Welcome to the NCG Author Spotlight, a new monthly column giving you a behind the scenes look at your favorite NCG authors!
Mark Leslie Shook
Our first author interview is with the author of the new NCG hit: Search for the Sacred Scroll, Mark Leslie Shook. In our interview, Mark talks about his time as a Rabbi, the research that went into his book, and advice for new writers.
NCG: What does Search for the Sacred Scroll mean to you and why would you recommend it for your readers?
Mark: Search for the Sacred Scroll is, for me, the culmination of fifty years of teaching the Hebrew Scriptures. It is my effort to answer a really fundamental question: How did this unique collection of Hebrew literature come together in the first place? Then there are two subsequent questions: Who brought it together? Why?
NCG: Your book has been compared to "The Davinci Code for Judaism". How does that make you feel?
Mark: It is an incredibly flattering comparison. I hope to earn it. Like The DaVinci Code, I hope that Search for the Sacred Scroll opens up a thousand discussions on Biblical texts and just how they became thought of as SACRED. My central idea is that the Torah (As The Five Books of Moses are called) was assembled from ancient traditions in order to create a common national STORY for the people who would become known to us as Israel. If the people had a common story of their origins. The editors of that STORY were very good at their task because it became foundational for most of Western Civilization. The DaVinci Code opened up a discussion of alternative gospels that were discovered during the last century, in archeological digs. Perhaps Search for the Sacred Scroll will encourage more discussion about the Documentary Hypothesis of Julius Graf-Welhausen, which proposed that the Torah was a composite work, made up of multiple sources from multiple eras.
NCG: What kind of research did you do to write this book?
Mark: It is as if my whole life has been engaged in this research. My teaching required extensive preparation and all of it was directed toward understanding the origins of the Hebrew Scriptures. A degree or two in Hebrew Letters did not go wasted in this effort.
NCG: What was one of the most surprising things you learned while writing this book?
Mark: There were a couple of moments along the way when I knew this effort was meant to be. I was researching a geographic location in Modern Iraq for a part of the story that takes place in ancient Babylonia. I wanted the location to have a simple name so people would not have a problem reading it or saying it. To make the narrative work, the location also had to have been a place where Jews lived in the past as well as the 20th Century. Sura was my first choice, but there was no 20th Century Jewish community in Sura, Iraq. Another possibility was the ancient Jewish community of Pumbedita. As reluctant as I was to choose it as the center of the ancient part of the story, I could not resist once I had discovered that ancient Pumbedita was known today in Iraq as Fallujah. Everything fell into place from there.
NCG: Your book is fantastic and I hope our readers love it! What got you into writing?
Mark: Writing is a necessary survival skill for a rabbi. It's like having a five-page paper due every three days. Between class and pulpit preparation writing is essential. Over time I came to enjoy the process as much as the result. Writing Search for the Sacred Scroll was the most fun I have ever had. Its a great way to reach a larger and thoughtful audience.
NCG: If you were not a writer (or a Rabbi), what would be your ideal career?
Mark: I would have loved to have been a radio talk show host. My first professional gig was as a child actor on the radio, doing children's stories.
NCG: Where do you see the book industry heading in the next decade?
Mark: I am a rabbi and not much of a prophet. I do see a gradual return to books on some sort of medium but it probably will not be paper. I am a big-e-book fan because of the sheer number of books I can schlep around with me in my e-reader. Its amazing! More work needs to be done in making reference searches more user friendly.
NCG: Do you have any go-to advice for new writers?
Mark: I will only give advice to fiction writers. Just start writing. You never know where your story will take you. Write it once, then twice, then more until you like the product. Too many good stories are lost in the letters and indents of an outline forest.
NCG: Can you give us a sneak peek at any current projects?
Mark: After the Search for the Sacred Scroll series is completed (keep an eye on Newhouse Creative Group's social media and The NCG Narrative in the coming months), I shall produce a sequel that focuses on John the Baptist. It's working title is The Leper's Testament.
NCG: Any favorite books you'd like to share with our readers?
Mark: The Bible With and Without Jesus, Amy-Jill Levineand Tsvi Marc Brettler, A Jew Among the Romans, Frederic Raphael, The Truth at the Heart of the Lie, James Carroll. I read all kinds of mysteries from England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden
Mark can be reached at email@example.com or through Newhouse Creative Group.