How I Came up with the idea for Exquisite Captive
Believe it or not, the idea for what became EXQUISITE CAPTIVE was the result of a writing prompt. The assignment: create a scene in which a character realizes they have a huge problem. The very first thing that popped into my head was a jinni in a bottle. I have absolutely no idea how I latched onto this idea, but I loved it! I started thinking…what would it be like to have a master you had to grant wishes for? What if you hated him, and hated having to make his dreams come true? One of the reasons writing about jinn appealed to me is that we don’t see much of them in Western fantasy literature. While vampires, werewolves, faeries, and the like have been explored over and over, for some reason the jinn are forgotten about. My only knowledge of the jinn came from watching old episodes of I Dream of Jeannie as a kid—going back and watching those now, I realize that Nalia would absolutely HATE the portrayal of the happy servant jinni (as do I!). Another thing that interested me about the jinn is that they are often portrayed as tricksters and somewhat dangerous. I thought it’d be fun to write a protagonist with a bit of a mean streak. I researched everything I could about these creatures and, of course, delved into Arabian Nights. What I found was fascinating: many cultures are rife with jinn lore. I worked hard to incorporate as much of it as I could into the series and I try to honor the legends and cultures the stories come from in various ways—from making Malek Saudi to having Raif’s evanescence (jinn smoke) smell of sandalwood.
It was clear early on that the story was, in large part, a commentary on trafficking. I didn’t set out to write a book about trafficking—it all came about organically. One day I was writing and I suddenly realized, oh my gosh, Nalia has been trafficked! So began the concept of the dark caravan. It’s been great to use my fiction to better understand and explore issues in our real world that I care about, and I like that this gives young readers an opportunity to consider this issue in a fictive context. That’s part of what I love about fantasy: that we can explore things that are true through our fiction, which, in its own way, becomes another kind of truth.
My experience living abroad and traveling around the world has had an enormous influence on the trilogy. To date, I have been to more than two dozen countries, and traveled to Morocco this past December to do research for book two, BLOOD PASSAGE, which takes place there. (Side note: many Moroccans told me stories about encountering jinn. When I slept out in the Sahara, my driver said a bismillah, a protective phrase which is supposed to keep bad jinn from messing with you). All of the segments in EXQUISITE CAPTIVE that occur in international locales are places I’ve been. It was such a blast bringing to life these amazing cities and using them as a backdrop for the quest my creepy ghoul villain, Haran goes on in the novel. Habibi, the underground jinn club in Los Angeles, is based on a wonderful hookah bar I went to in the Arab Quarter in Singapore, some of the gorgeous places I’ve visited in India, and an actual hookah bar in Los Angeles. I want readers to have a sensual experience that evokes the flavors, scents, and imagery of all the cultures I draw from. The first book is set in Los Angeles because I’m a native Angeleno and I rarely see the city featured in YA. I also think it’s the kind of city where the dark caravan would thrive: a place for wishes and wishers, a sexy city with a dark heart. It was the perfect setting for Malek; his power, the decadence of his lifestyle, and the kinds of clients he has Nalia grant for.
Another fun thing about this series is that it has three very distinct segments. Book One is about L.A. and the jinn slave trade. Book Two takes place in Morocco and is a journey into the legend of Solomon’s sigil. Book three takes place in Arjinna, the jinn realm, where a civil war is raging. It’s a fun combination of urban and high fantasy. I hope you enjoy EXQUISITE CAPTIVE!