Florian Stone Wells is the author of The Sword and the Shield of the Realm, the first book of the series “Merchants of Time,” a seven-part novel historical perspective and grand adventure in the malestrom of the 15th Century, at the height of the epic struggle between the Islamic Empire of the Ottomans and the Christian kingdoms of medieval central Europe.
1. When did you first start working on your novel, The Sword and the Shield of the Realm? Did you originally intend for it to be a seven-part series?
I started writing in January 2006, with a scene that I had in my mind for quite some time, a persisting vision, yet one which in the end never made it into the book as I saw it then, but a scene which defined one of the crucial characters of the story, Sir Gregor Dahr Altair.
The vision went like this:
A Mid-October morning, in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains. The sun is about to peak above the heavy icy fog covering the land. Along a deserted road, a rider comes trotting at a steady pace. He is wrapped tightly in a dark cloak, with the hood low over his head. In the dim light, his dark horse seemed like an ill-fated steed from the realm of eternal darkness. Subtly, a pale ghostly silver disk appears through the fog, casting surreal shadows through the green and golden crowns of the giant trees. The sunlight carried no warmth, yet the frigid forest possessed a beauty that delighted his senses. The rider stops his steed and straightens in the saddle as if waiting for something. Then it happens. Rising above the fog in all its splendor, the sun flooded the foothills with a silvery light. The trees appeared to float on the golden mist and their leaves burst with every shade of red, yellow, and pale green. Birds started singing, joyfully overcome by the glorious autumn morning. The rider opens his cloak and lifts his face toward the sun. The sunlight reveals his ominous stature. Man and horse were clad in dark plates of steel. His helm had neither feathers nor a crest, and the triangular shield hanging from his saddle’s pommel displayed no coat of arms. His singular presence in this empty land is more surprising than an entire army, for what kind of a knight would be in the wilderness without an entourage of men-at-arms and squires …
This vision came to me gradually during a grueling three years research on the subject I wanted to write about. Here I must say that although history always has been my passion, I felt compelled to deeply research the period I wanted to write about and thus for three years I worked full time, reading countless documents, books and articles, and writing at least three thousands pages of research papers – all for my eyes only.
2. What made you interested in writing about the medieval period pertaining to the conflict between the Ottomans and the kingdoms of Eastern Europe in the 15th century?
If you visit my website you will read:
“Before the rise to dominance of Western Europe, there was a pivotal time in history when the world was consumed by the epic struggle between the Islamic Empire of the Ottomans and the Christian Kingdoms of Eastern Europe. Two civilizations and two very different ways of life confronted each other. Those events shook the world and still reverberate in today’s headlines, with the fate of mankind yet to be decided …“
In 15th century, the center of civilization in Europe was in the East not in the West. To be more precise, I am referring to the south-central part of the continent and the Balkans. For those who are a bit confused, it is the region lying between the variously and vaguely defined areas of Western and Eastern Europe, to use the terms of the Cold War and the Iron Curtain, which split Europe in two.
Now, imagine living in a world consumed by a war that lasted not Thirty Years, not A Hundred Years, but One Hundred and Fifty Years and had no end in sight. Imagine the war is not over the crown of the realm nor about who is taxing whom, but for the very core beliefs upon which today civilization was built. That world comes to life in the series Merchants of Time.
The series takes the reader to an epoch marked by turbulence and mayhem when, in the intricate tapestry of human history, many of the painful truths of our world took root.
The series begins in 1448 and ends in 1529 with the first siege of Vienna by the Ottomans. It starts with the Ottoman campaign to eradicate once and for all the Christendom, a decision taken by Sultan Murad II after the Battle of Varna in 1444, an event referred quite often in The Sword and the Shield of the Realm. The Battle of Varna triggered a drastic change in the Ottoman’s attitude toward the Christian World. Faced with what Sultan Murad II saw as a despicable betrayal of the peace threat signed with him only months before by the King of Hungary and Poland, a treaty signed at the Christians insistence on the Koran and on the Bible, the sultan decided that at the behest of Allah the Christian kings, usurpers who kept populaces in yoke, must be eradicated and their subjects turned to Islam.
