Author Interview


By Sandra Ruttan

Sandra: Your new book, Who By Fire, Who By Blood is due out this fall. What can you tell us about the story?

Jon: Who By Fire, Who By Blood is about a young man who tries to redeem himself after the death of his father, a controversial New York judge, and gets drawn into a terrorist plot in which he mistakenly thinks he will be balancing the scales of justice. The story is about faith, redemption and the quest to save oneself by redeeming history, and the perilous consequences that arise from confusing the two tasks.

Sandra: In the article with the Boston Globe they said:

Green sees in Papernick's book an idea that flies in the face of post-Sept. 11 convention -- in which terrorism is associated solely with Islam and the Muslim world. Green says it is what his customers are looking for, "someone who's coming at things in an entirely different way, but can still tell a damn good story."

Do you think politics contributed to your initial struggle to see this book published?

Jon: I can't say for sure whether politics contributed to my initial difficulties in finding a publisher for the book. Certainly the current manuscript is a lot trimmer, 20,000 words shorter, but I also feel that in a post-September 11 world, many editors may have been afraid to touch a work of fiction that dealt so directly with terrorism. It's strange, but right now the best-selling work of fiction dealing with terrorism was written by an 85-year-old man living on Cape Cod. It's hard to imagine that such a book could have much lifeblood flowing through it.

Sandra: This isn’t your first book, and you even had a favourable review in the New York Times for your short story collection. What impact has that had on your career?

Jon: My first collection of short stories, The Ascent of Eli Israel, received great reviews in the New York Times, and a dozen or so other places, however the book, which I would describe as a series of political nightmares and religious comedies set in the aftermath of the death of former Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin only sold a few thousand copies in hardcover. The book has been taught in a least a dozen colleges and universities, but I think the publishing world has decided that people do not like to read short stories, so that hurts any collection's chances right out of the box.

As far as impact on my career, the book certainly has not made me a household name, but I have been able to land teaching jobs at Brandeis University, Emerson College and even Bar Ilan University in Israel, in large part because of my collection.

Sandra: You’ve teamed up with Back Pages Books for the 1001 Book Project. What is the aim of the 1001 Book Project?

Jon: To quote Back Pages owner Alex Green, “we hope to affect change in the corporate-dominated publishing world where profit margins have virtually eliminated editors' ability to take risks on new voices in the literary world.” We hope to affect a grassroots effort to sell this book, where ordinary readers become the taste maker, passing the book off to friends and family, rather than relying on the Oprah Winfreys of the world to tell us what to read. A number of people have bought multiple copies and have taken up the challenge to become a sort of Johnny Appleseed of good literature.

Sandra: How did the idea come about?

Jon: When I found out that the print run for my book was going to be a relatively modest thousand copies, it came to me that selling a thousand and one copies, though challenging would be doable if Alex and I put our heads together and really made this happen. And a week later, the 1001 Book Project was up and running.

Sandra: When did you launch the 1001 Book Project?

Jon: The Book Project was launched [I think] May 21.

Sandra: How many preorders are there so far?

Jon: I know that Back Pages has sold over 270 copies with a number of people pledged to buy more copies imminently. I'm not certain how many have been sold in Canada, but last time I checked around 20 had been sold through Exile Editions

Sandra: What advantages are there to bookstores to participate in special promotions such as this?

Jon: It seems that too many independent bookstores have ceded responsibility to big-box bookstores, allowing the chain stores to dictate what people read. Small bookstore owners certainly have the opportunity to affect (sp?) change and can only gain from pushing the books that they truly support.

Sandra: How do you feel about the growing need for authors to market their work?

Jon: I wish I had known this before my first book came out. Now I understand that the muse and the marketplace are both equally important for the writer and we owe it to ourselves to spend the time getting our work out to our readers. These days, it seems that publishers only have the budget to put their resources behind two or three writers per season at most, so it really has become the writer's responsibility to make it happen.Sandra: What promotion will you be doing in Canada to support the release of Who By Fire, Who By Blood?

Jon: The book will be launching in Toronto on [strictly coincidentally] September 11 at the Dora Keogh pub on Broadview. I am going to be teaching full-time at Emerson College in Boston this fall, so I won't be able to do as much as I would like. That's why I’m trying to make things happen right now. I do imagine I will be coming up to Canada three or four times in the months following the release of a book, but have yet to firm up the details.

Sandra: For curious readers who want to know more is there a place where they can read an excerpt online?

Jon: Go to and click on the cover of the book to read the first chapter. There is another excerpt available elsewhere on the site, as well as some of my short stories.

Sandra: How can readers order the book?

Jon: In the United States go to to order a signed, stamped and numbered copy of Who by Fire, Who by Blood.

In Canada, you can order directly from the publisher Exile Editions at

Sandra: I understand you’re focusing on trying to get picked up by an American publisher. What else do you have in the works?

Jon: You really need to be innovative these days, and when it seemed that I was not going to find a publisher for the novel, I teamed up with comic book artist Sandy Jimenez to adapt the novel into a graphic novel. All of my students at Emerson College were reading graphic novels and I just decided that the story was too good to go to waste. We just completed the first chapter of the graphic novel and hope to find US publisher who will publish both the novel and the graphic novel at the same time, something that has never been done before. We may self publish or post online the first chapter of the graphic novel to get people excited about this amazing book. If you're interested in seeing a few images from the graphic novel version of Who by Fire, Who by Blood you can find them at my blog . I also recently completed a second collection of short stories entitled There is No Other. A couple of my more salacious stories are available to read on my website.

Blurb: "Jon Papernick's Who by Fire, Who by Blood will draw you in with its increasingly horrifying plot. But what will haunt you forever is how Papernick brings you right up to the border between justice and terror, and then makes that border disappear. Open this book carefully. You will close it changed."

--Dara Horn, author of In The Image and The World to Come. Named by Granta Magazine as one of the best young American novelists. Winner of the National Jewish Book Award.


Sandra Ruttan’s debut suspense novel, Suspicious Circumstances, was released in January, 2007. For more information about Sandra visit her website

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