The latest in this series of Author Profiles is Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali, who is also one of the wonderful women who have contributed their thoughts and feelings about motherhood to the newly released ‘The Milk of Female Kindness – an Anthology of Honest Motherhood’, with a letter written to her 21 year old son. As you’ll read below, she is a fascinating person….
I love the way that you must blow away people’s stereotype of a Muslim woman. What is your take on this? Is the stereotype annoying, baseless, or just a lazy and convenient way of putting people into boxes?
Yes to all of the above, especially the lazy part. It is easy for people to stereotype because it frees them from having to engage, and learn, and overcome their own insecurities and fears. Overcoming stereotypes requires effort… or someone like me who is more than willing to kick down the door of stereotypes for you.
But seriously, as much as I would like to say that I purposefully work to deconstruct stereotypes, the fact is I don’t. I’m just me. It just so happens that the me that I am won’t fit into a box.
You have a very varied and exotic list of interests, including zombies, video games, sewing and maintaining an organic garden. Two questions: how did you develop such a diverse range of passions, and how do you find time to indulge them?
I’ll answer the question about time first.I work full time and I have a family. I don’t have a lot of time but I do believe in putting that time to the best use that I can. I make conscious choices about what I’m willing to give my time to. I try to spend every free moment doing the things I love. So, I’m not doing all of those things all of the time, but I get around to all of them in time.
As for how I developed such a range that is more difficult to answer. I started sewing years ago because I couldn’t afford to by the kinds of clothes that I wanted to wear. So I learned to make them cheaply. I spend a lot of time with my children and I’ve learned as much from them as they have from me. I developed an interest in video games late in life from watching my kids play them. They’re now ages 22, 20, and 12 and they still play video games. I play right along with them and we have a blast. Zombies are the only horror trope that gives me pause. A little. Most other horror bores me to tears. I’ve always wanted to grow my own food, so when I moved into my home seven years ago, I decided to give it a go. I’m not always successful, but I always try.
I don’t want to be the type of person who in later years says “I wish I would have…” so if something interests me, and it isn’t harmful, I see no reason not to indulge, right now. Life is but the blink of an eye.
I understand that you work as an oncology nurse, and have spoken at seminars about this subject. Does working with cancer patients change your outlook on life? I’m particularly wondering if it makes you reassess your priorities for life, rather than just drifting along as many of us do?
I think that in many ways I have become a bit desensitized. I often see death in a very compartmentalized way. It’s one stop on the continuum of life. It is the thing that happens to other people. The times when I reassess my life is when I meet that one patient who having faced their own mortality has accepted their fate. Notice I that didn’t say that they had given up hope or faith. That’s different. Accepting the inevitable, facing that frightening fate is a miracle and not an easy place to journey to. When a patient reaches that place, they have given up their anger and disbelief and have resolved to live their last days with peace and grace. Seeing a person make that journey is soul warming and a lesson for me that my petty concerns really aren’t worth the effort it takes to give them thought.
When did you start writing? Did you have to take a break while your children were small?
I’ve always written. But there was a time in my early to mid 20s that I forgot about writing. At the time I was trying on new selves. I was learning who I was and deciding who I wanted to be. That took about seven or eight years. Then in my late 20s (about 1998), when my children were still small I started to write An Unproductive Woman. It took me about two years. AUW sat in a box in the closet or garage for the next several years while I went to nursing school and started working. I decided to publish AUW in 2008 and I’ve been writing in some capacity since then.
Your novel ‘An Unproductive Woman’, has very different subject matter to the field in which I first found you, where you were involved with the Yuva science fiction anthology. Do you write across many genres? Do you find that a challenge as an indie author?
I wrote An Unproductive Woman
a lifetime ago. I was a different woman then. Since then, my tastes and self-confidence have grown exponentially. In short, I write the types of stories I would like to read. At the moment that falls in the range of SFF, dystopian/utopian fiction. It may change later, and if and when that happens, my writing will reflect likely that.
Tell me about the Yuva anthology. How did it start? How are things progressing?
The Yuva anthology started with a comment I made on Matthew Williams’ site (http://storiesbywilliams.com/
) wherein I mentioned how I’d always dreamed my son would become an astronaut and go to space. Matt responded by saying how inspired he was. I challenged him, if memory serves, to organize a group and do an anthology about space and space travel. He met that challenge and that is where you found us. Since then there have been several contributions to the anthology but we still need more people to come forward and contribute, so we’re in a holding pattern.
If you know anyone who might be interested…
Forgive me for being nosy, but I’m fascinated to know if you ever find philosophical contradictions between your faith and science fiction?
Yes, and no. On the most basic level, my faith validates science and science validates my faith. There is no contradiction for me between science and my faith. Science fiction can be stickier. For me, the contradictions present themselves when science fiction works to debunk God, or reinvent God, or ignore his presence. It is usually the latter and I question this often. Science fiction tends to be more comfortable with fictional faith. I’m not certain why that is.
My current project meets matters of religion and faith head on, which I think can be difficult to do without scaring people away or making them feel as if they’re being preached at. I think I was able to do that with An Unproductive Woman though. Most of my readers have been non-Muslim, and most of them loved the story regardless, if my 4+ stars is any indication.
Thank you for this opportunity Kasia!