3. Why did you choose the name “Merchants of Time” for your series?
The story of the epic struggle between the Islamic Empire of the Ottomans and the Christian Kingdoms of Eastern Europe is told from the perspective of a secret fraternity, the Excubitors, who have dealings on both side of the conflict. Understanding the grave danger in Sultan Murad’s resolve to eradicate Christianity and turn the world to Islam, they decided to intervene and thus “buy time” against the unstoppable Ottoman Empire.
The Excubitors are, perhaps, the “missing ancestors” of the Illuminati and Freemasonry of 17 and 18th century. The Excubitors do not command great armies but posses a broader understanding of the world and few “new inventions,” a powerful knowledge an age when most kings were unable to read and write and books were considered treasures. Following their exploits, we learn that nothing in history happened by accident nor because was predestined, but because individuals dedicated to the principle that in the interest of all no one should be allowed to absolutely predominate the world, raised against those driven by an uncontrollable desire of power and possession over all others. Thus, we learn that in the intricate tapestry of human history nothing is as it seems …
The Merchants of Time series is an attempt to remind us that the world of today, with all its benefits and tribulations, is but a product of the historical continuum. Through war, trade, and the will to dominate, humans have created it as it is. Everything that defines our time stemmed from the fears of that period, a period that preceded and defined the modern period, a period euphemistically called by the western historians Late Middle Ages. Yet very little has been written in literature about it, especially in the last forty years, and only incidentally. Now, in every threat that looms in future, we see the fruits of the seeds planted back then, with the potential of the most destructive war in human history threatening our future.
A word of caution: Those who are tempted to say that history repeats itself, will do well to remember that this is a truism only as long as our motivations remain the same.
4. Where are you in the process of completing the Merchants of Time series?
As you know, Merchants of Time series has seven novels. The first three forms a trilogy that deals with the events culminating with the Fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans. The following four, forms a tetralogy that deals with the events culminating with the Fall of the Kingdom of Hungary to the Ottomans. I am about to finish the second book of the trilogy, called The Field of the Blackbirds. But many parts and scenes of the subsequent novels are already written and, of course, the story-plot for the whole series.
5. Describe your daily writing routine. When do you feel you’re most productive?
By 9:30AM I start working, most of the time promoting, calling to set book signings, e-mailing, searching the internet, etc. Three sweet coffees take me through 2:00PM when, most days, I eat something. Then I go to the gym where I do a grueling workout, or go hiking in the foothills where I live. By 6:00PM, I treat myself with writing until about 2:00AM, sometime 4:00AM. I am most productive when I write, and if I get to write all day, that is a very good day.
Once a week, twice if I am lucky, I go climbing until about 6:00PM, after which I have a couple of beers with whom ever I climb that day, or with myself if I go solo, which seems to be quite often nowadays. When I get home I write until 2:00AM then go to sleep. Sometime I break this routine by going climbing for a week in different mountain ranges.
6. What is the most rewarding part, in your opinion, of writing an historical fiction piece?
The most rewarding part is when, ported by the time-travel spell, my mind’s eye is suddenly back in time. Suddenly I am not a mere mortal anymore, but a grantor of destinies. It is very difficult to return.
7. What have you enjoyed the most about the process?
Writing, I can write for hours on end without feeling the world around me.
8. What have you enjoyed the least about the process?
First, let me say that I have an optimistic nature, and I never luck resolve and fortitude. If you want the know why I make such claim, you can read “About the Author’ at www.sapientus.com, my website, which is only a bit about my challenges in life. That being said, I must also say that my personality has been qualified as being that of an explorer and a teacher.
What I enjoy the least is the hardship, the daily struggle … an author is the last and the least paid. I know we all hear about those who got a contract with many zeros, but those cases are rare, very rare indeed. Our system is tuned to have us focus only on the success stories, but the truth is brutal. Don’t be fooled by words such “have a positive attitude” and “visualize success” for those are just sugarcoated words. The deprivations and struggles suffered by the “long-gone authors” are true today more than ever. We will do well to remember that many of them would not have achieved what we treasure so today without patronage, philanthropy, and outright handouts. Now, if your luck turns for better, nice but don’t count on it for we never fail with good fortune.
9. What all was involved in finding the right agent/publisher to represent your work?
Aha, finding an agent …
Well, to find an agent, and I mean a true good one, is almost an impossible task! I say almost because exceptions do happen, although hardly ever and always under very special circumstances. Of course, the professionals of the industry don’t want you to think that way, for how else countless flocks of writers would keep pounding at the “golden gate of the promised land” driven by the belief that the only way to enter is through them.
