When Zamil was fourteen, he moved from the dry, dune-spotted Arabian peninsula to the hilly, arctic wasteland that is Western Massachusetts. He despises the cold, isn’t very fond of the sun, and prefers spending all day indoors mashing the keyboard in the hopes something great will come of it. When not dreaming up dark and fantastical journeys, he enjoys binging horror movies, wasting precious time arguing about international relations on Reddit, and occasionally traveling somewhere exotic. He currently lives in Dubai with his loving wife and his badly-behaved pet rabbit.


Welcome to SPFM, Zamil! Since we already have your bio, describe yourself in three words.

Jean Luc Picard


Summarize your book, Gunmetal Gods, using one gif.


If you could recommend three self-published books, which would you choose and why?

  1. A Wind from the Wilderness by Suzannah Rowntree – It’s a Middle Eastern fantasy with excellent prose, intense battles, and time travel!
  2. Balam, Spring by Travis M Riddle – It’s like a slice-of-life Final Fantasy, but the best thing about it is how genuine the relationships between the characters feel.
  3. All Around the Watchtower by Ben Haskett – No, not the similarly-named Jimi Hendrix song. This is a sci-fi novella with a mindbending story about astronauts who discover an alien remnant in space. I read it in one sitting.


What is your favorite part, and your least favorite part of self-publishing?

Favorite Part: Writing a novel and knowing that as long as you finish it, you can publish it and put it on your bookshelf.

Least Favorite Part: The need to constantly be “out there” releasing new stuff and posting on social media in order not to fade into obscurity.


How do you approach worldbuilding?

Worldbuilding to me is about combining the real with the strange. I like to take historical ideas and mash them up with fantastical ones. My worlds tend to have a veneer of familiarity that when peeled away reveals something awesome. For example, I have a city in Gunmetal Gods that resembles historical Istanbul/Constantinople with its spires and domes, but beneath the city is a labyrinth lit by fireflies and filled with djinns that the characters must traverse.

In fantasy, we need not be limited by conventions but rather by our imaginations. The technologies of today would seem like magic to someone who lived even a hundred years ago, so we shouldn’t think anything is too fantastical because one day humans may exceed even that!


What’s the first story you ever wrote?

I wrote a story about a boy who lives in a black and white world. He climbs a huge tower and finds a rainbow at the top, then uses his sword to pop the colors out of the rainbow and back into the world. Also, the boy’s best friend falls off the tower to his death, which foreboded my writing to come.


What’s your process for creating fully fleshed-out characters?

I don’t relate to most fictional characters because they don’t feel real. Protagonists tend to be too selfless, upstanding, and moral, and antagonists the opposite. For me, fleshed out means real psychology. For example, when I put my protagonists through a war, I show the real effects of that war on their personalities and behavior. They can’t go around killing people and watching those around them die and not develop some trauma or coping mechanisms, which often makes them worse people. 

To further this example, we tend to justify killing in war by saying the enemy are “evil” or “terrorists,” but I believe this is a coping mechanism for us to avoid facing our guilt. Often these coping mechanisms develop into ideologies which then get embraced by entire communities who are carrying this collective guilt. These are the kinds of deeper themes I like to explore with my characters.

Also, I don’t like the idea of heroes and villains. Two characters competing for the same thing means they are both the hero and the villain, depending on the perspective. You might be the hero of your own life, but you could be a villain from someone else’s perspective, and everyone’s perspective is valid because like in general relativity, there is no ultimate reference frame for humanity.

And this is why I write grimdark!


You feel uninspired and you’ve sat at the computer for an hour without conquering any words. How do you get your creativity flowing?

I take a walk while listening to my favorite JRPG music. It usually does the trick and evokes those classic feelings from my childhood when I would skip school to play Final Fantasy. This tends to get my brain dreaming the stories I want to write.

When I’m writing, however, I don’t listen to music because I want to generate the emotions from the words themselves and not be fooled into thinking the words are generating the emotions when it’s actually the music.


How did you know you wanted to write this genre?

I just want anything to be possible when I write a story. I don’t want to be limited by silly things like science, historical accuracy, and the real world. I like my stories to start out grounded and then slowly take off in crazy but awesome directions.

Also, fantasy is the most flexible genre when it comes to mash ups. I love cosmic horror and hard sci-fi as well, and I can incorporate ideas from those genres in fantasy without anyone complaining. Rather, most fantasy readers love mash ups.


What’s your social media platform of choice, and why?

I’ve been addicted to Reddit for ten years and I’m on there all day. I even have my own subreddit at r/zamakhtar and write horror for the r/nosleep community. I’m pretty active on r/fantasy as well. I tend to bounce around to different subreddits and just enjoy contributing to topics I’m interested in.


If you could have any superhero power, what power would you have and why?

If I could order my books to edit themselves that would save me all the time in the world. I could probably write a book a month and it would be wonderful! Even better, if my books could attain sentience like the teacups in Beauty and the Beast, that would be cool. But since I write grimdark, they might try to smother me in my sleep.

About Gunmetal Gods (Gunmetal Gods #1)

They took his daughter, so Micah comes to take their kingdom. Fifty thousand gun-toting paladins march behind him, all baptized in angel blood, thirsty to burn unbelievers.

Only the janissaries can stand against them. Their living legend, Kevah, once beheaded a magus amid a hail of ice daggers. But ever since his wife disappeared, he spends his days in a haze of hashish and poetry.

To save the kingdom, Kevah must conquer his grief and become the legend he once was. But Micah writes his own legend in blood, and his righteous conquest will stop at nothing.

When the gods choose sides, a legend will be etched upon the stars.