Ilanna Sharon Mandel is the author of The Bridge of Haunted Souls; here is a link to her website:
Q: What is The Bridge of Haunted Souls about?
A: The Bridge of Haunted Souls is an action-adventure in magical realism inspired by Jewish mysticism and a belief in the enduring need to hope for an afterlife. It’s a novel that explores the importance of friendship and loyalty, especially for young teens. In the story, Tamar is contacted by her young cousin Gabriella who recently died in an accident. Tamar and her two friends Rachel and Diana brave an adventure through an ancient cemetery, and the bridge between the world of the living and the afterlife. Their guide is Bruria, the Guardian of Souls. The three friends learn the terrible truth about what happened to Gabrielle and how she plans to re-enter the world of the living, so that Tamar will take her place in the world of the dead.
Q: What experiences in your life inspired you to write the book?
A: I have been writing practically my entire life. I published my first poem when I was 16 and never looked back. It has been my dream to publish novels. I recall being a young girl in Regina, Saskatchewan, when the famous writer W.O. Mitchell (Who Has Seen the Wind) came to our school and gave a reading. I was transfixed. From that moment on, I knew I wanted to be a writer. This novel in particular was inspired by my own childhood experiences with my friends when we found an ancient gravestone out on the prairies. We concocted an entire story for the gravestone, although we never did learn the truth about it.
Q: What makes Tamar an interesting character?
A: To me Tamar is interesting because she’s not a caricature of someone; she’s a full person. She is smart, adventurous, funny and kind, but she also worries and always feels she has to be in charge. Tamar finds it hard to hold back; she’s always interested in moving forwards. From her parents, who are archaeologists, she gained a love for adventure. But, she has an incredibly open mind, and so although the wonders of the afterlife are revealed to her, she’s ready to see them. Tamar is also a loyal friend and is always watching out for Rachel and Diana. Ultimately, her sense of responsibility and love for Gabrielle set her off on the adventure to begin with. So, she’s very brave, but in many ways also a regular teenage girl.
Q: Why do you think people are so fascinated by the afterlife?
A: Because it’s the ultimate question in life; what happens after we die. We all want to know. Some people have a deep-rooted belief that when we die, our souls live on, while others believe that death is nothing, and still others don’t know what to believe. It is one of the most enduring issues of our human existence.
Q: You work as an instructional designer; what does the job entail?
A: As an instructional designer, I do a lot of different things; I write curriculum, training, courses, workshops, create e-learning, interactive learning, and write live action and animation scripts. I have had the opportunity to work for a broad spectrum of clients and a huge range of topics. I focus a lot on the healthcare and education sectors, and am a specialist on disability-related issues.
Q: What is the least effective thing you have done to promote your book?
A: I think the least effective thing I have done is announce it on Facebook. People just don’t seem to pay any attention because there is so much going on all the time, the information just gets lost.
Q: What famous writer would you most like to meet?
A: I would love to meet Ursula K. Le Guin. She is truly my idea of a complete writer. Ursula has written in fantasy, science fiction, academia and practical, informative articles. She’s a brilliant woman whose work in science fiction is some of the most seminal writing that exists today. As a writer she brings a strong social conscience to her stories, and always develops deeply complex yet relatable pieces. She is one of the reasons I began writing in science fiction.
Q: What is the best advice you have gotten about writing?
A: Find your own voice and don’t give up. I believe strongly in these twin principles. It’s imperative as a writer that one doesn’t try to mimic or sound like anyone else. All writers are inspired by others, but don’t try to emulate them. Take the time to find your voice and your stories. Write about the topics and situations that are most meaningful to you. And, don’t give up. I’m in my 60s and publishing my first novel.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m currently three quarters of the way through my second novel, entitled Prairie’s Edge. The novel is quite a departure from this novel as it’s far more adult in nature, although the protagonist is a 16-year-old girl named Lesley who lives in a small town in Saskatchewan, Canada. Lesley copes with a plethora of challenges – her Mom is an alcoholic and has brought a strange, drifter to live with them, and then her dying grandfather comes to stay so he can die with his family around him. Lesley feels her world closing in on her and only wants to escape the prairies. Her mother ends up in rehab and the drifter named Grant becomes a seminal figure in her life, who helps her to take care of her dying grandfather.
Q: If you could bring anyone back to the land of the living, who would it be and why?
A: I would bring back my Mom. We lost her young and it was quite shocking as she died of a brain aneurysm no one knew she had. My father came home to find her in a terrible state and called the ambulance, but she passed away quickly. We were extremely close, and her way of raising me was to tell me stories. Whenever I asked her a question, she invariably had a story to tell me. She was also a talented writer, as was her brother (who won major awards for his poetry). My Mom was writing her own first novel when she died, so sadly, it was never finished.
Please note; Eliza’s interviews are done by email. All answers are unedited and come right from the lovely fingertips of her subjects.