With much pleasure, today I welcome to my blog author Wayne Turmel and his new novel, Acre’s Bastard. Wayne has a colorful and interesting background which you can read about here and that culminates in his now writing historical fiction. Acre’s Bastard is his second in the genre. For my Canadian readers, know that Wayne originates from Canada where he was a stand-up comedian in Yuk Yuks back in the eighties and now lives near Chicago. Let’s just jump into Wayne’s writing life!
Elaine Cougler: When we talked about you guesting on my blog as an interviewee with your new book, Acre’s Bastard, you mentioned the disparity in our chosen times and places to write about. You even mentioned a link between the Crusades and my Loyalists created at the time of the American Revolution. What connection do you see?
Wayne Turmel: The thing about historical fiction is that it gives you a chance to tell a story from any “side.” What the Crusades and Revolutionary/Loyalist period have in common are huge audiences who see things from their side, while there are plenty of stories on the other. When I have a couple of pints in me, I love to tell Americans the “real” story of the revolution (godless terrorists driving law abiding, loyal citizens from their homes) while hearing all the time about the godless British oppressing the freedom fighters who claimed their birthright. Who’s right? The Crusades is a similar time. The events seem very different depending on whose material you’re reading. And I suspect most people (like Lucca in my book) aren’t really picking sides so much as trying to live through it for another day.EC: Can you tell us which side in the Crusades you favored in Acre’s Bastard? Why did you pick that side?
WT: Wow, that’s a loaded question because I’m of the belief that in any religious war, both sides are equally irrational. That said, Lucca was raised a Christian in an orphanage by the Knights of the Hospital of St John. He’s not religious at all, but finds himself siding with the Crusaders more by default than intention. He tries to save the Kingdom of Jerusalem, because that’s where his friends are, not out of spiritual conviction. In fact, he finds good and bad, evil and grace on both sides.
EC: In the research for Acre’s Bastard, what kind of surprising details did you come across that were new to you? Did any of them shape the fictional part of your story?
WT: I’ve been a Crusades junkie since I was a kid (blame Ivanhoe if you must) so I didn’t think there was much to learn except details. The story really came together, though, when I learned about the Order of St Lazar. The idea of leper knights, and how Lucca becomes involved with them, made the story jump right out of my brain onto the page.
EC: Was research easy or difficult for this book? Where did you find most of your golden nuggets that made their way into your book?
WT: Good research on this period is hard to come by, and most of what I thought I knew was either tainted by the movies, or came from the same limited number of resources. Reading the Arab accounts (especially Malouf’s “The Crusades Through Arab Eyes,” helped counterbalance some of that. Then I found a couple of experts, like Helena P. Schrader who is not only a fine author (Envoy of Jerusalem) but runs the “Real Crusades History” network. She took me to the woodshed on some of the facts and recent research. Kept me from making some major mistakes.
EC: How did you come to write historical fiction? Was this always your goal?
WT: I’m certainly no scholar, but all my life I’ve preferred fiction that is set in other places and times (sometimes real, sometimes fantastic.) Reading a story usually drives me to learn more about the real time period and people, which drives me to read more and so on down the rabbit hole. One of my mottoes is “swords are cooler than guns”. At least so far, my stories have been set in the past, although my first novel (The Count of the Sahara) was only in the 1920s as opposed to 1187.
EC: Do you think writing is easier or harder for those of us who come to being novelists later in our lives rather than earlier? How did your first jobs and experiences shape you as a writer? And did you always know some day you’d find your way to becoming a novelist?
WT: It’s funny, I’ve written most of my life in one way or the other. I started out as a stand-up comedian. Your Canadian readers who remember Yuk Yuks in the 1980s may have seen me. Then after I moved to the US, I became involved in the training industry, and wrote articles, books and blog posts about business topics for nearly 20 years. When I turned 50, it dawned on me that I’d never be a “real” writer until I did at least one novel. I’m sure all that writing warmed me up, but fiction is a very different animal than cranking out business books about Webinars.
EC: Tell us about your main character, especially about why we as readers will fall in love with this person. Do you follow the rule of always giving your heroes flaws and your antagonists at least one shining characteristic?
WT: Lucca is a ten year old orphan, who is half “Frankish” (European) and half Syrian who runs the streets of Acre. He’s funny, and precocious, but also a bit of a liar and a brat. I mean chapter one starts with him and his friends trying to peak in a brothel window! I think audiences will really dig him. There are two main antagonists… Brother Idoneus is just evil…. Al Sameen is brilliant, if on the “wrong” side of things.
EC: Have you tried writing any of your stories from one point of view and then tried it from another? From whose POV is Acre’s Bastard told?
WT: For some reason I find myself drawn to first person POV a lot. Maybe because it’s easier to write jokes that way, and despite the action and drama there’s plenty of humor in my books. My first novel, The Count of the Sahara, alternates between first person (Count de Prorok’s assistant, Willy) and third person (following the Algerian expedition in flashbacks.) Acre’s Bastard is told entirely from Lucca’s point of view, which I think ramps up the stakes (he’s only 10 for heaven’s sake) and also made it challenging to put the history in, because what do kids know about politics and context? My beta readers seem to think I did okay. They like Lucca a lot, even if one of them told me he needs a good spanking.
EC: What is the best piece of writing advice you were ever given and how did it shape you as the writer you are today?
WT: Hmmmmm, I could be a smart aleck and say Hemingway (write drunk, edit sober) but the truth is more mundane than that. I think Louis L’Amour said “Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”
EC: What is your best book marketing or author marketing tip?
WT: Be shameless about asking for reviews on Amazon, Goodreads and wherever. People don’t understand how important the NUMBER of reviews is to how our robot overlords promote books inside those websites. I tell everyone who buys my book or tells me how much they enjoy it… “Don’t tell me, tell Amazon.” An online review is like applause for an author.
EC: Talk about something close to your writing career which I haven’t mentioned. Show us why we should care about reading Acre’s Bastard.
WT: I think the biggest thing about what I write, is that the “subject matter” isn’t as important as the story. I have a number of readers, especially women, who say they’d have never read a book about a war, or some obscure real life archaeologist, or about a little boy in the 1100s, but once they started, they really got caught up. That’s what I’m looking to hear. That they loved the story, and maybe learned something by accident. Lord knows it’s the only way I’ve ever learned anything valuable….