Free Story from Alt Hist Issue 8 – A Sword by Andrew Knighton

The second story from Alt Hist Issue 8, is a short but powerful one by Andrew Knighton, set in the Middle Ages. Enjoy!

A Sword

by Andrew Knighton

 

Manon dashed through the woods, slashing at monsters with her sword. She could see them all around – dragons in the treetops, Englishmen in the undergrowth, ogres behind the trees. None would stand before the trusty blade she had broken off an oak on the way out of the village. The world smelled of autumn—leaf mould, the fresh air after rain, and more smoke than usual.

Bold as any knight she darted between the bushes and ran into a man squatting against a tree. His hose were down around his ankles and his expression on seeing her was a mixture of surprise and pain.

“You stink!” Manon said, holding her nose against what he’d been doing.

The man also shouted something, though she couldn’t understand it. The words sounded hard and clumsy, like his tongue was wrapped around itself.

Other men burst from the bushes, huge bows pointed at Manon. She held her sword out in trembling terror, but they laughed and lowered their weapons.

One of them crouched in front of her. He wore a leather jack and a chainmail hood drooped around his shoulders. He had a nice smile.

“That is a fine sword you have, little boy.” The man spoke slowly, and he had a strange accent, like the tinker who came down from Calais mending pots and selling needles.

“I’m a girl,” Manon replied.

“That’s a fine sword you have, my lady. Are you defending your village?”

“Yes.”

“Could you show us where it is?”

Manon hesitated. Something didn’t seem right. These men weren’t local and there bows were longer than any she’d seen used for hunting. But they wore red crosses stitched to their clothes so they must be godly men, and their smiling leader recognized a good sword.

“Yes,” she said firmly.

 

 

They tramped through the fields and orchards, following hedgerows between narrow fields full of grain and vegetables. Soon the harvest would be in and they’d all go into town to pay their tithes to the Lord of Agincourt. Papa said she could come with him this year, to see all the people and the castle. She hoped there would be knights.

There was a commotion as they approached the village, the small cluster of windowless, sloping huts that she called home. Everyone must be as excited as her to see these strangers. They all came rushing out, pitchforks and carving knives in their hands as if straight from their work, some barefoot in the mud.

Her father pushed through the crowd, sparks still smouldering on his leather apron, almost kicking a chicken in his hurry to get past. He stopped twenty paces from them and his face made Manon worry that she was in trouble.

“Please don’t hurt her,” Papa said.

“Why would I hurt her?” the smiling man replied, stroking Manon’s hair. “We are all going to be friends.”

Manon would have stopped him stroking her but she was suddenly afraid. Why was Papa talking about her being hurt?

There was a creak. She looked round to see the other men raising their longbows, arrows pointed at the villagers. Even Hob, the one she’d caught by the tree, looked scary as he squirmed in his filthy hose.

“Bring us your grain and your animals,” the smiling man said.

“We have little grain,” Papa replied, “but you can have it.”

“The animals?” the man asked. “You have pigs and goats.”

“Odo and Henri took them away,” Papa said, “when we heard that the armies were coming.”

Something cold pressed against Manon’s throat.

“Where are they?” The man didn’t sound friendly now.

“Please no! I swear I don’t know! None of us do.”

“Where are the animals little girl?” The man leaned close to her now, the dagger hurting her neck. He stank of sweat and blood and too many cabbages for dinner.

“I don’t know,” she whimpered, tears running down her face. This was the most terrible thing since Mama died. Even Papa looked scared.

How could Papa be scared?

“Tell me.”

The blade pressed harder against her throat. She was suddenly very aware of the mud between her toes, of the woollen tickling of her tunic, of the horrified faces of her neighbours.

“I can’t,” Papa repeated, sinking to his knees. “Please, me instead. Anything.”

The man yanked Manon’s head to one side.

“I’m sorry your friend is sick,” she said, “and I know he needs better food, but please don’t hurt me.”

