An Interview With Author Khanh Ha On His Heritage In War-Torn Vietnam

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Modern Vietnam

Modern Vietnam

The era that surrounds the Vietnam War changed America dramatically. The deception that was exposed to the American people made us distrustful of our own government, including President Nixon and leading Generals. We learned that the reality of the war was far from what the Nixon Administration was saying, and events like the Kent State Shootings and the humiliation of the Tet Offensive put a rift between leaders & the American people.

40 years ago this week the capital of South Vietnam, Saigon, fell to the North Vietnamese. The American troops had withdrawn after the Paris Peace Accords in 1973, leaving the South Vietnamese to defend themselves. South Vietnam, after nearly a decade of conflict, had fallen to the Communists in a matter of weeks.

My friend Khanh Ha, author of 2 beautiful novels I have reviewed, found his heritage in Vietnam during the war. He gives us a rare insight into the war from the Vietnamese perspective, and he discusses the scars the war left upon his birthplace. His compassion for his people is evident and abundant, and he reminds us that atrocities like what the Communists did to Vietnam still happen today. He is a voice for empathy, and I am truly honored to now give you my interview with Khanh Ha.

Nassem: Hello Khanh, and welcome back to Seize The Moment. How are you?

Khanh: I’m fine, and thank you, Nassem, for having me back on your blog.

Nassem: Today I would love to discuss your heritage in a nation that greatly changed ours, but many of us do not know much about. Could you give us a broad introduction into the expansive history of Vietnam?

Khanh: The birth of our nation began 4000 years ago under the name Văn Lang, which was geographically North Vietnam today. The nation then became Âu Việt as a result of the annexation following a war among tribes. The nation was then subjugated by the Chinese for several centuries until it regained its freedom and autonomy under a new name: Vạn Xuân. It fell to Chinese dominion again for three centuries before it finally gained its permanent independence under the name Đại Cồ Việt. During this new era, the nation defeated the Mongols three times, first in 1258, then in 1285, and finally in 1287. It fought off the Ming invasion two centuries later and the nation’s name was changed to Đại Việt. Civil wars raged for over two hundred years until the nation was unified under emperor Quang Trung’s reign. His chief enemy, Lord Nguyễn Ánh, sought military aid from the French, which eventually led to his victory and established the Nguyễn dynasty that lasted from 1802 to 1945. However, the French began encroaching on the nation’s autonomy in 1858 and conquered it in 1884. The Vietnamese resistance, still infantile at the turn of the 20th century, gradually became a force to be reckoned with in the 1930s under the name Viet Minh, led by Hồ Chí Minh. The Viet Minh defeated the French at Đien Bien Phu in 1954, forcing the negotiation in Geneva which led to the division of Vietnam at the 17th Parallel: north of the parallel was North Vietnam and south of the parallel South Vietnam. Backed by the communist Chinese and Russians, the North Vietnamese communists began infiltrating South Vietnam in 1958. The American-backed South Vietnam fought North Vietnam for over a decade in what was known as the Vietnam War. In 1975, North Vietnamese communists won and the nation is called Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

Nassem: With this background established, I would like to discuss more recent Vietnamese history. The French were in control in Vietnam from 1945 to 1954, and I have heard that cities in Vietnam look somewhat like “smaller versions of Paris.” In Hue, where you grew up, is this statement true? 

Khanh: No. French influence was most evident in Tonkin (North Vietnam) and Cochinchina (South Vietnam). Annam (Hue), Laos and Cambodia did not fall directly under French influence. Cochinchina, or La colonie de Cochinchine, was southern Vietnam whose capital was Saigon. Here the vestige of French culture still stands over the years: the colonial architectural buildings and residential quarters, the tree-lined streets and avenues of old Saigon built by the French over a century ago.

Tu Duc Mausoleum

Tu Duc Mausoleum

Nassem: Staying on the topic of Hue before the Vietnam War, what was city life like before the war? I understand that many other conflicts had caused much destruction, but could Hue have been considered metropolitan prior to the Vietnam War? 

Khanh: Hue was the ancient capital of Vietnam before the Geneva Accords which divided Vietnam into North and South Vietnam in 1954.

I admire the U.S.’s democracy. But unlike many immigrants who try to forget their past, I carry with me the image of my country. That image is Huế, where my placenta was buried. There is a Vietnamese proverb: Quê mẹ là nơi chôn nhau cắt rốn. The Motherland is where we bury our placenta and sever our umbilical cord. It begins with the cultural intellect of a city known for its moss-stained citadel, the imperial tombs nestled in the pine forest, temples and pagodas tucked away at the foot of gentle hills by a quiet stream. Its damp, foggy climate had left moisture damage on the ancient buildings, on old houses with moss-covered yin-yang roof tiles. Through Huế flows the Perfume River, clear and clean, and in the summer flame trees bloom scarlet along its banks. All the streets were narrow, shaded with ancient trees, sometimes white with frangipani blossoms, sometimes pink with cassia. As a youngster, I lived in the Huế’s mysterious atmosphere, half real, half magic. I used to walk home under the shade of the Indian almond trees, the poon trees. The nuts of the Indian almond trees tasted rich and fat like almonds, the nuts of the poon trees were polished and used in the marble games. At the base of these ancient trees I would pass a shrine. If I went with my grandmother, she would push my head down. “Don’t stare at it,” she said. “That’s disrespect to the genies.”

It is the old capital of the Nguyễn dynasty. It is my birthplace.

Nassem: Moving into the beginning stages of the war now, the struggle between the Communists and the Diem government was reaching fever pitch. Where did your family pledge its loyalty, and where did many others put theirs? In a similar vein, as a child, did you understand the full ramifications at stake in this face-off?

Khanh: My father was the chairman of a major political party in South Vietnam. He was anti-dictatorial and anti-communist. Because of his political stance, he was imprisoned by the Diem government. After the military coup d’etat in 1963, which saw Diem and his brother killed, my father was set free. He took office with the military junta as the minister of the interior, but he resigned shortly after because of irreconcilable issues with the Nguyễn Khánh junta government. As a child, I understood only one thing: have faith in your parents. My father was anti-Diem, and he was a resistance leader. His party, Đại Việt, was pledged to the restoration of national prestige and the unifications of the two nations. When he became a political prisoner, our family was exiled to Huế, where we lived with our grandmother until the coup d’etat in 1963, when we were reunited with our father again.

Nassem: President Ngo Dinh Diem was proven to be an autocratic and brutal leader, and the Communists were worse. How did many of the common people in Vietnam, those just looking to make a life for themselves, decide what side to support? Did many not support any side at all?

Khanh: Those who were caught between a rock and a hard place had to live through the dilemma. There were no better sides to side with. But the Vietnamese people are known for being markedly resilient, attested by their incredible endurance against adversity. Newspapers in South Vietnam were censored during the Diem regime, and again censored through the first Republic of Vietnam under Nguyễn Văn Thiệu regime. At the same time, people lived in fear against the communist terrorism much like ISIS violence against the innocents in today’s world.

Nassem: In the Vietnam War, Hue was found to be a vulnerable location as it rested on the border between the North and South. During the Tet Offensive in 1968, Hue was practically destroyed. Could you expand on what you remember of the destruction, as you were there as this all happened? Also, if it is not too horrific to talk about, would you talk us through what the Communist massacre of innocents in Hue did to the spirit of the citizens in the city?

Khanh: At Mỹ Lai the American soldiers murdered the Vietnamese civilians; but during Tết in Huế, the VC massacred the Vietnamese—their own people. Here you heard only of Mỹ Lai. The American public was more interested in a war crime committed by one American infantry platoon than in the Huế massacre.

