Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Interview with Authors Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Day Al-Mohamed

Authors of Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn: A Steampunk Faerie Tale

Welcome to Vonnie’s Reading Corner.  Tell us a little about yourself.

Danielle Ackley-McPhail
Danielle Ackley-McPhail: I have worked in publishing for over twenty years and I’ve been published for over thirteen. I write in a wide range of speculative genres from epic fantasy to military science fiction and most things in between. Readers can find out more about my work at www.sidhenadaire.com. I love doing anything creative

Day Al-Mohamed: Although I have written short stories, poetry, comics, and even two short films, Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn is my first novel. (Shh, don’t tell anyone but I’m ridiculously excited!). I love writing alternate history and science fiction, and have been known to dabble in horror. I’m a member of the Cat Vacuuming Society Writing Group of Northern Virginia, of Women in Film and Video, and graduate of the Vona/Voices Writing Program.  You can find out more at www.DayAlMohamed.com about me, and my writing, and my wife, and my dog, and…

Describe the world of Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn in one sentence.
Day Al-Mohamed

Danielle: Baba Ali is a rich tapestry of cultures, a tale of wonder and inspiration tightly woven with threads of danger and self-discovery, set in a realm few have considered before.

Day: Baba Ali is a world of fantastical contradictions, of magic and mechanics, of an Arabia with djinni, mechanical camelids, and secrets, like treasure, deeply hidden in the desert.

How did the story of "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves" inspire this book?

Danielle: This started out as a retelling so it covers all of the same ground as the original tale, but in places only loosely. We made sure to hit all the key points but put our own spin on the details and embellished them to make this uniquely our own tale.

Day: Perhaps one of the largest ways that Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves inspired this book was in its aesthetic. We worked very hard to create a distinct voice reminiscent of the original.  We wanted it to sound like a story from “long, long, ago” and at the same time encourage the reader to believe that it could have happened. You can see this very clearly in the style and tone from the parts of the tale set in England and those set in the Middle East, as well as the personalities (and prejudices) of the characters themselves.

Where did the idea for "A Steampunk Faerie Tale" come from?

Danielle: Originally Baba Ali was to be a short story intended for the collection Gaslight and Grimm: Steampunk Faerie Tales (Dark Quest Books, Fall 2014). Unfortunately the original is a much more detailed story than we realized and even when we glossed over some of the specifics our retelling was over 17,000 words. I happened to mention that to the publisher and he said no, it was a book now, so go finish it. The original idea for Gaslight and Grimm came from author Diana Bastine (www.fairycatmother.net).

Day: Danielle talked about the overall book.  To offer some diversity, let me tell you about the sub-title.  It was a conscious decision to title the book “Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn: A Steampunk Faerie Tale.” The novel follows along the major points of the original story and we strove to capture the aesthetic of early translated 1001 Nights tales – a faerie tale, of sorts. However, we also wanted to bring in the gritty, real-world adventure, danger, thrills and of course technology inherent in Steampunk. Two worlds, magic and mechanics, at odds, or perhaps not so different after all…

What three words would describe Baba Ali?

Danielle: Devout, loyal, inventive

Day:  What if Danielle took some of my words?! J    Faithful (including being faithful and true to himself), Peaceable (there is room for all men and their philosophies in this world), and Clever (a man with blessed with wit, good will, and hard work, can always best a man whose only tool is a weapon.)

This book was created with the collaboration of two authors. Who wrote what in the book?

Danielle: Oh, I’m afraid that isn’t even possible to say anymore. There is not one section of the book that hasn’t been touched by both of our hands. One of us would write something, then the other would go over it and edit and revise. Sometimes this would happen multiple times. On top of that, our alpha reader Helen likewise had a hand in shaping things. The finished product is truly an integration of all our skills.

Day: It’s really hard to say.  I can MAYBE find a line or two that MIGHT be untouched but the novel really did go back and forth many times. The method may seem slow, but I would vouch that every time, it improved.  The final result is twice as rich and dynamic.

How was it like working together and would you do it again?

Danielle: LOL…I’m very sure this depends on when you ask us. There are times I know Day wanted to reach through the ether-cable and strangle me. But overall this was a wonderful experience. Not only did we have our combined enthusiasm and energy, but each of us brought unique viewpoints to the project that enabled us to spark ideas like crazy. The coolest concepts we came up with were the product of brainstorming simple points in the story. Not only would we do this again, but we are already planning the further adventures of Ali and Morgiana!

