Today, Bookpeasures.com is excited to have as our guest internationally best-selling novelist, screenwriter, web series creator and lawyer, Joseph Amiel.
He is the author of the novels, Hawks, Birthright, Deeds, Star Time, and A Question of Proof. His books have been translated into over a dozen languages. He wrote the cult horror-film classic, Daughters of Darkness.
His comedy screenplay Games has been honored at film festivals, as has his comedy-mystery web series Ain't That Life. He was graduated from Amherst College and Yale Law School.
Good day Joe and thanks for participating in our interview
How did you get started in writing? What keeps you going?
For me writing has always been a compulsion, the need to tell a story. In fourth grade we were required to write a story each week. Twenty pages was a snap. I imagine that only another writer could understand the joy that writing brings when it flows--even back then--and the agony when it doesn't. But the joy has always far outweighed the agony.
How has your environment/upbringing colored your writing?
plays a large part in my books. First of all, I was brought up
and live in New York City, so my characters usually live in cities
and often New York City. My father's family are Sephardic Jews
from what is now northern Greece, but when he was born had long been
part of Turkey, escapees from the Spanish Inquisition four hundred
earlier. My mother's family comes from Odessa and the Jewish
settlements outside it. I used my grandparents' histories
as the backgrounds for Raphael and Sima respectively, the early
19th-century protagonists in the first part of my multi-generational
Their lives and the lives of their children and grandchildren are entwined with that of another immigrant family they knew in their early years. Although the book centers on those families' present-day descendants, Ralph and Gail, earlier generations laid the seeds and buried the secrets that force these two near-strangers to marry in what is both a mystery and a love story.
The protagonist of my
legal thriller A QUESTION OF PROOF also has my father's background
and my own lawyer's profession. His immigrant, restaurant
owning-father is from Kavala, the city where my father was born.
My father was a well-known New York City restaurateur, so
my background again emerged there in my story-telling. In
DEEDS, Ralph is a wealthy real-estate developer who owns race
horses. I set several scenes at the storied Saratoga Springs
Race track because he owns a champion race horse.
My father bought race horses as soon as he became successful enough to do so (he started out by selling candy at a movie theater and used to take me to Saratoga when I was a boy, one of my happiest memories). In 1951 his horse Count Turf, in an unlikely victory, won the Kentucky Derby, his proudest moment. I lovingly slipped into DEEDS a mention of that incident (without mentioning that the horse's owner was the author's father).
The heroine of BIRTHRIGHT is from a legendary Jewish banking family like the Rothschilds. Central to the book are her family's Jewish background, despite its 19th-century entrance into Europe's aristocracy and, eventually, the struggle of Jews for a homeland in Israel.
What genre are you most comfortable writing?
That's an interesting
question because I've never thought about the comfort aspect.
My novels usually start with an idea, and then I try to decide what
genre is best to tell it in.
They all seem to have a mystery
element, either a crime or a secret at the heart that must be solved
or discovered for the characters to resolve their problems.
In A QUESTION OF PROOF that element is whether the lover of Dan, my protagonist lawyer, murdered her husband. Dan has to get to the bottom of the homicide to learn the truth about her. In BIRTHRIGHT a major issue in forming the heroine's psyche is her adoption into a wealthy, banking family. The secret of her birth eventually becomes the heart of the book and what she must discover to have peace of mind and move forward.
Are you a plot or character writer?
I must have a compelling plot to begin with, an idea for a story I want very much to explore. And I mean that literally; that idea begins an exploratory journey to know all about the characters who would be involved and where it may lead them. The old adage that plot is character and character is plot is very true in my case. That's also true of the books I enjoy reading: A plotless book of brilliantly cast characters leaves me as cold as a story peopled by wooden, unbelievable characters.
What helps you focus when you write and do you find it easy reading back your own work?
I have no problem focusing
and can write anywhere and under most conditions (a civil war under
my window might slow me down). Problems arise when I don't know
where the story or characters are going, and until those problems are
solved, I'm in limbo, but obsessed and thinking very hard.
