Hello again, writers!
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, today at the BB Writers Retreat!
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 our guest author today at the BB Writers Retreat. Where can BB 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