Saturday, August 22, 2009

Even a Swine Deserves a Small Pearl

When I was younger, and in the bad habit of not finishing things, I used to worry that I'd run out of ideas. Now that I'm older I realize that what I'm going to run out of is time. It's a less terrifying but ultimately more depressing conclusion. But I have come neither to bury Caesar nor to praise him. I'm here, quite simply, to crow.

As a writer, I have certain personal ambitions. They're pretty modest, but they're the goals that keep me engaged, day in and day out, in a lonely calling that pays me in a sputtering stream of delayed gratification. Some I've achieved, which is truly a pleasure indescribable, but like I said, they're personal, and not likely to be of interest to anyone but me. Still, it's not really fair to bring a subject up and then say "Well, I can't really talk about it," so I'll tell you of one as yet unfulfilled ambition, the very one that's pertinent to this post.

If you didn't already know it, you will now be made aware that I am a history buff, and that ancient Rome is one of my obsessions (Medieval Europe, Feudal Japan, and lately, Elizabethan England, are the others) and for a long time I have wanted to write a novel set in the Empire during the second century. I'll get to it, given enough time, but there are several projects ahead of it, and one thing I've learned over the years is that I can only do one project at a time. The rest, no matter how compelling, simply have to get in line. Otherwise I end up with a bunch of half-realized, unfinished fragments. In other words, crap.

Nevertheless, just because an idea is in the back of the line, it doesn't mean it's been abandoned. I'm constantly on the lookout for relevant research material, which I store like a squirrel and often (gasp!) read for pleasure.

So. . .

The other day I'm in a certain bookstore and I find these fabulous books on Rome that are very inexpensive. Now forgive my saying so but books on Rome are a dime a dozen, I mean, the place is older than Jesus himself, so a lot has been written about it, but what really made these books special were the illustrations, full color recreations of Roman military life. It only took a cursory glance and those babies were mine, bought and paid for.

Well, I get these very inexpensive and beautiful books on the Roman army home and in my spare time I start to read through them. It seems they focus on the Dacian wars in the time of Trajan. Wow, that's the period I was planning on writing about in my novel. Cool. I read a little more and I realize that the title of these books are not simply The Legionary and The Cavalryman, but Tiberius Claudius Maximus The Legionary and Tiberius Claudius Maximus The Cavalryman. Dear reader, you will be forgiven for not knowing this, and I myself had forgotten it, but Tiberius Claudius Maximus was the cavalry officer who hunted down and captured the Dacian king, Decebalus, at the end of the war. He's no one, really, but his name is written in one of my notebooks as an important secondary character in my evolving narrative. Unwittingly, I had stumbled on a two part biography of an obscure Roman, who up to that point was nothing more than a name to me. My friends, I live for little moments like that. Oink, oink.

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