Blog Hop … The Next Big Thing

A day late and a dollar short. I was supposed to do my "Blog Hop" entry yesterday, but things happened — including, believe it or not, a visit by Omar Sharif to our little fishing village in Almería (Spain), where he filmed part of "Lawrence of Arabia" 50 years ago! But back to this blog hop.

Me reading at a local bookstore, Librería Nobel in Vera, Spain
Mary Tod tagged me for this "hop" which somebody (we don't know who) started and called THE NEXT BIG THING. The idea is for each author to answer 10 questions about a work in progress (WIP) or recently published book, and then tag other authors to do the same the following week. 

What is your book's title?
A Gift for the Sultan takes place in and around Constantinople in 1402, when that city was under ferocious siege by the Ottomans. I've already written here previously about its development, but answering these ten questions may be a good way to sum up the experience. My new novel, or WIP, is too fresh to talk about and as yet has not found its title.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I had just completed a nonfiction book on social issues in the U.S. (Hispanic Nation, University of Arizona Press) and was ready for something completely different. On a visit to Istanbul and from there into the interior of Turkey, I was deeply impressed by the rich mix of cultures and overlapping histories of successive invaders and settlers, especially the long period of uneasy co-existence between the Greek-speaking, urbanized Christians and nomadic, newly Islamized Turks. And while reading up on that history, I was surprised to learn two facts. First, that Christian emperors and satraps had frequently offered their daughters in marriage to Turkish chieftans in order to buy peace. What, I wondered, would that sudden immersion in an utterly alien culture be like for the young Christian bride? Second, that under the terrible stress of bombardment and isolation, the ruler of Constantinople was prepared to surrender the city to the Sultan, but, afraid of the reaction of the populace, he had to carry out his negotiations in utter secrecy.  What were the many tensions within that city?  I was also thinking of the more recent siege of Sarajevo by Orthodox Serbs and other cities under stress.

What genre does your book fall under? 

It is being marketed as "historical fiction", but it is really, or also, a sociological study of the shifting alliances and betrayals that emerge when two powerful cultural systems — in this case, urban Greek-speaking Christians and Ottoman Muslims — collide. The fictional characters are closely patterned on real social types of that place and time, and everything I have invented is something that really could have happened that way. But "historical sociological fiction" is too unwieldy a label, so let's leave it as "historical fiction".   

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? 

A Turkish translation of the book has just been published in Istanbul. I will be delighted if some Turkish filmmaker or TV producer takes it on, and casts some dashing, dark, 30-ish actor (there are several who might be available) as the Turkish warrior who is supposed to deliver the princess to the Sultan; a pretty young woman who can pass for the adolescent Greek princess who suddenly finds herself among the rough Turkish horsemen; and some good comic actors for the parts of the Christian merchant trying to profit from this new event, the English mercenary palace guard, and the various other Turkish, Greek and other personalities. 

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? 

A great city calls on all its resources — magical, military and monetary —to survive assault by a powerful urban force.

But there is another story, of special interest to  the readers of the Turkish translation The supremely arrogant sultan Bayezid, called "Thunderbolt" ("Yildirim" in Turkish), meets his downfall at the hands of the very astute, chess-playing war chief from Samarkand, Timur (Tamerlane). Even today, families in Turkey frequently name their sons Yildirim or Timur. 

Is your book self-published or trade published? (The original form of this question said "or represented by an agency?")  

Oddly enough, the answer is "Both". I published it myself in English in 2010. A major Istanbul publisher, Nokta Yayıncılık Dağıtım ve Pazarlama, then purchased translation rights and published it last month (November 2012).   

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? 

A very long time. The original idea came to me on that first trip to Turkey in 1997. But I knew almost nothing about Turkey or what we call the Byzantine empire, their languages or customs, or the details of their long, involved history. I put the work aside several times and wrote other things (several short stories, journalistic articles), but I was too intrigued by the story to abandon it. I now know an awful lot about those peoples and their history, and even began studying Turkish. I completed the draft in 2008 or 2009.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I'm not modest. I'll say Tolstoy's War and Peace, for its interplay of sociology and history, and also certainly Albanian author Ismail Kadaré, The Siege

Who or What inspired you to write this book? 

My experience in Turkey, as described above, and also my reading of the news. I think there is much to be learned from this momentous conflict about Muslim-Christian relations today, and about the terrible fear and rage against urban civilization that motivates much of contemporary terrorism. 

What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?  

A very gallant, though very superstitious Ottoman warrior, and a bold and perky young Christian princess rebelling against the fate designed for her. And many dramatic and some quite comic scenes. 

And here are some of the other blog-hopping authors you'll want to check out:

Jan Alexander is a fiction writer and financial journalist, currently putting finishing touches on a fantastical, satirical novel about New York, the new China, and the process of fictional creation. She plans to tell you all about it next week (December 12) on the blog of a small collective of writer-editors that she co-founded, http://thothbooks.blogspot.com.es/ 

Mary Tod, who "tagged" me for this post, is a writer of historical fiction whose blog has just that title: http://awriterofhistory.com/author/awriterofhistory/ Thanks, Mary, for the invitation to the blog hop.

Sophie Schiller is a writer of historical fiction and spy thrillers. She has a recent book called Transfer Day. Her own blog is at  http://sophieschiller.blogspot.com
Richard Sutton has written two novels, The Red Gate and Gatekeepers about the O'Deirg family and the ancient secret they are charged to protect. He blogs at  http://www.sailletales.com
Kirstie Olley lives in Australia and calls herself a speculative fiction writer. And she is pleased to have completed NaNoWriMo. She blogs at http://www.storybookperfect.com/.


Mary Tod said...

Hi Geoffrey ... thanks for hopping along with me and others. Your novel sounds wonderful. I will have the good fortune of visiting Turkey for the first time in March and would love to hear your suggestions for places to see.

Geoffrey Fox said...

Thank, Mary. There is much to see in that big, varied country. And great food! Have a wonderful trip, and if you have any specific questions, just ask. I hope to return soon — we have many friends and, I hope, readers there.