2017 has begun and it is my pleasure to introduce you to a historical fiction author whose books you might enjoy adding to your library.
Today I have the honour of presenting an interview with Adam Alexander Haviaras, who has written several bestselling novels based in Ancient Rome and Greece.
Please join me in welcoming Adam to this website, where he talks about his philosophy & principles of writing stories. Adam has also been kind enough to share beautiful pictures from his explorations of ancient Roman sites, from the U.K. all the way to Tunisia.
Don’t forget to check out the special offer that Adam Haviaras has for you, toward the end of this post. So if you love all things ancient, read on!
Take it away, Adam…
Please tell us something about yourself and your writing. What inspired you to write historical fantasy?
I fell in love with writing at the same time that I fell in love with history, and so, the two have always gone together for me since I was a teenager. Writing became the best and most obvious way for me to express my love of the past.
As far as fantasy, I’ve always loved stories that have elements of faith, and otherworldly themes. Historical fantasy allows me to explore those things to a greater extent than is possible with straight historical fiction.
My stories always delve into the faith and everyday beliefs of our ancient ancestors. Unlike today, the ancient Greeks and Romans believed the gods played a role in all aspects of their everyday lives. The gods were always watching, helping and hampering mortals.
These are ideas that some modern readers find ridiculous or unbelievable, so writing historical fantasy makes those ancient ideas much more palatable or believable to some.
That said, I always strive for historical accuracy, and I believe that writing the way I do actually paints a more accurate picture of the ancient world.
Does your training as a historian and an archaeologist make it easier for you to write in this genre, or does it make it harder to fictionalize events that you know differently as facts?
My training not only gives me the knowledge I need to write about the ancient world, it also provides me with a much deeper understanding, of people, places and events. It all helps me to make the worlds and settings I’m writing about more real. I want my readers to feel like they’re actually in those places, to be pulled into the ancient world so that they can see, smell, hear, and taste everything along with the characters.
A lot of research goes into every one of my books. I read a lot of primary (when available) and secondary sources, use maps, plans of ancient cities and more. I also try to travel to the places I write about whenever it’s possible.
As an historian, and sometime archaeologist, it’s not just fun to do a lot of research prior to sitting down to write – it’s my obligation.
I don’t like it when I pick up an historical/mythological story and I’m not transported. I’ve read a few books where you could have changed the setting to any historical period and the story would have felt exactly the same.
I want to transport my readers, and to bring the ancient world to life for them.
When it comes to fictionalizing history, it’s a bit trickier. Early on in my writing career, I tended to write more like an academic. I felt like I had to regurgitate all my knowledge.
But I soon realized, with help from my writing mentor, the late poet, Leila Pepper, that the story has to keep moving forward. In historical fiction, accuracy is important, but not at the expense of the story.
So, over the years, I’ve had to give the storyteller in me veto power over the academic historian. However, I always make sure to note any liberties I’ve taken in the author’s note at the end of the book.
The good part about writing during the period my stories take place is that often, the sources are few and far between, so I can fill in the blanks in a creative way. You have to.
I’m at a point now where I think I’ve found the right balance of storytelling and history.
What is your latest work in historical fiction?
My latest book is Warriors of Epona. This is the third book in my Eagles and Dragons historical fantasy series (fourth if you count the prequel novel).
This book involved a lot of research and allowed me to develop some new archetypes in the series. The historical period in which it takes place is around A.D. 208 and the Severan invasion of Caledonia (modern Scotland). I used to live in Fife, Scotland, so it has been a real treat going back there and setting a new and exciting story in those lands.
Why did you choose to write it?
This book was bouncing around in my mind for quite some time, and as it’s part of a series, I knew I would get there eventually.
The nice thing about writing historical fiction in a series is that the history itself provides your framework and timeline. You already have an architecture and a world in which to tell your story, main events and real people your fictional characters can experience and interact with.
The campaigns of Septimius Severus against the Caledonians and their allies were quite brutal, and as the contemporary Roman historian, Cassius Dio, tells us, Rome lost about fifty-thousand men in that war.
Now, you always have to take ancient statistics with a pinch of salt, but I think it safe to say that this was a brutal, guerilla war that I could really throw my protagonist, Lucius Metellus Anguis, into, and which would help move his character development along.
Without giving too much away, Lucius is more world-weary in this book, and goes to a much darker place, partially because of the events going on around him. Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is not something relegated to modern warfare. Combatants over the ages have experienced it, and Lucius is no different in that respect.
As a writer, this book really pushed me to my own emotional limits, and I hope that is something it does for readers too.
What about that era appeals to you?
I love all periods of history, and have written books set in a mythological age (Chariot of the Son), Ancient Greece (Heart of Fire), and during the early days of the Roman Empire under Augustus (The Carpathian Interlude books).
I got hooked on the mid to late Roman Empire, especially in the West, when I was doing my dissertation on candidates for the power center of the historical ‘Arthur’. Wherever my research led me, there I found the Romans in Britain. I found South Cadbury Castle (where I worked as an archaeologist), Trimontium, and the Antonine Wall, all of which feature in Warriors of Epona and the sequel to that.
The Romans were everywhere, as were the Sarmatian cavalry auxiliaries, who also feature in the book.
The thing I love about the Roman Empire, besides the perceived passion with which they lived their lives, was the diversity of the Empire. It was the world in microcosm (maybe not so micro!). Yes, there was conquest, but afterward, other beliefs and gods were incorporated into, and adopted by, the Empire. The cults of Isis, Mithras, and Epona are prime examples of this.
