Sunday, April 20, 2014

Author Interview: Ann Chamberlin: Author of Fourteen Published Historical Novels

She’s the author of fourteen published historical novels.  Her trilogy set in sixteenth-century Turkey spent many months on the Turkish bestseller list.  She has also written a nonfiction book entitled A HISTORY OF WOMEN'S SECLUSION IN THE MIDDLE EAST: THE VEIL IN THE LOOKING GLASS.

She has lost track of how many plays she has had produced across the country from Seattle to New York, but JIHAD, produced in New York City in both 1996 and 2000, won The Off-Off Broadway Review's best new play of the year.

A very warm welcome to you Ann on my space. J

Your real name and pen name?  

Ann Chamberlin

Please share some of the best memories of your childhood

I had a great childhood, I see now, although it seemed hard at the time.  A bright brother and four bright sisters to challenge me, to act in my plays, to be the first audience for my stories.   Academic geeky parents.  Our many jaunts abroad--these things were not conducive to local popularity, nor were my thrift store clothes or clothes I made myself, but these things taught me to be alone, to have great relationships with the people in my imagination.

I remember my brother and sister painting each other turquoise--the color of the root cellar door.

I remember being bitten by my pet garter snake in the living room--and then another snake dying in striking position in the basement closet.  These scenes appeared in my novel Snakesleeper.

I remember when the fire my mother was tending to clear the irrigation ditches in spring got out of hand and she told me to run across the fields about a block to the fire station to tell them to come and help.  I got too afraid half way there and had to come back so she could run. 

I spent most of Kindergarten in the principle's office because the sadistic teacher and I didn't see eye to eye about my education.  Besides giving me a lot of time to make stories up instead of swallowing hers, it was gratifying that she ended up in a sanatorium before she drove me there.

What career did you plan during your education days

I always wanted to write and didn't always have the discipline to think I might need a real job besides.  But I did know that I didn't like the way English departments taught writing--with the single exception of one quarter I had with EL Doctorow who validated my love of historical fiction.  Instead of English, I majored in the thing I wanted to write about--archaeology and anthropology.  I found the library as a part time job, and that became my career path.  They let me research and write.

What languages you can speak and write?

English, French and German well enough to translate professionally.  Hebrew and Arabic well enough to give me my job at the library.  Akkadian and ancient Egyptian I've studied on the side.  Nobody much to speak those languages with.

What is your biggest source of inspiration in life 

The women I've met in many countries in the world, including in my own fami
What hurts you most in this world.

Right now, the fact that I didn't try harder to publish things I saw in Syria, to make people see—

What is the biggest challenge you have faced? How did you overcome it?

I'm still dealing with my biggest challenge--a husband with multiple sclerosis.  I don't think I'll ever overcome that.

A high school creative writing teacher who thought girls couldn't write and said so frequently, a mother who believes fiction is immoral--these hardly seem like challenges at this point in my life.  Instead, I thank these people for telling me this stuff and making me determined to prove them wrong.

What is your favorite genre and why?  

Historical Fiction

When did you start writing?

I have a book for which I drew the pictures before I could write in one of my dad's exam blue books.  I made my mother write the story entitled The Fairy Princess.  Since Mom had three, eventually five, kids younger than me, plus a score of foster kids, she quickly got me a dictionary so I would stop bothering her asking her to write or spell for me.  She still helps me edit, however, no matter how immoral.

 What is the purpose of your writing?

The purpose of storytelling--as of all true art as well as all true religion--is to support positions in exact opposition to the views prevailing in a culture's powerhouses.

Which of your work has been published so far? Would you like to share a synopsis of your work?

When all the contracts I have signed are fulfilled, I will have published twenty books.  Rather than all those synopses, I'll just give one for my most recent novel, The Sword and the Well, the conclusion to my Sword in the Well Trilogy.

In the early years of Islam, three lives braid together.

