Monday, September 17, 2012

Murray Pura Interview (with Mary Nichelson)

Many writers admit to stumbling upon the craft as a second career choice or, in some cases, never intended on penning a bestseller. While the aspiring author might wince upon hearing those admissions made by other authors, Murray Pura can not make the same claim.  

“Murray Andrew Pura was born on Bobby Burns Day, hence his first two names, and one of the reasons, no doubt, that he was writing stories by the time he was eight. His first work of fiction was published when he was fourteen, his first award in a writing contest came at seventeen.” 

Although Pura has been a successful author from a young age, his life experiences have not been confined to the key board. As an ordained minister, he has pastored churches in Nova Scotia, British Columbia and Alberta. This endearing quality-remaining connected to humanity at its worst and possibly very best-is magnified in the characters he creates. In his latest series, Snapshots in History, love and war play out in the reader’s hand but as Pura makes clear, the series is not intended to be read as a history textbook; he has something much bigger in mind.

MN-Before the first chapter, there is a short disclaimer of sorts stating that The Face of Heaven "is not a history of the Civil War. Nor is it a history of...the Iron Brigade, or of the 19th Indiana." Why was it important to you to make this statement in the beginning of the book?

MP-The Civil War remains one of the most hotly debated topics in American culture. People still argue about what might have happened if various battles had gone differently, if Stonewall Jackson had not died before Gettysburg, if Grant faced Lee in 1862 instead of 1864, etc., etc. I wanted Civil War buffs to know from the outset that although I researched the war meticulously, and have been reading about it since I was a boy, I was not out to write a textbook - I was there to tell a story to which the war was a backdrop.

MN-Until I read your book, I had not seen very much in the market related to The Civil War and The Amish. The two rarely intersect in novels. Yet, I noticed that later this year, several more Civil War/Amish books are set to be released. I believe you will be considered a trail blazer of sorts by default by releasing your title first. What about this storyline interested you?

MP-The American Civil War has always fascinated me and troubled me . It fascinated because of the high drama of brothers fighting brothers, families fighting families, Americans fighting Americans. But it troubled me for the same reason - a nation turning on itself in fury so that there were more than 700,000 dead, almost twice as many as World War 2. I wondered - what did the Amish think of all this? So I decided to have young Amish men question their church's stance on avoidance of conflict when the nation itself was at stake and whether that nation would be slave or free.

MN-There are critics who say a male author can not adequately express female emotions in print. I am going to be very honest with you by saying I had to verify that a male wrote the book because you not only adequately captured female emotions, you capitalized on them. What life experiences have you experienced that helped form this writing quality?

MP-Women are endlessly fascinating to me for their combination of beauty, intelligence, strength, and compassion. I did not marry until I was 29 so obviously I had many years of dating and had relationships with many different women. Then of course I married my love. All of these factors combined to make me see and listen and take in what women expressed with or without words. I became much more than a casual observer. I wanted to understand.

MN-Which gave you the most trouble in writing The Face of Heaven; the love story or the war story?

MP-It is so pleasant to do the love scenes I've decided to do more of that in the novels to come. Love scenes are not hard to do. Battle scenes are harder because you are working with death and violence. Characters you have created and loved get killed - this can be more upsetting for the writer than many readers might suppose. Death is not a fiction any more than love is. So while love scenes remind you of your personal experiences with regards to romance the war scenes remind you of your personal experiences with regards not only to death in and of itself but violent death. It's not a pleasant stroll down memory lane.

MN-Tell our readers about your Snapshots in History series.

MP-It was envisaged as a series that touched on the watersheds of American history and how those watersheds were experienced by people who embraced the Christian faith - ordinary people who were caught up in extraordinary times. The series was meant to put people right there, not as observers, but as participants having to make life and death decisions in the flash of an eye and with the swift utterance of a brief prayer. Each book was meant to stand alone though from time to time we may bring certain characters back in another story. (That is actually happening with Number 3 in the series, Whispers of a New Dawn, where the characters of The Wings of Morning return.) We hope to see the series run to six or seven volumes, depending on how our readership grows and how it expresses interest in new titles.

MN-In The Romantic Times review of The Wings of Morning, they noted, "Pura has created one of the finest stories in Amish fiction I have ever read." What a  compliment considering the Amish genre is saturated with excellent writers. Was that a milestone for you as an author to know your work was considered not only competitive but superior in a popular category?

MP-For sure it was a strong shot in the arm - after all, I'd never put the Amish and historical fiction together in one story before. When you are branching out as a writer and trying something new it is an enormous encouragement and affirmation to receive a positive review like that. Publishers Weekly also gave a thumbs up review so put together I was very excited and very grateful. It keeps you going.

MN-You've occupied several career titles including reporter, editor, ski equipment salesman, emergency medical orderly, camp director, security officer, book store clerk and advocate. It is obvious that you love people. How can we improve on the way we form relationships with each other, especially as it relates to connecting with those that aren't like minded?

MP-I really think good fiction helps with that because it can put you in those other people's shoes. You hear their stories and you indirectly experience what they have gone through and all of a sudden you see them as people, not enemies or oddballs. You develop empathy and compassion because a story engages you heart and your imagination. It really is a matter of experiencing them as humans with a story, sometimes a story not unlike yours. Fiction in book form or in TV and film or on stage helps us arrive at a point of humanizing those we and others have dehumanized or even demonized. We're all people and God made us all - that's where we have to arrive at and that's were we have to start from eventually.

MN-"Christianity was not meant to be a weapon or an argument or a show of force or a political tool. Or an act of aggression or coercion. It was never meant to be a cause or a prop for a cause.  Or something to pacify and make thousands go to bed happy and unthinking. It was meant to be a challenge, yes, but that challenge to a second life was meant to be laced with kindness. If someone forces you to choose between God is holy and God is love choose God is love because holiness without love translates into tyranny." This is your life philosophy, I am presuming, and one that needs to be shared worldwide. God really is love. How can readers come to know the God of love as opposed to God of judgment only, or God of condemnation?

MP-To me it is really a matter of reading the gospels. All of the Bible is significant, of course, but the gospels tell us the story of Jesus and therefore they need to be read more often and more closely. When we do we realize many things churches do and many ways Christians act in and out of church have little or nothing to do with Jesus. Reading any of the gospels in any translation is always a wake up call to me because the rest of the Bible and Christianity and my personal life has to go through him. So many times people lunge at verses that Jesus altered (eye for eye = love your enemies) and act on them as if he never came - they live lives under the law and not under grace. So many times the gap between Jesus and people of the Christian faith is so huge the rest of the world might be pardoned for asking, "Does Jesus have anything to do with your faith - your business - your persona life - your church? At all?" Jesus is the Word. You can't say you're following the Bible and do things he transformed when he walked among us n the body. "What would Jesus do?" is still one of the best antidotes to preventing the Christian faith from running off the rails that I know of.

Author Bio-Murray Andrew Pura was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, and has traveled extensively throughout Canada, the United States, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. Ordained as a Baptist minister in 1986, Pura has served five churches in Canada and headlined numerous speaking engagements in Canada and the United States. He has five books published, was a contributor to the Life With God Bible, has been a finalist for The Paraclete Fiction Award, The Dartmouth Book Award, and The John Spencer Hill Literary Award, and has been shortlisted for the prestigious 2010 Kobzar Literary Award of Canada.

You can connect with Murray Pura on facebook and by visiting his website. You can also read excerpts from his books and order through his website.
Other author interviews featured this month in TWJM: Charles Drew, Delia Latham, and Michael J. Scott.

About Mary Nichelson:

This interview is courtesy of The Wordsmith Journal Magazine.

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