Award

Seeking Father Khaliq has been awarded first place, Religion/Spirituality in the Royal Dragonfly Literary Awards, 2017

The synopsis of Seeking Father Khaliq is as follows:

Kareem al-Busiri is a tenured professor of philosophy at a prestigious Egyptian university.  A woman whose eyes alone are visible, invites him to meet a Princess Basheera.  After doubt and discussion, he agrees.  Princess Basheera asks al-Busiri to find Father Khaliq, who is apparently her very old father, and she suggest that he find him on the Hajj.

Kareem is a secular Sunni Muslim, a widower, with three children: Naqib, the oldest is a leftist lawyer and secret member of the Muslim Brotherhood; Wahida, like her late mother is a Copt, working for the Red Crescent; Kalifa, a handsome, principled conservative plans to be an army infantry officer.  Adeeba is a winsome widowed Copt, Kareem’s late wife’s best friend, professor of archaeology, and an expert in ancient Coptic history, culture and language.  Adeeba’s younger adult daughter, Sagira, has a romantic interest in Kalifa.

On the Hajj, which Kareem undertakes with Hafez, a busy-body, agnostic colleague, there are near encounters with Father Khaliq.  The religious fervour of two million pilgrims, and the mystery of the Hajj make an indelible impression on al-Busiri.

Princess Basheera encounters Kareem on several occasions, appearing unexpectedly, wearing casual clothing, but always a niqab, exposing only her eyes.  She discusses his findings, she suggests new pilgrimages, and there is often an exchange of views on the ideas of important Arabic philosophers.  Kareem wonders: Is she real, or do I imagine her?

On a trip to Medina, al-Busiri visits the Prophet’s tomb and finds that, next to the Prophet is a vacant tomb reserved  for the second coming of Jesus.  He narrowly escapes a suicide bombing in the Date Market, and hears a woman crying out for Father Khaliq.

Persuaded to go on Arba’een, the pilgrimage of over twenty million to the Shia shrines in Karbala, Iraq, Kareem joins eleven Shia scholars from the University of Bagdad.  He becomes caught up in the intensity of the emotion at the tomb of Ali, the Prophet’s grandson and Shia icon.  During the return to Bagdad, the professors are taken hostage by a violent ISIS cadre and held for ransom.  Locked in an abandoned house in Ramadi, they are rescued by a Shia militia in a bloody shoot-out during which four of the Iraqi professors are killed.

On his return to Cairo, Kareem finds that Kalifa has been posted to north-eastern Sinai, where the army is engaged in almost daily skirmishes with Wilayat Sinai (the ISIS affiliate in Egypt).  Wahida suspects that her older brother’s law firm is providing material support to the terrorists.  Kareem reports the law firm, anonymously, to Egyptian intelligence, and meets with his son in an attempt to moderate his increasingly strident views.

With Hafez, on a trip to Jerusalem, the great mosques on the Noble Sanctuary, the Western Wall, the Jewish Quarter, and a Druze settlement on the Golan Heights are visited.  Again, there is the illusive Father Khaliq.  Kareem walks the Via Dolorosa with a Christian guide.

Kalifa and Sagira are married in jubilant Coptic and Islamic ceremonies.

Adeeba takes Kareem on a trip to Rome where he is impressed with the splendour of Christian pageantry, music and art, and the two become lovers.  She tells him she has found that ‘Khaliq’ is one of the lesser-known of Allah’s ninety-nine names.

Kalifa is killed in an attack on his base with a rocket which Wilayat Sinai was not known to have.  Wahida suspects that Naqib was involved in the supply chain.  Kareem washes his son’s body for burial; a grieving Naqib appears at the burial.  Wahida finds damning circumstantial evidence, which she passes to an intelligence officer, of Naqib’s involvement with the terrorists.  Naqib, and his law firm partners, are arrested, tried in secret, sentenced to death, and hung.  Again, Kareem washes the body of his son.

Kareem is grief-stricken, and visits his mosque for prayer.  He hears a voice offering reassurance.  Is it Allah?  Adeeba, whom he has now married, suggests that he must seek a new identity in his remaining family and his profession.  In a vacant classroom, Princess Basheera appears once again.  She debates with him the meaning and relevance if an idea of the philosopher Ibn Sina.  Kareem understands her message; she disappears.

Seeking Father Khaiiq  have recently won another award: the Pinnacle Book Achievement Award, Spiritual Fiction, 2017:

 

Revising

‘Revise’ has a number of synonyms, including: improve, reconsider, update, rewrite, amend and modify.  With my current novel, having finished writing it, I am doing all this and perhaps a bit more.  It is a tedious process, but, to my surprise, I’m enjoying it, because, as I get closer to the end – I’m now about half way through – I’m feeling an increasing sense of pride in the output.

