Monday, February 13, 2012

Author Interview: Anna Patricio

Today I welcome Anna Patricio, author of Asenath, which I reviewed several months ago. Asenath is an incredible book and I am thrilled to share this interview with this wonderful author.

Describe the area you write in.

It’s quiet, absolutely silent. There are no distractions – no people moving about, no TV and radio (if ever there are, they are switched off), nothing. It’s a totally solitary environment.
Well, it’s nothing fancy. It’s simply my room at night. For some reason, I can work better at night than in the daytime. Also, I need complete stillness and silence to be able to write. I once tried writing in an airport, but it didn’t work. I hardly got past 2 sentences.

What's your favorite season?

None in particular, though I do love it when it rains, if that counts. Many people see the rain as a
nuisance. I see it as calming, peaceful and beautiful.

At times, it can indeed be a bit of a hassle. I get really nervous about driving in the rain. But for the most part, I still prefer rainy days to sunny days.

What is your favorite snack food?

Oh my, too many to mention! Potato chips, chocolates (especially dark chocolate), cookies... I used to really indulge before but now, I’m (trying to) exercise more self-control. And I’m trying to eat healthier as well. These days I make it a habit to munch on mandarins or apples.

What is your favorite TV show and why?

I’m not really into TV shows. Well, I watch The Simpsons every now and then for some light, silly
humour. I also watch some Comedy Central stuff as well.
A few years ago, I was really into Ugly Betty mainly because an actor I liked at the time guest starred in it (Eddie Cibrian, who played Justin’s gym teacher and Betty’s sister’s scandalous beau). From there, I got hooked in the show itself. Everyone knew not to ring me while Ugly Betty was on.
I continued to watch it even after Cibrian’s character left the show, but sometime later, my interest in it waned.

Not sure if this counts, but I adore historical documentaries. As a matter of fact, the weekend before
Asenath was released, there was a documentary on Akhenaton. He wasn’t the Pharaoh in my story
though (the Pharaohs in my story are Amenhotep I, then Tuthmosis I). But still. It was a pretty cool

Oh! On Saturday nights here in Australia, they show several short films on one of the channels here,
SBS. I love SBS because that’s where all the artistic and historical shows are (historical documentaries, opera, foreign films etc). Anyway, the said short films are really – what’s a word to describe them –avant-garde? And I love the artistic and unusual. There was this one short film entitled The Girl Who Swallowed Bees about a girl who wanted to kill herself, when one day she, um, swallowed bees and became happy.

Oh, look, it’s on youtube:

I saw you have traveled a bit, where is your favorite place you have traveled to?

Well, this is probably pretty obvious – Egypt and Israel! I had been reading about those places for much of my life, and to see them in person was, wow, completely outta this world.  We landed in Egypt first, then continued onto Israel by land. I remember when the plane was hovering over Egypt, my face was stuck to the window the entire time. It was all rolling sand dunes below me.  Then when Cairo came into view, there were buildings that looked like little boxes. It was cute. I was feeling pretty high when we finally landed, and I’ve never even been on drugs.

Oh, I’ve also been to Athens and Rome, and they were pretty awesome as well. I also love Japan and
Thailand, which I travelled to when I was a teenager.

Tell us a little bit about Asenath.

Asenath is a fictional memoir of the little-known wife of Joseph of the multicoloured coat. Our heroine begins life in a little village by the Nile, as the only daughter of a fisherman and his wife. Her world is perfect: she has a loving family, great friends, and a beautiful riverside home. However, all that is shattered when a warring jungle tribe ransacks the village and kidnaps some of the inhabitants,
including Asenath. In the process, she is separated from her parents.

Sometime later, the captives are rescued by Pharaoh’s army and returned home. Alas, Asenath’s parents were killed in the raid. She and the other orphans are taken to Heliopolis, where she is adopted by the powerful high priest and his wife.

Years later, Asenath meets a Hebrew steward named Joseph. Despite the enormous social gap between them, she feels a bond with him and – yes – falls in love with him as well. But then, Joseph is falsely accused by his master’s wife and thrown into prison.

And... that’s probably about as much as I’ll say, plot-wise. Asenath is my debut novel and it is part
Biblical fiction, part historical fiction, part drama, part romance.

This brings me to the next question...

What made you choose the person Asenath to write about?

I have always been an enthusiast of the Joseph story. I knew about it since childhood though, but it
was later on in my life that I realised what a touching and powerful story it is. I really admire Joseph’s character, how he went through so much and maintained his integrity and kindness. In the end, he even forgave the brothers who sold him.

