FREE limited time offer!

For a limited time, get the entire Keepers of the Stone Trilogy FREE!

merge_from_ofoct (3)

Why am I doing this? Well, to be honest,  the answer is I want you to discover my writing. But there are a few more reasons too: I’ll start with with some good news. And then some bad news that’s really also good news:

The first bit of good news is that I’ll be launching the new second edition of the Keepers of the Stone trilogy later this December!

The bad news is that to do this, I’ve  had to take the books down for sale for a few weeks. Obviously, this isn’t the most optimal situation.  Like I said, I want to have my books out there and would like as many readers as possible to discover them.  So, I’ve decided to turn this necessity into a win-win opportunity. That’s where the other bit of good news comes in:

Until the launch, I’ve decided to make FREE  2nd edition advance copies of the entire Keepers trilogy available via my mailing list.

To get them Just click HERE!

You only need to enter your email and your ebooks will be on the way.

I hope you enjoy the offer. Get it while you can!

Advertisements

New Covers for Keepers

The new cover for the new Second edition of Keepers of the Stone has arrived. Have a look-see along with the new back-matter below!

The new cover for Book Three is soon to follow…

Book 2 ebook cover NEW

A doomed princess.
A deadly gambit.
A Prophecy that could determine history’s fate.

Malka thought she’d finally come up with a plan for keeping the Fragment from the Urumi’s Dark Order. Then it all blew up in her face. She and Liza must find a new one, while making their way to New York in time to rescue Henry. Bozhena has ensnared him in her own ploy to wrest the Fragment into the hands of the demons’ Order – and unleash its unbridled chaos upon the world.

The situation seems clear. Then something none of them expects knocks Bozhena’s scheme completely off the rails. Malka makes a shocking discovery about her past: one that could alter the Fragment’s destiny and her own. The answers she seeks may lie in the history of another land she knows nothing about. To get them, they will have to depend on the one person Liza most hoped to never see again.

In Europe, Stas continues to grieve for Nell’s loss. Then one night, he learns his closest friend might still be alive, in great danger – and could hold the key to the Fragment’s fate. Stas knows he has to try and find her. This time, doing so will require him to reject all he’s ever believed in – including himself. The even bigger question is: can he trust the information’s source?

As more about their situation is revealed, Malka, Liza and Stas struggle with their place in an eons-spanning celestial power struggle — where the line between good and evil quickly becomes blurred. The slightest misstep could result in the failure of their quest – and the rise of total anarchy.

Their greatest tribulations are just beginning…

The Keepers of the Stone fantasy trilogy is a literary homage to Nobel Prize winning author Henryk Sienkiewicz’s In Desert and Wilderness. It’s a soul-searching, action-packed adventure epic that will keep you guessing from its middle-of-the-action opening, right up until the end; it will also appeal to fans of the TV series Kung Fu, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and The Librarian. An expansive fantasy adventure of epic proportions that tests the limits of our potential.

Get your FREE ebook copy of Book One in the Keepers trilogy Here!

 

Back after Summer

Hey! Welcome to the blog tour!

I haven’t had a lot of time to post here over the past few months. I’ve been busy. Being on the road like the nomad I am. And writing the sequel trilogy to Keepers of the Stone. Here are a few pictures of where one plot line in that sequel — Voyages of Fortune — will (almost) end. I’ll leave you to guess the exact location:

Other than that, I’ve been gathering inspiration for another new series, while traveling on my latest sojourn through the western Balkans. Its a great place to get inspiration!

I’ve long thought that the former Yugoslavia — and how it collapsed —  was like a tale you’d usually find in a fantasy novel. Except more interesting. Its real history. For my next project, I hope to bring that history and fantasy together (the working title is: Tito’s Lost Son: A Bylina of the Yugoslav Wars). Not only that. Some of the locations are really striking:

Coming back to Keepers: As happenstance would have it I’m going to be headed to a lot of the places that figure prominently in Keepers of the Stone: Book Three during the time that this tour is running. As it starts, I’ll be in Poland : Kraków and Warsaw, to be precise. In late October, I’ll be in Coventry, England. Where the trilogy’s epilogue is set.

