Interview – Eli Yaakunah
Self-Publisher’s Showcase: Today we are joined by Eli Yaakunah, author of The Woman Who Sparked The Greatest Sex Scandal Of All Time. Welcome to the Showcase Lounge, Eli.
Eli Yaakunah: Thanks, it’s my pleasure!
SPS: For any of our readers that haven’t come across your work previously, can you take a moment to tell us all a little about yourself?
EY: I prefer to be known through my novel, at least for the moment, for reasons that will only be understood by reading it. I’m “The Woman Who Sparked the Greatest Sex Scandal of All Time.”
SPS: What are your perfect writing conditions, and how often do you write?
EY: Before starting the actual writing of a book, I need to wait for the special voice of the novel to arise from within me. This may take a long time in which I only write down notes while I develop the argument and the characters, and do the research that is required. After the kick off, I write almost every day, and I think about the novel even while doing other things. When you’re pregnant, your child grows continuously inside you, even when you sleep.
SPS: Why do you think it is that you have decided to write this novel, and do you see yourself ever writing in other genres?
EY: Once upon a time I found myself in a dystopian world, and I saw its essence and future with great clarity. However, I was filled with love, and with the life of a new, extraordinary person who was growing inside me, Ishtar Benten. This conflict between a terrible reality and a loving inner life eventually exploded to produce this novel. Now I am already pregnant with other stories. Some of them have dystopian elements, too. In any case, I like to cross genre lines and create something new. I feel life is too rich to be reduced to one specific literary genre.
SPS: So, tell us about your novel.
EY: “The Woman Who Sparked the Greatest Sex Scandal of All Time” is a unique, captivating and emotionally charged novel. It’s got love, passion, eroticism, suspense, mystery, and great characters. Furthermore it is inspired by a critical outlook on our society and explores the future of democracy and the nature of reality.
The novel has been given “The Kirkus Star,” which is “Awarded to Books of Exceptional Merit,” and has been listed among “The Best Indie Books of 2013” by Kirkus Reviews, with the following statements, “This delicately intricate work provides a full dance card of themes: sex, romance, mystery and a grim peek into a devastated future… Touches of wry humor reinforce an already sturdy novel… A virtuosic, erotic sci-fi debut.”
In this novel, the narrator is an extremely imaginative person, and she is telling her story during a very dramatic period of her life. Her precise and creative use of the language makes the reader see what can be seen and at the same time intuitively feel what can’t be seen. In fact, this novel tries to do with literature what Chaplin did for cinema. His movies are not realistic, yet they frame reality in a richer and much more profound way than any realistic film. This does not imply that my book is just for a niche market. Chaplin’s movies were extremely popular and had enormous commercial success. They proved that quality and popularity are not mutually exclusive.
Finally, let me cite an in-depth review written by Ira Therebel, who won the book in a Goodreads giveaway. “This book is absolutely amazing,” she wrote. “It took me a couple of chapters to get into it, but once I did I could not put it down, I was simply absorbed by it and it was in my head even when I was not reading it… Yes, there is lots of sex in it. And sometimes it is more bizarre than anything, but this is because sex in this book isn’t simply sex… We see the battle of love/sex vs. hate/violence, the manipulation of society by the media, the control by politics, the question of whether what we hear is reality and if the lies we are told benefit us… I also would like to mention author’s brilliant narrating style. The words used bring the depth, the atmosphere, the juiciness, the feelings, the excitement. It is absolutely beautiful… A huge applause to the first time author, she truly created a masterpiece.”
SPS: What character traits have you used to create your lead character Ishtar?
EY: Many of the characters, including Ishtar, absorbed something of myself or of real people I knew, at least when they first appeared on the page. It may have been a physical feature, or something more psychological or spiritual. This helped make them come alive in my mind and in my heart. Page after page they tended to become more and more independent from the original models. Furthermore, they have some mythological roots, contributing to their multidimensionality. In the case of Ishtar, she is a warrior of love. Her heart, her soul, and her imagination were born inside me with a very strong presence. In fact, I am Ishtar Benten.
SPS: Are there any other characters that we should be on the lookout for?
EY: I love all the characters in the novel, even the villains, who are just people taking the wrong side. If I had to pick just one of them, I’d feel like a mother being asked to choose one of her kids. Well, I must confess that Ishtar, Arianne, Utu, and Harlequin have a very special place in my heart. They are very different from each other. They are heroes and everymen at the same time. They can be cowardly or brave, and above all, they are forced to make hard choices, especially Ishtar, Utu, and Harlequin. They make different decisions and evolve in different ways, at different paces.
SPS: The book contains explicit sex (outside of being erotica). Has this been accepted as you hoped it would?
