Thursday, July 10, 2014

Writing Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn (Part 1 of 2: Co-Author Danielle Ackley-McPhail)

We've got a two-week special going on! The two authors of Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn will be my guests this week and next, respectively. Today I welcome Danielle Ackley-McPhail, who talks about the crossing of cultures she experienced in researching and writing this story.

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It may seem odd to have a steam adventure couched in the desert, among nomads and a people long known for their faith and a belief in magic. Quite a challenge, in fact, to meld so many different threads: history, engineering, magic, and the Islamic culture. What could they possibly have in common, after all?

You would be surprised.

Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn began—rather na├»vely—as a short story based on the tale of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, meant for the upcoming anthology Gaslight and Grimm (Dark Quest Books). Because I always strive for authenticity and did not have much knowledge of the culture and tradition of the Middle East—beyond a familiarity with one variation of the tale itself—I enlisted the help of my friend, Day Al-Mohamed, who quickly became my co-author. Between us we used our knowledge, experience, and a good deal of research to find the right details to seed our story with to create an alternate Saudi Desert fitting to the tale we wanted to tell, where the magical and the mechanical co-existed and reason and faith mirrored one another in an intricate dance.

By taking historic references—such as Charles Babbage’s work shop and Al-Jazari’s The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices and building the story around them we captured the essence of another era, grounded it in fact, and then made it our own. Thanks to resources on the internet we were able to draw on mechanical puzzle boxes, Egyptian stick fighting (dancing), early airship designs, and Persian dynastic history, all of which fed life into our tale, along with an echo of reality that makes “what if” plausible.
One of my covert ways of enriching this tale could have only been accomplished via the internet. Names have power. Names have meaning. In Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn, those names not dictated by the original tale or history also have hidden significance—unless you are conversant with the meaning of Persian/Arabic names, then they are overt. Each name was researched and chosen for a desired meaning relevant to its use.

See, as writers we build worlds and create people with our words and if we take care with our choices we do so very well. Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn has become a tale that the Western World can take up and experience a different era and an exotic culture so very different from their own, and the Middle Eastern World, or descendants of it, can pick up and see themselves, their culture and history, as everyone should be able to do from time to time.

Thank you for reading. Come back next week to hear what my co-author, Day Al-Mohamed, has to say about the multicultural aspect of our tale.

Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn Back Cover Copy

Come, Best Beloved, and sit you by my feet. I shall tell you a tale such as sister Scheherazade could have scarce imagined…
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You can learn more about Danielle Ackley-McPhail at her websites:,
You can purchase Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other retailers.


  1. I love reading how other authors come up with their stories. Can't wait to read next weeks post!

    1. Thans, Allyn, we had a lot of fun with this one, especially when we started to research various things we could include. Thank you for reading. Glad you enjoyed.