The man shook and she closed her eyes, prayed to God to accept her into his arms.

Then she realised he was laughing. He said something in their ugly words and shoved her away from him, into Papa’s rough embrace.

“Bring the corn,” the man said. “Try nothing with those knives—we have bows.”

 

 

Once the soldiers were gone everyone rushed to the stream, filling buckets and cauldrons to put out the burning buildings. Everyone except Manon.

She stood in front of the bonfire that had been Henri’s house, where the man had ruffled her hair one last time before throwing a torch through the door.

“Maybe next time you will have a real sword,” he had said with that wicked grin.

Then he was gone.

Manon held up her sword. Though clearly a stick it still reminded her of the ones the men had worn at their belts, with its curving blade and its space for her hand.

She flung it into the flames and went to fetch water.

To read more from Alt Hist Issue 8 why not order a copy?

About the Author

Andrew Knighton is a freelance writer based in Yorkshire, where the grey skies provide a good motive to stay inside at the word processor. When not writing he battles the slugs threatening to overrun his garden and the monsters lurking in the woods. His collection of historical and alternate history stories, From a Foreign Shore, is available as an e-book from Amazon and Smashwords. You can find out more about his writing at andrewknighton.com and follow him on Twitter where he’s @gibbondemon.

Dewey Defeats Truman by Mark Devane – Free Extract

We will be posting free extracts from each story of Alt Hist Issue 8. First up is Mark Devane’s “Dewey Defeats Truman”. This is an alternate history story with a classic what if theme: what would have happened if the atomic bombs had not been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945? “Dewey Defeats Truman” by Mark Devane was inspired by the erroneous headline printed the day after Truman was supposed to have lost the 1948 election. In reality the newspapers got it wrong and Truman was a surprise victor, but what if he had made different decisions in the war against Japan?

Dewey Defeats Truman

by Mark Devane

October 1948

Monday Morning – Japan

Ashes from the burning town drifted from an orange sky and settled on the sleeve of Lieutenant Dan McClay. He crouched at dawn in a binjo ditch along the road into Iwakuni, just short of the military crest of the hill.

Two scouts slushed down the muddy ditch from the town.

“Burned clear, Lieutenant.”

“The fly boys missed one,” said the other scout. General Curtis Lemay’s 20th Air Force fire-bombed all buildings in the path of advancing American troops.

“The fire department,” said the first scout. “Couldn’t save anything but their own garage.”

McClay had crouched in the urine drainage canal all night, listening to the Air Corps pound the town. Roaring waves of B-29s, skirting the tree tops like an aluminum overcast, raining incendiaries. The sky, a mixture of clouds and smoke, as always, glowed orange from the fires below. Darkness never fell.

Snow would be falling back home, in Vermont, by now. McClay brushed the ashes from his sleeve. He turned back to his platoon sergeant, Sergeant Steven Pulaski, a grizzled tough guy from Chicago, a few yards behind him. “Stand by to move up.”

An emaciated figure emerged from the brush across the road. Dressed in a filthy white kimono, it shouted a guttural threat and brandished a bamboo spear. It was impossible to tell if it was a man or woman and its jaundiced skin was the color of a ripe banana. The apparition lurched forward in slow motion, trying to charge.

As the zombie stepped on the road, a fusillade knocked it down. Writhing on the pavement, it spun and flailed in its own gore.

MacArthur’s orders were to bury all Japanese corpses but there was no time and no strength and no way they were going to dig in the heavily-mined earth. A binjo ditch was the safest place to be.

McClay turned again to Sergeant Pulaski. “Flame-thrower up.”

Mountains rising out of the sea. That was Japanese terrain. The fighting was confined to narrow strips along the coast, which had to be taken foot-by-bloody-foot from a nation of crazed, starving kamikazes. Like this thing, smoking and crackling in the road.

Japan. The mud. The roasted human smell. The chilling rain. The constant killing. They ate as they could and slept in the open.