EY: Many readers have accepted the explicit sex content and enjoyed it. Other people got puzzled and confused, or just scandalized. That’s OK; I don’t try to please everybody. In any case, the published description of the novel clearly warns about this kind of content, so prudish readers who believe that explicit sex should be censored can just avoid buying the book. They can also forbid their children from purchasing it, which is easy to do since it can only be bought with a credit card. They can even tell them that they were brought by storks. They are free to do that. Unfortunately, some puritanical people also try to impose censorship on the whole of society, and the UK and US publishing industry tends to obey their requests by censoring explicit sex content in fiction, either openly or by applying hidden, arbitrary adult filters, even outside the Erotica genre. My book is struggling against this kind of censorship, as I explain in my blog. However, it does not contain any pictures and is recommended for ages 16+. Even if children under this age read it, they would not be traumatized by its content anyway. In fact, the overwhelming scientific evidence shows that comprehensive sex education helps decrease teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, and is a sexual assault prevention tool. Of course, pedophilia and child pornography should be outlawed, but there is no reason to apply any restrictions on fiction.
SPS: You are a firm believer in not censoring explicit sex for a general audience. Why do you think you feel so strongly about this issue?
EY: In my opinion, there is no reason to confine explicit sex to the ghetto of adult-only genres such as Erotica. The consequences of making explicit sex taboo in fiction are dramatic. Not only do they imply a serious violation of freedom of expression; they also undermine the sexual health of our society and the basic human rights of youth, as I argue in my blog post “Sexophobia and The Original Sin of Sex Censorship.” As I show there, pretending that sex in fiction should be considered obscene is just a prejudice based on a fundamentalist and self-contradictory interpretation of a particular religion. Some publishing companies try to justify their sex censorship by saying that they are private enterprises and they can choose what they publish. However, at the same time they claim they provide open platforms for self-publishing and support freedom of expression, which is a clear contradiction. Moreover, the fact that most US and UK online libraries, if not all of them, apply some sex censorship implies that this is not just a private issue. Our democracy is at stake. History also demonstrates that the idea that sex is sinful has been used to oppress women for centuries. Ultimately, any kind of censorship is political and has political consequences, and should be removed. Countries with a longstanding Catholic tradition such as Spain do not apply any kind of censorship or adult filter on explicit sex in fiction; the UK and US should follow their example in this case.
Finally, I also think that considering sex to be dirty or sinful and making it obscene is an offense to reason and even to God, if She exists. Life comes from sex. They are God’s gifts. Insulting Her creation by despising sex is offending God herself. We were born from sex, orgasms, sperms and eggs. These words, along with love, vagina, clitoris, penis, and womb, should be listed among the first and most cherished words of our vocabulary. They should be venerated, as they were in ancient times. Bosoms, breasts and nipples deserve similar honors since they fed and cradled us. It is ridiculous and absurd that they can’t be used in fiction for a general audience. Why should writers be allowed to explicitly name and describe everything but sex, which is the very basis of life? That’s just stupid! The publishing industry should promote knowledge and enlightenment, not ignorance or fundamentalism.
SPS: It’s probably a good time to ask what we can expect next from the pen or keyboard of Eli Yaakunah?
EY: It will be a love story, that’s for sure. I love to write about love.
SPS: Was the Self-Published/Indie-Published route always your preferred route for your work?
EY: I enthusiastically embrace the recent boom in self-publishing. It frees us from the prejudices of the industry. Big publishers promote very conventional literature: all you have to do is read the synopsis and you know what you’ll find in a book and how it will be written. That’s boring. Since their writers follow the same rules and have the same writing style, their biographies are given greater attention than their works. This is the only way to differentiate them from each other.
Nevertheless, I’d be happy to change my mind if a traditional publisher contacts me with a good offer after reading this interview.
SPS: Has the experience so far been all that you thought it would be?
EY: The main problem has been the marketing. It’s a very difficult and demanding task, especially when you have also to fight against stupid censorship of sexual content, which is much more severe on self-published titles. It is also very difficult to catch the attention of the media if you have no big publisher behind you. Still, I’ve reached a few thousand readers, and obtained two rave reviews from Kirkus Reviews and the Self Publishing Magazine, along with a significant number of reviews on book blogs, especially in Spanish, the majority of them being positive or enthusiastic.
SPS: If you could give one piece of advice for someone looking to get into writing, what would it be?
EY: Tell stories that are truly important to you. Pour all your soul into your writing.
SPS: Before we bring this interview to a close, it’s your chance to name-drop. Anyone who you feel is deserving of more recognition at present or someone whose writing you have recently enjoyed? Now is your chance to spread the word…
EY: In recent years I’ve got in love with Arundhaty Roy, Haruki Murakami and Yasmina Khadra…They’ve also been accepted in the mainstream, but they are original voices and tell great stories. “What the Day Owes the Night” has become one of my favorite novels. Of course, I also love the classics.
SPS: Thank you for joining us today Eli, and all the best for the future.
EY: Thanks! May love and sex bless you all.