Finishing Jerusalem Falls and seeing it in print has been particularly exhilarating for me. I worked with that story for four long years through some pretty difficult things. Even though it’s my second, I learned a thing or two about how much work it takes, and how excruciating it can be to write a novel. That realization has made me want, more than ever, to write.
Jerusalem Falls takes place at the end of the Crusades, and it required a daunting volume of research, from the flora and fauna and the society and customs of widely diverse settings, to the nuances in the theologies of various and disparate religious faiths and “heresies.” I was awed by the complexities of the motivations that drove the Crusades and the Muslim cultures that opposed them, the Inquisition and the heretical movements it targeted, and the characters that dominated all of those conflicts and struggles. The highlight of my research was the discovery of The ‘Templar of Tyre’: Part III of the ‘Deeds of the Cypriots,’ a translation of first-hand Crusader texts written in the time and place of my story. It was enlightening to read the words of a witness to the times, and it really helped me grasp the essence of the period.
Thoughts on Perspective
I’ve received a lot of comments on the amount of research I did for Jerusalem Falls, and the perspectives I wove into it. Crusader tales are almost always written from the European perspective. The European side is typically painted as righteous and noble, and the Saracens as dark and cruel. Many draw the Templars as heroes, and some portray them as villains. I find that I prefer a more objective drawing of the parties to conflict, which I did not do in The Pict, to build at least a degree of empathy even for the protagonists’ enemies, and a higher degree of realism in the story. The Templars were neither heroes nor villains. The Crusaders were no more righteous, and no less dark than the Saracens they faced in battle. They were all humans, both noble and flawed, and endowed with their own particular mix of strengths and weaknesses. That is the essence of human conflict, after all, both internal and external.
A challenge for me, and probably for most writers, is to write from an objective perspective while fully developing the very subjective perceptions of the characters. In Jerusalem Falls, I tried to write from the heart without injecting my own attitudes into the characters, and to allow the characters to be themselves, free of my personal influence. The story will obviously reflect my mind and my intentions, but within that story the characters must have their own.
Therefore, it was important to me to present the Saracens from an objective perspective, and at times even from their own. That required research into accounts of the Crusades that were written by Arabs who witnessed them, and a degree of understanding of what drove them and what they were trying to achieve, aside from the obvious.
Book Club Notes
Now that Jerusalem Falls is out, I’ve turned my attention to post-publication support of that book. One task was a much-needed renovation of my old website to make it simpler, more slick, and more focused. That finished, I turned to my second task, which my editor suggested after my first-ever meeting with a book club that had read The Pict.
I had never been to a book club meeting. It was an enlightening experience, and it fascinated me (not least of all because a group of women had read the Dark Ages war drama, enjoyed it, and wanted to discuss it). I realized that book clubs put a lot of effort into gaining an understanding of the books they read, and why the authors wrote them. I did some research, and I discovered that entire sites are devoted to book club discussion, and that book clubs look to them for ideas. Some sites allow authors to post their own book club notes (for a fee). That gave me a couple of ideas for greater interaction with my readers through online technology.
I’ve put together a list of questions for discussion to serve as a guide for book clubs, in the form of a downloadable PDF file on my web site. The next step is to find appropriate places to place links to that PDF. I’m thinking that Amazon Author Central is a good place to start, and perhaps the Amazon product pages for my books. The Kindle platform offers the great opportunity to provide a link to book club notes at the end of the book, or even to publish them in a separate Kindle document. I’m realizing that technology is offering writers the ability to engage with readers on a level that could breathe new life into the experience of reading literature.
Jack Dixon, June 3, 2012
“Return of the Crusader”, 1835, by Carl Friedrich Lessing
“The capture of Jerusalem by Jacques de Molay in 1299”, by Claude Jacquand, Versailles, Musée National Chateau et Trianons
The burning of Jacques de Molay and Guy de Charnay