You may recall that in an earlier post, I said that I would print each chapter out in an unusual font and read it aloud, marking anything that jarred on my senses for later correction.  I have done that, and I would recommend it for any author before submitting his/her manuscript for final editing.  Before I started my reading aloud process, I had made a list of ‘lingering concerns’: issues which I felt had to be addressed.  For example, I thought that I had left the characters’ feelings to much to the reader to interpret: they needed to be clearer.

So, here is what my revising process included:

  • Restructuring:  My draft manuscript was 16 chapters long, each about 17 pages.  I thought it would be better to shorten the chapters, particularly because there is a lot that happens in the book.  I’m in the process of reducing the chapter length to about 10 pages, so there will be over 25 chapters.  I also wanted to have a title alluding to the content of each chapter, believing that this would add to reader interest and attention.  The hard part was deciding where to separate the chapters, because previously, I didn’t worry much about that.  As a compromise, I have some material which relates to the topic of a preceding or a following chapter an the beginning or the end of some chapters, but I decided that this was a better solution than having some chapters as short as 6 or 7 pages.
  • Voices: Apart from the narrator, there are two other anonymous, contrarian voices.  I did not want their identity to be obvious, so I have reduced their roles.  But, at the same time, I wanted to reinforce the relevance of these voices to the characters, because they are part of the theme.  I’ve been doing this by having the characters make oblique references to the voices.
  • Characters: I have sharpened the characters so as to make their personalities more unique by having them do or say unusual things which are still in keeping with their individuality.  There are also two minor characters which are too neglected in the original manuscript.  As I’ve mentioned above, clarity of the character’s feelings is essential.  I’ve had to add passages which define the character’s thoughts or actions which reveal feelings, or something about their body language.  I’ve tried to avoid writing ‘the character felt . . .’, but I will let the narrator clarify the character’s feelings without using the word ‘feeling’.
  • Theme:  There is a theme based on Nietzsche which has to do with the development of the individual.  I felt that this theme was well introduced but faded in the later parts.  So, I’m bringing in reminders.
  • Dialog: I have been told that I write good, believable dialog, but I know it can be unnecessarily long.  There is a lot of pruning going on.
  • Unnecessary wording: Like the previous point, I have been unmerciful in deleting text which does not contribute to the reader’s understanding.
  • Time line: The story takes place over a period of about 15 years, but I sensed it was becoming difficult to keep a strict time line in order.  I’m deleting all references to sequence or the passage of time, believing that these milestones tend to be a distraction for the reader.
  • Consistency: I’ve found that I called a restaurant ‘Poseidon’ in the early chapters and ‘Neptune’ in later chapters.  I confess to being hopeless at remembering the names of people and places.  Similarly, in one chapter a terrorist organisation was called Dhul Fikar (Sword of the Prophet) and Dhul Fakir later.  The first spelling is correct.
  • Clichés: When one is reading aloud, clichés tend to reverberate, and they can be re-written
  • Inadequate words: Similarly, an adjective or a verb or even a noun can sound and feel inadequate in best defining the character’s feeling, the situation, or the setting.  Thesaurus to the rescue!
  • Typos: I’ve read the original manuscript three or four times, but I’ve still found (a few) typos!

Five Ways to Approach Revision

An article with the above title appeared in The Florida Writer, August edition; it was written by Mary Ann de Stefano who is the editor of the Writer.  She says in LinkedIn, “I am a word nerd with techie tendencies and a marketing bent, and I want you to believe in yourself and your writing.”  Through her website MAD about Words, she offers a number of services for writers.

Mary Ann de Stefano

What particularly interested me in her article is that I am on the verge of finishing my latest novel and I have a strong feeling that my work will benefit from a healthy does of editing (by me).

In the article Ms de Stefano says: “Literally revision means to ‘see again’.  But how do you see your writing from the detached perspective when you’ve been immersed in it?  Here are five ways you can approach revision with a fresh look at your manuscript.

1. Put it away.  Take the longest possible break between finishing your draft and revision.  Time away from your work will give you the intellectual, emotional and psychological distance you need to see it anew.  Unless your bound by a contest or contract deadline, let your book length work rest for six weeks or more.

2. Change the scenery.  If your habit is to write on a computer, print a hard copy of your manuscript for review.  Make the printout look different from the screen version by changing the font.  You might be surprised by how reading your work in Helvetica rather than Times New Roman changes not only how your eyes see the work, but how your mind sees it, too.  I know someone who had a bound book created from her manuscript on Lulu, which she said was cheaper than having it printed at one of the office supply stores.  She says looking at her work like a real book changed the way she read it.  She read quickly as she would a real book, and when she saw problem areas, she marked them quickly with a sticky note for later.  Then she went back through and reworked the areas that had caused her to stumble or pause on the first read.

