It is the storyteller’s sacred charge to keep such legends alive.
For when the mighty seek to smudge the heroes out of history; When the chronicler and the journalist record more lies than truth. It falls to the jester, the poet, and the playwright to remind people of the honor of courageous knights, the cruelty of tyrants, and the existence of monsters.
I write to preserve the legends of yesterday in hopes that others to come will record the legends of today.
For tyrants are feared, then reviled, and soon forgotten. Yet, for as long as men and women tell stories, legends will never die!
I am Outis, I am No Man, I am Nemo.
Here we are, ready for another post on Some Thoughts with …, the serie of posts where we talk with the authors and get more insight about their works. Today is the turn of the mysterious I, Anonymous.
No more preambles, let’s dive into the interview!
1.- It is interesting to see new voices in the self-published field, what made you decide on this kind of publishing?
So I took up self-publishing for a number of reasons. None are the reasons most people do. I did not do it because I believe that I can now keep all my royalties (yeah I often go weeks without selling a copy, and then I launch my free week and I get like 3000 downloads) So yeah a higher % of nothing is still nothing. Nor did I do it “To keep control over my work” honestly I pay editors and hunt for beta readers that are willing to say “No bad Author this is not coming well” The main reason I self-published is that Gurzil did not query well. It’s an Arthurian retelling (this has been done… it’s not vampire meets girl, but it’s up there) it doesn’t sound original. And the African and byzantine angle is original however it is hard to explain. The other fact is that I have zero training in the writing world. I do not mean to say that a degree in creative writing is a must in the self-publishing world, however, what I found querying is that, well, agents see it as a much higher risk to take on writers with no classic training. Lastly, my books are relatively short. They land at 270-370 pages. This is not the current standard length for a fantasy novel which is now massive brick-sized books. But I feel that there is something to be said for shorter fantasy. Problem: this requires more exposition (which I like) and less character driven. Which offends many writers and critics, but my readers tend to enjoy it so…. The one main advantage I have with self-publishing is that I’m in control of the work, and I can get creative with promotion design. All the historical quotes I put as chapter openers query so terribly, that they didn’t believe I could find enough original quotes. And believe me, despite for some chapters it’s harder than for others, but typically I end up with more quotes than I can use. I can also put out my books fasters. I published Gurzil this past march, I’m publishing Badon Hill this month, and probably I will have Queens of Blood released in February. Just because I can.
2.-I’m a big fan of historical retelling, and exploring obscure parts of the history, what made you put the focus on the VI century?
I chose the sixth century because it is a time that works. It’s a period that historians avoid like the plague and for good reason. You can’t prove anything in the sixth century. Most historians go up to the fall of Rome and then pick the narrative back up in the Viking age. This is because the documents we have are fragments and most are not reliable, and many contradict each other. There is also almost no way to extract it from myth, legend, and propaganda. I am not a historian, I am a storyteller. So rather than extract the history out of stories of dragons, druids, and witches I just work to put those things into the plot.
3.-During the story, we find the cult of Gurzil, what can you tell us about it?
Not much of Gurzil is an enigma. The cult of Gurzil existed in north Africa; they are recorded in multiple sources, and their actions seem to be significant, but beyond that, we know almost nothing.
4.- I find the scope of the story to be really big, focusing on all of Europe, which implied using several POVs. Did this make it more difficult to write?
Not as much as you’d think because both narratives are historical. It’s more about tweaking puzzle pieces to fit together. Not all the connections are clear at the end of book 1.
5.- I found particularly interesting the schism between Catholics and Arian Christians, could you talk a little about it?
The Arian schism is one of those topics that no one wants to touch with a pole. I find it unfortunate since it is really an important part of Western history. The thing to point out here is that the Arian/Nicean schism should not be confused with the Catholic/Orthodox schism (that would come later) nor the Catholic/Protestant schism, that would come almost a thousand years later by which point Arianism was basically extinct, as the small last enclaves of Arians that did exist in Germany at the time of Martin Luther and had for generations, at that point, been more defined by their opposition to the medieval catholic church rather than any theological difference, as such they were absorbed into the growing protestant faith.
But Arianism has very little in common with Protestant theology. In fact, Luther rejected the Arian translation of the bible and did his own german translation. Arianism is an EXTINCT dualist faith that was primarily practiced by the Goths and Vandals. Like most religions, it’s not evil in itself, however, the dualist aspects of the faith did tend to lend itself to some misogynistic interpretations, a trait that remains sadly true in many modern Christian dualist denominations. Basically, Arian attempted to Germanize Christianity. Similar to how you hear that Christmas was really just a pagan festival given a Christian spin to make it easier to adopt. The fifth and sixth centuries were when that sort of thing was happening.