I’ll be in Ireland during early October, too. It doesn’t figure in any of my books. But, who knows what I’ll find there? In all of these places, I hope to bring you a lot of pictures. Insights into why I set my books in the locales that I do. And facts about where I find inspiration.

 

If you haven’t already, anyone can get a free ebook copy of Keepers of the Stone: Book One here, for an email signup Or, for those who live in the UK or Ireland, you can enter to win one of two signed print copies of the entire Keepers trilogy until September 29.

Drew on top of the WorldPublishing these books has been — and remains — a journey. I hope you enjoy the quest as much as I do.

Being Jurgen

There’s only a bit more than five days left to enter the Goodreads giveaway. The Amazon one ends today. Enter if you haven’t already. Here’s a post about my most recent trip and what that journey has to say about my books.

As my first night in Geneva ended, I didn’t know what to expect.  I’d arrived in the city, invited as a contributor to a summer school regarding critical perspectives on globalization. My roommate had yet to arrive.

This situation was ironic to me. A couple of locations in Switzerland figure prominently in my books — namely Fribourg and Steckborn. Most of those scenes take place in a dorm room.

 

I’ve lived in Europe for six years. Despite this,  I’d never been to Switzerland. Being mostly a city person myself, I’d heard that the price-quality ratio of the Helvetic Confederation’s main metropolises was a bit on the unfavorable side. Upon arrival in Geneva, I could confirm that it was indeed more expensive than Brussels, which is rather affordable as far as North-Western European cities go.  The free afternoon I had on my first day gave me the time to take in the majority of the city’s old town as well as its lakeside and famous fountain, the jet d’eau.

photo (4)

The bottom line: Switzerland has always been something of a storied land to me. And, I don’t mean the kind that I’d always dreamed of traveling to. I’m an Eastern Europe person. I’d always assumed that Switzerland was an even more rules-obsessed form of Germany. Jurgen — the Swiss German character in my books  reflects this. Part of his personality is based off of Swiss-German family friends that I grew up around.

I’d actually hoped to go to Fribourg: the town where most of the main interaction between Jurgen and Stas — one of my novels’ main characters — takes place. Unfortunately, the cost of the train ticket proved prohibitive. I could do a whole other blog tour for the price of it. Still, during my time in Geneva I had a different experience (in addition to eating cheese fondue in 32 degree heat). One that allowed me to gain a new perspective on my own characters:P1070634

The research for my books  proved largely correct about Switzerland, in concrete terms. Upon arrival at the university hotel in Geneva, I knew that as a PhD candidate, I’d have to share a room. However, while checking in, I found out that my roommate was from South Africa.

Before coming to Switzerland, I’d always been led to believe that I’d be received like Stas — a proud ethnic Pole by partial-blood. The son of a political refugee, who grew up almost completely in Africa and has never been to Europe. Yet, as I met my apartment mate for the next week, — on the day after I’d arrived — I was surprised by how much the tables seemed turned.

He was a resident of South Africa; that was following his flight as a refugee from the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo). It was his first time in Europe.

At first he seemed flummoxed by the place.  Even dismissive of it, the more he saw. To him it was expensive. And, overrated, compared to his native sub-Saharan Africa. Most of this was never directly said to myself, but rather overheard. I could understand him conversing with friends in Portuguese (He worked for the Angolan embassy. I speak fluent Spanish).

Granted. Geneva is expensive. It’s also not the end and be all of Europe. But, I’d aspired to live in Europe since 2010. His dismissal was hard to accept on a visceral level. I’ve never been to sub-Saharan Africa.  Yet, I must admit that his reception of the continent I’d spent years aspiring to seemed  implausible to me on an emotive note. One that I hadn’t expected.P1070652

Like I said, upon arrival in Switzerland, I’d always expected to be treated as the beggar. But, over the course of the week, I was struck multiple times by how much I felt like Jurgen.  The Swiss youth in my novels, who holds his own heritage in unquestionable regard. Though, in my tomes  I’m often highly critical of him for this attitude, I found myself cynically courting it during my own week in a Swiss dorm room.

