M. Salahuddin Khan’s “Sikander” is an epic story centered in Afghanistan and Pakistan, detailing a young man’s coming-of-age against a backdrop of multiple conflicts.
The winner of the Paris and Los Angeles book festivals, M. Salahuddin Khan has since gained traction with major publishers. We asked author Khan to update us on his activities.
DIY Convention: You started your author career at a later age that a lot of writers. What finally motivated you?
MSK: It was really a natural next step from having entered the world of communication when I became Publisher of ISLAMICA Magazine in 2006. The gathering sentiments from seeing portrayals of Muslims and Islam which bore no resemblance to myself and virtually every other Muslim I know, sparked in me a desire to present that mainstream Muslim everyman to readers. The story idea crystallized very suddenly and I hunkered down to write it at the end of 2009. The experience was frenzied.
DIY Convention: Is “Sikander” based on areas you’ve lived and/or visited?
MSK: Yes, in many parts. But certainly not all. I haven’t been to Guantanamo Bay, for example. Moreover, its people are largely the Pashtuns of Northwest Pakistan and Afghanistan, and, in that sense, I have the same ethnicity, so many of the cultural mores are familiar to me.
DIY Convention: Did you originally shop the book before going the self-publishing route? What was the reaction?
MSK: Actually, no. Having done some online research to see what path might be best, I saw that finding a literary agent and then getting a publishing house to bite would still mean another two years or so before the market might see the book and the subject matter seemed so topical that it didn’t seem wise to wait. So, I went the self-published route, but was determined not to short cut anything and produce a book that could stand next to anything from a major publishing house. I wanted to distance it from any stigmatic cues of self-publishing.
DIY Convention: There has been substantial interest in “Sikander” over the last year. Where do things stand?
MSK: Apart from the accolades, we have begun to see a lot of traction at the special event, book store, and book club level. We’re at the fourth edition now, which is shorter than the third edition by no less than 110 pages based on critical feedback from one major publisher about overall length. Without taking out any of the events of the story, I worked throughout much of 2011 editing the fourth edition with a publisher recommended to me, by the name of Jane Cavolina, once a New York editor and an author in her own right. Sales of the book have been creeping up steadily and I’m just pushing on every lever to get the viral moment to happen. On the retail side, rare for a self-published work, Barnes and Noble reviewed and accepted the book for inventory and as far as I can tell we’re sold out. I’m currently working to get the fourth edition into stores but on a more focused basis in the Chicago area for now. We have several book signing events booked up and more being generated all the time.
DIY Convention: What is your writing process? Do you do anything on a regular basis or time?
MSK: I’m a muller. I chew on the story’s trajectory for quite some time and search for a defining “apex”. Once I’m there, I get down to work. I have to say that during the writing phase, I am in some kind of zone where I rarely come to the surface for air and the writing proceeds very rapidly. Then we get to the real “work” of editing which in my view is where the story really gets polished. That can take months.
DIY Convention: Are there plans for non-English editions of the book? What markets?
MSK: There have been glimmers of possibility in India and Pakistan, but it has been of a lower priority until now. Likewise from Indonesia and Malaysia. Now that the new edition is being launched this week, I’m hoping to reopen some of those inquiries.
DIY Convention: What’s next for you?
MSK: Two books are in the framing stage. One is actually a sequel to SIKANDER and details the continuing transformation of Rabia, one of the key characters in SIKANDER. She’s an interesting person from both Muslim and Western perspectives and represents in many ways the dichotomy of identity that any first-generation immigrant must deal with. The second book is about the Partition (the event which created independent Pakistan and India from the old British India).