Friday, September 2, 2011

Interview with Author Anna Patricio

Deirdra: When did you first know you wanted to be an author?

Anna Patricio is a soon-to-be published author of a historical novel Asenath, which is set in Ancient Egypt. She is a lover of ancient history, especially Ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome and Israel. She is also interested in getting to know more about the Ancient Near East.
She studied Ancient History at Macquarie University. Though she knew there were very limited job openings for ancient history graduates, she pursued her degree anyway as it was something she had always been passionate about.
Sometime after her graduation, the idea to tackle historical fiction appeared in her head, and she began happily pounding away on her laptop. Asenath is her first novel.
Recently, she traveled to Egypt, Israel, and Jordan. In the past, she has also been to Athens and Rome. She is currently working on a second novel which still takes place in Ancient Egypt, but hundreds of years after Asenath. She lives in Australia.

Anna: Not too long ago, actually. Sometime after I graduated from university, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do in life when the idea to write a novel suddenly appeared. I am not sure how that happened, to be honest. It just... came. And it latched onto me and would not let go. So finally, I gave in. And I ended up having heaps of fun.

Deirdra: What is your writing and educational background?

Anna: Unlike most writers you hear of, I do not come from an extensive writing background. Actually, before Asenath, I did not write much - and I don't think stuff assigned for school really counts. This is simply because I did not know what I wanted to write about. But I so badly wanted to write, to form words and stories that could be read by others.

I tried my hand at a lot of things though: short stories, poetry, and some contemporary YA. But it was all so... forced. So I thought that perhaps a writing career wasn't meant to be.

Then, an acquaintance introduced me to historical fiction. And though I fell in love with it, I thought that writing it was out of my league. I mean, I thought it would be too difficult. After all, historical fic entails massive research, staying true to those details, plus developing elaborate plots and settings - as if you had actually lived those times. I thought that was beyond my capacity.

But when the writing idea came, I decided I had nothing to lose. So I gave in. And nearly 2 months later, the first rough draft ofAsenath was born.

As for my educational background, I studied Ancient History at Macquarie University. Though I knew it wasn't one of those degrees that make you a millionaire, I pursued it anyway as it has always been (and always will be) one of my greatest passions. However, I still didn't consider a historical fiction career. This happened only on the day the idea came to me. It was then I was able to put my degree to use.

My studies, needless to say, were pretty advantageous in writing Asenath. However, you don't need a history degree to write historical fiction. A lot of historical novelists don't. Still, it was pretty beneficial for me as it gave me a headstart on the research.

Also, I wrote my rough draft prior to doing research, as it was easier for me that way (I wanted to develop the basic plot first). As I did this, I was already able to incorporate some of the stuff I had learned from class.

Deirdra: What makes you passionate about history and writing?

Anna: With writing... well, I'm not sure. It's something I'm better at than a lot of things. But until I wrote Asenath, I didn't really look much into the writing craft and business due to my scant writing background.

As for history, well I had a really good history teacher in my second year of high school. She was actually more like a storyteller than a teacher. She didn't make us memorise anything either. Subconsciously, somewhere along the way, I became a history buff myself.

Before I had that teacher though, I hated history. I thought it was excruciatingly boring. But now, it's a completely different story.

I find all aspects of history interesting but - as if it isn't obvious from the theme of my novel - I am particularly drawn to ancient history. It's most interesting to me. I am not sure why. Probably because it's the farthest removed from our time, and thus shrouded in so much mystery and enigma. And all their ancient myths and legends are so cool.

Deirdra: If you could visit and time and place, where would it be, who would you want to meet, and what would you want to do?

Anna: Ancient Egypt! That should be a given. I'd be interested in visiting Ancient Greece, Rome and the Near East too though. But if I had to choose just one, Ancient Egypt.

I'd want to explore around Ancient Egypt, to see how it was like in the time of the Pharaohs - when the temples and palaces were all gleaming with limestone and sparkling murals, when hieroglyphs (or the short-hand hieratic) was used. I'd want to hear how the Ancient Egyptian language sounded. Oh, and I'd like to swim in the Nile! I hear that these days, you can no longer swim in it.

I'd be happy to get to know just about any ancient Egyptian, to talk with him/her and see what life was like. But most especially, I would like to meet - surprise, surprise - Joseph and Asenath. Enough said.

I would also like to see Ancient Israel, especially during the time of Christ. I was recently in Israel for almost 2 weeks and realised how many uncertainties / grey areas there are. For example , this site may or may not be the Garden of Gethsemane, the spot where Christ was born, etc. Would be nice to go back in time and see where the famous events really happened.

Deirdra: What was the pathway like for you to get your first book published?
Anna: Well, like every author, I sent out heaps and heaps of query letters, synopses, first 50 pages etc. Prior to that, while writing and revising my book, I researched on the publishing industry while writing my book. I learned about avoiding scams, determining between reputable vs scam agencies/publishers, querying tips, etc. So I was ready by the time I completed the final draft of Asenath.

And like every author, it took me quite a while to land publication. With me, it took almost a year. People who have never submitted stuff for publication before have no idea it's that complicated but... it is. I suppose it's sort of like looking for a day job - you can send out hundreds of resumes and it may take a while before you find one. Because you get hundreds of rejections.

I thought that because I was writing in a popular genre - historical / Biblical fiction - I'd have no problem finding an agent/publisher. But I wasn't spared from amassing a wealth of rejections. A part of me expected it though as I had heard over and over again that it was part of the writing process. But still.

One publisher rejected my manuscript but then invited me to revise and resubmit. They said they were interested in the story but the pacing was too slow and there was too much exposition. So I "tightened" it up and resubmitted it.

And then... I was accepted. This publisher is now my publisher, the wonderful Imajin Books.

Deirdra: Were you ever discouraged along the way? If so, how did you deal with it?
Anna: Definitely. But emotional support from friends and family kept me going. And also - as trite as this may sound - hearing stories of authors who got heaps of rejections before becoming bestsellers.

Also, I just had to, well, keep on querying and exhaust every single option out there. Because you never know what may happen.

Deirdra: Can you tell us a little about your upcoming book ASENATH?

Anna: Asenath is a fictional take on the life of the Egyptian priestess who became the wife of Joseph of the coat-of-many-colours. Hardly anything is known about her. All the Bible tells us is that she was the daughter of a priest of Heliopolis / On.

I have always been interested in the story of Joseph, and was curious about the woman who married him. Becuase so little is said about her, I then thought it would be interesting to imagine her life and what sort of woman she was.

As we know, Joseph went through a lot of hardships in his life. First he was sold into slavery, then he was wrongly imprisoned. I like to imagine that Asenath too was a strong woman who went through travails herself. As this is a female-driven novel, I was thus inspired by 2 novels I love: Memoirs of a Geisha and Jane Eyre. Like those two, Asenath is a drama-romance.

Book Blurb

Two Destinies...One Journey of Love

In a humble fishing village on the shores of the Nile lives Asenath, a fisherman's daughter who has everything she could want. Until her perfect world is shattered.

When a warring jungle tribe ransacks the village and kidnaps her, separating her from her parents, she is forced to live as a slave. And she begins a journey that will culminate in the meeting of a handsome and kind steward named Joseph.

Like her, Joseph was taken away from his home, and it is in him that Asenath comes to find solace…and love. But just as they are beginning to form a bond, Joseph is betrayed by his master’s wife and thrown into prison.

Is Asenath doomed to a lifetime of losing everything and everyone she loves?

Deirdra: How many beta readers review your manuscript before you send it to your editor?

Anna: My author friend Alfred D. Byrd was kind enough to read three drafts and even do a detailed critique on one (the second one he read). Because he's written quite a bit, he gave me a lot of useful advice on formatting and other stuff editors like/dislike (eg, cliches). He also pointed out inconsistencies as redundant paragraphs (times when I repeated myself). I really learned a lot.

Deirdra: What do you hope readers will get from your books?

Anna: It would be nice if I heard the book made some readers cry. I love tear-jerkers and tried to make Asenath as much of a tear-jerker as could be.

Deirdra: Do you ever experience a snag in a story, a form of writer's block? If so, how do you deal with it?
Anna: Definitely. Sometimes, when it becomes clear that I can no longer write, I leave the work for a while. It's hard though because I want to write but.... can't. However, there are times when I have no choice but to leave it for a while.