McClay’s 3rd battalion, 307th Regiment, 77th Infantry Division, Tenth Army, was the point of Douglas MacArthur’s spear, advancing up the southeast coast of Honshu. They faced well-prepared, mutually supporting battlements constructed into a skillful defense-in-depth, including trenches, tunnels and honey-combed caves. All of it elaborately fortified. Anywhere you chose to attack along the narrow avenues of approach, you’d get shot at from other positions.

Yesterday, a well-trained gunner with a Nambu machine gun had kept McClay’s platoon pinned down until a shattered blossom with an anti-tank mine strapped to his back had run into their position and wiped out half of first squad. Shumacher, Frenelli, Shapiro, and a replacement he never got to know. Gone. Somehow, it was his fault. They never found the gunner or even where he had been firing from. The phantom Japanese took everything from the battlefield, even their spent brass, leaving only their corpses and the tracks of their split-toe tabi sandals.

Yesterday’s casualties bought McClay’s battalion a quarter-mile of Japanese road. Another day in Japan, an afterlife in a Stygian region bristling with suffering and death. The bravest were the weariest because they had seen the most horror. A week ago, they had been attacked at night. A figure loomed out of the melee, swinging something heavy. The lanky McClay had partially blocked the blow with the forestock of his M-1, but the tip of a finger was cut off and he was hit in the helmet, knocking him out. In the morning, he came to next to a Japanese officer on his back in his dress uniform. Polished riding boots with leather leggings, shiny Sam Brown belt and bloody white gloves, still clutching his samurai sword. His skull had been blown off above the nose and flies were feasting on the mushy porridge pouring out of it.

McClay grasped the probability. Each such encounter diminished his chances of escaping alive.  How he had survived Shuri Castle on Okinawa was a mystery to McClay. That battle now seem liked cucumber sandwiches with afternoon tea. McClay was a fugitive from the law of averages and knew he couldn’t escape the iron law forever. But he wasn’t as frightened as he had been on Okinawa. Death seen every day becomes a familiar face. Why wouldn’t he visit you?

He ached to go home. Home might still be the same but he realized Dan McClay would never be. As he gritted his teeth in the morning for each day’s nightmare, he clutched his scapular and breathed, “St. Michael, defend us in battle.”

 

Monday morning – Washington

“Mr. President, we’re making exciting progress in Japan!” said an Army major.

Harry Truman was having a rough morning. It started with his campaign staff. His challengers for President, Governor Thomas Dewey, as well as Senator Strom Thurmond of the Dixiecrats, demanded answers to questions about casualties. Dewey said America was a last bastion of civilization and the enemy of the American people, indeed of mankind, was not in Tokyo, but Moscow.

Thurmond, running strong in the Democratic stronghold of the South, claimed Truman had squandered the legacy of FDR. Polling well behind Dewey, the campaign staff worried Truman might finish behind Thurmond.

DJ-Day had been the most glorious episode in the legendary history of the Marine Corps. All six Marine divisions had gone ashore on southern Honshu, line abreast and facing a typhoon of lead. The American people did not know that the Marine Corps was no longer a functioning organization, much less a combat formation. Off the beachhead, the heavy slugging then fell to the Army.

Truman’s White House classified the casualty lists in the interests of national security and impounded all mail from the Far East. But the families of those who would never come back had to be notified eventually. The pace of notification, soldiers solemn on the doorstep, had been staggered to deaden the shock, but the American people harbored a growing suspicion something calamitous had befallen them in Japan, as well as a darkening distrust of the White House.

Truman sat now with General George Marshall and Admiral Chester Nimitz, their aides and briefing officers, all of them hanging on Truman’s tortured facial expressions and wounded body language, as he absorbed the shock of his weekly briefing on Operation Coronet, the invasion of Honshu. Truman’s face was haggard and pinched, his movements awkward and crabbed, like a man with chronic back pain. There was a tremor in his left hand.

