Today’s interview is with Henry Millstein, author of Speaker for the God.
|1) What is your author name and in what state do you live (or country if not in the US)?|
My author name is Henry Millstein (but my friends call me Hank), and I live in California.
2) What is the title of your newest book and what is the genre?
Speaker for the God, historical fiction
3) What is the book about?
Speaker for the God tells the story of the biblical prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah’s career fell in the last decades of the seventh and the first decades of the sixth century BCE, a time when the kingdom of Judah lay increasingly threatened by the new and aggressive Babylonian empire that finally in 587 BCE overran and sacked the small state. Jeremiah, claiming to speak for the national god Yahweh, sought futilely to warm his people of impending doom; caught up in a firestorm of political intrigue, he earned for himself only rejection and persecution. Speaker for the God expands on the spare details of Jeremiah’s life given in the Hebrew Bible, depicting his struggles with kings, priests, and people, with his god Yahweh, and with a goddess of unattainable beauty who has haunted him since childhood—and who in the end holds the key to his destiny.
4) Where did you come up with the idea?
A good many years ago, I was hanging out with my spiritual director (also a writer). I had been writing science fiction and happened to mention that I was itching to write something more directly related to my Christian faith. She suggested a novel about the prophet Elijah, and I countered by saying I’d like to try Jeremiah. What initially attracted me about Jeremiah was the fact that he remained celibate throughout his life in a culture where that was unheard of, and that led me to think about what his personality and sexuality might have been like. (Hence, in contrast to the usual run of “biblical fiction,” there is some explicit sex in the book; it opens with a lesbian love scene.) And that led me to look at his life in the light of contemporary historical research, where I learned, among other things, that Judah in Jeremiah’s time was not yet monotheistic and that goddess-worship was very much a part of people’s religious and emotional lives. So the book ties in with contemporary concerns about religiously based patriarchy, recovering the divine feminine, and so forth, which greatly interest me (and my wife, who is a United Methodist pastor). I believe, however, that Speaker for the God will appeal to readers of historical fiction in general, including those who normally wouldn’t touch “biblical fiction” with a ten-foot pole.
5) How long did it take you to write it?
Way too long! I think I started in 1989. I took several years to complete my first version, largely because I kept getting stuck at every plot turn—and then what I came up with was an unwieldy and unreadable 1600 pages! So I scrapped it and began anew, finishing in the late 90s. I had it read by a developmental editor, who was very encouraging. I tried getting an agent for it and had no luck. So I just let it slide for some time, wrote two other novels (not yet ready to see the light of day), got a Ph.D. in Jewish Studies at UC Berkeley and the Graduate Theological Union, and discovered that self-publishing had become respectable since the dim dark days of my agent queries, so I did some minor retouching, and here it is.
6) Did you learn anything from the project? The first thing I learned was: learn how to plan! I know there are some writers who can go ahead and just start with page 1 and write more or less smoothly to the end, but I’m not one of them. That’s why I kept getting stuck with Speaker (and why it took me over a decade to write). I found a very helpful book in this regard to be Scene and Structure by Jack Bickham. The second thing I learned was: don’t give up! I queried 50 agents about Speaker; perhaps if I had queried 100, someone would have taken it, and it would have come out years ago. And then I left the book sitting in a (figurative) desk drawer, wasting years (for the book, though not, fortunately, for my life). And, I suppose, the third thing I learned was: it’s never too late.
7) Do you have an author website and/or blog? How about a book video?
Go to www.hmillstein.com. I started on a blog but have gotten stalled for the time being. A book video? I’d love to do one!
8) Do you have any success tips to pass on to fellow authors? How about any great editors/cover artists?
I don’t have much yet in the way of outward success to show for my work—except that I did write and publish a novel, which is certainly something. But what I would say to fellow authors is: determination! St. Teresa of Avila used to say that to succeed in a life of prayer one needed a muy determinada determinación—a “very determined determination.” That’s certainly needed just as much by anyone who wants to build a life of writing. Oh, and I know a great cover artist, Joleene Naylor. She not only does a great job, she’s easy to work with and keeps her rates low.
9) What genres do you like to read? Are you open to reading new authors and reviewing their work?
I’m a big fan of science fiction. And I love historical novels, particularly those set in the ancient or early medieval worlds. And I’m a sucker for well-wrought and believable (or even slightly unbelievable) thrillers. As for reading and reviewing the work of new authors, yes; in this business, as in life, you have to give back. I do have to warn, however, that writing is only one of the things I do in my life, so my time is at a premium and I’m likely to be quite selective in what I undertake, particularly since I take this role seriously and wouldn’t want to do a slapdash job.
10) What is your favorite book of all time and why?
The Bible is for me an unending source of wonder and challenge. Of books I love for what may be termed purely “literary” reasons, Vergil’s Aeneid is hands down my favorite book of all time. Not only is it unrivaled in the beauty of its language (I’m thankfully able to read it in Latin), but I resonate deeply with the sense of yearning and hope that pervades the whole book.
11) Fun Question: Do you have any pets? If so, what kind?
We have a dog named Jess, a cocker spaniel and golden retriever mix, who ranks just behind our daughter in our affections (and perhaps somewhat ahead of me in my wife’s affections at times, particularly after my feeble efforts at housecleaning). We used to have cats, but they are all deceased. I’m planning on getting another one as soon as I can convince my wife that I will take care of it.
12) Fun Question 2: Do you own an electronic reading device? If so, what kind and how do you like it?
I own a Kindle Fire but rarely use it. I do most of my electronic reading on my phone. I love carrying a substantial library around in my pocket and being able to whip it out whenever I please. I look forward to the day when hard-copy books will be obsolete (this is after packing some 80 cartons of books for a move).
*As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.