Wednesday, 24 October 2018

A Slice of Cake With... Assaph Mehr

This week I am thrilled to be having a slice of cake with indie author Assaph Mehr.

Assaph has been a bibliophile since he learnt to read at the age of five, and a Romanophile ever since he first got his hands on Asterix, way back in elementary school. This exacerbated when his parents took him on a trip to Rome and Italy - he whinged horribly when they dragged him to "yet another church with baby angels on the ceiling", yet was happy to skip all day around ancient ruins and museums for Etruscan art. 

He has since been feeding his addiction for books with stories of mystery and fantasy of all kinds. A few years ago he randomly picked a copy of a Lindsay Davis' Marcus Didius Falco novel in a used book fair, and fell in love with Rome all over again, this time from the viewpoint of a cynical adult. His main influences in writing are Steven Saylor, Lindsey Davis, Barry Hughart and Boris Akunin. 

Assaph now lives in Sydney, Australia with his wife, kids, cats, and - this being Australia - assorted spiders. By day he is a software product manager, bridging the gap between developers and users, and by night he's writing - he seems to do his best writing after midnight.

What kind of books do you write?

From one of the Iron Age’s greatest culture, comes a detective that deals with the weird and unexplained. Purloined letters and missing jewellery may pay for his nightly wine (as does selling charms to unsuspecting country bumpkins), but when people die in what looks like cult murders or when whole apartment blocks become haunted by old gods – there is only one person in town you can call for efficient and discreet service.

Here is his “business card” – the slogan he chalks on Forum walls:

Can you describe your writing why?

Quite simply, these are the stories I want to read. I grew up on classic Sci-Fi and Fantasy, as well as a lot of detectives (from Holmes to Poirot). I fell in love with Ancient Rome when I first met Asterix. When I grew up, I loved reading Roman-era detectives (like Lindsey Davis and Ruth Downie), as well as darker fantasy.

I’ve had the idea behind Murder In Absentia kicking a can in the back of my head for a good few years. Then one night my wife complained she has nothing she wants to read. So after everyone was in bed, I sat down and started to write. I knew what the story was all about (where is starts and where it ends) and I weaved in my love for ancient Rome and dark urban fantasy.

I haven’t stopped writing since, because I enjoy the stories so much. That others love them too, is humbling.

Share with us your favourite passage from the book you enjoyed writing the most

Right out of In Numina, this one is when Felix is stuck at home in a foul mood:

Given my impaired mobility, I could not take on another case. I was in no condition to walk far, but I limped down to the docks between the grain and fish markets, found a good corner, and left a honey-cake in the shrine of the nearest crossroad lar. I chalked ‘FORTUNES TOLD, CURSES IDENTIFIED’ on the wall, sat down on a folding stool under it, put on airs, and busied myself with a scroll by Thrasyllus on star-gazing which looked impressive with all its strange and foreign symbols.

People being what they are, especially sailors and dock-workers, I scraped enough quadrans and semis that day to cover a night of drinking. Calculating people’s horoscopes is tedious, but at least cleaner than haruspicy. One sailor wanted me to write a curse against his fellow, whom he swore stole his lucky fascinum when they were asleep. I scribbled a supplication to Hygieia — about as magical as a bucket of piss — to withdraw her protection from the thief’s health. I also sold him a mild laxative in the guise of ‘special medicine’ and told him to slip it in the evening meal whilst at sea to reveal the guilty party to all. On the off-chance he was wrong about the culprit, the laxative was to go into the main pot and the supplication into the fire. I taught him meaningless doggerel to repeat, so I could claim it was his fault for botching it. Thoughts of future winds generated below decks by an overly flatulent crew cheered me up.

Tell us about your latest project

I’ve just released In Numina, the second Story of Togas, Daggers, and Magic. In it, Felix is hired to deal with haunted apartment blocks (because size matters). What starts as a ghost story quickly delves into the occult underbelly or the Roman-inspired city of Egretia, and spills into the law-courts for a politically charged case at the highest level of society.

What is your favourite cake?

“Russian cake” which is my combined version of two distinct Russian cakes: medavik (honey cake) and smetanik (cream cake). My wedding vows include baking this cake for my wife. (Also included are pickling tomatoes and letting her have the final word – in matters of fashion).

Thanks for the yummy sounding cake, Assaph! They're both new ones for me so I'm excited to have a go at baking these cakes. For those readers baking along here is a recipe for medavik and one for smetanik.

You can keep in touch with Assaph on his website where you can also find his blog. Follow him on Facebook and tweet along with him @assaphmehr

Join me next week when I will be having a slice of cake with writer Margena Holmes, grilling them gently about their writing life and of course sharing their favourite cake.

If you would like to take part in A Slice of Cake With... please fill in the form found here. I'd be delighted to have you.

Claire Buss is a multi-genre author and poet, completely addicted to cake. Find all her books on Amazon. Join the discussion in her Facebook group Buss's Book Stop.

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