Thursday, July 4, 2013

Interview with debut historical novelist John Cressler

Today's guest has published many non-fiction books, but is here to talk about the first in his historical fiction series, Emeralds of the Alhambra.

Dr. John Cressler spent 8 years at IBM Research and 10 years at Auburn University before joining Georgia Tech in 2002, where he has authored numerous books. He has been a TED talk presenter on the topic of The Many Miracles of the Microelectronics Revolution

He knows that multicultural cooperation is possible, and he has the history to prove it in his historical fiction debut novel Emeralds of the Alhambra, which is endorsed by a Nobel Laureate and a Harvard Divinity School professor. It is the first book in the Anthems of al-Andalus series. This novel is an interfaith love story set in medieval Muslim Spain.

His non-fiction books for general audiences include: Reinventing Teenagers: The Gentle Art of Instilling Character in Our Young People and Silicon Earth: Introduction to the Microelectronics and Nanotechnology Revolution.

Welcome, John. Please tell us about your current release.
Imagine a time when Muslims, Jews, and Christians found a way to live together in peace. Sound unbelievable? Well, it happened in medieval Muslim Spain! I wanted to break open this largely forgotten period in a compelling way that would engage a broad audience. I settled on a love story set during a key point in medieval Spain’s history. Emeralds of the Alhambra is set in the resplendent Alhambra Palace, in Granada, Spain, during the Castilian Civil War (1367-1369), a time when, remarkably, Muslims took up their swords to fight alongside Christians. What is inside the covers of Emeralds? Romance, battles, conspiracy, politics, religion, art and architecture. But, first and foremost, Emeralds is a love story.

What inspired you to write this book?
Emeralds is a darn-good-read, but it speaks to two fundamental ideas that I hold dear: 1) peaceful coexistence is demonstrably possible between religions, and 2) Love has the power to transform the human heart and thereby cross cultural and religious boundaries in many beautiful ways.

She unfurls a white flag. “Perhaps we should talk about Arabic and English?”
He looks up, smiles weakly. “I think that is an excellent idea.”
The mood brightens.
“So...Arabic is a complicated language, so we will start simply, with a few basic words. Certain pronunciations will sound strange to you. They will prove difficult to form with your mouth. It just takes practice. There are many dialects of Arabic, but we will focus on Andalusi Arabic. Spoken only. Writing is much more challenging.”
He rests his hands on his knees, eager to put their confrontation behind him. “Good. Speak some Arabic to me.” He wants an excuse to study her face.
She purses her lips and looks skyward for a moment as she considers, then begins, “I am sorry that I offended you. I let my temper get the better of me. Again.” She grins.
“Interesting. What did you say?”
She hesitates. “That I am pleased to be able to teach you Arabic.” She grins again. “Speak some English for me.”
“Mmmm... Let me see.” His expression turns mischievous. “You are the most beautiful woman I have ever met. And you have a ferocious temper.” He smiles.
She raises her eyebrows. “Well?”
“I said you have beautiful emerald eyes.” He fixes his gaze on her.
She blushes, looks down. Her response is barely audible. “Thank you.”
The silence stretches.
She swallows hard, decision made. “I am sorry I angered you, Chandon. I meant no offense. Sometimes my...opinions...just seem to slip out on their own. Forgive me.”
“No offense taken, Layla. I wish all women had such strong opinions. The world would be a better place. Let us put all of that behind us, shall we?”
“Agreed.” Their eyes remain locked on each other for a few seconds longer than necessary.

What exciting story are you working on next?
Emeralds is the first in a series of at least three novels dealing with medieval Muslim Spain. Book two is called Shadows in the Shining City, and is set in late 10th century Córdoba, at the height of the Golden Age of the Umayyad Caliphate. I am 450 pages in, so stay tuned!

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I have been writing most of my life, and have a whole bookcase of journals to prove it. When I began my research career, I starting writing scientific papers. A little later I began my life as a non-fiction author, and have published 5 books, two for general audiences. I first considered myself an author when my first non-fiction book was published in 2003. But my dream was always fiction! With the release of Emeralds, my debut novel, I can finally stake a claim as a novelist, which, if I had to be honest, I put in a higher category than just plain “writer.”

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I am a professor full time and a writer part time, a balance that I love. I am in my home office at 7:15 am every morning and spend the next 2.5 hours writing. Then I pack up and head to work, and for the rest of my day it’s my professor gig (teaching, grad students, research, papers, the university; presentations, telecons, committees, etc.). BUT, at 5 days a week, I get maybe one chapter per week of good prose. That adds up. I wrote Emeralds in about 15 months.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I do not do rough drafts. By that I mean, I continue to work on a chapter section by section until I perfect it. Only then do I move on. When I put that section to rest, it is 95% of what it ultimately will end up being.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I was a curious kid, and early on I knew I wanted to study science. After all, scientists get paid to be curious and explore the world, so I did! Only after my PhD (in physics) did I learn that I also loved to teach. And only three years ago I learned that I loved to write fiction.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?

I have been married for 30+ years to my best friend and soul mate, Maria, my crazy Italian beauty. We met in 9th grade and became best friends. We did not date until the night of high school graduation, and have never looked back. We married at 21 and had our first baby at 22! We have had a wonderful life full of great blessings, three great children, and now our first grandchild, while only being 51! How good is that?!

Thank you for spending some time with us today, John. It's been fun getting to know a bit about your and your writing.


Judy said...

Very interesting and a great idea that religions can coexist. And they can with mutual respect and love. Emeralds sounds exciting.

Unknown said...

Thanks so much for you kind words, Judy. It was an amazing period of time that we all need to recall.