Visit “The Butterfly Mosque” with Willow Wilson

New Novelist G. Willow Wilson Takes Flight with ‘Butterfly Mosque’

by Sara Elghobashy

G. Willow Wilson is a comic book author, a novelist, an essayist, and a former journalist. And if that wasn’t enough, she is also the author of the soon-to-be-released autobiography, Butterfly Mosque, story of a young North American’s conversion to Islam and her ensuing romance with an Egyptian man. A convert to Islam, Willow recently took some time out of her schedule to speak to elan about her passion for comic books (check out Willow’sAir series and Vixen!) and her upcoming memoir.

How did you begin your writing career?

My first gig was reviewing music for the Weekly Dig in Boston. I was seventeen and a college freshman at the time. It was a lot of fun. Since I was so young I had to be pretty resourceful, and the experience taught me a lot.

Did you always want to write comic books and graphic novels?

I think the desire to write graphic novels hit when I was in high school and read some of the great literary comics that came out in the 90s–Sandman and Shade: The Changing Man in particular. I figured there must be people who made comics for a living and I set about learning how to become one of them.

What inspired you to write Cairo?

I had been in the city of Cairo for less than 24 hours when I had the initial inspiration for the book. I’d never had such an intense, immediate relationship with a place before. The story just started pouring out. I refined it as I spent more time in the city and learned more about its history, but that initial inspiration came from being in a place that is so ancient and has seen so many eras and civilizations and fostered so many incredible people.

If you weren’t writing, what would you be doing?

Something useful, I hope! I’d like to be a nurse.

Are any of the characters you have created close to who you are as a person? If so, which one(s)?

I think all of them have a little bit of me, or express different opinions I hold. Blythe from Air is probably closest in terms of personality–half fearless Type A, half space cadet.

How did it feel to write about your own life in your latest book, Butterfly Mosque?

Very uncomfortable! This is not a genre I would have chosen on my own–I wrote the book because I felt like so many of the quiet, wonderful, human sides of Muslim experience are overlooked in the media, and someone (many someones, really) needed to address that imbalance.

Where do you find the inspiration for the story lines and characters in the Air series?

The idea for Air first came to me when I was interrogated by a blond stewardess at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam–I had visas in my passport from Egypt and Iran, and this set off alarm bells. I began to wonder what would happen if she was ten times more awesome and I was ten times more awesome and we were in a comic book.

Is Air a continuous project or are there a set number of issues?

I’ve got an endpoint in mind–it won’t go on forever.

Since you’re in the superhero business, I have to ask, if you could have any super power, what would it be?

I’d like the ability to teleport from one place to the other, so I could visit my friends and in-laws in Egypt without having to pay a thousand bucks and sit in a plane for thirteen hours.

What are your three favorite books?

The Meccan Revelations by ibn ‘Arabi, Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco, and everything EM Forster has ever written.

What is the last book you read?

Matterhorn, the new novel by my friend and colleague Karl Marlantes–it just hit #10 on the New York Times bestseller list!

What advice do you have for writers who are hoping to break into the business?

Neil Gaiman gave the best advice for would-be writers I’ve ever heard: number one, write; number two, finish things. It’s amazing how many people want to write but can’t seem to sit down and do it, or to finish the projects they begin. If you can do both those things you are 80% of the way there.

In your opinion, what is the biggest problem facing young Muslims today?

Despair. I’ve fallen prey to it like everyone else. Too many of us are convinced there is no hope–that we really are casualties in a battle between East and West, Islam and jahil, right and wrong. There seems so little room to be a whole person, so little room to make human mistakes and be forgiven. I think young Muslims suffer terribly as a result. I pray that Allah delivers us from this time of trials and puts peace in our hearts.

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