Viscerally, I wanted to dismiss my South African roommate’s opinions as a sour grapes inversion of schadenfreude. Yet, if anything, he was more organized than myself.  Everything he did, exuded a kind of formal self-pride that’s unknown  in the parts I’ve grown up and lived in.  On the first morning after his arrival, he insisted on making both of our beds, saying that he grew up in a boarding school. He shined his dress shoes, belt and any other piece of leather that he wore. Daily. At the end of the week he stated that he couldn’t wait to go back to Africa. “I see” was all I could think to respond.

One evening he joined as a group of seminar participants camped out in a park near the WTO. Taking in the view of the lake and the mountains beyond. Many of us had the intention of imbibing heavily. He didn’t.

jet d eau

In Keepers of the Stone, I — as the third person omniscient narrator — am often questioning of Jurgen and his closed-minded, essentialized worldview.  He looks down on Stas, simply because of his sub-altern upbringing.

When writing my novels, I did research regarding the locations that my characters go to in the country. Yet, I was unprepared for the reality of actually spending a week in Switzerland — as it turned out — with a African roommate.

We hold the regions we aspire to dear. That means all of us have a dark side. This remains true, no matter what those places are.  On this trip I learned how narrow the gap between closed and open mindedness can be. From both the northern and southern hemispheres. And that — like it or not — showed me that our own biases still exist regarding various parts of the world that we’ve barely been to. Or, know little about.  Maybe my roommate was right. We all choose our own homes.P1070641

For my own part, I like Europe.  And recently, I found myself in Switzerland —  a country I always thought would look down on myself — justifying it.  To one I never thought it would need defending from.

Iași, Romania: And the Historicity of Inspiration

As an independent author of historical fantasy fiction, I’ve got a problem. And no. I don’t mean the task of writing copy that there’s no guarantee many people are ever going to read.
It has to do with that feeling. You know. That utter consternation you experience when the buildings, streets, or monuments you want to feature in a story were constructed right after the timeframe your novels are set in?

No? Well, let me explain it to you.

P1070622

Like this one? The Palace of Culture in Iași, Romania.

Recently, on a trip to Iași, I gained my newest full dose of this exact emotion.

My novels are set in the late 1880’s, with my recent trilogy, Keepers of the Stone, taking place between 1886-7.

Iași figures prominently in the sequel trilogy to Keepers — Voyages of Fortune — which I’m currently writing. It’s partly set about two years later, in 1889. The Moldavian town serves as the headquarters of a evil gypsy camp. The constitutive rival of our Roma protagonists in Keepers: Book Three. I got the idea for the setting from my first trip to Iași in 2015. It was here that I attended my first academic conference, arriving after a flight to Bucharest and then a nine hour train ride clear across Romania (By the way, actually recommended).

Romania Train

Near Iași, two years ago

Going to a place once and then deciding to write a book that’s  partially set there are two totally different things.

I’d been able to get my British university to fund my attendance at the 2017 meeting of the Alexandru Ioan Cuza University’s international EURINT conference. Its held every year Iași and has been one of the smallest but most useful I’ve attended. This time, I arrived from Brussels via Vienna on an Austrian Air flight directly to Iași’s international airport. For my encore visit, I was going to present a paper. But, I also had a secret mission: on the ground research for my books’ setting in period Iași.

photo (1)