3. Read it aloud.  Hearing your writing read aloud brings it out of your head and gives you a new opportunity to see it (hear it) with revitalized attention.  Read your manuscript aloud from beginning to end, even though a long work might take several days.  Resist the urge to stop and tinker with a sentence or a scene.  If you come across something that needs further work, mark it for further review and move on quickly.  You might try recording and playing back your reading or having a trusted friend or writing partner read the work to you.

4. Take a bird’s eye view.  Spread a chapter or two out on a long table- or on the floor –  so you can view each page individually.  Look at your pages from above.  See walls of unbroken text or dense paragraphs (all narrative?)  See pages with nothing but short loose paragraphs (all dialogue?)  See sections where all the paragraphs are virtually the same length?  Mark these sections for review, because they may indicate issues with balance between dialogue and narrative or problems with proportion, rhythm or pacing.

5. Do it again.  Retype your entire manuscript (or a problem chapter).  This tactile approach – going over your work word by word – is bound to spark new ideas.

Take the time to revise and revise again.  Resist the urge to seek unmitigated praise for a first draft or try to get others to ‘fix’ your work by sharing it with beta readers or sending it off to and editor.  Even the pros don’t get it ‘right’ the first time.”

My intention is to take all of Ms de Stefano’s advice (except no. 5) and I’ll add a sixth: work from a to do list.  As the writing has progressed, I’ve noticed some thematic issues, character development problems, and occasional bad writing habits that will need to be addressed.

The First Scene

‘Your Novel’s First Scene: How to Start Right’ is the title of an article in the February, 2017 issue of The Florida Writer.  The main point of the article is: don’t tell too much too soon.  It is written by Paula Munier who is Senior Literary Agent and Content Strategist at Talcott Scott Literary Services.  She has experience as a journalist, editor, acquisition specialist, digital content manager, publishing executive, author and writing teacher. (!)

Paula Munier

She begins the article by mentioning that she moved from “sunny California” to the “Northeast, where winters can be brutal”, and she dreaded the prospect of beginning “a journey, even if it’s only to the grocery store – which means venturing out into sub-zero temperatures to a frigid vehicle that may or may not start.  It was a cold prospect I dreaded, until I happened upon two spectacular tools: remote car starters and heated car seats”.  These allow her to “slip into a warm seat in a warm vehicle with a warm engine and hit the road.  This is a beautiful thing.

“You want to do the same thing with your story.  Every reader starts a cold story, and you want to warm the reader up to your story as quickly as possible.  You want the reader to slip into a warm seat in a hot story with blazing beginning and take off for parts known only to you, the writer.”

She says, “One of the main reasons so many opening scenes fail is because the writer tries to tell too much about the story too soon.  ‘Tell’ is the critical word here.  The writer is telling – rather than showing – us the story.  Many scenes are overburdened with backstory, description, and the characters’ inner monologue, which leaves little room for the action that should be driving the story forward.”

Ms Munier then suggests an exercise to edit a beginning: mark up the text as follows:

  • mark the backstory text (what happened in the past) in blue
  • mark the description (of the setting, etc.) in pink
  • mark the inner monologue (the characters’ thoughts and feelings) in yellow

I don’t have coloured text on WordPress, but perhaps the reader would like to mark up the beginning several of my recent novels:

Seeking Father Khaliq:

“May I ask you, honoured Professor al-Busiri, if you will go to meet Princess Basheera?”

I looked up reluctantly from the student essay I was reading, and considered the bearing of the woman who had entered my office unannounced.  She was tall and slender, graceful; she was motionless, but there was a suggestion of incipient mobility.  She was dressed in a black naqib and a jilbab so that I could see only her dark eyes.  Her voice, however, had an optimistic lilt to it.  She must be about thirty, I thought.

Deliberately, I pushed the essay to one side.  “Who, may I ask, is Princess Basheera?”

“She is my employer, sir.”

“And what does this Princess Basheera want with me?”

“She has an assignment that only you can fulfil, Professor.”

This is very strange.  A young woman comes into my office at (I glanced at my watch) two thirty-six in the afternoon, and asks me to meet with a Princess Basheera (glad tidings), about whom I know nothing, to undertake an assignment, about which I also know nothing, but which, it is said, only I can undertake.

I closed my fountain pen, thinking for a moment.  “Can you give me a reason, madam, why I should say ‘yes’ to your request?  I have a full afternoon of work ahead of me, and I cannot afford the time to discuss university business.  That should be pursued through the office of administration.”
The woman nodded.  “I can assure you, Professor al-Busiri, this has nothing to do with university business.  Nor does Princess Basheera wish to sell you any product or service.  The assignment is related to your status as a renowned professor of philosophy.”

(Probably too much description and inner monologue)

Hidden Battlefields:

“There were two documents,” she confided, her eyes fixed on his across the table; “two documents that got him convicted.”

