When G. J. was 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.
G. 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.
The result is this and two other novels-to-be wherein the places, the history, even some of the “Burnt Rocks” characters do and did exist.
When 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.
G. J. lives in San Diego with his favorite grammarian and English Professor.
Stephanie: Hello, George! Welcome to Layered Pages! I am delighted to be chatting with you today and congrats on winning the B.R.A.G. Medallion. Please tell me about your book, South of Burnt Rocks West of the Moon.
George: Several of my readers have said it reminds them of The Hunger Games—in a good way. And better yet, it’s mostly true. Though it takes place more than 2000 years ago, the locations, many of characters, the implements of daily life, the background history are portrayed as they were then.
The Imperial Power of that day and time was all-mighty Rome. It looted its neighbors’ property; it enslaved all healthy bodies (or worse); it slaughtered all resistance.
Iberia, modern Spain and Portugal, too fell victim to Rome. At that time Iberian Celts were the main people in that beautiful and productive land. After Rome crushed Carthage, the land and people of Iberia had no great power to protect them. In wave after wave of conscripted armies, wealthy Romans invaded and looted Iberia, sometimes imposed crushing treaties, other times simply took everything of value and returned in triumphant to Rome with their bounty.
But the Iberian Celts were not hapless. They were good and clever fighters, excellent farmers and sailors. Most Celts fought naked—better for fast movements and to avoid septic wounds from old grimy clothes and rusty armor.
Celtic women held a higher place than in other societies of the time. The strongest and most talented women fought side-by-side with their men.
The hero of my novel is such a woman. “South of Burnt Rocks” tells the story of Lavena, last child of the strongest remaining Iberian tribal leader. She must grow up fast and use all her cunning and courage to survive each day. At times helped only by her father’s favourite dog, a special horse, or guided by spirits of the earth and sky, she strives to unite her people and oust the Roman menace.
Stephanie: What was your inspiration for this story?
George: In some reading about ancient people for another novel, I ran across a photograph of a dying Celtic warrior who had fought against Rome. His look, his almost naked body, the power of him even while his life ebbed away stuck with me. I wanted to write his story. One of my writer friends suggested I make the main character a woman for more universal appeal. So that warrior’s daughter become my heroine, Lavena. He too has a very large role in “South of Burnt Rocks”.
Stephanie: How much research was involved?
George: I think I’ve spent more time reading, going to places, checking and double checking than actually writing the story. But it’s not really research—not like real research in a medical lab injecting mice and measuring the effects, or in a science facility creating sub-atomic particles. My “research” is a lot of interesting reading and visiting and a bit of talking to others who know the time and place better than I. I have climbed around some of the remaining fortress walls, houses, baths, paths, rivers and forests where “South of Burnt Rocks” rolls out.
Stephanie: Tell me about Lavena. What are her strengths and weaknesses?
George: We meet Lavena when she is eleven years old. She knows that, as the daughter of the region’s leader, she is privileged, and she soon realizes that she’s physically gifted. But she also grows up at a time and society where most girls/women marry soon after puberty, bear children and help their men in all activities of life. She’s not able to pursue that path—not as the future leader of her tribe, not with the crushing might of one more Roman army bearing down on her village. She also feels less than up to the task, fears that she’s respected only because she is her father’s daughter—until circumstances she can’t control make her grow up fast and become the greatest She Warrior of her time.
Stephanie: How long did it take to write your story?
George: Two years for a pretty good first draft—then years of polishing.
Stephanie: Was there any challenges along the way?
George: Nothing extraordinary or not known by other writers. Writing is both lonely and selfish. Writing forces one to shut out everyone and everything. That’s hard for the writer, for family, for colleagues.
The route of self-publishing does require great attention to many details, but that too is well known to other writers. My greatest fear was not so much that my story would hold together, would be captivate the reader from first page to last line, but that my books might contain production problems—a missed line here, an extra word there and so on. Another writer friend published by a “smaller” publisher discovered months after her book was out that the publisher had omitted an entire chapter! Those concerns were constant until my first readers found only a handful of tiny typos, each of the kind that the eye-mind ignores or does not even spot, and are easily corrected in the next upload.
Stephanie: What do you like most about Roman History?
George: The history of Rome’s adversaries. Plenty enough has been written and portrayed in other mediums and preserved about Rome. But really not much at all about the people Rome destroyed along the way.
Stephanie: Is this your first publish work?
Stephanie: How did you discover indieBRAG?
George: A writer friend suggested it.
Stephanie: Where can readers buy your book?
George: All usual places. Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords. It’s available in hard cover, soft cover, and e-book formats.
Thanks so much for what you do and for indieBRAG!
GJ Berger’s Website
Stephanie: Thank you, George!
A message from BRAG:
We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview GJ Berger, who is the author of, South of Burnt Rocks: West of The Moon, one of our medallion honorees at indieBRAG . To be awarded a B.R.A.G. MedallionTM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, South of Burnt Rocks: West of The Moon merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.