Good morning everyone! Today I have the opportunity to introduce you to Murray L. Eiland Jr, author of The Sword of Telemon, a recipient of the BRAG Medallion. I love the subject matter for this novel and hope you will pick it up!
Heather: Hi Murray! Welcome to The Maiden’s Court. I’m happy to have the opportunity to introduce you and your novel to my readers today. First, can you tell me how you discovered indieBRAG?
Murray Eiland: I think the indieBRAG site is great because it lists and reviews independently published books that I like to read. Many sites only cover straight up fiction/novels. IndieBRAG also deals with historical fiction. I read several books recommended by the site and I enjoyed every book. It was a natural that I would want to have an indieBRAG review to see how I compare with authors I like. One of the strengths of self-publishing is the ability to re-write things that readers do not like. With real reviews indie writers have a good idea what to re-write.
H: I think that is great, being able to really feed off your readers! Your novel, The Sword of Telemon, is set during the Bronze Age and at the time of the Minoans and Mycenaeans. I am familiar with this period as I just completed my Masters in the Ancients and Classics, but for those who are less familiar, could you give us a brief introduction to the period you discuss in your novel?
ME: First of all, congratulations on your degree! I would have loved to study for a degree in ancient history, but I picked the more conventional choice of medicine as a career. I can think of nothing more interesting to do with my time than study ancient cultures. I took Latin in High School and some ancient history in college, and it stayed with me for decades. I really love the Iliad and Odyssey, which are set in the Bronze Age in the ancient Mediterranean. For many people ancient Greece is all about the Classical period. By the 5th century BC the Greeks were becoming rational. I think just about everyone can relate to the age of Socrates (470 – 399 BC), Plato and Aristotle. If you go back in time, I think the Classical Greeks would have thought that their ancestors lived liked barbarians.
Bronze making technology spread from the Near East and arrived in Greece in about 3000 BC. The Iliad and Odyssey were first written in the 12th century BC and adapted from stories told by bards. The ideal Greek of that age was not a thinker, but a warrior. They were not rational. They were bound by a very different set of values than the Classical Greeks. However, I wanted to show that even at this early time they were striving towards something better, towards civilization.
H: Thank you, it took a lot of pushing to get it done, but it’s something I’m proud of! To build on this discussion, Bronze Age Mycenaean culture is not something that I have seen frequently written about and I would love to know what led you to choose this as the setting for your novel?
ME: I appreciate Classical civilization. The ideals of democracy, science, and rational thought were all there. But what came before that? I have always been interested in heroes, in warriors, and in what motivated them. Many people say that it all just boils down to power, but does it? Orpheus was regarded as a hero to Classical Greeks. He sang and wrote poetry. According to some ancient sources, it is Orpheus and not Asclepius who should be credited as giving medicine to humankind. He was also conventionally heroic. He was fearless. He returned from the underworld. I wanted to write historical fiction in the Bronze Age, and I wanted to flesh out a hero who did not just have strength, but was truly wise. If a whole mythic cycle was written about a hero like the Orpheus we know now, what would it be like?
I had read the Greek myths from various psychological perspectives. Greek myths were required reading for a psychiatrist in the 1950s. Sigmund Freud wrote on the psychoanalysis of myths. While the method is interesting I did not believe sex was the root of everything. Carl G. Jung’s works on myths was very thought provoking. I agreed that myths should been seen through the lens of an individual. Maybe even an individual can be seen through the lens of mythology that the society constructed.
I think that the Greek myths are trying to express something that the culture wanted to instill in future generations (Joseph Campbell has a lot to say about this). My son is an archaeologist, and he gave me a copy of the book the Mycenaean Origin of Greek Mythology by Martin Nilsson. This really captured my imagination, and I wanted to write something about characters that would have spawned myths. After reading that book I really started seriously re-writing the first few Orfeo books, which had been sitting around for years. I originally wrote them as “sword and sorcery” books. They took a very different direction than I originally thought.
