Interview 2 with Amal El-Mohtar

Amal El-Mohtar
Amal El-Mohtar

Amal El-Mohtar’s short story, Sparrow and Egg, appears in the Winter 2007 issue of Shimmer. She’s also been published in Issue #4 for her story The Crow’s Caw, and in The Clockwork Jungle Book (Issue #11) for her tale The Fishbowl.   To learn more about Amal, visit her website or send her an email.


Where did the idea for “Sparrow and Egg” come from?
The first two lines decided everything. During a writing exercise I’d devised with Jessica Wick, where we’d write stories for given days of the week, I “owed” a story to Sylphsday (Saturday) and was in a state of mind where I look around to find anything to seize and write a story about before I know what I’m doing. That first sentence came out; the second one rolled after it, and then I saw where it was going. Partly the “I love you,” “I love you more” game was inspired from my favourite book to give out at baby showers: Guess How Much I Love You, by Sam McBratney and Anita Jeram. This story, though, puts a much sadder twist to it, which in no way mitigates my love for that book.

How did the story change as you developed it?
After getting a few rejections and going over it, I decided to shake it up and change the narration from past to present tense. I think it’s made it much better, suited the style of the story more.

You know the advice “Sometimes you have to kill your darlings.” Was there a scene or line that it really hurt to cut, but cutting it made the story stronger? May we reprint that scene or line? Or link to a very old version so that we may marvel at how much it changed?
It’s a source of glowy pride to me that Shimmer’s editorial team pronounced the story fit to print with almost no changes. So, no!

How is this story like your other work? How is it different?
I love writing fables, I’ve found; the underlying truths that make them work, their simplicity, the way they have of making no apology for beauty or ugliness because both are part of the world, all really appeal to me. The interesting thing to me about this story is the variety of ways in which friends and family members have reacted had to it. They mainly fall into two camps: childless friends will read it and say, “but that’s so SAD!” while those who are parents, I’ve found, smile at it and call it lovely, even heart-warming. I don’t think I’ve written anything else that’s provoked such literally opposite reactions in people consistently, so it feels like I’ve done something really right with it, and this pleases me.

Questions About Writing:

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
When I was seven years old. I wrote a poem to the moon and there was no turning back.

Who do you write for? Yourself or someone else?
The act of writing is always for myself, and the euphoric feeling that comes of completing a story or poem is entirely mine as well. Individual pieces, though, will sometimes belong to other people, as they’re written with them in mind; other times I’ve tried to write things tailored specifically for a given market or purpose, with interesting results. Not always good, but usually interesting, and almost always useful to me in working at the craft.

Who’s your favorite living author?
This question was so difficult to answer that I turned to my friend Jessica Wick for help. She suggested Neil Gaiman. I resisted. She pointed out that I gush about his books, admire what I know of his life, and have written him platonic love letters on my LJ. I resisted still. She then pointed out that I bought a CD of music inspired from his work, that I own almost everything he’s written, and that I re-read American Gods more than almost anything else I own. I suppose I’m just shy of commitment. Terri Windling, Jeff Vandermeer, Charles de Lint and K.J. Bishop all deserve special mentions, though.

Favorite book read when you were a child?
Finally, an easy question! The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien. Still my favourite book today. I lived in that book like no other since.

Random Questions:

What is your darkest secret?
Um. I’ve considered getting a sex change in order to seduce Rick Mercer into marrying me. But don’t tell anyone, okay? It’s embarrassing.

Favorite restaurant?
The Black Thorn Café, hands down. It’s never disappointed me yet! Have their Peace Train Pizza when you go. Clarence near Sussex, in Ottawa – right near the American Embassy, as it happens! Check it out!

Watch much TV? What’s good these days?
Doctor Who, The Mercer Report, Grey’s Anatomy, Desperate Housewives (hush! It’s entertaining!) Studio Sixty on the Sunset Strip. I used to watch Lost in its first season, but it really kind of sucks now.

Do you check your horoscope?
If I have a paper handy, I generally will. I do believe the planets have an influence on our lives, but I tend to prefer to know what’s going on astrologically – Mercury in retrograde and such – than to read about what’s going on for me specifically as a result of my sun-sign. …Wow. That’s made me sound like a total geek, hasn’t it? But there it is.

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