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#WOTSAuthorChat with Amal El-Mohtar

August 30, 2019

The following is a transcript of a twitter thread with @tithenai about her debut novel This Is How You Lose The Time War (co-authored with Max Gladstone), edited for maximum blog-readability. If you would like to interact with the thread on Twitter, click here: Amal Author Chat

WOTS: Hi Amal! Thanks so much for joining us for the #WOTSAuthorChat! Which of the strands are you in today?

AMAL EL-MOHTAR: Haha, I’m afraid that’s classified! But I can tell you that trains & music are involved, & that if you travel downthread from me a short way you’ll hear a katabastic goddess singing.

WOTS: This sounds very appropriate and fun. Let’s get started!

There’s something so intimate about reading letter collections, fictional or otherwise. What drew you to the idea of writing a story in largely epistolary style?

AE: Max & I had been corresponding by hand-written letter for a year, & observing how unique & wonderful it was—how much deeper & more thoughtful than email or social media it felt. It’s also a kind of time travel! (We wrote more on that here.)

WOTS: Co-writing a novel seems like it would have different challenges than a solo work. Did you and Max Gladstone each take charge of one character? How did you collaboratively build the narrative? Tell us a little about the process!

AE: We did! Max wrote all of Red & I wrote all of Blue; one of us would write the letter while the other would write the situation in which it was being received. We’d discuss the situation, but never the letter—that was always a surprise to both of us!

WOTS: I guessed right! But to be honest, your writing blended so beautifully together, it was difficult to tell. Re: the time travel – you really achieve this crushingly beautiful effect that feels both inevitable and earned. How did you keep track of it all?

AE: Thank you! We had an initial outline of the shape of the story, its beats & acts, but for the climax we actually had to get up from our keyboards & pace while talking, & eventually lie down on the floor & stare at the ceiling, before we found our way to it.

WOTS: I think that’s a pretty universal reaction to that climax/aftermath. The readers have definitely had some strong emotions (including us). How are you feeling about the response to the book by fans?

AE: INCREDIBLE. I have (ironically!) no words. The love & passion people have been expressing to us has been tremendous! At [Worldcon] this weekend I autographed a couple’s WEDDING PROGRAM! We’re both so delighted & grateful & a bit in awe.

WOTS: *crying emojis* omg. Yeah, wow.

In a different interview, you mentioned feeling “a bit synesthetic”. Have the colours red and blue themselves taken on new connotations and associations in your daily life now that you’ve written this story?

AE: Honestly I can’t stop noticing when they appear together. Singly, they haven’t changed much for me—but together! Then I feel something’s opening inside me, like I’ve become a secret conduit for two-way communication between illicit lovers.

WOTS: You have some experience as a conduit! You’re known for your tweet-threads as the Oracle of Buses (and got some incredible Oracle-inspired art at [Worldcon]!) When did you first get the idea and how have those interactions helped or inspired your writing?

AE: In October of 2016 I started spending a lot more time on buses! I’d recently moved into Ottawa proper from a more rural place, & started doing AMAs to while away transit. I think it started here. In retrospect that was a month before The Election–& I think the need to share kindness, comfort, poetry, both softly & sharply, exploded. I don’t remember deciding one day to do it—but protocols, rituals, grew journey by journey.

WOTS: I agree! And what a beautiful way to turn stressful experiences into positive energy. I remember that [Ottawa transport] life! I used to haunt the coffee shops of Bank St. when I was starting to write. What are your must-haves for a good writing session?

AE: 1. A beverage. Usually tea, sometimes coffee, hot or cold depending on season/mood

2. An uninterruptible span of at least 2 hours stretching before me.

3. An environment that makes no demands of me.

WOTS: Sounds perfect (& very flexible)! You’ve had a busy travel schedule this year, teaching at Clarion and running workshops all over the world! What’s some of the best advice you’ve given (or received) for authors looking to level up their craft?

AE: Given: Poetry & prose are not opposites. The difference between poetry & prose is the difference between singing & speaking.

Received (from DongWon Song): don’t expect to be able to hold a whole novel in your head. Allow yourself to discover it.

WOTS: That’s really good advice!

We really appreciate your time for this chat and we’re thrilled that you’ll be joining us on our new Across the Universe stage for Word On The Street on Sept. 22!

AE: Thank you so much for your thoughtful questions! Looking forward to the event!


For more compelling advice and lyrical musings, be sure to subscribe to Amal El-Mohtar’s substack: and check her website: