Required Reading

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Friday, November 13, 2009

An Interview With Avi Perry Author of 72 Virgins

Avi Perry was kind enough to consent to be interview for this blog. Thank you very much for your time and trouble.

1.)Why did you write this book? What initiated this particular burst of creativity? 

There is a global misunderstanding when it comes to explaining the reasons behind suicide bombing. The media and many people in the Western democracies believe that suicide bombers are desperate people committing desperate acts. There is nothing more distorted than this characterization. Muslims who choose martyrdom as the final heroic act of their lives are selfish people. They commit this crime believing that they will be rewarded with 72 Virgins in heaven, sitting next to Allah’s throne, enjoying all heavenly benefits promised to them by their mentor manipulators who coldly view them as instruments for achieving a political objective. 

I felt an urge to correct that misperception, while doing it in a unique way. The only question was—how? There are many non-fiction books written about the violent nature of Islam. But, for me, Robert Spenser’s books: the Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam, and The Truth About Islam, have been the ones that triggered the spark for the idea of writing a novel, an action/thriller, which would attract and educate a different segment of the population, a segment whose main focus is entertainment rather than education, whose learning and enlightenment would be achieved indirectly.
As a university professor, at Northwestern University, and as a Vice President in NMS Communications, I always looked for ways to coach and educate my students, my direct reports, my customers and colleagues. I discovered that winning an argument, gaining attention, and convincing, may, sometimes, be difficult, since my views may be considered tainted by my background and upbringing. However, when these opinions and counter arguments are delivered via fictional characters, they wear a different color uniform. Arguments can be more extreme, more outrageous, less politically correct, and if I can add a bit of sarcasm and humor they may stick.

2.) Does your story line develop organically or is it a gestalt before you begin?

My story line developed organically. There are several subplots, loosely connected at the start, but gradually, move forward along an increasingly thrilling crescendo where they all converge in a violent ending.

3.) Is your process to outline and then fill in the blanks or just sit down and start to tell a story?

I wanted to describe the state of mind, the background, and the volcano that breeds the kind of psychopathic undercurrent that surrounds and sweeps the typical suicide bomber. I wrote the first two chapters as a single piece, but with no idea and no clear plan as to where I would fit it. It was neither a blog nor an article—it was a short fictional story. At that point I did not envision it as the opening scene for a complete, comprehensive action/thriller novel. It was merely a piece that I felt like writing with no particular aim in mind. My wife read it. She thought it was a powerful piece. She kept talking about it; she would not stop, not even in bed. She related it to everything she had seen on the news and, of course, on the Lifetime channel. 

And then, she began to treat my short story as if it had actually taken place, as if it had been news. It reminded me of Joseph Geobbels, Hitler’s Propaganda Minister, whose famous observation had been adopted by Islamic extremists. He concluded that when you tell a lie a thousand times you start believing that it actually happened. Geobbels’s conclusion was not limited to lies. It could apparently be expanded to include certain type of fiction—the type that people can relate to—a story that could potentially come to pass. 

That sudden enlightenment was the spark that ignited and gave birth to the enterprise. I was going to take that piece and develop it into a whole book. But now, I needed more—much more. I spent the following week on an outline—not too detailed, but deeper than a PowerPoint chart. I began writing during the following week.

Now, the initial piece was no longer suitable. It was no longer a stand-alone; it was a first chapter or two within a larger universe. It had to be rewritten. Over time, as more pages started accumulating, I realized that my outline had become obsolete. It required a tune-up—or better! It required an overhaul, a new engine. The storyline deviated too far, away from my original thoughts. Characters and events began living their own life, and as I started to live inside their souls, I began breathing the same air, living inside their flesh. They were now real people, making up their own minds, controlling their own destiny. My outline had lost its sway.

Still, the fact that it was still there watching the story from the sidelines, served well when the story became stuck. Yes. I did hit the wall, felt like drowning a couple of times, prayed for the lifeguard to come for the rescue. And when he didn’t show up, I glanced at the outline again. It did help to set off a breakthrough even when I did not follow it to the word.

4.) Do you have a favorite character in the book and if so why?

I had several favorite characters, but the reader will be looking after one special hero. The book tells a story about a group of Jihad extremists who target the United States in their latest terrorist campaign. These are the bad guys. The good guys are the ones who try to stop them. A persistent conflict between good and evil makes for a thrilling experience, and readers will naturally root for my good guy—my hero. 

5.) What do you like the most about writing?

