Interview: Hassan Riaz

We’ve had some Air in the Paragraph Line contributors with strange and varied day jobs, but Hassan Riaz is the first doctor to join the group.  When not practicing medicine, he’s writing fiction, most notably his recent project in the novel-by-twitter realm.  A USC graduate, he hails from Southern California.  His work has appeared in Slice Magazine and nominated for inclusion in 2010 Best New American Voices.

Hassan contributed the story “Welcome Aboard Monstrosity, Jack” to Air in the Paragraph Line #13.  I asked him a few questions about writing, medicine, twitter, and roller coasters.

1) In addition to being a writer, you’re also a medical doctor.  Have you always been a writer, or is this something you took up later?  How do you juggle a medical career with writing?

Oddly enough, I was a creative writing major in college, and somehow, I’m still not sure how, I ended up in medical school.  Good fortune?  I went to USC for college and when I applied to USC for medical school, which was the only school I applied for, they accepted me.  I didn’t write much of consequence during medical school because I was too busy studying but after finishing my schooling and training, I picked up writing again, and have been at it for the past couple of years.

My patients don’t know about my nighttime life, the one that involves sitting in front of a computer and pounding out words, although if they read this, the secret’s now out.  Sometimes writing can be a dirty little secret, especially when people realize that you write out of passion and not for money.  Most people don’t understand why you spend all that time in front of a computer screen when you could be watching The Bachelor.

2) Who are your biggest writing influences?

I’ve always considered Herman Melville to be a cool literary dude.  Moby Dick remains my favorite book.  I’ve recently admired the work of Cormac McCarthy, David Foster Wallace, and TC Boyle.  I read a ton of Stephen King growing up.

In terms of actually motivating me to write, it’s all fear and anxiety.  When I don’t write for a while, I start having a dream in which I’m back in college and I’m supposed to take the final exam but I’ve been absent the entire semester and not only don’t I know where the exam is being held but I have no idea what the test is supposed to be about.  Scary, huh?

3) Can you tell us about the writing project you’re doing on twitter?

We’ve all heard about the death of traditional publishing and the short story because of new media.  Well, I’m trying to contribute to this death.  If you can’t beat them, join them.  I write almost nightly microfiction, which is under 140 characters–not words–on Twitter.  This project revolves around the lives of Jack and Jill.  But instead of going up a hill, they’re dealing with life with each other.  They argue about dinner–he wants steak, she wants sushi, that kind of stuff.  A recent tweet:

They both got the flu and argued about who should take care of whom. They stopped fighting when they barfed on each other.

So by the end of the year, we’ll have an idea as to what life is like for Jack and Jill.  Hopefully they haven’t driven each other crazy by then.

You can catch my Jack and Jill microfiction at: twitter.com/hassaninla

4) Have you found any other similar approaches to writing fiction using twitter?  Or do you follow any other writers on twitter?

The best thing about writing microfiction on Twitter is that no matter how busy I get with patients and life, I can usually make time to pound out 140 characters at the end of the night on my phone or PC.  It keeps me writing, which is what all writers aim to do, even if we have trouble doing so.  By the way, I like the microfiction of Ben White: twitter.com/midnightstories.  Good stuff.

5) Tell us more about the story you submitted in #13.  (As a side note – for whatever reason, it reminded me of the first time I visited LA and went to Magic Mountain to ride the rollercoasters and started thinking about how to design them.  I was reading a lot of Mark Leyner back then too, so maybe that imprinted on me, too.)

I rode a ride called X2 in Six Flags Magic Mountain here in Southern California last year, and it scared the heck out of me.  Wow, I thought I was going to die.  It had me twisting upside down and the thing shot fire at us.  Really bizarre, head banging stuff.  I’ve always been a coaster junkie but this X2 ride was King of Coasters, unlike anything I’d ever ridden before.  So after riding it, I started wondering how could a ride possibly get more scary than X2?  What can the coaster world do to top that one?  And out popped “Welcome Aboard Monstrosity, Jack.”

Just thinking of X2 at Six Flags makes me want to go back.  Anyone want to go this weekend?

6) Where else can people find your work/find you on the web?  Do you have any other big projects in the pipeline?

I have a short story called “Away,” which was nominated for inclusion in Best New American Voices 2010, coming out in Slice Magazine this spring.  It’s a different kind of story compared to “Monstrosity.”  Much more subdued.  About a girl who is having an affair with her surgeon while simultaneously losing her memory.  And no: it’s not autobiographical.  After all, I’m not a surgeon, I’m just a family practitioner.

7) Anything else?

Thanks for putting this together, Jon.  Will the Raiders finally win more than 5 games next year?  Can they hire me as the next coach?

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