Behind-the-scenes: Avram Ludwig on “Shooting the Sphinx” (Q&A w/ event details)

Avram Noble Ludwig will be in conversation with thriller author Jon Land at Perks & Corks in Westerly, Rhode Island next Tuesday evening, July 19th, at 7:00 p.m.; this event is presented by the Savoy Bookshop & Café and is free and does not require advance registration. Copies of Avram’s book, Shooting the Sphinx, will be available for purchase/signing. More information can be found online. Location: 62 High St.

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Today, I offer virtual greetings to Avram Noble Ludwig.

Avram is the debut novelist of Shooting the Sphinx (Forge Books), which was published last month. Born into a theatrical family, he is an accomplished film producer, director, and playwright. Avram has produced more than a dozen films, including the indie hit “Swingers” starring John Favreau, Vince Vaughn, and Heather Graham. He serves on the Board of Directors of the prestigious Actors Studio in New York, the American home of Method Acting, and has helped to run the Playwright/Directors Unit there, working with writers to develop their plays. An avid pilot and sailor, he and his friend Doug Liman received a commendation from the commander of the New York Sector of the Coast Guard for saving four people from the water after their speedboat had been run over by a ship in the middle of the night. Avram credits his work on the films “Jumper” and “Fair Game” for inspiring his first novel. 

Avram Ludwig

Praise for Shooting the Sphinx:

“Pulsates with tension . . . Ludwig’s protagonist has the thrusting, take-no-prisoners drive of a bull.” —Doug Liman, director of The Bourne Identity and Edge of Tomorrow

“High-voltage.” —Geraldine Brooks, New York Times bestselling and Pulitzer Prize Award-winning author of Caleb’s Crossing

“A swift, sensual, smoothly written novel.” —William Martin, New York Times bestselling author of The Lincoln Letter

“A fast-paced and gripping tale.” —Joe Wilson, ambassador to Niger, acting ambassador to Iraq, and New York Times bestselling author of The Politics of Truth

“A darkly brilliant journey down the pathways of an Islamist state. Vivid with realism and insight into a world that most of us barely know. One of those stories you never want to end but can’t stop reading until you get to that last fabulous page. Thank you Avram. You gave me a real thrill ride.” —Whitley Strieber

From the publisher:

Shooting the Sphinx: a unique political thriller about an American filmmaker who becomes involved in the Egyptian Revolution of 2011 by Avram Noble Ludwig.

In Hollywood, Ari Basher is the stuff of legends, the man who always gets the impossible-to-film shots. In Cairo, however, he faces the most difficult and dangerous challenge of his career: he must photograph, from mere feet away, the face of the imperishable Sphinx. The film depends on it, but if Ari damages the ancient Sphinx, he could end up in an Egyptian prison for life or even dead.

Compounding his troubles, Ari has saved a dark-haired revolutionary named Farah from being raped by government thugs, and she has turned his life around. Now he is caught in a web of intrigue, torn between his need to work with the military dictatorship to get the shot and his desire for this passionate revolutionary. Losing her is not an option.

Will Ari join in the liberation of Egypt? Will he and Farah escape the country alive? Finally . . . will Ari get the shot?

Shooting the Sphinx

Now, Avram and I go behind-the-scenes of Shooting the Sphinx

John Valeri: What inspired you to write Shooting the Sphinx – and how did the process of actually completing a novel compare to your expectations?

Avram Ludwig: I actually did have to go to Egypt and shoot the Sphinx, not with a gun, but with the Egyptian Airforce and a very rare, very expensive gyro stabilized, helicopter mounted camera for movies called the Spacecam. The camera was taken away from me in customs. I thought as a charming likeable American producer I could talk my way out of and into anything. It doesn’t work that way in a military dictatorship.