H: I think writing about the hero that isn’t necessarily all brawn is someone that more people could relate too and we need more of that! You have several main characters in your novel, Telemon, Clarice, Orfeo, and Zurga to name but a few. Did you find it more challenging to write any of your characters, and if so, why?
ME: By far the most difficult to write passages for me are those of female characters. I wanted to make characters who reflected ancient values. Women of the Bronze Age were not cloistered in a home. They were active members of recently settled nomadic peoples. We know from history that the Classical Greek legend of the Amazons has a historical basis. A fraction of the graves of Sarmatian women (living north of the Sea of Azov) contained weapons. Some people who have read the series suggest that I was trying to get a feminist angle in the book. In fact I am trying to be historically accurate.
It is easy to see how the Greeks and Romans saw barbarian society. It was alien. It caused them to question their values. Some Classical sources suggest that the Amazons removed their right breast so that they could shoot a bow. This can be seen as a kind of warning to women during the Classical period. Of course women can shoot a bow without surgery, as many modern female Olympic champions show. The Romans had to deal with the resurgence of Britain under Queen Boudica (who died in about AD 60). To the Classical world this was a disruption of social order. Could a woman have that kind of power in Roman society?
For barbarians this was accepted. I think the earliest Greek myths are also telling us that early Greeks were used to powerful women too. Think of Athena, goddess of wisdom, craft and war. This is the kinds of character I wanted to think about when writing the dialog for Clarice in the Orfeo Saga. I tried to capture the essence of female characters who never thought “I am doing what a man does” but rather “I am doing what all my women relatives did, and what my society expects me to do.” Characters like that would take risks just to survive.
H: It is difficult to not put our modern perceptions on historical peoples, but I’m thrilled to hear that you wanted to be true to the history. Did you do a lot of research before writing this book? What type of research? Were you able to visit any places that feature in your novel?
ME: When I was younger I visited many countries in the Near East and Central Asia to study carpets and textiles. I also travelled to Greece and Turkey, where there are lots of ancient things to admire. I thought about how people lived thousands of years ago. I still like to think about questions like what motivated those people, what they dreamed about, and what kind of future they wanted. When writing the Orfeo Saga I read about the history of various regions. I really like to study maps. I can spend hours and hours looking at the geography of places. So much of ancient history was dictated by geography.
H: My hats off to you! I struggle with geography! This is the first book in what looks to be a planned extensive series. What can you tell us about the direction this series will take?
ME: I have a list of books that I have published and which I am planning to publish (http://murrayeiland.godaddysites.com/future-books.html). The series features Orfeo as the titular character, but there are books where other characters take the lead. It is not really surprising given my interest in eastern art that several books move to Afghanistan (including Orfeo 6 to be published). I have very fond memories of Afghanistan before the revolution. At the time it seemed stable. Many people assumed that it would reach a high standard of living in a very short period of time. Looking at television broadcasts today you could not believe it, but the people were extremely friendly and open. I suppose that Afghanistan is gone for now, but it can live on in fiction.
H: For those who have not read your work, how would you describe your writing style?
ME: This is one of the most difficult questions for an author to answer honestly. Luckily it seems that reviewers can judge me better than I can. A consensus of reviews state my characters seem to be led by events. This is a very interesting observation, but one that I agree with. Some books go into great detail regarding what characters are thinking and feeling. I concentrate more on what they are doing, and I usually let the reader piece together what they think and feel. I am fairly sure that this is from my training as a psychiatrist. I want every reader to make a judgement for themselves what happened. I like to think that I describe things well enough so this is possible.
One thing that interested me is that several people commented that because of the lack of “adult themes” the series is a perfect fit into the young adult category. I am delighted if young adults read the books. However, my intent was to write a saga. In the series of books I envisaged there is no gore and mindless violence. There is no overt sex, and men do not come together and get drunk and rowdy. This is not because I am some sort of prude. I have worked in the mental health field for decades and at this point I doubt if I can be shocked by any kind of behavior. The reason I do not include “adult themes” is that neither the Iliad nor Odyssey did so. I did not want to depart too far from that style.
