Today I have an interview with Noah Beck, the author of the novel “The Last Israelis“.
JGA: Thank you for taking the time to do this interview. To start with, can you tell us a bit about yourself, and how you got started writing?
NB: Thanks for the opportunity to speak with you. To answer your question, I’ve been telling stories and writing creatively since I was a child growing up on the West Coast of the USA. Despite my early literary leanings, two Ivy League degrees (or, more precisely, the debt that accompanied them) diverted me to over a decade of corporate jobs. But I kept my sanity with extensive journaling and globetrotting to over fifty countries, while maintaining a large collection of story ideas waiting to be developed when I finally decided to focus on my passion.
JGA: How do you go about the actual process of writing?
NB: Writing this novel was one of the most exhausting things I’ve ever done because I wrote it in a mere ten weeks. During this time, I was not only drafting but also researching a plethora of story details (relating to Middle East history and geography, the military capabilities of Iran, the USA, and Israel, submarine technology and warfare, etc.). I also substantially rewrote the novel in response to feedback from early readers. So I slept 3-5 hours a night, and spent all of my other time in front of my laptop, except when I needed to leave my apartment for things like food. Why the mad rush to churn out a novel so fast? Because my main motivation for writing it was to impact public opinion and hopefully get world leaders to take the Iranian nuclear threat more seriously before Iran actually gets nukes. So I had to get the book out ASAP or the whole endeavor could be moot.
JGA: How do you personally like to read books you buy these days?
NB: I see advantages to all of the different methods/formats, so I don’t really have a preferred method. If I’m going to the beach, paper is best. But if I want to have a large variety of reading options at my disposal, e-books are the way to go.
JGA: Which authors (or books) have had the most influence on your writing style, and why?
NB: When I write I try to be guided by the subject matter and the characters rather than the writing style of other authors. Of course, there are only so many plot permutations that any submarine thriller can realistically take, so there are bound to be other novels in that genre that contain basic similarities. To the extent that “The Last Israelis” may seem similar to anything else, it is a function of the limited plot possibilities for the genre rather than any specific influences that inspired me. Everything I wrote was dictated by the elements comprising the novel: the original characters that I had imagined specifically for this story (with their different worldviews, family histories, habits, etc.) and the dramatic possibilities that present themselves when Iran gets a nuclear weapon and these very diverse men must together confront the unthinkable.
JGA: How do you go about planning your writing?
NB: For “The Last Israelis” I spent a good deal of time outlining the basic plot and writing up character sketches before delving into the actual drafting. But there was also a lot of rewriting involved, so that could mean that I didn’t plan enough before starting the manuscript!
JGA: Why did you decide to write your novel, “The Last Israelis“?
NB: I originally conceived of the story in 2009 as a concept for a screenplay about a doomsday, military showdown between Israel’s Dolphin submarine and a nuclear-armed Iran. The premise was boiling with dramatic potential and the issue deeply troubled me. But writing a screenplay that within months becomes a widely released film is like Ayatollah Khameini taking a phone call from me and agreeing to dismantle Iran’s nuclear program: impossible. So the project of authoring a screenplay that might influence the public debate on an issue that (in my overly optimistic assessment) would become moot in a few years seemed futile. But by the end of March of 2012, after I was still hearing the same type of weak talk and indecision about the Iranian nuclear issue, I resolved to drop everything and work on the story as an e-book, which can be released instantly. By 2012, e-books had also gained a far greater acceptance in the market, so self-publishing my novel seemed like a viable strategy for disseminating my doomsday warning about the perils of a nuclear Iran.
JGA: Can you talk a bit about the main characters in your novel. What sort of people are they, and how did they grow and change from your initial ideas for them?
NB: The complex mix of characters sharing the cramped hull of the submarine in my story is very much a microcosm of the diverse Israeli society sharing a tiny country. There are two grandsons of Holocaust survivors but with diametrically opposed lessons and worldviews produced by their similar family histories; their clashing ideologies make for some of the most intense conflicts in the story. Among the other characters are: two native Arabic speakers (a Christian and a Druze), the son of Persian Jews who escaped from the 1979 Iranian revolution, an Ethiopian who crossed Sudan by foot as a child to reach Israel, religious Jews who serve on a mostly secular crew, and an officer who is secretly gay and struggles with whether to come out to his crewmates.
As for how these characters changed over the course of the drafting of the novel, there is a potentially lengthy answer for every major character and it would likely involve many plot spoilers, so I’d rather pass on that part of the question.
JGA: Who are the readers who would enjoy “The Last Israelis” the most?
NB: I think the book’s style and substance will most appeal to readers interested in:
* The potential showdown between Israel and Iran
* Apocalyptic stories about nuclear war
* Psychological drama and suspense
* Philosophical debates
* Character studies
* Geopolitical and/or military thrillers
JGA: What other items are you working on at the moment?
NB: I am toying with the idea of a thriller that is much less controversial (in the sense that it won’t be about any hot issue dominating the headlines) and will be more in the genre of science fiction with a focus on questions of memory and perception. I realize that this sounds rather vague and abstract but that’s partly because I haven’t begun brainstorming about the idea in earnest and partly because I’d rather wait until I’ve written something before announcing that I’ve written it!
JGA: Is there anything else you would like to mention that I haven’t asked?
NB: I have used the book as a kind of platform for grassroots activism on the Iranian nuclear issue. Those who want to learn about various organizations focused on the issue can find a list on the right side of this page of my web site (where there is also more background information): http://thelastisraelis.com/iranian-threat/ . I also regularly share articles relating to the issue of Iranian nukes on the book’s Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/TheLastIsraelis).
You can buy Noah’s book on Amazon.