People watching is a great way to create unique and memorable characters, but remember to write down your observations so you don’t forget.
M.N. Mekaelian – 1 August 2017
The Back Flap
Set in a forgotten land in the heart of World War One, Choose to Rise: The Victory Within paints the vividly realistic portrait of one of the most horrific atrocities of the modern world– The Armenian Genocide of 1915.
Told through eyes of an old Armen Hagopian reliving his youth, you will be immersed in this unbelievable story of survival against the merciless Ottoman Turkish government. Through his journey, Armen and his older brother, Vartan, must discover what it takes to overcome the brutality while deciding who will live, who will die, and whether or not they have the strength to save an entire race from total annihilation.
Filled with passion, suspense, love, and inspiration, Choose to Rise is a book that is hard to ignore. It questions everything you know about humanity, what it means to be alive, and will stay with you long after you finish.
About the book
What is the book about?
Choose to Rise is a powerful story of survival that follows two brothers during the final years of the Ottoman Empire as the government begins the systematic execution of 1.5 million Armenians. It is a passionately written narrative that takes place during World War One, from the years 1913-1915. Kirkus Reviews calls it “impressive”, “memorable”, and a “beautiful story”.
When did you start writing the book?
I started with the idea in February 2011, and put pen to paper one month later.
How long did it take you to write it?
Choose to Rise is separated into three parts, and each of the three parts took me one year to write. I finished the first unedited draft in March of 2014, three years after I started. I gave it to my mom on Mother’s Day. I then spent the next three years editing, fact-checking, and designing the cover. So, in all, it took six years to complete.
Where did you get the idea from?
I actually touched upon this topic in a letter I wrote to my readers in the beginning of my book. In a nutshell, I always knew that I wanted to write a book, and the idea came to me from my own heritage, from me being Armenian.
Were there any parts of the book where you struggled?
The research phase was quite challenging. Reading about and studying genocide for six years was very difficult because it’s a subject matter that’s so violent. I simply couldn’t wrap my mind around how humans could inflict so much suffering and damage to other humans.
What came easily?
The easiest part, if I had to pick one, was making the cover. It was actually kind of fun.
Are your characters entirely fictitious or have you borrowed from real world people you know?
My characters are entirely fictitious, although I did borrow traits I liked from different people (not necessarily people I knew) and put them into my characters. For example, if I liked the particular way someone laughed in real life, I would incorporate that type of laugh into my book, using descriptive language to try to capture it. People watching is a great way to create unique and memorable characters, but remember to write down your observations so you don’t forget.
We all know how important it is for writers to read. Are there any particular authors that have influenced how you write and, if so, how have they influenced you?
I actually didn’t want to be influenced by a particular author’s style of writing since Choose to Rise was going to be my first book. I wanted my style of writing to be original and unique to me. Therefore, I didn’t read at all during my writing process, except for when I had to conduct research. Although one of my favorite authors is Hunter S. Thompson, who wrote The Rum Diary and Fear and Loathing in Last Vegas.
Do you have a target reader?
The Armenian Genocide was the first genocide of the twentieth century, and an atrocity that most people don’t know about, so my audience is anyone who loves a well-told, beautiful story who isn’t afraid to learn something new. This book will also appeal greatly to readers who love historical fiction. It is a remarkable story that illustrates a terrible time during World War One. It is empowering, filled with love, inspiration, and adventure.
Do you have a writing process? If so can you please describe it?
The writing process for me is less about writing and more about observing. I figured that If I wanted to write a fictional story that resonates, I had to make it believable. In order to make it believable, I had to make it relatable to the reader. I achieved this by making the plot, characters, and setting based on what I saw, heard, smelled, tasted, and felt from the real world. Based on my senses. Therefore, my sources of influence came from real settings, making for a more realistic and believable story. Also, I keep numerous notebooks handy to write down my observations and random ideas as they come to me. I have a notebook in my car, next to my bed, and in my pocket. I do this so I don’t forget my ideas. Too many times I thought I’d remember, but didn’t, kind of like having a dream. Often, too, I would find myself waking up in the middle of the night with a great new idea, and having the notebook next to my bed made the process so much easier.
