June 20, 2014

Make It Medieval: an interview with Jad Ziade, author of "Damascus"

About Jad Ziade: Jad Ziade is a writer of prose fiction and comic books. He was born in Beirut, Lebanon during the Lebanese Civil War and fled the country with his family in 1987. He now lives in Portland, Oregon. He is the writer of the acclaimed graphic novel series POISON THE CURE and the author of the novel DAMASCUS.

About Damascus: Damascus is in revolt. The king's agents move to silence dissidents raising arms against the monarchy. Legions of a faraway empire surround the city as diplomats and spies arrive to infiltrate the king’s court. Two boys are caught in the middle and flee to the snowy mountains west—for their lives and for the promise of ancient, buried gold. Rich with adventure and deceit, with sorcery and murder, DAMASCUS is the first book of The Syrian Revolution.

Gef: Damascus has a bit of that epic fantasy feel. Can you tell us a bit about it and how deeply you delve into the fantastical as opposed to other-worldly?

Jad: I would call both the other-worldly and the fantastical aspects of the story fairly minimal. There is magic in the story, but it's not always overt and its not widely believed to exist. Many characters think it's simply superstition. There are no characters, with the exception of one, that are not human. The most fantastical aspect of the story, from my view, is that it's set in a medieval version of Damascus that never really existed, at least not along specific historical fact. The fun part comes when we decide where to go from there, and that's when the fantasy aspect really begins to bloom.

Gef: The novel features a myriad of characters, and I suppose Damascus itself could be included as a character, so how much juggling is involved to give each character ample "stage time" to get their stories across?

Jad: That's always a hard decision and often you find yourself deep into the story wondering if you've made mistakes in that regard—and sometimes you have. But once your characters begin to breathe a little, they tell you how much stage time they want and you find yourself following along and sprinkling things here and there for the sake of other characters who are mostly in the background for now but might want to reveal themselves more in the future.

Gef: When creating an alternate world, is there any kind of balancing act when it comes to including familiar features of our world?

Jad: The balancing act for the world is much easier than the balancing act for numerous characters—especially for this story. I knew almost immediately I wanted to throw in a lot of familiar features, some remaining the same, some a bit different than what we know them to be—others anachronisms that have no place in a medieval world. Balancing how much of it to do turned out to be easier than I had feared.

Gef: Along with writing Damascus, you write comics as well. How big of a gear shift is it writing between the two formats?

Jad: It was huge. Having spent the last eight years writing comics—thumb-nailing stories before I would write the script, pacing scenes out from panel to panel, etc, it was very difficult to change gears. Novels are much more complex than 'pictures told with words' and the 'building block' ideas that every story uses to transmit necessary information about plot and character are sent in a fundamentally different manner in prose than in sequential art. It was a learning process.

I scrapped and restarted the novel twice, each time forcing myself to stop and consider the mistakes I had made. It was very aggravating, but necessary.

Gef: Seamus Heffernan did a pretty bang-up job on your cover. How did that working relationship come about?
Jad: Seamus and I have been friends for a while, having met when he was in art school a few years ago. He's a wonderful artist and he immediately sprang to mind when I thought of who might be a good fit to draw the cover. I'm very lucky to know such a swell guy.

You can find more of his comics work and illustration here: www.seaheff.com

Gef: One of the ways you are distributing this novel, at least for now, is through NoiseTrade. What drew you there and how have you found the experience thus far?
Jad: I found NoiseTrade through David Gaughran's blog. The idea is very interesting, but it's still too early to tell how things will fare. Regardless, like all other avenues, it's definitely worth a try.

Gef: Where else can folks find Damascus? What else do you have in the works?

Jad: You can find Damascus on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00K9TEO8G

I'll be spreading to other retailers soon, but for now Amazon is the best bet. Soon I'll release the next novel in the series. It will be titled Homs. If you want to keep tabs on my progress, follow my facebook (https://www.facebook.com/jadziade) or my twitter (https://twitter.com/jadziade)
, or easiest of all, sign up for my mailing list (http://eepurl.com/TVJbX).
Thanks for your time, Gef!

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