Robert nodded, urging her to continue.

She said, “Nobody testified against him, apparently.”

“What were the documents, Mary Jo?”

She sat back, and folded her arms across her chest.  She was wearing a pale blue cardigan with pearl buttons; only the top button was undone.  “Well . . .” she began and paused.

“I mean,” it was his turn to lean forward.  He looked around the busy Olive Tree restaurant that she had selected: it was near her work in Alexandria, Virginia.  No one seemed to be paying attention.  “Can you give me an unclassified version?”

“Well,” she said quietly, “one was a diagram of a centrifuge cascade.”

“A centrifuge cascade that’s used to make weapons-grade nuclear material?”

She nodded.

“How could that diagram get him convicted?”

“Because it had the actual levels of . . .”  She picked up her menu and seemed to be looking for the waitress.  To her menu, she confided: “. . . uranium enrichment on it.”

“Oh, I see, and the levels . . .”  He paused.  “. . . were much higher than anything the Iranians have announced.”

(Pretty good – no backstory, no inner monologue and very little description)

The Iranian Scorpion:

“So, I remind you of your father’s girlfriend?” Kate inquired with one eyebrow arched provocatively.

Robert was clearly enjoying this conversation. He leaned towards her, his hands clasped around the Gordon’s martini which rested on the hotel’s grey granite bar. “Yes, you do.” He watched her with a not-yet-predatory interest.

She, too, smiled, indicating her willingness to play the game. “In what way do I remind you of your father’s girlfriend?”

“Well . . .” he glanced briefly at the open button on her khaki shirt, then, he studied his martini. “Mary Jo is very good looking . . . and she has a rather nice figure . . . and she is a clever, out-going girl.”

“Girl?” Kate raised that eyebrow again, but this time it expressed scepticism. “If she’s your father’s girlfriend, wouldn’t the word ‘woman’ be more appropriate?”

“No. She’s my age.”

Kate sat back on her tall chair. “And how old would that be? – give or take a few years.”

“In my case it would be thirty-two; in Mary Jo’s, about thirty-four.”

Kate chuckled and took a sip of her white wine. “So the old man likes young skirt.”
He stirred the martini with his forefinger. “Yeah.” There was a note of resentfulness in his response.

(Again, pretty good: no backstory, no inner monologue, perhaps a little too much description.)

This strikes me as a pretty worthwhile exercise.

Review: Seeking Father Khaliq

The following review of Seeking Father Khaliq was posted on Amazon.com by amts:

“This is another wonderful book by author William Peace. Fascinating discussions of theology, philosophy and politics all melded in to an intriguing and mysterious plot. Who is Father Khaliq and why does this perhaps Saudi Arabian princess hire Professor Kareem al-Busiri who teaches at the American University in Cairo to find him? An indifferent Muslim, he is intrigued by her offer. Looking for Father Khaliq takes him on a variety of religious pilgrimages from the Muslim Hajj to the Shia Arba’een, to a trip to Israel and to Rome. Not only does one encounter a treasure trove about each of these places and pilgrimages, but one is treated to stimulating discussions about the three major religions and their approaches to essential questions about the meaning of life, about who is God, and what role the divine being plays in each of our lives.
The politics of the Middle East is handled plot wise in the lives of two of the professor’s sons. The elder, Naquib, wants radical change and becomes a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. The younger, Kalifa, chooses to join the army and to work for change within the system. The choices each makes leads to a tragic outcome that is unforeseen. During one of Kareem’s pilgrimages he comes in contact with Daesh and are held hostage. The scenes involving Daesh are not easy to read, but anyone familiar with the work of ISIS, as Americans refer to Daesh, will not be surprised. Their eventual rescue is one of the most exciting scenes.
Kudos to Mr. Peace for providing us with a book full of strong women characters. Although he is a widower, we learn about the strength of his former Peace Corps American wife who stayed in Egypt after her tour ended and later became a Coptic Christian. He is a realist; she an idealist, but they accepted and respected each other and she was able to exert her quiet influence on him in many ways. Naquib’s wife, Anisa, is the wage earner while Naquib is in school and takes care of the children while she is at work. Kalifa is unmarried, but later marries the daughter of another strong character, Adeeba, a friend of his wife’s whose husband had died about eighteen months before Elizabeth. Adeeba is a professor of Egyptian history also at the American University and the author of several books. She has strong opinions and is not shy about expressing them. The romantic relationship that eventually develops between Kareem and Adeeba is one of mutual respect and admiration, but also one with passion. The final strong female character is Wahida, Kareem’s daughter who works for the Red Crescent and presents the viewpoint of a young Moslem woman challenged by life as a Moslem in the modern world and in a Middle Eastern country.
This book has much to offer the reader – a fast moving plot, stimulating ideas to ponder, insight into the contemporary Middle Eastern world, and well developed characters both the main ones and those whose places are more peripheral. I recommend it most highly.”