Truman turned to Nimitz. “Joe Kennedy called me again. He’s looking for his second son. What’s his name?”

“Jack,” answered Nimitz. “Lieutenant, junior grade.”

“Well?”

“I told you three months ago. Lt. Kennedy’s PT Boat went missing off Kagoshima. I ordered a two-day sea-and-air search, at your request. Not something we do for every missing PT Boat. Nothing turned up. He and his crew are listed as lost at sea. The families haven’t been notified yet.”

“Change that to missing in action,” Truman said. “And no more family notifications until after the election.” He looked around the room. “Everybody clear on that? Now, go ahead, Major.”

There were other well-known names on the secret casualty lists. The movie star Tyrone Power. A promising young baseball player named Ted Williams. As well as the long list of the anonymous dead, the brave that Americans would never know: Captain Ed McMahon, Private JD Salinger, 1st Lt. John Glenn, Corporal Rod Serling, Staff Sgt. Charlton Heston.

“We’re on the outskirts of Iwakuni, an important gateway to Hiroshima,” the enthusiastic major continued. His brass buttons gleamed as he pointed at a map with multi-colored pins.

“Hiro-what?” asked Truman.

“Hiroshima. An industrial city. Sort of a Japanese Detroit.”

“One year later, over a thousand casualties a day, and we’re approaching the Japanese Detroit. That is exciting,” said Admiral Nimitz, who had succeeded Ernie King as Chief of Naval Operations. The Navy was dead-set against Coronet. King had resigned when MacArthur had cancelled Operation Olympic, an attack on the southern island of Kyushu, and gone straight to Honshu.

The defense of the Home Islands was led by General Tomoyuki Yamashita, the Tiger of Malaya, who had captured 130,000 British troops, with 30,000 Japanese, at Singapore. MacArthur had counted on surprise but Yamashita, a samurai of the old school, was familiar with his tactics of bypassing strongholds and on the day of the landing, the Imperial Japanese Army was locked and loaded.

“Chester,” said General Marshall, US Army Chief of Staff, “what choice did we have? Your blockade starved the Japanese, but they didn’t surrender, like you promised. It only gave them time to fortify.” Marshall, a bearish man, was the brains behind the destruction of the Third Reich. Truman had already decided to replace his Secretary of State, a squishy fellow named Byrnes, with Marshall as soon as the war was over. Western Berlin had been blockaded by the Russians, the Berlin Airlift was underway and Byrnes was still talking about ways to compromise with the Kremlin.

“We didn’t give the blockade long enough,” growled Nimitz. Nimitz, a lean man who spoke with a Texas twang, was the hero of the Battle of Midway, upon which had hinged the fate of the nation.

“Two years was plenty,” Marshall retorted. “While we fiddled with your blockade, the Russians took Hokkaido.”

As the Army-Navy game kicked off, Truman’s chief-of-staff, Admiral William Leahy, entered the room. Leahy, not only an Admiral but a former ambassador to France, had been called out of military retirement by President Roosevelt to serve as his wartime chief-of-staff. Truman asked the gruff and experienced hand to stay on until the war was over. The weary look he gave Truman told him his day was not going to get any sunnier.

Leahy took a seat at the end of the room, against the wall. He closed his eyes and massaged his forehead. “Leave us, please.” The aides and briefing officers gathered their papers and left. Leaving Truman, Leahy, Nimitz and Marshall.

“Mr. President,” said Leahy, “Art Sulzberger of the New York Times called me. He knows about the Manhattan Project and he is going to print on Sunday.”

END OF FREE EXTRACT

Don’t forget to order your copy of Alt Hist Issue 8 to read the rest of this story and others.

Alt Hist Issue 8 is Published!

Alt Hist Issue 8 - eBookCoverThe latest issue of the bestselling historical fiction magazine

Alt Hist Issue 8 has now been published!

