Thursday, March 08, 2007

Violent Sands by Sean Young - Review/Interview

Violent Sands - A Novel
by Sean Young
softcover, 2006, Breakneck Books
ISBN 0978655133
387 pgs.

From the very first page of Violent Sands, Sean Young pulls us into a time in history when nothing appears as it seems.

Rome - above the surface she is admired for her architecture and lavish lifestyle. But by night she contaminates the known world with her power, greed, and horrific violence towards anyone who stands in her way.

Warrior zealots - they loathe the Roman Empire and all it stands for. Looking for the coming Messiah who will free their people from Roman rule, they seek vengeance and freedom in devastating blows, then melt back into the desert and wait for their prey to relax once again.

Barabbas - a leader among the zealots. Revenge and hatred runs through his veins. He seeks the destruction of Rome, the protection of an ancient secret, and the love of a god-fearing woman. Violence is all he’s known. But when he is captured and sentenced to death, one man is forced to take his place. They call him Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus of Nazareth - a teacher, a prophet, a miracle worker. His death subdues the rage of the Sanhedrin, but His message does not die. An empty tomb, a following of people, and ancient words which describe the very death he endured. Is there more to the man than meets the eye?

Violent Sands is the story of another way of life in a time period that most of us have only scratched the surface of understanding. The explicit detail Sean Young puts into each page is wonderfully researched and beautifully written. The struggle the Jews faced became more real than ever before, but the promise and hope that Christ brought shines brighter still.

I found it impossible to put this book down. Violent Sands is a nail-biting, heart-pounding, read. This fantastic first book by Sean Young leaves me waiting anxiously for more of his works.


Paula: How long did it take you to write Violent Sands?
Sean: Roughly three years, although about half that time was actually spent in research rather than actual writing.

Paula: Where did the story idea come from?
Sean: Everyone asks me this question and I wish I had a more exciting answer to give. I remember I was out walking at the time and, in a flash, I got a picture of Barabbas in my mind. It occurred to me that Barabbas was, in fact, a physical example of the human spirit’s condition. He was a man whose guilt was undeniable, sentenced to death with no hope of reprieve. And then, in a moment, he was set free when a "man without sin" was sent to the crucifix in his place. While people who had followed Jesus for three years already were still flapping about, trying to work out what Jesus’ death meant, Barabbas had already experienced the very real effects of why Jesus had been born – and why he had to die. This all happened in the space of a few seconds and, in the same moment, I felt compelled to write a book about the character, Barabbas.
Paula: Violent Sands has an exhorbent amount of research in it. Were you familiar with that era already or did you just plunge in?
Sean: Back when I left school, I took a diploma course in Biblical Studies so I had a pretty firm grounding in the era. I knew something of the culture and time-period when I began. However, it wasn’t specifically a course in history or archaeology as much as one in theology. Most of the book’s content comes from research I did after I embarked on the project.
Paula: What part of the writing/publishing/marketing process has come as the biggest surprise for you?
Sean: When I began submitting, I had the naive notion that, if you write a good story and send off your manuscript to five or six publishers, at least one of them will snap it up and, within six months, your book will be on the shelves.
Instead, I discovered that publishers are so swamped with submissions that they’re forced to short-cut the selection process – and unprepared submissions are rejected as a result. I discovered that there is an entire process that involves query letters and proposals (both art-forms in their own right) and that, if you don’t learn how to write these well, then no publisher is even likely to glance at the manuscript you’ve slaved over for several years.
When I started out, I thought writing the book would be the hard part. That simply wasn’t the case. Writing the story was a breeze compared to the time and effort involved in getting it published.

Paula: What did you have for breakfast?
Sean: Muesli with chocolate milk. I shared it with my 16-month old daughter Danielle in what has now become a daily ritual. She climbs up on the seat next to me at breakfast and expects her fair share of the pickings.

Paula: Can you give us an inside peek to what a 'normal' day is like?
Sean: Writing is not something I do full-time so my day starts the same way most people’s days do – getting ready for work. I’m at the office by 08h00 where I put in a full day’s work as a computer programmer. During my lunch hour and tea breaks, I sneak in a bit of internet research or reply to my writing-related mails. My evenings are spent with the family until my daughter goes to bed. Then my wife, Carolyn, and I whip out our laptops and set up office on the dining room table. She works and I write. On good days we finish before midnight – on bad days, we don’t.

Paula: You live in South Africa . Were you born/raised there?
Sean: Both born and raised. My family moved around a lot so I’ve lived in many different parts of South Africa . I live in Johannesburg currently but Cape Town , where I spent most of my childhood, is my favorite city.

Paula: If you could travel to any country for free, where would you go?
Sean: Brazil. I’ve always nurtured the dream of taking a river-boat up the Amazon. As a child, I was inspired by Willard Price novels like Amazon Adventure. I also have an idea for a future novel that I would like to set in that part of the world.

Paula: Can you tell us about your other 'works in progress'?
Sean: I have a contemporary thriller in the pipeline. It involves a computer-billionaire framed for a murder he didn’t commit, a dog-collared priest who can’t get enough Bruce Willis movies and an organization hell-bent on changing the face of world-religion. Apart from that, I also plan to write a sequel to Violent Sands that involves Barabbas’ sons.

Paula: What message do you hope your readers take away when they close that last page of Violent Sands?
Sean: I would hope that they see God’s hand in even their darkest moments. In my own life, I’ve learned that, even when things don’t work the way I think they should, God is still in control and working towards His purposes both in my own life and in the world at large.

Thanks, Sean!

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