alisa alering

Writer of fantasy and other fictions


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The Superpower Every Writer Wants: An Interview with Intisar Khanani

Khanani Photo ctuIntisar Khanani grew up a nomad and world traveler. Born in Wisconsin, she has lived in five different states as well as in Jeddah on the coast of the Red Sea. She first remembers seeing snow on a wintry street in Zurich, Switzerland, and vaguely recollects having breakfast with the orangutans at the Singapore Zoo when she was five.

I met her at the Indiana University Writers’ Conference in the summer of 2012, where she repeatedly showed me how to fix my ham-handed needle work in the book-making class.

She visits today to talk about writing while parenting, when it’s okay not to write, and the importance of having a nice, private shower to escape to.

1. What’s a typical writing day like for you?

My typical day starts around 6 am when our toddler comes into our room to get me to help her in the bathroom (ah, the trials and travails of potty training). By the time we’re done, the baby is awake and so begins our day. While my husband helps out a lot with the kids, the only “quiet” times I really get tend to be if the kids go down for their nap at the same time. If I’m tired out enough, I’ll go down as well and if I don’t sleep, I spend the time lying down thinking of characters, scenes, and dialogue. Cooking is another good opportunity for developing dialogue. The shower is best, but that typically doesn’t happen till the kids are asleep anyhow. So, when I finally sit down with my laptop sometime after 8 pm, I’m ready to pound out what I’ve been thinking about through the day.

2. What’s your favorite thing about your workspace?

The trouble with my workspace is I don’t really have one. When we first moved into our condo, we had grand ideas of turning one of the two spare bedrooms into a writing room (my husband writes academic books). Now that we have two little ones and my mother-in-law staying with us, we’re a little cramped when it comes to dedicating space to anything other than toys. And diapers. I typically end up writing on my bed or on the living room couch (thank God for laptops!). I do miss the days when I had a desk and chair, both facing the wall. It helped reduce distractions—and I am easily distracted. But hey, any space is better than no space.

Any space is better than no space

Any space is better than no space

3. Besides other books/writers, where do you draw inspiration? 

I’ve realized that, when my creative well is drying up, it’s typically because I’m sleep deprived and a little tired of the day-to-day. I give myself a 2-3 day break from writing, read for fun, get out of the house and do something different with the kids, and get myself in bed as early as possible. By the end of the three days, I’m typically waking up with scenes in my head and am ready to go again.

I know some authors who swear you should write every day no matter what (my husband is one of them). I can’t do it. I’ve tried, and I’ve realized that actually empties me out. I need short breaks periodically; I need to pace myself with my story; and I need to pay attention to when I’m not writing because there’s some emotional depth or plot point I’m wary of getting into—that’s the only time I make myself write instead of allowing myself a break.

4. What do you wish you were reading but aren’t? (Because it doesn’t exist.)

Wow. That’s a hard one. I think I want more Jane Austen. And I want more YA fantasy novels about young women where the love interest doesn’t become the be-all and end-all of the heroine’s life. I know, not a request that you might expect from a Jane Austen fan, but we’re talking about YA fiction, and YA fantasy in particular, today. And what I would most want? A bestseller YA fantasy series about a girl without a love interest, or only a minor one who crops up halfway through and doesn’t rule the plot. You know, like Harriet Potter.

5. Superpower you wish you had?

The ability to write in my sleep. ‘Nuff said.

6. What should a reader do after reading this interview?

Support indie authors! With the advent of e-books, indie published novels are booming. There are some awesome new authors out there who don’t have traditional publishing houses backing them and pushing their books. Consider setting yourself a challenge to read three new indie authors in the coming months. GoodReads is a great way to get the scoop on new indie reads and up-and-coming indie authors, so go have fun!

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Intisiar Khanani currently resides in Cincinnati, Ohio, with her husband and two young daughters. Until recently, Intisar wrote grants and developed projects to address community health with the Cincinnati Health Department, which was as close as she could get to saving the world. Now she focuses her time on her two passions: raising her family and writing fantasy. Intisar’s next projects include a companion trilogy to her debut novel Thorn, following the heroine introduced in her short story The Bone Knife, and a novella series set in a fictional world of eleven kingdoms all controlled by a corrupt Council of Mages. 

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Wiscon Schedule

Two days to Wiscon!

