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The Inspiration behind Gifts of the Gods

Let the Words Shine, Dec 2020

Day 5 of the Coffee Pot Blog Tour

Written by: Thomas Berry

I have enjoyed writing historical fiction novels for many years and like to bring to life interesting stories that will pique someone's interest. But I never want to be predictable so I adjust my writing styles and points of view for each project. I've penned a real-life murder mystery during the War of 1812 and a grand epic saga during the siege of the Alamo. Three incredible WWII veterans allowed me to share their marvelous stories during an indelible time in our recent past. Bolstered by the great reception to these works, I embarked on a new write a trilogy of stories around a single conflict in history. It was a daunting task! I spent weeks searching for just the right era and moment in time.

I was first introduced to the Spartans in my teenage years but knew little about them beyond their warrior concept and frugal living standards. Athens, of course, was home to the philosopher, Socrates, and the famous leader, Pericles. Large statues and monuments still stand in the Acropolis today where democracy was first born. Now as I sought the right source material for my trilogy, I took a deep dive into those ancient texts and came away with a passion I never knew I had.

People of the modern world have almost forgotten about those ancestors of long ago, but I knew it was important to bring them back...and learn from them. America and Russia have been at odds for over a century now and that inherent conflict is visible in everything we do. Democracy and socialism were battling each other 2,500 years ago and struggled to overcome the same prejudices that we experience today. This conflict came to a sudden head during the Peloponnesian War in the 5th century BC, and that is where my story begins...almost.

Some of you may have seen the 2006 movie, 300, with Gerard Butler as King Leonidas of Sparta. His small group of hearty warriors fought to the death against the great Persian hordes led by Xerxes, their larger-than-life god-king. The Persians were depicted in the movie almost as one-dimensional monsters while the heroic Spartans gave them a good run for 2 hours before finally succumbing. It was a great flick. I loved it except there was more to the story and I knew it was intricately connected to my own, which takes place 50 years afterward. In order to tell my story on Sparta's war with Athens, I first needed to set the record straight on this one.

I invest years of research into my historical novels in order to get the details right. It's worth the effort and is a critical part of my writing. My characters are fully developed people with interesting backgrounds. They have hopes and dreams, insecurities, and strong passions, but most of all, they believe in themselves. No matter which side of the conflict they are on, they trust that what they are doing in the moment is the proper course of action. They are not wholly evil or completely angelic. They are humans and I treat them as such...frailties and all! Each novel has real historical people within its pages mixing with fictional characters who could easily have lived during that era. It's important to note that because my novels examine all sides of the war and from many different angles. From generals to slaves, widows to bachelors, we see this timeline from many points of view. That's the best kind of story to honest one.

The saga of the Peloponnesian War, fortunately, lent itself to three unique installments and for that, I was grateful. From beginning to end, it covered a 27-year span, almost three full decades. The events also shifted locations from Greece to Sicily to Persia, a perfect combination to tell a fast-moving tale in three books. It was important that each novel in the trilogy could be read as a stand-alone volume. Therefore, great care was made to isolate the events and characters so their story could be told in a single book.

The final piece of the writing would be the most challenging of all...trying to tell a complex story over decades of time from many different viewpoints. The solution was to weave five main characters into a single book and allow their stories to build upon each other like a tapestry. Iron and Bronze was the first novel in this series and built off the famous battle of King Leonidas at the Thermopylae Pass. We see Kalli, a young widow intent on training her son for Olympic boxing...and finding herself in over her head. Doro is a wealthy aristocrat from Athens whose life comes crashing down around him when the war begins. Matty is a helot slave in Sparta and risks everything for a new life. Marching alongside these characters are the two emerging superpowers of the day. Sparta and its mighty soldiers with a fearsome reputation, find themselves pitted against Athens who sails the strongest navy the world has ever seen.

The second novel, Silver and Gold, continues the saga after peace is finally declared, but much like America and Russia today, tensions seethe just below the surface. Alcibiades, a charismatic Athenian general, brings the conflict to a new level when he sets his eye on conquering the colonies on Sicily and the entire Mediterranean coastline. No one is safe anymore and the Spartans set sail to this far-off land in a desperate bid to stop him. Does anyone remember Vietnam in the 60's and 70's? Two global powers battling it out far from home with everything at stake. Andreas, a Spartan officer of mixed parentage, must overcome his lowly status to help the Sicilians defend against this invading armada or die trying. Cathryn is a young mother native to the island and sees her world turned upside down by the rising conflict. Kyril, a boxing prodigy who fought in the Delian Games, joins the powerful Athenian fleet only to discover the awful truth hidden beyond the horizon.

This last adventure, Fire and Ash, brings the war to a dramatic conclusion as Sparta seeks to cut Athens off from its rich colonies on the Persian coast. Some of the war's biggest naval battles are fought off the shores where Xerxes once called home and the irony is not lost on them as both sides now seek to make an alliance with their former adversary. Memo, an Athenian officer living in exile looks to find a way back into the graces of his beloved city while Aleki, an older Spartan officer, struggles to adapt in a young man's army. Timandra, an exotic dancer in a Persian court, finds love with a handsome foreigner and risks everything to keep him safe. In the end, only one city will reign supreme over the Ancient world and the struggle between democracy and socialism will finally be decided.

It is my fervent hope that readers will not only find enjoyment in these pages but learn something new as well. These are types of books I've always enjoyed myself and I know there is a strong audience for them. Remember, if we can learn the past, we can shape a better future for ourselves!

Fire and Ash