Their Laughter Hides Their Loss: An Interview with Intisar Khanani


2014 was a my big introduction to indie authors. I had not, until last year, paid much attention to what indie authors were doing or to the self-publishing scene at large – I was still adamant it was traditional publishing for me or nothing. But then I began reading a string of self-published titles around the middle of the year. Those titles and their authors woke me up to all that self-publishing could be, the sheer TALENT that was waiting to be discovered. One of those books was Thorn, by Intisar Khanani. I am so pleased to have had the opportunity to interview Intisar and learn more about this wonderful writer and her work.

RLM: How did you first come to writing?

IK: I’ve been writing and telling stories most of my life, but I didn’t get serious about publishing until I was pregnant with my second daughter and decided to give up the (part-time) job I was holding. I decided if I was letting go of my public health career for the time being, I’d invest in the other career I’d never let myself take seriously before: writing. I knew it would be tough, but I figured there would be nap times and evenings in which to write, and looking back now, three years later, I am so grateful that I made the commitment to try.


RLM: You indie published your first book, Thorn. What led you to indie publishing rather than traditional publishing?

IK: I’d searched for an agent for over two years, and I was tired of it. At the same time, there were a lot of articles in the news about Amanda Hocking’s success, and my husband (who is also my greatest cheerleader) kept encouraging me to look into indie publishing. I did, and I realized it was a great fit for me: I could get my books out there on my own timeline, people would be able to find them if they wanted to (unlike the old-style vanity publishing), and my books would be mine. They’d never go off the virtual bookshelf, I could change covers, experiment with price points, and adjust how I was marketing the book. They were all positives to me, so I went for it.

thornRLM: How do you balance having children and a full-time job with your writing?

IK: I don’t! I don’t try to get much done during the day that isn’t kid or house related. Writing is my night-time occupation, and if I get two hours of writing in at night, I consider it a good night. I also have to include some time for the business of writing, including social media and blog posts, however minimal those may be in my case. I am really excited for next year, when I hope to start getting three or four afternoons a week to write while the kids are in school. It will be fantastic to get some daylight writing hours!

RLM: I have that same reprieve on the horizon. My youngest is going to preschool this next year and my oldest will be in all day school, so maybe our time is coming!

RLM: Back to business. You seem to utilize fairy tales a lot in your writing and your stories have a lovely allegorical feel. Tell me about the importance of fairy tales to you.

IK: I’ve loved fairy tales since I was a kid – the real ones, as well as the Disney-fied ones. Disney is great, but there’s something fantastic and frightening and real about the actual fairy tales and folk tales passed down in the oral tradition and recorded by folks like Perrault and the Grimm brothers. I started buying collections of folk and fairy tales whenever I found them, and by the time I was in high school I had a pretty diverse, multicultural collection. I think that early love (and immersion) in the language and stories of fairy tales has really influenced both my writing style and what I look for and love in stories.


RLM: You are donating a part of your proceeds from Sunbolt to the United Nations Children’s Fund. What was the impetus behind that?

IK: Well, Hitomi’s an orphan in a foreign land, and she ends up on the run a lot. She’s a natural at making allies, and she starts out the story with a strong support network, but she really could have done with UNICEF to help her out, especially those times she had to resort to stealing to get a meal. Since I couldn’t give her UNICEF, I figured she could give to them.

RLM: Obviously, you are very socially conscious. Is there then a message in your stories that you want readers to grasp?

IK: Yes and no. There are a lot of themes and ideas that creep into my stories, but I don’t want my readers to be looking for them and I sure don’t want to hit readers over the head with a sledgehammer to make sure they get “the moral of the story.” I hope that there’s something in each of my stories for readers, but what speaks to them most clearly will depend on them. For some, Sunbolt is just a fun seat-of-your-pants read that helps them take a step away from whatever is happening in their lives, for others, there are issues of racism that come to the fore, for yet others, there’s the question of violence and what it does to us. To me, Sunbolt has a bit of all of these; I just hope that each reader gets what they need out of the story.


RLM: Writing can be a lonely and draining process. How do you keep spiritually strong and your mind well-oiled?

IK: I had a bit of a rough time keeping that balance this fall. Two things have helped: keeping a journal (which I’m pretty bad at, but I do pick it up when I hit a low), and what I term “social writing.” I have a couple of writer friends, and a few evenings a week we get on either Skype or Facebook and write together. We’ll check in, find out what everyone’s working on, and then log off for an hour to write. At the end of the hour, we can talk about what we managed, what we’re excited about (or not), and then potentially do another writing session. Honestly, this has helped me tremendously, because I know there’s someone I have to answer to at the end of that hour… I don’t want to have to admit to spending half an hour reading tweets or scrolling through Tumblr during a writing session. And the social aspect of it keeps me excited about writing, and helps me think through things that I might otherwise struggle with for hours if not days.

I also make sure that I’m taking care of myself spiritually and physically – for me, that means yoga and zumba at least twice a week, plus making the time for a learning circle with other young Muslim women on a regular basis. And of course, my kids keep me active and laughing!

 bone knife

RLM: What book/story do you wish YOU had written?

IK: All. Of. Them. Just kidding! I don’t know that I wish I had written any other book that I’ve read, because I’m always so grateful to dive into another well-written story and revel in it. But I sure would love to have tea with Jane Austen.

RLM: I’m subscribed to your newsletter, but I just can’t wait! Tell me about the Shadow League.

IK: The Shadow League is actually my street team. We have a Facebook group and mostly just chat and have fun together. We’re pretty laid back, and we’d love to have more folks join us!

RLM: How is work going for the Theft of Sunlight trilogy? And the next installment to Sunbolt?

IK: I’m currently working on Memories of Ash, the sequel to Sunbolt. It’s decided to turn into a full-length novel, and it has a mind of its own, which should explain to some degree why it will be published a year behind schedule. (I also had to take some time off to focus on my kids last year, so that added on to the timeline.) I’m hoping to get Memories out this summer, and then I’ll shift gear to The Theft of Sunlight. I actually have the whole trilogy drafted, they’re just really patchy drafts and… in many ways, I don’t feel like I found the heart of the story for the first book. After spending a few months banging my head against it, I put it away and worked on Sunbolt. Now that I’ve had some time to let it sit, I’m planning to go back and try again. I love Rae, so I’m hoping to give her her due soon!


Make sure you pick up your copy of Intisar’s story “The Bone Knife” for free at most e-retailers. This fascinating short story introduces kicks off The Theft of Sunlight trilogy. In it, we get to know the heroine, Rae, and her family. We also learn how she came by “that nifty bone knife she uses throughout the trilogy.” Connect with Intisar on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Pinterest, and at her website.

2 thoughts on “Their Laughter Hides Their Loss: An Interview with Intisar Khanani

  1. Thanks so much for the interview, Robin! And yes–both my girls will be in preschool next year so we really are in the same place! I try not to feel guilty about how completely excited I am to have a few afternoons a week to myself!


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