However, the problem with Arianism was less to do with the faith, and more to do with the context in which it really evolved and spread. Shortly after it was adopted, the Vandals and Goths were famine and Hunnic raids would force these tribes into the Roman Empire, which was Nicaean Christians. Not Catholic or Orthodox, at this point they were the same thing. Priests could marry, though typically monks took vows of chastity when they joined orders. But the vows weren’t standard and typically were set by the monastery or order itself. Now, like we see in refugee populations today, the Goths and Vandals took on a stance of cultural protectionism. There was certainly a very us against them attitude and a fierce desire to preserve their culture.
This also was extended to a fierce need to preserve their bloodlines. This would be a hallmark of the Germanic nobility all the way to the 20th century (where we would come to see the problem with such inbreeding). However, if you consider where it came from, a desire to preserve their ethnic identity you can see how this might come about. A light-skinned, fair-haired, blue-eyed population comes into contact with a brown-haired, darker-skinned, brown-eyed population. Genetics tells us that if these two populations mingle, the result will often be darker offspring.
When the friction between the Goths, Vandals, and Romans would eventually result in war, the schism would get even more pronounced, as it became a way to dehumanize the enemy in what was becoming a generational conflict.
Now Arianism would slowly die out. For a few reasons, like often happens, race politics combination didn’t work. Both, Vandals and Goths, would find themselves with Roman Queens, politically advantageous however problematic for the hardliners. A fact we find in the European Roman courts frankly to this day. The next thing would be that western Europe would find itself needing to unite, especially in places like Spain, Italy, and France in the face of the growing threat of the Caliphate. The Merovingians had converted to Nicaean Christianity earlier, the Frankish king Charlamagne would become Holy Roman Emperor, and the Catholic (universal) Church as we know it would come to be.
Now, unlike the Protestant schism, which would be caused by the corruption of the medieval church, the Arian and Orthodox schisms were a result of the early churches’ debates over the Trinity (something that is quite complicated and very much open to debate.) The medieval Catholic church would say no. We needed to be unified in the face of the Muslim threat. So no debate, you must believe what we say or we kill you as a heretic. This, however, would give rise to probably one of the darkest chapters of human history since once you got to say anyone who disagrees with needs to die (it’s very open to corruption), once people can’t say what they think openly bad things happen. Suddenly, now, people with hate and darkness sit and fester where their craziness can’t be challenged for what it is. They hide away, behind closed doors, until finally some batshit crazy tyrant stands up yelling craziness and people buy it. Then riots and wars. We are seeing this today. People don’t think they can be heard unless they shout batshit polarizing craziness.
If all this sounds familiar it’s because there is a reason. Arian in the sources is often spelled Aryan. Yes, I know the PC story is that Aryans refer to Indo-Irian people (dark-skinned middle easterners) and the nazi race theory was BS to its core (It was, it was evil). The swastika is an Indian symbol that means peace, but it was also a Germanic pagan symbol associated with Woden and is present on pretty much every Germanic kingly totem, swords, belts, and such. Though they often call it a fylfot (which some people are trying to say is a good swastika, yeah not buying it. They ruined it). Now, this is hard to prove since most of the source documents ended up being gathered up in the 20th century by Heinrich Himmler, who brought them all in an attempt to create a Nazi Religion. And much of that past was lost and also as dehumanized as possible. Was this a good thing? Probably. However, as Galadriel said at the beginning of Lord of the Rings. Some things should not have been forgotten or lost. If we do not learn from the past we are doomed to repeat it right.
I talk about the schism because it was a crucial part of the history of the Dark Ages, and it is almost never talked about… Yet I feel it is relevant to the modern world. However, in the books, I am slow and careful with it. But like most of my other plots, this would be debatable from a historical standpoint. I write stories, not history papers.
6.- Your mix between myths and history tends to remember me of a troubadour telling legends, how do you feel about it?
These were the stories I grew up with, myths, legends, King Arthur, Beowulf, etc… but also books like the Chronicles of Narnia and LOTR. As I got older, I started reading things like Shakespeare. These were my inspirations, and as such are obviously going to influence my writing style. Also, Chronicles of Narnia and LOTRs are both considered the apex works of fantasy. However, I will take this point to say that both, CS Lewis, and Tolkien never achieved their true goal. They both dreamed of creating a new seminal Arthurian retelling. Neither would complete them. I am not one of these masters but much of the source material I used for my research was originally translated by these men. That’s part of why neither could write that book as they couldn’t prove their theories on Arthur and so they wrote fiction. And for their books, the world is a brighter place.
7.-How much of the Saline part is history and which is fiction?
