can’t imagine my life absent the inspiring magic of good stories and good
storytellers. In fact, this blog is largely devoted to making an appropriate
fuss over the yarn-spinners of yore. Through periodic author
interviews, I also celebrate contemporary practitioners of this most
magical of arts.--Dan Pollock)
his website G.
J. Berger recalls when, at the age of eight, “his mom told him the story of
Hannibal crossing the Alps with elephants and a great army. He asked her what
happened to Hannibal after that. Mom didn’t know, but he was hooked, had to
find out, had to write about it.”
result is a series of richly envisioned historical novels set in Roman times,
full of adrenalizing adventure and the fascinating texture of daily life in
another age. The first of these, South of Burnt Rocks – West of the Moon, tells
the epic story of Lavena, a young Iberian-Celtic “she-warrior” who makes a stand
against an invading Roman army.
tale makes for about as exciting historical fiction as I can recall, with the
kind of cinematic set-pieces I relish in the works of Rafael Sabatini and C. S.
Forester. I use the term “cinematic” advisedly—Burnt Rocks has major big-screen
potential; without too much tongue in cheek, I’d pitch it as Gladiator Meets
Thelma and Louise.
let’s cut to the chase—my interview with G. J. Berger.
|G. J. Berger in a reconstructed Iberian village.|
What about it? Have you thought of pitching your intrepid “she-warrior” to
Hollywood? If not, why not?
Others have said they see it as a movie. And that’s a common line among readers
these days of almost any interesting fiction. We are much more a movie culture
than book culture. I did not think of it as a movie while writing it. But I
have heard writers say that script writing is good training for novel
writing--helps in dialogue, scene setting and keeping a good pace.
Whom do you see as your leading lady?
I guess I’d need to search for Jennifer Lawrence’s younger sister..
What led you to make your main character a girl?
In 2008, I had a charming agent. After she sent my first historical off to
editors, we mused about what next. I told her of my fascination with the tribal
warriors who resisted the plundering might of Rome. She said, “Sure, but make
your MC a woman. Far more women buy books about women than the other way
around.” After a moment’s pause, I said, “I can make that work. I’ll write
about his daughter.” And the main character is indeed the daughter of the
tribal leader I had envisioned then.
D.P.: You have many strong women characters – exceptionally so. Will this be
characteristic of the prequels and sequels in this saga you are telling?
No, at least not intentionally. The prequel has one very strong female MC, but
the hero is a boy who grows up fast.
When you were a schoolboy, perhaps reading Caesar’s Commentaries, did your
imagination take flight?
I did not take Latin or read Caesar’s Commentaries. But I’ve always been drawn
to works about powerful figures of the past—fictionalized or real. At age
eleven, I devoured The Mutiny on the Bounty trilogy.
What are some of your favorite source works for the Roman era?
Translations of historical writings from back then. The work of Polybius has
been helpful, though he was a Greek captured by Rome. There’s a wonderful
series of "Daily Life" books by various authors on ancient people and
places (India, Rome, Greece, etc.).
|Australian writer Markus Suzak|
What writers have influenced your writing most?
My mother, Markus Suzak, Jack London, Cormac McCarthy, Nikos Kazantzakis and
others. Suzak says he tries to give the reader something special on every page.
My mom, paraphrasing Goethe, said good writing “reaches into the full human
life and grabs hold.” All men, I notice, with the notable exception of my mom.
I must pick up one of the Twilight books or Fifty Shades of Gray—but then I
wouldn’t have the foggiest what to do with it.
Let's skate past that one. What books are you reading now?
I recently finished The Kiss, a novel by poet Adrienne Silcock, which takes the
reader on a journey of the soul as its four main characters discover who they
are--and who they can never become. Then I read your Lair of the Fox, which wraps
heroes and villains into an intense conflict straight out of a good James Bond film.
In between those, I finished Grisham’s The Client.
Thanks for the plug—in fact, I’m definitely going to quote you. What other
kinds of things do you read for pleasure?
Sports Illustrated and almost anything. Good writing transports the reader to places,
people and times without the reader’s awareness. I’m often surprised by fine
writing and good stories previously unknown to me--and disappointed by best
Do you write from a plot outline or do you prefer to let your characters lead
I start with my main character in a specific place, about to do or experience
something that I’ve been thinking about in all its details. I begin with the
first few words. Those words push out the next. The last sentence I’ve written pushes
out the next. The characters don’t lead me. For my historical novels the major
events do frame my story and characters, and I try to stay true to the tides of
When do you write?
No set time.
Do you log your daily output?
Not in a direct sense. But I get antsy when I’m not on pace to complete the
novel in roughly two years after the very first word. I have learned one trick
to make each writing session productive. I try never to quit a writing session
unless I’ve got the next sentence, paragraph or even scene in my head and ready
to put to paper. That lets me open the computer in my next writing session and
plunge ahead without staring at a blank screen.
Great advice! How many hours does it usually take to make your daily output?
My meter does not measure a daily output,
though one good page a day, every day, is a worthy goal. That yields a
close-to-finished novel in about one year.
Do you research on the fly?
G.J.: For tiny details, yes. If I suddenly need to
know how a farm implement works, I’ll research that as I go. For larger points—village
life in times past, religious beliefs—I might spend months reading everything I
can get my hands on before I dare write about it.
How much time do you allot to marketing?
No set amount of time. But my marketing senses are always on alert for
opportunities to help other writers or to participate in conferences or groups.
The best marketing for me has come from friends and other writers whom I have
encouraged or perhaps helped on their way.
Do you write in public (Starbucks, say) or strictly in private?
I’ve never written in any public place—nor
would I, unless I was writing a scene taking place at a Starbucks. For me, solitude
works best for writing, a terribly selfish, reclusive and unfriendly endeavor.
Do you write on more than one (fiction) project at a time? Can you juggle?
I have bounced from project to project,
but I don’t like to.
Do you jump around in your narrative or write straight through?
Straight through, but the very next sentence may cause a change 100 pages
earlier, and I’ll go back and make the change as I go. In my recently published
novel, the original beginning now sits about seventy pages in. I had to add
more about the heroine’s young life before my original point of beginning, but
that realization came after I was well into it.
Have you always wanted to write?
G.J.: My single mom wrote as much as she could, and
that made it easy and accepted for me to write at an early age. Later, I
discovered that writing—any creative activity—is both fun and relaxing.
Are there other genres you’d like to explore?
Though my first published novel is a historical and the next likely will be
another, my first finished novel was a psychological thriller. I expect that historicals
and thrillers will fill up all my writing time.
Thank you, G.J. Berger!
three great wars, Rome has crushed Carthage. Now the undefended riches of
Iberia beckon: gold, tin, olives, wine, and healthy young bodies to enslave.
Burnt Rocks tells the story of Lavena, last child of the strongest remaining
Iberian tribal leader at a time when Rome plunders and loots her land. Based on
real characters and events, Burnt Rocks recreates that shadowy
J. spent much of his young life on the road and at sea. often working as a crew
member on a tramp steamer. Wherever his travels took him, old walls, canals,
even storage holes deep in the ground, made him wonder about how they got
there, about the people who built them, how they lived and got along.
not writing, G. J. tries to roam around the places he writes about, likes to
sit and soak up the times back then and bring them to modern life in his
stories. G. J. is convinced that for all the changes in last 2000 years, people
loved and hated, suffered and rejoiced, destroyed and built the same ways then
as they do today.