Posted by Ognian Georgiev
Valley of Thracians: A novel about Bulgaria was a book title that took my attention. The author Ellis Shuman wrote with great passion for my country. Now it’s huge pleasure for me to introduce in the blog the Israeli writer. He is living in a small community near Jerusalem and works in online marketing. Writing is his hobby. He posts book reviews at The Times of Israel and travel articles at The Huffington Post. His great blog is nice place for some hints about indie publishing.
In my opinion this is one of the most interesting interviews for the blog and is a must read.
– What is Valley of Thracians about?
– Valley of Thracians is set in modern day Bulgaria. An American youth has come to the country to serve in the Peace Corps, but he goes missing and is presumed dead. The boy’s grandfather, believing that he is still alive, arrives in Bulgaria and travels around the country in search of his missing grandson, assisted by a beautiful Bulgarian history teacher who specializes in Thracian culture.
On the surface, the novel is a mystery, one that follows the clues to discover what happened to the missing Peace Corps volunteer. But more than that, Valley of Thracians is an introduction to Bulgaria, to the country’s rich history, traditions, culture, and people. Not many westerners have visited Bulgaria, but they will learn a lot about the country by reading this novel.
– How you decide to write the story?
– My job in online marketing was relocated to Sofia for two years, 2009 – 2010. During our time in Bulgaria, my wife and I traveled extensively around the country. We learned a lot about Bulgaria, enjoyed eating Bulgarian food, visiting picturesque villages and museums, and made many friends. Unfortunately, we failed to learn how to speak Bulgarian, but we managed just fine in English.
After returning to our permanent home in Israel, I couldn’t stop thinking about Bulgaria. As a writer, it was quite natural to begin to write down my experiences. I have published many travel articles highlighting how wonderful it is to visit Bulgaria, a country that is quite unfamiliar to western tourists. In addition, I began writing Valley of Thracians. I decided to develop the book as a suspense story, to keep readers turning the pages, but I couldn’t help myself from including a lot of background information about Bulgaria in the book.
– What was the biggest challenge during the writing process?
– I work a full time job and my commute is about an hour in each direction. By the time I get home in the evening, I am quite tired, both physically and mentally. On the weekends, I spend time with my family, read, and travel around Israel. The biggest challenge for me has always been finding the time to write. There are just enough hours in the day!
I solved this problem by finding an extra hour. I get up very early in the morning and drive to work before there is a lot of traffic on the highways. I park my car at the office, but then head to a coffee shop for an hour of creative time with my laptop. For some reason, the sound of coffee machines seems to stimulate my creativity. I get a lot of writing done during that early hour, and by the time I get to the office to start my work day, I feel that I have already accomplished quite a bit.
– Interesting idea! And very useful one for those, who may wake up very early. Tell us something more about your main character? Is it close to someone from your real life?
There are four main characters in Valley of Thracians, but the story highlights an American university professor, someone brave enough to travel to a foreign country and follow leads for his missing grandson, even when he is warned that he is wasting his time. This professor is quite unlike anyone I’ve ever met in real life. Many of my previous attempts at writing novels failed because the main character was too auto-biographical. In this novel, I succeeded in distancing my fiction from my real life. The characters and what happens to them are totally unlike anything I’ve experienced in real life.
– How much time did you need to finish the story and to publish it?
It took me about a year to write Valley of Thracians. Even though I work as an editor, I turned to a professional editor to help me improve the grammar and texts in the book. The process of revisions took some time as well. I spent about six months looking for a literary agent and/or publisher, but in the end I self-published the novel. It is now available as a digital e-book sold exclusively by Amazon, and as a paperback as well.
– Who are you?
– I was born in Sioux City, Iowa, in the United States and moved to Israel as a teenager with my family. I finished high school in Jerusalem and served for three years in the Israeli army. My wife and I were founding members of a kibbutz, in Israel’s southern desert. My experiences living on that small, agricultural community formed the basis for the stories that appeared in my book, The Virtual Kibbutz.
In 1983, when we had a growing family of three children, we moved to a small community near Jerusalem to be closer to our families, and to have a more independent lifestyle than what was offered on the kibbutz. I trained in hotel management and worked for many years in hotels, including my last position as Food and Beverage Comptroller at the Jerusalem Hilton.
I began writing on the Internet, and served as the Israeli Culture Guide at About.com. For four years, I was the editor of Israel Insider, an online magazine reporting news and views about Israel. Since 2004, I have worked in the online gaming industry in various marketing positions. This was the job that was relocated to Sofia for two years.
