The Next Big Thing: The Road to Santiago

Sign of the CaminoSign of the Camino

What's better than a virtual book tour? Blog hopping! I was tagged by Camille Griep, who is writing a literary fantasy/women's novel called  Letters to Zell.

In my turn, I'm tagging Diana Munoz Stewart, who writes fantastic YA paranormal romances that I'm sure will all make it to the screen someday. Everyone else I am tagging are screenwriters like me (Santiago is my first novel): John Leary, who writes supernatural thrillers and horror;  Lorraine Portman, who writes incredible comedy and is also a film director; we are both working on Angela Page's short film, Unplugging Aunt Vera. Angela is my fourth tag, but her website is under construction so she is guest blogging on my film website.


What is the working title of your book?

The Road to Santiago. Because it's about the pilgrimage trail that has paths starting in places all over Europe and ending in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. People have been taking that pilgrimage for 1200 years.


Where did the idea come from for the book?

I went on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in the spring of 1993. I was in the wonderful company of a varied group of Ph.D. students, led by a Spanish architect, who guided us through the Romanesque from Jaca to Santiago. Along the way we took turns making presentations; mine focused on the myths of the trail. Many places on the Camino, such as Santo Domingo de la Calzada, Suso Monastery  or the Monastery of Leire, have their own myths or legends. We had animated discussions: What are the elements of a real myth?  What is the true difference between a myth and a legend?  What is the difference between a mythical belief and a superstition?  Some mythical beliefs strengthen us and propel us to action.  Some mythical ideas lead us to do harm.  Is it possible that one mythical belief can have both effects?

            Old Santiago is a beautiful maze of granite streets lined with porticoes that are punctured by archways and lit by wrought iron lamps.  The pavements shine slickly in the rain, almost like skin.  Moss grows on the buildings. Santiago is so famous for its rain that there is a song that compares the rain coursing down the pavements to a woman crying. The gently sloping streets open out onto odd shaped plazas with running fountains and gardens.  

 And that’s where the idea for this novel was born.

  What genre does your book fall under? 


Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? 

I would love to see Antonio Banderas play Ibi. The teenagers would probably be played by unknowns.

The Moorish-Christian Architecture of San Miguel de EscaladaThe Moorish-Christian Architecture of San Miguel de Escalada

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? 

Spain, 1096. A blended Moorish-Christian family is torn apart by social and religious intolerance and their own inner identity conflicts. The father tries to resolve his issues by going on Crusade; his two teenaged twins, Teresa and Joaquín, take the pilgrimage to Compostela to save their lives and their souls




Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I hope to go the traditional publication route.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I first got the idea in 1993, but did not start really working on it until 2010. In the years in between I over-indulged in research and wrote two other books, The Lost Visionary and The Films of Tim Burton.


Part of my research involved walking the Camino two years ago. I've posted a series of blogs about that that begin here.


What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Ken Follett's Pillars of the Earth or Sharon Kay Penman's trilogy about Eleanor of Aquitaine. Though my story is about the little people affected by the decisions of the nobility.


Who or What inspired you to write this book? 

I wanted to write something on an epic, or even mythic, scale, focused on an ordinary family.  My first idea was to use the fairy tale of “Hansel and Gretel” as a narrative model and have a pair of fraternal twins traveling the trail at the end of the eleventh and the beginning of the twelfth century.

Why “Hansel and Gretel”? What intrigued me about that fairy tale is that Hansel carries the bulk of the action, he does all the strategizing, for a little more than half of the story, until he is encaged by the flesh eating witch.  Then Gretel takes over, and gets them out of the trouble that they are in through her wits.  In this sense, a fairy tale scholar has told me, the story represents how the anima and the animus work inside each person.  What is even more interesting in this story is that upon the return home Gretel takes on a more adult position in the household than she had before because she is now the only woman in the house, whereas Hansel is still just the son, since his father is still alive. In my version of the story I was also influenced by a Hansel and Grettel variant called “Brother and Sister” in which Hansel is changed into a fawn and Gretel takes care of him.  Later he is released from his spell through her supernatural intercession and the king’s (now Gretel's husband) recognition of his wife, her true inner nature and her true inner strength. 

Why the twelfth century? Because that was the time of El Cid, the time of the pilgrimages, the time of people being captured by Moors and held for ransom, the time of barrel vaulted churches, of alabaster church windows instead of stained glass, of miracles and visions and legends on every corner.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

I had the original idea for the book in 1993 but had it on hold for a while. Then, when 9/11 happened and we invaded Afghanistan and then Iraq, that I thought it would be important for teenagers who might enlist or be conscripted to have some sense of the history behind our current tensions. It was at this point that I fleshed out the subplot of Ibi going to Constantinople with the first Crusade. He was always going to go, but then we were going to lose track of him; but as I said, it began to seem more important to show the first Crusade from the perspective of someone who understood both Muslim and Christian cultures.