No doubt by now you are aware that Acre’s Orphans will be published on January 28th. Many of you are familiar with its hero, Lucca le Pou (or Lucca the Louse for those of you who don’t speak French.) He’s a popular little guy, and a number of people ask me how I came up with him.
Put simply, Lucca started as a fun idea, and was finally created out of horrible tragedy. It’s probably a story worth sharing, and very few of you will have heard this one. So it started here:
This is me standing in the old city of Jerusalem in November of 2008 on the site of the Hospital of St John… the Hospitallers for those of you who follow such things. As I stood there, thinking all kinds of Crusadery thoughts, I kept asking myself, “what the hell were they thinking?”
The Crusades have always held a fascination for me. I’m a sucker for knights and jousting and swords are always cooler than guns. So I tried to imagine what would make someone travel halfway around the world to fight in a war that, to my modern mind, makes no sense at all. Especially the battle of Hattin. What the hell makes someone do that? And what must it have been like for people who weren’t nobility or churchmen– the average folks? I figured there was a story there, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. Acre’s Bastard originally started as the tale of a Hospitaller knight, and it wasn’t particularly inspiring, given that most of them would be slaughtered at the end.
Then this picture flashed around the world.
This picture of 5-year-old Omran Daqneesh was from 2016 when Russian bombs fell on the Syrian city of Aleppo. Aleppo is about 300 miles from Acre, and was a constant scene of battle even back in the 1100s.
I couldn’t get the idea out of my head that children had been dying in wars in the region since the beginning of our history, and it just gets uglier and more vicious. That led me to think about other stories of children caught up in war. I was much more interested in the civilians than the knights and nobility. What would it be like for a child back then. If Lucca was a bit older, you know who he reminded me of???
One of my favorite stories is Kim by Rudyard Kipling. An orphan caught up in wartime, befriending soldiers and living on his wits. If you haven’t read it, you’re missing out.
And so, I imagined Lucca as old enough to not be traumatized like young Omran, and not old enough to actually have to fight, and there you have it.
Now he’s on his second adventure, Acre’s Orphans. There are still lepers, knights, spies, and swordplay. There will be tears and, yes, a lot of laughs.
If you’re one of the many people who enjoyed Acre’s Bastard, you’ve probably figured out that there’s at least one more book to come. Well, I’ve finally finished the first draft. Here’s photographic proof.
That said, it’s a first draft. Here’s what that feels like in my head…
If you’ve seen David Cronenburg’s 1979 movie, The Brood, this makes a lot more sense. It’s a deformed, demonic little creature but mama loves it. That’s how I feel about the first version of Acre’s Orphans. (Yes, that makes me Samantha Eggar in this story. Don’t read too much into that.) I am hopeful to have this revised and beta-read in time for a late fall launch.
If you’re a fan of Lucca the Louse, be prepared. You can drop me a line or join the newsletter using the link on this page to be the first to know when Acre’s Orphans is ready for the world.
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I’m very grateful for the help I’ve received in advance of the launch from Naperville Writers Group, my trusted beta readers, and those who have read advance copies and actually liked the darned thing.
This book isn’t an easy sell, so any help I can get is appreciated. If you’d like to help, I can think of a couple of things:
Tell your friends. Tweetfacelinkblog to your heart’s content.
Leave a review, even a luke-warm one, on your favorite book site. The number of reviews counts almost as much as the rating in this crazy online world run by our robot overlords. Amazon, Goodreads, Facebook pages… you know the drill
Give me feedback. This is the first of at least 2 “Lucca Le Pou” stories to come. I had a boss once who told me, “we always reserve the right to get smarter.”
Come on out to an event. So far, I’ve got two events scheduled. The official book launch is February 11th, 1 PM at the Museums at Lisle Station. I will also be doing a presentation in early march at Barnes and Noble in Naperville, exact date TBD. Come on out, bring some friends and have some fun.
I am very excited about the launch of this story, and hope it receives the same warm reception that Count of the Sahara got. Oh, and sells a few copies.
Acre’s Bastard will be coming out in mid-January (ebook) and mid-February of 2017 (paperback). I’m very excited. This is the first in a series of adventures about Lucca Le Pou, a 10-year-old who becomes an unwilling spy against Salah-adin. It’s NOT YA– it’s the very adult story of the Crusades told through the eyes of it’s most innocent victims–the children. The book is in turns funny, thrilling, sad and exciting.
If you are a reviewer or blogger interested in a pre-publication copy, please let me know. I’d like to get some honest blurbs and reviews in the can to help with a successful launch.
This may or may not be the final cover for my new book, but here’s an update. (Feedback is a gift and all)
Most of you know by now that I have a fascination with the Crusades. No surprise, then, that I look for fiction about that time period. That led me to Helena P Schrader’s book, Defender of Jersualem, and its sequel, Envoy of Jerusalem. While our books are very different (as, I suspect, are our feelings about the period in general) it’s an epic tale about an interesting character.
