One of the things I love best about interviewing other Historical Fiction authors, is that you learn what stories obsess them, and how they view these stories through whatever personal experiences they have. Case in point, if I told you there was an Asian-American author whose previous book was a translation of Chinese romances, would you expect their latest book to be about the Trojan War?
See what I mean?
History teacher, banker, finance executive–Hock Tjoa has turned to writing for
his “third act.” He published The Battle of Chibi, (if you ever saw the movie Red Cliffs, that’s the story)selections from The Romance of the Three Kingdoms that he translated in 2010 and Agamemnon Must Die in 2014. He is married and lives in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada in California.
Seems to me that the definitive book on the Trojan War was done a while ago. What’s this story about?
The “mother of all wars” (the Trojan War) is over. All the people of Mycenae want is peace and normalcy. But the gods have a crowded agenda for them. There will be blood and pain, even quarrels among the gods.
The royal family of Mycenae has a bloody, monstrous history. Agamemnon returns with his war trophy, the Trojan Princess Cassandra, whom he unthinkingly flaunts before his queen. After an epic sword fight in his own banquet hall, Agamemnon is killed. Cassandra has her nightmares/visions of the gory and unspeakable deeds of the House of Atreus; she is led away to be executed. Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus have their respective reasons, but this regicide must be avenged. Or so say the voices in Orestes’ head. He must avenge his father. He must kill the regicides. He must kill his own mother.
Hmmm, no wonder so many neurotic syndromes have Greek names. There’s a lot going on there. What inspired you to write this particular book? Why this story?
The story is based on the Oresteia, the sole surviving classical Greek trilogy, by Aeschylus. I was assigned (an English translation of) this book in a humanities course at college with the introduction that this was a key work, a part of the foundation of Western civilization, etc.. I did not get it (just as I did not get Moby Dick).
Over the years I have read almost every translation that has appeared, hoping for the light to go on. I decided a few years ago, to write this story myself, as I understood it and not necessarily as my professors might have wished.
Sounds like there’s probably a Greek name for that kind of thinking but we’ll leave that to a therapist. What’s your favorite scene in the book?
Hm, every scene was difficult to write and a delight in the end, but I’ll pick the
chapter that deals with Cassandra, a minor character with an unusual gift and a sad fate. It also includes portions in verse, something that I experimented with in this book.
You can find Agamemnon Must Die and Hock’s other work here:
I am thrilled to be part of two panel discussions and a book signing at the Elgin Literary Festival January 29-30 in Elgin, IL.
I’ll be part of a panel on “How your real job influences your writing” as well as one on various methods of publishing. I’ll also be talking about how working with a “middle way” publisher like The Book Folks helped me get The Count of the Sahara out into the world.
Not for nothing, but I’ll also be signing and (hopefully) selling the book as well.
Like many fledgling writers, I have spent a lot of years reading Writers Digest. From the early 80s til last month, I would read the articles and think, “Man, you must really know what you’re doing to get an article published. Wish I could.”
Fact is, while 15 years of my life looks like a black hole on my business resume, nothing has prepared me in life like the time I spent telling jokes to drunk people for a living. I’m happy to have shared the lessons learned with other writers.
Has anything really changed as a result? Probably not. I may have sold a few more copies of Count of the Sahara (in Kindle, of course, because other writers are as broke as I am.) Am I a better writer for having done this? Did I make any money on it? Did my ego really need more reinforcing that doesn’t actually improve my lot in life? The answers to all those are a big old no.
The weird part? Someone out there is reading that, envying me. Life is strange, huh?
Every human being sees history through their own eyes, but too often readers get to see it from essentially one side… a cynic would say the winners’, but more likely those who write primarily for an English speaking audience. However, we all know any time human beings are involved, everyone has their own take. That’s what makes historical fiction so fascinating. Case in point… when was the last time you read about a WWII battle from the German side?
Christoph Fromm studied at the film academy (Hochschule für Film und
Fernsehen) in Munich from 1977 to 1981. He has worked as a full-time screenwriter since 1983. He started early with writing prose alongside his work on screenplays.
