Thursday, June 12, 2014

Author Interview with Danielle Ackley-McPhail & Day Al-Mohamed

I'm thrilled to have a writer team with me today. Today I have Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Day Al-Mohamed by to chat on their newest release, Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn. I hope you got to check out my review of the fairy tale re-tell.

Please, help me welcome Danielle and Day to the blog!

M:  Welcome Danielle and Day. Can you share a little bit about your newly released book for the readers?

Danielle:  Well…I can tell you it’s a short story with a thyroid problem…but in truth the original tales are just more detailed than we realized. Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn was originally intended as a short story for the upcoming anthology Gaslight and Grimm. When our finished product turned out to be over 17,000 words the publisher said “No, it’s a book…now go finish it.” Day shook her fist at him, but with the very next breath, her eyes it up and she was already mumbling about different things we could do…

Day:  There was a lot of “You want us to do what?! And you’ll buy it?! What are we going to DO?!

Fist shaking was probably a better response than fainting or throwing up. Now THAT would be a great origin story…”Yes, Danielle and I wrote our story for an anthology but it was too long. When the publisher suggested expanding it into a novel …I threw up on him.” :)

M:  Danielle, you and Day co-authored Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn. What was the easiest part of co-authoring?

Danielle:  I don’t think you can ever call collaborating easy. It is a wonderful experience, but often challenging. Each of us had very distinct ideas of what we wanted to do and how. Sometimes those ideas were complementary to each other, but at other times I had to retrain myself for protesting some change or other, not because they weren’t good, but because they weren’t the way I envisioned them or would have handled the situation. I did restrain myself, though, and by coordinated back-and-forth and brainstorming sessions we definitely came up with a tale that was greater than either of us could have written on our own. The end result was richer for the varied perspectives that went in to working it out, both from the two of us, and input from our invaluable “alpha” reader, Helen Fleischer.

Day:   The easiest part I think was knowing that you already had an eager audience of one ready and waiting for the next section, or the revisions. Writing is a lonely adventure; at the end of the day, it is just you and the words. This method really didn’t feel lonely. There was a constant charge when you sent a piece off and wondering what the other person would say. Danielle is right that joining visions was sometimes difficult and learning to trust each other with pieces we put our heart into, but the writing was, in some ways, a lot easier, and a lot more fun.

M:  What method did you both use to re-create the tale together?

Danielle:  Our process could best be described as tag-team writing. One of us would have an idea and develop it, then pass it off to the other for review. It would come back with revisions, or notes for ideas sparked from the segment, perhaps some added text in place, and then the cycle starts all over again. Kind of like one of the improve skits from “Who’s Line Is It Anyway?” The hardest thing—and the most rewarding—was to develop an idea and then to have some proverbial buzzer go off and have to pass it off to someone else, then see what they did to interpret your concept. One of the pluses of this process is that there is no clear distinction in the book to indicate which of us wrote a particular section.

Day:  What she said? :) I will add, that we also pulled out many of the major plot points from the early versions of the tale. I imagine not many people know that one of the titles for the story is “Clever Morgiana.”

In writing Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn, how did you know what elements to keep as magic and others as clockwork or steam powered?

Danielle:  At first this was difficult. We knew the steampunk needed to be integral, but the magical aspects of the tale did come across stronger, when the story was still a story and not a novel. We introduced the steampunk elements then, but they were more set-dressing rather than key elements. When we suddenly became co-novelists we found we had more room, and the ability to expand the back-story. At that point the steampunk nature of the tale came more to the fore. We were able to spread out and explore and find ways to mingle the science with the magic until each complemented the other.

Day:  When expanding to a novel, we had the opportunity to “fill in the world” even more than the small area around Al-Nejd. We had a magical, mystical Middle East, where many of the “faerie tales” had some truth – ifrits, ghouls, djinni etc., but also where steam technology had carved an influence over society. The Old City of Jerusalem has great airships landing outside the city walls, and inside resides three great schools of magic. We build an England reveling in a steam-powered industrial revolution. And of course, our heroes exist and struggle at that most difficult of places – the intersection of magic and mechanics.

M:  What was your favorite scene to work on? For Day?

Danielle:  Toward the end of the book there is a particularly philosophical interlude involving chess pieces that I am exceedingly fond of. I won’t going into detail—as Day has pointed out in an earlier interview, that would give too much away—but I can say it was an epiphany moment, inspiration that I could never have intentionally planned, but worked out brilliantly.

M:  I love that you kept the tale true and not all of it is a Disney story. Did you feel you stayed true to the tale in keeping the harder unpleasant scenes with the story?

Danielle:  If you look at the original tales, no matter what the source, they were more grim than glee. I believe we captured not just the feel of the original tales, but their spirit as well. The magic, the danger, the loyalty, the characters had depth in the original and we did our best to carry that through in Baba Ali.

Day:  We specifically wanted to capture the voice of the original tales; the mystique and adventure. We pulled some elements directly from the tales and others we used to inspire the twists and turns of a story that would exist in the 1880s. Although, you should probably be grateful to Danielle, she wouldn’t let me chop anyone into 40 pieces. :) That may have been a little too unpleasant.

M:  I think I loved the creation of the Djinn and loyal friend Ali finds. Do you have a favorite character in writing the tale?

Danielle:  Bad form asking parents to admit to a favorite! Instead let me say that each and every character made themselves distinct, but Charles Babbage in an oddly gruff way, made himself endearing, not just for us, but for those who have read the story to date. One character that does resonate with me for some reason, though, is Shahin….the falcon djinni. He doesn’t appear much on the page, but when he does he is impossible to ignore. There is a story there. One, Day and I are already plotting. I can’t wait to learn what it is!