Helena P. Schrader earned a PhD in History with a ground-breaking biography of
the mastermind behind the coup attempt against Hitler on July 20, 1944. She has published numerous works of non-fiction and fiction. As a novelist, she has focused on historical and biographical fiction. She is a career diplomat currently serving in Africa.
So your first book starts a few years before mine, and the new one ends after. What’s your series about?
“Defender of Jerusalem” and “Envoy of Jerusalem” are two parts of a biographical novel about Balian d’Ibelin. Some readers may remember that Balian was the hero of Ridley Scott’s film “The Kingdom of Heaven.” Indeed, it was the Hollywood film that sparked my interest in this particular period in history. After seeing the film (while working on a completely different project), I started wondering how much of it was true. A quick check revealed that Balian d’Ibelin was not only a historical person (who did some of the remarkable things portrayed in the film), but also that he (the historical Balian) was a more important historical figure than the film character made him out to be. My curiosity ignited, I did more research and was soon intrigued and captivated by the man, his age, society, and his contemporaries–such as his royal Byzantine wife, the Leper King, the near-pirate Reynald de Chatillon, Richard the Lionheart, and Saladin. While I follow the historical record and alter no known facts, the books go beyond those facts to give the reader insights into a whole cast of fascinating historical characters and a complex society at a critical moment in history.
The Second Crusade in particular was a bit of a mess. What is it about that period that fascinated you?
Balian lived in the crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem in the decade immediately before and after the devastating battle of Hattin. That was the battle in which the Muslims under the Kurdish leader Saladin virtually obliterated the Christian fighting forces in the Holy Land. This victory paved the way for the capture of Jerusalem and occupation of the rest of the kingdom, triggering the Third Crusade. The Saracen leader Saladin – in contrast to what Hollywood would have you believe – was a devout Muslim, who had declared jihad against the crusader states and vowed to drive them into the sea. He was opposed, not by fanatics ala “The Kingdom of Heaven,” but by ethnically diverse states with Christian – not a Muslim – majorities. Furthermore, these states were highly urbanized, economically dynamic and characterized by a sophisticated legal system and flourishing culture. Although almost obliterated after Hattin, these states recovered and re-established themselves to survive another hundred years. Saladin failed to destroy them in part because of the strategic genius of Richard the Lionheart – but even more because of the tenacity, resilience and courage of the natives and lords of Jerusalem–led by Balian d’Ibelin. Indeed, while the King of Jerusalem was taken captive and later marginalized and deposed, Balian fought his way off the field at Hattin, commanded the defense of Jerusalem, and ultimately negotiated the truce between Saladin and Richard the Lionheart. He was referred to as “like a king” by Arab sources, and his descendants would marry royalty and be regents more than once. This was an exceptional man who proved his worth both as a warrior and a diplomat. His story is relevant today because we again find ourselves confronting jihadists and so forced to define who we are, what our values are, and which of our values we can sacrifice for security and which we must be prepared to defend with our lives. These books are as much about who we are today as about Balian d’Ibelin, the Leper King or Saladin.
What are your favorite parts of the story?
There are no spoilers in books based on history. Everyone knows the plot and the ending – or can find out – without reading the books. And there are so many great scenes in both books because history is so full of surprises and moments of great drama! Balian arriving in Jerusalem unarmed on a safe-conduct from Saladin to remove his family–only to be tumultuously received by a population expecting him to take command the defense, is one such historical moment, or the (true!) moment when Saladin’s banners are tossed down from the walls of Jerusalem just as Saladin says he won’t negotiate for a city he already holds. But if I have to choose one scene from “Defender of Jerusalem,” a scene that is based more on my exploration of historical events and personalities than the naked facts, it would be the moment after Balian leads a break-out at Hattin and crashes over the steep slope to the Sea of Galilee–only to realize that barely 3,000 men are with him and on the plateau behind him the king, the bulk of the army and the True Cross are being slaughtered or captured. He realizes that the kingdom is lost, but 3,000 mostly wounded and desperate men are looking to him for leadership. He doesn’t have time to grieve; he has to keep leading. As for “Envoy of Jerusalem,” my favorite scenes are those in which two worlds clash—not Christian vs Muslim, but native of the Holy Land vs. crusader, i.e. the scenes in which Balian and Richard the Lionheart confront one another with incomprehension at first, but gradually with greater and greater respect and trust.
Interesting. One of the things that I find interesting is the tension between those Franks who came from Europe on Crusade and those living and making their lives in “Outremont.”
I have a little tradition. Whenever I finish a full draft of a book, I celebrate by having a glass of Templeton Rye on the rocks. I’m not a whiskey drinker, (anejo tequila, neat, is my drug of choice, for those of you seeking gift ideas) but it is tradition, and must therefore be correct.
Acre’s Bastard is an adventure story set during the Second Crusade. It’s a little more straight-forward than The Count of the Sahara, and a little grittier but I hope TheBookFolks like it enough to send it out into the world, and I hope all of you enjoy it as well.