In 1984 he published the short story collection “Der kleine Bruder”. After working on several movie and television screenplays, he founded the publishing house Primero Verlag together with children’s books author Tina Lizius in 2006. In the same year he published the political thriller “Die Macht des Geldes”. In 2013 he published his novel “Stalingrad: The Loneliest Death”which was a great success. In 2015 it was translated into English.
His third novel “Amoklauf im Paradies” will be published in spring 2016.
In a nutshell, what’s the book about?
In September 1942, the few survivors of a Sturmpionierbataillion stationed in Northern Africa are sent to the Eastern front. During the decisive battle of Stalingrad – which claimed more than two million victims – the soldiers lose all their moral inhibitions and confronted by trench warfare, close combat for every single house, hunger and arctic cold, madness is their only remaining refuge before dying anyway…
Young lieutenant Hans von Wetzland is forced to recognise that these conditions do not allow him or his soldiers to stick even to the most basic moral principles.
What is it about that time period or character that intrigued you and motivated you to write about it?
My novel is based on extensive research in the course of which I was also able to talk to numerous contemporary witnesses. I was especially fascinated by the letters from my mother’s former fiancé who was stationed at the Eastern front as a lieutenant of the German general staff, later as an artillery captain, and who went missing in action in February 1945. It is alarming to recognise how contemporary his longing for personal happiness, romance, and his escape into religious, conservative, apolitical areas appears.
What interested me most about my fictive protagonist was his transformation from a war romantic to a war defector. The cauldron of Stalingrad shocked me with its existential and extreme situations. The vast majority of the soldiers could not remain human under these inhuman conditions, but were overpowered by madness which did not even stop at cannibalism and taking the law into their own hand.
Stalingrad was a nightmare for all participants, although most Americans know little about it. What’s your favorite scene in the book (without giving away any spoilers)?
That would be chapter 48 in which the soldiers are demoted and have to shovel snow off a street inside the cauldron of Stalingrad. When they are completely exhausted and finally achieve their target for the day, they recognise that the murderous strain was completely in vain as they cleared this street only because of an administrative error.
Where can people learn more about you and your work?
You can find my eBook on Amazon and if you have a Kindle Unlimited account it is also available for lending.
Had a great time doing this one-hour radio interview with Dr. Joseph Schuldenrein on November 18. We discussed Byron de Prorok, why presentation skills matter to scientists, and why I could never…. ever…. be a real archaeologist.
It was a wide-ranging interview, and a lot of fun. Take a listen:
Of all the archaeological expeditions in the Logan Museum of Anthropology’s history, none remains so tangible in public and institutional memory than Alonzo Pond’s journey across the Sahara desert in 1925. “Blue Veils, Black Mountains,” the Logan’s latest exhibition takes a full accounting of the Pond trip.
The items Pond brought home from that expedition formed the backbone of the Logan Museum’s collection. “The materials brought back by the Pond expedition created the first large, purposefully and intentionally assembled ethnographic collection brought to the museum,” says Curator of Exhibits and Education Dan Bartlett. Additionally, “Pond’s trip was covered by newspapers across the country,” Bartlett says, “For the greater Beloit community, the expedition elevated Beloit’s reputation as a center of scholarship.”
But like any good expedition, it was not pursued by Pond alone. On Monday, Nov. 9, the Logan Museum will welcome a pair of guests to shed some light on perhaps the most famous member of the expedition, “Count” Byron de Prorok. The event will be held in the Godfrey Anthropology Building, Room 102.
At 7 p.m., Michael Tarabulski, a Beloit alumnus and an archivist with the National Archives, will screen his brief film “A Distinctly Dubious Character: Byron de Prorok and the Tomb of Tin Hinan.”
Immediately following the screening, author Wayne Turmel will discuss his new work of historic fiction, The Count of the Sahara. The novel, told from the point of view of Byron de Prorok’s assistant, follows de Prorok on the cross-country promotional tour he undertook during the year following the Pond expedition as well as a number of flashbacks to the expedition. As readers will note, there is a bit of discrepancy between Prorok’s recollection of events and how things unfolded during the Pond expedition. Turmel’s e-book was one of the most downloaded ebooks on Amazon worldwide the week it debuted.