My father wasn’t home with us. The VC executed people like him. My mother kept the joss sticks burning on the altar every day and thanked the Buddha for sparing my father’s life.
The VC came into Huế with the names of those they wanted to kill. Few were spared. They executed government officials, political party officials, block leaders, intellectuals, teachers, even priests and monks. But they killed a lot of people out of personal hate and vendetta.

Every night we heard gunshots. Much later we found out that those were fired by the communists during their execution, and the playground of our high school was used as a mass grave. After the VC withdrew from Huế, graves were identified, and folks came to dig for bodies. The odor from the rotten bodies hung for days over the neighborhood. Smelled like dead rats but with a fish stench. My mother burned incense in the house to kill that odor. Like many people who lived inside the Citadel, we had fled, seeking refuge somewhere else.

When we came back to our house inside the Citadel, one side of the house had caved in. It must have been hit by artillery shells or helicopter gunships. Ammunition shells were all over the yard. Do you know what I saw on one side of our chest of drawers? An inscription: Miami, FLA. Mom, Dad, and apple pie. The American troops had  boarded down in our house during the house-to-house combat against the VC.

They massacred at least a few thousand people. It took people months to search, to dig the mass graves. Mass graves in the schoolyards, in the parks of the inner city. Mass graves in the jungle creek beds, in the coastal salt flats. People shot to death, clubbed to death with pick handles, buried alive with elbows tied behind them. The communists said they executed only the reactionaries, those who worked for the South Vietnam government. But I saw many bodies of women and children. Shot in the head, bashed in the head. Did they deserve to die?

Evacuation from Hue

Evacuation from Hue

Nassem: As the war continued, necessities for many Vietnamese were not available. What kind of food, water, and other needed resources were restricted or non-existent in Hue during the war? 

Khanh: It wasn’t so. There were no food ration or food scarcity. The only common restriction of freedom of movement is the night curfew, which was enforced in major cities of South Vietnam.

Nassem: In the late 1960s into the early 1970s, the United States erupted in anti-war sentiment and activism against the Vietnam War, which led in the Paris Peace Accords in 1973. What actions occurred in Hue after these Accords were signed? Did communication systems exist still in Hue at this point to inform citizens of the end of American involvement? 

Khanh: Everything was normal until the fall of South Vietnam in 1975. However, the false lull after the peace accords could be felt by those who were politically savvy about the communist cunning. They knew it was only a matter of time before war would erupt again.

Nassem: By 1975 the North Vietnamese had reached Saigon and reunited the nation under Communism. I understand that you left Vietnam at this time, after spending the duration of the war in Vietnam. What were the circumstances around your evacuation and how did it happen?

Khanh: I watched the debacle of South Vietnam on TV in my dormitory room in the United States. My father had predicted such a collapse. I wished he was wrong, but when I saw that exodus in March of seventy-five, I felt sick in my stomach. My Huế people were leaving their beloved city for Ðà Nẵng. It seemed like an atomic bomb had been dropped on Huế. It looked that way to me. I cried as I watched thousands of refugees climbing the Hải Vân mountain pass. Cars, scooters, bicycles, even the xích lô. My parents decided to stay. People panicked after the Airborne pulled out of Huế. Then the real shock came when they saw American advisors start burning papers. The day the Americans closed up their offices in late March, people packed up and fled the city. It was a shame to see the first to flee Huế and Quảng Trị were government and military officers. They boarded commercial air flights, they chartered vehicles to carry their belongings. My father’s love for Huế could have cost him his life; he wanted to be with his family. I respect his decision. Every morning my father stood at the window and watched the flow of refugees. He told my younger sisters to study, though there were no schools. Then for days the city came under mortar attack. The family hid under the beds. My father never left the window. He kept watch. Then he saw more and more soldiers deserting in the exodus. ‘For twenty years we had fought the communists only to give up in a matter of days,’ he said to my mother, and then closed the window.

Nassem: As exciting and informative it has been to talk to you about your heritage in Vietnam, I would like to now give you a platform to talk about your new book The Demon Who Peddled Longing, which I have reviewed on this site. Please talk about the general description of the book and also where interested readers can learn more about the book.

Khanh: Set in post-war Vietnam, The Demon Who Peddled Longing tells the terrible journey of a nineteen-year-old boy in search of the two brothers who are drifters and who raped and killed the boy’s cousin. It begins with the boy badly hurt in a boat wreck. He finds himself on the Plain of Reeds in the Mekong Delta, being saved by a fisherwoman who drinks nothing but rice liquor and nurses him with her own milk and at night would take his sex and caress it like a holy object. When he decides to leave, the woman comes close to taking his life. He runs away. He travels south on the trail taken by the drifters who has raped and murdered his cousin, until he reaches a seaside town. One night he sees a girl coming down the road on a beautiful white horse. He has hardly breath while he stands in front of her. He knows he would never be the same again without knowing her. By chance the boy finds out who the girl is. The twenty-two-year-old girl, the untouched cherry, is married to an overlord triple her age and sexually impotent. Then there is the overlord, the most unforgiving master of his own vast holdings yet a victim of his illnesses, who wants the boy’s life for having laid his eyes on the master’s young wife. From this backdrop comes a story of the damned, the unfit, the brave, who succumb by their own doing to the call of fate.

If you are interested in reading more about the book, please go to my author website, From there you can visit my blog, Goodreads and Facebook pages. To order a copy of the book, go to Amazon or Barnes&Noble.

Nassem: Thank you so much Khanh for being so willing to discuss your upbringing in Vietnam and for sharing all of your knowledge. I look forward to having you back here! 

Khanh: Thank you, Nassem, for the interview, and it’s my pleasure to appear on your blog again.

Author Bio:

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Khanh Ha is the author of Flesh (2012, Black Heron Press) and The Demon Who Peddled Longing (2014,  Underground Voices). He is a five-time Pushcart nominee, a Best Indie Lit New England nominee, and the recipient of Greensboro Review’s 2014 Robert Watson Literary Prize in Fiction. His work, The Demon Who Peddled Longing, was honored by Shelf Unbound as a Notable Indie Book.

Shadow Ritual: Fascinating Interview With The Authors

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Yesterday I reviewed Shadow Ritual by Éric Giacometti and Jacques Ravenne. Today, I have an interview with the authors:

 

 

How are you both? Thank you, gentlemen, for coming to my blog today.

 

1) Mr. Giacometti: I understand that you are a former journalist for Le Parisien newspaper. What kind of writing did you pursue while here? Also, Le Parisien found its roots in the French Underground during the German Occupation. Did your interest in this era, as evidenced by Shadow Ritual, get sparked in any way from this, or was that interest already there?

 

I was an investigative reporter and covered many topics, including corruption involving the Freemasons on the French Riviera. I discovered the dark side of the brotherhood. It resulted in a lot of heated discussions with Jacques. However, this unsavory side of freemasonry is confined to a limited number of brothers. 

 

Well before I started working for Le ParisienI also worked on Nazi spoliation under the Occupation in France, a dark page in the history of FranceIn the weekly Le Pointreported on the French Ministry of Finance’s archives on the subject.


As for Le Parisien, you are well informed! For a long time, thenewspaper was called the Parisien Libéré (litt: the liberated Parisian)It was born at the time of the liberation of France in 1944, from the rubble of a popular daily newspaper called Le Petit Parisien. Emilien Amaury, the owner and creator of the Parisien Libéréwas very close to General de Gaulle and shared his ideas. I have always been fascinated by that period. 

 

2) In Shadow Ritual, there is a lot of influence by Freemasons. Is this group still a major influence in the world?

