Sharif Khan

1. What questions were you seeking to answer through your novel “Brave Fortune”?

When I was writing my debut novel, I wasn’t consciously pondering weighty questions. I was simply having fun and letting my imagination run wild. It was like undergoing a metaphysical odyssey or psychedelic adventure. In retrospect, some of the central questions I was questing for include: What is real? What lies behind the veil of societal illusions, or delusions? To a large extent, I believe we are still swimming unconsciously in the matrix Operating System designed by colonial powers and only recently beginning to write our own code. What does it mean to be human and how should we live and treat each other? How do we live courageously to overcome great odds and stay true to our dream?

2. Psychology of the Hero Soul followed your debut novel and both works. Are these works inspired by or in dialogue with Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey in any way?

The original version of Hero Soul came out shortly after 9/11, about 19 years before the release of my debut novel, Brave Fortune. I remember doing a keynote at Toronto Police headquarters on my Hero Soul topic talking in front of a large police force while my knees were knocking behind the podium. It was my way of overcoming my fear of authority figures in uniform I suppose – especially when travelling abroad and experiencing racial profiling going through customs. Years later, I released a revised edition of Hero Soul following my debut novel. Brave Fortune (fiction) and Hero Soul (nonfiction) are both about the alchemical journey of transmuting lead into gold by integrating our shadow and recognizing our potential.

3. Brave Fortune is often described as a fantasy novel…could you talk a bit more about your process as to how you went about creating the magic system – the setting, characters and the central conflict – and made them all integrated to the questions you were asking?

After voluminous reading, research, and reams of notes, it was more like a chaotic pouring-forth than an organized process. I steeped myself in the realms and characters and delved into each character’s psychology and backstory so that the story unfolded organically. Courses in method acting helped me get under the skin of characters. It was a lot of fun creating the dark world of Maerdon and the evil triad that ruled the planet. I read books on dreams, did dream journaling, and took a dreamwork workshop to gain insights into the psychology and symbolism of dreams, as citizens of the planet were forbidden to dream – or share their dreams, which was vital in healing their psychic wounds.

4. What does it mean/suggest for you to think about your craft that you are able to grow with each published work? How do you do that?

I have on my desk a postcard that reads, “An artist is someone who finishes things.” You grow by doing the work and finishing what you started. Each project is a deep dive into a new topic and a new realm of imagination. I believe the inherent research and reading that’s involved, new books read for pleasure and study, articles on craft, workshops and input from beta readers, all help me to not only grow as a writer, but to develop as a person – offering opportunities for connection and bringing pockets of meaning and fulfilment in life.

5. What memorable or formative experience around learning to write springs to mind?

Working with my writing mentor, Giles Blunt, at the Humber School for Writers, I learned how my overwriting was getting in the way of story. Generally speaking, the principle of ‘less is more’ applies on multiple levels: Resist the urge to explain (RUE). Avoid preamble and get to the point. Start in media res, in the middle of the action. Sometimes the best question is the one not asked. Leave space on the page and leave room for subtext.

6. What was the most satisfying aspect of your recently completed work?                                                                                                      

After rewriting Brave Fortune I worked with Matthew Casaca, a Humber Creative Book Publishing student (at that time). He helped me with the copy-editing, pointed out flaws that were challenging to fix, re-reading the work from start to finish and having a better reading experience and having the story viscerally play out in my mind like a movie. This process was very satisfying.

7. What is new in the world that you need to capture in your writing?

One thing I find particularly disturbing in the prolonged pandemic we find ourselves in is the exponential acceleration of hate crimes as more and more desperate and disillusioned people increasingly isolated in their contained bubbles of belief are fed lies and disinformation by hate groups over social media. I’ve written a contemporary dystopian thriller that explores this phenomenon with regards to Islamophobia taken to the extreme limits where a new fascist, anti-Muslim Canadian government is elected by politicizing this fear to gain power. I’m taking it slowly and cautiously for now, selectively approaching agents who might be a fit to see if there is interest in the project, or if it needs further development.

8. What are you writing against or towards?

I’m writing against any form of oppression and tyranny, including the tyranny of technology that comes disguised as progress, but in reality is used for increased surveillance and control. Technological advancements for the betterment of humanity are a good thing, but when done in a vacuum devoid of ethical considerations…that kind of thing can lead to an app for annihilation. I’m writing towards FREEDOM. Towards imagining better worlds and promoting a freer, more just and equitable society that provides a platform for the rebels and dreamers, the marginalized and misfits who can provoke change.

9. What is your definition of a successful piece of writing? Who decides that?

I was visiting a friend, we were sitting in his patio, barbequed chicken roasting on the grill, while he read from a piece of his writing. I remember thinking, this is so beautiful and poetic, something I could only aspire to reach…I was engrossed in the rapture. When he finished reading, I stared into space for a while, then uttered an expression of awe. When I turned to him, tears were streaming down his cheeks. We had both experienced a moment of truth. Who decides a successful piece of writing? Ultimately – the human heart.

Sharif Khan is the author of inspirational book, Psychology of the Hero Soul, and debut novel, Brave Fortune. Based in Toronto, Sharif served as Director of the MetroActive Writers Club and volunteer creative writing facilitator for Writers Collective of Canada. He is also a former bookseller and graduate of the Humber School for Writers. He has completed two contemporary novels (not yet released) and is working on a new novel – an existential comedy.

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