Assaph Mehr Interview

Assaph has been a bibliophile since he learnt to read at the age of five, and a Romanophile ever since he first got his hands on Asterix, way back in elementary school.

What inspired you to write?
I started to write only recently. I had my nose in a book since I was a child, and whilst seeing my name in print was on my bucket-list, I never thought to actually go and do something about it.

I had the idea for a fantasy detective story and for the particular twist ending for a while. Then one hot night in January 2015 my wife complained that she had nothing good left to read, so I just sat down and started writing. And I didn’t stop until I finished my first novel.

Did the inspiration to write come to you suddenly, or had you been thinking about it some time?
I've had the idea for the particular mystery-twist behind Murder In Absentia kicking a can around the back of my head for a while. The spark to actually start writing, as mentioned above, was very sudden. From then on it was a matter of following through to completion.

How did you tell your story? In other words, did you use an outline, or just write your story from start to finish?
I do something in between plotting and pantsing. I have the all-important plot concept and twist ready when I start. I usually have a rough idea of what needs to happen along the way, at least at a high level. But a lot of the magic happens when I actually come to write a scene or a chapter.

It is almost like having a conversation with my protagonist. I present him with a problem, he tells me what he’d like to do to investigate it, and we take it on from there. I have my evil plans for his future, and he’s doing his damned best to get the job done.

Did you receive any encouragement from family and friends, or did you work on your book alone?
I wrote the first draft completely isolated. Only my wife knew I was writing. When that was finished I let a few friends and family read it - and the response was awesome. I worked on editing and publishing the book, and then started to spread the word about it - and again the response, this time from complete strangers, was awesome!

Murder In Absentia has been received overwhelming good reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, and has even won a few awards at Virtual FantasyCon 2016 and on Goodreads. All of that is the best encouragement there is.

What was the most difficult part of writing your book?
Finding the time! Inspiration is easy, it’s the 99% perspiration that’s taking its toll. I have far too many ideas (I keep a notebook full of them). It’s finding the time in a busy schedule to sit down and get some words out on paper. Well, on screen, but that’s the same problem.

My day is hectic (what with four kids, the youngest not yet two years old, a day job, two cats…) So whenever I can – on the train, at nights – I sit down and do my writing when it’s all quiet. I do my best writing after midnight, especially when accompanied by a glass of good scotch.

What was the most enjoyable aspect of writing your book?
The research into ancient Roman culture was a lot of fun. Rome was always a favourite period for me, so taking the time to delve into everything from ancient gods and political systems to laundry and cuisine was very satisfying.

In term of the actual plot, and without giving too many spoilers, there is a scene in Murder In Absentia right after the gladiatorial games where a provincial governor is hosting a feast. My protagonist somehow got involved with the cooking of it, and the particular culinary shenanigans that went on had my cackling with evil glee.

What’s something that gets in the way of your creativity?
Oh, minor things like a day job... ;-)
On a more serious note, I would love to devote my time to writing and it's associated tasks (from research, through editing, to publication). However, it seems like that until the movie deal goes through I will have to satisfy myself with writing as a hobby, done at odd hours. Creativity isn't the issue. Time to follow up is.

What strategies do you use to deal with criticism?
Go cry in the corner, then pick my self up, wash my face, say thank you the reviewer, and move on.
All reviews are a matter of taste. I certainly didn't like all the books I've read. So what. It's a matter of finding the niche audience for my writing. In this regard, negative reviews are also helpful - they help potential readers find out if they will like the book or not.

Where did you grow up and what is your favorite/worst childhood memory?
I grew up in Israel. I think that explains in part my love of history - I adored going to all the ancient forts and archaeological sites that dot the country. It's one of the things I miss the most by living in Australia. Whenever we go back for a visit, I take my kids to those places, and try to instill a love of history in them.

Do you have a favorite quote?
Can I use one of mine?
"Never practice magic when you're drunk."

I liked it so much, I wrote two unrelated stories starting with it.

Favorite book?
Just one? That's impossible! I love reading. I love reading different things at different times. From non-fiction works about history, to trashy sci-fi like The Stainless Steel Rat. From the deep philosophy of Herman Hesse's Sidhartha, to my childhood idol Asterix. I can't possibly pick a single favourite book.

Who would you want to meet if you could? Dead or alive.
Hm... Mostly dead people. Is that wrong?
From Sulla to Roger Zelazny, there are a few people in history I'd love to chat with.

Is there a talent you wish you had?
Drawing. Every few years I dabble a bit - just to demonstrate to myself that even if I learned the skills, I would never have a true talent in it.

I'm satisfied though, as between writing and cooking I have about one-and-a-half creative talents.