Day:  Believe it or not, I really enjoyed the villains. The unrepentant Rassul, the reluctant Rashid, even the wicked thief who seemed to enjoy hurting people a little too much. There’s something about a really good villain…

M:  Since you both are new to My words and pages, I'm going to start with some questions I ask all my first time visiting authors.
(Note from Day:  I LOVE these questions?! What a wonderful idea!)

M:  If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?

Danielle:  Australia. Something about that harsh, beautiful land fascinates me. I would love to experience it up close.

Day:  And here I was hoping for the inclusion of an imaginary place! :) Actually, Egypt. I grew up in the Middle East but never got to see Egypt and the pyramids. I’m also of an age where that was in all the children’s books with images of King Tutankhamun’s golden mask. Although I’ve travelled quite a bit, this goal has always eluded me.

M:  Coffee or Tea?

Danielle:  Depends on what you add to it ;) No…but really, mostly I drink tea….Earl Grey, hot.

Day:  Unequivocally tea! Have a “tea station” both upstairs and downstairs in the house and close to 36 different kinds. Oddly enough though, I loathe Earl Grey. :)

M:  Favorite Color?

Danielle:  Red…but I look better in Purple. You’ll see at Balticon…

Day:  Red. But I think that might be because, as a visually-impaired person, it is one of the colors that I see most clearly.

M:  Favorite Childhood Fictional Creature?

Danielle:  LOL….you won’t believe this, but it’s a creature that never appeared on any page. When I was about five my aunt, who lived with us and worked third-shift at CBS Recorders, convinced me to be quiet during the day while she was sleeping by telling me about the little man in the vent. In truth she would talk into the vent in another room pretending to be the little man in the vent. I was so convinced that I would leave bowls of cereal for him to eat. As I left the room someone would let one of the dogs in to stand in for the little man. This is one of my cherished memories and will always be my favorite fictional creature.

Day:  That’s really tough question. I say that because I’ve always been something of a fickle person when it comes to fictional creatures. I love them all! Thinking far back, the first I think was a Phoenix from some children’s story or another. My Little Pony pulled me to Unicorns and Pegasi. Anne McCaffrey introduced me to Dragons and Mercedes Lackey to Gryphons. The list goes on and on.

M:  Now as an adult, what's your favorite fiction creature? (can be the same!)

Danielle:  As I said….always…

Day:  Currently? Umm…Olaf.

M:  Favorite Word? (any word)

Danielle:  oooh….not easy, so dependent on context. I rarely get tired of hearing the word “Yes,” though….

Day:  Yes

M:  Thank you Danielle and Day for sharing a bit about your newly released book. Here's wishing you all the best in words and pages.

Danielle & Day:  Thank you!


Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn
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.

The night is for the telling of tales to which the morning may bear Truth. In the oldest of days and ages and times, there was, and there was not, a great evil that reached across the desert and beyond...

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.

I 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.


Find Danielle Ackley-McPhail:
Blogs: http://lit_handyman.livejournal.comhttp://damcphail.livejournal.com
Amazon author page

Find Day Al-Mohamed:
Twitter:  @DayAlMohamed

Purchase Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn:

Book Depository


  1. Thanks for having us, Mel. We really enjoyed the interview! If anyone has an more questions about the book, we're glad to comment away!

  2. I do not know if I could co-author...though it sounds fun in a way :)

    1. was definitely a challenge, but I personally enjoyed the experience. I'm not saying it was always easy, but I do content editing too so it was kind of the same thing. Knowing when to revise something and knowing when to let it go even if it isn't what I would have done is always tricky. There were times I just flat-out said no and changed things back, but only if I had a really good reason for it.

      This book turned out to be so much better because it weaves both of our unique talents to make a cohesive whole. And believe it or not the excitment you get when you really get into a piece, well when there are two of you it builds by multiples and the charge you get is so much more than a single author's adrenaline rush. It's kind of addictive, and it really helped having someone to spark ideas off of. Things moved much quicker and smoother.

  3. I went to college with Day! <3 Small world. The book sounds great!

    1. Neat! Thank you very much for reading. We had a lot of fun writing Baba Ali. Response has been pretty positive so far.

    2. Kelly! I didn't know you were here! How wonderful!

  4. ha wow, well that sounds different and exciting!

    1. Thank, Lily! Exactly what we were going for :) It was a lot of fun exploring the original tale and putting it a cultural context. And adding the steampunk was just a blast! When the initial project came up (for Gaslight and Grimm) I knew immediately I wanted to do Ali Baba. The story outgrew the project, but neither of us is complaining! LOL

  5. I love that you didn't Disney-fy it. :) I also love hearing about how authors coordinate with each other on a book. I would think that was something hard to do especially when you have 2 creative minds going. Fun as well. Great post. Loved the mini questions at the end.

    1. Thanks, Melissa. It gets even better. There's a third mind in there in the form of our alpha reader, Halla. Mostly she called us on things that didn't make sense, but at a certain level she helped shape the story as well since she did her reading as we wrote the piece.

      As for the big D...that works fine for happyhappy animated flicks, but not so much for good fiction. We made a concerted effort to keep things grounded in...welll...reality's not really the right word...but realism, perhaps.

      Anyway, thanks for reading!

  6. Hello again!
    I thought I'd add one more comment. I realized that some folks might want to know little more about the real items and history behind certain parts of "Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn." I love research and get carried away with it and of course, assume everyone else does too.

    What I have is a bit of research, a few stories, my crush on the Graf Zeppelin...collected in a few blog posts on my website. No spoilers, just some fun and interesting tidbits. You can find them here:




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