“Prorok was really one of modern media’s first celebrities,” Turmel says. “He really crafted an image of a swashbuckling adventurer for himself,” Turmel adds. “He was a perfect storm of charisma and accessible fame. He traveled to parts of the country that had never seen film footage of these far-flung expedition destinations before.”
Prorok “drove the archaeological purists crazy,” Turmel notes “because Prorok declared some of his discoveries the greatest since King Tut’s tomb.
Tarabulski and Turmel’s presentations will tell the story of the rise and fall of Byron de Prorok. Following the presentation, the Logan Museum will be open at 6:30 p.m. so attendees have an opportunity to visit the exhibit both before and after the presentations. The Logan Museum is located at the corner of College and Bushnell Streets on the campus of Beloit College.
One of the most mythologized/lied about/ accurately reported periods in history is the opening of the American West. So much that’s true is fascinating and so much of what is “known” is uhhhhhhh utter nonsense. That said, it’s ripe for good historical fiction. That’s where Janet Squires comes in.
She began her career writing short stories and nonfiction articles for national periodicals. However, my work as a Library Media Specialist for a school district inspired me to shift by attention to children’s books. Her first picture book, The Gingerbread Cowboy, is the Arizona Governor’s 2007 first grade book. A special edition of 100,000 copies was printed and distributed to every first grade student in the state.
Since then she’s broadened her focus and now writes fiction and nonfiction for both children and adults, which brings us to her novel, “Desperate Straits” She teaches writing workshops, volunteers for literacy events at libraries and schools, tend a large organic garden. In whatever time she has left, she likes to saddle up and ride, or hike with her dog.
Okay, so in a nutshell, what’s “Desperate Straits” about?
Irish immigrant Sarah Ryan’s hope for a new life in the Arizona Territory is shattered in an instant by gunfire. Suddenly, she has to rebuild an uncertain future with her orphaned nephew, Will, and take on the challenges of a cattle ranch. Just when order returns, veteran lawman, L.T. McAllister rides in. He’s a dangerous man determined to do what’s right regardless of the personal cost. L.T. believes himself ready for anything until he meets Sarah. Her ideas about the man he’s become soon pit his lifetime of duty against desire.
L.T.’s and Sarah’s loyalty to Will catapults them into a life for which neither one is prepared. When L.T. and Sarah stand between one man and his obsession with the Lost Adam’s Gold, they trigger a firestorm of retaliation. Kidnapping and murder escalates into a battle for justice… and their lives.
What is it about that time period you find so fascinating?
The American frontier has always been a passion for me. I grew up listening to tales of how my Irish/Cherokee ancestors pioneered their way West as ranchers, miners, and lawmen. Later, research into my family history uncovered personal accounts of life in the eighteen hundreds — Kentucky during the civil war — wagon trains from Texas — lives that inspired me with examples of fortitude, courage, and humor. Frontier life is personal for me.
One of my fondest childhood memories is waking in a creaky old iron bed to the sound of my Dad chopping wood so Grandma could cook breakfast on the wood burning stove she used til the day she died. I’m a daughter of the West… it’s the place where I’m at home.
Without giving away spoilers, what’s your favorite scene in the book?
Oh, wow…this is a tough question. Certainly, one of my favorite events is Sarah’s arrival in the Arizona Territory from Ireland. She defends herself against a shotgun wielding ranch hand with nothing but a broom, teaches herself to ride astride, and confronts the challenge of befriending her newly orphaned nephew. Each trial speaks to Sarah’s strength of character, courage, quick wits, and sense of humor. A quick poll of some of the men who’ve read my book puts L.T.’s action scenes at the top of their favorites list.
Men, what’re you gonna do with them? Where can people learn more about you and your work?
