Today, in place of a review, I'm interviewing the author of a new book set in Outremer, "Acre's Bastard." This book was released in e-book a couple weeks ago and the paperback will follow shortly.
Wayne Turmel is the author of a recently released novel “Acre’s Bastard: Part I of the Lucca le Pou Stories.” “Acre’s Bastard” follows the adventures ― or should I say misadventures? ― of a 10-year old orphan of mixed native/crusader heritage in the city of Acre on the eve of the Battle of Hattin. The hero, Lucca, has been raised in the Hospitaller orphanage of the city and goes by the name of Lucca the Louse. In a series of fast-paced but believable adventures, Lucca finds himself a witness, always believably on the fringes, of this important moment in history. Turmel calls this book an “adventure” story, and while the setting is historical the purpose of the book is not to describe the historical events or to educate but rather to entertain. And that it does―with an engaging cast of characters and irreverent humor.
Wayne agreed to answer a number of my questions about this book. Here are his answers:
What inspired you to write about this place and period? Why the Holy Land in 1187? Why Acre rather than Jerusalem?
Wow, why not? Since I was a kid, I was entranced by stories of knights and chivalry. All my favorites--Robin Hood, Ivanhoe—had people either riding off to, or coming back from, Crusade. Swords are way cooler than guns. As I got older, the clash of cultures obviously became more important and intriguing. I mean, it’s not like it’s still relevant or anything, right?
When I went to Jerusalem, and stood in front of the ruins of the Hospital, I kept asking myself, “What the @#$@% were they thinking?” That question never stopped resonating with me. I confess to being very cynical about the Crusades. The battle of Hattin is just such a prime example to me of where bravery, faith, honor, politics and humanity’s innate stupidity collide. Just like in most wars.
I chose Acre intentionally because it wasn’t the center of the action. So much of what we read about that time is centered on the big characters—kings, knights and the like. But what about the people who were just trying to live their lives? I also didn’t want a setting that had been written about a lot. People have all kinds of emotional reactions when you mention “Jerusalem.” I didn’t want that getting in the way of the story.
The multi-cultural aspect of the coastal cities of that time also got me thinking a lot. Like children in most cities, there’s a better chance for exposure to different cultures than in an isolated village. It’s the biggest part of Lucca’s education.
The hero is a 10 year old boy. Why select a character so young? What were the advantages of a hero in that age group?
Making Lucca 10 was a risk, as was making him bi-racial (Frankish and Syrian). In fact, my last publisher didn’t want to do the book because of his age. I wanted the character to be young enough to offer a naïve perspective, allowing for the humor in the book to come through, without being too young to think for himself and survive. The disadvantage of his age was it pretty much eliminated romance, and some people really hated that he was in such jeopardy. But if you look at the pictures of the children coming out of Aleppo today, you realize terrible things happen to children in war. And the fact this is the first in a series is probably a pretty good hint he makes it. Should I have said, “Spoiler alert?”
Lucca being an orphan doesn’t have a family so the obvious “supporting cast” are missing. Can you tell us a little more about the other characters in the book? Which of them do you see playing a role in the next books of the series?
Most of the characters are fictional. The only real-life people who show up in the book are Raymond of Tripoli, and Saladin (or Salah-adin). Of course, that gives me license to have fun creating the other players.
The most fun was writing Brother Marco (who, without giving anything away for the uninitiated) is a Knight of St Lazar, and Sister Marie-Pilar who is a nun/nurse. Al Sameen (the Fat One) is a ruthless Saracen spy who Lucca takes great delight in tormenting. Brother Idoneus just gave me the willies. There are good guys and bad guys on all sides of the war.
I’ve actually started the second book, so Brother Marco, Sister Marie-Pilar and Ali the Saracen all make appearances.
Venue and setting are also very important in a novel of this kind and you do a wonderful job of taking us into the allies of an oriental city. At the same time, you almost slip into the cliché of describing this immensely fertile region (the biblical land of “milk and honey”), which in this period produced a variety of crops, as desert. Why did you choose to depict what would have been a thriving agricultural landscape as so bleak?