The amount of things I thought I knew — and was wrong about — shocked me. Some worked for my story. I had to find ways around others.  For instance, today’s main strolling street that runs between Piața Mihai Eminescu and Piața Unirii would have been considered a slum during the time period I’m writing about. In my case that works in favor of the story. Especially considering who the villains are. The nearby esplanade makes a nice tie-in:

esplanade Iasi

Other problems proved harder to work out.  Writing historically set fiction in the era I do,  I’ve ran into this exact problem time and again. Its annoying. Buildings I want to feature tend to be uncannily built just after the time frame I’m writing about. In Keepers, this was notably the case with Antwerp’s famous train station, and the San Francisco ferry terminal. Originally, I’d planned to feature descriptions of  them. Except they weren’t built until a decade or more after. So, no can do.  Iași proved to be a continuation of this rule.  The national theater — the first in modern Romania — the present day City Hall and the Palace of Culture (in its more present form) all were built in the 1890’s or later.

P1070617

Iași’s theater: built too late for my books

Sometimes there’s not much you can do about this problem. In other cases, there is. During my travel to Iași from Brussels, I had a three hour layover in Vienna. I used it to bang out the ending of the second book in Voyages of Fortune. In it, the protagonists are herded into an entrance of an extra-temporal realm called the Invisible Circus. Though they start out in Iași. From my first visit to the city, I know the specific setting was inspired by a square next to the cathedral — which would have been newly renovated circa 1889.

P1070619

And, apparently,  is still being renovated circa 2017

Despite present day the environs of the adjacent square being communist-era in appearance, ancient-looking ruins are recessed into the place’s underground. Upon my initial visit the walls looked to me as if they’d originated from antiquity. Yet, they’re underground stone basement remnants that only date from the middle ages. The ruins weren’t uncovered until after World War Two. In either case, during the modern era, the antiquated basements house a rather cool subterranean bar.

Hole in the ground bar.

Its a hole in the wall. Literally.

At least that’s the official story. But,  what if those ruins — in what then would have been the city’s worst slum  —  had been uncovered and then filled in over a century ago? When I went back to editing, that’s what now happens in my next trilogy.

Other chronographic dilemmas are more difficult to resolve. For instance: the current location of Iași’s Palace of Culture has been a palace of something-or-other for centuries. Proving exactly what state of repair it would have been in, despite my second trip, remains an ongoing task.

P1070624

Present day view from the Palace of Culture’s balcony

At times, returning to a place that’s inspired you creates hurdles. In other instances inspiration strikes. On my way back to Iași’s airport, the cab moved down a hill through a thick forest. Then, it exited into a wide canon. It’s now diked with a dam. However, I knew this clearing would have to serve as a location in Voyages of Fortune. I just drafted the opening of its third book. And that’s where its set.

Setting stories in certain periods can be frustrating. But its also rewarding. So is travel. My second trip to Iași showed how true that can be. And also proved the inspiration that can come from visiting a place in a different way,  for a second time.

Belarus: Europe’s Last Outcast

Thanks to the 272 people who entered to receive one of five free kindle editions of Keepers of the Stone: Book One: The Outcasts and congrats to the five winners! Its still only $2.99 and available Here.

I’m also giving away Ten free copies of the entire Keepers of the Stone trilogy Here on Goodreads!

Here’s a post on Belarus — Europe’s last Outcast — to celebrate:

Europe’s last dictatorship. The North Korea of the EU’s neighborhood. A time capsule from the USSR. We’ve all heard labels like these tossed about. None of them make Belarus like sound like the next hot travel destination. It probably isn’t. Yet, precisely because this makes it the outcast of the continent,  it’s been at the top of my list for a while now.

When I heard that the country had relaxed its visa requirements — allowing citizens of the EU, the US and Canada, among others, the right to visit the country visa free for five days — I jumped to book a flight. At the same time I was nervous about how I would be treated in such a closed off society.

P1070629

Five days in Belarus: No visa required

 

I prepared for the trip more than I do for most. I made a folder, detailing all of my accommodations and my entire itinerary. This included passport copies,  plane flights, hotel reservations and even a Russian language press release from the Belorussian president’s office explaining why I had the right to be in the country with no visa. I’m happy to report that this never came in handy. In fact, the locals were friendly. More than that.  From the man that invited me on board his minivan back to Minsk, to the bus driver who was ecstatic meet an American in an subway barbershop, they were curious.