 

Well, it all depends what influence and what freemasonry you are talking about. To clarify, there is no global freemasonry united under a great master who would draw the strings. There are various independent jurisdictions (Grand Lodges). Some even forbid their members from having any connection with members of other lodges. For examplethe French Masonic Grand Lodge (GNLF), recognized by the United Grand Lodge of England, does not allow their members to receive brothers from the Grand Orient of France (the largest organization in the country) in their temples nor to attend their ceremonies. There is a kind of undeclared war between many groups, both nationally and globally. There are reasons for these tensions. For instanceAmerican and British Freemasons accept a belief in God, whereas in the Grand Orient it is not compulsory, and secularism remains a fundamental principle. 


As for the supposed influence on politics and economics, there is no denying that in France some lodges welcome influential people. Networks do exist, but no more nor less than other networks that are sometimes much more powerful. There was a time when some jurisdictions exclusively recruited senior officials and business and financial leaders to inflate theirmembership and increase their power. But because of scandals disclosed by the press, especially about the French Riviera, some clean up took place

 

However, you can’t prevent many laymen from believing that Freemasons are pulling the strings of a major global conspiracy with the Illuminatiwho until proven otherwise no longer exist.

 

In our thrillers, we try not to fall into the trap of conspiracy theory. And for good reason: Antoine Marcas is a Freemason policemanproud of his ideal!

 

3) Your gift for seamlessly weaving history and thriller together to create a better novel is commendable. When did both of your interests in history begin, and what eras are you each most interested in?

 

Thank youWe have always been fascinated by history, be itofficial history from the textbooks or more obscure history woven into the texture of big eventsJacques has a passion forthe Middle Ages and the eighteenth century. It is not by chance that he wrote a novel on the life of the Marquis de Sade.

 

4) Your protagonist, Antoine Marcas, has been found unique in many ways, setting him apart from the average lead character. How did you develop this character, and does he embody any of your personal qualities?

 

As a Freemason, he believes in the values of freemasonry, butremains realistic on the organization and its by-productsHe does not fantasize about having access to higher knowledge through his initiation. He is cop, he’s divorced and has problems with his exwife. He lives in a realistic worldBut a world in which suddenly the veil is torn and another reality appears, one that is more esoteric and strange. He goes through what poet Gérard de Nerval used to call the doors of “horn and ivory.” 

 

Marcas is a product of our differencesEric had a not-so-positive view of Freemasonry, resulting from his investigations. And Jacques was tired of reading simplistic articles on thebrotherhood. Antoine Marcas is the ideal honest Freemason. In Shadow Ritual, he teams with Jade, secret service agent. She hates the brothers. Over the years, since this first book, Eric has become “Mason friendly, but he is still critical of certain practices.

 

Standard image of masonic square and compasses

 

5) On this blog, I have written articles on the rise of extremism in Europe, specifically in FranceShadow Ritual features this extremism, and I understand that you have both studied it throughout your career. How does this startling new trend connect back to the Nazi era, and why is this ideology resurfacing now? 

 

The political situation in Europe is concerning. There’s a rise of parties qualified as extremist or populist, from the extreme right, like the National Front in France, or on the opposite from the extreme left, like the anti-capitalist party Syriza in Greece. 

 

Reasons can be identified: increasing unemployment rate, latent economic crisis, rejection of political and media elite, growing rejection of uncontrolled globalization and of immigration, loss of national identity, and also distrust of European political structures. Add to this Islamic attacks, like on Charlie Hebdo in January 2015, and the latest discovery of an anti-Semitism rooted in some social groups of immigrants, and the result is a concerning mix

 

However, we need to be careful in our comparisons with Nazi and pre-Nazi eras. In Francebefore World War II, anti-Semitism and anti-Freemasonry were widespread within the population and the elite. This is no longer the case. Also, even if neoNazi groups do exist, as with the Golden Dawn in Greece, they remain very marginal and no right-wing populist party consider themselves to be part of them. Unlike in the United States, Nazi apology and the display of Nazi symbols are severely punished by law in France.

 

6) Shadow Ritual has a lot of historical influence in it, including the Nazi era in Europe and after. What kind of historical research did you pursue for the novel?

 

We read history books on this dark period. From this, we developed, for instance, the character of Le Guermand, a French SS officer. There were a few thousand like him in our country. Some defended Hitler’s bunker to the very end, in Spring 1945.For a long time, in France it was taboo to discuss the soldiers who fought in German uniform.

 

On the esoteric dimension of Nazism and the role of the Thule society, there are few reference works. It is still a rather unknown part of historyopen to all kinds of fantasies.

 

7) What other writings have you published? Are there any more titles featuring Detective MarcasHow can readers connect with you? 

 

In addition to the series with detective Antoine Marcas, which has ten books to date in French, Eric wrote a thriller about a public health scandala real story of killer pacemakers, as well as essays and an investigative book on pharmaceutical laboratories.

 

Jacques published his book on Sade and also research on the writer Paul Valery

 

Readers can contact us via Facebook or on our website. 

 

8) I have to ask this one question, one that doesn’t have much to do with the book: What is life like living in France? I am fascinated by different cultures and so I am curious as to your response compared to other French I have spoken with.

 

Eric:

I would say the answer varies according to whom you are talking to in France. For those who struggle to make ends meet, life is tough, even if the social system provides a minimum safety net. 

 

I have been living in Paris for 27 years. For me, France remains the country of good living and Paris is a wonderful city. Enjoying simple moments in life is part of a hedonistic view of life. To have a coffee on the terrace of my regular café in the 9th arrondissementto walk along the banks of the Seine with my wife, to work late into the night and gaze upon the Sacré-Cœur from my office, these are unrivaled pleasures. 

 

Shadow_Ritual view fron office

The View From Éric’s Office

 

Jacques lives on the Left Bank, in the Latin Quarter, near Saint-Germain-des-Prés. There you can hang around the Saint-Sulpicechurch and browse through the booksellers along the Seine. I realize these are all tourist clichés, but clichés are sometimes true. 

 

And France is packed with wonderful landscapes, magnificent castles, and beautiful villages. Yes, to live in this country brings happinesseven though the French are the most pessimistic people in Europe, because of the economic crisis and social problems (rise of extremism, loss of reference points, etc.). They are afraid of the future and tend to take refuge in the past. French society gets bogged down because of this lack of optimism. 

 

However, if you could get a message through, that would be very nice. I almost chokewith rage when I watched a report on FoxNewsThey lied about Paris and invented “nogo zones where non-Muslims would be prohibited, where Sharia law would be applied. In comparison, the Chicago of Al Capone would be a loving nursery. 

 

Yes, there are suburbs with problems, but to say that Paris has become cut throat, that’s pure nonsense. This report was passed on here by the media and millions of French were shocked. I live in one of those supposed “nogo zones, near Montmartre… I am even more upset because I am pro-American, in heart and mind. I love the United States so much that I even married (for real) in Las Vegas with my wife and… Jacques was my best man!

 

Thank you very much gentlemen for being on my blog today. I look forward to reading the next books in the series and maybe having you on again!

 

The Authors: Éric Giacometti & Jacques Ravenne:

Jacques Ravenne is a literary scholar who has also written a biography of the Marquis de Sade and edited his letters. He loves to explore the hidden side of major historical events.

 

Eric Giacometti was an investigative reporter
for a major French newspaper. He has covered a number of high-profile scandals 
and has done exhaustive research in the area of freemasonry.

About The Translator:

Anne Trager loves France so much she has lived there for 27 years and just can’t seem to leave. What keeps her there is a uniquely French mix of pleasure seeking and creativity. Well, that and the wine. In 2011, she woke up one morning and said, “I just can’t stand it anymore. There are way too many good books being written in France not reaching a broader audience.” That’s when she founded Le French Book to translate some of those books into English. The company’s motto is “If we love it, we translate it,” and Anne loves crime fiction, mysteries and detective novels.
 

