my current work, I co-edited the anthology Trust & Treachery and have shorts in Daily Science Fiction (one of my favorite places to read). This year, I have stories in Sword & Laser, Alternate Hilarities, Breath and Shadow magazine, and GrayHaven Comic’s Women-themed comic anthology (prior work of mine is in their You Are Not Alone anti-bullying issue). I am a member of Women in Film and Video and a graduate of the VONA/Voices Writing Workshop.

When not working on fiction, I’m a Senior Policy Advisor with the Federal government.  I love action movies and tea (lots of tea), and live in Washington, DC with my wife, in a house with far too many swords, comics, and political treatises.  I have a website ( but the easiest place to catch me is Twitter (@DayAlMohamed)!

So. Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn.  I loved it.  How did this wonderful book come about?  Did one of you get the idea and bring it to the other, or were you looking for a story to collaborate on and came up with this together?

Danielle: LOL…it started out as a short story and quickly outgrew its pages. When the publisher learned how long it had grown he told us we could not use it for the anthology it was written for. He said it was a book now and we had to go finish it. We are eternally grateful to him for this. While it would have been a good story, it’s a great book.

Day: Initially, Danielle had asked for help with some of the background for a story she was working on for Gaslight and Grimm.  Having grown up in the Middle East and with stories similar, I have always lamented the lack of diversity in fairytale collections and anthologies.  I wanted to see characters that looked like me. I may have gone overboard in my assistance when I sent her a multi-page guide with definitions, common phrases in Persian and Arabic, notes on clothing, culture-specific responses to the environment etc. That grew into a story collaboration and then, accidentally became a novel collaboration.  J

What was it like collaborating on a project rather than working on an individual work?  Was it hard to give up complete creative control?

Danielle: Oh….just….oh….I do have to admit that I have control issues. I have very definite ideas and find it difficult to let go of details. It takes a lot of effort for me to step back and let someone else guide things. In most cases I did it, only occasionally taking the bit between my teeth on one aspect or another. I just kept in mind that it was our novel not MY novel.  It wasn’t always easy, but I think it is a stronger more tightly woven book precisely because I was able to restrain myself and let Day take equal part in shaping the story.

Day: I think there was some suffering. J I’ll admit, I think I had a slight advantage. Working on a couple of stories for comics, it was a difficult lesson to trust the artist when it came to shaping the vision.  Though I will say, every time I did, the final product was fantastic beyond anything I had conceived of myself.

What process did you use for your collaboration?  Did you meet up and write together, or was it a long range email thing?  Did you switch off writing, or did one person write a draft and the other followed up with complete re-writes?

Danielle: LOLOL….I think you would have to call it the “Hot-Potato” method of collaboration. We had so many great ideas and so much excitement to write it that neither of us held on to it for long. We would write sections and bounce it back to the other and just keep going like the manuscript was going to burn us up if we held on to it too long.

Day: Writing is so often such a solo affair.  This was anything but.  We passed the writing back and forth but it wasn’t just adding new material, it was going back over each other’s writing and adding, adapting, revising, and changing. So it became an exciting game.  What did the other person do?  What is going to happen? What shall I do next?  Add to that “idea conversations” over email or phone where we got to bounce back and forth ideas of where to go. I’m sure this made writing Baba Ali take longer than it would have otherwise, but I think that a small sacrifice.

There were some wonderful period references in your novel.  What sort of research was done in the writing on Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn?

Danielle: The historic elements are a hodgepodge of contributions from both myself and Day. I brought in the historic elements from the Persian dynasties and Al-Jazari’s The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Devices and I picked Charles Babbage as Ali’s mentor, all gleaned by searching certain terms on Google that pertained to the time period we were aiming for and the regions. Once I settled on Babbage I did research into his background and referenced photographs/etchings to incorporate details of his appearance and home. For everything else, to be truthful, I can’t remember what ideas led to finding these particular things. For me research is a real scavenger hunt and I find ways to seed my work with the relevant details. Now Day…she’s the true researcher and history buff. She did a lot more in-depth research to keep us historically accurate and to draw in the right technical feel to lend credence to our period piece, but I’ll let her share those details with you.

