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 water, on ocean liners in steerage or working as a crew member on a tramp steamer. Wherever his travels took him, old walls, canals, storage holes deep in the ground made him wonder about how they got there, about the people who put them there, how they lived and got along. The result is this novel, one other on the way to publication, and a third in G. J.’s writing head. The places, the tides of history, some of the characters in South of Burnt Rocks West of the Moon are all as they were, but have never been portrayed in any depth.
For more on G.J. Berger and South of Burnt Rocks West of the Moon read on!
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. They visit their two sons and grandson as often as the kids will have them.
South of Burnt Rocks West of the Moon
After 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. She must grow up fast and use all her cunning and courage to survive each day. At times helped only by her father’s favorite dog, a special horse, or guided by spirits of the earth and sky, she strives to unite her people and oust the Roman menace. Based on real characters, places, and events, “Burnt Rocks” recreates that shadowy history–and eternal human nature rubbed raw.
Now on to G.J.’s interview!
Maer: Thank you so much for joining us today, G.J., to tell us about your fascinating new book. Your novel takes place in Iberia, about two thousand years ago. How much time did you spend in research before you got into actually writing the novel?
G.J.: I’ve had an interest in that time, in some of the giants out of that past, since I was a young boy, read something about it, then read deeper, then started to write. For Burnt Rocks, I already had a good idea of the land, the people, even some of the characters from an earlier finished but unpublished novel. So I was able to more or less plunge in without too much specific up front research. But during the writing, often every word, name, sentence must be checked against the writings and research of people who have made that time and place their life’s work and know far more than I do. And I was fortunate to have traipsed around the region where this novel takes place.
Maer: How much of Burnt Rocks is real history as opposed to your own invented history?
G.J.: The places, the way people lived, the names, the clothes, food, and animals are all as they were then–at least as far as I could glean from all sources. All the main historical characters and major historical events are real. My main character, her family, their village, and the ordinary people around them are of my own invention. But even these are patterned after descriptions of how ordinary people lived in those places back then two thousand years ago.
Maer: I cut my reading teeth on historical fiction, so it’s has a special place in my heart. What first attracted you to writing historical fiction?
G.J.: As long as I can remember I’ve been interested in how present-day people and places evolved to where they are today. I’m not sure why. Neither of my parents was much of history buff, nor anyone close to us. But I was easily hooked. One example: As a young man, I worked on a tramp steam ship around the Mediterranean. On a day hike in the coastal hills of Turkey, a shepherd girl pointed to something in the ground next to her that I could not see until I stood over it. It looked like just a deep hole in the ground. Later I learned that this was likely an opening to a storage hold deep in the ground containing supplies for armies of four thousand years ago. The opening was located so only those who knew where it was could find it again. I’ll write about that someday too.
Maer: Could you give our readers a one line synopsis for your book?
G.J.: Young Iberian-Celtic she-warrior takes a stand against a Roman army that has slaughtered her people and plundered her land.
Maer: Which character, other than your MC, was one of your favorites to write and why?
G.J.: Her best childhood friend, Aunia, who is burdened with a cleft palate. In those days, serious birth defects were not much tolerated. But Aunia is so smart, so much older than her age, that most who get to know her are smitten, not only let her live but seek her counsel.
Maer: The phrase “Burnt Rocks” is fascinating in the title. How and why did you choose that?
G.J.: It was a hard time, in a hard place. The Romans burned much after they finished plundering. In addition, the locals called their biggest mountain range Burnt Rocks. We know them as the Pyrenees, the range that separates France from Spain.
Maer: Part I of your novel is titled “The She-Warrior”. Were they real or your own invention?
G.J.: The Celts were a fascinating people. Most of what we know about them is from the writings of others–Greeks and Romans. The Romans wrote about the Celtic women warriors who fought side-by-side with their men. Some historians discount these stories, but most acknowledge that Celtic women were far more the equal of men than the women in other major societies of the time. By the way, the Celts ranged from the British Isles all the way to Asia Minor.
Maer: G.J., who are your favorite authors to read?
G.J.: Cormac McCarthy, Marcus Zusak, Jack London, James Fennimore Cooper. As I write this answer, I realize not one woman is on the list. I’m not sure why. Must pick up 50 Shades of Gray.
Maer: That would definitely be a departure from your other reading. G.J., can you share a bit with us about your current project?
G.J.: It’s the prequel to Burnt Rocks, the story of Hannibal’s invasion of Rome down from Alps in the north. He gathered up for his army many Celtic fighters, including the then young father of the main character of Burnt Rocks.
Maer: Another ambitious project that I’m sure you will conquer. What do you do when you’re not writing?
G.J.: Travel, mostly for “research”, work out to keep back the tides of time, work at my day job that takes me into the court room once in a while to tell different kinds of stories, hang out with my wonderful English professor wife and favorite grammarian.
Maer: G.J., again thank you so very much for taking the time to visit with us today. Do you have anything you’d like to add?
G.J.: Thanks for doing this. I am honored, and it was fun.