By Gwen Florio
Avram Noble Ludwig’s debut novel SHOOTING THE SPHINX boasts the kind of blurb—“a fast-paced and gripping tale”—you’d expect on a thriller. The blurb’s source, not so much.
It’s from former U.S. Ambassador to Niger Joseph Wilson, who—along with his wife, former CIA operative Valerie Plame—is the subject of the 2010, Ludwig-produced film Fair Game, starring Naomi Watts and Sean Penn.
Ludwig has a long list of film credits, both as producer and actor, and is also a playwright. So when he focused his considerable experience on a novel about a filmmaker who gets caught up in the events leading to the mass demonstrations in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, it was a slam-dunk, right?
“I sent it to my agent,” he said. “She wasn’t crazy about it.”
He ended up shopping the novel himself, pitching it to a friend’s editor at a book signing. Ten days later, he had a contract with Forge for SHOOTING THE SPHINX, which takes its title from his protagonist’s attempts to get permission for a helicopter shot of the Sphinx.
Recently, while sailing in New York Harbor—“Brooklyn the right of me, New Jersey to the left of me”—Ludwig answered questions by phone about writing in general, and SHOOTING THE SPHINX in particular. Some of his thoughts:
Early attempts at novels:
When I got out of college, I spent three and a half years writing a novel. It was agony. Every chapter was like childbirth. It was fairly long and very pretentious. Even now I can’t open any random page and read any sentence without wanting to vomit. It’s so stilted. I showed it to some friends of my father who were in publishing and they said, “Put it aside and write something else.” So I did [put it aside]—but I didn’t write anything else. … After my father died, I started to noodle with another novel. It wasn’t great, and I rewrote it. … My agent sent it out but nobody bought it. Then I wrote this book [SHOOTING THE SPHINX] as a play, then I [re]wrote it as a screenplay, but I still had more to say, so I wrote it as a book.
His writing process:
I have no regular method of writing. I write anywhere and everywhere on a laptop that I take all over the place. I do get in the zone. There’ll be times when I’m kind of like a drug addict. I’m not like Graham Greene, writing from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.; I will write sometimes until I realize I haven’t eaten. So, when I get into it, I find that it’s best for me to be cut off from world. I don’t care about anything else, just writing. Everything else in my life falls apart when I’m in that mode.
[Before starting a novel] I’ll think about it and think about it and think about a story, about what happens, then I’ll hit some sort of tipping point, where I know everything that’s going to happen, all the big strokes, and I can’t not write it. All of a sudden, it’s no longer a voluntary process. I can’t stop till it’s done.
Being in Egypt and the Middle East during a time of dynamic change:
I was there when the war [in Iraq] was going on and I felt like there was an underlying quality to everything; that it [the war] was the thing that no one could forget. It was always, “What’s America up to?” A sort of distrust pervaded everything. … There was this kind of moment when the Arab Spring started, when Obama came to Cairo University and people saw the opposite of George Bush being there.
On actually “shooting” the Sphinx:
Giza sweeps up into a plateau with the pyramids at top and the Sphinx at bottom. Up near Great Pyramid there’s a bus parking lot, so you could have 100 buses there, with people getting off and on. At the moment [the helicopter from which they were filming] hit that rise, we were pretty low over buses and it was just like a sandstorm, hundreds of people getting completely sandstormed. After that day, they said no one will ever be allowed to shoot the Sphinx from a helicopter again.
Ludwig recently signed a contract for his second novel, based on the life of Barry Seal, a pilot and gunrunner for the CIA, who became the biggest cocaine smuggler in American history.
He still makes movies. Clearly, he doesn’t need to write novels. But he’ll tell you that he does need to, for reasons that might make sense only to other writers.
Writing a play, he said, is like a team sport; a film, “a gigantic business.”
“But a novel, it’s just yours, it’s only you.”
AVRAM NOBLE LUDWIG is a film producer, a director, and a playwright. Born into a theatrical family, he has produced over a dozen films and serves on the Board of Directors of the Actors Studio in New York. SHOOTING THE SPHINX is his first novel.
To learn more about SHOOTING THE SPHINX, click on the cover below:
Gwen Florio is a veteran journalist whose first novel, MONTANA, won a High Plains Book Award and Pinckley Prize for crime fiction, and was a finalist for an International Thriller Award, Shamus Award and Silver Falchion Award, all in the first novel category. DAKOTA was published in 2014 and her third novel, DISGRACED, came out in March 2016.
To learn more about DISGRACED, click on the cover below: