John Shors, Beneath A Marble Sky
Beneath A Marble Sky is an incredible book. If you don't believe me, just click on over to Amazon and read the reviews. Five golden stars and glowing write-ups. All the success couldn't have happened to a nicer guy. From our exchange of emails, I can tell that author John Shors is totally unpretentious. He just happened to write this grand book and oh, yes, it's going to be a major motion picture that might very well win an Oscar. No big deal.
John's writing is so vivid, descriptive and magical, you cannot help but be swept up into this grand story about the Taj Mahal. It is historical fiction which will please and entertain even the pickiest reader. I couldn't help but draw comparisons to Memoirs of A Geisha which is another novel that is a must-read. I am just beyond thrilled for all the accolades this book is garnering. It really couldn't have happened to a more deserving guy. Read one chapter of the book and his hard work will be glaringly evident.
This book is drenched in detail! The reader is right there amidst the silk pillows and jeweled hues of India. How did you go about researching the infinitesimal details? It must have been extremely time consuming and a true labor of love to write this novel.
Well, as you say, writing Beneath a Marbly Sky truly was a labor of love. I was so delighted when I was at the Taj Mahal and I came across the story behind its creation. I knew almost immediately that this story could be the foundation for a wonderful novel. Afraid that someone else would come up with the same idea, I dove into this project, though it still took me five years to finish!
As far as my research, I spent about a year researching Beneath a Marble Sky. A fair amount of this work revolved around reading religious texts, memoirs, and historical accounts of 17th-century Hindustan. Surprisingly, the written word was not my greatest aid in terms of research material. Instead, hundreds and hundreds of period paintings provided me with a rich sense of the time and place that my novel is set in. Mughal paintings are exquisite and offered glimpses of life within the harem, of how battles unfolded, of how people ate and celebrated and loved. I could not have written Beneath a Marble Sky without such visual aids. The silk pillows and jeweled hues that you mention would have never made it into my novel if I hadn't been fortunate enough to see them in period paintings.
Did you write the book full time? How long did it take from beginning to end? Did you start with an outline or let the characters speak to you? I'm curious about the research process..?
I had a full-time job within the public relations field when I was writing Beneath a Marble Sky. At the time I lived in Boulder and worked in Denver, so I'd take notes on my steering wheel as I drove to and from work. I made the most of the 45-minute commute. Then at night I'd type for a few hours. This process went on and on for five years!
Most writers have a detailed outline from which they work from. I'm not that organized, alas. Most of Beneath a Marble Sky simply lived in my head. The characters kind of came to life on their own. As did the story. Of course, a lot of work went into my novel. Thousands of hours of work.
You traveled extensively, what was it about India that inspired you to write this book as opposed to writing a story about Japan or another country?
For a time I wanted to write a novel set in Japan. Then Arthur Golden wrote Memoirs of a Geisha, and suddenly dozens of writers decided to write novels set in Japan. When this happened, I had no interest in following suit. I wanted to do something different. And when I visited the Taj Mahal, when I saw its unimaginable beauty and heard the magical story behind its creation, I knew that I had found my story. I honestly think that I could have searched the world for a hundred years and never stumbled upon a better tale to tell.
This book will be a movie and I'm always excited to see another writer living my dream! Tell me how it happened and your reaction to this awesome event. Was it in the back of your mind that the book would make a fabulous film as you were writing?
I always felt like Beneath a Marble Sky would make a great movie. But I never really put much effort into trying to sell the movie rights. Probably because I was just too busy with everything else to even think about. Then one day I got a call from Eriq LaSalle's (Dr. Benton on "ER") representative, who told me that his production company wanted to buy the film rights to my novel. That was certainly a fun call to take! The movie-making process is a long one, but it's quite interesting, and I'm enjoying the process.
You are an American man writing from an Indian woman's point of view. How hard was it to slip into Jahanara's silk slippers and take on her persona?
Let’s just say that writing in the first person as a 17th-century Hindustani woman wasn’t completely natural to me. Additionally, not only did I need to write convincingly as a woman from another place and another time, but I had to re-create the way in which Hindustanis spoke in general. Upon reading memoirs from that time, I quickly realized that the manner in which people spoke was much more formal than how people converse today. I wanted to capture some of this formality without getting carried away.
So, a great deal of work went into Jahanara’s voice, as well as the other voices within Beneath a Marble Sky. I edited my novel fifty-six times. This number did not always sit well with my wife, as I was forever editing at night or during a much-needed vacation! However, I think that all of these edits allowed me to create consistent, unique voices within my novel.
What do you do when hit with writers block or an inablity to move forward with a chapter?
When I'm afflicted by this unfortunate condition, I simply force myself to work. Even though I know my work isn't my best, I plug away as long as I can. I know that I can always go back and improve copy, so I simply write and write and write. Later I do a great deal of editing. Fortunately, I'm stubborn enough that I rarely quit.
How has your life changed since this book was published? How do you stay humble and grounded with all the success?
Oh, it's easy for me to stay humble. We have a pair of little toddlers, and it's easy to stay humble when one is constantly being urinated on. Plus, I know that success can be fleeting, so I really try and stay grounded.
As far as how my life has changed, I've been able to quit my day job, which has been a nice change of pace. And I've been traveling all over the U.S. doing events and book signings. That's been a lot of fun.
Is there anything that you would like to share with your readers?
I am grateful for their support, and I look forward to creating other novels that they may enjoy. Readers might be interested in learning about my national book club program. Through this program, I have called into book clubs (via speakerphone) all over the U.S. and Canada. I’ve spoken with more than 200 book clubs so far. I created this program in an effort to give something back to readers.
So far I think the program has been quite successful in that readers really seem to enjoy our chats. I do as well. If anyone is interested, additional information can be found at the back of the trade paperback version of Beneath a Marble Sky. It’s really quite easy to participate. All people have to do is email me to set up a time. This is a free service.