Thursday, March 3, 2011

Interview with Michael David Lukas

I just loved The Oracle of Stamboul -- it was dreamy and beautiful and utterly engrossing (read my review for more enthusing!).  I'm so pleased to share my Q and A with the author, Michael David Lukas.

What was the plot of your very first piece of fiction?

The first piece of fiction I remember writing was when I was nine or ten. It was a story about two kids who discover a trap door/secret passageway in one of their bedrooms. I didn’t get too far with writing the story, but I remember being pretty excited about it at the time.

Do you have any writing rituals or routines?

I write six mornings a week, from breakfast to lunch. Sometimes I’ll continue after lunch, but usually not. I use the afternoons for revisions, nonfiction writing, emails, and random administrative stuff.

As you were writing The Oracle of Stamboul, was there a particular scene or character that surprised you?

What surprised me most was how much of myself is in the characters, even though they live such different lives than my own. Sometimes writing can feel like that scene in “Being John Malkovich,” when John Malkovich enters his own mind and finds himself in a restaurant filled with John Malkovichs saying “Malkovich, Malkovich.” I guess what I am trying to say is that we can’t help but imbue our characters with our own thoughts, feelings, and characteristics, whether the character is a preternaturally intelligent orphan or the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. And that, in itself, is pretty surprising.

Hoopoes have magical or mythological associations in some parts of the Middle East; is that the reason you chose them as Eleonora’s ‘companions’?

Yes. The hoopoes were originally bulbuls (aka nightingales) which also have a mythological association in parts of the Middle East. But when I discovered the hoopoe, and its role in the meeting of Solomon and Sheba, I was smitten.

Is the six-volume series mentioned in the novel, The Hourglass, real or invented?

It’s invented. And it is one of my favorite parts of the novel. There’s something so magical about a piece of art that exists only within a piece of art. Works like that have a magic hologram quality to them, which is fun in a Borgesian kind of way. It’s also about as close as a work of art can come to perfection, existing only as a reflection of something else.

Was it challenging bringing a historical figure like Abdulhamid II to life?

Very much so, especially considering that the historical Abdulhamid II did some pretty horrible things. When depicting my Abdulhamid II, I wanted to try to humanize him while recognizing also how strange it must feel to be the Sultan. In striking that balance, I returned many times to Joseph Roth’s depiction of Franz Joseph in his wonderful novel The Radetzky March.

When you’re not writing, what do you like to do?

I like to cook. I like going for runs. I like reading. I like going to estate sales. And I like hanging out with my friends. Nothing too special.

Read any good books recently?

I just finished Marcel Proust’s amazing, but very very long novel, Remembrance of Things Past.  After 1.5 million or so words of Proust, I need a breather. I am thinking of picking up the Hunger Games trilogy or maybe some David Mitchell? Any recommendations?

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I'm thrilled to offer a copy of The Oracle of Stamboul to one lucky reader!  To enter, comment on this entry with a reading recommendation for Mr Lukas (and leave an email!).  I'll pick a winner on March 19th.  For an additional entry, be sure to comment on my review.  (US or CA, only, I'm sorry!)

For more reviews, please check out the other blogs on this tour:

Thursday, February 24th: One Book Shy
Friday, February 25th: Staircase Wit
Monday, February 28th: A Fair Substitute for Heaven
Wednesday, March 2nd: Simply Stacie
Thursday, March 3rd: Janet Boyer Blog
Friday, March 4th: Kelly’s Lucky You!


  1. It's interesting how popular nightingales are in myth and literature. The Germans are particularly fond of them. You can't sing many lied before coming across one that's either about a nightingale or at least mentions one.

    And I love the idea of a work of fiction within a work of fiction. I read a book once that mentioned another book. I loved the real book and was desperate to read the book it mentioned. I was crushed when I found that the second book didn't actually exist - it took me a ton of research to find that out, too, because it was in the days before the interwebs, if you can believe that!

  2. Nice interview :)
    And yes do pick up the Hunger Games series, the first one was truly good, made me think

  3. Awesome interview. I'm halfway thru The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet and it's pretty amazing!!


  4. ooo, the answer about the hoopoes captures my interest.

    it would be interesting to hear michael's take on the hunger games if he reads it as it is fast moving and so different than proust.

    and now i feel like re-watching Being John Malkovich.

  5. I enjoyed reading this interview :)
    I find it interesting that the author is so disciplined as to write every day except one at the same time period. I wonder what happens when he gets very caught up in a particular section; does he write all day, or adhere to his schedule?
    This book sounds wonderful; love the mystical element.

  6. I recommend Across the Universe and go cop the Hunger Games series its awesome!!!

  7. Fantastic interview. I would recommend Genesis by Bernard Beckett.

    deadtossedwaves at gmail dot com

  8. I would recommend "Let's Bring Back: An Encyclopedia of Forgotten-Yet-Delightful, Chic, Useful, Curious, and Otherwise Commendable Things from Times Gone By" by Leslie M. M. Blume.

    I believe the title says it all.

    arcookson at yahoo dot com