Tonight I’m toasting Lucca, Brother Marco, Sister Marie-Terese and even Brother Idoneus, may he rot in hell. I hope you’ll join me on the adventure.
I am a sucker for any time period with swords, arrows and buckles being swashed. No big surprise, then, that I really enjoyed Wayne Grant’s “Saga of Roland Inness” series. It takes place during the same time period as Robin Hood, the Third Crusade and various unending wars in Wales. What’s not to like?
So what’s the Wayne Grant story?
I grew up in a small cotton-farming community in Louisiana and escaped the cotton patch by going to West Point. After graduation, I spent five years in the US Army during the post-Vietnam, Cold War period, stationed in West Germany and later, South Korea. I later went on to a civilian career in government, including a senior position in the Pentagon during the Reagan years. I’m retired from that world now and have been writing full time for the past two years. I live in Raleigh, NC with my wife and have two grown sons.
So what’s the series, and in particular your first entry, “Longbow” about?
Longbow is the first book in a four book series (The Ballad of Roland Inness) that follows fourteen year old Roland Inness as he comes of age in 12th century England, where the Normans maintain a tight grip on their subjects. Roland tries to feed his starving family by poaching a deer on the Earl of Derby’s land, which brings down disaster on his family, as his father is killed by the Earl’s son and Roland is forced to become a fugitive.
Roland manages to elude capture with the aid of a strange monk named Tuck and ultimately finds refuge with a gruff Norman knight. Sir Roger de Laval recognizes the boy’s skill with a longbow and other qualities that make Roland valuable as a squire. Roland hates the Normans for killing his father, but comes to recognize through his new master that not all Normans are tyrants. This is a story about vengeance, but also a tale of courage, and loyalty and family—all played out in a world of violence and intrigue.
I was corrupted early by Errol Flynn (that’s what she said…. sorry couldn’t help myself) what’s your excuse? What is it about that period you find so entertaining?
Longbow actually began fifteen years ago as a serial story for my two young sons. I had just read a great history of the 3rd Crusade, so when they asked me for a story, I decided to tell them a tale about a boy squire who goes on Crusade. The battles in the Holy Land and the events back in England are filled with larger-than-life characters (Richard, Saladin, evil Prince John, Queen Eleanor) that have inspired myths and legends ever since.
In a slight departure from historical fiction norms, I’ve incorporated both real and some legendary characters from that time in my story. I did not want to do a retelling of the Robin Hood legend, though Tuck and Robin are characters in my books, and so created my own hero, a young boy descended from the Viking invaders of England who has extraordinary skill with the longbow.
I don’t think it’s much of a departure, I did the same with The Count of the Sashara. It’s fun sometimes when history and pure nonsense mix, and you’ve done a good job. Without giving away the store, what’s one of your favorite scenes in the book?
Roland witnesses Sir Roger’s daughter being taken prisoner by Welsh raiders. Millicent de Laval has not been very kind to the new squire, but Roland knows his duty, and sets out on foot after her. He uses all of his skill as a woodsman to track the girl and her captors into the wilderness of the Clocaenog forest of northern Wales.
Where can people learn more about you and your books?
Sometimes we read history to learn deep lessons about mankind and where we’re going as a people. Sometimes you just want hacking and cleaving and plenty of good old fashioned smiting. That’s where Seamus O’Griffin (and if that’s not one of the coolest writer names ever, I don’t know what is) and his Gallowglass series comes in.
It’s been a while since I just devoured a series like this. It’s the Medieval version of a beach read; lots of swords hacking, Saracens attacking and mysterious beautiful women. I was thrilled when he agreed to be interviewed for this little blog of mine.
So, what’s the Gallowglass series about?
The Gallowglass series follows the life and times of Ronan Mac Alasdair from a hot-headed, imprudent young man on the island of Islay to a hard bitten, professional soldier of Ireland and the isles; a Galloglass (yes you can look up what it means by clicking here, and yes, it is spelled both ways). The first three books in the series cover his early days as a Templar, his rise within the Order and his part in the siege and fall of Acre in 1291. The next books in the series will cover his return to the Isles and his rise as a Galloglass.
We share a fascination with the Crusades and swords and all kinds of “guy stuff.” Where’d that come from?
I have always been fascinated with the Middle Ages. I read a novel as a kid, I don’t remember its title, about the Siege of Malta, and I have been hooked ever since. Likewise, I had read about galloglasses and their dominance as professional soldiers throughout Ireland and the Scottish Isles for roughly four hundred years and thought that there was definitely a story there, one that few people had written about.
Without spoilers, what’s your favorite scene?
I don’t necessarily have one particular scene in the first three books that stands out as my favorite but I can tell you that I thoroughly enjoyed writing The Fall of Acre from beginning to end.
I’m actually envious of the way you sustained the battle scene for basically a whole book, and since it’s called The Fall of Acre it’s not exactly a spoiler, is it? Where can readers find you?