Do you outline? If so, do you do so extensively or just chapter headings and a couple of sentences?
Absolutely. Early on, I created a timeline of historical events that I eventually intertwined with a fictional story. I had outlined three years of the Ottoman Empire from 1913-1915 based on research. In fact, I had also created a second timeline of events strictly for the fictional characters. The fictional timeline was much more flexible, though, because I learned early on that my characters had taken a life of their own. Almost like real people, they had their own thoughts, and eventually made their timeline for me.
Do you edit as you go or wait until you’ve finished?
Before I began typing for the day, I would edit everything I wrote the day before. I did this to ensure I had something solid before continuing with the storyline. I also did this to keep the language and style of my writing consistent from day to day because I learned that I didn’t write the same every day. For the reader, that consistency is important.
Did you hire a professional editor?
As the last step of the writing process, I did hire an editor last minute, but by that time, he said it was already very well polished. I still think it’s important to do so, just to get a trained set of eyes on your work before the world sees it. You’ll most likely read your manuscript a thousand times over, which can desensitize you to, and cause you to oversee many errors.
Do you listen to music while you write? If yes, what gets the fingers tapping?
Absolutely. Music was one of my major sources of influence. I never truly understood the power music could have until its beauty came out in my written words. Music has this unique authority over and ability to shape your imagination, and it took my writing to a whole new level. For example, when I was writing the emotional parts of my book, I would listen to music that would match the emotion I was trying to capture. The result was staggering, producing extremely authentic language that evokes emotions that I never thought could be possible with written words. Most of the music I listened to was movie scores without words. You will really see it in my style of writing.
Did you submit your work to Agents?
Yes, I did. Early on, before I knew anything about the publishing industry, I submitted the first three chapters of my manuscript to a major publisher, entirely unsolicited, completely disregarding the guidelines that specifically mentioned that they do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. Nearly a year later, I received a letter in the mail, handwritten by one of the editors, saying how they really liked my manuscript and wanted more. They advised me to write to agents, which I did for a short while, but gave up soon after citing the unbearably slow response times (around a year). By the time the major publisher had written back, though, I had finished the cover and had a proof copy of my book in my hands, so I sent the completed work to them, thinking I would impress them. I don’t think they liked that I had done their job, so I never heard back, and that was the end of it.
What made you decide to go Indie, whether self-publishing or with an indie publisher? Was it a particular event or a gradual process?
I wanted complete control over my story and its meaning. It is a very powerful story that I was afraid would be changed to the liking of someone other than me, which I didn’t feel comfortable with. I also wanted complete control of my cover, which came to me in a dream.
Did you get your book cover professionally done or did you do it yourself?
I taught myself how to use a program called GIMP (the free version of Photoshop), and made the cover myself.
Do you have a marketing plan for the book or are you just winging it?
Word of mouth is very powerful, and a strategy that I still firmly believe in. That’s my only marketing strategy at this point. I’m awful at marketing.
Any advice that you would like to give to other newbies considering becoming Indie authors?
Know what you’re getting yourself into. Writing a book is a huge accomplishment, and, self-publishing for that matter, is a long and challenging process that requires dedication. If you want to produce an outstanding piece of art (which is what a book is), you almost have to obsess over it. It can also get expensive, so hiring people to do things for you should be on the bottom of your list. Keep costs as low as possible. If you can make your own cover, do it. If you don’t have a laptop, buy the cheapest one. Do everything you can on your own before buying services. Also, like I mentioned before, have several notebooks handy, and write down everything, even if you think it’s dumb.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in the Chicago area.
Where do you live now?
What would you like readers to know about you?
I am a guy with an intense imagination. You will see it in my writing. I am also a teacher.
What are you working on now?
I am working on my master’s degree.
End of Interview:
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