This is a good question. I like experimenting with ways of conveying an idea, a story, a concept. But when it comes to fiction writing, I enjoy the design of my private universe—my own exclusive theatre where I can play God. I create characters, then I make them do and say things. I make them cry, I control their thoughts, sometimes I kill them. It’s a power trip. I’m sure that the real God gets his kicks from doing the same. What else does he do in his spare time?

6.) Where do your new story ideas come from? 

My story ideas come from real life, the times we live in and my personal experiences. The story in 72 Virgins could potentially take place. In fact, the book draws on current world events, politics, cultural divisions, international intrigue and religious fanaticism. The story offers an ample dose of realism, a cast of intense characters who engage in love, lust, and violence. It portrays the Jihad culture with its rationale and the volcano that breeds an irrational obsession with death. Moreover, it builds on the Jihadists’ motivation for targeting so many innocents and exploiting the victims’ massacre as a stepping-stone to their dream of eternal paradise next to Allah’s throne.

The story and its associated subplots are fiction, but the setting is real, the places where conspiracy is instigated are fictional, even though they're based on genuine events; the characters are deep and distinctive, while at the same time, they embody their unmistakable cultural heritage.

7.) What advice has helped the most in your writing?

Don’t rush it. Go over your manuscript, rewrite it, polish it, and see to it more than once. You may not realize how blind you could be when it comes to catching your own errors. At the end of one of these cycles, you may want to let someone else read your manuscript and unearth some of these errors that have sneaked through your blind spots. If you are human, and you have written more than 80,000 words, chances are that your manuscript is overflowing with plenty of buried mines. You don’t want your first impression, your first reviewer, your potential agent, or your reader to step on any of these.

8.) Which did you enjoy writing more, this book or "Fundamentals of Voice-Quality"? 

Fiction writing is a lot more fun than the writing of a scientific or an engineering book like Fundamentals of Voice Quality. When it comes to fiction, there are no boundaries; it’s the perfect playground for your creative juices and imagination. You can play God, and you don’t have to worry about a comprehensive bibliography that supports your teaching. Still, those who have never attempted their hand at fiction writing might not realize that a good quality novel requires a great deal of research, sustaining many of the fine points that shape the characters, the atmosphere, the scenes, the scenery, and the plot as a whole—keeping it real. I view that part as a side benefit, since I like learning about things that I could apply later on in a manuscript I’m working on.

In my case, much of the information imparted through 72 Virgins required profound knowledge, some aspects of which were not within my grasp before moving the plot to the fore. In particular, story elements pertaining to law enforcement and intelligence agencies, types and attributes of chemical weapons, particular locations, places, and modes of worship, as well as aspects of science and technology that inspire modern spying techniques—were building blocks I brought into play, with the help of added insight from qualified mavens.

I was lucky to have generous people, connoisseurs in their particular field, who were enthusiastic about parting with their expert advice and more than willing to share some of their knowledge and information with me.

9.) Who is your favorite author and why?

My favorite author is Joseph Finder. I love his writing style; his sense of humor is superb; his plotting is thrilling, and he does a great deal of research in preparation for his writing. He writes fiction, but his stories are enlightening and believable; they could happen in the real world. And I like that part.

10.) What advice would you give for the want to be writer?

If you are not (yet) a best-selling author, an established expert, or a known celebrity, you are going to be ignored or face rejections when looking for a literary agent or a publisher. If you had written or about to write a non-fiction book, you will not get attention unless you have already established yourself as an authority in that particular subject or field. If you had written a novel, you should let a Simon-Cowell-type person read it before you set your eyes on getting it published. If your manuscript is of high quality, and Simon approves, then you may try Self Publishing, but only if you have the budget to carry the endeavor all the way through. That journey does not end with the printing of the book; it includes professional editing, cover design, typesetting, and above all—marketing. Without a reasonable marketing budget, your book will get lost in the decimal dust. No one will know about it, except your close family and friends. It may be the greatest masterpiece of the century, but it will remain anonymous, lonely and cold. However, if you don’t care about sales, then forget about the marketing, take it out of your budget and don’t bother. Still, you wouldn’t want your friends and family to say things, and smirk behind your back, so you must ensure quality even if you merely get it published as a medal for your undersized ego.

I found Mr. Perry's answers were well thought out and his responses in depth.  He didn't just blow through the questions to get them done.   His book may make you uncomfortable reading it but he presents a plausible plot and truly makes you think about the world in which we live.

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