My Learning About The Music Of Africa Is Important Because Interview with Elle Newmark, author of "Bones of the Dead"

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Interview with Elle Newmark, author of "Bones of the Dead"

Elle Newmark is an award-winning author of books based on her travels; he traveled the backstreets of Venice to prepare his delicious novel Bones of the Dead. Elle also wrote “Cloud Forest” by walking through the jungles of Costa Rica and “Devil’s Wind” while traveling by car and elephant in India. Two new books are coming soon, but today he’s here to talk about Bones of the Dead.

Tyler: You’re welcome, Elle. I’m glad you could join me today. First of all, I understand that Bones is a mild mystery novel set in 15th century Venice. How did you become interested in 15th century Venice and what made you decide to make it the subject of your novel?

Elle: The Renaissance was an incredibly rich time for a writer. Man awakening from a long intellectual slumber, science and humanism all exploding at the same time, much of it happening in Italy, the home of my ancestors. How can I resist?

Of course, Venice is very unique. A palace city built on water is a terrible idea, but still. It’s amazing – the pageants, the architecture, the history – amazing! I’ve lived in Europe for seven years and traveled to almost every continent, but I’ve never seen a place like Venice.

To quote my narrator: “Venice has always been the perfect setting for the poet’s secrets, temptations, and melancholy thoughts. Venice, plagued by evil, invites moral surrender, not a wink, but the realization that it is always there. Queen was lazy under the king’s name.” It’s perfect for Bones.

Tyler: The main character, Luciano, is apprenticed to a dog chef, and together they embark on a dangerous adventure. How would you describe their relationship?

Elle: The chef picks up Luciano from the street as an orphan and takes him to the palace kitchen in a Dickensian way. Luciano is grateful that the chef has an ulterior motive; She has a long-standing desire to have a son, and she needs a secret heir. The chef is a mysterious character whose true purpose is slowly revealed.

But the chef and Luciano grew to love each other like father and son. The chef becomes Luciano’s mentor, protector, and teacher, literally his father.

Tyler: In your book, you use food as a metaphor to drive the plot forward. You say, “As intrigue heats up and schemes thicken like soup, a mysterious chef leads Luciano through a dangerous but delicious maze using metaphorical soufflés and mysterious sauces.” Why did you use food as a metaphor?

Elle: My dad is a master chef, so I think the food analogy was inevitable. I grew up in an Italian family where food played a central role not only on special occasions, but every day. My first job at age ten was making homemade ravioli on a long table covered in pasta in our basement. Of course, I learned to cook, and I’ve often thought that food preparation is full of metaphors. And I love the concept of food history.

We say that all the time, don’t we? “Everything is the spice of life”, “What you eat”, “Dry as toast”, “Salt of the earth”, “Tor and the color of butter”, “Cooked in your own juice”. Food affects all our senses. Everyone loves the satisfying taste of nuts, the intoxicating smell of fresh bread, the sound of ripe cherries and crispy bacon. Food suppresses the senses. We wonder if we eat food and if it eats us.

As far as metaphors go, could there be a more perfect metaphor for the impermanence of life than a souffle? Well, maybe a rose, but that’s a cliché. The souffle blooms and is wonderful, then disappears. You came to appreciate it or remembered. The chef’s spiritual message is “Be here now.” I’m a Buddhist, so I think I’d get a souffle instead of a rose when I grew up with a Buddhist author cook.

Tyler: I understand that the plot revolves around Luciano, where powerful people plan to decipher an ancient tome that contains the secrets of heresy, love potions, alchemy, and even immortality. Where did the idea for this book come from?

Elle: Books were very important during the Renaissance – the printing press was the dawn of humanity. Until then, the power structure in Europe ruled the people with an iron fist by restricting the flow of knowledge. The problem is when books introduce crazy new ideas (like the Earth revolving around the Sun). Books are regularly reviewed for disturbing content.

However, there is no denying human ingenuity. People find innovative ways to protect their ideas, such as putting pages in jars and hiding them in caves near the Dead Sea. The chef hid his subversive intentions in plain sight and encrypted them in his recipe. The written word somehow survives to illuminate the past and show the way forward.

Bones of the Dead is about a book that contains a forbidden secret. Human nature being what it is, everyone thinks there is something they want most in a book. Luciano wants a love potion, the old dog doesn’t want to die, one man wants gold, the other wants power. No one knows exactly what’s in the book, but they know what they want it to be.

Tyler: Immortality and alchemy often come up as dreams and goals in fiction. What do you find interesting about them?

Elle: I find them interesting for the same reasons as everyone else. Immortality is attractive because no one wants to die. We try to deceive ourselves that we do not age – we dye our hair gray and worship the beauty of youth, so we spend billions on wrinkle creams, dieting and plastic surgery. Aging isn’t good because it smells like death.

