Mahvesh Murad and Jared Shurin discuss working with Neil Gaiman and “The Djinn Fall in Love”

"...There was a moment where we thought “jinn” might be too narrow of a theme - but then we received twenty very different stories, each approaching jinn, or the concept of jinn, for totally different perspectives..."

Edited by Mahvesh Murad and Jared Shurin, The Djinn Falls in Love and Other Stories, is a collection of short stories about Djinn; popularly known as genies in the U.S. Including stories from leading authors such as Helene Wecker, James Smythe, Kuzhali Manickavel, and Neil Gaiman, this book uses Djinn to provide fascinating insights into cultures from around the world. Wanting to learn more about this manuscript, Mahvesh Murad and Jared Shurin allowed me to interview them for ScifiPulse.

You can learn more about The Djinn Falls in Love by getting it from Amazon. You can also check out Mahvesh’s and Jared’s thoughts on pop culture by visiting their suitable-for-work website, Pornokitsch.

Yanes: Growing up, what were books you two loved to read? Is there a specific story that still resonates with you today?

Mahvesh and Jared: All the usual suspects, really – everything from the Greek Myths to Margaret Atwood. Bizarrely, we both grew up as big fans of the Dragonlance Chronicles. Maybe not so bizarre, given its ubiquity for a decade. We recently co-hosted an 18 month long re-read project for Tor.com; revisiting our adolescent reading pleasures with… mixed results.

Yanes: Like most Americans, visiting Disney’s EPCOT is how I was first exposed to other cultures. Given your backgrounds, what are some key differences in how other cultures engage fantasy stories?

Jared Shurin: I grew up in the Midwest; about as mathematically far from a border as you could imagine. It obviously wasn’t like living in London, but, even in the very center of the country, we weren’t totally shut off from rest of the world.

In hindsight, I was really lucky: I had great teachers, parents and friends, who actively introduced me – often against my will! – to everything from ‘foreign films’ to (great) food. But with libraries, and the internet, and curiosity, I hope people don’t have to rely on the “Small World” ride as their “introduction” to the rest of the world.

All of that is a long way of saying…I can’t speak for other cultures. But I can speak for my own – and fantasy, like film or food or the occasional fairground ride, is an excellent way of reaching across borders and exploring both new worlds and other parts of our own.

Yanes: Now to the main part of the interview. What was the inspiration behind the book, The Djinn Falls in Love and Other Stories?

Mahvesh Murad: I grew up with djinn stories as something pretty casual; something everyone talked about ubiquitously and accepted. Everyone I knew had one and I knew that djinns were not unique to Pakistani culture – what human experience is? So it made sense to ask writers from all over to tell me their stories. This was a collection I wanted to read, but it didn’t exist.

 

Yanes: It is stated in the introduction that a goal of this book was to use the idea of djinns/genies to showcase storytelling from across the globe. What are some of the depictions of djinns that surprised you the most?

Mahvesh and Jared: What surprised us the most was the variety. There was a moment where we thought “jinn” might be too narrow of a theme – but then we received twenty very different stories, each approaching jinn, or the concept of jinn, for totally different perspectives. On the whole, what surprised us was that, across the book, the jinn were presented in a non-adversarial way. They may be the ‘other’, or different, or even dangerous – but there’s never the assumption that conflict is inevitable.

Yanes: One of the contributors to this collection is Neil Gaiman. What was it like working with him?

Mahvesh and Jared: Neil was actually the fastest writer on the line-up to respond to us. That was pretty amazing.

We spent hours composing the perfect email, “Dear Mr. Prince of Stories…”. Then he responded in minutes. He was, as you might expect, really busy, but he suggested we use an extract from American Gods. It is a brilliant piece, and his enthusiastic response to the project gave us a lot of confidence.

What steps did you take to find the right contributors to this collection?

Mahvesh and Jared: We had a ‘wishlist’ before we even pitched the anthology – writers we’d admired for a long time, that we thought would have something interesting to say. As time went on, we found more: we wanted a range of contributors that would reflect all the possibilities of jinn, both culturally and across genres. We did a lot of reading – which was a lot of fun.

Yanes: Further, given the variety of voices in this collection, how did you two manage to make sure the book felt cohesive?

Mahvesh and Jared: The stories come together with a narrative of their own. There’s the aesthetic theme of ‘jinn’, of course, and also the way the writers all approached jinn as a means of exploring humanity. Fire spirits are pretty interesting, in and of themselves. But how we react to them (and vice versa) is genuinely fascinating.

We can’t claim much credit – great writers make editing easy.

When people finish reading The Djinn Falls in Love and Other Stories, what do you hope that they take away from it?

Mahvesh and Jared: We would never dare to hope for anything beyond basic reading pleasure. Hopefully reader find that they feel this was time well spent, and that these stories made them think in a new way.

We’ve both always believed that a great deal of the onus lies on the reader too – what they bring to the stories, where they’re coming from, what their expectations are. Their baggage, as it were. Each reader is unique and not every story is for every reader, so it’s always interesting to us to hear people’s opinions of the stories. None of us perceive the world in the exact same way, yet we’re all in it together regardless. It’s amazing.

Yanes: Finally, what are some other projects you are both working on that people can look forward to?

Mahvesh and Jared: Fingers crossed, we’ll have some news on this shortly!

Remember, you can get a copy of The Djinn Falls in Love by going to Amazon. And you can check out Mahvesh’s and Jared’s thoughts on pop culture by visiting their suitable-for-work website, Pornokitsch.

And remember to follow me on twitter @NicholasYanes, and to follow Scifipulse on twitter at @SciFiPulse and on facebook.

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