You can purchase eBook and Print copies from:

Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk | Barnes & Noble

And eBook copies from:

Smashwords | Kobo | iBooks

The eighth issue of the popular magazine of historical fiction and alternate history contains six great new short stories. Alt Hist Issue 8 includes new stories in the Battalion 202 series set in the aftermath of a successful German invasion of Britain, as well as tales featuring bridge burning in the American Civil War, a secret mission against the Suez Canal in the World War One, a story that speculates what if the atom bomb hadn’t been dropped on Japan, and taking us back to the Middle Ages, a story that follows the dreams and reality of a peasant girl caught up in the brutal Hundred Years War.

Stories include:

  • Dewey Defeats Truman by Mark Devane
  • A Sword by Andrew Knighton
  • The Retreat Proceeded Orderly, at Least    by Kenan Orhan
  • The Fullness and the Hollowness by Jonathan Doering
  • Small Miracles by Jonathan Doering
  • His Last Day by Richard Buxton

Kicking off the eighth issue of Alt Hist is an alternate history story with a classic what if theme: what would have happened if the atomic bombs had not been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945? “Dewey Defeats Truman” by Mark Devane was inspired by the erroneous headline printed the day after Truman was supposed to have lost the 1948 election. In reality the newspapers got it wrong and Truman was a surprise victor, but what if he had made different decisions in the war against Japan?

“A Sword” by Andrew Knighton takes us back to the Middle Ages and the brutal Hundred Years War between England and France. A young peasant girl dreams of fighting fantastic beasts with her trusty sword as she plays in the forest, but what does she do when real enemies appear?

A little known action of the First World War is the subject of “The Retreat Proceeded Orderly, at least” by Kenan Orhan. In 1915 the Turkish army mounted raids on the Suez Canal. This short story follows a Turkish special forces mission made up of diverse nationalities as it attempts to blow up one of the ships assigned to protect the Canal.

The next two stories are from the Battalion 202 series. “Small Miracles” focuses on the women left behind in Pontefract by Christopher Greenwood: his girlfriend and his mother. In “The Fullness and the Hollowness” Christopher and Tommy have escaped the clutches of the SS and head for a rendezvous with other members of the British Battalion 202 units and a briefing by the mysterious government representative known only as DEM.

The last story of Issue 8, Richard Buxton’s “His Last Day”, is set soon after the end of the American Civil War and follows a railway conductor’s last day in his job before he retires. But an encounter during the journey stirs up old memories from during the war and a decision is made on whether and how to settle some unfinished business.

50% off Kobo sale – all titles!

Kobo has a big 50% off sale at the moment available on all titles (I think!) you just need an offer code to take part – so now’s your chance to get an Alt Hist eBook from Kobo – or any other title – for a lot less.

Here’s the details:

 

Customers will be able to redeem 50% off of any title published by KWL using the promo codes below an unlimited number of times. Unlike last time, the sale runs in different dates by territory, and each territory has it’s own promo code. See below for the full details.

Canada
October 28th – October 31st
Promo Code: CA50SALE

United States/Australia/New Zealand
October 27th – October 30th
Promo Code: GET50SALE

United Kingdom
October 30th – November 2nd
Promo Code: UK50SALE

Promo code is valid for 50% off select eBook purchases from this list. Discount will be confirmed at checkout. Offer valid from October 28, 2015 at 12:00 AM EST through October 31, 2015 at 11:59 PM EST. This offer is not valid in conjunction with any other offer or promotion and cannot be used to adjust amount paid on previous purchases. Promo code must be entered at time of purchase to qualify for this discount. Discounts cannot be applied nor the discount value refunded once a purchase is complete. Rakuten Kobo Inc. reserves the right to change or cancel this offer at any time without notice.

