Monday’s Friend: Ellis Shuman
Today I am pleased to welcome Ellis Shuman to the blog. Ellis and I met online through common writing habits. Like me, Ellis has a full time day job. Also like me, Ellis gets up early and does his writing in a coffee shop before going to work. He’s here today to talk about how a vivid sense of place can pull readers into a story. Take it away, Ellis!
Make Your Writing Appetizing to Readers
By Ellis Shuman
There’s nothing I like better than reading a suspense novel that you literally can’t put down. The action is so intense that you are riveted to the pages, staying up late into the night in order to finish reading another chapter, or even the entire book. The plot grips you, despite being occasionally far-fetched and unbelievable. The characters, although shallow and one-dimensional, keep your attention as they combat seemingly insurmountable odds on their way to the story’s thrilling conclusion.
The most enjoyable suspense novels, in my opinion, are those that take place in exotic locations. I am fascinated by stories set in Japan, or in Paris, or which use Caribbean islands as their setting, because by reading these books, I feel like I have traveled the world. The authors, if they do their job well, transport me to places I’ve never been. By reading their colorful descriptions, I stamp the passport of my imagination and expand my mind.
In most thrillers, even those set in exotic locations, the action moves ahead at breakneck speed, but I want more! Tell me the history of the place, talk to me about the religion of its people, and explain the traditions and daily life of those who live there. Once I have all that background in my mind, reading a suspense novel is much more meaningful to me.
I wish I could tell the authors to slow down, just a bit. If the characters are racing through a marketplace in Istanbul, describe the smells and sounds of their surroundings. What do they see, what do they eat? The protagonist is human, after all. Even though he is chasing the villain, or escaping his nemesis, the protagonist still needs to sit down and eat lunch.
When a novel is set in a foreign country, I long to read about the unique foods and drinks on offer. I not only want to learn about the book’s unique setting; I also want to taste it with all my senses.
In my writing, I try to include this missing ingredient: the taste and feel of the location where the action takes place. My book, Valley of Thracians – a suspense novel set in modern day Bulgaria – is not your usual thriller, because it highlights the setting. Some have called it a combination of mystery and travelogue. Bulgarian food, history, religion, and culture all play roles in the novel, making the scenic background an important element of the story.
My characters eat shopska salad, drink rakia, and have banitsa for breakfast. If all this sounds foreign to you, yet appetizing, you are invited to read my novel.
You may never have previously considered Bulgaria as a travel destination, but you should. The country has something for everyone, from majestic mountains and picturesque villages, to wondrous sea shores and ancient Roman ruins. Bulgaria, a member state of the European Union, is quickly catching up with the modern world, yet it takes care to preserve its history and culture. More than anything else, Bulgarians are extremely hospitable and visiting the country is quite affordable. If you can’t make the journey, read Valley of Thracians. You will enjoy the suspense and mystery, and the book will also introduce you to the culture, history, and even the tastes of Bulgaria.
A Peace Corps volunteer has gone missing in Bulgaria and everyone assumes he is dead, everyone except his grandfather, who refuses to give up hope. Retired literature professor Simon Matthews launches a desperate search only to be lured into a bizarre quest to retrieve a stolen Thracian artifact—a unique object of immense value others will stop at nothing to recover.
Matthews travels through a Balkan landscape dotted with ancient tombs and fortresses, unaware that his grandson has been confined to an isolated mountain cabin, slowly recovering from a severe head injury. Nothing can be taken at face value, as the woman assisting Matthews in his quest and the nurse caring for his injured grandson may have ulterior motives in helping the two reunite. Even when Matthews succeeds in joining up with his grandson, departure from Bulgaria is only possible if the missing relic can be found.
Valley of the Thracians is available on the Kindle from Amazon.
About Ellis Shuman
Born in the United States and with a permanent home in Israel, Ellis Shuman lived in Bulgaria for two years, traveling extensively throughout the country. He is the author of the suspense novel Valley of Thracians and the short story collection The Virtual Kibbutz. He is a book reviewer for The Times of Israel; a travel columnist at The Huffington Post; and a popular blogger with tips for writers. Learn more about Ellis on his blog, or follow him on Twitter.