Seeking Father Khaliq has received an honorable mention in Reader View’s annual literary awards.

Literary Fiction vs Genre Fiction

I have been somewhat unclear in my mind as to whether I am writing literary fiction or genre (inspirational) fiction.  In some of my early posts, I saw myself as a genre writer of thrillers, but more recently i have moved away from pure thrillers to books which are more philosophical and somewhat theological, although all the books I have written have elements of fairly intense suspense.  So where does that put me: in literary or genre?

I’ve recently found an article in the Huffington Post written by Steven Petite on the above subject.   He is a freelance writer, who, according to the Huffington Post, has appeared in Cigale Literary Magazine. His work has appeared on Playboy.com, Fiction Southeast, New York Game Critics Circle, Indie Game Magazine, The Rock Office, Bago Games, and Cavs Nation.  Well, we won’t hold any of that against him, because

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Steven Petite

his article, for me, makes a lot of sense.  He says:

“Fiction, of course, is a work that is imagined from the mind, a different world than reality.

“An argument can be made that there are two types of fiction when it comes to novels: Genre Fiction and Literary Fiction. The former includes many subcategories such as Mystery/Thriller, Horror, Romance, Western, Fantasy, Science Fiction, etc. The latter is more difficult to classify or break apart into subcategories. To put it simply, Literary Fiction is anything that does not fit into a genre.

“There are certainly high brow literary readers who believe that genre fiction does not deserve any merit. Then there are the types who exclusively read one or two sub-types of genre fiction and automatically classify any “serious” works of literature as pretentious or boring.

“While changing opinions on reading tastes is not easily controllable, the war between Literary Fiction and Genre Fiction is one that will probably continue for years to come.

“The main reason for a person to read Genre Fiction is for entertainment, for a riveting story, an escape from reality. Literary Fiction separates itself from Genre because it is not about escaping from reality, instead, it provides a means to better understand the world and delivers real emotional responses.

“All of the most prestigious awards for fiction each year are given to works of Literary Fiction, which makes it sometimes easy to say that writers who write literary sorts of books are better writers.

“In reality, neither of the two categories of writers necessarily deserve the distinction of being better writers. Different writers is a better word choice.

“Yes, across the bestseller lists there are novels that contain poor writing, and those lists are normally dominated by Genre Fiction. That does not mean that all Genre Fiction writers cannot form competent and engaging prose. The works of Stephen King, Thomas Harris, Michael Crichton, Neil Gaiman, George R.R. Martin, and many others are written with great prose that shows a sound grasp on the written word. Do these types of writers sweep a reader down into their fictionalized world? Yes. But do they provide a means to stay inside reality, through the trials and tribulations of every day life, and deliver a memorable experience that will stick with you emotionally for the rest of your life? In my opinion, no. The works that are well written by genre writers are the ones that provide the best form of entertainment and escapism that fiction has to offer.

“On the other hand, works by writers such as David Foster Wallace, Jonathan Franzen, Haruki Murakami, Cormac McCarthy, Zadie Smith, Don DeLillo, a multitude of other modern day writers, and all of the twentieth century giants such as Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, and Joyce, touch the reader in a different way. There is a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment from finishing a “serious” book and the most important aspect in determining if the novel was indeed a remarkable escape not from reality, but into reality, is if a reader reflects on the words after the last page is turned. With really great pieces of Literary Fiction, this reflection can last for days, weeks, months, even years, until the novel pulls you back in to experience the magic all over again.

In essence, the best Genre Fiction contains great writing, with the goal of telling a captivating story to escape from reality. Literary Fiction is comprised of the heart and soul of a writer’s being, and is experienced as an emotional journey through the symphony of words, leading to a stronger grasp of the universe and of ourselves.”

I find this discussion helpful in giving me a clearer definition of what is Literary and what is Genre.  But it doesn’t help me put a specific label on the novels I have written.  They have characteristics of both types.  The article helps be establish a clear direction in which I want to travel: into my reality in a way that fascinates and challenges my readers to explore new ideas.

Author’s Mood

In several posts, I have mentioned writer’s block.  I have said that when I have it (which is occasionally) it is usually an indication that my writing has slipped off the track, and that I should rethink my recent work, or ask myself searching questions about the direction that the novel is taking.

I will say that another important blockage for me is either being tired or in a strong mood.  If I’m tired, I can’t focus properly, and my creativity is numbed.  I don’t write when I’m tired.  If I’m in a negative mood or preoccupied with a personal  issue, I have difficulty getting  myself into the mood that the character(s) is feeling.  If I’m angry about something, I find it more difficult to feel the joy that a female character is feeling.  If I’m worried about someone, how can I fully empathize with a protagonist who is experiencing a different relationship problem?  For me, forcing myself into the mood of a character is possible only when I’m not preoccupied.

