The Almond Tree, written by Michelle Cohen Corasanti, is a stunning book. Starting so innocently, it quickly drops you into a scene so horrific, but so real, that you cannot help but read on – a little boy finds a littler sister missing and, worried, runs outside to so if she’s there. The only problem with that is the field is full of mines.
The worst happens and the family is moved, where he finds sanctuary in The Almond Tree. This inspirational story centres on a family of Palestinians living in Israel and Gaza and the choices they make to survive.
A gripping, truly heart wrenching and beautifully written novel that I thoroughly enjoyed, so I asked Michelle for an interview. Please welcome Michelle.
What would be the best piece of advice you would offer a new author?
A book isn’t about writing, it’s about rewriting and you need to have very thick skin. I came across an excellent blog post, http://caitlinkelly.com/tips/tip02.htm , on the importance of rewriting, and the necessity of being a pachyderm when asking for the honest opinions of friends and family during the initial drafting stages. It begins with a quote from the great E.B. white; who is, sadly, no longer with us, and here it is:
“The best writing is rewriting”.
The blog sums up White’s theories on the subject very succinctly, and I feel that it really is a must-read for all literary neophytes.
Is routine important to you?
I may not have followed his exact routine but whenever I found myself in danger of losing an entire day to non-literary pursuits, I brought to mind Peter De Vries, who said “I write when I’m inspired, and I see to it that I’m inspired at nine o’clock every morning”
I’d be very greateful to you if you did. Would you like me to publish an interview with you on my Blog. If so, please send me your answers to the same questions that you asked Michelle, and I’ll get the interview online with a link to your blog as well.
What genre would you like to write a book in (that you haven’t yet)?
The way I’m feeling right now, I’d like to be Harper Lee – one and done. But I’m a woman so that could change tomorrow.
Do you listen to music during all processes of writing? Do you listen music you know or new music when writing?
I need absolute silence when I write.
Do you ever have doubts about your own writing? Have you been writing long enough now that you instinctively know that it is good?
It took me seven years to write The Almond Tree. I had never even thought about becoming a writer until I realized that a writer can reach into readers’ hearts and change them forever. I wanted to be a human rights lawyer and help bring about a just peace in the Middle East. Then I realized as a writer I could potentially reach millions of people. I thought I would be able to write my novel in 3 months. I was a lawyer trained in writing after all. Seven years, 21 writing courses and 6 editors later, my novel was finished. I wasn’t going to stop until I found a way to tell a gripping story about what it was like to be Palestinian. I wanted to give the world a little Palestinians boy they could embrace and root for. BY the time I was done, I had no doubts. I read all the best sellers, the classics, the novels that brought about social change. I now know what is instinctively good.
The biggest issue I have dealt with was perspective. I was able to write my book because I had 15 years of perspective to digest and recover from what I experienced. The last part on Gaza, I did have to research and it took me two years because I had lost perspective. I tried to shine a light on everything. I forgot that less is sometimes more and that when you try to tell every horror, it overwhelms the reader. It’s like taking the reader out to the middle of the ocean and pushing him in without a lifejacket and speeding away. Instinctively I know what is good unless I lose perspective and then I have no clue.
Have you read a romance novel? Do you think you could write one?
I don’t know if you’d consider Fifty Shades romance, but I did read the trilogy. I loved it. First of all I have a thing for broken men. I loved that Christian was gorgeous, brilliant, rich and he loved plain-Jane Anastasia. I loved the way he loved her. I could never write romance.
What sport did you play as a younger person? Were you good at it?
I was a gymnast. I was horrible at it. For one thing, I’m way too tall. To be good you have to have your centre of gravity low to the ground. I have too much body to control in the air. Second, I’m not a risk taker so after ten years I still couldn’t do a back tuck. Third, my father is extremely competitive and would take movies of my gymnastic meets. Afterwards we would have to watch them and he would point out everything I did wrong. You can imagine that didn’t make the sport enjoyable for me.
I remember seeing a video of Nadia Comaneci’s perfect 10s performance at the Montreal Olympics. Prior to that performance, such a score had been deemed impossible, which is why that year’s Olympics scoreboard manufacturer had been instructed to make a 3, rather than a 4, digit display. 10.00 was simply not on the cards; Yet she scored it anyway, and the board showed 1.00. In order to win in the team event, Romania needed only an 8.00 from Comaneci. To this day I still wonder if they would have ended up in second place if my father had been one of the judges.
When you are coming up with an idea, do you look at the market for trends? Or do you write for you?
I come up with my own ideas, but I look at the market to see how others have expressed similar ideas and what works. I wrote The Almond Tree with the hopes that it could do for the Palestinians what Uncle Tom’s Cabin did for the slaves. So I didn’t write The Almond Tree for me. I wrote it as a means to bring about peace and justice. I wanted to reach as many people as possible so I hit on a lot of universal themes. I kept my language simple so I could reach down and the subject matter complex enough to reach up.
Where do your ideas come from? Do you have a standard formula for plots or do stories come to you as a whole construct?
My ideas come from reality. Most of my book is based on real events I fictionalized. A lot has come from the news or things I witnessed with my own eyes and then fictionalized. When I started to write The Almond Tree, I already had the seed for the story. Throughout all the rewrites, the story evolved and took on a life of its own.
When you start a new story, do you have a title for it? Does that trigger the story?
I’ve only written one story, The Almond Tree. The title came because through it all, The Almond Tree was there. It provided shelter, income and food when there was none. It sustained the family.
Are movies of books ruining the book?
I don’t think that movies are ruining books. I think sometimes the movies aren’t as good as the book.
Do you see ebooks threatening traditional publishing?
I think ebooks are the wave of the future. I think they will ultimately threaten traditional publishing.
Do you prefer to read established authors or debut authors? How do you choose which ones to read?
I read whoever writes a great book. I choose a book based on subject matter and reviews.
Can I get an autographed book? (lol)
Do you have a group of people that you show a new story to? How much impact can they have on the whole story?
I had six editors. In addition, my mother-in-law read every version of my novel. She has a keen ability to hone in on all my grammatical mistakes and any other shortcoming my story might have. My husband read almost every version. During the 21 courses, all the students in my classes read the relevant parts. I listen to all feedback. I was trying to write the best novel possible. If someone saw something I missed, I wouldn’t hesitate to change it.
Do you set yourself a word limit for each book?
The Almond Tree was my only book. I wrote until I told the story I wanted to tell.
Do you have a target each day?
When I was writing, my target was to do as much as I could every day. I devoted every free moment I had for seven years to writing my book.
Do you write constantly or have breaks between books?
When I wrote The Almond Tree, I wrote constantly. Since I finished, I haven’t had time to write because I have been so busy promoting it.
Do you have characters running around your head? Do they dictate events and their histories to you?
I have fictionalized a lot of characters from reality and they are always in my head. Since I wrote a novel about historical fiction, the events happened, I just brought statistics to life.
What is your biggest (self-imposed) time waster?
I don’t think I had many. Maybe working out even though I needed that to stay mentally clear.
Do you remember the first time you saw your book in a shop?
Yes. It was at my local Barnes and Noble.
Do you read other people’s writing?
All the time. I have six books that I have to review.
Would you read mine?
I would love to read your book.
You can read the review and learn more about Ideas Captured on their website. Click Here.