An Interview with Mark E Sorenson
I know A RESTAURANT IN JAFFA is your debut novel, but have you always been a writer?
No, not at all. I had very little training in school and during my work career my writing was limited to emails and PowerPoint slides. That’s about it.
So, what was your journey to becoming a novelist?
I graduated college with a degree in psychology and began work as social rehab therapist in a hospital for geriatric and psychiatric patients. Great job, embarrassingly poor pay, and limited opportunity for advancement. In the late ‘70s early ‘80s, the computer industry was beginning to boom in New England, so I switched gears and joined Digital Equipment Corporation as a computer operator. From midnight to eight, I’d back up data and clean and maintain tape drives and printers. I usually finished my work around five and used my remaining time to teach myself how to program. Over time, I became a software engineer, then went into management. I retired as Senior Vice President of Software Development at a major computer firm.
That’s quite a career change.
Yeah, from mini computers to smartphones, from the Arpanet to the Internet, I witnessed a lot of innovations. I also got to work with a lot of very smart people, was constantly learning, and got to travel the world. So, pretty good gig.
So where did the desire to write come from?
As I said, I was not a writer, but I was certainly a reader. I traveled a lot for work, and while everyone else on the plane was watching movies, I was devouring novels. On long trips, before the days of Kindles and eReaders, my briefcase would be stuffed with books. The good ones came home with me, while the others got left in far-off hotel rooms. For years I thought, “One of these days I’m going to write my own novel.” After I left tech, I did.
With no creative writing training, how did you start?
On the advice of my friend and former colleague Rich Marcello, who had been on a similar path, I began taking classes and attending seminars at GrubStreet, a non-profit creative writing organization in Boston. I also took a handful of online courses from The Great Courses, and finally, I read a lot of books on writing.
Favorite writing book?
ON WRITING by Stephen King.
One of your favorite authors I presume?
He’s an incredible writer and I’ve enjoyed reading him, but probably not a favorite genre of mine.
Who and what then?
Historical fiction is what I gravitate too. And thrillers, of course. I’d say Ken Follett is my favorite author.
Where did the storyline for A RESTAURANT IN JAFFA come from? Did you always have the plot in your head?
No, not really. I started with some themes. Computers and the computer industry was one. Write what you know, they say. I wanted some exotic locales and I had managed a team of developers in Israel. I got to visit quite a bit and found it a fascinating place. Cyberterror seemed like a natural plot line; add in a brilliant protagonist and an equally brilliant love interest and there you go.
And then you just sat down and wrote?
I did a high-level outline first. Nothing too detailed, just ideas for the beginning, middle and end. I used the Freytag Pyramid for structure. With some scribbling on a yellow legal notepad as a roadmap, I sat down and wrote. It just came out. The mythical muse, I guess.
Can I assume there’s a real restaurant in the town of Jaffa that Al Hadyag was modeled after?
Yes. I can’t recall its real name, but it obviously left an impression on me.
What about Lise’s flashback? Quite a jarring scene. Where did that come from?
I spent a couple days listening to the oral histories of survivors. That scene is an amalgamation of some of their stories.
What was the hardest part about writing A RESTAURANT IN JAFFA?
I’d have to say cutting scenes and characters. The early drafts of the book were much too long. So, a character or two had to be chopped, and, initially, there was more about Silicon Valley. I also cut a bunch of historical background and historical anecdotes.
Sorry, saving all of that for my next book.
Another novel starring Ryan and Eliana?
Possibly. I think there’s an opportunity for a follow-up book. I’m also researching historical periods and seeing if there is a historical fiction book in me. Not sure what’s next.