Imagine what the world would be like today if we had such widespread religious tolerance and integration.
At the end of the day, however, it’s difficult for me to pick just one historical period. I guess I’m a history geek at heart. Name a period in history, and I’ll tell you what I like about it.
Are your characters based on real historical figures, or are they completely fictional? If they’re real, how did you fictionalize them?
My protagonist, Lucius Metellus Anguis, and his immediate family are fictional. But the Metelli themselves were a real power-house family during the Republican era. In doing research on ancient Rome, I was amazed at how influential the Metelli were during the Republic and how much they cropped up. But then, during the Principate, you just stop hearing about them.
That’s why I decided to go with that family name, or nomen, for Lucius’ family.
I wanted him to be from a once-great Roman family, and explore what might have happened to them later. However, Lucius’ cognomen of ‘Anguis’, an ancient word for dragon, means that his branch of the Metelli was more remote – it had to be because that branch of the family is fictional.
There are of course, many historical characters in the books, including Emperor Septimius Severus and Empress Julia Domna, and I have tried to remain as true to their characters as I can as Cassius Dio (another historical person) describes them and their actions; you can infer a lot about a person from their actions, so the sources are useful in this way. It is the same with their son, Caracalla.
As far as their appearance, I get a lot of that from statuary, but also coins. For example, Julia Domna and her sister, Julia Maesa, had very distinctive hair styles, and you can really see this on coins. The Shapwick Coin Hoard at the Taunton Museum in Somerset, England was particularly useful for coins from this period.
You end up getting a feel for where the history works for you, and where you need to insert more fiction so that your main character is a part of the action.
Another example of how I did this is with one event in which Cassius Dio writes about a centurion who helps to defame the prefect of the Praetorian Guard before the emperor. He doesn’t name this person, so this was a prime opportunity to have one of my fictional characters be that person, and put them at the forefront of events rocking the Empire.
When you can pull it off, it’s a lot of fun to do things like that!
Tell us something about the research involved in writing your novel.
With my first two books, Children of Apollo and Killing the Hydra, I had the opportunity to travel to most of the places I was writing about. In addition to Athens, Rome, and Tuscany, I went on a safari of Roman sites in Tunisia.
That was one of the most amazing trips I’ve been on. Heading into the Sahara in a 4×4 to see these massive Roman ruins in the middle of nowhere really gave me a sense of how far the Empire’s reach and influence extended.
Travelling to the places I’m writing about definitely adds authenticity to my writing that you can’t get from Google Street View.
In addition to travel, most of my research time involves reading primary (historical accounts, memoirs, poetry, art etc.) and secondary sources (history books, topographical maps, ancient road maps, archaeological site plans, cook books, music etc.). I also watch documentaries and movies to get me inspired and immersed in that world.
I also think it’s important to hold the weapons you’re writing about, to ride a horse, to swing or stab with a gladius, or hold a shield to see how heavy it is. You need to know how a legionary fights, for example, and feel how heavy the equipment is.
I have a big sword collection at home!
Historical re-enactment groups such as the Antonine Guard, or Ermine Street Guard are great for this sort of thing, and they do a lot of research themselves to further our knowledge, even about the commands used in battle.
With Warrior of Epona, I did a lot of travelling, research, and even horseback riding.
Basically, my goal before I start writing is to immerse myself in that world, then stop the research, and dive into writing.
How do you feel about taking creative license with historical facts or details?
I think it’s fine, as long as you acknowledge it in the author’s note at the end of the book. Sometimes, you have to take a bit of license, but you should always strive to remain true to the period in which you’re writing so that it still feels authentic.
An example of this would be if someone were writing about a Republican Roman soldier and he was swinging a board sword with a cross hilt. That’s a no no!
If it’s a case of filling in the blanks left by history, and doing it in a way that seems plausible, and makes sense for the story, then by all means, go for it. Just own up to it.
Do you have a method to juggle research, writing, and marketing/promotion of your work? Do you have any tips for other writers?
I always do all of my research before I start writing. When I sit down to write, the most important thing to do is to just get the story down.
No matter what, just get the story written.
Also, it helps to plot things out, at least loosely. I used to be a ‘pantser’, but now I write an outline, follow that, and see how the story leads me to my destination, while hitting all the main historical events I want included in the story. I’ve found Shawn Coyne’s Story Grid method quite useful, as well as Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey.
When it comes to marketing and promotion, I learned that while you have to remain true to what you want to achieve as far as your artistic vision, you also can’t afford to be too precious about your work.
Once the writing is finished, then I take off my artistic hat and put on the business hat.
You have to think like a consumer and a reader. Put yourself in your ideal reader’s shoes, and think about what she/he would like.
The most important thing of all is to find the common ground you have with your readers, and nurture that. For me, that common ground is the love of history. That is my focal point, and I always try to make the history engaging and entertaining through my fiction.
What’s next for you after this work?
I’m currently researching and writing the two sequels to Warriors of Epona, and that’s a lot of fun. I’m really enjoying the writing at the moment.
In the Spring, I’m heading on a research trip to the UK, and while I’m there, I hope to shoot some documentary video to share with my readers about sites and research, similar to a video series I did in Greece last year for Heart of Fire.
My next release, in Winter 2017, is going to be the third and final part of The Carpathian Interlude trilogy, so that is going through some final edits at the moment.