After years of teaching, author Sameena Mughal decided to engage in an assignment she had tasked her students with multiple times. One story turned into ten stories, which later became her first novel, 'Shaherazade's Daughters'. Sameena loved the outcome so much that she decided to write a second novel, 'The Siddiqui Brothers in Cairo,' which was a sequel to the first. She is currently working on publishing her third novel, 'Maya the Bounty Hunter: A Cinderellaesque Story'. Nicole Twum-Baah of
sat down to chat with Sameena about her books, the writing life, and what fuels her desire to write.
Let's start with the usual, tell me a little bit about yourself and why you chose to become a writer.
I’ve always been a creative person, and I’ve always been very excited about various genres of creativity. I love movies and music, and I also love stories and books. Actually, I consider myself a bookworm. I have books in my library that I haven’t gotten to yet, and I still buy more books. So I’m a very avid reader. Writing, however, came a little later in the game because I was so focused on teaching. When I used to teach, I had my class do units. The units comprised of different activities that the students would do depending on their English and academic levels. In a few of the units, I had my students come up with the conventions of an Arabian Nights tale and, based on those conventions, I had them write their own Arabian Nights tales. They loved that. I remember looking at that assignment one day and thinking, “you know what, you got these kids to do it and you love these stories yourself, why don’t you just do it too?” The first short story I wrote for Shaherazade’s Daughters was originally going to be a birthday present for my niece, but then the story continued to evolve and so, basically, I wrote one and then I eventually wrote ten stories.
On your website, there is a block quote that reads: “Sharing Light Through the Written Word,” how does this quote translate into the things you write about? Or does it?
I like to provide some sort of illumination through my storytelling, and I love it when people get that. I remember when a friend’s father, who is Pakistani, was able to relate to my stories. I found that quite unexpected and refreshing. He was so excited to talk to me about it. He said, “every story has some sort of lesson,” when we eventually got to talk about it. To think that a man my father's age, from Pakistan, read my stories, and got it, that was a special moment. I’ve learned a lot on my journey in life and I just want to share it. I’m enlightened every day. I feel like I’m a natural-born teacher and even though I’m not teaching in the classroom anymore, I feel like my writing is a mechanism of my teaching – but on a broader scale.
Your first two books, ‘Shaherazade’s Daughters’ and ‘The Siddiqui Brothers in Cairo’ deal with feminism in the Golden Age of Islam. Why are feminism and women’s empowerment in the Golden Age of Islam important to you, and will we see more of this theme in future books?
Not Golden Age of Islam. Always feminism and women’s empowerment. Because I’ve always been big on giving women their due. My third book, which I am working on, for instance, does not cover the Golden Age of Islam but covers women’s empowerment. It is contemporary, set in LA, New York, and Dubai. When I was younger, “Just a Girl,” by No Doubt was my theme song. Just by virtue of the culture that I come from, I feel as though by me just being a woman, I was told: “oh, it’s not your place.” That’s what lit my fire. I actually did a personal exercise with Shaherazade’s Daughters where I tried to write one of my characters as passive, and I couldn’t do it. She ended up being nurturing and mothering but a leader and forceful at the same time.
Would you then say that you bring a little bit of your character to the characters in your books?
Yes, and I do it inadvertently sometimes. I remember for one of the characters in Shaherazade’s Daughters, I realized that the mother of the main character was me. In some stories, it’s something that’s intentional, in others, it’s not. There’s a short story I wrote where all three of my characters, including the man, embodied some parts of my own character.
Did you ever experience periods of self-doubt while writing your first novel? How were you able to get over that and keep going?
Did I have periods of self-doubt? All the time. And how was I able to keep going? I don’t know. I just plowed through it and I just kept going.
This is actually a personal question for myself as well, because I feel like one thing that has been holding me back from completing any of my novels is that I’m hesitant to get them published, to put them out there to scrutiny. That’s why I’m asking this particular question; how do you get over that?Because I have something to say! I have something to say that is uniquely me. I was just talking to someone the other day and I said something about “putting my Sameena spin on it.” More importantly, once you realize that the opinions of others don’t matter, that your opinions of me are - whether it’s my writing, my personality, something about me – something that’s entirely personal to you, things get easier. You can’t let things like that bother you. There was a time when I was reluctant to share my work. I would always say “it’s not ready, it’s not ready.” And now here I am, two books and a blog and one finished draft.
Let’s talk about your writing process. How long did it take to write each of your books? Did you experience any writer’s block along the way, and if so, how did you overcome it?
Shaherazade’s Daughters took me about 5 or 6 years to complete. The Siddiqui Brothers in Cairo took me about 2 years, and my new novel, Maya the Bounty Hunter: A Cinderellaesque Story, took me a little less than a year.
Would you say then that the writing process gets easier over time?
It depends. With my last novel, I was writing every day, and I finished three drafts in 7 months. The nice thing about fiction is that you can be as detailed as possible and you can flesh things out later. It’s also very important to outline your story ahead of time. I didn’t do that with my first two novels and so I found myself meandering through them to get to where I wanted them to be. Having that experience, I think it’s important to outline who the main characters are, especially what the main conflict is.
You have mentioned a little bit about your life as the only Indian family, growing up in your Pennsylvania neighborhood. Do you plan to write a book on that theme one day?
Actually, I will do a memoir one day. I have a friend who is prodding me to do that, but I am not fully invested in that yet.
What has been your most rewarding experience as an author?
Probably finishing the novel tops it. But then, having readers, especially young girls being able to relate to it is also rewarding. Growing up, I had wonderful role models, but I really didn’t have a role model for what I wanted to pursue in life – in terms of being a career woman. In particular, I lacked role models who were unafraid to challenge societal conventions about women and what society thinks about her as a woman. So to have me be that to other girls is the most rewarding part of being a writer. That I can be myself and, by being that, also inspire someone else to be who they want to be, that is truly rewarding.
Sameena Mughal is the author of three books, which include two novelettes and a novel. She was a high school and ESL teacher for several years before leaving to become a full-time writer. As an author, blogger, and freelance writer, she loves spending her days writing stories that enable her to enlighten others. She is a graduate of Penn State University and Temple University with a Master's degree in Secondary English Education. For more information on Sameena, visit her