Interview with debut historical novelist John Cressler

Today’s guest has published many non-fiction books, but is here to talk about the first in his historical fiction series, Emeralds of the Alhambra.

John Cressler spent 8 years at IBM Research and 10
years at Auburn University before joining Georgia Tech in 2002, where he
has authored numerous books
. He has been a TED
talk presenter on the topic of The Many Miracles of the Microelectronics Revolution
He knows that multicultural cooperation is
possible, and he has the history to prove it in his historical fiction debut
novel Emeralds of the Alhambra, which is endorsed by a Nobel Laureate and a
Harvard Divinity School professor. It is the first book in the Anthems of
al-Andalus series. This novel is an interfaith love story set in medieval
Muslim Spain.
His non-fiction books for general audiences
include: Reinventing Teenagers: The Gentle Art of Instilling Character in Our Young People and Silicon Earth: Introduction to the Microelectronics and Nanotechnology Revolution.
Welcome, John. Please tell us about your current
a time when Muslims, Jews, and Christians found a way to live together in peace.
Sound unbelievable? Well, it happened in medieval Muslim Spain! I wanted to
break open this largely forgotten period in a compelling way that would engage a
broad audience. I settled on a love story set during a key point in medieval
Spain’s history. Emeralds of the Alhambra
is set in the resplendent Alhambra Palace, in Granada, Spain, during the
Castilian Civil War (1367-1369), a time when, remarkably, Muslims took up their
swords to fight alongside Christians. What is inside the covers of Emeralds? Romance, battles, conspiracy,
politics, religion, art and architecture. But, first and foremost, Emeralds is a love story.
What inspired you to write this
Emeralds is a darn-good-read,
but it speaks to two fundamental ideas that I hold dear: 1) peaceful
coexistence is demonstrably possible between religions, and 2) Love has the
power to transform the human heart and thereby cross cultural and religious
boundaries in many beautiful ways.
She unfurls a white flag. “Perhaps
we should talk about Arabic and English?”
He looks up, smiles weakly. “I
think that is an excellent idea.”
The mood brightens.
“So…Arabic is a complicated
language, so we will start simply, with a few basic words. Certain
pronunciations will sound strange to you. They will prove difficult to form
with your mouth. It just takes practice. There are many dialects of Arabic, but
we will focus on Andalusi Arabic. Spoken only. Writing is much more
He rests his hands on his knees,
eager to put their confrontation behind him. “Good. Speak some Arabic to me.”
He wants an excuse to study her face.
She purses her lips and looks
skyward for a moment as she considers, then begins, “I am sorry that I offended
you. I let my temper get the better of me. Again.” She grins.
“Interesting. What did you say?”
She hesitates. “That I am pleased
to be able to teach you Arabic.” She grins again. “Speak some English for me.”
“Mmmm… Let me see.” His
expression turns mischievous. “You are the most beautiful woman I have ever
met. And you have a ferocious temper.” He smiles.
She raises her eyebrows. “Well?”
“I said you have beautiful emerald
eyes.” He fixes his gaze on her.
She blushes, looks down. Her
response is barely audible. “Thank you.”
The silence stretches.
She swallows hard, decision made.
“I am sorry I angered you, Chandon. I meant no offense. Sometimes my…opinions…just
seem to slip out on their own. Forgive me.”
“No offense taken, Layla. I wish
all women had such strong opinions. The world would be a better place. Let us
put all of that behind us, shall we?”
“Agreed.” Their eyes remain locked
on each other for a few seconds longer than necessary.

exciting story are you working on next?
Emeralds is the first in a
series of at least three novels dealing with medieval Muslim Spain. Book two is
called Shadows in the Shining City,
and is set in late 10th century Córdoba, at the height of the Golden
Age of the Umayyad Caliphate. I am 450 pages in, so stay tuned!
When did you first consider yourself
a writer?
I have
been writing most of my life, and have a whole bookcase of journals to prove it.
When I began my research career, I starting writing scientific papers. A little
later I began my life as a non-fiction author, and have published 5 books, two
for general audiences. I first considered myself an author when my first non-fiction
book was published in 2003. But my dream was always fiction! With the release
of Emeralds, my debut novel, I can
finally stake a claim as a novelist, which, if I had to be honest, I put in a
higher category than just plain “writer.”
Do you write full-time? If so,
what’s your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do
you find time to write?
I am a
professor full time and a writer part time, a balance that I love. I am in my
home office at 7:15 am every morning and spend the next 2.5 hours writing. Then
I pack up and head to work, and for the rest of my day it’s my professor gig
(teaching, grad students, research, papers, the university; presentations,
telecons, committees, etc.). BUT, at 5 days a week, I get maybe one chapter per
week of good prose. That adds up. I wrote Emeralds
in about 15 months.
What would you say is your
interesting writing quirk?
I do not
do rough drafts. By that I mean, I continue to work on a chapter section by
section until I perfect it. Only then do I move on. When I put that section to
rest, it is 95% of what it ultimately will end up being.
As a child, what did you want to be
when you grew up?
I was a
curious kid, and early on I knew I wanted to study science. After all,
scientists get paid to be curious and explore the world, so I did! Only after
my PhD (in physics) did I learn that I also loved to teach. And only three
years ago I learned that I loved to write fiction.
Anything additional you want to
share with the readers?

I have
been married for 30+ years to my best friend and soul mate, Maria, my crazy
Italian beauty. We met in 9th grade and became best friends. We did
not date until the night of high school graduation, and have never looked back.
We married at 21 and had our first baby at 22! We have had a wonderful life
full of great blessings, three great children, and now our first grandchild, while
only being 51! How good is that?!

Thank you for spending some time with us today, John. It’s been fun getting to know a bit about your and your writing.

2 thoughts on “Interview with debut historical novelist John Cressler

  1. Judy says:

    Very interesting and a great idea that religions can coexist. And they can with mutual respect and love. Emeralds sounds exciting.

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