Day: I love history. I love alternate history and what ifs.  I also love those tiny details that let you think “This story COULD have happened.” We worked hard to include the 1001 Nights aesthetic and capture elements from oral storytelling, but we also included concrete references and technologies.  I love including those little references for people who either know the topic or are interested enough to take a few minutes to look it up. We pulled up old maps and descriptions of Jerusalem and used actual schematics for the Graf Zeppelin to design the aerostat, Thaddeus Lowe (I also encourage folks to look up who he was).  As a more specific example, I used language references from both Arabic and Persian.  It won’t matter to most readers but if you recognize that difference, it leads you to perhaps some more interesting questions about the origin of Baba Ali and his family.

What about the story of Ali Baba inspired you to use it as the basis of your novel?  There are a lot of stories to choose from in the Arabian Nights, so what made this one stand out?

Danielle: A couple years back a fellow author recommended a themed anthology to me: Gaslight and Grimm: Steampunk Faerie Tales. I loved the idea and so we moved ahead. My vision for that collection was a mix of traditional Grimm’s tales, mingled with fables and tales from other sources as well, to lend variety. I don’t think there was every any question what I was going to do myself. See, while I was growing up my mom worked for CBS records and they received an allotment of free records every year. One of those my mom chose was a recording of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves and some other fable. I don’t remember what the other one was but I listened to Ali Baba until the vinyl was nothing but scratches. Even without that, though,  I really wanted to do Ali Baba myself because I saw so many possibilities to transform the tale through a steampunk retelling.

Day: In some ways, I came to the project knowing it was “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.”  But what I remembered more about the story was that Ali Baba wasn’t really the only hero.  In fact, I had heard of it as “Clever Morgiana” and that long-forgotten element made this stand out as a story with great potential for a retelling.

Is there any chance of a sequel?  This setting and these characters seem so full of depth and wonder that Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn seems like a world with more than one story to tell.

Danielle: Oh….I don’t think we could stop here even if we wanted too. We had half a dozen ideas for other books before we even finished the first one, it seems. There is so much wonder and adventure to explore and elements from the first book still unresolved that there simply have to be more books.

Day: Maybe in a sequel Danielle will let me chop someone into 40 pieces to distribute through the Ottoman Empire…yes? J Expanding to a novel was probably the best thing that could have happened to the story.  It gave us the time and space to not only expand the characters, but to fill in a world rich with magic and mechanics, personal ambition, politics, and secrets.

What other works do you two have on the horizon?  Will we be seeing any more collaborative work from you in the near future?

Danielle: :::groan::: I still have to finish Gaslight and Grimm (Dark Quest Books, Fall 2014) and I have about five novels I’m working on, not counting the future Baba Ali books. There is also a short story collection I’m wrapping up for October. It’s mostly a reprint collection of my urban fantasy stories that have appeared in various anthologies over the years.

Day: Baba Ali? Likely yes.  J  I think we’ve been bitten by the bug and the urge to spend more time in this world is very tempting.  Other things on the horizon? I have several stories and comics coming out this year (I mentioned several above – that’s what I get for not reading ALL the questions before I start answering.) I’m currently in the middle of two other novels, one that has the flavor of a steampunk Lonesome Dove, set post-Civil War and the second, co-written with N.R. Brown, a science-fiction Young Adult novel set in a future Venice.  I have to admit, with showings of both my short films on Virginia cable this year, I also have been thinking about spending a bit more time working on film.

Thank you so much for taking the time to hang out and answer some questions.  Do you have any final comments before we wrap up?

Danielle: Thank you for having us, Luke. And thanks a LOT for really liking our books! For those who are curious about what else we have done, my website is and

Day:  Thank you!  This was a lot of fun.  Just had to say, yours was my first review.  I was so very excited about it. As I said earlier, I love talking to folks and the easiest place to find me is  or (more likely) @DayAlMohamed 

Thanks again!

1 comment:

  1. Since I mentioned a couple of very specific references in the interview that we included in the book, I though it might be fun to add a link or two.

    The Graf Zeppelin was a rigid hydrogen-filled passenger airship from the late 1920s (to the late 30s) and I think probably one of the most photographed on its many trips. There are amazing images of it hovering over the pyramids and above the Old City walls of Jerusalem. This link shows photos and blueprints of the interior. We designed our Thaddeus Lowe aerostat in many ways on the Graf Zeppelin -