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In fact, I find it difficult to write well about a character who is depressed if I’m in a low mood.  The empathy is there, but, if I’m in a low mood, it’s difficult to find just the right words to fully express the feelings of the character.  For me, it seems to work best if I’m in a ‘neutral mood’, empathize with the character, and then find to words to express what the character is feeling.

Let me give you an example from Sable Shadow & The Presence.  The central character is on a business trip to a Mexican oil refinery when his wife calls and tells him that his much-loved son – a military officer – has just been killed in the Somali area.

I was numb and senseless, but the pain was inescapable.  I could not really function.  I could walk, but my destination was unclear.  I could hear voices, but I had to turn toward the voice I heard and try to understand if it was addressing me.  My mind had great difficulty processing.  It was as if a powerful ray had struck my head and turned my brain to mush.  I knew David.  He helped me pack, and he rounded up the pilots.  He fastened my seat belt.  He gave me a glass of something cold, and sometimes he would reach across and hold my hand.

I had no sense of time.  I was drifting in a remote, timeless space.  Then I recognised the front door of my house.  Inside, there was Suzanne.  She was pale, years older, in that familiar blue quilted bathrobe.  We sat on the living room sofa, and she talked to me.  I don’t remember what she said.  She was very sad.  She led me to the bedroom and took off my clothes.  She removed her bathrobe.  In bed, she pulled the covers over us, and we wrapped our arms around each other.  We lay like that, weeping and dozing through the night.

There were dreams: of William trying to master a skateboard, of William holding up a small trout, of William wearing a muddied jersey number 24.

There was no mistaking the voice:  You loved William and he loved you.  Remember this.

What did you say?

But I knew what was said, and I knew the voice even though I had not heard it often for ten years or more.

Interview with Norm Goldman

I have had an e-interview with Norm Goldman, Publisher and Editor of Bookpleasures,com.

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Norm Goldman

Norm: How did you get started in writing? What keeps you going?

William:  I had taken a writing course at university, and I always enjoyed writing reports in business, but I had never considered myself a writer of fiction.  About eight years ago, I was on holiday in Sicily and I had a series of romantic dreams in which I was involved as a bystander.  I thought: it would be fun to write these down.  I began writing and by the time I got to page 70, I decided to finish it.  That was my first novel.  Since then, I’ve derived an increasing satisfaction from completing novels which are better and better.

Norm:  What do you think most characterizes your writing?

William: There is always at least one character who is facing ethical/moral dilemmas.  I try also to give the reader a strong sense that what she is reading is true and real.

Norm: What did you find most useful in learning to write? What was least useful or most destructive?

William:  What has been most useful is the feedback I have had on my writing.  I am also a fairly avid reader, and I always publish a review of the books I read.  This sharpens my critical skills which are important when I’m writing.  I really can’t think of an experience which has been destructive.

Norm: How many times in your career have you experienced rejection? How did they shape you?

William:  Countless times.  I received several dozen rejections for my first novel, and I was ready to give up on getting it published when Eloquent Books (the predecessor of my current publisher) came to me with a co-op publishing offer.  Since then I have approached about twenty literary agents and publishers for every novel I’ve written; my approaches have been universally rejected (usually politely) or ignored.  I’ve stayed with Strategic Book Publishing.  My impression is that to get a contract with a traditional, main-stream publisher, one must have a third-party intervention or recommendation.  This is an understandable symptom of risk avoidance in the publishing industry, but it also suggests a lack of independent, creative thinking in the industry.  My lack of acceptance by main stream publishers has not deterred me.  I will carry on writing better and better novels.  Someone will almost certainly notice.

Norm:  In your bio you indicated that the spiritual/religious genre is your preferred choice. Could you explain to our readers, why?

William:  I am a religious person, but not evangelical.  The romance and the three thrillers all have religious aspects.  I started writing Sable Shadow & The Presence as a kind of experiment, and I had to re-write large portions of it, but, at the end, I felt particularly good about it.  Several excellent reviews and being awarded seven minor prizes convinced me that I had found my venue.

Norm: How did you become involved with the subject or theme of Seeking Father Khaliq? As a follow up, have you ever lived in Egypt?

William:  Before I started Seeking Father Khaliq, I decided to write about one character’s search for God, but I didn’t want a typically evangelical book. It had to involve a faith other than Christianity and a venue outside the West.  Also, the book had to have more issues than a singular focus on spirituality.  I’ve never lived in Egypt, but I’ve visited the country several times.  In creating Seeking Father Khaliq, I spent as much time on research as I did on writing.

Norm: What were your goals and intentions in this book, and how well do you feel you achieved them?

