What do you do when you are not writing? Do you have a day job as well?
I am a hematopathologist by day, a laboratory physician focusing on diagnosis of diseases that affect blood, bone marrow, and lymph nodes, such as leukemia and lymphoma. Yes, I am a blood doctor writing about vampires, which really amuses my colleagues.
When did you first start writing and when did you finish your first book?
I have been writing on a small scale for as long as I can remember, but I conceived the idea for a fantasy novel in college, and always intended to sit down and write it all out. As the years passed, I kept a brief outline and even wrote the first few chapters, but never committed to pursuing it further. Then I decided to bite the bullet and really get serious, but first I thought I should stretch out a little by writing down a short story for practice that I had been kicking around my imagination for about a decade. But it didn’t turn out to be a short story. I was writing every waking moment from October to mid-December 2009, and when I finally came for air, I had a first draft totalling 184,000 words, or about 600 pages long. The first manuscript became the bulk of the text of my first two books, after I broke it in half to make it less unwieldy.
How did you choose the genre you write in?
I wrote about vampires because I find the archetype to be interesting, especially the personal and spiritual ramifications of immortality. Besides, I was a huge Buffy fan back in the 1990’s, and that was my inspiration, even if the current vampire craze gave me the impetus to write the story down. The homoerotic elements just seemed to fit the story, and made the characters seem more real.
Where do you get your ideas?
I was a Buffy fan when I came up with the story, and I wondered at one point what would happen if a vampire slayer were turned, but didn’t fall from grace? How would his life change? How would his allies react to his conversion? Would they stand by him, or abandon him to his enemies? The story grew from that kernel of an idea, and I added the science fiction elements later, just for fun.
Do you ever experience writer’s block? Do you work with an outline, or just write?
I currently follow a hybrid model, which one author called the “snowflake method.” (See http://www.snowflakemethod.com for details.) Basically, I write a high-level outline that details the basic elements of the plot, from beginning to end, so I know where I’m going with the story and what I want to accomplish, then I start writing. Every so often, I revise the outline to incorporate new ideas that occur to me in the process of writing, but the basic structure remains relatively constant. It allows me to have a plan, and still gives me the freedom to improvise as I go. This cuts down on editing later, and helps me be more internally consistent in my character development. The outline also helps eliminate writer’s block for me, because if I get stuck on a scene, I can always jump ahead and work on another planned scene while I consider the original problem percolate in the back of my mind. The bigger problem for me is burnout, because I become so heavily invested in the story that when I finish, I am totally wrung out, creatively speaking. I usually have to take a break from writing for a while before I go back and edit. Then I send the second draft off to a developmental/structural editor for analysis to identify weaknesses in the manuscript.
Is there any particular author or book that influenced you in any way either growing up or as an adult?
The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho. It totally changed my outlook on pursing unattainable goals.
When I finished the first draft, i thought I was done. It wasn’t until I got laughed at by a few agents that I heard of structural editing. The first editor I approached thought it was a terrific novel, but that I led off with my weakest material. He told me to delete the entire first quarter of the book, and start with the terrorist confrontation as the opening scene. So much of what came before that was dear to me though, so I took the deleted scenes and wrote a new beginning and ending to them, resulting in my second book. This structural decision is also why the first book begins in the middle of the story, and the second book is the prequel. Then I approached other editors, and they gave me additional advice, and I went through a number of revisions over the course of the next year. Finally, I realized that the novel would never be perfect, and if I continued to endlessly refine it, no one would ever see it. So I took a chance and decided to move forward with self-publication. The marketing and self-promotional implications of that choice, I am still coming to grips with. It’s definitely been an educational 21 months so far, and the learning curve has been steep the whole way.
If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your novel or getting it published that you would change?
In writing the first two books, I operated too much on instinct and intuition. If I had to do it all over again, I would have educated myself more about the craft of writing, rather than relying on my editors’ advice. Someday, when I have the time, I would like to go back and do another revision of the first two books, applying the knowledge I have gained in the interim. There were elements I did well, and elements that were not as well-developed. As it is however, I will most likely let them stand, and just try to improve my skills going forward.
How do you market your work? What avenues have you found to work best for your genre?
Marketing and self-promotion are very much works-in-progress at this point. I have consulted both professional marketers and my fellow independent authors for insight, and tried to develop my social media presence to get the word out. In the end, though, it really comes down to word of mouth. If ten people read the book and tell their friends about it, then those friends will rely on those recommendations in choosing whether or not to take a chance on me. Everything comes down to the readers, and individual taste.
Can you tell us about your upcoming book?
I have published the first three books in the Pact Arcanum series, so far. The fourth book will complete the series and resolve the primary story arc, as well as the secondary character arcs. I have a few ideas on where to go from there, if I choose to write further in this universe, but the future is a blank slate at this point.
Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?
Pretty much everything is the product of my own imaginings, though I admit to a number of influences that have inspired me to make certain dramatic choices.
How did you come up with the title?
Sunset and Sunrise are moments of duality, caught between light and darkness. They are also moments that contrast danger and safety to my characters. The vampires crave the night and fear the day, while the Sentinels (vampire slayers) are in greatest danger in the darkness and are only truly safe in the sunlight.
What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?
I have been told that my earlier work is weak in characterization, and strong on plot and world-building. My third work has seemingly placated my critics who have read all three books, but I think there is still room for improvement.
Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?
Don’t give up, and believe in yourself. In the end, you will be your own strongest advocate.
Is there anything that you would like to say to your readers and fans?
Thank you for your time in reading my work, and I am grateful for the feedback that you have shared with me. In the end, I want to be a better writer, and there’s only so far I can get without your help.
Chocolate or Vanilla? Pistachio.
The light side or the dark side? Is there really any difference?
If you were a superhero (or villain!) what would your power be? Flight. Definitely. Would you wear a cape? Of course not. Didn’t you watch The Incredibles?
Do you have a deep dark secret? How about a shallow grey one? Not telling.
What does your main character think about you? Are you best buds or have you tortured them so much you’d run if you actually ever met? Everyone wants a happy ending. Not everyone can have one.
What sort of coffee would you order? Simple coffee, complicated soy-non-fat-extra-espresso-half-caff-nightmare? I hate coffee, but I like espresso. I use it for a wake-me-up in the morning, then nurse a big glass of spiced tea through rest of the day.
Is there any food you refuse to eat? I hate watermelon.
Drink of choice? Kahlua and milk, chilled.
If you could live off of chocolate would you? What kind? Speaking as a doctor, you can’t, but dark and minty would be my choice.
What pets have graced your life? Which was your least favorite? What do you think the coolest pet to have would be? I’m a dog lover. Cats are too arrogant. Though, I always wanted my own dragon.
If you could visit any world ever written about, where would you go? Fionavar (Guy Gavriel Kay)
Short author bio
Born in Canada, I emigrated to the United States when I was ten, and only recently moved back. I started writing in a serious way in October 2009, and it quickly took over my private life outside of work. When I thought my first manuscript was ready, I decided to forgo traditional publication and self-publish. That has been just as long and difficult a process as it would have been to go the traditional route, but at least at the end the book is out there for all to read, with no one to blame for its success or failure but me.
Web links (website, blog etc)
Buy links (where books are available for purchase)
Sunset (Pact Arcanum: Book One):
Generic EPUB or MOBI formats: https://secure.mybookorders.com/order/arshad-ahsanuddin