One of the most fascinating questions you could ever ask a creator is “What inspired you to make this?” The answers you will potentially receive are limitless and open a revealing doorway into the mind of the artist. Whether it’s a film director, author, architect, songwriter, inventor, or any number of other professions, the answer promises to be an enlightening one.
The Summer of 2000 was a pretty significant year for me. After a short stint interning for a large but failing recording studio in Dallas, TX, I temporarily fled 2 hours south to the smaller college town of Waco. During that two month life detour, I fought off thousands of grasshoppers underfoot, was freaked out by the mammoth spiders surrounding me, and crashed on my brother’s living room couch as I waited for a phone call that would never come before returning to the big metropolis up north and pressing forward in life.
While I would later face two other life-altering periods spanning two months each, the Summer of 2000 was the first of its kind for me. It was the summer of discovery for a twenty-one year old whose big plans just fell apart. It was also the first time I had stumbled upon the first two Godfather films, Braveheart, Saving Private Ryan, and This Is Spinal Tap; the first time I confronted my ridiculous fear of spiders; and most importantly, it was the summer I fell back in love with books.
After navigating through a handful of the classics, I finally decided to pick up The Hobbit and plowed through it in a day and a half or so. While I found the book entertaining and enjoyable, it didn’t compare to Watership Down, the book I had finished just prior to it. Nevertheless, I wanted to continue the saga of Middle Earth and opened the first page of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. What can I say about the experience? Quite simply, I was forever changed.
Have you ever been so lost in a book that you felt like a citizen of its world? Has a deep, indescribable sadness overwhelmed you as the last page was turned and you’re confronted with the heartbreaking truth: the journey has at last come to an end? As soon as I finished the final page of Return of the King, that was the emotion I felt. It was so strong, in fact, that as I sit here reflecting upon that moment, I can still envision my reaction quite well. I placed the book on my chest, let the silence overtake me, and literally came very close to crying.
Since then, I’ve run across my fair share of moving books. I could, if given a day or two to consider the task, run through a list of books that have had an overwhelming influence on my life and emotions. Despite that fact, Tolkien’s works were the first that truly moved me and the ones with the greatest life impact by a long shot.
I stumbled upon historical fiction during the first months of 2006 and was introduced to Ancient Rome later that same year. It was a pivotal year in my life and one that saw my taste in books shift quite drastically for the years that followed. Gone was my love for fantastical novels. It was instead replaced with real life paths, temples, towns, and squares that can still be seen and visited today. After completing one novel or series set in Rome, I quickly moved on to the next in my pile until the characters filling the pages became more common to me than Frodo, Aragorn, Legolas, Gandalf, and the rest of the Middle Earth crew I had grown to love so much.
As the stories of end-of-the-Republic era Rome became common knowledge to me, my emotions and fascination kept turning to one cog in the Roman wheel that was constantly skimmed over or overlooked entirely: Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, otherwise known as Pompey the Great. While it would take a few years for me to gain a respect for him as one of Rome’s greatest men, my initial attraction to his story stemmed from a side-character who has always been but a footnote in history: his slave-turned-freedman Philip.
I realized early on in the writing process of Rising Sun why I adored the character of Philip so much. It dawned on me one afternoon as I was rearranging the books on my bookshelf and hit me like a ton of bricks: Philip was the real life version of Samwise Gamgee, Frodo’s ever-faithful servant (and my favorite character) in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. The realization was so strong that I adapted the ending of Triumphator in December 2013 to give a nod to Tolkien’s ending of The Two Towers, in which the book ends with its focus on Sam and not Frodo.
After all the years of studying Roman history and leaving behind one of my unquestionable first loves, I find it quite fitting that my greatest inspiration for undertaking the quest of writing MAGNUS was, in truth, Middle Earth. As far as the third book in the series goes, you can rest assured the similarities between Samwise and Philip continue on in a sometimes alarming and poignant way. For this, and many other reasons, I’m sure Tolkien’s world will be an overflowing spring of inspiration for me in the years ahead, and why not? The world he so lovingly created all those years ago is just as fascinating and awe-inspiring as the ones we can still see, touch, and explore on our own earth today.