Alt Hist Issue 8 – eBook on Kindle publishes on 31st October 2015

Just a reminder that Alt Hist Issue 8 will publish on 31st October 2015 for Kindle – the pre-order price is cheaper than the published price will be – so go and grab a copy now. eBooks from other retailers and Print issues will be available about a week later.

Stories include:

  • Demons and the Deep Blue Sea by Andrew Knighton
  • Dewey Defeats Truman by Mark Devane
  • His Last Day by Richard Buxton
  • The Retreat Proceeded Orderly, at Least    by Kenan Orhan
  • The Fullness and the Hollowness by Jonathan Doering
  • Small Miracles by Jonathan Doering

Pre-order now via Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk | Barnes & Noble | Smashwords

Alt Hist Issue 8 – Pre-orders Available

Alt Hist Issue 8 - Provisional Cover copyOrder your copy of Alt Hist Issue 8 now before the official release date and benefit from special pre-order pricing!

I am very pleased to announce that Alt Hist Issue 8 is now available for pre-ordering in eBook format. Currently its available on Amazon and also Barnes & Noble. Details of pre-ordering via other retailers will follow soon – hopefully next week. The publication date is 31st October. The running order below may change as may the cover image.

The price for pre-orders is $2 cheaper than the price will be once published – so well worth placing your order now!

The eighth issue of the popular magazine of historical fiction and alternate history contains six great new short stories, including two new stories in the Battalion 202 series and tales featuring the American Civil War, the First World War, Second World War alternate history and the Middle Ages.

Stories include:

  • Demons and the Deep Blue Sea by Andrew Knighton
  • Dewey Defeats Truman by Mark Devane
  • His Last Day by Richard Buxton
  • The Retreat Proceeded Orderly, at Least    by Kenan Orhan
  • The Fullness and the Hollowness by Jonathan Doering
  • Small Miracles by Jonathan Doering

Pre-order now via Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk | Barnes & Noble | Smashwords

Others to follow.

Sidewise Winners Announced

The Sidewise Awards, which honour the best in Alternate History writing, were announced on the 17th August. The winners were:

Sidewise Award for Best Long Form Alternate History

Kristine Kathryn Rusch, The Enemy Within

(WMG Publishing)

Sidewise Award for Best Short Form Alternate History

Ken Liu, The Long Haul: From the Annals of Transportation,

The Pacific Monthly, May 2009 (Clarkesworld Magazine, 11/14)

Kristine Kathryn Rusch has previously won the Sidewise Award for her story “Recovering Apollo 8” in 2007.  She has won two Hugo Awards and a World Fantasy Award.  Rusch was one of the founders and editors of Pulphouse Publishing and spent six years as the editor of The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Ken Liu has won two Hugo Awards, a Nebula Award, and a World Fantasy Award.  This is his second nomination for the Sidewise Award.  His first novel, Grace of Kings was published in 2015 and Liu has been working to translate science fiction by Chinese authors into English, including Cixin Liu’s The Three Body Problem.

For more information about the Sidewise Award, please see http://www.uchronia.net/sidewise/

Tales from the Vatican Vaults – New Secret History Published

Alt Hist readers might be interested in a new anthology containing 28 science fiction and fantasy stories based on an extraordinary secret history.

Vatican Vaults is a captivating collection of original science fiction and fantasy stories based on the same alternate world premise: a collection of documents that have been suppressed by the Vatican and hidden away for years, in some cases centuries, are revealed when the vaults are thrown open by a reforming pope.

In this alternate reality, Pope John Paul (I) does not die a month after his accession in 1978; instead he lives on for over 30 years to become the most reforming pope of all time. In addition to relaxing the rules on birth control and priestly celibacy he also opens up the most secret parts of the Vatican Library to scholars . . .

In the Vatican’s deepest vaults, documents are discovered which shed new light on world history, containing information which, if true, would cause many parts of accepted history to have to be rewritten. These include not just the undercover involvement of the Catholic Church in world affairs, but documented accounts of what really happened in historical conundrums, the real lives of saints and popes, miracles, magic, angels and even alien encounters.

