Sunday, May 5, 2013

Featured Author: Peter J. Ochs II

About the book:

An MIT astrophysicist is called upon to continue the investigation of a lost civilization on the Arabian Peninsula after the unfortunate and untimely death of the expedition’s lead archeologist. Just why an astronomer is called upon a situation where he is evidently “a fish out of water” is not exactly clear, but his involvement is not accidental and his role becomes pivotal as the story develops.

The research revolves around the location of a cluster of lost cities in the southern Arabian Peninsula that was believed to have been settled over 3000 years ago by a group of people migrating from the Mediterranean with ties to Ancient Greece. This group appears to have been guided to the site by an enigmatic figure who continues to crop up throughout the history of the settlement even though the recorded evidence suggests that the settlement was active for over 800 years. Some time in its ninth century of existence, the civilization and its intriguing father-figure vanished abruptly somewhere about the time of the well known and chronicled collapse of a great earthen dam.

As sites are revealed and artifacts are recovered, the astronomer is drawn into a complex  scenario where his very actions will trigger the story’s climatic events and reveal the identity of the settlement’s mentor.

Interview with Peter Ochs

Peter, what made you decide to become a writer?

I had done some sporadic writing since my college years writing an occasional article or essay and an attempt at a screenplay, but I began in earnest in 1996 when I got the opportunity to write my first book, the Maverick guide to Oman which was eventually published in 1998. Having lived in Oman for several years, I saw the need for a guidebook in a newly developing market in the Middle East. I approached several publishers and eventually got the contract with Pelican Publishing of Gretna, Louisiana. Pelican specialized in guidebooks to off-the-beaten-track destinations, and this fit the bill perfectly.

What do you like best about writing?

What I like about writing is the freedom of expression of putting your feelings down.

What’s your least favorite thing?

What I dislike is rewriting. It is a lot harder to rewrite a book than it is to write it.

Agreed! How did you come up with the title of your book?

Without giving too much away, my original idea for the book, Eyes of the Sage, was based on an idea for an illustration of someone I admired (I was a struggling artist before I became a struggling writer). That illustration developed into the mosaic that is found in the book. There are other lingual turns of phrase that evoke the central character who is called “Al Ayn,” which is the Arabic word for “eye.”

Do you have another job outside of writing?

I am a Certified Interpretive Guide working in Yellowstone National Park.

Cool. How would you describe your book in a tweet? (140 characters or less.)

To paraphrase Umberto Eco from The Name of the Rose: To describe the book properly would take as long as the book itself, contrary to usage.

How did you create the plot for this book?

The early development of the plot arose out of the idea that this story, or plotline would be the basis for a role playing game involving player/characters to solve mazes and puzzles that were built into the story with emphasis on the puzzle solving. After successfully completing all the puzzles, the player/characters would be rewarded with a huge pyro-technic finale, which eventually made its way into the plot of the finished book. I actually made a “playable” version of the story done on a tabletop like an average RPG game with maps, cards and puzzle pieces.

Do you outline, write by the seat of your pants, or let your characters tell you what to write?

A lot of the writing flowed naturally, so I would say it was mostly “seat of my pants” style however, as the characters took shape, sometimes they would dictate what I would write. This is especially true of the four main characters, Hatcher, Faridah, Stink and James. And once again, it flowed quite naturally as their personas took shape.

Love the name Stink. He'd fit right in with my Goose Pimple Junction characters. Cover art: Tell us about yours and how it came about.

As mentioned above, I was a graphic artist (and a book designer) for many years before I got into tourism.  So I prepared most of the graphic elements, including the cover, myself. In the book, which is profusely illustrated, you will see a hodge-podge of media as I used whatever I felt appropriate at the time: watercolor, colored pencils, pen and ink, computer graphics and my own photography. Some of the photos went through severe alterations in photoshop and as such do not exist in reality. (Others, including most of the pictures in Chapter 24, occur as they do in nature and only required minimal color correction. And the pièce de résistance, a 60 x 60 mosaic of the title character was generated on the computer, and as you may expect was the most time consuming.

As for the layout, I was very grateful to my publisher, Virtual Bookworm, to allow me to design the book, cover to cover, an advantage of using a POD publisher. This included layout, style, typefaces, chapter headings, initial caps, and so on. In the end, I am pleased to say that this is totally my baby.

What books have you read more than once or want to read again?

