THE PROPHETESS by Evonne Marzouk
Mar 29th, 2020 by Liza Wiemer

An Interview with Author, Evonne Marzouk

Buying Links can be found on Goodreads

Book description:

The Prophetess is a boundary-pushing novel about an American teenager called to join a secret community of Jewish prophets. A mystical coming of age story grounded in Jewish tradition, the story features a heroine using super-powers of empathy, insight and intuition — growing into her gifts to protect and empower herself and others. The Prophetess was published October 16, 2019 by Bancroft Press. 

About the Author:

Evonne Marzouk has spent her career in pursuit of inspiring others, making a difference, and bringing Jewish wisdom into the world. She grew up in Philadelphia and began writing and publishing poems and stories as a young child. Evonne attended the Johns Hopkins University and received a B.A. from the Writing Seminars program, with a minor in Religious Studies. Evonne founded and is the former director of Canfei Nesharim (recently merged with GrowTorah), an organization that teaches Jewish wisdom about protecting the environment. Evonne began work for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1999 and has played key roles in work on the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation, the Minamata Convention on Mercury, and the Global Alliance to Eliminate Lead Paint. Throughout all these activities, publishing a novel has been one of Evonne’s lifelong dreams. She is incredibly grateful, and sometimes amazed, that the moment has finally arrived.

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Question: Did any part of the story’s evolution surprise you as the author

It took me twenty years to write The Prophetess, and the story changed               quite a bit during the process.  One thing I struggled with was how to keep the story inspiring and uplifting, even though it deals with some complex challenges for the main character, Rachel. The story begins with the death of Rachel’s grandfather, and his death has a significant impact on the seventeen-year old teenager. Her grandfather’s death is necessary to the story, but there was another character in the story who I really had to fight to keep alive.  

In my early drafts, I kept finding myself writing death scenes about this important character. At first, it seemed like he had to die.  Originally, he died in the middle of the book; then in later drafts, he died at the end. Though he never would have taken his own life, I think that the character actually wanted to die. But whenever he died, the impact of his death on the story and on Rachel was so tragic that it was nearly impossible for her to recover. 

This character’s death would have made the story easier to tell, and would have had a tragic irony that would make the story memorable. But it would leave readers with much too high a cost for living true to one’s life purpose — and the truth I wanted to share in the story was that we all can grow into our gifts and live our purpose.  I wanted the story to acknowledge that life may be hard, but affirm that it’s worth it in the end.

So I had to work hard to keep this character alive. I had to let him go through his darkest moment and come out redeemed through his suffering; he needed to find a new purpose and accept it for himself. In short, I had to find a way to make it worth it for this character to live. The result was a much more inspiring story and one that I believe still feels authentic and truthful.

In my experience, death is sometimes an easy way for authors to solve problems.  It can remove a character from a situation, and cause profound transformation among other characters.  But because it can cause the reader distress and, in some cases, send the wrong message, it needs to be used carefully.  I hope I was able to strike the right balance with how death is used in The Prophetess.

Please share some novel secrets: 

There are a few secrets in The Prophetess.  I had a little fun with Hebrew names, using the Hebrew names of some people I know or who had a profound impact on me in my Jewish life.  

Also, I was very precise about settings for some of the key places mentioned in the novel. These settings are real and based on specific locations that one could find if one went looking for them. For example, if you stand in a particular street in the Pikesville area of Baltimore, you can see the many trees on a hill that Rachel mentions are always a comfort to her.  There is also a creek that runs through the streets in that part of Pikesville which plays a very important role in Rachel’s evolving relationship with her friend Jake.  I was also very precise about the location at the top of the mountain of Tzfat where Rachel has an important vision about her teacher Yonatan. The layout of the Old City of Jerusalem was also very carefully mapped and described in the story. If readers were inspired by the story, I wanted them to be able to find those locations and experience them as I did.

Bonus Round: What would you prefer?

Coffee Tea or Hot Chocolate? Tea, please.

Winter, spring, summer or fall? Summer. My mother was a teacher and we spent all year looking forward to the summer together. 

Fries, potato chips, popcorn or onion rings? Fries.

Movie at a theater or watch a movie at home? At theater, but I rarely get to, even in more normal times.

Ice cream: chocolate, strawberry or vanilla? Really my preference is something with both chocolate vanilla, like vanilla fudge or chocolate chip cookie dough.

Vacation: Beach, Disney, city with lots of museums, skiing? Beach! 

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