Hasan Namir graduated from Simon Fraser University with a BA in English and received the Ying Chen Creative Writing Student Award. He is the author of God in Pink (2015), which won the Lambda Literary Award for Best Gay Fiction and was chosen as one of the Top 100 Books of 2015 by The Globe and Mail. His work has also been featured on Huffington Post, Shaw TV, Airbnb, and in the film God in Pink: A Documentary. He was recently named a writer to watch by CBC books. Hasan lives in Vancouver with his husband. War/Torn (2019, Book*Hug) is his latest poetry book.
1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
What can I say... Brian Lam and Arsenal Pulp Press truly changed my life when they agreed to publish my first novel God in Pink. It fulfilled a lifelong dream of mine that I've had since I was 12, when I got my first story published. It was called Linton Street Stop and it was published as part of an anthology of young authors. With God in Pink, I wanted to be experimental. I didn't have any chapter headings. There were two narrators, so stylistically, Arsenal Pulp Press and I decided to have two different fonts, but we purposefully chose to not have the fonts too distinctive. What I wanted to achieve with the book is that the two narrators, though they may seem so different, had similar struggles and eventually their intersection in life leads to unexpected moments. It was my desire to incorporate poetics into a very traditional form of writing. My desire to be experimental took a full force with my poetry book War/Torn, which was published by Jay Millar & Hazel Millar (Book*Hug Press), and that marked a significant moment in my life. With poetry, it's much more personal than fiction. My body is the space and form of words. When I'm writing poetry, I'm more vulnerable and I start to have all these overwhelming feelings. And these feelings become addictive so I write a lot of poetry.
2 - How did you come to fiction first, as opposed to, say, poetry or non-fiction?
Actually, my poetry book War/Torn was written first before God in Pink. However, God in Pink was published first. The process of poetry publication is much more lengthy and there were obstacles that I faced in getting the book published. But it wouldn't have been possible without my professor, mentor and friend Jordan Scott, who has been there from the beginning. War/Torn was my English 472 chapbook final project. Going into the course, when I thought of poetry, I thought of lyrics; however, when I took the course with Jordan, my poetics took a whole new level. So I'm forever grateful to him and my amazing publishers Jay and Hazel for believing in my work and making the whole publication process itself so wonderful and seamless. I'm forever grateful to them also. Poetry is in my blood since I was a young child. I've been writing poetry since I was 11, so I would say I was introduced to poetry first before fiction. But my first published work was fiction and not poetry.
3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
I'm usually pretty quick once I have an outline set in my mind. I don't always have an outline for every project to tell you the truth. But I always have a beginning, middle and an end that I have stored in my mind. For my latest two unpublished manuscripts that I'm currently working on both had outlines. I guess my memory isn't always the greatest anymore, so having something planned and written down first definitely gives me clarity. First drafts are first drafts to me. Rewriting follows after for all my projects. I usually have wonderful beta readers that read my first draft for my fiction work. The feedback that I receive from beta readers helps me a lot with rewriting. And I also work with amazing editors because let's be honest, writers need editors.
4 - Where does a poem or work of fiction usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
During my younger days, I used to write a lot of short stories and I used to be a member of writing sites like writing.com. But since I wrote in God in Pink, I've only been writing books since, like poetry books, novels, and children's book. For me, it begins with a message that I want to send across, then I think about how I want to send this message, in what form, and then the characters start to build up for me. Then, the plot and so forth.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
Yes, I love doing readings. I love socializing with other authors, artists, readers, and everyone really. Luckily, I overcame my public speech fright when I was in high school, doing high school plays, so I love being around people and I love doing public readings, from the intimate ones to massive audience. I find readings fuel my creative energy and I get inspired through my interactions with others who share the same passion as me.
6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
I don't see my work as trying to answer questions as much as trying to send messages. I don't use any theories in my work.
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
I'm very happy to see that people still read books and so the writer's role is significant in our today's societies, especially with the popularity of social media. Writers are not just authors of books, but journalists, tweeters, so they play important roles in our every day lives.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I love working with editors and it's super essential. A lot of editors are writers too, so they share a mutual creative goal with the writer. I'm very thankful to have worked with amazing editors such as Susan Safyan, Shazia Hafiz Ramji, Shirarose Wilensky and others in my writing career. I'm super grateful for editors and always will be.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
An advice that I've been thinking about lately that I heard recently...it was given to an author I spoke with and the advice was, if you are sober, your writing will flow.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to fiction)? What do you see as the appeal?
Quite easy actually. The two genres compliment one another. It depends on my mood, but somedays I write poetry, some days I write fiction, and sometimes I even write screenplays. I love how I can switch between genres.
11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
I tend to write in the evenings as I find that's when I'm most creative. I'm definitely not a morning person and I also have a full-time day job as I have mortgage and bills to pay. So I wake up in the morning, go to work, then I go to the gym with hubby and I come home, lock myself in the room and I power on my Macbook laptop and I start to write. But it's not an every day thing. Sometimes, I write, sometimes I watch Netflix with hubby and go to bed after. I try to write at least 3 days a week and when I write, I write a lot, I don't stop the flow.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I take a break and I would revisit where I stopped and I would continue on. I will write and write until the poem ends. And then I will write a second poem. Only later do I then start to revisit the work from the beginning. For example, I'll finish writing a manuscript in its entirety first and then I will revisit. My biggest fear is that I don't finish a work so I will write the whole thing first. I will get a personal satisfaction doing that. And then I will revisit and rewrite etc.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Polo by Ralph Lauren because I wore that cologne when I was visiting the middle east in 2007 and 2010 with my family. So that scent always reminds me of my home country. As for Canada, the smell of trees reminds me of Canada.
14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
Music always inspires my work for sure. I'm always listening to Arabic music and scores (the background music in movies, tv shows, games etc) when I'm writing. Definitely a source of inspiration to me.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Shakespeare has always been very important in my writing career. I've read almost all his plays and his writing really inspires me. Also, James Baldwin and specifically his novel Giovanni's Room is super important for my work. Jack Kerouac and his book On the Road. In poetry, Fred Wah has inspired me so much.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
I'd like to adapt my novel God in Pink into a screenplay. That idea has always been in my mind. Or fulfill my dream of having one of my screenplays get made into a movie.
17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
I would have been a doctor because I have a lot of doctors in my family so that was the expectation of me.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
Writing has always been my passion since I was a little kid. I used to read the store headings in Arabic and I used to write them down. Growing up, I was always known as the kid with these crazy story ideas. In high school, I took every writing course possible. In university, I did the same thing. I love writing. It's in my blood and always will be.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
heft by Doyali Islam which was incredible on all levels. Doyali's writing takes my breath away. As for the last great film, it was How to Train Your Dragon 3. Honestly, hubby and I don't really watch a lot of movies as the quality of tv shows are way better. I'd rather watch Netflix, or Crave than go to the movies. Last great show we watched is Money Heist: Season 3 on Netflix. Sure it's not the question, but I thought I'd add.
20 - What are you currently working on?
I'm currently working on a second poetry book called Umbilical Cord, which will be about my love story with my husband Tarn and our journey through parenthood as we are having a baby boy Malik Khare-Abood inshallah-waheguru-God-willing. And I'm just working on some rewrites on two manuscripts of mine, Son of Sodom and Felicity Island, both fiction, which I hope to publish in the near future. Also, working on a children's book with Arsenal Pulp Press and Cathryn Jones, which will be published in fall of 2020.
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