Regardless of all this, we die, but we achieve immortality by what we leave behind. Whether we like it or not, we all leave behind a trace of our DNA. Most of us try to leave behind something more meaningful, such as art, skills, ideas, or values. I believe that by passing these things down to the next generation, we will achieve immortality. That is why I dedicated this novel to teachers.

Oh, and alchemy, yes, that’s an old favorite because it speaks to what’s deep in the human mind. Alchemy is greed and the desire to believe in magic. If people didn’t fantasize about get-rich-quick, the lottery would be dead. Last time I checked it was working amazingly well.

Tyler: Why did you choose Bones?

Elle: The title works on several levels. First there’s a scene where a dog and the papal astrologer eat Italian cookies called bones of the dead. As the characters nibble on the bones of the dead, they talk about the illusion of defeating death, which introduces the theme of immortality.

Second, all the churches in Europe have catacombs and bones of saints as relics. The chef pointed out that these were only bones, symbols of the true heritage lived by courage and wisdom, something Luciano wanted to teach.

Third, as Chef Luciano says, “Civilization is built on the bones of the dead.” All kinds of teachers pass down knowledge from one generation to the next, and thus humanity moves forward. That’s why I chose a quote from Isaac Newton when I wrote the book: “If I have seen farther than other men, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.”

Tyler: I understand that there is a political intrigue in this book involving the Church. This novel seems to have a conspiracy theory feel to it. Do you think the issues here are indicative of the world today?

Elle: Any novel of literary value speaks to the present, that is, to universal themes. In the Middle Ages, the Church exerted political influence, and popes conspired with heads of state. During the Renaissance, free thinkers challenged that power structure. It may not be the pope these days, but we all know there are huge deals going on behind the scenes. Politics is still politics.

“Bones of the Dead” carries the message that we don’t have to lose personally in the power struggle that is shrouded in the upper part. We can choose to live with justice and purpose, no matter what conspiracies are going on behind closed doors.

But if by conspiracy theory you mean the Gnostic Gospels and references to Jesus, there’s nothing in my writing that hasn’t already been suggested. This is not new; just controversial.

Tyler: What authors or books would you say have influenced your writing?

Elle: Oh, there are so many. Early influences were Jones-Steinbeck and Updike. Steinbeck for his humanity, Updike for his life, imagines every last whimsical detail. I also love the way magical realists Gabriel García Márquez and Isabel Allende bend reality and take me with them. Ian McEwan amazes me with his ability to portray the dark side of human nature with insight and compassion. Ann Patchett has a gentle touch; Rohintin Mistry offers us a compelling and compelling view of India; Toni Morrison is an outside color, but great; Tim O’Brien describes war with a desire to take away its own pain; Sebastian Faulks draws me into foreign landscapes of time and mind; Kasuo Isaguro is a genius…

Honestly, there are so many great writers I could go on forever. Everyone just wants to go to the library, go to the bookstore, and try new authors. Test.

Tyler: Does writing historical fiction interest you, and do you find anything challenging or frustrating about it?

Elle: I love everything about historical fiction – reading it, writing it, researching it. What work could I wish for more comprehensively than the history of mankind? What richer palette could I use than the tapestry of human experience? The writer of history draws on a vast resource of human behavior, but with the benefit of hindsight.

Tyler: Can you tell us a little bit about your next two novels?

Elle: Cloud Forest tells the story of indigenous people in the Amazon rainforest and their struggle to escape 20th-century encroachment. It took him more than a year to research the book, and he took an unforgettable trip through the jungle.

The Devil’s Wind is set in India in 1948, the year of Partition and Gandhi. It’s about the power of forgiveness, and exploring that led me to India. The elephant ride is amazing.

Tyler: Of course you love to travel. What about travel inspires your writing?

Elle: The sense of displacement kicks my creativity into high gear. It’s easy to fall into a routine and walk half-awake in familiar surroundings. But when you travel, everything is new, you don’t know what’s around the next corner, and every moment is exciting. I was addicted to that feeling of discovery.

Experiencing the world and its people is a great and humbling adventure. Writing about it is a way to understand and share.

Tyler: Where do you plan to travel next, research other books?

Elle: I would love to go back to Africa and see more, who knows, maybe a book will come out of it. But right now, I think that my next book will take place in the online world.

I am fascinated by the meetings of the minds that take place on the Internet. Nowadays, most of us live a certain part of our lives virtually, and as a result, our inner world is significantly enlarged. We interact with people we would never meet in our daily lives. It’s unprecedented and I’m interested in how it’s changing us.

Tyler: Thanks for joining me today, Elle. Before we get there, can you tell readers where they can find out more about Bones and where they can buy it?

Elle: You’re welcome: You can visit my website at http://www.ellenewmark.com or order Bones of the Dead from Amazon.

As a thank you, everyone is invited to a virtual revival party on November 27th at http://www.bonesofthedead.com. If you order Bones that day, you can use your Amazon confirmation number. party password. We’ll have music, I’ll be serving food for thought, and we’ll be giving away free party downloads. Invite everyone.

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