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Buy the book | on Amazon  | Barnes & Noble  | Indiebound  | upcoming on Apple + Kobo

An Interview With Author Stephanie Thornton On Egypt, Hatshepsut, And Today’s Powerful Women

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I am excited to share with you an interview I was able to do with historical fiction writer Stephanie Thornton. She is the author of The Secret History, and the recently released Daughter of The Gods.

Hello Stephanie, and welcome to Seize The Moment. It is my honor to have you here, and I can’t wait to start the interview! How are you?

I’m thrilled to be here, Nassem! Thanks so much for having me!

Ever since your debut, The Secret History, on one of my favorite historical figures, Theodora, published, I have been hooked on anything authored by you. Your newest book, Daughter of The Gods, was actually written before your debut novel. How much editing went into Daughter of The Gods before it was published? Did you find anything out after Daughter hit the store shelves in further research that you wish you could go back and add in?

Daughter of the Gods is completely unrecognizable from its earliest forms! (I know this because my first readers read it again last month and told me it’s a totally different book.) I feel like I’ve been researching ancient Egypt all my life (to say it’s an obsession is an understatement of colossal proportions) so fortunately, the only things I discovered that I wish I could have added were minor details, like the Egyptians twined together flax coated in sheep fat to make candles and descriptions of nifty alabaster perfume jars I saw at a traveling Egyptian exhibit last fall.

This interview, I promise, will focus on the protagonist of your newest novel, Hatshepsut, but I would like to ask a little about Theodora, the main character of your debut. What first brought her to your attention? I know I admire her for her rise from poverty to leadership, but why do you hold her in your respect?

I first discovered Theodora’s story while teaching world history. Most textbooks mention a Byzantine actress-turned-empress who saved her husband’s throne during the Nika riots, but the story is usually restricted to a single sentence or a caption under her famous mosaic portrait from Ravenna. I did some extra digging and learned about Theodora’s rough beginnings as the daughter of a bear trainer and also that those same Nika riots resulted in the deaths of 30,000 rebels. I realized I had an amazing story on my hands and as I did more research, I was truly gob-smacked both by all that Theodora accomplished in addition to the love she inspired in Justinian. Plus, she survived an outbreak of bubonic plague, which is just darn cool.

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Empress Theodora of Constantinople. Credit Here.

Egypt has had multiple female rulers, including the famous Nefertiti, and the uber-popular Cleopatra VII. Yet, Daughter of The Gods introduces a lesser-known pharaoh, Hatshepsut. When did you first learn of her, and all of her glory? What character traits do you most admire about this powerful woman?

I think Hatshepsut is lesser-known only because Egyptologists didn’t know about her for so many years. Her name was erased from the king lists and all images portraying her as pharaoh were hacked into oblivion, with the exception of a few that were difficult to reach (on the pinnacles of obelisks and whatnot). It wasn’t until fairly recently that they realized this was a case of ancient revisionist history and then they truly started to discover all she’d accomplished. The rebuilding of Hatshepsut’s mortuary temple at Deir el-Bahri also helped fill in the gaps, telling the tale of her supposedly divine birth and her expedition to Punt.

I first came across Hatshepsut during a junior high research assignment and the only information available in the encyclopedia (no internet then!) was that she had seized the throne from her stepson and all her monuments had been destroyed after her death. That stuck with me, because it was already apparent to me that this woman possessed the courage and daring to rule in a man’s world, and later research has proven that she did it better than most male pharaohs did!

Hatshepsut accomplished a lot in her life, as I learned from reading Daughter of The Gods. How do her achievements stack up compared to other successful pharaohs, like Ramses the Great, Nefertiti, and Cleopatra VII?

I’d say that of all those three, Hatshepsut and Ramses would be the closest tie, although Ramses might pull slightly to the lead when it came to his building projects, but only because he lived an extra forty-ish years longer than Hatshepsut! Both worked to strengthen Egypt’s territories and each was a master at propaganda, Ramses with the records of his extremely one-sided peace treaty at Kadesh and Hatshepsut with the story of her divine birth at Deir el-Bahri.

As for Nefertiti, the verdict is still out on her accomplishments considering that Egyptologists remain divided on whether she ruled after the death of her husband, Akhenaten. And don’t get me started on Cleopatra… She lost Egypt to the Romans!

Historians still argue amongst each other about if Hatshepsut and Senenmut were truly in love. What made you decide to go with a romantic relationship between the two in Daughter of The Gods? Is it frustrating to not have a solid answer on the question of their love for each other, or do you think it is how Hatshepsut would have wanted it?

I’m a hopeless romantic so there wasn’t much of a choice regarding the love story between Hatshepsut and Senenmut, plus I’m a big Senenmut fan! I suspect that Hatshepsut would have preferred the ambiguity regarding their relationship, simply for the fact that if there was any proof then it would have been easy for historians to pass off her accomplishments as a result of the “man behind the throne.” Each of them achieved amazing feats in their own right: Hatshepsut had her trade expeditions and building projects while Senenmut became one of the most titled man in Egyptian history in addition to building not one, but two impressive tombs for himself.

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Pharaoh Hatshepsut. Credit Here.

I know that, like myself, you are a big fan of the strong female leaders of today’s world, like Hillary Clinton. Of the female leaders in today’s world, who do you think would be most like Hatshepsut?

That’s a great question, Nassem! I’m not sure if there are any modern leaders whose story fully parallels that of Hatshepsut’s (I’ve always seen similarities between her and Elizabeth I), but I think Hatshepsut likely possessed some of the statesmanship displayed by Madeline Albright and Queen Noor of Jordan. However, neither of those women ever seized power from their stepsons to rule on their own!

You run a full life…teaching a high school history class, being an author, raising a daughter, and more. How do you balance it all, especially to be able to fit in your research + writing? Do you set a time to write, or do you just do it “as the wind blows?” What kinds of things do you like to dabble in during your free time?

What?! Where is this mysterious “free time” you speak of? LOL! On a more serious note, I write every night after my daughter is in bed and I’ve been writing like a madwoman since school got out. When I’m not teaching or writing you can probably find me doing yoga, running, traveling or… surprise… reading!

Now that you have published 2 books to your name, what is the experience like? Was it different the second time around? What is your favorite, and least favorite, aspect of it? To aspiring writers, what advice do you offer for getting a book published?

The experience has been very similar with the book signings and blog tours, but I was a little better prepared this time around because I knew what to expect and how to better manage my time. My favorite aspect is when readers contact me to let me know how much they learned about Hatshepsut (or Theodora). My least favorite aspect is probably just that I wish there was an extra hour in every day to get everything done! And for aspiring writers, I will always love Winston Churchill’s advice: “Never, never, never give up!”

I know it is a cliche question, but seriously, what authors influence your writing most? And a similar, but possibly different in answer, question: what authors do you like to read most?

I think every book can leave a lasting impression on a writer, be it good or bad, but I was inspired after reading Alice Hoffman’s The Dovekeepers to widen the scope of my upcoming novel, The Tiger Queens, to focus on four women in Genghis Khan’s life instead of just one. And when it comes to authors, I greedily gobble up anything written by Kate Quinn, Michelle Moran, Kate Furnivall, or Stephanie Dray!

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The Tiger Queens, To Come Fall 2014.

Your third book, The Tiger Queens, is going to hit the shelves November 4th. Could you tell us a bit about this exciting upcoming addition to your powerful women series, this time in Genghis Khan-era Mongolia? What makes it different from your previous titles?

The Tiger Queens is more of a sweeping family epic in that it covers the lives of four very different women, spans almost 80 years, and moves from Mongolia to China to Persia to Vienna and finally back to Mongolia. (Those Mongols were busy!) I’ve chosen to focus on Genghis’ first wife Borte, his wild-child daughter Alaqai, a Persian slave named Fatima, and Sorkhokhtani, Genghis’ daughter-by-marriage and Princess of the Hearth. It’s a pretty wild ride!

Finally, what social impact do you hope your books are able to accomplish? Do you ever consider the possibility that your books are in the hands of a future female leader, learning how to be independent from the historical characters you are writing about? Is this the true legacy of any author, if their prose affects the very soul of a reader?

My whole goal in both teaching history and writing about little-known historical women is to inspire readers to learn more about them. People often bemoan the lack of strong women in history, but they’re there if you know to look for them. And while I’m not sure if any future female presidents or prime ministers will read my books, I do love the idea of girls today learning from the stories of women like Hatshepsut, Theodora, or Sorkhokhtani. I know I certainly find their lives inspiring!

Thank you so much for being here today Stephanie! I appreciate your insightful answers, and it truly was an honor to interview you.

Thank you so much for having me, Nassem! It’s been an absolute treat!

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Stephanie Thornton-

Stephanie Thornton is a writer and history teacher who has been obsessed with infamous women from ancient history since she was twelve.

She lives with her husband and daughter in Alaska, where she is at work on her next novel.

The Secret History: A Novel of Empress Theodora is available from NAL/Penguin and Daughter of the Gods: A Novel of Ancient Egypt hit the shelves May 6, 2014.

The Tiger Queens: A Novel of Genghis Khan will publish in Fall 2014.

For more information, please visit Stephanie Thornton’s website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.

Talon Series #1: First Interview With James Boschert On His Life Stretching From Malaysia To The Mideast

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James Boschert

James Boschert, the author of the Talon Series (Assassins Of Alamut, Knight Assassin, Assassination In Al Qahirah, and Greek Fire) is joining us today for an interview. We will have this interview focus on he as a person, and then I will be reviewing his Talon Series, and finally we will have a closing interview focused on the books and his writing to end the blog post series.

Welcome James Boschert to Seize The Moment today for our first interview. How are you?

Hello Nassem, I am well. Good to talk to you. I appreciate the time you are taking for this interview.

I love foreign policy and affairs, and you have lived all over the world, which fascinates me. I hope to follow a path in foreign affairs to reach the Presidency, and so I am eager to learn more about you and your life. Let’s jump right in!

You were born in Malaya when it was a British colony. I understand that while you were there, in the early 1950’s, the Chinese Communist Insurgency was fighting the British in an early example of guerrilla warfare. You also narrowly escaped an ambush after your school was burnt down by the CCO, being saved by Gurkhas. When you look back on this time, do you try to forget its horrors, or do you embrace it as a learning experience?

I recall that the jungle was somewhat menacing because the Chinese were there and we did hear a lot of bad stories so there was a kind of wariness wherever you went between the British and the rest of the people.Odd as it may seem I don’t remember being frightened too much although on one or two occasions it was exciting! During the ambush I was tossed into a crude dirt ditch on the bank side if the road and was there on my hands and knees in two inches of dirty water watching everything with wide open eyes. The Gurkhas were very busy blazing away into the jungle on both sides of the road but the man who interested me most was the Bren gunner who was just ten feet up from me. So I paddled up to him and before anyone could stop me I was standing just behind him peering over his shoulder as he crouched in the same ditch and fired bursts into the jungle below. He was a typical Gurkha, fighting was in his nature so he glanced back at me and began to laugh and called over to his mates. Then the others noticed and laughed too. My mother was having fits further down but she had a pistol out and I am really sure she was not new to this kind of thing, she had been in France during the war and got tangled up with the resistance.The main impression I came away with from that encounter was the sheer excitement, the smell of sweat, the shouting and the sound of the gunfire and the lazy curve of the red tracer from the Bren gun as it went into the jungle below. It was all over within a few minutes after that and we were escorted home.

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I know that you feel British, but was it difficult living thousands of miles from London? I know that for much of the time you were there it was British-controlled, but was there really a major English population among the people?

No the British population was not large. It consisted mainly of Rubber estate managers who were bumped off quite regularly by the CCO with most of the rest being professionals such as lawyers, doctors and people like my father who worked for the government in agriculture. There were of course a lot of soldiers about. There is no doubt that the British enjoyed a privileged status in the colony of Malaya but unlike Africa this country had a King (Agong) and a Sultan in nominal charge of each of the states. Hence the British were very careful to work with these people so that at least the illusion was maintained that the Malays were in charge. I barely knew the UK so this was home. I played with Chinese, Malay and Indian children who lived around our own home which was a large bungalow. These were the more wealthy people it is true but the Ama ( the maid servant who looked after the children) the Kaboon ( the gardener) and the cook were Malay, Tamil and Chinese respectively. We colonial brats were always respectful to them or…we got punished by our parents.

You joined the British Army at age 15, as still a very young man. Was this in accordance with rules, or did you sign up earlier than you were supposed to? Also, did your experiences discussed in question 1 influence your application to the British Army?

When my father was sent home from Malaya because it declared Merdeka (Independence in 1958) he bought a sheep farm in Wales. I put up with the silly, wet and wooly animals for as long as I could but I was ruined. I didn’t like the cold wet gray country . I was spoiled by the sun and color of Malaya you see. Despite the dangers there it was home. I thought the Army might be a good place to start and yes it was legal then. The British Army understood full well the advantage of training boys. While they know every trick in the books as to how to get out of fatigues duties they become very good soldiers.

As a soldier, you first were posted in your birthplace of the now nation of Malaysia. We in the West often do not here about that region of the world, other than currently because of Missing Flight 370, which took off from Kuala Lumpur. Did you encounter many of Malaysia’s diverse cultures while stationed there, and were these different than other soldiers who did not grow up there?

Bit of an irony that wasn’t it? Straight back to the country where I had grown up. Yes because I spoke Malay and felt perfectly comfortable there. The soldiering was new and Borneo was shall we say interesting as we lived rough for months on end the we would come back to Penang which was like a paradise. In 1964 the country was just about finished with the CCO( Chinese Communists) although we did go into the jungle to look for them on occasion in the north east remote areas of jungle where tigers lived. Malaya was a fairly sleepy country with the Malays in charge , the middle class and professionals were mainly Chinese with a sprinkling of Indians. It was an uneasy relationship that on occasion went very badly for the Chinese when the Malays decided that they wanted to put them in their place. There were a mix at the bottom of Chinese coolies and Tamils who did all the hard labor, building and roads. Malays are Muslem of the Sunni kind but it was a fairly benign form of Islam and very tolerant of other faiths in the country but that has begun to change unfortunately.

The economy depended almost entirely on the Tin mining and rubber plantations but also the industrious Chinese who ran most of the businesses and were quite determined to send their children to other countries like Britain and America for education. Lawyers and doctors. The Sultans played polo and the Agong or king ruled for five years after which one of the other sultans assumed the role. Oil had not been discovered as yet.

You then served in Oman, which wasn’t part of the British Empire but was heavily influenced by it. How did this experience differ from your previous one in Malaysia?

Oman was really my first experience of the Middle East and it was quite a change from the jungle war in Borneo and we had to get used to a different way of fighting. The British were there because Yemen was experimenting with Communism and our old friends the Chinese communists were there making a nuisance of themselves. So this was all about a very small force of Brits (Who were officially not there ) lending a hand training and help to an Omani force that was really tribesmen who were fighting for the Sultan. It got hairy at times because the tribes were on both sides of the border. One could not always be sure. One of our missions was called “Heart and Minds” where we would go into a village and help with medical issues and with wells. The country was firmly back in the 16th century and the young sultan wanted it to change. The Communists would come in at night and intimidate the villagers. In the end the Omani had enough trained men and the Iranians came along to help. It was there that I learned that goats are the best spies a village has. The Chinese and Russians packed up, went home and left Oman alone. It was a success from that point of view.