Now in saying that, I don’t mean to trivialize the importance of those who could introduce you to the big publishers, whom if chooses so can take you to the top of Mount Olympus.
Before I continue let me qualify two facts:
In our so called “free market economy” one must constantly remember that those who own the distribution controls the choices of the so called “consumers.”
The best book ever written cannot buy you a burger until its sold to a reader.
Before you began looking for an agent, you have to ask yourself a question: do you really want to sale the rights of your intellectual property? For once you sale it, its not yours anymore and the owner can do as pleases with it, including burning it. Many writers see their work disappear after the first print of 5000 copies or so and is nothing they can do, short of buying back the rights.
Now, if you still want to sell your book you must understand the function of an agent. An agent, a good one, has the ears, or should I say the eyes, of a high level editor in a reputable publishing company, and understands the portfolio needs of the publisher. The rapport between the agent and the editor is very fragile, therefore an agent must introduce to the editor only what the publisher is looking for, and better be a success.
Still want to sell your book? Then forget about the publications listing agents, forget about writer conferences, forget about writing “stellar” query letters, and especially forget about mailing manuscripts. First, find the best 3-5 agents on a specific genre. You can find them by searching on the authors of successful books by looking who they give credits or who they mention in interviews, etc. Trace those names through the classic social and professional networks. Then develop a plan, and be cunning and conniving, to have them look for thirty seconds at your book plan, therefore you have to develop one. Remember, good agents almost never are looking for new authors or even established ones, for they already have a list of authors to work with and if they need something new, they will ask them to write it.
Now then, what’s the alternative? Well, if you are thinking like me, that your writing is a work of the heart, then the best analogy I can think of is like having a baby. After a period of gestation, the baby needs to see light if is to live. If your mind set is such that you must have a mid-wife to give birth, your baby most likely will never be born unless you find one. On the other hand, if you take the chance and give birth alone, then you can get on with the grueling task of nursing the child to maturity and success… yes, I am speaking of self-publishing and in the last ten years most of the great successes began that way, even though today you might see them published under prestigious names. It is not a path for the fainthearted, but more than ever there is hope for the printing industry is a dinosaur.
10. What methods do you use to self-market and promote your novel? How much are you involved in marketing along with your publisher?
Very involved, and in fact a writer today is expected to understand the nature of the book business and consume most of the time in promoting the work. That is the bad news; the good news is that we live in a time when we have a lot of channels to achieve that, of course I am referring to the web and the infinite ways which offer for promotion. Use it but be creative.
11. What advice would you give to other aspiring novelists of historical fiction?
Try to be unique both in topic and in writing style – you will have that at least on your side promoting your work. Else, your book would be lost in the thousands and thousands of titles which have the advantage of being there before yours.
Remember, most of the historical fiction you are familiar with have been done from the perspective of the “western authors” and “western historians” which carries all their cultural biases and, worse, short-sightedness.
Research your subject to maximum – I remember a writer who told me she wrote a book about the Russian mafia, of which she knew nothing before, after researching the subject for a “whole month.”
Use your imagination and good sense for what might have taken place to live then. – If are you going to write about nomad people of the desert, or about a time when indoor plumbing was a rare commodity, electricity and radio did not exist, and books were considered treasures, perhaps at the very least you should go camping for couple of weeks and not take your cell.
Don’t be afraid to start all over again when you are halfway through the first novel. You probably heard from famous authors how they wrote, and wrote, and wrote again … nineteen times over before they were ready with the first manuscript. Then the publisher asked them to re-write it.
Be ready to sacrifice everything and I mean everything. The test of your labor of heart will be how far are you prepared to go to see it through. The price I had to pay many would consider very high, too high perhaps, yet it could go much, much higher.
And one more thing, keep the historical events and facts straight, for nothing disappoints more than inaccuracy.
12. What other interests do you have besides medieval history?
Rock and ice climbing, as one can see from the pictures on my website. It has been a life-long passion of mine which taught me humility, helped me to know who I am with all the strengths and weaknesses, gave me joy and exhalation beyond the power of normal living, gave me a way to live in present time with no past and a future limited to the next few moments of intense living, and almost killed me countless times. It is a way of life for me and I cannot imagine living without it. In fact, I hope I wouldn’t.