The Djinn Falls In Love & Other Stories: Lessons From The Editors And The Authors
Imagine a world filled with fierce, fiery beings, hiding in our shadows, in our dreams, under our skins. Eavesdropping and exploring; savaging our bodies, saving our souls. They are monsters, saviours, victims, childhood friends.
These are the Djinn. And they are everywhere. On street corners, behind the wheel of a taxi, in the chorus, between the pages of books. Every language has a word for them. Every culture knows their traditions. Every religion, every history has them hiding in their dark places. There is no part of the world that does not know them.
They are the Djinn. They are among us.
The Djinn Falls in Love features stories from Nnedi Okorafor, Neil Gaiman, Helene Wecker, Amal El-Mohtar, Catherine King, Claire North, E.J. Swift, Hermes (trans. Robin Moger), Jamal Mahjoub, James Smythe, J.Y. Yang, Kamila Shamsie, Kirsty Logan, K.J. Parker, Kuzhali Manickavel, Maria Dahvana Headley, Monica Byrne, Saad Hossein, Sami Shah, Sophia Al-Maria and Usman Malik.
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‘The djinn are just like humans in many ways: they have free will, they are good, or evil, or undecided. They fall in love, they fight, they weep. In Bangladesh, djinn are known primarily for haunting people, or for being enslaved by magicians. Everyone believes in them, from villagers to city elites, and it stretches from a hardcore “I’ve seen djinn” belief to a more tentative “I don’t want to know” type of thing. I was surprised how widely accepted, how casual this belief is.
This made me wonder what the djinn are doing the rest of the time, when they’re not pestering humans or being captured by them. Presumably a large part of djinndom is not involved in these two activities, and are going about their normal life. What, for example, do djinn do to pass the time? They are long lived, so surely they get bored? What kind of technology do they have? Have they gotten to Mars yet? Are they watching Netflix? I must know these things. Or failing that, I’m just going to make up the answers.’
- Saad Hossain, “Bring Your Own Spoon”
Write what you don’t know.
‘”Write what you know” is all well and good, but I find writing what I don’t know is way more exciting. I know about djinns. I know the stories about them and how scary they can be, because growing up in Pakistan, they were the bogie man used to scare us into obedience. I know about villages in Pakistan’s North-West where Taliban commanders are the central authority. And I know U.S. controlled drones drop bombs on them from on-high, sometimes killing those commanders, often killing everyone else too. Those things are native to my land and my personal knowledge-base. What is alien, what is unknown to me, are the lives of the drone operators sitting somewhere in America. Those are the unknowns to me as the writer, even if they would be the most recognisable elements of the story to many readers.
Researching the numb greyness of drone operators’ lives, studying the geography of Alomogordo city in New Mexico, and then trying to describe it all with feigned confidence, those were the most joyous elements of the writing. I got to learn about things I knew nothing off and push work into directions I didn’t know if I had the skill to take it. Once the story began working itself out, it dictated the style as well. Inverted commas seemed intrusive. If I wanted to convey the bland realness, I’d have to do without them, and then pare down the description as well. Both are stylistic choices I never would have known to make until the writing began. Writing what you know can be comforting and safe, but if I want to write a horror story that will, hopefully, frighten the reader, then it’s only fair that I also be just as scared.’
- Sami Shah, “REAP”
Do/Don’t screw around with history.
‘Don’t screw around with history. The study of history isn’t just an exercise in saying where we came from – it is an examination of who we are now. We all of us will see the past through the lens of the present, and if you decide that your past is a shiny one in which busty maidens loved to flirt with sword-wielding kings of justice while happy peasants enjoyed a humble life of shovelling cow-dung, then your world is… in need of a bit of a kick in the nethers, pardon my saying so. Because if you cannot see the past, and cannot see that the act of seeing expresses something about yourself, then you will never know your present.
Screw around with history! I know you put a lot of effort in finding out exactly what kind of throne Suleyman the Magnificent sat upon while holding his divan… however if it doesn’t have a bomb hidden under it, or the secret of eternal youth hand-stitched into the upholstery, it is dull. Atmosphere is not the same as pastsplaining. You’re here to create fun stories full of sound, colour and soul. History is full of stories that can be the starting point for something else – and if it teaches us to see ourselves differently, then permit yourself to see it through the prism of wonder and imagination too.’
- Claire North, “Hurrem and the Djinn”
Omne Trium Perfectum.
‘When writing my story, I knew I wanted to do something more form-ally playful than my usual writing. In novels, it’s easy to get caught up in The Rule Of Three – three acts, three parts, three recurrences. Like nature, threes are everywhere. I really wanted to push away from that in this story. I wanted to deny it, and deny it hard. Only, as soon as I started thinking about Djinn, I thought of – what else? – three wishes. It’s a trope, but by god it’s a good and writerly one. Hard to escape, when you’re me. So, I thought: what if I don’t push against threes, but lean into them instead? There are three acts to a story; but what if each act had three acts of its own? And what if each of those sub-acts, actually, was kind of informed by anything other than the action in the act in which it was taking place? And then what if there was a wrapper story that itself had three acts, but those three acts were the acts of the –
It was a lot. A lot a lot. Because, above all this, I’m also a writer who likes clarity, who likes structure that feels natural. Who enjoys telling a story, even if that story isn’t always not-dark. (Oh by the way, my Djinn story is totally dark.) But that rule of three… I kept coming back to it. Even as my story tied itself into knots in my own mind, I kept coming back to that very rigid, oh-so-basic structure: the rule of three. I went Aristotle’s Unities, I went to the fabled ending, I went to a joke, essentially (threes are huge in comedy), and I went to tragedy (as threes are huge in stressing points of drama). And I learned – because even though I’ve written nine novels, teach creative writing, have done this for a long time, I rally against this, and we all try and over-complicate things as much as possible – I learned that sometimes, the simplicity of the rule of three is absolutely for the best.’
- James Smythe, “The Sand in the Glass is Right”
Trust your authors.
‘We learned – above all else – to trust our authors.
We began The Djinn Falls in Love with a clear vision of our book. It was all neatly delineated in a proposal. Outlined and everything. We found the very best people we could, we shared our thoughts with them… and then we did the best thing possible: we let go.
The writers came back with stories that were unexpected, unpredictable and surprising. They took roads we didn’t even know existed, and found amazing, beautiful things at the end. This isn’t the book we outlined. They didn’t give us what we wanted – they gave us what we never could’ve known we wanted. And The Djinn Falls in Love isn’t ‘our’ vision – it is all of ours. And it is far, far better for it.’
- Mahvesh Murad and Jared Shurin, editors, The Djinn Falls in Love
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