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I understand that you then spent time in the Middle East, in countries including Lebanon, Israel, and Iran. Do you think that society in the West has misconceptions when it comes to this region, especially Iran? Were there any times where you experienced “culture shock”?

I think that if I had not grown up in Malaya I might have suffered from culture shock but in the main I was pretty adaptable. One of the reasons I was kept out there might have been because I liked it on the main. I hated going back to the UK so I stayed. There used to be a huge variety of cultures in that whole region. Lebanon I remember with fondness. It is a beautiful country and everyone got along despite their religious differences. Israel was fascinating because the people there were Kibbutzim and this was their home. These people in the main had no quarrel with the Arab people but were equally determined to keep what they had. I think it was here that I began to appreciate how many shades of gray there are in the region known as the Middle East but that extends to Iran and Afghanistan too. Nothing is simply black or white and it is naive to think so but sadly many people in the west do just that and as a result confuse things causing real damage in the process. I became quite fascinated with the history of the entire region, The Arab culture, Persian, Byzantine and all in between and believe that if you know the middle ages i.e. 11th-12th century history it gives one an insight into the place today. Not an awful lot has changed in some ways.

Your passion for the hashshashins (assassins) came during your time in the Middle East,visiting the old castles in the Alborz mountains. How did you first find out about the assassins, and what about them peaked the interest you obviously have for them?Have you been back at any recent time?

That is a good question. I found a book called the Castles of the Assassins by Freyda Stark and realized that I was very close to the very mountains where they were located. The Alborz you mentioned. I was with a tank battalion in a town called Ghazvin which is about 150 miles north west of Teheran. I obtained a good map and set out on my time off to find them. The hospitality of the villages which I had to walk through because the jeep couldn’t always get there was wonderful. I visited all of them. Semiral, Alamut, and spend the night on top of the rock of Alamut. During the night which was warm and starlit I woke up to hear a terrible wailing and rattling from up the valley. My hair must have stood on end. The noise came rushing down the steep valley and swept over me then rattled and wailed off down the valley. I didn’t sleep another wink and the next day the Rais of the village asked me rather pointedly if I had slept well. I told him about the wind and he gave me a half smile and said “Ah the ghosts of Mayan Diz came to visit you.” I subsequently discovered that the Mongols had slaughtered a great number of Hashashini or Ismaili in a location called Mayum Diz not too far off after they invaded Iran. No I have not been back since sadly but I think sometimes it is not always the best thing to do.

When the Iranian Revolution of 1978 (mainly known in the US for the Iranian Hostage Crisis) really picked up steam, you escaped from Iran. What did that entail, and did you find it unfortunate to have to leave, especially as the country was being taken over by radicals?

I had been in Shiraz when the riots began and then the revolution started in earnest. I was told by a man whom I admire to this day and will never forget, General Esphandiary, the garrison commander of Shiraz, that the revolution was going to happen and that I should get things sorted in Teheran and then leave the country. He told me that it would be a bloody one and was no place for me. I heard much later that he had been shot. Then it became a scramble for a lot of Europeans to leave but I got to Teheran after the last planes had left and that meant an overland treck for me. As a British soldier I would not have had a good time of it and in fact several of my colleagues were imprisoned. I got out across the Turkish border just south of Tabriz. That too was interesting.

After all of this, you became an engineer. What sector of engineering did you specialize in, and what caused you to take that path?

I had few options open to me when I got back to the UK. I could have gone to Rhodesia or Angola, they were looking for ex soldiers like me. Then a tiny ad caught my attention and I went to a college where I signed up and from there it was a total change of life and one that I never regretted. Few of my friends came back from places like Angola. I became a mechanical engineer but here in America that can become an adventure in of itself. I eventually became a program manager and worked on some very cool projects over here. It was a good move.

What do you consider the greatest place you have lived? Do you still travel often? Any that have inspired future book ideas?

I would still be living in Iran had there not been a revolution I really didn’t want to go back to the cold and the wet. I was moved about the whole region from Lebanon to Afghanistan and related to it entirely. I could have passed as an Irani or Pashtoon and spoke Farsi so it was where I wanted to be. No I don’t travel very much any more. I like Arizona, in some ways it resembles that region…arid, mountainous. It is America for me now without question.

We will be discussing Mr. Boschert’s writing in our next interview, after reviews of the Talon Series come. Thank you Mr. Boschert for answering these questions so informatively and with such fervor. I look forward to our next interview!

I want to thank you Nassem for your thoughtful questions. I have enjoyed this interview a great deal.

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James Boschert~ Author Of Talon Series
James Boschert grew up in the then colony of Malaya between the ages of four and eleven. The Chinese communists were active in the jungles at the time threatening the entire country with a cruel insurgency. His school was burned down and the family survived the ambush of a food convoy, saved by a patrol of Gurkha soldiers. He joined the British army as a boy soldier and later served in remote places like Borneo, Oman and other countries of the Middle East, eventually spending several years in Iran. While there he explored the castles of the infamous sect known as the Ismaili or Hashashini. It sometimes took a few days hard walking or driving to find these remote deserted fortresses high in the mountains of the Alborz in northern Iran. They eventually became the subject matter for his first book “The Assassins of Alamut” Escaping from the turmoil of Iran during the revolution he went to college and now lives in the USA.

He has developed a fascination for medieval history in general but in particular the history of the Middle East, Andalusia, Egypt and all the way to India. His books are historical novels about the medieval history of the same region but seen from both perspectives, that of the Crusaders and the Muslim world. “I believe that in order to put some depth to the Crusades one needs to look at what was going on all around them at the same time. I find the world at that time incredibly rich in every aspect.”

“The four legs of civilization as we have recorded it, Andalusia, Europe, Byzantium and the old empires of Persia and the Islamic world of Syria and Egypt make a rich backdrop for any novel.”
The politics and under currents of the Middle East continue to hold my attention as they are always in flux and are never still.”

Visit James Boschert’s Website.
For More Information On The Talon Series: James Boschert’s Talon Series

An Interview With Author/Scientist J.M. Sidorova, Involving Ice, Science, and Love Of Writing

I reviewed J.M. Sidorova’s novel, The Age Of Ice, previously. Now, I have an interview I conducted with the author. 

Welcome, J.M. to Seize The Moment! It is great to have you here. How are you?

Hi Nassem, thanks for having me here at Seize the Moment.

1. The Age Of Ice is your debut novel, and is very well written. When did you begin to write?

Thank you for your praise.  I began to write at the age seven or so. (It is not uncommon for a future writer to manifest some kind of a “writing affliction” at an early age.) As for when I began to write well — that is an open question. Maybe almost forty years later?

2. Your book is from first-person. How did you get in the head of Prince Alexander Velitzyn?

I did not get in his head, he got in mine. But seriously? Hard to say. I’ve put a little bit of my father into him, a little bit of myself. A lot of what preoccupies his mind is hindsight. I love hindsight!  Also, I do believe that one can use relatively small and ordinary personal experiences as a seed to build (with some research on the subject, of course) something extraordinary and dramatic. It’s like growing salt crystals – you need something for it to nucleate on. As an example: what writer has been in a spaceship crash? No one. But some had been in a car crash. And others had crashed on a bicycle. In a sense, you can use your bicycle crash experience as a seed to create your spaceship crash narrative.

 3.   I understand that you are a science research professor at the University of Washington. On the ice part of The Age Of Ice, did your extensive knowledge of this subject influence your book? 

I would not call myself an expert on ice. I know the basics of the physics of water, the kind of a background knowledge that is so integral to what we do in the lab, that we don’t even notice that we use it. The same thing may have happened with the book — some of the references to ice are just paraphrased basic scientific facts. One thing I know is that water is such a marvelous substance that if I could I would have put a lot more about it into the book.  For instance our (University of Washington’s) own Professor Gerald Pollack  just published a book (http://faculty.washington.edu/ghp/new-book/)  about a new, fourth state of water (in addition to solid, liquid, and gas) that actually may be very relevant to the way water behaves inside cells of living organisms.  How awesome is that?

Nassem Comment: I am interested in reading that book! Water is fascinating, both how it got here to Earth and the forms it takes.

 4.   While we are on the science topic, could you tell us a bit about what scientific field you study in?

One way to describe it is this: imagine, every cell of a human body has a total of six feet of DNA cut into forty six pieces (yes, it’s not a typo, six feet), and packed into a volume that is about one ten-thousandth of that in diameter. When a cell divides into two, it needs first to accurately copy all six feet of its DNA. Cells accomplish this goal in under eight hours using thousands of “copy machines” that are each about one millionth of a foot long. I study how cells manage to do it and not mess things up, even under challenging conditions.

Nassem Comment: That is an amazing fact, the 6 feet of DNA fact. It makes you look at life itself differently.

5. How much of real science fact is Alexander’s immortality based off of? Does it have something to do with heat particles and the temperature?

 Oh, I wish it was based in real science. Short of that, let’s take some real science and run wild with it. I am going to continue on with my crystals analogy. Bear with me. Ice is water crystals, right? Proteins can also form crystals. Normally though, proteins in living organisms are not supposed to form indestructible crystallized aggregates. But certain altered proteins inside cells can fold in a wrong way and form an indestructible crystal. This crystal is now a seed around which more of the protein aggregates. The crystal grows.  What you get in an upshot is mad cow disease, and indestructible seeds of crystallization are called prions. For all intents and purposes prion crystals are infectious, transmissible, and they multiply by recruiting more building blocks to themselves from the organisms they infected.  Now apply all of this back to ice crystals and imagine that ice has “infected” our character at conception and is now in every cell of his body; it has co-crystallized with proteins inside his cells and takes part in every process. Longevity just may be a side effect of that.

 6. Prince Alexander was conceived and developed his…unique…trait in the real-life Palace Of Ice, constructed by Empress Anna Ioannovna. How did you first come upon knowledge about this palace, and was it the main inspiration for The Age Of Ice?

One Of The Awesome Maps On The Endpapers of The Age Of Ice.

 That’s an easy answer: I read about the Ice Palace in a New Yorker article by Elif Batuman, and yes, it was indeed the straight-on, direct, kick-starting inspiration for the novel.

Nassem Comment: I was sent a copy of said article with the review copy of The Age Of Ice. It truly was very interesting to read, and I would encourage any readers to read the article before the book.

7. As Alexander is on his journey to discover who he really is, he travels to many different places, among them Paris, the Middle East, and Siberia. Which of the many places were your favorite to research and write about?

 Each one was my absolute favorite when I worked on it. A sort of serial favoritism on my part.  Looking back, I now have unique associations with each place, personal experiences that they are attached to. I have seen readers and critics call the Siberian chapter extremely dark, and I am very glad to see that because that is exactly how I wanted it.  So I guess that makes it a favorite in terms of having accomplished the goal.

8. What authors have influenced you the most in your writing?

 The list is long, and it could be said it contains everybody I happened to read at an impressionable age between — I don’t know — sixteen and twenty two. Those were not so much influences as impacts, style and story all packed together in a punch. To give just a few examples off the list — Sasha Sokolov, Julio Cortazar, Jorge Luis Borges, Stanislav Lem, Thomas Mann, Salman Rushdie; but really, I can go on and on.      

9. Where does your greatest support come from? What hobbies do you enjoy?

 Professionally, I am lucky to be part of a great writer and reader community here in Seattle, which also includes folks involved with Clarion West workshop for speculative fiction writers (of which I am a graduate). My family definitely should be awarded Best Supporting Family Member titles. As for hobbies… who has the time? Very occasionally, we do the outdoor sports typical for Seattle — things involving mountains or large bodies of water — and the rest of the time we recover from injuries and muscle soreness incurred due to performing those outdoor sports.

 Thank you so much, J.M. You have honored me, allowing me to interview you. As I stated in my review of The Age Of Ice, the book is one of my favorites I have ever read, due to the rich text and blending of history and science. Thank you.

 I am glad you liked it. Thanks for interviewing me.
J.M Sidorova- Author Of The Age Of Ice
J.M. Sidorova was born in Moscow, when it was the capital of the USSR, to the family of an official of the Ministry of Foreign Trade. She attended Moscow State University and the graduate school of the Russian Academy of Sciences. She moved to Seattle, Washington, in 1990 and works as a research professor at the University Of Washington, where she studies aging and carcinogenesis.

An Interview With Khanh Ha, About His Writing, Stories, and Senses

I wrote a review of Flesh a few days ago, and now have conducted an interview with the author, Mr. Khanh Ha. He is a very good person, one who has been very kind to me, and I am so excited that he agreed for me to interview him. Enjoy!

Hello Mr. Ha. Thank you for agreeing to this interview with me. How are you doing?

I’m fine, Nassem. And yourself?

N. Comments: I am very glad to have you here at Seize The Moment!

Flesh is your debut novel, but is written as if you are a very seasoned writer. When did you really start to write?

I wrote and had my first short stories in Vietnamese published when I was fourteen. But I was in love with the written words when I was much younger, perhaps between eight and nine, making up stories in chapbooks along the way.

Flesh is written from first-person, and is like a tale from ages ago. Do you have a personal connection that allowed you to write like this, or did it come naturally?

There was a personal connection in the beheading scene in Flesh. Before that I read a book written by a French military doctor, “War and Peace in Hanoi and Tonkin.” The decapitation scene in it became an inspiration for a personal reason—my maternal grandfather, one of the last mandarins of the Nguyễn Dynasty, was beheaded by the communists. But, at the onset, I wrote Flesh in the third-person point of view (POV) and it didn’t click. I had then a hundred pages when I stopped and switched to first-person POV. I needed an intimate voice, a voice I could trust, an old man’s voice recounting his life story and that voice gradually became the boy’s voice. So the diction throughout the book subtly changes accordingly.

N. Comments: That is interesting, and at the same time very sad, about your grandfather. I agree that Flesh is better in first-person.

As I stated in my review of Flesh, your writing is very much like my favorite fiction writer Khaled Hosseini. What authors have influenced your writing?

I began studying English when I was a high school junior. I read Mark Twain, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, William Saroyan, Cormac McCarthy, and wrote with their blended styles in my early stories. But then my writerly voice matures, and I no longer write like them; yet I owe much to them for their early influences.

Flesh wonderfully captures the senses of Tonkin (northern Vietnam), highlighting the sight, smells, and sounds. Do you personally pick up on senses very heavily? What sense did you hope to stimulate the most in Flesh?

Ambiance is the sheer force in a novel. Without it, the novel feels barren. The mood brings a novel to life, and what flame the mood are tastes, touches, smells, sights, and sounds. All five. They build the moods in Flesh. I was honored to be reviewed by Paula Tohline Calhoun whose article The Scents of Memory on Flesh captivated me.

How much research did you conduct for Flesh? Did you travel for it?

I did much research for Flesh on and off for a year until I felt dead sure that I could write it. The research resulted in hundreds of handwritten pages of notes and photographs. The rest came from a novelist’s imagination, and this is where you must separate your journalist’s self from your novelist’s self: you research to write fiction—not non-fiction.