Sometimes, when I'm active (doing work or running errands), this instigates the creative juices to flow.

Deirdra: What kinds of inspiration do you use during your story creation periods?
Anna: Hmmm, well obviously, my great love for the subject. Oh, I must have absolute silence to write. I once tried writing with classical music in the background. Normally, it helps me work faster. But for some reason, I can't listen to it while writing. I need cemetery-like silence.

Also, for some reason, I work better at night than the day. Not sure why. Even when I was a student, I did my assignments faster at night than in the daytime.

Deirdra: Who has made the greatest difference for you as a writer?
Anna: Hmmm. As dorky as this may sound, probably all those fascinating people from ancient history. Because if it hadn't been for them, I might still have been stuck on what to write about (I may not even have written at all, to begin with).

Deirdra: What’s your secret to making the character’s in your books come to life?

Anna: I kind of base them on people I know, myself included. My experience in meeting and dealing with people over the years has greatly enriched my character development. I get to know all sorts of interesting personalities (both good and bad) which I then incorporate into my writing.

I also like to make the Ancient Egyptians as human as possible because they were human beings! I mention this because many novels (and movies) portray them as larger-than-life. But though they lived thousands of years before us, they too had the same thoughts and emotions as we do today. And like every society, Ancient Egypt too had people who were nice and... well.... not so nice.

Deirdra: What authors do you admire, and why?
Anna: I love the style of Arthur Golden, who wrote Memoirs of a Geisha. It is so poetic and poignant. I love how he can describe those deep, innermost emotions which are often hard to articulate. I love how he makes the narrative almost like having a conversation with a close friend. His allusions are clever, too.

And I love how he crafted the scene in which the heroine meets her love interest.

Overall, the whole story was just brilliant. This is the umpteenth time this comment has been made, but really - it's hard to believe that a man wrote this book!

Aside from him, I also love the style of historical fiction authors, Pauline Gedge and Wilbur Smith. They bring ancient Egypt to life with such vivid, exquisite details. Through their words, I see the green Nile flowing, the sparkling grandeur of Pharaoh's palaces, the sacred chambers of the temple with golden statues and bitter incense, the desert wind carrying the scent of camel dung in the air.

Deirdra: What is your favorite snack to have while you are writing?

Anna: I cannot eat while writing. It makes me lose my concentration. For that matter, I can't do anything while writing - except write. But I like having tea by my side.

Still, food is important to writing because I can only write on a full stomach. Thus I do my writing best at night, specifically sometime after dinner.

Deirdra: Besides writing what other talents or hobbies do you have?

Anna: I used to do a lot of amateur photography. I even won the photography competition at Macquarie Uni. But I haven't done any in ages. My favourite topics for photography are dogs. They are just adorable.

As for hobbies, I like reading (which I guess is by default, being a writer), listening to music, doting on the dogs, watching TV / movies.

Deirdra: What words of advice do you have for other writers who desire to have their manuscripts become books in print?

Anna: Uh, I'm not very good at giving advice. Hmmm... "follow your dreams and reach for the stars?"

But seriously, I do encourage writers seeking publication to just... never give up. I know the feeling - their hopes, dreams, and disappointments. After all, I too was in their shoes not long ago.

Deirdra: What are you working on now?

Anna: I just completed the rough draft of a second Egyptian novel, The Princess By The River. As you can tell from the title (a working title though), it's about Moses' adoptive mother. Unlike Asenath though, this is more of a family drama, though there's still a bit of romance in it.

It's still far from being finished. But I thought to write about the princess because like Asenath, hardly anything is known about her. Hence, once again, there are lots of opportunities for imagination.

Deirdra: Where can our readers go to find your book and order it when it comes out?
Anna: I believe my publisher will be selling it to all the major online retailers such as Amazon, Smashwords, etc. For more info, have a look at their website here.

By the way, my book will first be released as an ebook, then a print paperback.

Deirdra: Any final words you would like to share?
Anna: Hmmm.... ankh, weneb, sedjet! (Life, health and prosperity!) This has been a fun interview. Thank you for having me, Deirdra.


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