For more information visit the publisher’s website.

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street – Alt Hist short story becomes novel and audiobook

The Watchmaker of Filigree StreetI thought Alt Hist readers might like to know that one of the stories featured in Alt Hist Issue 2 has become a full-blown novel and audiobook!

The Watchmaker of Filigree Streety by Natasha Pulley is available from all good booksellers and is now a 336 book published by Bloomsbury.

There’s an audio clip that you can listen to from the whole book.

And here’s a link to an excerpt from the original short story that appeared in Alt Hist: http://althistfiction.com/2011/08/24/interview-with-n-k-pulley-author-of-the-watchmaker-of-filigree-street/

Enjoy!

Spartans at the Gate: Eight Questions for History Novelist Noble Smith Interview by Hunter Liguore

Sons of Zeus coverNoble Smith is an award-winning playwright who has worked as a video game writer, a documentary film producer and the media director of an international human rights foundation. His non-fiction book, The Wisdom of the Shire,” was called, “A definitive guide to Tolkien’s worldview,” by Wired Magazine, and has been translated into eight languages. His epic action-adventure novel, Sons of Zeus, was published by Thomas Dunne Books June 2013, and is the first in The Warrior Trilogy. The second book in the trilogy, Spartans at the Gate, was released in June 2014.

  1. Noble, how did you get started with writing? What was your early inspiration, a moment that you can point to as the starting point?

The first book that I started working on was an epic science fiction/fantasy novel that was a cross between Frank Herbert’s Dune and The Lord of the Rings. I was fourteen at the time, and it was quite an ambitious project for someone that age, but it was spectacularly derivative of those two books. But you know what? It got me into the habit of making a daily effort to write. At first I wrote in cursive, then printing, then I got an electric typewriter, and by the time I was in high school I had one of the first home computers. To me writing is physical labor just as much as a mental endeavor. The Medieval manuscript illuminators, hunched over their desks all day, used to call their efforts “plowing the page.” I think that’s a beautiful way to put it. You’re like a farmer standing behind an ox, holding tight to a plow, breaking furrows in the soil of your imagination. It’s a lot of effort, but cool things grow out of that labor.

  1. How did your upbringing/schooling/travel/mentors affect your writing path?

Travel had a huge impact on my path to becoming a writer. We went to the United Kingdom right before I started high school and I got to see all of the great museums in London and visit places like Oxford (where my favorite writer J.R.R. Tolkien lived for so many years). And every summer we would go to a town called Ashland, Oregon where the biggest Shakespeare Festival in the world is located. In one week we would see about a dozen plays, and by the time I went to college I had seen half of Shakespeare’s canon. I ended up graduating from theatre school in that town alongside actor Ty Burrell (the star of Modern Family).

  1. The first book in the Warrior Triology is Sons of Zeus, which tackles the ancient world of Greece, and follows a young Greek warrior, Nikias, who “dreams of glory in the Olympic games as he trains for the pankration—the no-holds-barred ultimate fighting of the era.” His training is cut short when the city is attacked, in a type of “Pearl Harbor” way, which sends Nikias and his neighbors to war. The book is quite an accomplishment in how it recreates the past in such a lively and innovative way, one that allows that contemporary readers can easily connect, with. How long did it take to write the book? What type of research did you do for the novel?

Sons of Zeus took me ten years to write. A lot of people wonder how a Tolkien-freak like me could have written this book. What’s interesting is that Tolkien inspired me to start reading the ancient Greeks. I read in one of his letters that his introduction to the classics was Homer. So I went from reading The Lord of the Rings to The Iliad and The Odyssey. In college we had these core classes. Mine was Great Books. In that class we read every extant play from Euripides, Sophocles and Aeschylus. I fell in love with the Greeks after that. So about ten years ago I was working as a documentary film producer, and we started a project about 5th B.C. Athens—the “Golden” age of Greece. During my research I came across the story of the sneak-attack on the democratic independent city-state of Plataea: a tale that I had glossed over the first time that I read Thucydides. I couldn’t believe that this epic story of courage and survival had never been the subject of a novel. The character of a young Olympic fighter-in-training who must save his city, family and beloved from genocidal invaders just came to me in a vision.