Day:  <Day can’t type anything, she’s laughing too hard at Danielle’s second sentence>  J Although all of you can be grateful that Danielle kept me from indulging in my darker ideas – I was not allowed to chop anyone up into 40 pieces to distribute throughout all of Arabia. Overall, it really has been an amazing experience.  I think we both learned a lot and the back-and-forth offered so much opportunity for bringing out newer and more original ideas as well as constantly improving the text itself.  Definitely a wild ride! I’m a little terrified of what may happen in the next novel! (So Danielle, can I chop someone up in THIS novel?)

Who designed the cover?

Danielle: The cover is the work of Autumn Frederickson (www.freddyscribbles.com). I first encountered her work as a part of the Athena’s Daughters Kickstarter campaign run by Silence in the Library Publishing and I was so struck by her piece White Phoenix, and then her own work for my story in the collection and I knew I wanted her for this cover.

Day: I’m really excited about this cover. So often covers don’t reflect the world or the characters in the book itself.  Autumn really did an amazing job to combine the two very different worlds (Steampunk and Faerie Tale), and then, rather than exoticising our Middle Eastern characters (the modern idea of a belly dancing costume being a particular hot-button for me), she gave us characters and clothing that was accurate for them.

Share your favorite phrase(s) from your book.

Danielle: It is so difficult to pick out the favorites. The language is so rich and evocative. One line, however, has always stuck with me: “I may have made Morgiana’s body, but you would do well to remember that the Almighty Himself made her soul and found it beautiful.”

Day: There is a section on the balances in one’s life that I adore and really sits at the heart of the story. So…I don’t want to give that away. ;)  However, in general, I have always loved the framing elements in oral tales.  The storytellers begin their weaving with familiar phrases like “Once upon a time…” or “There was, there was not…”  In Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn, we begin with:
“Come, Best Beloved, and sit you by my feet. I shall tell you a tale such as sister Scheherazade could have scarce imagined. A tale of wonders, of deeds both great and grievous, of courage that defies description, and above all, Child of Adam, I shall tell you a tale of love.”
If you were a genie, what wish would you absolutely not grant?

 Danielle: Hmmm….I don’t know that I would focus on a specific wish so much as a type of wish. I would not grant anything that meant harm to another in any way, such as forcing them to do something they wouldn’t of their own volition, or harming them physically or by wishing something that intentionally had a negative impact on their existence.

Day: I have to admit, I have to think about that a bit. Not because of the “dangerous wish” portion but because of the idea of granting wishes. J  If I have the option to not grant wishes I would wonder what would happen if I just refused all requests?  Would the person bottle me up and throw me away?  Pass me off to a friend? Bring me out for dinner party entertainment? And NOW I’m wondering what the inside of the lamp looks like and if I could keep my dog in there and how would I handle scooping her poop?!  <Now I’m going to have nightmares about poop-filled lamps that I have to live inside>  

Thank you ladies for this wonderful interview!

Synopsis for Baba Ali and the Clockworkd Djinn:

Come, Best Beloved, and sit you by my feet.
I shall tell you a tale such as sister Scheherazade could have scarce imagined…
In the Nejd there is nothing at all…except secrets. A band of thieves wish such secrets to remain hidden.
In England, far from his desert home, Ali bin-Massoud serves as apprentice to the famed Charles Babbage. One night a mysterious box is delivered by a clockwork falcon and Ali’s world is never the same again. Heartache, danger, and thieves mark his journey as Ali is summoned home at the death of his father.
It will take faith, knowledge, and yes, love to realize his destiny, and more than a little skill with steam-driven technology. Can he unravel the mystery of the puzzle box and the clockwork djinn before it is too late? An ancient legacy and Ali's very life depend on his success.
Hear you the tale of Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn.

For a chance to win Baba Ali, enter the GoodReads Giveaway running for the next two weeks here.


  1. Thank you for hosting us, Vonnie, we had a great time with the interview!

  2. Oh, for those interested in a chance to win Baba Ali, we have a GoodReads Giveaway running for the next two weeks:


    1. Thank you for the giveaway. I have added it to the post.

  3. Vonnie, I thought it might be fun to add a link or two to highlight at least one of the real-world references in the book. Our aerostat, the Thaddeus Lowe was modeled on the 1920s-30s Graf Zeppelin. There are amazing images of it hovering over the pyramids and above Jerusalem. - https://www.google.com/search?q=graf+zeppelin&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=1cWdU9ChBI6uyATP24DIDw&ved=0CAgQ_AUoAQ&biw=1280&bih=604