Mini-preview of Lynda Barry drawings for the Tiptree auction

Mini-preview of Lynda Barry drawings I’m donating for the Tiptree auction

Things I’m looking forward to:

My schedule:

Novel Writers’ Workshop

Mike Underwood (mod), Marianne Kirby, Aaron Micheau, Alisa Alering

Friday 9am — ?

Everyone in my workshop is working on a YA novel. I’ve been reading the chapters, and we’ve got shape-shifters and parallel worlds, and strange and dangerous beasties. I met Mike Underwood at Wiscon last year (He’s a fellow CW alum & for a while we lived in the same town.) I heard him read from his debut novel, Geekomancy, and I think his sense of humor is right on target for the project I’m working on. Should be good fun.

How To Create When Life Isn’t Slowing Down For You

Cliff Winnig, Alex Bledsoe, Rory Metcalf, Kiini Ibura Salaam, Alisa Alering

Friday, 4:00pm — 5:15pm, Room 629

Writing the perfect novel or story is difficult while juggling a job, long-term relationships (spouses, children), and the constant interruptions that happen. However, as projects like NaNoWriMo show, it is possible to manage time effectively to create while still maintaining some semblance of life. Let’s talk about time and project management, organizing ideas, and using the dead time (waiting in lines, driving) to plan out projects.

Class in Science Fiction and Fantasy

Ian K. Hagemann, Eileen Gunn, Madeleine E. Robins, Alisa Alering

Saturday, 2:30pm — 3:45pm, Wisconsin

In speculative fiction, we create entire worlds and societies. How does SF handle social and economic class? Is there room for improvement? If so, what?

Broad Universe Rapid-Fire Reading

Sandra Ulbrich Almazan, F.J. Bergmann, Ada Milenkovic Brown, D.L. Burnett, Kater Cheek, Anna LaForge, Julia Dvorin, Heather McDougal, Katherine Mankiller, Alisa Alering

Saturday, 9:00pm — 10:15pm, Conference 2

Come hear the members of Broad Universe read from their current projects. Not sure what I’m going to read yet…

I’m also going to be volunteering for the:

Tiptree Bake Sale

Saturday, 11:30am — 5:15pm, Room 627 

“World Domination through Bake Sales!” That’s one of the slogans at Tiptree Juggernaut Headquarters. The Tiptree Award supports gender-bending SF/F, publishes, auctions, and loves chocolate chip cookies! A wide variety of cookies, breads, cakes, pies and delectables are baked and donated by Tiptree supporters.

I’ll be dishing out goodies from 11:30 – 1pm. I’m also bringing these:

SFS_GoodyGoodyBars_276613


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Writers of the Future 2013, Day 5

At the book factory

At the book factory

Friday, April 12

Up early today for a trip to the book factory. We pile into a couple of vans for the trip out of LA towards Magic Mountain. I cling to my caffeinated beverage and look out the windows trying to get a feel for the terrain. Until now, I haven’t seen anything of CA except the same few blocks of Hollywood Boulevard.

Mystery machines

Mystery machines

After a brief introduction we’re taken on a tour of the plant (Bang Printing). There is a ridiculous amount of picture-taking as we wander through the factory looking at all of the cool big machines. And then we see it–OUR book. The covers of L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers and Illustrators of the Future Volume 29, coming off the press. And there are SO MANY of them.

Illustrator winners check out the book

Illustrator winners check out the book

That’s one of the best things about winning the contest. Not only do I get a prize, and this trip, and a fantastic cohort of fellow winners, people—LOTS of people–who I’m never going to meet or hear from are going to read my story. Some of them are going to like it, and some of them are going to say “eh” and move on to the next one. But with so many copies of the book in existence, my story is really truly going to be read. That’s a writer’s dream come true.

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In the afternoon, Rebecca Moesta & Kevin J. Anderson are back for an encore, this time with professional advice about agents, editors and the big bad publishing world. Mike Resnick tells a few industry horror stories, one involving a New York cocktail party and some nose-punching. Liza Trombi, editor-in-chief of Locus passes out copies of the magazine.

Dinner with Nina Kiriki Hoffman and 50% of Andrea Stewart

Dinner with Nina Kiriki Hoffman and 50% of Andrea Stewart

Class ends early as we adjourn to a nearby restaurant for a big celebration with the Illustrator winners, Author Services staff, arriving judges, and returning winners. I share a table with Nina Kiriki Hoffman, my roommate Andrea Stewart, writer-winner Marilyn Guttridge (the contest’s youngest-ever winner), and Marilyn’s mom (AKA Tammy). I eat lots of sushi and Nina shows me the very cool journal she’s started keeping, filled with cards and programs and stickers and the colorful flotsam of what looks like a very interesting life. I then eat some more sushi and there is also a possibility that I consume a number of raw oysters and a dainty portion of tiramisu.

Tomorrow: Stage rehearsal for the awards ceremony

Catch up with what happened on: Day 1Day 2Day 3, Day 4


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Writers of the Future 2013, Day 4

Illustration for my story, "Everything You Have Seen," by the talented Karsen Slater

Illustration for my story, “Everything You Have Seen,” by the talented Karsen Slater

Thursday, April 11

This is the first sentence of my 24-hour story: The memory we were looking for had once belonged to a 13th-century nun, Maria Teresa de Geres.

After collecting coffee from downstairs, I spend the bulk of the day in the hotel room writing. Unlike with a one-week Clarion West story, I figure I have zero chance of pulling off anything coherent in the given time, and therefore I may as well entertain myself. Which is perhaps why I lose control of the narrative by the end of the first paragraph and end up with some sort of Victorian adventure pastiche amid caverns beneath the earth. And did I mention the poisonous unicorns?

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I continue the hopeless cause until 3:30, tack on a hasty end, and head for Author Services just in time to turn in my…..collection of numerically-sequenced pages. Suddenly, I feel much brighter. From here on, there will only be fun times. Starting right now, because we Writers are going downstairs to get our first look at the pictures the Illustrator winners have done for our stories.

The illustrations are displayed on easels in a semi-circle, and we fan out like kids at an Easter egg hunt, trying to find “our” picture. I see one that might be mine, but I’m not sure. I circle the rest and come back. Yes, those stark trees are clearly the winter landscape of my story. I tell the illustrator, Karsen Slater, that I’m so impressed that she even included the sailboat pattern on the boy’s pajamas and we have a little geek out when she tells me that she looked up 1950s pajama fabrics to get the right idea—because I did the same thing, when I was writing the story.

Writers & Illustrator united!

Writers & Illustrator united!

After dinner, it’s a long night back at ASI with lots to take in: informal talks and advice from recent winners Laurie Tom, Eric James Stone, Brad Torgersen, & Jordan Ellinger. Judges Rebecca Moesta, Kevin J.Anderson & Nina Kiriki Hoffman also weigh in. Three of the 24-hour stories are distributed to the workshop and we are sent off to read & critique for the next day. I end up staying up past midnight, chatting in the hotel lobby. But I must go to bed: tomorrow it’s up early and off to the book plant.

Tomorrow–field trip to the book plant!

Catch up with what happened on: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3


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Writers of the Future 2013, Day 2

Tuesday, April 9

In what will be a dismaying trend, wake at 5:30 am. Use my phone to light my way around my suitcase, creep into my clothes, and sneak out without waking roommate. Investigate hotel’s ‘fitness center.’ Choose elliptical as least disconcerting option and settle into 45-minutes of feeling awkward and like I don’t know what I’m doing. Back to the room for a shower, hello to roomie who is awake, banana consumed and coffee obtained at the lobby bar, and now–are everyone’s pencils sharpened? It’s time for the first day of class!

Author Services library

Author Services library

Begin with a tour of the contest library, with photos from earlier contests and works by previous winners. The photo of a jubilant Sergey Poyarkov winning the Illustrators of the Future Gold Award in 1991 excites great comment and contest administrator Joni Labaqui relates an emotional Cold War story. Returning winner Jordan Ellinger AKA Jordan Lapp (Vol. 25) ceremonially places a copy of his novel, Fireborn: Ritual of Fire, on the shelves.

Tim Powers leads the herd down the block to Shelly’s Cafe for lunch. After a quick panic (greasy spoon + vegetarian = hungry vegetarian), I realize I can just eat breakfast. Order an egg and cheese muffin with a slice of tomato, and it goes down nicely.

In the afternoon, Powers and Dave Farland take the floor and talk about:
–Setting and the importance of transporting your reader to a different time and place.
–Things the author needs to know about the character even if the reader doesn’t. (e.g., When was her last meal and what was it?)
–The writer’s own embarrassment when writing emotional scenes, and how to deal with it.

My 24-hour story object. Photo by Toshiyuki AIMI CC-BY-SA

My 24-hour story object.
Photo by Toshiyuki AIMI CC-BY-SA

Objects for the famous 24-hour story are passed out. I receive a 3.5″ floppy disk. I’m thinking memory, obsolescence, 1990s…All of a sudden I’m in a K street apartment in Washington D.C. and somebody in the next room is playing Stereolab on repeat.

