What kicked off my current book?
By Scott Bury
My current book — the latest one now on the virtual bookshelves — is The Bones of the Earth. I like to describe it as “historical magic realism,” but many classify it as epic fantasy.
What was the spark? There were several that combined into a blaze.
Spark 1: Dissatisfaction With Dragons
When my children were still pretty small, I thought I would like to write a story about dragons for them. They enjoyed The Hobbit, but my wife pointed out that the dragon really wasn’t in it for that long. My children also enjoyed My Father’s Dragon and How to Train Your Dragon.
But I was dismayed when I looked at the bookshelves. Stories about dragons for a long time have been about nice dragons, dragons working with humans, dragons that let people ride on them like horses.
I did some research into the oldest mythologies about dragons. There is a lot of variation, but one common idea I wanted a story about dragons as ancient, the oldest creatures in the world. In Chinese mythology, dragons teach humanity the art of agriculture. In almost every culture that has dragon myths, they’re symbols of fertility and the power of the natural world.
That’s what I wanted dragons to represent in my story: the life force of the earth itself.
Spark 2: Coincidence of Calamity!
In 2001 or so, I came across something on the Internet (or maybe it was the radio, or something else — for the life of me, I can’t find it again), which posited that, if they actually existed, both King Arthur and Beowulf died in the same year: 535 CE. I wondered, what was going on at that time, which we in the West in the 21st century call the “dark ages,” that would account for two bright lights of civilization in that dark time, dying at the same time? Was there some force that was working to eradicate civilization?
Then I read David Keys’ Catastrophe! He said that the last time global climate change transformed the earth was in the sixth century CE, during the Dark Age. He theorized that the cause was an enormous volcanic eruption, probably of Krakatoa. The ash cloud spread over the entire world, according to keys. Crops failed because of lack of sunlight, putting more stress on civilizations from China to Persia to Rome, Africa and even Mesoamerica.
Keys states that the eruption and the cooling of the world’s temperature is what brought the Bubonic Plague from central Africa to spread around the world. The first appearance of the Black Death actually killed the Roman Emperor (most of us today call him the Byzantine Emperor) Justinian, as recounted in William Rosen’s book Justinian’s Flea: The First Great Plague and the End of the Roman Empire. Yes, the Emperor Justinian died of Bubonic Plague, inflicted by a flea bite, in 565 CE.
The climatic change also led to more waves of so-called barbarian invasions across Eurasia. The Avars, swept across Eurasia and invaded the eastern territories of the Roman Empire in the sixth century. At one point, they executed 90,000 Roman Legionnaires they had captured when the Emperor Maurice refused to pay the ransom.
So when did this multiple calamity-causing volcano erupt? In the year 535 CE. The same year that Arthur and Beowulf died, I thought. What a coincidence.
Spark 3: Natural Nastiness
The volcanic eruption was not the only natural event that threatened civilization in that era. I read elsewhere that the sea levels were rising through the Dark Ages; there is evidence of drowned villages near the shores of the Black Sea, which indicates that the sea was significantly smaller at one time.
The climate was changing, partly as a result of that world-spanning ash cloud, but that had several other impacts that overall made human life more difficult.
Spark 4: Faith Fractures
The school systems don’t teach much of the history of the sixth century, nor about the Eastern Roman Empire. Just enough to spark my curiosity.
One of the oversimplified ideas we’re taught is that religion was incredibly important to people at that time. It played a much larger part in everyone’s daily life than it does today.
But just a little research shows that faith was fractured and changing. The religious ideas, the tenets we accept as inarguable today, were hotly debated among the Christians of the day. Whether Christ was half human and half divine, versus completely human and completely divine, caused riots more than once. Then there were riots against the Jews and more riots over all the other abstruse religious divisions. Was Mary Magdalene the “fallen woman”? And what about all those gospels? Do we include those of Philip, Mary Magdalene, Thomas and others in the main part of the canon?
Meanwhile, most of Europe at the time was not Christian, so there were debates beyond Rome’s borders over the nature of religion, itself.
And don’t forget that by 600, there was another religion rising just outside Rome’s borders, one that would suddenly conquer half the known world.
Spark 5: Limits Of Literature
I read pretty widely: history, science, classic literature, magic realism, fantasy, science fiction, mysteries, and occasionally a best-seller.
I began to realize that the books pushed hardest by the major publishers and their allies in the newspapers and magazines that review books (which are owned by the same conglomerates) have a certain ... sameness. Tropes, sacred cows. Certain beliefs and certain characters and situations that keep repeating. Some ideas get repeated until they’re almost gospel and some ideas get almost no attention. I wanted to do something completely different. Now, I believe part of the writer’s job is to bring together different idea, connect the dots in new ways. I took these dots and looked for some ways to connect them. How did I do?
I’ll let you decide that for yourself.
The Bones of the Earth can be found on Amazon. http://www.amazon.com/Bones-Earth-Dark-Age-ebook/dp/B006PI0NRG/
The Bones of the Earth is his first novel to be published.
He has two sons, an orange cat and a loving wife who puts up with a lot. You can read more of Scott’s writing at Written Words and Scott’s Travel Blog, and on his website, The Written Word. Follow him on Twitter @ScottTheWriter.