Khalid ibn al-Walid never lost a battle, either fighting against the Prophet Muhammad or for him.  "Women no longer give birth to the likes of Khalid," the Prophet said.  In old age, the general dictates his memoirs to a eunuch scribe, with a new perspective to all the blood he shed.

In the desert oasis of Tadmor, twelve-year-old Rayah comes of age, accepting her new religion and her own power.

And on the third floor of the house in Tadmor, a woman with blue eyes hides her past in the safety of a harem--which cannot remain secluded forever.  For she and her mothers led the tribes of the desert on sacred camels--and with the help of beings of fire and smoke, the jinn.

What are your forthcoming writings?

I'm editing a trilogy based on the Nibelungenlied with Penumbra Press.  Brynhild is my main character, the trilogy is called Choosers of the Slain, with titles The Choosers of the Slain, The Linden's Red Plague andInto the Bog or maybe that last one should be called Twilight of the Gods.

I'm working with my illustrator Julia Homenko on two more scratch-and-sniff stories to join with The Fair Maid and the Pirates we just recently finished.  One of the new ones will be called The Witch's Cottage, thenA Medieval Castle.

What are your future plans?

Beyond getting these books out, I have four or five titles without homes yet.  At the front of the queue are a memoir of my grandmother and her seven sisters and then a collection of my plays.  I hope to see them settled, and of course I have a dozen manuscripts I'm working on.  I hope to finish at least some of those books.

I have a couple screen plays and stage plays I'd like to see produced, too.

Your dream destination on Earth?

Damascus.  I was fortunate to have visited twice before the terrible war going on now, so perhaps I should revise this statement to say--Damascus of the past.  There are also scenes in Damascus of the seventh Christian century in my most recent book.

Your origin of birth and other countries you have visited/ stayed. What best things you liked in these countries around the globe?  

I was born in Mormon Utah, learned to walk in France.  My first memories are, in this order: the ginger tom cat in Yorkshire, England, the round window on the Queen Mary on the way back to the US and the black dog named Judy in Albuquerque, NM.  I attended high school in East High in Salt Lake (the school in High School Musical--only I attended before the fire and the rebuild), Lycee Kleber in Strasbourg, France, Humboldt Gymnasium in Ulm, Germany and Venice High is S. California.  By the time I graduated, I had been to most countries in Europe, including Communist Hungary, many for months at a time.  It was time to expand my world view.  I began to focus on the Middle East.  I have now been all across North Africa, to Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Syria and Turkey.

All this history ill prepared me for life in Mormon Utah where I was born.  What I have learned is that "progress" is highly overrated.  The arrogance and exceptional view of my native land doesn't suit me.  O Brave New World that has such people in it!

Your favorite time of the day?  

Morning.  I write best in the morning, before anyone is up.  By the time dinner is over I can get pretty depressed.

Your zodiac/ sunsign? 

Aries.  Get the hell out of my way.

Ann signs a copy of The Woman at the Well for a fan.

Your favorite color and why?  

Brick red.  The red of my son's hair.  I'm an Aries.

Your favorite book and why?  

The King Must Die by Mary Renault.  Made a historical fiction author out of me by the time I was out of high school.
A summer's day picnic atmosphere with delicious munches greeted Ann's friends and admirers.
Your favorite celebrity and why?  

Celebrities?  Ick.

Your favorite food?  

Whatever's in the garden.  Right now, that's lots of eggs and spinach and greens and lettuce and rhubarb.

Some quickies: (highlighted ones are Ann’s choices)

Sun or Moon,
Laughter or Smile, 
Morning or Evening,
Coffee or Tea,
Mountain or Sea,
Long Drive or Short Drive, 
Silence or Conversation,
Water or Fire,
Air or Earth,
Mars or Jupiter, 
Moon or Sun,
Tulip or Rose,
Red or Blue,
Left or Right,
Glance or Stare

author of The Sword and the Well and The Fair Maid and the Pirates

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