William: My intention was to leave a gentle message that if one wants to find God, He can be found, and that sometimes He is revealed in the midst of adversity.  I think the message is there and perhaps made a bit more interesting by Egypt, philosophy, Islam (good and bad), and the will-of-the-wisp Princess Basheera.

Norm: Do you worry about the human race?

William:  Not in the long term.  The short term can be a horrendous mess, but somehow we will muddle through.

Norm: How did you go about creating the character of Professor Kareem al-Busiri? (As a passing note,  I am married to someone born in Egypt and who lived there until the age of 18, I am familiar with the male Egyptian mindset and you seemed to have vividly captured it).

William:  My specifications for Kareem were:

  • A respected professor of philosophy at a prominent Egyptian university (I wanted to include philosophy to add richness)
  • He should be a secular Muslim: a sort of agnostic
  • He should be single to introduce a romantic element
  • He should be open-minded and a bit naïve (to believe Princess Basheera)
  • He should have adult children to add complexity

Norm:  What are some of the references that you used while researching this book? As a follow up, can you share some stories about people you met while researching this book?

William:  My principal reference was Classical Arabic Philosophy, an Anthology of Sources, by Jon McGinnis (Translation), David C. Reisman (Editor).  I spent countless hours on the internet to gather facts, opinions and experiences.  I don’t remember their names, but I enjoyed vivid personal accounts by pilgrims on the Hajj and Arba’een.

Norm: What was the most difficult part of writing this book and what did you enjoy most about writing this book?

William: The most difficult part was staying factual in detail, down to the specifications of the Russian-made weapon which killed Kalifa.  Most satisfying and enjoyable was integrating all the pieces of a complex story.

Norm:  Did you learn anything from writing the book and what was it?

William:  While I have read quite a lot about Islam, and I’ve read the Qur’an, I gained a perspective of Islamic culture, and its effect of the values of people.

Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and Seeking Father Khaliq?

William: I have blog (https://williampeaceblog.com/) which has been going for six years, and which includes my opinions and experiences as a writer.  I’ll let Father Khaliq speak for himself.

Norm: What is next for William Peace?

William:  I’m writing another novel, set in East Africa, with three main young adult characters: a penniless man of traditional tribal faith; a middle class, Christian woman; and a Muslim man from a wealthy, prominent family.  All are black: there is plenty of interaction and clashes in values and beliefs.

Norm: As this interview draws to a close what one question would you have liked me to ask you? Please share your answer.

William:  What else does your ‘day job’ consist of?  Because I write with intensity only three or four hours a day, I need ‘alternative occupations’.  These include pro bono consulting work for London charities, treasurer of a charity which provides psychotherapy, and involvement with two of our daughters and their families who live nearby.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Books as Therapy

The November 7th issue of Time Magazine has an article Read a Novel: it’s just what the doctor ordered, written by Sarah Begley.   Ms Begley is a staff writer for Time; she writes book reviews and culture stories for the magazine.  She has worked at Newsweek, The Daily Beast and Hearst Magazines.  She lives in the New York City area and is a graduate of Vassar College.

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Sarah Begley

She says, “the latest round of research on the benefits of literature focuses on how it improves not our IQ but our EQ.”  Researchers at the New School for Social Research found a link between ‘theory of mind’ (the ability to know what a person is thinking or feeling) and reading a passage of literary fiction (as distinguished from popular fiction).  Ms Begley continues, “Maria Eugenia Panero of Boston College says it is ‘hard to know whether reading literary fiction increases theory of mind or if people who naturally have a higher theory of mind are more drawn to literary fiction'”.

Ms Begley reports that a 2012 study at Ohio State University had undergraduates read different versions of a story in which a protagonist overcomes challenges (car trouble, bad weather, long lines, etc.) in order to vote.  Those who read a version of the story which led them to identify strongly with the character were more likely to vote in a real election a few days later: 65% reported having voted as compared to 29% of those who read a less relatable version of the story.  The story did affect the behaviour of some readers.

Bibliotherapy, which involves the prescription of novels to ‘cure life’s ailments’, is practices at the School of Life in London.  Ella Berthoud, an artist, and Susan Elderkin, a novelist, are friends from their Cambridge days when they left books for each other to deal with the crisis of the week: be it romance, work stress, or whatever.  Now, while they are not trained at therapists, their clients pay £100 to spend 50 minutes with them, in person or via Skype.  The clients fill out a questionnaire about what they like to read and what is going on in their lives.  “The bibliotherapist makes an ‘instant prescription’ at the end of the session and then sends a list of six to eight books and the reasons for the recommendation a few days later.  They say the feedback is 99% positive.”