But, before I go any further extolling the virtues of Belarus, a word to the wise:

I am an experienced traveler who’s been to almost sixty countries. I speak survival Russian in addition to fluent Polish and intermediate Slovene (Slavic languages related to Russian). If you don’t read Cyrillic, don’t even think about going it alone. You won’t be able to get around. If it’s your first time abroad and you’re looking for a place to go in central-east Europe, try Vienna, Budapest or Krakow. Belarus is a trip in more than one sense.P1070490

Beyond that, if  you think the visa waiver is going to allow you to visit the whole country? Think again.  Five days means exactly that. From the date your passport is stamped at entry to the date stamped at exit. That mean’s three full days. Belarus is a country roughly the size of the UK with slightly worse transit connections. Most of its cities, besides the centrally located capital of Minsk,  are practically on the border with other countries. Because the visa waiver rules require that you enter and leave via Minsk International Airport, your options will be limited by what’s a day trip or overnight distance from the capital.P1070467

That said, in light of these conditions, I had a blast!  As I hinted at above, one of the first things that impressed me was the trusting friendliness of the people. You’ll be required to purchase health insurance from the national provider before clearing passport control. Payment is excepted in US dollars or Euro. That’s it. My  Belavia flight from Brussels (CRL) arrived in early afternoon.  When I was told that my five day stay would cost six Euro and paid in exact change, the receptionist grinned broadly, stating  in fluent English (this was the last time basically anyone spoke English to me):  “You are the first customer to make me smile all day. All morning people have been trying to pay in Yuan and Lira.” This is one thing I love about the former USSR. When someone smiles at you it’s not ‘customer service’ BS. Its genuine.

The amount of times situations like this happened to me in Belarus made the country stand in contrast to the other three post-USSR states I’ve visited: Russia, Moldova and Ukraine. There the people trust no one. They volunteer absolutely no unnecessary information. In Belarus, people seem to almost naively trust in the honestly of others.

I was met by my host and driven to the apartment I’d rented for my first two nights in Minsk (via booking.com; Tripadvisor is not widely used in Belarus). Upon arrival — speaking a mix of Polish and Russian —  I was told to pay cash for the first two nights. The third, after my overnight in Mir, would be worked out upon return. I agreed. The specifics were never discussed.

That evening I headed to Minsk’s famous opera house. I’m a huge opera fan. When I learned I could come to Minsk visa free, I planned the trip to coincide with a bit of something I like to call “operatic tourism”. In this case, productions of the National Academic Bolshoi Theater’s Turandot (my favorite opera and the partial inspiration for one of the plot lines in the trilogy I’m currently writing), as well as Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades. Both were lavish performances with the production values low on technology, but using a seemingly endless surplus of extras. Whereas in the West, the leads are expected to act their parts to the hilt, in Minsk the scene is played with an almost stereotypical static poise. One that focuses on the singing. In Turandot, the leads — imported from St. Petersburg and Astana — kicked some serious vocal behind. The price is an attractive factor too: At both operas I had a front-and-center ground-floor seat for about 10-15 EUR.

 

P1070473

THIS was the view from my seat! For ten Euros!

 

P1070486

Flag holders here aren’t chorus or dancers. They’re just there to hold the flag. That’s it.

Belarus is often billed as a time capsule. This is partially true. And its partially why I went.  But, recently it has taken some limited steps to open up to the West. If you’ve heard stories about a country where there’s no advertising except for Soviet-style propaganda?  That’s going away.  I saw  what were clearly commercial advertisements. They still co-exist alongside propaganda-ish announcements in a type of dual system.

At the Belorussian State Museum of the Great Patriotic War (WWII), the Hammer and Sickle is still proudly flown. But, I can’t help the feeling it’s on the out.  If you’re someone that wants to see it before its gone? Go. And go soon.