N. Comments: You went to Ohio U. for journalism, and I know you were trained well to research and turn facts into readable text.

From what I have read of yours, and as a friend, you come off to me as a very pure hearted person. Did you create Tai based somewhat on yourself, in personality?

Thank you, Nassem, for your kind words. It seems like a protagonist usually bears the author’s traits, but that’s not always so. I believe that we see ourselves in others as much as they see themselves in us. And you will discover this during the writing. You might care for one character more than others. But undeniably, to all of them you are omniscient. You exist in all of them. Conversely, they all exist in you. Being the Maker. Being everything and then back to being yourself.

Are you married or single? Where does your greatest support come from?

I’m a husband and a father of two sons. My wife and my sons are my truest joy. Without them—the foundation of my family—I exist in a vacuum.

What famous person that has influenced you most would you like to meet?

J. Krishnamurti. He passed away nearly 20 years ago; but it was one of his books titled “The First and Last Freedom” that helped mold my spiritual makeup over the years.

Your next book, The Demon Who Peddled Longing, is also set in Vietnam. Can you tell us a little about it? Also, I read your short story Love Is A Souvenir. Could you talk some about those too?

“Demon” is a very dark, moody and sensuous novel. Like Flesh, “Demon” thrives on moods. Set in post-war Vietnam, it tells a terrible journey of a twenty-year-old boy in search of  the two brothers who are drifters and who raped and killed his cousin also his girl. “Demon” brings together the damned, the unfit, the brave, who succumb by their own doing to the call of fate. Yet their desire to survive and to face life again never dies. Now, the short story “Love Is a Souvenir” is about the haunting ugliness of the Vietnam War, a collection of voices of love, loneliness and barbarity lived and felt by a multitude of people from all walks of life. Man’s inhumanity to man reached its climax in Vietnam when a human life is cheaper than a Zippo.

Thank you so much Mr. Ha. I greatly appreciate the kindness you have shown me, and I wish you, and your family, well. Thank you.

Thank you, Nassem, for this interview. You are kind and sensitive in the way you reviewed and asked questions about Flesh. I respect that.

Khanh Ha-

Khanh Ha is the author of Flesh (2012, Black Heron Press) and The Demon Who Peddled Longing (November 2014,  Underground Voices). The winner of 2014 ROBERT WATSON LITERARY PRIZE IN FICTION, a finalist of the Tethered by Letters Journal’s 2013 FALL LITERARY AWARD, a three-time Pushcart nominee and a two-time Best of the Net Award nominee, his work has appeared or is forthcoming in Waccamaw Journal, storySouth, Greensboro Review, Permafrost Magazine, Saint Ann’s Review, Poydras Review, The Underground Voices,  Moon City Review, The Long Story, Red Savina Review, DUCTS, ARDOR, Lunch Ticket, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, Sugar Mule, Yellow Medicine Review, Tethered by Letters Journal, Verdad, Drunk Monkeys, and other fine journals.

Marek Tyszkiewicz: Building On The American Dream With Integrity

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Mr. Marek Tyszkiewicz

I was lucky enough to sit down a few days ago to a personal FaceTime interview with Mr. Marek Tyszkiewicz. The son of Polish immigrants who lived the American Dream, Mr. Tyszkiewicz is a pension actuary, someone who has secured billions of dollars for hard-working Americans, and a businessman. He is running for Ohio’s 2nd US Congressional District Seat and this district includes all or parts of 8 counties in southern Ohio near the Ohio River.

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Halina Tyszkiewicz, Marek’s Mother.

Mr. Tyszkiewicz and I first talked about his heritage and upbringing, one of being a son of immigrants who overcame the odds to make it here, to America. His father Stanislaw was a lieutenant in the Polish Army, escaping capture by the Germans, but then was sent to a Siberian gulag by the Soviets. His mother Halina was also Polish, and was sent to a Siberian prison camp too, on a train. Tyszkiewicz told me that after Churchill’s order to Stalin to release the Poles so that they could fight the Germans, his father went back into the Polish Army. His mother, affected by years of brutal winter and the devastation put on her body by the labor camp, was almost dead. But she did not die, and her savior was an unlikely one. Tyszkiewicz said that the Iranians didn’t care for the British, but liked the Poles, so they agreed to take these refugees. A town called Isfahan is nicknamed the “City of Polish Children” because of the hundreds of thousands of Poles that escaped to there. Halina was labeled an orphan, and was sent there, and recovered from the emotional and physical wounds inflicted upon her by the Communists. She ended up in Jerusalem and then when the civil war between the Jews and Palestinians began, she went to England. Stanislaw was also there, and they met and married. They had to decide, though, if they were to go back to Poland or come to America. Tyszkiewicz said that, to them, the former was impossible, and the events of their life so far make them feel that America was the greatest place for them to come and start a new life. Marek Tyszkiewicz said that these experiences that his parents went through are the reasons why integrity is so important to him. His parents are the embodiment of the American Dream, where you can escape oppression and come, work hard, and make a comfortable life for you and your family.

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Halina and Stanislaw’s Wedding Photo

Next, we discussed his career as a pension actuary. It is obvious that he has worked tirelessly to make sure that hard-working Americans are able to retire safely and comfortably without predatory Wall Street over them. Tyszkiewicz said that he wants to take an active role in Congress to end the war on traditional retirement. He said, “401ks were created by accident, a loophole in IRS tax code, and Wall Street loves them.” He expressed that he wants to strengthen Social Security and tie the minimum wage to the cost-of-living. About the President’s most recent step in regard to retirement, he said “MyRA is a start, but they don’t address the longevity risk of people outliving their investments, like traditional pension plans.” He wants to bring back the promise of a decent retirement for all Americans that work hard.

He wants to simplify the tax code to benefit small businesses. This is important to him, he says, because small businesses should not have to spend so much money on legal fees that they are cutting way too much money out of their profits. He wants a fair, simple tax code that any business can understand.

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Integrity: The Problem-Solver

Tyszkiewicz went on to talk about his family. “My wife Missy is the most remarkable person I know. No one has more integrity than her. I also have two wonderful boys, Jack and Harry. You couldn’t ask for two boys with bigger hearts. I learn as much from them as they do from me.” He and his wife run the Move Your Hyde Yoga Studios, helping many people in the Cincinnati area become healthier and reach their goals. It was obvious all throughout the interview that Tyszkiewicz is a man who loves his family very much, and believes very much in family values.

We talked about why he is running on integrity. Tyszkiewicz said, “When integrity is present, problems disappear.” He was upset at the partisan bickering that led to last year’s government shutdown. He is ready to negotiate across party lines, but is not naive. “I cannot be the only one coming to the table with integrity. It needs to be shared.” He also offered this everyday analogy to why integrity is important. “A good comparison is a bridge. If it has integrity, it works. But if it lacks integrity, it collapses.”

Finally, he told me why he is campaigning for political office. “I am running for Congress because I want to make a difference, get America out of this standstill, and get Congress working again.” I believe that Marek Tyszkiewicz has the leadership to keep the promise of America alive, and knows why it is important because his life was only possible because of it. He is ready to bring positively to the pessimistic town of Washington and to a tired nation. He expressed in the interview that he knows that his success was possible because the government was fair and worked for Americans, and he wants to keep that promise alive for future generations.

Throughout the interview, Mr. Marek Tyszkiewicz proved to be an honest, trustworthy man. Descended from immigrants who came to America to better their life, he knows that the way forward is to keep the American Dream alive. He has helped countless Americans retire with comfort, and will take this tireless advocacy to Congress.

Visit The Campaign Website.

Author Note: I want to express my gratitude to Mr. Tyszkiewicz for allowing me to do this interview. The photos are from him, and I look forward to our future interviews.