When I picked up The Forbidden Wish earlier this year, I was expecting your standard Aladdin retelling, complete with lots and lots of references to some of my favorite characters. I knew there would be a twist – Jessica Khoury chooses to tell the story from the point of view of the Jinni instead of Aladdin, but I still expected to be familiar with the finished product.
I’ve never been so glad to be wrong.
Instead of your traditional Aladdin tale, Khoury weaves together complex female heroines, ancient mythologies, court intrigues, and ancient magics all in one unforgettably gorgeous setting. It’s the journey of a lifetime (Dare I say, even better than a magic carpet ride?) and if you haven’t already picked it up, you should run – not walk – to your nearest book-buying establishment and beg them to sell you a copy.
Either way, I’m sure you’ll fall even more in love with Jessica as you read this exclusive Book Shire interview where we talk about The Forbidden Wish, upcoming projects, and all things bookish!
What drew you to the Aladdin story for your retelling?
It’s not a traditional, princess-centric fairytale–in other words, not one of the famous Grimm fairytales! Its Middle Eastern roots really intrigued me, because of my Syrian heritage.
I freaking LOVE Zahra as a main character – did you always know you wanted The Forbidden Wish to be told from the POV of the Jinni instead of Aladdin?
Yes, this story idea completely began with Zahra as the MC. It was the strength of her voice that made this book irresistible to me to write.
What’s your writing process like? Do you have a specific routine?
I tend to “flirt” with an idea before committing to it, by developing a Pinterest board, making a playlist, and researching the setting, etc., as a way of testing the waters before jumping in. Once I feel the idea is sound and that I love it enough to spend 9 months with it, I start hardcore plotting (I use a method called Save the Cat) before doing any actual writing. Lots of groundwork must be laid before I begin the first chapter!
Who are some of your favorite authors?
Gosh, there’s tons! Lloyd Alexander, Brian Jacques, Susan Cooper, T. A. Barron–these are some of the writers I emulated and adored as a teen. Nowadays, I can add Robin Hobb, Lois McMaster Bujold, Kristin Cashore, Cinda Williams Chima, and many more to that list.
You center a lot of your retelling around rich Jinni mythology – did you do a lot of research for the book, or was that a topic you were already pretty familiar with/made-up as you went?
I did a lot of research into jinn mythology, both Islamic and pre-Islamic. Jinn mythology is quite diverse and at times inconsistent, so I had to pick and choose what to use in the story. Some stuff–the idea that jinn were created before men, that they have affinities for certain elements–I lifted from existing mythology. Other aspects, like that some jinn were once human, I created myself.
The Forbidden Wish isn’t your first novel – when you were starting out, how did you handle rejection? Any advice for struggling authors who are having trouble being published?
Rejection generally makes me work harder, probably because I’m super competitive and took failure as a personal challenge to do better. I developed a thick skin pretty quickly. I’d tell writers starting out to not take rejection personally. You WILL get rejections at every level of the process, before and after publication; it’s so important to separate your identity from your work and realize rejection of your work is not rejection of YOU. Pick yourself up, get back to work, and show them how sorry they’ll be they said no. 😉
I love that this retelling really flips the entire Aladdin story on its head; in particular, the emphasis on strong female characters is incredibly powerful. What was the inspiration behind those women – both Zahra, as the Jinni, and Caspida, the Princess, as well as her awesome personal guard of kick-butt females?
The females in TFW were largely inspired by my research into ancient Persia, Syria, and other Middle Eastern/Southwest Asian cultures. There are a ton of fascinating strong women in history whom most of us never hear about–warrior queens, female generals, military strategists, diplomats, etc., who ruled and changed history in huge ways. Read about Zenobia or Artemisia; these women were incredible!
Which of your characters do you identify with the most? Which one do you identify with the least?
I really identified with Zahra more than I thought I would, her being a super-powerful, 4000-year-old jinni and all. But I found myself really resounding with her struggle to show her emotions and make herself vulnerable. She’s so scared of hurting someone or being hurt. Least, I’d identify with Aladdin! He’s so outgoing, bold, and flirtatious. Not me at all!
Since The Forbidden Wish is so diverse… Why do you believe diverse literature is important?
Diversity is important for two reasons: Reflection and Empathy. Reflection, because readers need to see accurate and positive reflections of themselves in literature, not just as side characters but as heroes and heroines. Empathy, because readers need to see points of view different from their own, to learn to stand in others’ shoes and share their struggles
Will there be another book in this world? Or are you moving on to other stories now?
I can’t say just yet! Sorry! Hopefully more on that soon. I’ve taken a bit of a break for the arrival of my first child, but I’m testing the waters on a few things now. 🙂
Along those same lines… Can you give us any hints into what you’ll be working on next? Any sneak peaks (we’re already dying for another book!)?
I CAN tell you that I’ll be releasing some short stories linked to The Forbidden Wish. You’ll see more of Zahra and of Caspida, maybe some other characters.
Oooh! Those sound amazing! What’s on your reading list right now?
Right now I’m reading Jane Eyre, which is superb with its early feminist themes. Quite excited for The Rose and the Dagger, and I’ve got some 2016 releases to catch up on: Passenger, The Girl From Everywhere, Wink Poppy Midnight…
Do you have anything you’d like readers to know, or anything extra you’d like to share with them?
If you like short stories and tidbits, be sure to find me on Wattpad for some free extra content! I’m at wattpad.com/AuthorJessicaKhoury.