That's writing, too, but not what most non-writers think of as
As for whether reading back my own work is easy, I'd put it another way: Rewriting is one of my real strengths, and something I do willingly and easily--and necessarily. Much of the book emerges in the rewriting, like a painting where the artist lays down broad washes in where he or she will become more specific until satisfied with what they have created. Once I know that something can be better, if an editor can explain why what I've written isn't as good as it could be, I'm totally dissatisfied with what I've already written and eager to improve it.
An editor once told me that she's lucky if she gets back 65% of what she knows a writer must change, but that I give her 95%. I told her that I didn't change that last 5% because she was wrong there and I was right. We met because she was kind enough to write a very long letter outlining what I needed to do to make my draft submission to her into a good book she would be interested in publishing. I realized she was right. Nine months letter, without having heard from me in the interim, I surprised her with the new draft. She bought the U.S. hard-cover rights for a very high figure, and BIRTHRIGHT became an international best seller.
Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?
I think every writer has
been asked that question. An acquaintance once told me he,
too, could be a writer. All he needed was for me to sit
with him for three weeks to come up with the idea. I told him
that's pretty much what I do for a living on my own. Coming up
with a major concept for a story is the hardest task I have as a
The idea can come from anywhere. For one thing I read two or three newspapers a day, hoping some idea will strike me, all the while enriching me, I hope. A novel I've recently begun came out of today's headlines. Another I've got in the back of my mind is a variation on an idea I had many years ago. That version didn't work, and I never wrote that story, but this one, with a new twist that recently occurred to me and fascinates me as a writer, just might.
What has been the best part about being published?
That I got paid for what I loved to do and could make it my career. I truly enjoy the knowledge that readers are enjoying my work and telling me and their friends. If I hadn't been published, they might never have read it.
Is your work improvisational or do you have a set plan?
I have to have the germ of a story that intrigues me and, I believe would intrigue a reader. I then begin to play with ideas about it: Who are the characters and what could happen to them and where could that lead the story. To eventually get paid for day dreaming--or, at least, to be able to consider it constructive and be less guilty--is a writer's secret pleasure.
What do you think of the new Internet market for writers?
I think it's wonderful.
It has exposed so many writers to new readers and vice versa and
has provided so many writers who might not have been able to
find an agent and then a traditional publisher a route to communicate
with an audience. That is why I arranged for my books to be
published online and now exclusively by Amazon, which is the biggest
online market by far (A QUESTION OF PROOF is the only one that is
also available at Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and iTunes).
For those who are still print readers, the books are also available
in trade paperback versions.
Whether my next book goes to a traditional print publisher seems almost secondary, compared to knowing that it will be available to readers in digital and print form whether it does or not.
What is your comedy-mystery web series Ain't That Life about?
It follows the adventures of the eternally optimistic, but comically hapless Harold Bregman as he struggles to find success in his career and his love life, but invariably stumbles into disappointment, trouble and even danger. His only ally is the cynical female therapist to whom each week he recounts his struggles in humorous flashbacks.
What would you like to say to writers who are reading this interview and wondering if they can keep creating, if they are good enough, if their voices and visions matter enough to share?
You've really put your finger on every aspiring writer's nightmare, in most of its forms. I would say only that if you write simply to express yourself, that can be done in the privacy of your computer. As for those who want to be read, I would say only that readers will very quickly let you know whether they think you're worth reading. But if you're a real writer, you'll probably just keep writing whatever anyone says.
Where can our readers find out more about your books?
They can find out all about my books and something more about me at my WEB SITE. I'm also on Facebook at JosephAmielAuthor, but honestly don't give that site the attention I should. Maybe after this interview I will. Twitter followers can always find me by following me at @JoeAmiel, and I do pay attention to Direct Message Tweets. In a few months I'll be putting my airline thriller, HAWKS, online, and I'll let readers know about it there.
As this interview draws to a close what one question would you have liked me to ask you? Please share your answer.
I guess that might be: What is it about telling stories that grabs you so? I believe there is a universal, primeval urge in humans, not just to communicate, but to do it in story form. Consider Homer's tales, which have been retold and now reread millions of times. The Old Testament is not just full of Thou Shalt Nots, but also of stories that still engage us and teach us and move us. The first thing we do when we meet someone we want to know better is ask the person questions that disclose his or her personal story and to tell ours. And our version of it keeps changing depending on the situation and what we want to convey--and reveal--to them. Story-telling is us at our most human.
Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors
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