Buoyed by naughty thoughts, Zahara almost walked right past without noticing him. Then she stopped, enthralled. The most beautiful man she had ever laid eyes on was leaning against a doorway, his smoky green eyes regarding the armed men milling around the alleyway with quiet intensity. Once she focused in on him, everything else faded away. He was tall, with wavy chestnut hair, cheekbones as defined as ocean-side cliffs, and lips that begged to be kissed. She held out an arm and pressed her palm against a nearby wall to support herself as her heart missed a few beats. Zaid, Daniel, and the imminent danger the world was in could wait. This honey wasn't getting past her.
Interview with M.A. Guglielmo
M.A. Guglielmo’s debut fantasy novel, SUMMONED, will be published on September 24th, 2019 by Tule Publishing Group.
Question - Please describe what the book is about.
M.A. Guglielmo - Zahara, party girl of the paranormal, floats up out of a lamp in Daniel Goldstein's apartment ready to trick an evil sorcerer into giving up his soul. But Daniel, whose Moroccan grandmother has reached out from beyond the grave to command him to raise a jinn, wants to do good—by stopping a vengeful fallen angel.
The nymphomaniacal, shopping-obsessed Zahara isn’t the otherworldly ally Daniel had in mind. A do-gooder with a dangerous quest isn't what Zahara's looking for, either.
Stuck in a magical contract with each other, the two travel to Morocco, where Zahara’s handsome friend Zaid, a jinn who's converted to Islam, reluctantly joins their quest. As Daniel and Zaid struggle against paranormal mercenaries, bumbling terrorists and their attraction to one other, Zahara is forced to join forces with the fallen angel's gorgeous but infuriating brother to stop a cataclysmic war between the human and jinn worlds.
Q - Where did you get the idea?
MAG - The mythology behind the novel is the story of Harut and Marut, two overly proud angels—or jinn in some versions—who are sent down to earth to show humans how to resist temptation. They fail, in rather spectacular fashion, and are punished by being hung by the feet until the end of the world. According to some sources, the two gave the gift—or curse—of magical knowledge to humanity.
Q - What’s the story behind the title?
MAG - The series name, From Smokeless Fire, comes from a traditional description of the jinn as beings created by God from fire. Angels were created from light, and humans from mud, which sounds a lot less exciting.
Q - No spoiler, but tell us something we won’t find out just by reading the book jacket.
MAG - Most of the book takes place in Morocco, and although the characters are fictional, the setting isn’t. Many of the descriptions of cities, landmarks, and all the fantastic food are based on locations I've visited.
Q - Tell us about your favorite character.
MAG - He's not one of the two main characters, but Zahara's sexy jinn friend Zaid was so much fun to write.
Q - If you could spend a day with one of your characters, who would it be and what would you do?
MAG - I don't think I'd survive a day of Zahara's partying and overall mischief-making. Hanging out with Daniel and chatting about video games might be less hazardous—if he's not running away from monsters or mercenaries like he does for most of the novel.
Q- Are your characterS based on real people, or do they come from your imaginations?
MAG - None of the characters are based on persons, living or dead, but I've met some particularly evil kittens who would get along well with my main character, Zahara.
Q - How long did you take to write this book?
MAG - It started out as a NaNoWriMo project in 2015, and I worked on finishing and revising it, along with other projects, through 2016. After that, I worked on standard querying, along with different pitch contests. I connected with Tule Publishing through a Facebook pitch contest hosted by the group Writers for Diversity. They're awesome—look them up and join them if you're a writer.
Q - What kind of research did you do for this book?
MAG - Way too much, at least in terms of time management. I enjoy hopping into the rabbit hole of research far too often. But the most fun I had with research was during a visit to Morocco, where I spent an incredibly spooky night listening to scary jinn stories by a fire in the Sahara. I still write with a hamsa around, just in case.
Q - What did you remove from this book during the editing process?
MAG - Several characters, a middle chapter that required rewriting the entire plot, and more weak verbs and repetitive phrases than I could ever count.
Q - Are you a plotter or a pantser?
MAG - I write out an outline, throw in a collection of disconnected scenes, then never look at it again after I start writing. A pantser in denial, I think.
