Since I can remember I have always had a passion for history. My love of Roman history started when I first watched the series “I, Claudius”. I then proceeded to read every Roman book I could get my hands on.
I got my start writing bodybuilding and physical fitness articles forBodybuilding.com, as well as a lesser-know magazine, HardCore Muscle. I turned to writing historical novels when I was in Iraq. My intent was to write the stories that I wanted to read, but could not find. While we may hear stories about the Emperors and Generals of antiquity, we almost never hear the stories of the men who did the actual fighting under them. Sadly, most historical data is lost, the individual soldiers being long since forgotten by history. My attempt with The Artorian Chronicles is to tell the story of a common legionary and what could have happened throughout his career.
More recently I have turned to other periods in history and have started work on a pair of historical novels about the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879. The working title for the first book is “Brutal Valour”. I’m tentatively planning for it to be released sometime in 2012, along with the fifth book in The Artorian Chronicles, “Soldier of Rome: Judea”.
You can visit James at http://legionarybooks.net
Q: Thank you for this interview, James. Can you tell us what your latest book, Soldier of Rome: The Legionary, is all about?
A: It tells the story of the wars between Rome and Germanic Alliance from 14 through 16 A.D. following the ambush and destruction of three legions in Teutoburger Wald a few years earlier. Though historical persons such as the German war chief, Arminius, and the Roman commander, Germanicus Caesar, are featured in the story, it is predominantly told from the perspective of the individual legionaries who fought on the line.
Q: Can you tell us a little about your main and supporting characters?
A: The main character, Artorius, is a seventeen-year old Roman who joins the army in order to avenge his brother, who was killed in Teutoburger Wald. Though of average height, he possesses a large, muscular frame, and is immensely strong. Since his father was a teacher, he is also literate and very well-educated.
Artorius’ best friend is another young legionary named Magnus. Magnus is of Scandinavian origin, though he is still a Roman citizen; his grandfather having earned the family citizenship after serving in the Roman auxilia. An older, experienced legionary named Praxus also befriends Artorius.
The century’s chief weapons instructor, named Vitruvius, becomes a mentor to Artorius. Vitruvius holds the rank of Decanus / sergeant of legionaries, and is said by many to be the best close-combat fighter in the world. The man leading the century of eighty legionaries is the highly respected Centurion Macro, who is one of the few survivors of Teutoburger Wald.
Q: Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination?
A: It is impossible to give characters any sense of depth or personality without them being at least somewhat based on people we know. Interestingly enough, the characters in The Legionary were inspired both by people I know, as well as famous actors who have played similar roles on screen. For example: whenever I envisioned Germanicus Caesar, I always pictured Clive Owen when he portrayed King Arthur. I also saw Sean Bean as resembling the other Roman commander, Caecina Severus.
The legionaries in the ranks came more to resemble people I know, particularly soldiers I had served with in Iraq. The first inspiration came before I even wrote my first chapter, when a soldier named Justin Cole was teaching a class on the M4 Carbine. My immediate thought was, “That’s Vitruvius!” I even made Vitruvius bald, since Justin is too.
Some characters I did not have templates for and had trouble picturing them in my head. Magnus is a prime example of this; which is strange, given that he is probably the second most important character in the series and I describe him in detail.
Q: Are you consciously aware of the plot before you begin a novel, or do you discover it as you write?
A: Since I write about historical events, the foundation of the story is already laid. However, since I am writing about individual soldiers, their backgrounds and stories come from scratch.
I believe it was Stephen King who once said that books take on a life of their own as you are writing them. He could not have been more correct! There are events that have happened to the main characters, not just in The Legionary but throughout the entire series that I never would have envisioned. An example of this is Legionary Valens, who comes across as being in the story more for crude comic relief, yet by the third book he suddenly shows his serious side and becomes a crucial part of the overall story arc. I honestly did not see that coming.
Q: Your book is set in Ancient Rome. Can you tell us why you chose this in particular?
A: My parents got me into Roman history around the time I was twelve. Like most boys, I was into adventure and military stories, so my Dad introduced me to the Roman army. Around this time I also watched the series I, Claudius for the first time. Though devoid of action, I became enamored by the show and started picking up any books I could find on Roman history. It has been a life study for me ever since.
Q: Does the setting play a major part in the development of your story?
A: In a way it has to, since the wars between Rome and Germania were brutal and relentless. Such traumatic events would have to mould the characters’ personalities to a degree, especially ones such as Artorius and Magnus, given their extremely young age. That being said, the more I have researched, the more I find soldiers throughout history share a large number of similarities, especially those of Rome and America.
I sometimes get criticized because the Roman Legions in my books resemble the American Army in a number of ways. This is actually backwards thinking, because in reality the American Army is based around the Roman Legion in more ways than many realize. The rank structures are very similar, parade formations, and even some equipment are almost identical. For example, the general purpose (medium) tent used to house an American infantry squad is of the exact same design as those used by the Romans two thousand years ago. The regimental flags, or guidons, that American units use to this day were duplicated from the concept of the Roman Signum.
Q: Open the book to page 69. What is happening?
A: Artorius is nearing the end of recruit training and has just finished drilling and practicing with a Scorpion ballista. He meets an old friend, Pontius Pilate; who as a nobleman was given an appointment as a Military Tribune. Artorius’ father had been Pilate’s tutor and the two meet briefly before Artorius has to rejoin the other recruits.
Q: Can you give us one of your best excerpts?
A: “Set for passage-of-lines!” the cohort commander shouted. Artorius settled into his fighting stance, determination in his eyes. Everything would be settled here!
“Stay together, men! Watch out for each other!” he heard Centurion Macro say at the end of the line.
“Precision strikes, nothing fancy, make every blow count!” Optio Vitruvius called out at the other end. “They’re big, but they can’t stand being hurt!”
“Now, my brothers,” the Centurion said, his voice rising, “for wrath, for vengeance and for the souls lost in Teutoburger Wald…send them all to hell!”
Q: Thank you so much for this interview, James. We wish you much success!
A: Thank you, it was my pleasure.