– What are your writing habits?
– I have already mentioned that my best writing time is early in the morning, sitting over a cup of cappuccino in a coffee house not far from my office. But I do a lot of writing at other times – as I drive to work, as I sleep. I often wake up with ideas that I quickly have to write down. On the weekends I take long exercise walks. I come back with many new ideas for my writing.
– Are you satisfied by the sales of the book and do you plan another one?
– As a self-published author, I have had some success marketing my novel. Nearly 10,000 copies of Valley of Thracians have been downloaded, but I assume that not everyone who downloaded the book has actually read it. I have tried various marketing tactics to increase sales of the book, including offering it for free, and also reducing its sales price from $4.99 to $0.99.
They say that the best way to sell a book, is by writing another one. I have followed this advice and am now in the final stages of revising my new novel. Again, the story will be set in Bulgaria, but this time the book will also have a very strong connection to Israel.
– What are you doing to promote your book?
– As I mentioned, I did give my book away for free at one time, and also temporarily reduced its sales price. As a result, I have quite a few reviews for the book posted at Amazon. The more reviews that an author can get, the better, even if not all of them are favorable. (The vast majority of my book’s reviews are very favorable).
I believe that an author must have a platform and establish himself/herself, and that this is the best basis for promoting one’s books. My book reviews in The Times of Israel and my travel articles at The Huffington Post, in addition to the many articles I post on my private blog, help establish my name.
In addition, I have become very active on Twitter. I have more than 24,000 followers, and the funny thing is, I never tweet to them, “Buy my book.” Instead, I tweet links to my book reviews, travel articles, and blog articles. As a result, many people are reading what I write. And as a side benefit, some of them are actually purchasing my book.
– What impresses you most about Bulgaria?
– I lived for two years in Sofia, and over time, I came to love and appreciate the city. But even more than that, I really enjoyed traveling around Bulgaria. What impressed me most was that even though Bulgaria is a very modern country, trying hard to catch up with the rest of the world, there is a very strong respect for the past. Many villages retain their appearance from the 19th century; there are many interesting ethnographical museums; and festivals where citizens wear colorful costumes. There was always something happening, and we continued to learn new things about Bulgaria the entire time we lived there.
– How do you describe the people of Bulgaria?
– We felt very comfortable living in Bulgaria and found the people very hospitable, and willing to share their traditions and customs. I hiked in the Rila Mountains with my Bulgarian friends. My wife attended a traditional pogacha ceremony following the birth of a colleague’s son. We dined out a lot, visiting the tasty restaurants of Sofia, but our most enjoyable experiences were when we ate in the homes of our friends, drinking homemade rakia and toasting ‘Nazdrave’ to each other.
– What is the next country you plan to visit and why?
– During the two years we lived in Bulgaria, we also managed to travel in the region. We visited Serbia, Turkey, Romania, Macedonia, Hungary, Italy, and the Czech Republic. We still have a huge desire to travel but unfortunately, we don’t have the time or resources to do it that much these days. We did just get back from a trip to Bosnia, Montenegro, and Croatia, a trip which gave me huge inspiration for future writing. Who knows, maybe these countries will feature in my future novels?
– How tough is to live under rocket bombardments, terrorist attacks and during so many military actions in Israel?
– Wow, this is a huge subject, and I could write a long article to tell you what it’s like to live in Israel these days. (Readers are invited to my blog to get a full picture of my feelings and thoughts about the war in Gaza).
In short, it hasn’t been easy. Israel is a very small country and citizens everywhere had the danger of rockets flying over their heads. I can’t imagine what it would be like to live in a community near the Gaza Strip with the danger of terrorists tunneling into their homes with the sheer purpose of killing as many civilians as possible.
Israel fought back in what we describe as a “just war.” Yes, many innocent Palestinian civilians were killed, and this was truly regrettable, but that is due to the nature of the enemy we were fighting. Israel uses its rockets and missiles to defend its citizens. Hamas uses its citizens to defend its rockets and missiles.
The bottom line is that Israel’s war is not against the Palestinians, but against the terrorist Hamas organization. In Israel, we long and pray for peace. I hope that day will come soon.
Here are the books of Ellis Shuman:
Check it Ellis Shuman’s blog
Learn more about my country with this very intriguing post by Ellis Shuman at