Once again Bookpleasures.com welcomes as our guest, Avraham Azrieli whose latest novel, Deborah Rising: A Novel Inspired By The Bible has just been published by Harper Collins on September 27, 2016.
Avraham is a graduate of Columbia Law School and is also the author of The Masada Complex (a political thriller), The Jerusalem Inception, The Jerusalem Assassin, Christmas for Joshua (a family drama dealing with interfaith conflicts), The Mormon Candidate (a political thriller), Thump (a courtroom drama featuring sexual harassment and racism) and The Bootstrap Ultimatum (a mystery involving the commercialization of Memorial Day).
He also authored Your Lawyer on a Short Leash (a guide to dealing with lawyers) and One Step Ahead – A Mother of Seven Escaping Hitler’s Claws (a WWII biography, which inspired the musical By Wheel and by Wing).
Avraham grew up in Israel, where he received extensive Talmudic education, served as an intelligence officer and, after attending law school, clerked for the Israeli Supreme Court in Jerusalem. Residing primarily in the United States since 1990, he currently lives near Washington DC with his wife and children.
Norm: Good day Avraham and thanks once again for participating in our interview. What motivated you to change professions from that of practicing law to becoming a novelist?
Avraham: Thank you — it’s good to be back doing an interview with you. As to my professional track, it’s been a parallel life of sorts. I started writing a novel in Hebrew while still in law school, put it aside, and started another one in English on my first day working in a New York law firm in 1990. That novel is now available as The Jerusalem Inception, and its sequel is The Jerusalem Assassin. I continued to write novels whenever time allowed while practicing law in New York and Arizona and raising a family. The Masada Complex, for example, took six or seven years from idea to a finished manuscript.
Norm: What has been your greatest challenge (professionally) that you’ve overcome in getting to where you’re at today as a novelist?
Avraham: Time is the
greatest challenge, because it’s in short supply and it’s running
out unstoppably. Writing fiction is a form of daydreaming, but it
requires practical work, prolonged concentration, and total
dedication, while one is bombarded with all the interferences of
life—job, family, friends, telemarketers, etc. On the other hand,
these things provide material for your writing and a deeper
understanding of human nature.
In addition, for me personally, as a writer during this particular time in history, the rapidly changing publishing industry has created great challenges and opportunities. The greatest issue, of course, is the decline of books as a form of entertainment or learning. I sometimes feel that writing novels is like dedicating myself to making the best horse-buggies while the world has moved on to other modes of transportation.
Norm: Many people have the skills and drive to write a book, but failure to market and sell the book the right way is probably what keep a lot of people from finding success. Can you give us 2-3 strategies that have been effective for you in promoting your books?
Avraham: I wish I knew the answer to this question. The sad truth is that fewer and fewer people read novels, and even among family and friends I hear frequent apologies for not reading my novels. My ‘promotional’ efforts are basically to let friends and family know about the new book and find professional reviewers to review it. I maintain a good WEBSITE, an Author Page on Amazon.com, and a presence on social media. But going back to your question, I think the skills and drive must be applied to writing more than one book, which seems to be where many writers stop. I’m working on my 11th book now, and when readers find the earlier books and enjoy them, the availability of new books makes for the best ‘promotion.'
Norm: How did you become involved with the subject or theme of your book Deborah Rising?
Avraham: With your permission, I’ll quote from the Acknowledgments at the end of the novel: A visit to the archeological remains of the ancient city of Shiloh in the Samariah Hills (about 25 miles east of modern-day Tel Aviv) fueled my imagination about an enigmatic gap in the dramatic story of the first woman to lead any nation in recorded human history: Deborah. While the Book of Judges describes Deborah's stunning success as a prophet, a judge and a military leader who liberated the Israelites from Canaanite oppression, there is no information about her family, upbringing and youth. How could a girl, growing up in a world controlled by men, rise to rule over them? What hardship forged her formidable tenacity? What setbacks hardened her resilience? What challenges honed her skills? These are the fascinating mysteries I attempt to unravel by telling Deborah's story in this novel and its sequels.
Norm: What were your goals and intentions in this book, and how well do you feel you achieved them? As a follow up, did you write the story to express something you believe or was it just for entertainment?
Avraham: This is not a religious novel, any more than any other novel whose protagonist deals with personal hardships and tragedies that raise existential questions, such as whether there’s God behind the wheel, or everything that happens is the result of mere coincidences. I do believe in the strength and resilience of people, and telling Deborah’s story gave me an opportunity to explore one of the most fascinating historical figures—a young woman who rose to the top and led her nation—in antiquity!—over a thousand years before Cleopatra!
