Syed M. Masood: Let Your Characters Surprise You

Author Syed M. Masood shares how his latest novel, The Bad Muslim Discount, was inspired by the country's political climate and what works (and doesn't) for his no-outline writing style.
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Syed M. Masood is the author of The Bad Muslim Discount (February 2, 2021; Doubleday) and More Than Just a Pretty Face (August 4, 2020; Little, Brown and Company). A first-generation immigrant twice over, he grew up in Karachi, Pakistan, and has been a citizen of three different countries and nine different cities. He currently lives with his family in Sacramento, California, where he is a practicing attorney. You can visit him at syed-masood.com.

Syed M. Masood

In this post, Masood shares how his latest novel was inspired by the country's political climate, what works (and doesn't) for his no-outline writing style, and more!

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Name: Syed M. Masood
Literary agent: Melissa Edwards
Title: The Bad Muslim Discount
Publisher: Doubleday Books
Release date: February 2, 2021
Genre: Literary Fiction
Previous titles: More Than Just a Pretty Face (LBYR, 2020)
Elevator pitch for the book: Following two families from Pakistan and Iraq in the 1990s to San Francisco in 2016, The Bad Muslim Discount is an inclusive, comic novel about Muslim immigrants finding their way in modern America.

The Bad Muslim Discount

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What prompted you to write this book?

The book was, in large part, a response to the 2016 election and the rhetoric about Muslims that was used during it.

I wanted to figure out what it meant to be both Muslim and American, when a large part of your country’s populace clearly considered you, and people who believed as you did, entirely alien.

What does that do to "bad" Muslims, Muslims whom other Muslims may not entirely want to claim? How do you belong to identities that just don’t want you? That was the topic I wanted to explore.

(Write What You Know: Fiction, Brought to You by Real Life)

How long did it take to go from idea to publication? 

It took around four years. I started writing just before the 2016 presidential election, and my book will be published in 2021, shortly after a new president was sworn in. The book served a full term in my office.

The idea did not really change. How I was going to execute the idea—the structure of the book, however, dramatically changed to serve the idea. When I started writing, I had one protagonist, in his 30s. By the time I ended, I had two protagonists, each starting their story in their childhood. It was the best way to tell the story. Sometimes you have to just start writing to discover that, I guess.

Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title? 

Not really. It wasn’t my first novel, even though it is my adult literary debut. My YA novel had made me pretty familiar with the publishing process.

I will say though that the actual process of editing this book was a little novel. My wonderful editor sent me a physical copy edit letter, along with his notes on a printed manuscript.

Picking up a pen and editing a hard copy of the book, as opposed to just working off a screen was a new experience I hadn’t had before. Words just read differently off of paper than they do on a screen. Now, if I’m having trouble with something I’m writing, I’ll actually print it out and work on it by hand. The change of perspective really helps somehow.

(When Writing Fiction Can Help Us Understand Reality)

Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book? 

When were there no surprises! I’m a complete pantser. I don’t outline. I don’t plot. I just write and hope that I’ll find a story somewhere. It sucks at times, and I envy writers who can plot. I don’t recommend anyone adopt my process.

But it has the virtue of being entertaining. I’m always surprised by how characters deal with the problems presented to them. I never know what they’re going to do until they’re actually doing it. That’s the cool part.

Writing yourself into a corner and having to toss out more words than are in your entire finished manuscript … that part is not so cool.

What do you hope readers will get out of your book?

First for me, always, is the hope that readers will enjoy the book. I want them to be entertained, to laugh at least a little, and to have fun. That is the primary purpose of art.

After that, I think it’d be nice if people walked away with an understanding of how complex, diverse, and varied the Muslim experience is. I hope they realize that no one person can ever do it justice.

That’s a good thing, by the way. A garden, to paraphrase an Urdu poet, is beautiful because of the variety in the colors and kinds of flowers it contains.

Masood_1:31

If you could share one piece of advice with other authors, what would it be?

Get an ergonomic keyboard. No, I’m not joking. Having two novels scheduled to come out in the same year was murder for my wrists. Take care of yourself. Your future bestselling self will thank me.

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