I'm so excited to have award-winning writer Dan Sofer on gilagreenwrites. Dan is a fellow English-speaking writer in Israel. He's published a trilogy, so I was particularly keen to interview him as I just finished my first sequel and I find the idea of part three daunting. Not only that, but he has a remarkable sense of humor that shines in his writing, something many writers struggle with. Dan offers a gift for readers at the end of this interview. Please welcome, Dan Sofer!
Dan Sofer moved from Johannesburg to Jerusalem, from the cradle of humankind to the cradle of monotheism.
Along the way, he studied archaeology in the City of David, drove a tank in the Jordan Valley, delved into the Talmud in the Judean hills, represented an entire continent in the International Bible Contest, and swam with Tiger sharks (unintentionally!) in Mozambique.
Dan Sofer's award-winning novels explore the funny and unexpected corners of Jewish life, lore, and legend. Many of his stories are set in Jerusalem.
Dan lives in Israel with a supermodel, a princess, and a mermaid.
Gila Green's Interview with Dan Sofer
GG: Did you set out to write a trilogy from the beginning? Can you talk a little about that process ---of writing a series? Is it all preplanned where one will being/end, for example? Do you have to have notes in front of you from the previous books?
DS: I set out to write one book that explores the question, "What if the Jewish traditions about the Messianic Era all started coming true in modern-day Israel?" During the planning phase, it became clear I would not be able to fit everything into one novel. I looked for natural breaks in the story and character arcs and discovered that the story progressed in three phases - personal, national, and global - and so the Dry Bones Society trilogy was born:
"An Unexpected Afterlife"
"An Accidental Messiah"
"A Premature Apocalypse"
The tri-part structure also fits nicely into the three categories of teachings about the Jewish Messianic Era, as described by the scholar Gershom Sholem: the Conservative/Restorative (the return of an idealized past society), the Utopian (society reaches new heights), and the Apocalyptic (great social and natural upheavals).
Although I had a general idea of what needed to happen in the three books, I didn't plan everything in detail from the start. There were some surprises along the way too. For example, a minor character in the first book, Ahmed, develops in the second book and plays a large and critical role in the third book.
GG: Do you think genre writers/readers are treated differently by reviewers than those writing in realism?
DS: Some people don't connect with fantasy. Some people only read fantasy. It's a matter of personal taste. I'll read almost anything, so I have no issues with writing magical realism.
It's interesting that the earliest stories - the myths, legends, and fairytales - usually have fantasy elements. Perhaps there's something in us that longs to escape the confines of reality. Isn't that what stories are all about?
"I like to think of our imaginations as Formula One racing cars. When you're driving on the racing track, you'd be missing out if you refused, purely by force of habit, to exceed the highway speed limit. Our imaginations have no limits, so why not put the pedal to the metal?"
GG: What/who is your inspiration behind your hero Moshe Karlin?
DS: I started writing the Dry Bones Society when I was approaching my fortieth birthday, so I identified with Moshe's mid-life crisis. Only for him, that became an "afterlife crisis" too!
Moshe's character and a lot of what he experiences in the trilogy are based on the Biblical Moses, another reluctant leader who gets thrown into some impossible situations and has to deal with resistance from both without and within the Jewish nation.
The character of Savta Sara, incidentally, is based on my wife's grandmother, a feisty businesswoman and Holocaust survivor, whose many stories were incorporated into the novels.
GG: Another Jewish writer who uses magical realism Alice Hoffman says: What you read at the age of 12,13,14 stays with you in a very deep intense way" and is quoted as saying much of her use of this genre comes from reading fairy tales at this age. Did you have a similar experience or did something else attract you to this genre?
DS: I read a wide range of fiction in many genres, but I didn't set out with the specific intention of writing a fantasy novel. With the Dry Bones Society, the subject matter itself required magical realism.
My debut novel, A Love and Beyond, also has magical realism but in smaller amounts. (It follows the adventures of a British new immigrant who discovers, in Jerusalem's City of David, the ancient secret to stealing a girl's heart.)
My new novel, Revenge of the Elders of Zion, has no fantasy elements but is heavy on satire.
GG: You combine a lot of politics and humor with lines such as "with luck, he'd avoid early-bird terrorists." Do you think this is a way of coping with the grim situation regarding terrorism and life in Israel? Do you ever worry someone will find this insensitive in an age when it's getting harder to use humor in public? It reminds me a little of the IDF tweeting lines from Mean Girls to Iran (Why are you so obsessed with me?). Do you think it's a similar reaction?
DS: Humor is an essential part of life, in my opinion. When we laugh, we're more willing to confront our failings. Then again, some lines should not be crossed. The humor in my books is never mean-spirited, only ironic and satirical.
Laughter also helps us to confront terrible realities.
Apropos his film, The Producers, which makes fun of Hitler, Mel Brooks said: "the only real way I could get even with Hitler and company was to bring them down with laughter." If you can make people laugh at Hitler or tyrants in general, "then you've won the day."
In that spirit, my new novel, Revenge of the Elders of Zion, takes a satirical look at anti-Semitism.
GG: Anything you would like to add?
DS: I love to hear from readers. You can reach me through my website or on social media.
Gift to readers: To download a FREE Dan Sofer short story, visit: http://dansofer.com/free-book
For details about his new novel, REVENGE OF THE ELDERS OF ZION, visit:
For details about the DRY BONES SOCIETY trilogy, visit:
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Thank you for the interview and insightful questions!