Ms Begley concludes: “The science behind reading for mental health is limited, but researchers like Panero are eager to continue exploring the benefits.  ‘I think we all have some intuitive sense that we get something from fiction’, Panero says.  ‘So in our field we’re interested in saying – well, what is it that we’re getting?’  Even the greatest novel cannot cure clinical depression, erase post-traumatic stress or turn an egomaniac into a self-denying saint.  But it might ease a midlife crisis or provide comfort in a time of grief.  As Elderkin says, it’s natural for readers to find it’satisfying when people come up with ‘proof’ of something which they’ve always felt to be true.'”

As for me, I certainly subscribe to the theories presented by Ms Begley in her article.  That is why I write novels like Seeking Father Khaliq.

Promotion

Now that I have a new novel out, it’s time to think about promoting it, right?

Actually, one has to think about promoting a novel before one starts writing it.  Probably, the first question to ask is: who’s going to read it?

Let me give you a summary of my experience using various promotion channels.  And I should confess that while I have a marketing background, I would much rather write than promote (because I think I’m better at writing than at selling and I enjoy writing more)

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Press Release: My publisher writes a draft press release which I edit and it goes out to ‘thousands of libraries, book shops, media outlets’.  Fortunately, it’s in an electronic form, so that no trees are actually killed (not even from recipients printing it out, which, as far as I know, has never happened).

Website:  I have a website (www.williampeace.net), which I share with the publisher.  At the moment, I’m waiting for the publisher’s IT guru to add Seeking Father Khaliq.  Then, I’ll ask my IT handyman to add some real content.  Essential?  Yes.  Has it sold any books?  Doubtful.

Blog:  Here we are!  For me the main value of a blog is the work I have to do each week – other than writing – to prepare something which might be stimulating.  And, I very much enjoy it when someone responds!

Twitter:  Pass.  Unless you’re a big name author and people want to know what you had for breakfast, I doubt that 140 characters per day sells many books.

Goodreads & Amazon Author Pages:  Yes.  They even run my blog down the side – as does my website.

Facebook Pages:  Yes.  I have a personal page, an author’s page and there’s a page for each of my books.

Advertising:  Yes.  Five of my books have regular advertisements on Goodreads.  What I’ve got to do now is to revisit the advertising copy on some of the ads because the click-through-rate is too low.  There have been quite a few books added to readers’ lists.  Currently, I’m running a Facebook ad which covers the commuter homebase north of Manhattan.  Lots and lots of ‘Likes’.  Sales?  Hard to say.  The Facebook ads are expensive.

Giveaways:  I ran a giveaway on Goodreads last year.  Over one hundred people applied for ten books.  After I sent the books out, I got one semi-literate review, instead of the ten I should have received.  Don’t they do book reports in school any more?

Brick & Mortar Bookshops:  Bookshops will carry books only if they are bought on a sale or return basis.  That way, they get left with zero unsold stock.  My publisher offers a ‘deal’ where the author underwrites the cost of returns from bookshops.  When I pointed out that since they had something to gain from sales to bookshops, they ought to participate in the underwriting.  Their response was to put a cap on my potential exposure.  I signed up to that for a while, but there was no evidence that any bookshops bought copies.  I’ve offered to carry the stock for several independent bookshops in London, but there was no interest in even a sample book. I approached Barnes & Noble about carrying one or two of my books in selected stores.  No interest.  With (very) rare exceptions brick and mortar bookshops buy from traditional publishers.  Period.

Book Signings: A few years ago, my publisher would arrange book signings.  In fact I was offered a signing at a rural bookshop in Maine, but I had to buy and carry 50 books with me.  This service has since been discontinued.  In fact, I have the impression that book signings work only for non-fiction accounts of a juicy scandal written by one of the perpetrators.

Awards:  This is a semi-major project area for me. I’ve stopped submitting to the outfits that run multiple contests with unidentified judges.  That still leaves about one contest per month, and I’m getting recognition about half the time.  (No serious money yet.)

Reviews:  You may know that Amazon has cracked down on pay-for-review outfits: they won’t let them post reviews.  This makes some sense in that the money might be trying to buy a good review.  The problem is that there isn’t enough review capacity in the industry.  Willing and educated reviewers tend to flock to the best sellers.  Bloggers who offer  reviews typically have a very long waiting list.  Reciprocal reviewing services are an option, but, to be fair, one has to reading some marginally interesting stuff to win a hasty review.  Recently, I tried a different approach to the literary editors of large newspapers.  I had previously sent a few of them samples of my latest book.  No response.  I identified about fifteen literary editors of major newspapers in the UK, US and Canada, and I sent them carefully crafted messages about Seeking Father Khaliq, inviting them to review it.  There were two polite ‘no thank you’s.

So let me end with a fantastic offer!  If any of my readers would like to receive a free copy of Seeking Father Khaliq with an obligation to publish a brief, learned review, please email me at  bill(at)williampeace(dot)net!