Thank you for joining us on another Soapbox Spotlight! Today’s Spotlight author is Anna Patricio, a debut historical fiction author from Australia. She took Early Christian and Jewish Studies in college as well as Egyptology. Her love for the cultures of the Middle East in turn inspired her to write her premiere novel, Asenath.
Besides your studies in Middle Eastern culture, what inspired you to write this book?
I have always loved the [Biblical] story of Joseph, as well as adored his character. Some time ago, I grew curious [about] who his wife was. When I looked her up, I found hardly anything on her. I began to imagine what she might have been like. I then thought it might be nice to write about it.
I have actually been wanting to write a novel about Asenath for the longest time—since my student days. I tried everything: have it in third-person, beginning with Joseph and Asenath’s wedding, even a contemporary story in which a modern-day couple find “connections” to Joseph and Asenath. I even tried writing from the “middle” of a novel but that didn’t work.
It was an on-off thing. Then on New Year’s, I finally buckled down and wrote—and finished—the novel. I daresay that this idea found me, rather than I looking for it.
Can you tell us about your main character?
Asenath is the daughter of a priest of Heliopolis, also known as On / Iunu (the latter being the Egyptian name; Heliopolis is the Greek). In my novel, I have her as the adopted daughter of the priest; originally she is a fisherman’s daughter from an inconspicuous village along the Nile. Through a bizarre series of events, she winds up in the big city where she is adopted by the powerful high priest and his wife. When she grows into a young woman, she meets the Hebrew steward Joseph, who eventually becomes her love interest.
I was inspired to take liberties with her parentage after reading this Jewish folktale which also had her as the adopted daughter of the priest. The folktale, however, had Asenath being of secretly Hebrew heritage! I thought it was interesting, but in real life, I think Asenath was Egyptian through and through.
How important do you think villains are in a story?
[Villians are] quite important, as they represent an obstacle the hero/ine has to face. I think it’s important to make a novel engaging, the main character must always be “in hot water” (to quote some writers’ advice book I read). Otherwise, once the problems are solved, the stories are over.
I also like novels to be realistic, and villains make it so. After all, I guess all of us have met that “thorn in the flesh” at one point or another.
Who is your favorite author and why?
Well, I like Arthur Golden who wrote Memoirs of a Geisha. I love his writing style, and the story was very poignant. His main characters’ long-suffering love for [the Chairman] was very touching as well. I’ve read my copy of the novel so many times, that the pages have already fallen off the spine. He was one of my influences for Asenath, actually.
I also like the works of Wilbur Smith and Pauline Gedge, who write excellent and well-researched novels set in Ancient Egypt. And I’ve read one novel by Alex G. Chappell that impressed me very much—he wrote a very sweet romance novel of Joseph and Asenath simply entitled—why—Joseph and Asenath! The last pages drew me to the edge of my seat. It is an underappreciated gem.
Are you reading any interesting books at the moment?
Yes, I am reading Pauline Gedge’s House of Dreams. I am still in the early parts of the novel, but I love it. I like to read a Pauline Gedge novel slowly at first, as she has all this intricate descriptions and details. Eventually, the plot speeds up.
How do you deal with rejection letters?
Well, can’t do anything about them really. After reading it, I forget about it and move on. “There are still others to query,” I think.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Yes – before querying an agent/publisher, research them. There are many scammers out there who will give you stress to no end. I nearly fell for a scam myself until I heard about it in these writers’ warnings/advice. Be careful.
What do you do to unwind and relax?
Read, watch TV or movies, browse in shops—especially bookshops, and spend time with my dachshund Chestnut. I am a huge dog lover, by the way.
What are some of your favorites (foods, color, musicians)?
My favourite foods are pesto pasta, dark chocolate, stuffed crust pizza (as long as there are no onions cuz I am allergic to them), pad thai, yang chow fried rice and sushi with cream cheese – not all at the same time, of course! My favourite colours are all hues of violet—purple, lavender, indigo, orchid etc. My favourite kind of music is classical and New Age/fantasy (such as the music of Loreena McKennitt), although I listen to anything except heavy metal and rap.
What dreams have been realized as a result of your writing?
Well, being published! ‘Nuff said! Also having total strangers tell me they loved my book. That is very encouraging.
You can find Anna’s book Asenath at the following links:
http://www.abbeys.com.au (For those in Sydney, Australia this is across Queen Victoria Building; they have the book in stock)