Then somewhere along the way, I grew curious about the Egyptian woman he married. Whenever I tell people I have written about Asenath, the most common reaction I get is: “I didn’t know Joseph had a wife!” Well, neither did I, until I delved deeper into Joseph’s story.

Asenath is mentioned very briefly in the Bible, and I suppose this is what made me all the more curious about her. It was as if she was this tiny voice begging to be heard. And eventually, she suceeded.

I sought to look her up, but it was all in vain. There was hardly anything about her. There were a few
ancient tales, and while interesting, they were all fiction. It was rather disappointing, as I was hoping to glean something about her life.

Eventually, I began to imagine how she might have been like. I somehow like to think that just like her husband, her character was developed through numerous travails. Maybe this is what really happened to her, maybe this isn’t. But what if it happened this way?

So because hardly anything is known about her, I then thought she would make an interesting topic for a novel.

I had actually been toying around with ideas for an Asenath novel since my student days. One day in
class, a teacher of mine mentioned that orphans in Ancient Greece were sent to temples and later
adopted out. Suddenly, I had my beginning. Now I had to figure out the rest. Overtime, I wrote sometimes from the middle, sometimes from the end. But one day I just began writing everything from the start, and it all seemed to fall into place. Almost as if the story wrote itself.

What kind of research did you have to do to write Asenath?

Having majored in Ancient History at the university, not to mention I had already read extensively on
Joseph in the past, I was pretty much at an advantage. I used my notes and syllabi as a starting point,
then headed to the library of my alma mater to dig up more info.

Basically, my research focused on several accounts of Joseph (aside from Hebrew scriptures, there were also Jewish folktales and even some episodes from the Quran) and Egyptian history. Of course, with the former, I was mostly refreshing my memory since I had already delved into it before. I never imagined there was so much material out there about Joseph. I thought everything was in Genesis only!  Anyway, some scenes in my novel are based on those different accounts. The scene in which a guest at Potiphar’s banquet gets distracted by Joseph’s beauty and slices her hand instead of her fruit was from the Quran. My artistic licence with Asenath’s parentage was inspired by an ancient Jewish folktale which has her as the daughter of Dinah, Joseph’s half-sister (though in my novel, Asenath is not Hebrew but Egyptian through and through). And the bees in the garden scene was inspired by the Greek apocryphal tale Joseph and Asenath, which is probably the most widely known source on Asenath.

Credit for the bees, by the way, goes to my editor. In the beginning I had butterflies, as they are
beautiful and my second favourite animal (after dogs). But my editor suggested we have bees instead as a nod to the Greek tale. I thought it was a pretty good idea and went along with it.

As for the Egyptian history angle, I did a lot of research on temples, seeing as Asenath was in a priestly family. I also looked up the details of everyday life, such as food, houses, banquets, etc. I found an interesting book in my university’s library about gardens in Ancient Egypt, and it was just the ticket for me seeing as my portrayal of Asenath loves gardens.

Of course, I also looked up the Pharaohs who appear in this novel. Even though they are minor
characters, it was still important to get this very crucial detail right. I looked at Amenhotep I, Tuthmosis I and his family.

Ancient history has a lot of grey areas, so there were some aspects I didn’t get clear and concise
information on, such as certain temple ceremonies. I then employed artistic licence there, but tried to
make it as believable as I could.

What are you working on now?

I am currently playing around with ideas for a second novel set in the time of Moses. I know it seems like I planned it out – after writing about Joseph, I would write about Moses. But I honestly did not intend it that way! It just... came!

Like Asenath, this would be another female-driven novel. And apparently, it seems that Moses’ adoptive mother, the princess who rescues him from the river, has asked me to write about her. And why not?

She is not as obscure as Asenath, but we aren’t really told much about her except for that crucial
moment with the baby in the basket.  I actually wrote a very rough draft of it last year, while Asenath was on submission. I have not touched it in a while though because I then grew busy with the publication preparations for Asenath. But hopefully, sometime this year. Not to mention there’s another lovely lot of research to be done.

Thank you for having me on your blog and for the lovely review of Asenath, Crystal! It was a real

About Asenath
Two Destinies...One Journey of Love

In a humble fishing village on the shores of the Nile lives Asenath, a fisherman's daughter who has everything she could want. Until her perfect world is shattered.

When a warring jungle tribe ransacks the village and kidnaps her, separating her from her parents, she is forced to live as a slave. And she begins a journey that will culminate in the meeting of a handsome and kind steward named Joseph.

Like her, Joseph was taken away from his home, and it is in him that Asenath comes to find solace…and love. But just as they are beginning to form a bond, Joseph is betrayed by his master’s wife and thrown into prison.

Is Asenath doomed to a lifetime of losing everything and everyone she loves?