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Answering Questions, Part I

When I make presentations to organizations and book clubs, I am often asked these two questions:

How did you come to create Miriam bat Isaac? and an apparently unrelated question: How long does it take to write one of your books?

The first question is much easier to answer, but I’d like to begin with the second one. For me, the actual writing, beginning with tapping out the first words of Chapter 1, takes about two years. That includes researching details along the way. For example, in THE DEADLIEST HATE, I needed to find out how an Egyptian cobra moves along a slick marble floor.

But unlike reading, writing is not a linear process. For me, it’s hierarchical. Long before I’m ready to begin Chapter 1, I think globally about the plot, its characters, and setting. Where is the conflict? Who are the protagonist and antagonist and what are their motivations? What has to happen in each scene to move the plot along? How can I make the problem ever more complex for my protagonist? What does she gain? What does she lose? At that point, I’ve taken my 40-word initial statement and turned it into a 20-page skeleton of my story.

My next task is to create the characters. I already know my two principal actors, the protagonist and antagonist, but now I have to create believable major, minor, and cameo characters, name them, and endow them with distinct but believable physical and personality traits.

My settings, so far Alexandria, Caesarea, and Ephesus, are based on scholarly research. In fact, I chose those cities because they are so well researched. So, the setting, its climate, history, geography, flora, and fauna are easy for me to re-construct.

So now you see that the two years at the computer are just the tip of the iceberg, that whether consciously or not, I draw on characters and events I’ve met or read about even decades before. In other words, I can't answer you until I understand your question better.

On the other hand, I can tell you exactly how and when I came to learn about Maria Hebrea, the model for my fictive Miriam bat Isaac. And I'll do that next week. In the meantime, invite me to make a presentation to your club or organization. I'm happy to come for free. Just email me at

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