As regular readers of my blog will know, every Wednesday is ‘Author Spotlight’ day, so I’d like to introduce you to – Ellis Shuman!
What inspired you to write your first book, Ellis?
Ellis Shuman – Author
I began writing short stories as a child, inspired to write by my father, who was a journalist. As a young teenager, I spent my summer vacations writing, editing and producing a neighbourhood newspaper. I would go door to door asking “How are you spending your summer? What are your children doing? Do you have any other news to report?” After that, with my father’s help I would type up the answers on a stencil and run off copies on a mimeograph machine. Then I would again go knocking on doors, selling copies at 10 cents each. I didn’t get rich, but I set myself on a career path toward telling stories.
I was born in the United States but moved to Israel at the age of 15 with my family. I finished high school in Jerusalem and then served in the Israeli army. In the following years, my wife and I became founding members of a kibbutz in Israel’s south. We were quite the pioneers, turning the desert green with advanced agricultural techniques and raising a family in an isolated setting. Although we decided to leave the kibbutz and move to a community close to Jerusalem, I have always fondly remembered our kibbutz experiences. When I took up writing again, renewing my childhood zeal for telling stories, I began to relate what kibbutz life was all about. These stories formed the basis for my first book, The Virtual Kibbutz, published in 2003.
Do you have a specific writing style?
The Virtual Kibbutz, a collection of short stories, gives the reader insight into the unique society of the kibbutz, and how it is changing. I approached this subject from many angles, telling the stories of kibbutz founders; youths who had grown up in the kibbutz; those who are fighting to adapt this communal, socialist lifestyle to modern times; and those dedicated to preserving the idealism behind the kibbutz.
My next book was a suspense novel, set in modern day Bulgaria. Due to my work in a marketing company, my position was relocated to Sofia, Bulgaria on a two-year assignment. During this time, my wife and I enjoyed the amazing opportunity of exploring another country, its culture and history. This provided rich background to my novel. Valley of Thracians was published in January 2013 and readers describe it as a combined mystery and travelogue.
So, to sum up my writing style after publishing my first two books, I would say that in my writing I attempt to give readers a deep sense of where the story takes place, and to tell this story from a number of parallel directions.
Describe a typical writing session or your typical writing area
One of my biggest challenges as a writer is finding undisturbed time during which I can concentrate on my writing. I commute to work each day, and when I return home in the evenings I am mentally and physically exhausted. On the weekends I prefer to spend time with my family. I wondered how I would ever find an opportunity to write.
The solution was adding an additional hour to my day, before it even begins. I now leave my home one hour earlier in the mornings, park at my office, and then sit in a coffee house for one hour’s writing session on my laptop. I find that I can easily concentrate on my writing despite the hubbub of the setting, the grinding of coffee beans, and the hiss of milked being steamed. One hour a day is not a lot, but over time, I make good progress on my writing.
What are your current projects?
They say that one of the best ways to sell a book is by writing another book. I am following this advice and working on my next novel. Like my previous book, this one will also be a page-turner. In the book there will be two very strong characters. The book will combine my love for Israel with my love for Bulgaria. I am very excited about the project and I think that it may just work!
Ellis, what books have most influenced your life most?
I enjoy suspense novels, the kind that keeps you turning the pages. At the same time, I enjoy stories that take place in different countries, places to which I may have not yet travelled. So, I guess my favourite type of book would be a suspense novel that takes place in a foreign country. I am also a big fan of new Israeli authors and help promote their books when they are translated into English for the first time.
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
I don’t think I would consider any one writer to be my mentor. Growing up, I became fascinated by the works of one author after another, and this fascination led me to read all the available work by that author. I wrote my high school thesis on the novels and short stories of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., but I don’t consider him to have been my mentor. I have tried to follow in the footsteps of writers that take you, with their words, on an adventure in another part of this amazing world in which we live.
Who is your favourite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
After reading all of Kurt Vonnegut in high school, I went through a series of favourite authors, reading any and every book I could get my hands on. I believe I’ve read almost every book written by John Irving, Herman Wouk, John Grisham, and James Michener, to name just a few of the authors I’ve read. I own every book written by Haruki Murakami. Even though I love these established authors, I am also eager to hear the new voices of debut authors. All that I need to connect to an author’s work are unforgettable characters, a story that keeps me fascinated from cover to cover, and a setting that transports me to some unusual, exciting setting.
What book are you reading now?
I have just started reading Inferno by Dan Brown, and probably, by the time this interview is published, I will have already finished the book. I read The Da Vinci Code in its entirety on a plane ride from Israel to the United States, and I read Angels and Demons on the return journey. I won’t finish Inferno as quickly, but so far, it’s a fast read.
Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
I am very eager to help promote other self-published authors like myself, and I believe some of them will achieve huge commercial success. I will keep reading these books as the very fact that others have managed to complete the process of writing and editing novels is an achievement that should be welcomed and encouraged by other authors.
If you had to do it all over again Ellis, would you change anything in your latest book?
I enjoyed writing and editing Valley of Thracians, but I spent a lot of time, and experienced a lot of frustration, trying to market the book to literary agents. I am not familiar with many books that are similar to mine, combining a suspenseful plot with so much rich detail of setting that a novel almost becomes a travelogue. Apparently literary agents failed to see any commercial potential in my book, yet the book I wrote is exactly the kind of book I enjoy reading. I invested a lot of time in the book. I hired a professional editor to help me with revisions and a talented graphic designer to prepare the cover. Possibly if I was starting the process from the beginning, I would have come to the conclusion much earlier that I should self publish the book.
Can you share a little of your current work with us?
They say that one of the best ways to sell a book is by writing another book. I am following this advice and working on my next novel. Like Valley of Thracians, this one will be a page-turner as well. In the book there will be two very strong characters. The book will combine my love for Israel with my love for Bulgaria. I am very excited about the project and I think that it may just work!
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
I enjoy writing and I also enjoy editing. In fact, I think I enjoy the editing process even more, because during revisions I can become very creative. The choice of a different, more appropriate word; improved dialogue; further descriptions of setting – all of these can greatly improve the quality of my writing. But before I can get to the editing process, I need to finish the initial writing stage. You can’t have a second draft until you complete the first draft. Getting all my ideas down on paper (or more accurately, onto the computer document), takes time. I am devoting a lot of time to writing the first draft of my next novel in eager anticipation of the editing process ahead that will make my manuscript come alive.
So Ellis, what was the hardest part of writing your book?
One of my biggest challenges as a writer is finding the undisturbed time when I can concentrate on my writing. I commute to work each day, and when I return home in the evenings I am mentally and physically exhausted. On the weekends I prefer to spend the time with my family. I wondered how I would ever find an opportunity to write.
The solution was adding an additional hour to my day, before it even begins. I now leave my home one hour earlier in the mornings, park at my office, and then sit in a coffee house for one hour’s writing session on my laptop. I find that I can easily concentrate on my writing despite the hubbub of the setting, the grinding of coffee beans, and the hiss of milked being seamed. One hour a day is not a lot, but over time, I make good progress on my writing.
Do you have any general advice for other writers?
New writers shouldn’t seek to imitate others, but rather should write as themselves. Finding your writing voice may be hard, and certainly it is a task that can only be achieved after time, so continue to practice. And most importantly, write the kind of book that you would want to read. If you enjoy reading suspense novels, then that should be the type of book you should write.
Do you write an outline before every book you write?
I didn’t use an outline when I wrote Valley of Thracians. Instead, the whole book sort of materialized in my mind beforehand. As I wrote each chapter I felt I was on my way toward the desired conclusion of the book. I kept track of the chapters and the plot on a spreadsheet I developed as I made progress, but it certainly wasn’t an outline prepared in advance.
Following the publication of that book I made several attempts to begin my next novel. I knew approximately what the subject matter would be, but repeatedly lost momentum after completing a number of chapters. I realized that my writing didn’t have a clear direction. As the author, I didn’t know where I was going. So, I stopped writing and began visualizing the entire book in my mind. First I depicted the two main characters. And then I determined the setting. Things were coming together but I felt I needed to know exactly what was going to happen, and in which order, before I could begin writing again.
This time I made an organized outline, with a chapter-by-chapter listing of what would happen. It was just a sentence or two for each chapter, but in this manner, the action progressed logically from the beginning of the book to the conclusion I envisioned. With this outline complete, I began writing again from the very start. I am now deep into the writing, following the course I envisioned, and things seem to be working out. I will keep writing, day by day, and hopefully one day soon I will finish the first draft of the book.
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Most of my readers don’t know the first thing about Bulgaria and would have difficulty locating it on a map. Many of those same readers dream of travelling to far off lands, but lack the ability to finance the fulfilment of those dreams. My novel will introduce readers to Bulgaria, to its history, culture, and people. Readers will come away from an exciting, page-turning read with new understanding of a country far away. If readers achieve this understanding, I will have accomplished my mission as an author.
Ellis and His Latest Novel – ‘Valley of Thracians’
My thanks to Ellis Shuman for agreeing to be interviewed. If you’d like to find out more information on Ellis, you can check out his website at:
Ellis’ latest novel, entitled ‘Valley of Thracians’ is available now on Amazon – just click on the links below! You can also read more information on ‘Valley of Thracians’ and his thoughts behind it, by checking out my Share Saturday post here (available from Saturday onwards).