Guest Post | John Shors, author of Beneath a Marble Sky and Beside A Burning Sea
I just finished reading Beside a Burning Sea and loved it, my review is here. It is the second book written by Mr. Shors I’ve had the pleasure of reading. I’ve also read his first book, Beneath A Marble Sky. Another fabulous book. Both are very moving, touching love stories told in vastly different times and places in history. I’m looking forward to reading books 3 and 4 which are in the works so I’m told.
There is a belief held by many in the publishing world that an author’s first novel is typically somewhat autobiographical. Characters and setting are often not far from the writer’s experiences, which obviously makes it easier to bring such people and places to life on the page. Getting one’s debut novel published is hard enough without trying to write about voices and conversations and cities that haven’t been experienced.
My first novel, Beneath a Marble Sky, tells the remarkable story behind the creation of the Taj Mahal. The narrator of the tale is the daughter of the emperor Shah Jahan, who built the Taj Mahal in memory of his beloved wife.
Now, having been born and raised in Des Moines, Iowa, didn’t put me in the best position to write Beneath a Marble Sky. After all, I didn’t have a whole lot in common with my narrator, who lived about 350 years ago, and was an Indian princess. Plus, as a male author, I worried about how realistically I’d be able to bring a woman’s voice to life.
But after a trip to India, after seeing the Taj Mahal and being swept away by its majesty and magic, I knew that my first novel had to be the story of those who built this incredible mausoleum. I had no choice in the matter. The story had never been told in the West, and I felt blessed to have stumbled upon it. I believed that the story could make the basis for a wonderful debut novel that would launch my literary career.
Wanting to understand the people and the period that I was trying to bring to life, I spent a year researching. I lived in India for a month. I read everything possible about the Taj Mahal. I consumed the Quran, Hindu texts, memoirs of the era. I looked at hundreds of period paintings and emailed experts in India. In short, I immersed myself in a world that I did not come from, but that I was remaking.
Beneath a Marble Sky has done quite well. It received great reviews, won a national award, is a bestseller in the U.S., and is now in 20 languages. Hollywood is making a major movie based on it. I’m often asked by readers why I chose to write about the Taj Mahal rather than something I could more easily relate to. My answer is simple—I wanted to find a wonderful story and make that story shine. It didn’t matter to me where the story took place. What mattered was the beauty of that story.
I’m a full-time writer these days and certainly could write novels based in Iowa, or near my current home in Boulder, Colorado. But I’m not interested in doing so. I’d rather continue to create tales set in places that I must seek out to understand. My second novel, Beside a Burning Sea, is set in the South Pacific during World War Two. My third novel, which I’ve almost finished, occurs in modern-day Saigon, and features street children as the primary characters.
I hope that my readers will continue to follow me to such places. My belief is that readers want to open novels that take them to new worlds. I know that, of the thousands of books I’ve read, my favorite works have been those which transported me to a different time and place. And taking my readers on such journeys is one of my most important goals.