Sana Munir, author of “Unfettered Wings” discusses what makes a good story great and the honest truth about Pakistan’s publishing industry in this exclusive interview. 

1. How can a good author become great?
Both of these words, good and great, are subjective, if not hierarchal. For different people, they can reflect diverse things – acceptance with the literati, sales and/or publicity. In either case, a writer’s job, in my opinion, is to tell stories, with a perspective that is fresh and a narrative that is constructive. With this in mind, an author can hone their skills by reading more and writing more and more to find success the way they define it.

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2. What do you enjoy more: writing or editing?
Editing. Although mine is quite an unpopular choice I feel the burden of “unloading” a story from the heart and mind is a tedious job. However, editing is the process wherein a writer puts their work – short or long – into shape, preens it and adorns it in a way that it becomes the story they would rather present with their name on it.

3. Without giving any spoilers, what is “Unfettered Wings” about?
“Unfettered Wings” is a collection of ten short stories about the ordinary women of Pakistan, in fact so ordinary, that we usually fail to ‘see’ them despite ‘looking’ at scores of them every day. I am a feminist, who wants to tell stories of women, it is as simple as that. Having said that, to me, it is important to build narratives that reflect the struggles, small triumphs and strengths of the Pakistani women, in different geographical settings, with different demographics. Every story reflects a facet of womanhood, while at the same time insisting upon the pertinent fact, that there is not one universal truth about being either a woman or a Pakistani.

4. What was your reaction when Rupa Publications accepted the manuscript for publication?
I was beyond delighted. My first novel was self-published and could not receive recognition for the same reason. It meant the world to me, to have my book traditionally published, and having a top fiction publisher investing their resources in my book, was a huge boost to my morale.

5. You earned two gold medals as a student, you authored a book and now your daughter, Mahnaz Mir, is soon to have her book published later this year. What challenges did you face before you experienced success?
About my obtaining gold medals and authoring a book, I feel the biggest challenge is psychological and one is usually marred with discouragement when one comes across obstacles and hindrances. Those hindrances, prove to be the milestones of learning with the passage of time. I am glad, I realized this earlier and did not give up, and no one ever should. My daughter’s book, a young adult (YA) mystery, is entirely her success, her story and I am happy that she could channelize her talent as early as a teenager.

6. Do you think Pakistan’s publishing industry supports young authors?
Truth be told, I don’t think we have a publishing industry in Pakistan. Books do get published locally, but every unit is a privately run business, that is closer to being a printing press than a publishing house. I sincerely hope, wish and pray that publishing becomes an industry in Pakistan so that young and new authors all get professional opportunities. Book clubs, independent publishing houses, online magazines, literary magazines, etc are all doing a fair share of their work and there is certainly hope for the future.

7. How do you define a good story?
A good story chucks the readers out of the real world and takes them into the make-believe one in the book they are reading. Once that story ends, the readers should find trouble, to struggle their way back into reality. If a story stays with a reader, it means the writer has done the second half of their job. The first half was to create a constructive discourse for the reader.

8. What is more important to you among these: story, plot, characters, message?
Well, they are all intertwined. Maybe one triumphs the other in various writings of the same author, but each one has to be plotted very sensitively; like a chemist would weigh the components of a chemical equation; before a story is declared to be ready for publishing.

9. What advice will you give to aspiring authors of Pakistan?
Never, ever, give up. Keep trying, be open to criticism and read a lot.

10. Your message for the youth of Pakistan?
Please, read books. Sign up at libraries – academic, public, online, whatever you can find. Talk to each other about something you read, in the paper, in a book, on the web, etc. Sanction a certain time in the day/night for books alone. Reading is the only chisel that shapes up your mind.

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