I struggle pack to the present. Class is dismissed and dinner is found…somewhere (maybe this was shared-pizza night at the snooty Italian restaurant?), followed by a tourist visit to the Willy Wonka candy store in the hotel mall. The illustrator winners have arrived, and a brave few join us for late night chat in the hotel bar.

Urinals in the 'gross' room at the Willy Wonka store. They dispense flavored candy powder.

Urinals in the ‘gross’ room at the Willy Wonka store. They dispense flavored candy powder.

You can go back and read about Day 1 here. Or move on to Day 3 and Day 4.


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Writers of the Future 2013, Day 1

WotF_All

A while back, I entered the Writers of the Future contest. And then I won. Here’s what happened.

Monday, April 8

Wake up at 4:45 am. I have an early flight from the Indianapolis airport, and I don’t live in Indianapolis. At 5:30 a.m., I catch the earliest shuttle to the airport. I listen to podcasts on the dark bus and watch the sun come up through the rainy windows. Some contest winners have exchanged stories ahead of time, and I vow that I will read them during the journey. Instead, I get coffee and take advantage of the free wireless at the airport to update Facebook. Then I read my Walter Mosley novel. Because that’s easier.

First stop, Las Vegas. My connecting flight is boarding before my first flight lands. I collect my backpack from the overhead bins and book it to the next terminal. They let me on and I settle down with both my good intentions and my detective novel. I enjoy the ginger biscuits Delta hands out, and as we land chat with the business guy in the next seat, a medical technologist from Minnesota on his way to Orange County. He points out the Hollywood sign.

In LA, I collect my bags from the carousel and am picked up by a contest driver. We loop around and around the LA airport making small talk as we wait for the next winners to arrive. They shared a flight and have already bonded. I listen to them talk and feel the tiredness creeping in as I watch the landscape change from billboards and bodegas to terra-cotta tiles and tidy gardens.

Grauman's Chinese Theater, down the block from the hotel

Grauman’s Chinese Theater, down the block from the hotel

Arrive at hotel, deep in Hollywood. Meet Joni, the contest administrator and have the good fortune to be assigned Andrea Stewart as my roommate. We three early arrivals get lunch at the Mexican restaurant upstairs from the hotel and quietly absorb the cost of casual dining in LA. Locate nearby grocery store and lay in supply of bananas, apples, and Kind bars for breakfasts. More winners trickle in and Thai food is consumed for dinner. Official business kicks off at 7 pm, with group photos and an informal introduction with author and workshop leader Tim Powers.

Powers addresses the grasshoppers.

Powers addresses the grasshoppers.

Continue reading about Day 2…and Day 3…and Day 4


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What’s In a Name?

Mike Moist? Randy Sexworm? Nah....Keith Crust!

Mike Moist? Randy Sexworm? Nah….Keith Crust!

My story, “Keith Crust’s Lucky Number“* is up in the March issue of Flash Fiction Online.

Keith is a special kind of guy, and he needed a special name. I wanted something punk, but gross, but a little bit silly. For inspiration, I looked up lists of words that people think are the grossest in the English language. I also looked up lists of real, actual last names that nobody in their right mind would want to have. Names like:

Cocks, Willies, Bottoms. Nutters, Dafts, Jellys, Piggs, Baggot, Goggin, Gaggin, Gag, Grave, Stranger, Slow, Crankshaw, Onion, Willy, Poor, Hustler, Glasscock, Shufflebottom, Dungworth, Clutterbuck, Hardmeat, Bonefat, Turtle, Cornfoot, Hole, Drain.

I mean, come on. Clutterbuck? Say that three times fast. I dare you not to snigger like a seventh-grader drawing penises in his algebra book.

I had a great time coming up with Keith’s name. For once, I didn’t have to rein myself in: I could go all Dickens with my godlike powers** of writerly naming.

What do you think: are character names important to the story you want to tell? Sometimes? All of the time?
Is it fun coming up with character names? Or a pain in the neck?***

*See also: my earlier post about pawn shops.
**Writers don’t get a lot of power, which is probably for the best, since when we do, it goes to our heads.
***For me, always fun. Changing my imaginary name was practically my childhood hobby. I have been (in my head) variously: Tina, Angelique, Maureen, Constanza, & Trixie. And about one zillion others.