Q - What is your favorite part of your writing process, and why?
MAG - I love drafting and work best under time pressure. Revision doesn't come nearly as easily to me.
Q - What is the most challenging part of your writing process, and why?
MAG - Substantive revision is the hardest. Skimming along and fixing typos and awkward sentences isn't too taxing, but confronting an enormous plot hole that has to be fixed by major book surgery is downright painful.
Q- Can you share your writing routine?
MAG - I usually write after dinner, and try to fit in some early morning hours on weekends. I do NaNoWrimo every year to get at least half of a rough draft done on a new project. If I have time on a plane trip, or when I'm stuck waiting somewhere, I'll try to get sneak a little writing in.
Q - Have you ever gotten writer’s block? If yes, how do you overcome it?
MAG - I've often been quite stuck, and I've tried different techniques to overcome it. One trick that's worked for me is to put away the laptop, and grab some paper and a pencil. I scribble out a series of questions about the plot or character issue I'm struggling with and then answer them with anything that pops into my head.
Q - If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
MAG - Three hundred thousand words is not a reasonable word count for a first draft.
Q - How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
MAG - I have a fantasy trilogy in various stages of completion—the result of the mistake mentioned in the above question, a completed YA fantasy in revisions, and two other adult fantasies in development. I'm also currently finishing up the first draft of the sequel to SUMMONED.
Q - Do you have any writing quirks?
MAG - I sometimes mumble out loud, or mimic the facial expressions of my characters while I'm writing. It's pretty embarrassing, actually. At least I don't act out any of the sword fights—at least not that often.
Q - Tell us about yourself.
MAG - I'm a neurosurgeon in academic practice, and I live in Rhode Island with my two daughters, a hyper standard poodle and a rather chubby black cat.
Q - What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
MAG - Work and family take up most of my time, but I can procrastinate with books, social media, Pokemon Go (I'm addicted to it), books, cooking, more books—so many distractions, so little time.
Q - Apart from novel writing, do you do any other kind(s) of writing?
MAG - I've done some medical writing, which seems to exercise totally different mental muscles for me.
Q - Share something about you most people probably don’t know.
MAG - I was actually talked into playing rugby once. It didn't go well.
Q - Which book influenced you the most?
MAG - I'm a huge fantasy fan, so The Lord of the Rings always comes to mind when thinking about the book that's impacted me the most. In terms of writing style, my favorite author is Neil Gaiman. I love all his books, but American Gods is one of my favorites.
Q - What are you working on right now?
MAG - I'm working on the sequel to SUMMONED, and all I can say is that I'm researching hot sports cars. Because clearly Zahara wouldn't be caught dead in the boring SUV I drive.
Q - What’s your favorite writing advice?
MAG - Read your novel out loud to yourself. Yes, the whole thing. It's amazing how much it helps with revisions.
Q – What book are you currently reading?
MAG - Mirage, By Somaiya Daud. It's a YA SF novel based on Moroccan culture with a wonderful, lyric style and great action and adventure.
M.A. Guglielmo’s Biography
M.A. Guglielmo is a neurosurgeon, mother of two awesome daughters, and a life-long fan of speculative fiction. Her Italian grandmother may or may not have been able to cast the evil eye on difficult neighbors, and Maria loves telling a good story, especially if magical curses and witty villains are involved.
Her interest in Middle Eastern politics and culture inspires her to incorporate mythology and folklore from the region into her writing projects. After having the wits scared out of her by ghost tales told to her over a campfire in the Moroccan Sahara, she’s come up with a plan to travel to all the potential settings for her novels. Since those include the mountain-ringed home of the Jinn and a modernized version of the Greek Underworld, some items on her bucket list might be harder to achieve than others.
Maria was born and raised in Rhode Island, and graduated from Yale University with a degree in biology. She completed her M.D. degree at Brown University, and went on to finish her neurosurgical residency there. After several years enjoying the company of sunny friends and overcast skies in Portland, Oregon, she moved back to Rhode Island, where she’s a neurosurgeon in academic practice. She lives there with her two daughters, assorted pets, and is always dreaming of the stories that can come out of her next travel destination.
Links to M.A. Guglielmo