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig
An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears
A Prayer for Own Meany by John Irving
A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth
Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchins
The Cyberiad by Stanislaw Lem
Any book by Rudyard Kipling
Any book by Stephen Jay Gould
Anathem by Neal Stephenson
Walden by Henry David Thoreau
The Golden Bough by Sir James George Frazer

That's quite a list! What’s your favorite line from a book?

"It is not worth the while to go round the world to count the cats in Zanzibar. Yet do this even till you can do better, and you may perhaps find some “Symmes Hole” by which to get at the inside at last...If you would learn to speak all tongues and conform to the customs of all nations, if you would travel farther than all travelers, be naturalized in all climes, and cause the Sphinx to dash her head against a stone, even obey the precept of the old philosopher and Explore thyself. Herein are demanded the eye and the nerve...Start now on that farthest western way, which does not pause at the Mississippi, or the Pacific, nor conduct toward a worn out China or Japan, but leads on direct a tangent to this sphere, summer and winter, day and night, sun down, moon down, and at last earth down too." -Henry David Thoreau, Walden
Tell us a book you’re an evangelist for.

With no pun intended, God is Not Great, by Christopher Hitchens.

Have you ever bought any books just for the cover? 


What do you do to market your book?

Working through VBW, going around to local libraries and book stores.

How do you get to know your characters?

They evolve internally.  Some have facets taken from real people.

When you start a new book, do you know what the entire cast will be?

No. My book went through several cast changes, meaning some minor characters were added or deleted. Only one character went through a major change, when Rashid became Faridah and that allowed me to develop a romantic angle.

Which character did you most enjoy writing?

Probably Al Ayn, because it was so much fun to drop hints about who he really was.

Are any of your characters inspired by real people?

Without being too specific, yes.

If you could be one of your characters, which one would you choose?

Al Ayn, obviously.

Tell us about your favorite scene in the book.

Once again, without being too specific, there are several “Ah-ha!” moments where the reader discovers something that the characters, in the scheme of things, don’t yet know.  It’s fun to write like that and it makes the reader feel like he is privy to something special.

Where’s home for you?

Alexandria, VA

What’s one of your favorite quotes?

"I have a serious rule when it comes to drinking. Never, never drink unless you are alone or with somebody." (attributed to W.C. Fields)

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Play Griddlers or any such grid puzzle, hiking and camping.

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?

Switzerland, or anywhere there are mountains to climb.

If you could take a trip anywhere in the world, where would you go?

Agra, India, to see the Taj Mahal.

What are you working on now?  

Selling my current book before I start another.

About the author: 

Peter J. Ochs II first went to the Sultanate of Oman in 1991 to work in the Reports Section of the Information Centre for the Ministry of Water Resources. As an art director, he assembled scientific texts and graphics into publication form, working with a team of expatriate and Omani Graphic designers. During that time, he had an opportunity to explore the country, both through his job and through weekend wadi bashing. (For those of you not familiar with this common expatriate activity, the act of wadi bashing consists of finding a wadi--which is the Arabic term for river, or river bed, since many do not have continuous flowing water--where you can have a picnic or camp.)

After two years, having amassed a great deal of information about this little known Arabic country, he decided to publicize Oman through writing, photography and artwork. In 1995 he prepared an exhibition of photographs and illustrations which was shown throughout New England at schools, libraries and cultural fairs, and more recently in 1998 at the National Council on US-Arab Relation’s presentation ceremony of the International Peace Award given to His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said, the Sultan of Oman.

In 1996, Peachey (as he is known by friends and colleagues) returned to Oman to write the first English language travel guide to be published in the United States, the Maverick Guide to Oman, published by Pelican Publishing of Gretna, LA. 

From 1998, he was living in Oman working in inbound tourism.  He managed a small company specializing in cultural/adventure tours. Here he designed itineraries, scheduled and conducted adventure/cultural tours, organized fam-trips, created brochures, posters, banners and other marketing material and promoted same, and trained incoming staff as tour guides. He also gave public lectures and slide shows to various cultural and social groups on inbound tourism in Oman using his photographs and illustrations. He has also written magazine articles for travel publications and was a regular contributor to the "Day Out" column in Oman Today. After the 9/11 tragedy, he returned home to the US.
Mr. Ochs is married and has children spread all over the map from the US to Singapore.  He and his wife Letchmi and their kids love to travel together and will go wadi bashing at the slightest provocation.

In 2009, Mr. Ochs obtained CIG status (Certified Interpretive Guide) from the National Association of Interpretation and has since served as historic yellow bus driver/guide at Yellowstone National Park.

Website | Blog | Facebook |Amazon