Thank you for that. I had a lot of help getting it right. I know it’s not desert because the day I landed in Tel Aviv it was pouring rain with a chance of snow in the hills, which caught me a little off guard. In fact, Israel, Lebanon and that whole region reminded me of California: there’s a very green fertile patch of desirable land along the Mediterranean coast and along the rivers, but you don’t have to go very far inland for it to get very hot, rocky and forbidding.
1187 was a drought year, so in July things were pretty brown and parched, even the fields that would normally have been in fruit. It also foreshadows what happens at Hattin, where the lack of water was decisive in the battle.
Tell us a little more about your readers? Who did you set out to reach with this series? Adults or young people? Why should they be interested in this book? What can they get out of it?
This book was written for anyone 15 or 16 and up who enjoys adventure, history and a touch of humor. I say 15 because that’s about the time I started reading books adults felt I wasn’t ready for. Maybe that was my motivation to read them…. Rule breakers are welcome and encouraged.
The origin of this book actually started with a bar argument with a fellow writer. I was bemoaning the fact that so many books were aimed at “YA” audiences. I felt that did readers a disservice. I remember reading books like “Kim” and “The Three Musketeers,” as a kid. They weren’t aimed at young readers, but a smart teen could easily read and enjoy them (although there is one scene in my book that is pretty close to R Rated). In fact, the title of the book was changed from Brat to Bastard just so people wouldn’t think it was a YA book, despite Lucca’s age.
Meanwhile, adults like me shun material that’s intentionally aimed at a younger audience, so it was important it didn’t get that dread “YA” label.
I’m also surprised how many women readers enjoy Lucca’s story. I was afraid the subject matter would appeal only to people who already read Crusader fiction; stereotypically, that would be men into hard-core military history. This is a much more accessible story than that, and I’m gratified at the reception so far.
As a reader, it’s clear that you enjoyed writing this book. Which scene did you like writing most? What scene is your favorite (which may or may not be same thing, of course….)?
Chapter one, where Lucca and his street rat buddies are getting into trouble by trying to peer through a brothel window actually made me laugh as I wrote it. I think it’s a really fun way to set up a story and let us know that kid is pretty much a smart aleck and destined for trouble. He’s also resourceful and brave enough to get out of it.
Now the other side of the coin: What scene did you find most challenging to write?
I’m going to cheat and give you two. The hardest one to write emotionally was chapter 2, when a pedophile attacks Lucca and drives him from the orphanage and into the streets. I needed to create real, believable danger, while not making it salacious, exploitive or too hard to stomach. It literally kept me awake at night finding the right balance.
The second challenge was logistic. How do I put a ten-year-old in the center of a battle? Logically, what was he doing there? It took a couple of drafts to come to the solution, but I think I worked it out.
What now? Acre falls six days after the Battle of Hattin, betrayed by the Queen’s uncle, the Count of Edessa (who was probably not even at Hattin). Will that be the next episode in the Lucca le Pou series?
Poor Lucca doesn’t get much of a break. He has to flee Acre for Tripoli carrying a message for Count Raymond. He’s accompanied by Sister Marie-Pilar, a young Druze girl named Nahida, and a Hospitaler knight, Brother Gerhardt, with a dark tragic secret.
How many books do you envisage in this series? Do you know what the ending of the series will be? Are you going to let Lucca grow-up, or will all episodes be in a timeframe where he remains a young boy?
At the moment, I’m thinking three books. “Acre’s Orphans” starts two days after the first book, so Lucca’s still 10 going on 11. The third will have Lucca at 15 following Richard in the retaking of Acre. I think. There are so many other stories set in other times I want to tell that I need to get Lucca out of my system so I can move on.
Thanks for talking to me, Wayne. I appreciate the time and I’m sure readers will be intrigued and inspired to by “Acre’s Bastard.”
Thank you so much for the chance to get the word out.