Shooting the Sphynx was my first book, so I didn’t really know what to expect from publishing a novel. I have a very experienced and the most senior editor at Tor/Forge the largest imprint of Macmillan. I was very lucky to be guided by him. His editing was judicious. The copy editor is first rate. Tor did an excellent cover, six different versions, until we settled on the right one. They got the book into prime spots in bookstores. I see now how lucky I’ve been from the business side.

JV: You are a film producer, director, and playwright. What of those disciplines were you able to bring to this project – and, conversely, were there any instincts that you had to ignore when creating on the page versus on the screen?

AL: The idea for this book was born at the Sundance Film Festival where I saw THE SQUARE, the Oscar nominated doc about the Egyptian Revolution. It took me back to my experiences making movies in Cairo. Then I first wrote the story as a play. Then an Iraqi director friend of mine said he wanted to make a movie out of it, so I wrote a screenplay with more material in it. When I finished the screenplay, I still had more to say so I wrote the book. I had to learn to slow the story down, take more time with it, give the detail and description more weight. People see movies for plot, to know what’s going to happen next. They see plays for emotion, they want to feel deeply and have a cathartic emotional experience. They read books because they want to spend time with an author’s mind, inside their thoughts. It’s really quite intimate what an author does.

JV: How does setting enhance story – and what do you hope that your narrative reveals about life in Cairo that is not common knowledge?

AL: The most important use of setting is context. That an Egyptian ten-year-old street kid at the pyramids has no shoes, that’s not really important. A lot of kids have no shoes. Then he asks you for a dollar, now you’re faced with a choice, that’s more important, but still a lot of kids have no money. Then he asks you to take him back to New York with you, whoa, now that’s really uncomfortable. Then the tourist police come and beat him for begging and drag him away from right next to you. That’s everything. That’s a world. See how much this tells you in a page, in a minute about the kid, about the place, about the society. Setting is everything.

JV: Character development is integral in storytelling, regardless of the forum. What is your generative process like – and how do you see Ari and Farah as possessing unique motivations that are still largely relevant to your audience?

AL: Ari wants to get a job done. Shoot the Sphinx. He wants professional success. He wants a feather in his cap. He wants to work with the dictatorship to take something home to the West and make money on it. Farah wants an entire revolution. She wants it because she and the people she loves have been followed, harassed, beaten and tortured by her government. This to me is our whole foreign policy in the Middle East boiled down into one interpersonal relationship.

JV: Who are the writers (or other artistic forces) that have inspired you along your creative journey – and how do you endeavor paying homage to them while still offering work that is uniquely your own?

AL: Orwell is my favorite. In Burma, in the twenties, he had been a colonial cop. In the thirties, he fought for the Communists in Spain. He knew Imperialism and Totalitarianism from the inside out. He drew out allegories–based on social trends–to their most extreme conclusions, and therefore shocked you, the reader. I want to do the opposite. I want to draw an allegory out of reality. I don’t’ even want the reader to know or think about what I’m doing symbolically until the very end of the story. If I’ve done my job right, the last page hits them in the face like a slap. That’s Orwellish, but not Orwellian.

JV: In your opinion, what is the role of the bookstore within its community – and how do you hope your conversation with Jon Land might resonate with readers and writers alike?

AL: Bookstores really took an almost knockout punch on the chin not just from Amazon, but the entire internet. EBooks looked like they were going to wipe out the bookstore. A lot of the indies and chains folded, but then they started to evolve, Powell’s, Elliot Bay, just down the road from Amazon’s headquarters, and every Barnes and Noble now has a café and an event space for readings and signings. People are looking for an intimacy that they could never get online. Not only do they want to hold and feel the physical book, they want to hold and feel the author. They want to look into the eyes and shake the hand and ask questions of the mind they will meld their own minds with. I think Jon and the Savoy bookshop have this intimacy and a few martinis in mind by moving our talk over to Perks and Corks down the street in Westerly RI.

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My thanks to Avram for indulging my curiosities, and to Desirae Friesen, Associate Publicist at Tor/Forge Books, for helping to coordinate this interview.

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