P1070529P1070533

The department store under the former Lenin square (name changed after unwitting independence from USSR)  is no exception. There aren’t many globalized brands… for now. That’s changing already. And it’s changing fast.

P1070508

From Minsk I boarded a bus to Mir.  A  small town in the Grodno region, with  a UNESCO World Heritage  castle. I checked into the nicest hotel in town, Mirskiy Posiad, for about 45 EUR a night. No English spoken. Unexpectedly, cash Belarusian Rubles only. This left me short on local currency. Changing money at the local bank proved easy. In basically every country I’ve been to, people perfunctorily only change money into or out of the national currency. Yet, in Mir, Belarus, the woman seemed emphatic about making sure I received the transaction I’d intended (Russian Rubles, Euro’s  or Pounds Sterling were all options) even despite the language barrier.

P1070608

Mir Castle on the 50 Ruble banknote.

Money changed, I set to seeing Mir castle. Largely owned by the Radziwiłłs:  A clan magnates in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth — another of which, the Lubomirskis, figure prominently in my books — the place is an imposing labyrinth of parapeted staircases and chambers. Most of the exhibits consist of photocopies of original documents that are held in Warsaw.

The castle complex was impressive. But I couldn’t help notice: the homes directly on the opposite side of the road from castle seemed to have little interest in renting out rooms. The only other tourists I saw besides myself were from Russia. Frankly I enjoyed it. It’s not every day you get to go to such a major sight that’s so far off the beaten track.

Back in Minsk, I found myself waiting in front of the outside door to the flat I’d rented. About fifteen minutes late, my landlady pulled up un a brand new Toyota Rav4, after I’d emailed her specially about how to re-gain entrance to her flat. “I thought you’d just keep the keys,” She told me. The woman knew about my overnight excursion, though she hadn’t asked for any proof of it.

P1070513

“But I haven’t payed you for the third night, yet,” I responded.

“I thought you’d just leave the money when you came back,” She shrugged.  It was as if my assumption of her untrusting-ness had caused the misunderstanding.

I left Belarus wondering if Europe’s Outcast has something that West could learn from.

Win Keepers of the Stone!

Enter below for a chance to win a free Kindle copy of Keepers of the Stone: Book One: The Outcasts, until July 15th here: http://amzn.to/2t54bOZ

I’m also giving away ten copies of the entire Keepers of the Stone Trilogy On Goodreads!. Enter to win until 20 July!

Book One

In a far corner of the British Empire, a mysterious girl gallops away on a horse, fleeing for her life. Malka has sacrificed everything to protect an all-powerful stone from falling into the hands of the malevolent Urumi. Raised by a Sect of thieves, the girl is a trained killer. But will her lethal skills be enough to defeat the Shadow Warriors and their superhuman abilities?

The fate of the stone may depend on Stas, a courageous youth born into exile from a country that is not on any map. Nell, his friend since childhood, has been caught up in the Shadow Warriors’ designs. The young outcasts must confront demons, real and imagined, with the help of mystical new allies. Their journey will take them to distant lands and alter history’s future.

Chapter 2: Stas: A Paragon of Polishness?

If you’ve read the previous post about the prologue, you already know that the backstory in Keepers of the Stone is partially inspired by  the characters of Stas and Nell as well as their adventures in  Henryk Sienkiewicz’s  In Desert and in Wilderness, a rather iconic work of Polish literature.

In chapter two of Keepers, we meet  Stas Tarkowski — one of these two characters, for the first time. There’s no  need to have read Sienkiewicz’s book in order to enjoy Keepers, or his character. Instead, with this post, I seek to provide some optional context for what in Keepers is Stas’s backstory. In what follows I (by no means exhaustively) trace the evolution of the character over the past century-plus. The continued dissonance between his identity conceptions and upbringing influenced what I set out to accomplish with his persona in Keepers of the Stone.

