Interview with Barry Hoffman, author of Curse of the Shamra!

11:45 AM

Hey everyone! Today I got a brand new interview with Barry Hoffman, the author of Curse of the Shamra. Lets get started!

1)    How did you get the idea for the world that Curse of the Shamra is set in?

Curse of the Shamra
As a child I was fed a lot of misinformation regarding American Indians. All of the TV programs portrayed American Indians as uncivilized barbarians, committing atrocities against settlers because they were savages.As I got older I learned these stereotypes had no real basis in fact. I learned that most Indian tribes were run as “villages” where everyone was respected and no one was left to suffer because of age, infirmity or an inability to work.The elderly, who had provided for the tribe all their lives, were revered when they were too old to hunt or farm. Food and shelter was provided for them.They, in turn, watched over young children while their parents worked or hunted. The world of the Shamra is loosely based on this concept of “it takes a village.” The health and welfare of the Shamra is the responsibility of all and no one is neglected. The other civilizations and creatures that Dara encountered on her journeys came from my imagination.

2)    I love how strong Dara is as a young women. Did you base her on someone in your life?

Dara is a composite of many of the female students I taught while I was a teacher. For 30 years I taught 5th-8th grade and found the girls in my classes had diverse and unique personalities, while the boys were still lumps of clay not yet formed. A half-a-dozen or more girls would eat lunch in my class each day, gossiping and swapping stories. They trusted me (knew I wouldn’t repeat to their parents what I heard). Some of their stories were humorous, other heart-wrenching. All of these girls possessed an inner-strength I greatly admired. Sadly, in 8th grade many of these girls would become more introspective and they allowed boys to become the leaders of the class. In some ways they seemed to lose their identity. I based Dara on those girls I so admired while I was teaching and hoped that through Dara’s character teenage girls in general would be able to identify with her and stop fading into the background.

3) Did you use any elements of your life in the book?

I was a bit of an outcast as a teenager (as are I think many writers were). My family moved from the city to the suburbs when I was in sixth grade and I never made the close friends I had when I lived in Queens (New  York). While I enjoyed sports I wasn’t a jock. I got good grades but I wasn’t into joining science clubs or debate teams. My friends were a diverse group of kids who didn’t fit into any particular clique. So, in a way I could identify with Dara who also felt like an outsider among her own people.

4) When you began to write Curse of the Shamra, did you find that the ending changed a lot? Did it stay the same as you planned?

I don’t write detailed outlines before I begin a book as I know the characters will force me to go in directions I never anticipated. My original ending for the book occurred about twenty or so pages prior to the actual ending. But, as I was finishing the book I knew I had to go further so, yes, the actual ending took a number of twists and turns that I hadn’t planned when I began the book. I also left the new ending open-ended in case I wanted to write a sequel (I didn’t initially plan to write a trilogy). The new ending provided the perfect segue to Shamra Divided, the second book in the series, though I didn’t know it at the time.

5) Did you have a soundtrack for writing this novel? If so, could you name some of the songs?

Music is very important to me. In my adult novels, I mention songs throughout my novels. I’m very much into Rhythm and Blues (from Motown, Stax to the funk of War, The Isley Brothers and the R&B-influenced reggae of Third World). With The Shamra Chronicles coming up with a soundtrack was more difficult as I created a world that existed solely in my mind. However, I think that the soundtrack for the series would feature War’s extended funk-soul-jazz musical interludes you hear on their albums as well as on the title song on the soundtrack for “Youngblood” with probably some Isaac Hayes (instrumentals from “Shaft”) interspersed.

6) Which character was your favorite to write? Which was your least?

I would have to say it was a tie between Tyler and Atyra (one of Dara’s ancestors who doesn't appear in the first book) for my favorites. Tyler wasn’t in my first draft of Curse of the Shamra. After I’d finished the first draft I felt I needed to add some humor. Tyler, Dara’s Bauble (a centipede-like creature who was Dara’s constant companion), allowed me to add the humor I desired. I began writing the Tyler character just before the birth of my granddaughter … whose name was Tyler.The verbal interplay between Dara and Tyler is among my favorite. I enjoyed writing the Atyra character because she was so complex and heroic. She sacrificed more than any Shamra in the entire series and was the most heroic character in the series. Yet, because of the sacrifices she was forced to make, Atrya wasn’t as revered as other Shamra who were far less heroic.

I can’t say there was any character who was my “least” favorite to write. I think the adversaries that the heroes face are as important as the heroes themselves and I enjoy creating my adversaries. I might not like the characters I’ve created but I enjoy bringing them to life. And, interestingly enough, if there is a “villain” in the entire series it’s not those most would suggest. To me the clerics who altered the history of the Shamra (removing all mention of the heroics of females) are the most heinous.

7) Anything else you would like to say about yourself or your books?

For those who read the entire series, there is a bonus novella that follows Chaos Unleashed. It features two other characters who are among my favorites, Dara’s twin daughters Elise and Janae. In the novella I was able to write about honor killings, a heinous practice that is part of the culture of some Middle-Eastern countries and has even occurred in this country among some who have immigrated here. I feel very strongly about human rights and too often the news is filled with the oppression of women around the world. Honor killings are among the most vile of these human rights violations. Oddly, I was able to write about the subject in a YA book with Dara’s twin daughters for the first time able to emerge from the shadow of their mother. And, if I decide to continue the series, I will be able to keep it fresh with the focus on Elise and Janae rather than Dara. I feel I’ve said all there is about Dara’s growth as a person but I’ve only scratched the surface of her daughters.

Thanks so much to Barry Hoffman for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer my questions and also to Cara over at Wunderkind PR for making it possible!

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