Believe it or not, the story that became Gunmetal Gods didn’t exist in my mind until the day I started writing it. No planning. No day dreaming. Nothing. I just opened Word and poured the entire story onto the page, all in the span of a single month, which happened to be the month of Ramadan, in which Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset.
Before that, I was a horror writer. I wrote cosmic horror and djinn short stories for Reddit’s NoSleep community. I had also just finished the first draft of a horror novel, but I wasn’t too happy with how it turned out, so shelved it for the time being (it’s still shelved).
So what inspired Gunmetal Gods? Well, the final season of Game of Thrones was on TV. In preparation for it, I’d rewatched the entire show in the span of a week. I had Game of Thrones on the brain. But still, I wasn’t about to write a novel inspired by it. Can you imagine how difficult that would be? How much planning it would require? How much sheer mental exertion I would have to suffer to dream up a story and world on that scale?
Horror writers don’t think up worlds and grand stories, we think up things to terrify. That was my forte, or at least I’d decided it was.
Then a friend of mine invited me over for dinner and shisha at the hazy shisha bar near his house. He’d also been watching Game of Thrones, and he had an idea: What if someone made Game of Thrones, only set in a world inspired by Middle Eastern history instead of English history?
Being a Middle Eastern history buff, I was more than pleased with the idea. Middle Eastern history is fertile ground to inspire the kinds of complicated characters, cynical themes, and grand stories found in the Song of Ice and Fire universe.
“I hope to see such a thing, some day,” I said with Lebanese pop music blaring in the background.
“You’re a writer, why don’t you write it?” my friend replied in between puffs of his hookah.
The rest of the night we discussed what that could be like. The medieval Middle East was very different from medieval Europe: it didn’t have knights, serfs, and lords, which were foundational societal roles in the Song of Ice and Fire universe; rather, power was much more centralized in the Middle East, with sultans or shahs wielding direct authority over the lands they governed. And instead of armies composed of knights, most Middle Eastern armies used a combination of paid slaves, tribal and nomadic forces, and volunteers, many whom elected to join the fight for religious reasons. Dragons existed in the folklore, but other beings like simurghs and djinns were much more prominent. I’ll hopefully write a whole blog post about all the differences, later, as there are so many.
I remember going home and not thinking too much about it. The next day in the afternoon, I opened up Microsoft Word and just started writing. I imagined a middle-aged janissary being called out of retirement by his Shah, similar to how Robert Baratheon recalled Ned Stark into service in Game of Thrones. This became the first scene in Gunmetal Gods in which Kevah meets with Shah Murad, and though a lot has changed about it, the overall ideas in the scene are the same in the final version as what I wrote that day.
It’s difficult to describe how that one scene blew up into an entire book. I suppose I just followed the ideas — I wasn’t making things up, so much as these ideas were leading me to places I could never have dreamed. Within 30 days, I had completed a 140,000-word first draft.
And then the hard part began: making it good. I’ll save that for another blog post.
So here I sit, about a year since publishing the book, asking myself: did I succeed? Did I write Game of Thrones but set in the Middle East?
I would say: no. That was the inspiration and intent, sure, but Gunmetal Gods, Conqueror’s Blood, Death Rider, and the yet-to-be-published Gunmetal Gods Book 3 are quite different from A Song of Ice and Fire (and have a much heavier dose of cosmic horror). What they have in common are the epic scale, bleak themes, gray morality, politicking, grand battles, and complex, realistic characters. The fact that the Gunmetal Gods series contains all of that in a fully-realized world inspired by the Middle East is where I’d say I succeeded. I’m proud to have built a world so thoroughly enriched by the histories, cultures, beliefs, myths, lifestyles, and aesthetics of the Middle East, the region where I was born and currently call home.
In a future post, I’ll detail more about the worldbuilding process. I especially want to talk about how I was heavily inspired by a rather underappreciated period in Middle Eastern history that happens to be my favorite: the Gunpowder Empires period, in which the great empires of the Ottomans, Safavids, and Mughals vied for domination. But for now, that’s all from me. Hope you enjoyed this brief but sincere retrospective and inside look on the creation of Gunmetal Gods!