Ever since I first read In Desert and in Wilderness, Stas’s situation always struck me as somewhat ironic. Sienkiewicz presents Stas as the paragon of Polish youth, despite the fact that the entire novel takes place in Africa. Stas often treats colonial subjects and their customs in a dismissive manner even though  Poland — ostensibly ‘his’ country — was basically colonized by Germany, Russia and Austro-Hungary at the time the original work was penned. Perhaps unsurprisingly,  Stas comes off as more than a bit chauvinistic and racist by modern standards. The novel was a product of its time: written in 1911 about Africa circa 1885.

Africa 1885

Africa, 1885 — Stas would have grown up during the beginnings of colonial division.

In more modern times, the original novel has been adapted as a film twice. In 1973 and  again in 2001. In both instances, this aspect of Stas’s behavior was walked back considerably. And, understandably so. However,  it’s  also where most of his almost comic-heroicness comes from. Without it he seems like just another boy. Albeit one who keeps getting incredibly lucky. This guts the character.

So, when reading Stas, Nell and the lost Jewel of India, I was interested to see how the issues of colonialism and post-colonialism would be addressed, by someone writing a new story about  Stas and Nell in the modern day. Rather ironically, here Stas does take issue with his un-equal treatment by colonial Britons. However, the novel deals with the tension between global south colonialism and Stas’s own identity-based worldview by almost studiously avoiding it.

Still, there was one scene, which I mention in chapter two of Keepers:  Stas and Malka  are discussing their own national origins during a moonlit night on a Madras beachfront. Stas mentions that he’s never been to Europe. This surprised me. Especially given his often nationalistic portrayal, it got me thinking:  Has he? And if he hasn’t, how Polish — or even European — does that make Stas, really?

Indian Empire

British Indian Empire a bit after the time Stas moved there; where our action begins. Even if it’s by proxy of vassal princely states, the British rule the roost.

 

Going back to Sienkiewicz’s original book we discover an answer after only the first few pages:

Stas, the exemplar of Polishness, is a refugee child.  He’s only half Polish by blood. Born and raised in Egypt, he has, indeed,  never even been to Europe.  Though Sienkiewicz  does note these facts with a subtle sort of irony, Stas remains staunchly proud of his Polish national background throughout the entire novel . Living in a place that has very few European residents, Stas has never needed to confront the dissonance between his own conceptions and the likely reality of his place in the world. It is likely, he would be very reluctant to do so without a compelling reason, because of the cognitive dissonance that would possibly result.

However, the dissonance remains. In the modern era it’s much harder to ignore. The puzzle that I set out to address in Keepers of the Stone is as follows: What if Stas was brought to confront this disconnect head on?  How would he reconcile his own righteously moral worldview with the realities of colonialism, Poland’s partitionings and things beyond his ability to explain? In which ways might he be able to confront who his upbringing has made him, while still remaining a compelling exemplar of Polish nationhood?

partitioned Poland

Central Eastern Europe, 1885: No Place for Poland; very far away from Africa or India.

 

In the process of asking these questions, I set out the task of attempting wrestle this beloved character of Polish literature into ‘making sense,’ as  a paragon of Polishness for the 21st century.  As we first meet him in chapter two of Keepers, he begins a new soul-searching and real world journey. One in which he is finally forced to confront the fundamental truth about who he is and where that journey will take him.

On a less theoretical note, the Southern India Railways as well as the 1863 Polish rebellion against the Russia mentioned in the chapter are historical. Also, there’s a reason why I don’t mention the headmaster of Stas’s school by name. It’s given  in Stas, Nell and the Lost Jewel of India.  The double entendre doesn’t hold up in the original Polish, so I’m not sure if this was intentional. But, its Bates.

Chapter 1: The Girl on the Horse

This was the first chapter I wrote for Keepers of the Stone. I hadn’t been expecting to at all.  Shortly after, finishing Leszek Talko’s Stas, Nell and the Lost Jewel of India, I took a walk in Coventry, England, where I was living at the time. In it’s final scene, Malka gallops away from two of the other characters (who we shall come to know in Keepers as Stas and Mungo)  on a horse. She’s disguised as her deceased sister: a nun from a Catholic order in French India.  Yet, as she does this, Malka’s persona and origins are left an almost complete mystery — annoyingly so. I really wanted to find out who she was, damnit! With this in mind, I found myself standing in front of the Lady Godiva statue in Coventry’s main square. Looking down, I read the inscription on it’s base’s right side :

Lady Godiva statue

The statue that inspired it all….