Norm: Which character was the easiest to write? Most difficult?
Avraham: Once a character is fully alive in my mind, it’s never difficult to write what she or he does, says, thinks. That’s the fun of writing fiction, and I love doing it. More specifically, in this novel, the characters lived in Canaan over three thousand years ago. For me, this created a wonderful opportunity to do research (I enjoy that part), learn how people’s daily existence was back then, and speculate how my characters acted in the face of these dramatic events I’ve construed. In general, writing historical fiction, especially when populated by a mix of real historical figures and fictional persons, allows for a wonderful balance between realistic recreation of their way of life and dramatizing conflicts that are highly meaningful for the modern reader.
Norm: With the US elections in full swing, are there any parallels you would draw when comparing Hillary Clinton to Deborah?
Avraham: Without getting
into politics, one has to wonder why it has taken so long to have a
woman as a viable candidate for the U.S. presidency. It is my
observation that nations whose women are deprived of equal
opportunities (to men) are nations that deprive themselves of equal
opportunities in the international race to a better life for all. How
could a nation’s full potential be realized when half of its
people, half of its talent, half of its human potential is kept down.
You see this in the poor nations of the Middle East, North Africa and some of Asia, but I think it is a dominant factor even in western nations, holding society back in many ways. Women may have equal legal rights, but not yet full equal opportunities. My creative adventure in this novel—dramatizing the success of Deborah in reaching the political, military and religious leadership of her nation—is relevant to today’s young women’s challenges in realizing their dreams.
Norm: Did you know the end of your book at the beginning?
Avraham: While the ‘end’ of the story of Deborah is known from the story in the book of Judges, where she wins a huge battle against the Canaanites, liberates her nation, and rules over it for decades of peace, the back story is unknown. As to the part of her story told in Deborah Rising (which is the first in a series of novels telling her story) then the answer is yes—I had an idea about the ending, but she did surprise me along the way with her daring and intelligence.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in writing
Avraham: In fact, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed spending all this time with Deborah—who’s only fourteen in this novel—and how much depth of emotions and reflection she "shared with me” while I told her story. It is one of the curious things about writing historical fiction, which I learned from a grand master of the genre—Ken Follett—is that the people back then had the same feelings and urges, the same fears, desires, shortcomings, and greatness. They may have travelled by foot or by horse, they may have suffered different kinds of illness, violence, or injustice, but in essence they were as human as us—in love and in war. It makes me very happy when readers tell me that they identified with a character in my novel, felt kinship and found inspiration in the character's strength and determination. Writing an exciting novel transports the writer to the time and place of the story, and a good novel transports the reader, as well.
Norm: What is your secret in keeping the intensity of the plot throughout the narrative of Deborah Rising?
Avraham: I think it was Elmore Leonard who advised a writer to skip the boring parts. I write the way I would tell the story to a friend: only the dramatic, surprising, and meaningful events are worth telling. If there are any chronological gaps, I fill them quickly to make sure the reader knows where we are at any point in the story, but the main goal is to tell only the interesting events. I want my reader to know that every line is worth reading—or an important piece would be missed!
Norm: It is said that writers should write what they know. Were there any elements of the book that forced you to step out of your comfort zone, and if so, how did you approach this part of the writing?
Norm: Will there be a sequel to Deborah Rising and if so, what will be the general theme?
Avraham: Yes, at least two more novels are in the works, dramatizing Deborah’s dangerous and eventful journey from a powerless teenage girl to a powerful national leader.
Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and Deborah Rising?
visit my WEBSITE,
Norm: As this interview comes to an end, what question do you wish that someone would ask about your book, but nobody has?
Avraham: Do I enjoy hearing from readers? The answer is yes, very much so. There is a contact form on my website, and I truly enjoy receiving emails from readers all over the world. Whether it’s comments about the story, questions about history, or just to say hello - all are welcomed relief from the mostly one-sided and solitary life of writing. In fact, one wonderful reader contacted me to ask where to send a wool scarf she had knitted for me after reading several of my novels. (Yes, I did give her an address after verifying she was for real and old enough to calm my alarmed wife - and I’ve enjoyed the scarf last winter while walking our dog.) Another great joy is attending book club meetings, either in person nearby (I live near Washington DC), or more often, by phone or Skype. In other words, I write novels for my readers, and there is nothing better than hearing my readers’ emotional reactions to the stories and characters. Thank you!
Norm: Thanks once again and good luck with all of your novels.