M.A. Guglielmo stopped by to talk about the second book in her From Smokeless Fire series, Soul to Steal!
Soul to Steal is a fantasy novel with jinns, fallen angels, magic and mythology. Where did you get the inspiration for the world you’ve created?
The central story that inspired me to write the From Smokeless Fire series is the legend of Harut and Marut, two fallen angels who complain so much about human immorality that they are sent down in human form to experience temptation firsthand. After failing at resisting sin in spectacular fashion, they’re punished by being hung by their feet inside a cursed mountain, where they bestow magical knowledge on humans brave enough to find their prison.
How did your experience writing Soul to Steal differ from book one, Summoned?
In a word: time. Although Summoned wasn’t the first novel I finished and edited, it was the first I published, and I had more time for feedback from different beta readers, as well as working out plot issues by myself. The timeline for Soul to Steal was shorter, and I had to make tough and fast decisions about cutting out scenes, a few minor characters and restructuring some plotlines. Luckily, I had awesome editorial backup to help with the process!
Jo is attacked by a magical bird from Persian legend. Can you explain the legend?
The Simurgh is a fantastical bird from Persian folklore, with the size and strength to carry away elephants. In the Persian epic the Shahnameh, Zal, an infant with white hair, is thought to be a devil and is left on a mountain top to perish. The Simurgh finds and rescues the baby, then raises him as her own. He eventually returns to the human world and uses the magical feather she gave to perform a cesarean section on his wife, saving both her and his son, who grows to become a great hero of the epic. An ancient tale with surgical technique—I love it!
What do you want readers to take away after reading this novel?
Although the story has many entertaining fantastical moments, I think in the end Soul to Steal is about relationships and love, whether in a family or a romantic dynamic. In the story, both Zahara and Jo come from family backgrounds that cause conflicts with the people they love, and they have to bring together former enemies in order to save themselves (and everyone else!)
You work by day as a neurosurgeon. When do you find the time to write and where do you do it?
Finding time with both work and my family is a huge challenge—there’s no doubt about it! Luckily my two daughters are a huge help around the house and supportive of my writing. My dog and cat—not so helpful. I often use the month of November (when the writing event NanoWriMo takes place) as a boost to new writing. I don’t really have a fancy spot to write. Instead, I plop on my couch and put a pair of noise-cancelling headphones after dinner and try to get some words on the page.
What are you currently reading?
I love novels which feature Middle Eastern myth and legend, and I absolutely adore the The Daevabad Trilogy by S.A, Chakraborty. Her heroine is a 13th century Egyptian con artist who is pulled into the palace intrigue and warfare of the jinn world. There’s a wonderful love triangle that has me on the edge of my seat for the final novel, Empire of Gold. Another fantastic stand-alone novel is The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson, a beautiful historical fantasy based on a Sufi tale about the Simurgh. Can’t recommend these books highly enough!
About the Author
Born and raised in Rhode Island, M.A. Guglielmo is the proud mother of two wonderful daughters and works as a neurosurgeon in an academic practice. Drawing on her life-long love of imaginative fiction, she writes stories based mostly on Middle Eastern and Southern European mythology and legend.