In that instant, I had my answer. I knew who she was, where she would go, and what might have happened to Stas and Nell following their adventures in Africa and India. When I least expected it, providence handed me the burning inspiration to tell their farther story. I knew that I had to.

Now for a few notes regarding Malka’s Sect:

The Thags did exist historically. The name Thag (pronounced something like t-ha’g) is Hindi. If it looks somewhat familiar to you that’s not a coincidence. The modern English word ‘thug’ was derived from it, but initially referred specifically to this cult of thieves. The accepted modern name for them is actually ‘Thuggee.’  Yet, I decided to continue Talko’s convention of using the Hindi word,  if for no other reason than I can’t help breaking into laughter when I hear the modern version. Thug, of course, has taken on its own meaning.

Thugs

The continued existence of Malka’s camp as the only remaining group of Thag’s (at least, before our main action begins) is a bit of a ‘what if’ counterfactual.  In reality, the British colonial government was largely successful in wiping out most camps of Thags by the 1850’s, either by capturing members of the cult, or by infiltrating groups of Thags from the outside.

By some accounts, the Thag’s did worship a Hindu goddess named Kali, who is sometimes depicted as black in appearance. However, owing to fact that there is a character from In Desert and in Wilderness by the same name, I again opted to keep convention (started by Talko, I suspect for the same reason)  of referring to the deity that Malka’s Sect worships as Shakti — the feminine energy behind the goddess.

Kali

Kali: not quite the same as Shakti

The manner in which the Thags in Malka’s camp make physical offerings to their Black Goddess is also fictional. But, it was inspired by how a certain other effigy is venerated. And — just  possibly —  meant to  foreshadow  some of the developments to come….

Chapter 0: The Play behind the Prologue

This was actually the second-to-last chapter I wrote for the entire Keepers Trilogy. I knew I needed some way to explain the main plot points that were implied to have gone on before the action that constitutes KOS. Of course, doing so would  make for a challenging introduction. I knew that. But, without this explicit context, some later plot developments and references would seem confusing, or have less effect to for uninitiated reader.  Other than simply summarizing these points through something like a historian’s note — which beyond seeming somewhat contrived and complicated is more than slightly dry — I wasn’t sure how to go about it. Until inspiration struck:

I was back in Los Angles, visiting family. They I took me to Temecula for the weekend to see a play, entitled ‘Equivocation’, by Bill Cain. It was about Shakespeare’s ostensible process of drafting Macbeth.  There were more actors in the play than there were members of the audience.  It was the best work I saw all summer.

‘Equivocation:’ the play that inspired the prologue. Shakespeare in the Vines festival, Temecula.

In the final soliloquy, the character of the bard’s daughter speaks of stories — the ones we tell when we think that no one is watching —  relating that the preceding play had been her own.  It was suddenly as if one of my own characters was speaking to me, in the persona of the character on stage: Keepers of the Stone was her story.

I walked away from that play in a daze. Unable to sleep that night, I realized that a paradigm shift was required. To stop thinking of Keepers of the Stone as a continuation of preceding developments from In Desert and in Wilderness and Stas, Nell and the Lost Jewel of India. To start viewing the story told in Keepers as the main action. Just one with a rich and involved backstory. One that is explained in the form of a  prologue, which as we shall see (notice its title: Future’s Prologue), itself becomes an integral point of the main plot. Still a bit dense? Maybe. But that’s the nature of the beast: it provides the basic bones of the characters’ backgrounds,  which are then clearly present to be embellished as the story develops. And that makes things easier in the long run. All shall be revealed.

Just go with it….