  1. Who were the real characters from the historical sequences in the book and who came from your imagination?

There are two historical personages in my story. The first was a magistrate of the city-state of Plataea named Nauklydes who betrayed his own people and opened the doors of the citadel to an attack force of Thebans. (The Thebans were the arch-enemies of the Plataeans, and their city-state was less than eight miles away.) The second personage is the Theban who led the attack against Plataea—a man named Eurymakus. My main characters—the ones that sprang from my imagination—are an old warrior and former Olympic fighting champion named Menesarkus, and his grandson and heir Nikias. At the start of Sons of Zeus they are farmers living on the outskirts of Plataea. They are featured throughout the trilogy.

  1. Spartans at the GateYou’ve recently published the second book in the trilogy, Spartans at the Gates, coming out in 2014, and had the chance to visit Greece. How much hands-on research or travel was involved in crafting the story? Did you visit the historical sites where the story takes place?

When you write about a real place for a long time, and then you go to that actual spot, the experience is mind-altering. It’s like stepping into a dream. Imagine if Tolkien could have taken a stroll into Middle-earth? That was what it was like for me the first time I went to the actual site of the ruins of Plataea. You see things that you don’t read about in books: the flora and fauna, the smells, the color of the dirt. These are all really important for creating verisimilitude. That said, one of my favorite writers is Patrick O’Brian (author of the epic Aubrey/Maturin series); and I know that he didn’t sail around the world on a Napoleonic War-era fighting ship. But his series is one of the most realistic ever written. But that was because he was a first-rate researcher who spent countless hours poring over letters and documents in the Public Records Office.

  1. What is one of the trickiest part of writing a trilogy?

The hardest part is trying to make the deadlines set by my publisher. I have about a year in between books. That’s a lot of writing to get done while also doing other work. You can’t really make a living as an author unless you’ve got a smash hit. Plus I like to spend a lot of time with my kids. So it’s carving out that time to write. I don’t give myself the luxury of having writer’s block. Ever. I treat writing like driving a truck. Truck drivers never get to say, “I’ve got driving block today. I can’t make that delivery.”

  1. Do your ideas just “come” to you, or is it a matter of finding a nugget of research that launches further discovery? Example?

So many ideas just come to me as if the characters are speaking to me in voices. I know that sounds esoteric, but it’s true. I also have ideas in dreams or waking visions. But sometimes I’ll see something at a museum or at an archaeological site that will give me a great idea that I can play on. Some of the crazier things that people think I made up in Sons of Zeus actually came from research, especially about the Spartans and their strange lifestyle. My favorite saying is “God is in the details.” I don’t even know who said that, but it’s so true when you’re writing historical fiction. And it’s what makes people fall in love with Tolkien and Middle-earth.

You asked me earlier about travel and what kind of influence that had on me as an author. When I was a kid we went to Virginia (I grew up on the West Coast) to visit the family farm—a place that was a stone’s throw from the Manassas Battlefield. I was amazed that this war had come so close to the home of my ancestors. One of my farmer/soldier forefathers had fought in a skirmish right before the battle of Bull Run (as Manassas was called in the South) in familiar woods nearby, and then he’d stood in his regiment waiting to be called into the great battle. I suppose that image stuck in my head and later became the farmer/warriors who inhabit the world of Sons of Zeus and who must go to war—first against the Persian invaders, and then against their own kind—in battles that were waged virtually right outside their front door. So that’s a case where family history has filtered into my brain and manifested as characters in a historical fiction epic.

  1. Word to live by?

Play nice. And don’t squander your precious time.