Shaheen Ashraf-Ahmed is the author of two works for the Kindle, A Deconstructed Heart and a short story, A Change in the Weather. Her book, A Deconstructed Heart, ranked #35 on the Amazon top 100 bestselling free ebooks for Literary Fiction. She won the a national essay competition about life in India held by the Indian High Commission in England and has had her poetry published in the Cadbury’s Book of Children’s Poetry and Tomorrow magazine. Shaheen Ashraf-Ahmed grew up in India and England before moving to America. She lives in Chicago with her family.
What inspires you to write?
I find that the written word gives us an opportunity to make sense of the human experience. Life rushes past us, and, in writing, we have an opportunity to shape, control and explore events and feelings that are fleeting in real time. I have been fortunate enough to have been exposed to great literature by teachers and mentors, who have pointed out the beauty possible in great writing, like strawberries hidden under leaves on the roadside. I am inspired by the stories and memories recalled by my mother, who grew up in India at an amazing and terrible time in India’s history -partition, the assassination of Gandhi – and who experienced poverty that teaches me about the resilience and dignity of poor folks who refuse to quit: uncles who studied under street lights because they had no electricity, aunts who traded and resewed clothes in order to keep up with the latest styles, relatives with great vision and disastrous shortcomings. I am inspired by a perspective on Indian immigration to the west, the longing and loss for a homeland that recedes into memory, the realities and compromises that modern life requires, the search for meaning and continuity that is disrupted when the ground beneath our feet changes, and changes again.
Tell us about your writing process
I am a brainstormer, so early into the process, I will note words, images, sentences that seem true for my characters or my plot lines. When I have fleshed out an idea, I try not to overthink things, because I find that for me, this can be paralyzing – it is important to stay “in flux” otherwise, I could close myself off to a new idea. I just begin writing with my initial idea in my head until I feel the direction my book or short story will take. I find that the music of writing begins to tug at me, drawing me to an outcome that I may not have anticipated. I have to abandon my books for a while, in order to “re-see” them, to feel if there is a false word or paragraph or a new sub-plot that demands to be considered.
For Fiction Writers: Do you listen (or talk to) to your characters?
I listen to the words I have written to see if they are true for my character. I think about what would be challenging for them and what they are good at, because our strengths and weaknesses say so much about us – they determine where we show ourselves, the situations where we take control and conversely, what we run from, when we hide.
How did you decide how to publish your books?
I have been writing for years, but I was nervous about putting myself and my innermost thoughts out there. I’m sure this is a common phenomenon for all writers! As an essentially private person, this was like pulling teeth, but I was fortunate enough to have people believe in me and just tell me that they were waiting for me to step up and contribute my abilities to the world. You can’t be grateful enough for these kinds of people in your life. I knew that the book publishing world can be harsh and indifferent, and I thought that the Kindle was probably the format where I could ease into published life, learn the ropes and build up a readership.
What do you think about the future of book publishing?
I think there has never been a better time for publishing. I actually studied book publishing for a postgraduate diploma in England aeons ago and we saw that the digital age would be a game-changer. I like the democratic process of everyone being welcome at the table. I do not think that this affects merit, I feel that readers will determine what they want – as they always have- and good writing will make its own rise to the top, albeit in new and diverse formats.
What genres do you write?
Literary fiction; ethnic; multicultural; contemporary fiction; women
What formats are your books in?
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