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Debra Hamel is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.


Books by Debra Hamel:

THE BATTLE OF ARGINUSAE :
VICTORY AT SEA AND ITS TRAGIC AFTERMATH IN THE FINAL YEARS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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KILLING ERATOSTHENES:
A TRUE CRIME STORY
FROM ANCIENT ATHENS
By Debra Hamel


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READING HERODOTUS:
A GUIDED TOUR THROUGH THE WILD BOARS, DANCING SUITORS, AND CRAZY TYRANTS OF THE HISTORY
By Debra Hamel


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THE MUTILATION OF THE HERMS:
UNPACKING AN ANCIENT MYSTERY
By Debra Hamel


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TRYING NEAIRA:
THE TRUE STORY OF A COURTESAN'S SCANDALOUS LIFE IN ANCIENT GREECE
By Debra Hamel


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SOCRATES AT WAR:
THE MILITARY HEROICS OF AN ICONIC INTELLECTUAL
By Debra Hamel


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ANCIENT GREEKS IN DRAG:
THE LIBERATION OF THEBES AND OTHER ACTS OF HEROIC TRANSVESTISM
By Debra Hamel


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IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY TWEET:
FIVE HUNDRED 1ST LINES IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
By Debra Hamel


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PRISONERS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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Shors, John: Author interview

Today I'm interviewing John Shors, who is the author of Beneath a Marble Sky, a novel about the circumstances of the Taj Mahal's creation. You can read my review of the book here--as you'll see from my review, I thought quite highly of it. The book was originally published in 2004, but it's coming out in paperback, well, right about...now, and with a beautiful cover. Here's what John has to say. Meanwhile, for more information about the book, see its web page at beneathamarblesky.com.

 

1. Can you tell us a little about Beneath a Marble Sky?

Beneath a Marble Sky is a work of historical fiction and is based on the remarkable story behind the creation of the Taj Mahal. My novel chronicles both the rise of the Taj Mahal and the civil war that consumed Hindustan (India) immediately after the mausoleum's creation. My heroine, Jahanara, was involved in both the building of the Taj Mahal and the following war, and my story centers on the trials and triumphs of her life. Though Beneath a Marble Sky is a love story at its core, my book also contains a great deal of intrigue and action.

2. So, why the Taj Mahal? Was there a specific ahah! moment when the idea for writing a novel about the mausoleum came to you?

I've been lucky enough to spend a great deal of time in Asia and have been powerfully influenced by its history, as well as the sights, sounds, smells, and customs found today in that part of the world. For a decade I've wanted to write a novel set somewhere in Asia but waited to find the right story--or rather to have the right story find me.

In 1999, my wife and I were traveling in India and of course made it a point to visit the Taj Mahal. We arrived at the mausoleum as soon as it opened to the public and were the first people there that day. Walking within its chambers, hearing our voices echo in the same manner as voices did hundreds of years ago, and touching its sculpted walls was an overwhelming experience. Seeing the wonder of the Taj Mahal, and understanding that a man built it for his wife--a woman he cherished above all else in life--was uniquely inspiring. Indian poets have been writing about this love story for centuries. And yet, not many people in the West know the tale. I realized that I had to tell it. Quite honestly, I was amazed and delighted to discover upon my return to America that no one in the West had ever fictionalized the story.

3. What is your writing schedule like?

I typically try to write about four hours a day. I give myself defined goals, and I don't quit until I reach those goals. During a first draft, a goal might be to write eight pages a day until the book is complete. Farther down the road, when I'm editing, for instance, my goal might be to edit 30 pages a day. I don't allow myself to leave my computer until I've met whatever goal I made for myself.

I'll be honest--most of the time writing is without question extremely hard work. Having said that, moments of clarity exist that are profoundly enjoyable. For me, during such moments, characters seem to speak of their own accord, and scenes unfold as if I've already lived them. When I am in such a groove, I type as fast as I can, not caring if words are spelled properly or if everything makes perfect sense. As I type, the outside world simply disappears. I don't think about what might be happening over the weekend or bills that need to be paid or house projects with my name on them. I'm simply consumed with writing as much as possible during this rare moment of clarity. What's best about these moments is that as I write I experience a remarkable sense of contentedness--likely because I know that I am creating something that most people will find enjoyable. When reality inevitably chases me away from the computer, I always depart with great regret.

4. Can you describe how you go about the process of writing--that is, with or without outline and exhaustive character sketches, on computer or only on legal pads while lounging in bed, that kind of thing?

I'm not a very organized person, and hence I'm not an author who creates massively complex outlines and then follows them to perfection. Of course, I thought Beneath a Marble Sky through before I started writing. But I did so in broad brush strokes, and then I filled in the details as I wrote. I edited my novel 56 times, so I was constantly adding material, further refining the prose, etc. Over the five years that I spent working on this novel, I was almost constantly thinking about it, wondering how I could improve it. Thankfully, I finally reached a point where I didn't think I could make it any better.

5. Beneath a Marble Sky is your first book--or at least your first published book. Do you have other manuscripts hidden in your closet?

Well, I've written a few drafts of other novels over the years. I grew up reading three or four books a week, and I've always been working on one story or another. When I was a teenager I wrote a fantasy novel that will never see the light of day (fortunately for me). When I was in college I wrote several novels that allowed me to experiment with the written word. Beneath a Marble Sky was the first book I was really confident about in terms of selling it to a publisher.

6. What are you working on now? Beneath a Marble Sky is historical fiction, of course. Do you see yourself staying with historical topics in future books? If so, would you stick to the same time period, or are you interested in writing about other historical eras and places?

Right now I am focused on promoting Beneath a Marble Sky. Penguin Books is releasing a beautiful trade paperback of Beneath a Marble Sky on June 6th, and I am trying to publicize this as much as possible. I'm excited about the trade paperback as it has a wonderful new cover, a reader's guide, an author Q&A, information on how to contact me, and some other new things--things not included in most books. Many people are excited about Penguin's version (including the group in Hollywood that bought the film rights to my novel) as Penguin is putting some muscle behind my book.

7. Is there anything you'd like to tell readers that I haven't asked you about?

I'd just like to thank everyone for their support. It's truly an honor to have people reading and enjoying my novel, and I'm grateful for everyone's support. Also, if people want me to call into their book club (via speakerphone) I'm happy to do that. Simply email me your request at shors@aol.com. I wish everyone the best.

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