Lia Mack's Interviews with Authors... Because writing is such a solitary act, I really enjoy getting a chance to chat with fellow writers and hope you enjoy our conversations!
And although this conversation Ellis Shuman and I had was from a few years ago, his insight and inspiration for fellow writers is, as always, spot on! Thank you, Ellis!
Today we have with us debut suspense novelist Ellis Shuman, author of Valley of Thracians, a face paced mystery about a missing Peace Corps volunteer in Bulgaria.
Ellis is currently working hard at work editing his next book, also a suspense novel, so I'm very glad he took the time out of his busy writing schedule to come meet with us today.
Please help me give a warm welcome Ellis Shuman!
Lia Mack: Ellis, please start us off by telling a little about yourself:
Ellis Shuman: I was born in Sioux City, Iowa, and moved to Israel as a teenager with my family. After finishing high school in Jerusalem, I served for three years in the Israeli army. Along with my wife, I was a founding member of a kibbutz in Israel's southern desert. My years on kibbutz, working in agriculture and milking cows, served as background for my short story collection, The Virtual Kibbutz.
My wife and I now live in a community in the hills west of Jerusalem. For many years I worked in the hotel industry and my last position in this field was Food and Beverage Comptroller at the Jerusalem Hilton, back in the years when there was a Hilton hotel in Jerusalem. I have worked for the past decade in the online gaming industry, and a few years ago, my position was relocated on a two-year assignment to Sofia, Bulgaria. That experience served as background for my suspense novel set in Bulgaria, Valley of Thracians.
Lia Mack: Ultimate question...Why do you write?
Ellis Shuman: I grew up with an ever-present urge to tell a story. I inherited my writing abilities from my father, who was a journalist. During my summer vacations as a child, I wrote, edited, and marketed a neighborhood newspaper and went door to door selling copies of the page that told everyone what their neighbors were doing that summer. I have wanted to write a novel all my life, and have many unfinished manuscripts probably gathering dust in some archived online digital folder. Even though I work full time, writing is my hobby. I enjoy writing fiction, but also nonfiction, including book reviews, travel reports, and other stories that I have a need to tell.
Lia Mack: Can you describe a bit how your venture into writing looked like?
Ellis Shuman: I began writing stories as a boy and was extremely grateful to receive a typewriter as a present for my Bar Mitzvah at the age of thirteen. That typewriter would serve me for many, many years, and in fact, I wrote a manuscript for my first, and eventually unpublished, novel on that machine. I think I still have it in the attic for sentimental reasons. I remember deliberating whether to buy an electric typewriter when they first came out, but in the end elected to go with my first computer. A word processing program was like heaven for me. No more retyping entire pages or whiting out mistakes with Tipp-Ex. I had advanced into the modern age of writing. Even so, when I began writing the stories that became The Virtual Kibbutz, I wrote out some of them by hand in a café because I didn't own a laptop at the time. When I came home in the evenings I would then type up my stories into the computer, giving me a chance to review that morning's creativity. Now I type up everything on a laptop, barely ever visiting the desktop computer we have in our home.
Lia Mack: Can you tell us a little about your book?
Ellis Shuman: After living for two years in Bulgaria, I wanted to be able to share that experience through my writing. I enjoy reading suspense novels, so I made the decision to write a suspense novel set in Bulgaria. As far as I can see, there are not too many novels, of any genre, available in English that tell about life in Bulgaria. Along with the element of suspense, I became determined to include a sense of Bulgaria in the book. Many readers have stated that Valley of Thracians is part mystery, part travelogue. That's because I write about Bulgaria's history, culture, food, tourist sites, and most importantly, about Bulgaria's people. Readers will be enthralled not only by a fast-paced suspense story, but also by an introduction to a country about which they previously knew very little.
Lia Mack: What was the most challenging aspect of writing this particular story?
Ellis Shuman: While living in Bulgaria, my wife and I traveled extensively around the country. I guess everything we were doing for two years was research for my novel. I didn't take notes along the way, but I revisited many of the museums, villages, cities, and themes of Bulgarian history in a virtual manner after my return to Israel. Thinking back, there are some places in Bulgaria I would have loved to revisit while I was writing the book because research on the ground is always more effective.
Lia Mack: What are you working on now?
Ellis Shuman: I wrote one collection of short stories about Israel, and one suspense novel set in Bulgaria. These are the two countries that I think about the most, so I set for myself a challenge - to write a novel that will highlight both Israel and Bulgaria. Living in Bulgaria I felt very comfortable identifying myself as an Israeli, and discovered there is a lot of respect in Bulgaria for Israel and for Israeli leaders. There is also quite a bit of cooperation between the two countries, and this gave me an idea for what I could feature in my next novel.
Lia Mack: What does your typical writing day look like?
Ellis Shuman: I am always writing, but at my day job my writing is devoted solely to marketing copy. I commute to the office, a drive that leaves me quite tired, and uncreative, at home in the evening hours. In order to gain time for my creative writing, I decided to leave home one hour earlier in the morning. Before I sit down at my office desk, I sit down for a nice cup of coffee in a café not far away. I take out my laptop and manage to get a lot onto paper, or rather into the computer, despite the noise and racket of the cappuccino machine and the customers at the other tables.
Lia Mack: Can you share a photo of what your writing space looks like?
Ellis Shuman: Here is my very unseemly table in the café, off to the side and near the electricity socket that powers up my laptop. I am one of the first people to buy coffee in the mornings, so I have my choice of tables. I don't need anything else around to stimulate me because my mind is working at high speed as I type.
Lia Mack: What are your thoughts on authors needing to build a platform?
Ellis Shuman: It doesn't matter if a writer is traditionally published or self-published, because in both cases, most, if not all, of the marketing falls upon the author. I think it is essential for an author to establish him/herself on a social platform, but one shouldn't go overboard doing it. I maintain a very active blog, where I write about Israel, Bulgaria, book reviews, travel, and about the writing process. The readership of my blog grew immensely when I became active on Twitter, where I associate with other published and aspiring writers. Someone said that an author has to spend 90% of his or her time marketing. Building a platform is crucial to this endeavor.
Lia Mack: If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself if you could speak to the aspiring writer you once were?
Ellis Shuman: I would tell myself "Keep on writing, you'll eventually find your voice." Writing is an art that takes practice to perfect. I don't say that I am the accomplished author that I want to be at this stage of my life, but I keep on practicing, knowing that one day I will get there. Each article I write is better than the one before, and each book I write will be better than the one previously published. I look forward to what I will achieve in my new book, and I anxiously await the day that I will be able to share it with my readers.
Lia Mack: Thank you so much for being my guest author today! Where can readers go online to find you and your work?
Ellis Shuman: I blog once or twice a week at Ellis Shuman Writes.
Readers can find my books at Amazon:
The Virtual Kibbutz
Valley of Thracians
And finally, readers are invited to follow me on Twitter: @ellisshuman
:) Thank you, Ellis!