Saline is the name of the kingdom in the Golden Legend, which describes the story of Saint George. No one knows exactly where it would have been. However, many oasis kingdoms existed. These cities were kinda independent but often also closely linked with one or more nomadic tribes. This perseveres in the Sahara desert today.
As for the Darkening, that happened too. The extreme weather events of the sixth century and the subsequent plagues and wars were catastrophic for the north African kingdoms and basically put a halt to trade across the caravan routes to the sub Saharan kingdoms.
For king Capsur, who I cast as Alba’s father: yes, he is an historical figure who persecuted Nicean Christians to gain the favour of the Arian Vandal kings of Carthage. The idea of the Lybian kings allying with Vandals is also part of History.
Kaboan was a real person as well. He is highly respected by sources which showed very little respect for the north African nomads. Interesting thing here, historians today talk about him using «unorthodox tactics» such as using camels as a defensive ring around his camp to hinder the Vandal heavy cavalry. This actually remains a valid tactic today.
So for what’s fiction? Not much, even the Gurzil and Ierna were real, as was the warrior cult. Probably there wasn’t a dragon, and there aren’t reports of human sacrifices in the resurgence of Punic culture. Gunthuris and the Vandal remnant were real too… his story is actually completely historically accurate (the siege, his escape from lemnos, even being beaten for taking a piece of bread: all historical records.) He is a truly interesting character that I totally look forward to giving life. As for the Darkening, it happened, however, it was most likely caused by a volcanic eruption in southeast Asia.
8.- Why did you create the figure of I Anonymous?
As for the I, anonymous; well there are a number of reasons. One, as you can see from Anthony Wilson’s post: because it’s cool. The other one is that it’s based on books like Beowulf and Gawain and the Green Knight… if you plug Anonymous into Amazon you can guess what your top two hits will be. So it’s a tribute to them… or maybe I’m just trying to nudge myself closer to those masterworks in the search algorithm; being a self-published author, I need all the help I can get.
You can probably guess at this point that I also have work reasons I prefer to avoid flaunting an identity. I have a job, and while I have no reason to hide being overly public would not be ideal.
But why did I pick I, Anonymous? Well, I was reading Circe, a great book… truly a great book. And she described the episode with Odysseus and the cyclops. At the time, I was trying to layer in the Arian schism part of the plot, which you must realize I was worried about. I thought about it when Odysseus said I’m no man and well when the cyclops was yelling: «No man is attacking me», it sounded ridiculous. I don’t want fame, I want to write my books, and hopefully make people think. But I don’t need anyone coming for me. To that end I am No Man, I am Outis, I am Nemo, I, Anonymous.
9.- Why did you decide to write this story?
The answer: I originally went looking for a story to tell my daughter. I had this little daughter, beautiful with dark skin and curls like her mother. I was reading her a fantasy book, one of those about princesses and knights, the kind which fathers have always read their daughters.
But none of the princesses looked like her. This can’t be in the 21st century: people know about African princesses and Arabian princesses… So I go looking and I find nothing. Okay, Saint George and the Dragon is most iconic fantasy story ever; princess Sabra was from Lybia, so someone has seen this low-hanging fruit and made a storybook… and all illustrations were of blonde hair blue eyed princesses…. but she is from North Africa!
So I decide: «fine, I’ll write this children’s book». So I started doing my research and found nothing. I mean, there are the Golden Legend, the rather tedious poem Faerie Queen, and some Muslim legends about George the Green. But other than that, really nothing. The most iconic saint in both Christian and Muslim religious traditions is a ghost. Was he a man who slew a dragon and saved a princess, or was he a roman soldier? Was he a traveling holy man, was he a knight who fought beside king Arthur but never counted as a Knight of the Round Table? Might he have been two saints? I started putting the pieces together, looking for him in England, Spain, north Africa, and Byzantium. And something surprising happened, I started to find him. I started to see how a knight could have moved through the sixth century, I started to see all the pieces of history moving around this one soldier. It was not a story for a little girl. But it was a tale that needed to be told. And it’s only just beginning.
10.- What can we expect of I, Anonymous, in the future?
I am hoping to publish the first 3 books this year, with another 3 hopefully next year, though I may have to take a break and do some research again as I reach book 6. Sixth and seventh will be hard. After that, I plan for 3 trilogies: one will be about the origins of the Briton conflicts; one book for Ambrosius and one book for King Lear (a King Lear retelling); and a book for George’s rise up to the events of the series. The second series will be on Saline, about Alba’s overthrow of his father, the Vandal wars and such.
The last series will be a Greek myth retelling, it will be an an retelling and will discuss Brutus of Britain.
From Vueltas, we can only thank I, Anonymous for accepting this interview and giving so much insight about Gurzil, his projects, and himself.