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March 2015

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TGR, Gutenberg, Rubric

Interview with author Jerome Asher and new #ArmchairBEA giveaway

Jerome Asher, author of Bread for the Pharaoh, joins me today for a brief interview and a giveaway of the Bread for the Pharaoh ePUB eBook. Tonight, Wednesday 5/25, Jerome Asher (cloister27) will be at Jitters Coffee, 15020 NE 20th St, Redmond, WA at 5:30-7:30 to sign and read from the book.

WAYZGOOSE: Bread for the Pharaoh is about two kids from different socio-economic strata who come together in friendship and end up saving the ruler’s life. The storyline is timeless. What inspired you to set this in Egypt during the building of the pyramids and the Sphinx?

ASHER: Curiously, the initial inspiration came from something I learned while studying technical writing in college. The first rule of technical writing is “know your audience.” In 2006, when I was thinking about what to write for National Novel Writing Month, somehow that rule popped into my head. So, who was my audience? Who did I want to write for? I picked the 10 year old daughter of a friend of our family, who was having a bit of a tough time in her life. I figured it might help her have something to feel good about to have somebody write a whole novel just for her.

In which case, I figured I’d better write about what my audience liked. That part was a no-brainer. At the time, she was absolutely mad for all things Egypt. And hey, I can relate. Pharaohs. Pyramids. Obelisks. That whole mummification and afterlife thing. What’s not to like? I have this vivid memory of being a kid and learning that the Sphinx had been carved from a single massive stone outcropping, and being really struck by that fact. Egypt is just plain cool. And once the idea was in my head, I wanted to write the story as much for myself as for my friend’s daughter.

WAYZGOOSE: Has ancient Egypt been an interest to you for a long time or did you need to do all the research just to write the book?

ASHER: I wasn't nearly as avid an Egyptophile as my intended audience of one, so yes, I had to do some research. I figured out the story first, and from there researched the details I would need. The Sphinx plays a pivotal role in the story, and I wanted to set the book while the Sphinx was being constructed.

That gave me my time period (roughly 2500 BC), who was Pharaoh at the time (Khafre), and other details about what monuments on the Plateau of Giza did and didn't exist at that time. If you imagine a Giza with one complete pyramid, one flat-topped, half constructed pyramid, and a Sphinx that is just the top half of a face sticking up out of the hillside, you'll have a good sense for the setting.

I also had to do some research about daily life, so I could portray the lives of my protagonists. Enough is known in the archaeological record that I could do a decent job with details that relate to one of my protagonists' life as the peasant son of a baker. But enough isn’t known that I had to fill in quite a bit. I think that’s ok, though. This book isn’t presented as an accurate history, and filling in the details helps me keep the portrayals of the characters more relatable to modern readers. I have an author’s note at the end which explains exactly what’s accurate and what I made up, for anyone who wants to know.

WAYZGOOSE: You are making a mark in middle grade fiction. What is it that attracts you to writing for this age group, and do you find it difficult to appeal to both boys and girls?

ASHER: Honestly? I write for kids because it’s fun. Modern kidlit has some of the most flat-out fun books out there. Yes, there are many fine adult novels on the market too, but if you’re looking for a fast-paced story that’s going to be wildly entertaining to read, it’s hard to beat modern children’s literature. I want in on that fun!

As far as gender appeal, though, I have to say I do not give a single thought to that. I write a story. If someone likes it, that’s great, and I don’t really care if they happen to be boys or girls or both. Bread for the Pharaoh happens to have good cross-gender appeal because it has two main characters who happen to be a boy and a girl. But that wasn’t some crafty marketing ploy; it’s just how the story came to me. I trust that my stories will each find their own right audiences. Look, I’m a 41 year old father of two, and I enjoy kidlit and books written for teen girls as much as mainstream adult fare. I really don’t see that there is any need or any value in trying to pre-select a book’s audience.

WAYZGOOSE: You have a professional life as a book doctor and an artistic life as an author. How do you keep them separate? Or do you find they overlap a lot?

ASHER: Heh. Book doctoring takes up so much time that sometimes it’s hard to find time for my own writing projects.

They do overlap in a couple of ways, though. Being a writer gives me a lot of empathy for my book doctoring clients. I know how I feel when I get feedback from my critique group on my work. That, as one client aptly put it, helps me “cushion the hammer” of the sometimes difficult feedback I have to give. But it also helps me because I can step into the writer’s shoes while I analyze their book. At any point, I can put on my writer hat to figure out what the client was probably trying to do with a given scene or plot twist or whatever.

Then I can put on my book doctor hat to analyze whether it’s working as intended, and if not, why not and how to fix it. It would be hard to help people fix their stuff if I couldn’t tell what they were trying to do in the first place.

On the flip side, spending dozens of hours every week engaged in deeply critical, analytical reading of my clients work helps me see a lot more than I used to. Needing to explain my findings in ways my clients can take back to their keyboards and make use of has forced me to distill my own understanding of exactly how and why narrative fiction works—and how it can break. Book doctoring has definitely made me a better writer.

WAYZGOOSE: What can we expect from you next and when? We’d like to read more!

ASHER: I’m working on a young adult Western novel, Wiry Fellows, set in 1860 on the Pony Express trail. Getting back to the question of gender appeal, the reality of the Pony Express pretty much forces me into a male-dominated cast.

If that means the book only appeals to boys, so be it. I’m not going to try to shoehorn a female character in there in some way which wouldn’t do justice to history. I’m not sure when this one will be done; it’s a complex story about a boy finding his place in the world, the tensions between whites and Native Americans at that time, set against the backdrop of the nation’s run-up to the Civil War. I have a plot issue or two to work out yet.

My other project is an upper-YA novel, Lapochka, a modern-day espionage/intrigue story about a young woman searching for her missing father through clues he left behind in illicit Soviet-era Russian comic books. That one is about 2/3 finished; I know how it needs to end, but have some work to do in getting from A to B, as it were, in a way that will keep the excitement up. There’s a bit of a “sagging middle” issue with the run-up to the book’s climax that I need to deal with. Will a spies-and-comic-books novel about a young woman appeal to boys? Girls? Both or neither? Who knows. It appeals to me, which is why I’m writing it. The first rule of technical writing may be “know your audience,” but the first rule of novel writing is “write the book you want to read.”

Jerome Asher is the penname of Jason Black who runs a book editing and doctoring business in Redmond. You can find out more about that end of the business at Plot to Punctuation and read the popular blog “Show Some Character.” Follow Jason on Twitter at http://twitter.com/p2p_editor.

(Excerpt at http://www.longtalepress.com/submissions/excerpts/58/read)


[edit]Info on the one-day giveaway has now been removed.

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