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Daniyal Mueenuddin 

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Website: InOtherRooms.com

Daniyal Mueenuddin graduated from Dartmouth College and Yale Law School. After a Fulbright in Norway, he practised law in New York before returning to Khānpur, Pakistan to manage the family farm. He divides his time between Cairo and Pakistan.

Short Story Collections

In Other Rooms, Other Wonders (Bloomsbury, 2000)
 

Reviewed by James Smith


 Interview with Daniyal Mueenuddin 

The Short Review: How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?

Daniyal Mueenuddin: I began writing these stories in graduate school, in September 2002. Before that I'd written poetry exclusively, for many years. From 2002 to 2007 I wrote roughly twenty five pieces, fiction and non-fiction – from among which my agent, Bill Clegg, and I selected the eight that appear in the book. I hope to publish some of the remaining stories, and in my more sanguine moments consider that enough of them will "make" to fill a second story collection, with a bit of currying and combing.

TSR: Did you have a collection in mind when you were writing them?

DM: Definitely. I've always admired the way in which Balzac covers a wide canvas, shows us printers and princes and poets and on and on – it all adds up. I want to do that throughout my life, have my stories add to each other and illuminate each other, at least the stories that are about Pakistan. I have also written a number of stories set in America, and intend to write more, linking them together in some way.

TSR: How did you choose which stories to include and in what order?

DM: A few of my best readers – my agent, my mother, my wife, a couple of friends – sent emails back and forth, arguing about which stories worked together. It was pretty free-form. The first story, we agreed, should be bright and immediately appealing; the last one should open the book out, and leave the reader floating free.

TSR: What does the word "story" mean to you?

DM:  An artful description of a character or characters undergoing some sort of change.

TSR: Do you have a "reader" in mind when you write stories?

DM:  Not so much when I write – I write quickly and quite unconsciously, playing with words but otherwise not considering much other than the flow of the story forward – but when I rewrite I'm very aware of readers. Often I love the stink of a phrase, something ripe, and then I think, O my god, X is going to murder me if I don’t cut that.
    Both when writing and when rewriting, I'm aware of authors that I love – am a great believer in stealing phrases, ideas, characters, anything I can get away with.
    And, as the process continues, a small group of intimates, and especially my wife and mother, read the drafts as they're written. Perhaps I write most of all for them.
    In answer to the question, however, I don't imagine any one single reader. I try to keep various readers in mind – would want my story to appeal across many worlds – to my great aunt Viola – to Joe Travis, who works at the John Deere plant in Elroy, Wisconsin, and who has asked for a copy of my book – to people who knew me in Lahore as a child, and who have gotten in touch through the web – to Pakistani academics – to Pakistani housewives – to book clubs in Seattle, etc.


TSR: Is there anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your collection, anything at all?

DM: Do you own a large and luxuriously-appointed chateau in the south of France or in any similarly palmy place, and are you eager to rent it out at a pittance to a deserving artist?

TSR: How does it feel knowing that people are buying your book?

DM: I'm consumed with curiosity – about their impressions, about how they read the book. At the same time, the book is very much out of my hands, I can't change it, and so I feel less vulnerable about it than I do about stories in draft form. Good or bad, it's floating around out there – may it float far and end up on hospitable shores.

TSR: What are you working on now?

DM: I’m revising a couple of old stories, one about a crippled boy in Islamabad, another set in Wisconsin, about a patrician Chicago lawyer's encounter with a gay bodybuilder. Slowly I'm accumulating the energy and material to launch in to a novel, set in Pakistan, a love triangle.

TSR: What are the three most recent short story collections you've read?

DM: I’ve been living for the past many months in isolation, on a farm in Pakistan's south Punjab – and have reached the point where I can't read fiction any more, it's too much, I'm surfeited. This always happens to me here, I start out wallowing in fiction, and find that by the end of eight or nine months I'm reading non-fiction almost exclusively. (Strangely enough, poetry is fine, a little bit each morning.) I've been reading Bacon's essays, which have tremendous texture in the prose, and a sort of hard and bloody wisdom about the world and its ways. This is nourishing stuff. For gossip, I’ve been reading Ford Madox Ford's Portraits from Life, about his contemporaries, who were more or less his friends. His imitations of James' diction are hilarious. The best new book I’ve read is Suketu Mehta's Maximum City, about Bombay. He spent a couple of years hanging out with hit men, bar girls, movie makers, and manages to make art out of it. The last portion of the book, about a Jain family who ritually renounce the world, is as fine a piece of non-fiction as I’ve read in years.