M.T. Kahn

What inspires you to write? Where do you get your ideas?

I get inspiration from a variety of creative outlets! Sometimes it’s a lyric from a song, a comment made in a documentary, or a picture that sets a mood.

Tell us about your book.

My MG contemporary fantasy, NURA AND THE IMMORTAL PALACE, comes out from Little Brown Young readers in Summer 2022! Here’s the pitch: Pakistani 12-year-old Nura works as a mica miner to help her sweatshop worker mother. But when the mines collapse and her best friend is ruled dead, Nura digs deeper to find a portal world of jinn, and that the kids aren’t dead—they’ve been stolen.

Set in a rural industrial town in Pakistan, this middle grade fantasy debut explores Pakistani culture, the cycle of child labor, and a glance into Islam.

Can you pitch your current project? (for unpublished books)

I’m currently working on a YA Fantasy that combines neocolonialism and dark academia into a cutthroat magic competition taking place at the pinnacle of western excellence—except it features diaspora kids with broken identities who are trying to rebuild their fallen histories in an institution that won’t allow them.

Tell us about your writing journey and how you got where you are today.

The first time I realized I enjoyed writing was when my sixth-grade teacher gave us a 3-page creative writing assignment and I popped off with an uncanny tale about a girl and the grim reaper. I’d only ever written once before, when I was around six years old, and it was entirely crack fiction parodying already published titles. But that creative assignment was such a fascinating exploration of myself that I really fell in love with writing and how it can be a healing and learning experience.

What advice do you have for writers?

Write what you’re passionate about! If an idea hits you like a storm, whisk away with it. I wouldn’t recommend writing to trends because there’ll be an oversaturation of the same concept, you’ll be endlessly compared, and by the time you finish, the fad might be over. Whereas if you’re passionate about a certain story, that passion will lead you to being the best writer that story needs.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers & creators from marginalized/underrepresented backgrounds?

Write your pain. Write your joy. There are so many layers to marginalized identities that I can’t even begin to explain how long and strenuous exploring yourself can be. Our stories can be painful, but they can also be encouraging. If you want to write about race, do it. If you don’t, that’s ok. But throughout your writing journey, you’ll hear many whispers about what kind of stories you should and shouldn’t write. Just listen to your heart. 

How do you weave your culture(s) into your book(s)? How do(es) your culture(s) influence your writing?

With NURA AND THE IMMORTAL PALACE, I wanted to write a story celebrating all I loved about my South Asian culture. There are drool-worthy food descriptions of mithai, references to dances like Bhangra and Luddi, and let’s be honest, desi clothes are untouchable—I wrote about langas and shalwars in a way you could almost feel them. (I hope.) 

Depending on your story, maybe your culture plays into a fantasy race. Or the food of your heritage makes an appearance in some kind of festival. It can be little things or big ones, but the readers you’re writing it in for will notice and love it.

What is your writing process like?

It starts with an idea or a scene that pops into my head, and from there I begin to ask a slew of questions. Who are these people? Where are they? What do they want? Then it leads to more dreaming where I get a better picture of the world and its systems. It’s only when I’m serious about drafting an idea that I ask myself, what’s the message I want to convey? This helps me focus in on what’s most important. Then it’s all technicalities from here. 

So much research. I find it one of the most enjoyable parts of pre-drafting. Then I expand on worldbuilding to understand what kind of world I’m jumping into (I think of it like creating a brochure to a vacation spot). Then it’s a process of outlining, letting the outline settle, and then reworking it again. When I’m satisfied, I overcome my fear and take the plunge into drafting. 

What superpower would you like to have?

Teleportation. I really wish I could be sipping chai in the middle of Switzerland right now.