I hope that I have a light writing style so that people can read and enjoy what I write. I inject more or less humor into each novel. The first Orfeo book does not have much humor, but the other books in the saga can. Out of the Orfeo Saga perhaps the novel with the most humor is Orfeo 7, The Raid on Troy (to be published). This book takes a familiar story and tells it from a different perspective. Out of all the books in the series this was the most fun to write. I hope other people enjoy my sense of humor!
HC: I really think it is awesome that you wanted your novel to feel like something that would have come out of the style of your inspiration. What drew you towards independent publishing as opposed to seeking out a traditional publisher? Has there been anything that was more or less challenging that you expected?
ME: I did try to seek out a traditional publisher. In fact I tried many times, over many years. I have no idea how someone with novels a bit out of mainstream can find someone to take a risk on a new author. Looking back I wasted time looking for a traditional publisher. I spent hours sending out letters. I felled so many trees printing manuscripts that were never read I now literally feel guilty. Most of all I would have liked to use that time to write. Self-publishing allowed me to share my voice with others, and I am grateful.
The thing I did not remotely imagine is how difficult it is to promote self-published novels. A very small percentage of readers leave Amazon reviews. Finding the right places to advertise books takes countless hours. Compared with writing a novel, writing a book blurb and finding the correct keywords to use is a herculean task. I learn something new every day, literally. My biggest regret is that I did not self-publish sooner. I tell everyone who thinks they want to write a novel to do it now. Get it out there and try to get other people to read it. It will be work, but all good things in life take work.
H: I think those are some great tips! Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions and share more with us about your novel! This sounds just like the kind of book my husband would enjoy reading about.
When Murray Eiland was younger he was a psychiatrist as well as a rug collector and dealer. He traveled to the East to learn more about carpets and the people who made them. He was exposed to cultures that preserved much from their past.
Eiland developed an interest in how and why states form. He wanted to write books that explored the characters of people who created civilizations. He wanted to come to grips with what makes leaders tick. Eiland supposes this comes back to his training as a psychiatrist.
The Orfeo series is designed for audiences young adult and up. Unlike some modern books set in the "heroic age" they have little sex and violence. He hopes they convey the spirit of the Bronze Age and not our age. He covers a variety of cultures in the books. The main interest is ancient Greece, but also goes east to Mesopotamia and even the New World.
The Homeric "long-haired Achaeans" were part of the Mycenaean culture of Greece (1600 BC - 1100 BC). They were a Bronze Age people who were quite removed in time and culture from the Classical period (5th - 4th centuries BC). In this novel a young Achaean prince is captured in a raid. His younger brother Orfeo, and a group of warriors, are sent on a mission to look for him. Telemon, a legendary warrior, and Zurga, an elderly member of a group called the Wanderers, are soon joined by Clarice, a girl who is a master of disguise. To their dismay they find that the kidnapped prince has been made a galley slave and that the maritime power of Thera plans to conquer the entire Mediterranean. Can they avert disaster?
The story starts just before the eruption of Thera in about 1600 BC. This cataclysm destroyed the lavish Minoan culture of Crete. It also allowed the Mycenaeans to expand throughout the eastern Mediterranean. The Mycenaean culture - while originally warlike and rather rustic - developed vibrant cites, such as Pylos. This era was the setting for Homer's epic poems about the Trojan War (perhaps 12th or 11th century BC).
A Message from IndieBRAG:
We are delighted that Heather has chosen to interview Murray Eiland Jr. who is the author of, The Sword of Telemon, our medallion honoree at indieBRAG. To be awarded a B.R.A.G. MedallionTM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, The Sword of Telemon, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.