People can learn more about me and my books through these Social Media Outlets —
In a moment of snark in a previous post, I posed the question, “Why does it seem like every other historical fiction novel is set in ancient Rome?” (By the way, Rome is the new Middle Ages if the list of new books is any indication.) This is not terribly new in traditional “histfic”, but there are more and more fantasy books set in this time as well. In a Goodreads discussion, author Chris Northern, author of the Price of Freedom/Freedom’s Fool series took me to task.
I asked him, using small words that even I could understand, to explain why that was. Here’s his answer. Enjoy.
I enjoy the mix of history and fantasy, but some people are uneasy with it. Why do you think they go together so well?
History and Fantasy are tied together by numerous silken threads. Fantasy develops naturally from history for the simple reason that a fantasy social and
political structure must be based on something, and picking a historical period is the simplest method available. The high medieval period has been the default choice for a good while, but it has become far more common to reach further afield geographically and temporally for a framework to define fantasy stories.
And we are kind of burned out on the pretend-medieval theme, I grant you. So why Rome?
Rome is not one commonly used, but for me it was the most obvious choice. When I first settled to write The Last King’s Amulet, the first novel The Price of Freedom/Freedom’s Fool fantasy series, I desired a background where a central, magically powerful state expanded and contracted in cycles, more or less at the whims of a ruling class that were competing with each other as much or more than they were with other nations. I also had in mind a fantasy Falco, the protagonist of the murder mystery series by Lindsey Davis. The adoption of the Roman Republic seemed natural enough, and has defined the series ever since.
Ancient Rome burns bright in European and World History for more reasons than I can begin to address here, though I will make every effort to touch on as many as possible. To begin with, though little noted, is that it is one of the few cultures to so obviously encompass a complete cycle of political development and decay to its own self-destruction. Beginning as a Kingdom, transitioning into a Republic, Democracy and enduring a surprisingly long time as an Imperial Dictatorship as stubbornly maintained economic incompetence corroded the wealth of the empire to the point that the difference between the Barbarians and Rome itself was wafer thin when the latter swamped the former and the Dark Ages ensued.
The centralisation of power, the physical and social isolation of an increasingly centralised ruling class, the drift away from pragmatic response to economic and political problems… these are all things that led to the downfall of Rome as geopolitical power, and are all echoed in modern times, which I think is one of the reasons there has been a resurgence in interest in Rome. We see the decline of Rome going on around us on a daily basis – for Rome, read Washington, London, Brussels, concentrations of powerful individuals living in an echo chamber where voices of dissent are marginalised. No one told the Emperor Diocletion that his ‘great new idea’ of universal price fixing on all goods was a terrible idea because no one around him knew any better, all potential voices of dissent having been removed from the ruling society. We see that our own society, now more-or-less global, has its own systemic problems that will not be address, that cannot be addressed, because of the prevailing culture of advancement only of those who accept the ruling elite’s views.
So basically, it’s easy to make analogies…..
Much is made of the military might of Rome, the invulnerable Legions, with little reference to the fact that the Legions fought well in significant part because they were, as individuals, advantaged economically by the society they were fighting to protect and expand. When that advantage was no longer a factor – token coinage that had no value and a shattered economy that offered little in the way of goods to purchase – the soldiery ceased to be invested in winning battles. It is also little mentioned that one of the primary reasons the Republic and early Empire won wars even though they routinely lost battles, was because they always had enough wealth in reserve to raise more armies. War is never a cheap undertaking and if a nation simply does not have a robust economy that generates wealth, wars are less likely to be successfully prosecuted. Lost wars cause loss of territory, confidence and social cohesion, as well as cause further economic difficulties.
Still, Rome burns bright in history as one of the longest lasting empires, territories of economic and social stability, that the world has ever seen. Little wonder that it resurfaces in the collective psyche when our own times become increasing unstable. Perhaps we recognise the parallels and subconsciously fear Rome’s ultimate fate – a decent into barbarism and poverty that we know can persist for centuries. Not a cheery thought, but perhaps one worth a little more than a passing glance.
Thanks, I’m smarter now than when I started…… Where can people learn more?
The Price of Freedom (Freedom’s Fool) consists of four novels, to date: The Last King’s Amulet, The Key To The Grave, The Invisible Hand, and All the King’s Bastards.