Today I’m chatting with George Burger an award-winning historical fiction author.
Tell me about your latest book
Titled FOUR NAILS, it’s the mostly true story of the greatest relationships between man and elephants in recorded history.
Readers start in ancient India where tragedy strikes a young elephant trainer. Forced into a slave caravan that takes him through perilous lands and into a world at war, Ashoka befriends a special elephant. He and that elephant, Four Nails, together lead Hannibal’s army over the Alps and down the back of Rome. Though a time of constant danger and uncertainty, Ashoka finds beauty and kindness while helping others enslaved for the pleasure of ruthless rulers. To survive this remarkable journey, the elephant trainer calls upon his unique ways with the great greys and a strength known only to those with nothing left to lose.
Soon after FOUR NAILS was launched, The Huffington Post selected it as one of only four “Pack-Your-Suitcase-Reads” to take on summer trips. The other three were all by traditionally-published authors.
I read this book and was amazed at not only the history of the time but also at how well you took me right there, so I really got a feel for that time period. It’s a very evocative book, and I was surprised to find such a story so engaging. That’s a tribute to your author skills.
Now tell us a bit about yourself and why you write
FOUR NAILS is my second novel (both AI and BRAG Medallion honorees). I’ve finished a third novel and started a fourth. I review historicals for The Historical Novel Society. When not writing, my wife (and best grammarian) and I dance the Argentine Tango, play with our grandsons and work out as much as we can.
Tango! Awesome. I’ve been wanting to learn that for a while, but the nearest classes are an hour’s drive away, so I need to get hubby really enthused before he’ll make the trip.
There are a lot of people writing books these days, what makes your writing different to all the rest?
It’s likely both unrealistic and presumptuous to say that my writing is different from all the rest. I’ve read many wonderful books—a fair number self-published. I’ve read many best-selling books that I could not finish and would never recommend to any reader.
My goal is to honor my readers’ precious time—time when each of them is not doing anything other than reading what I have written. If most of my readers say to themselves that the time they have given me was well spent, I’m deeply satisfied. That’s the aspect I’d like to come through in my every sentence, every page.
It did for me, in both your books. I felt that you’d taken a lot of care with the details, and that’s particularly important in a historical novel.
Why do you write historical fiction?
My two published novels grew from seeds planted in me when I was eight years old and my single mom told me the story of Hannibal and his campaign against Rome—with elephants. Back then I asked her what happened. She didn’t know, and my stories have helped me find out.
What inspires you to write?
Ever since I remember, I’ve been thrilled by making scratchings on a page that captivate and transport those who look at them. Writing takes me to places, times and settings that are profoundly interesting. When writing, I sometimes feel as though I’m back in college majoring in ancient history or literature or religion or foreign languages—but at little cost, no grade pressure, and in a course of my own design. One good page or scene or chapter is deeply satisfying.
Ideas come from the constant musings about people, about our existence, about where we have come from and are going.
Captivate and transport: yes, that’s what good novels do. If the author doesn’t have that sense of being captivated and transported, the reader certainly won’t.
What kind of person would like your books best?
Any curious reader, especially any reader curious about corners of history not well known but important.
Why did you choose the indie route to publication? Did you ever try the traditional route?
I’ve been represented by two different NYC literary agents, each part of a well-known agency. They submitted my novels to many of the big publishing house imprints. Several editors at those publishers praised my stories, took one or the other to their decision-makers, but could not get authority to make an offer. So, the indie publishing route to publication chose me.
That’s a bit like my story, only I had one Australian agent.
What’s the hardest part of being an author?
Marketing my work.
I certainly agree with that.
What do you like most about being an author?
The writing, the learning, the love from readers.
What’s the “one thing” that makes a novel become a true “break-out” novel?
Big word of mouth. It seems that every first break out novel got there by massive word of mouth. Enough people started talking about it so that others felt they had to read it to be able to join the conversation. The bigger the voice doing the talking (NY Times review, Pulitzer Prize, Oprah) the more likely others will feel forced to join the conversation. But often as not, the word of mouth starts in a neighbourhood, a city, a community. Without that word of mouth, highly promoted novels don’t sell, big name authors don’t repeat, and more humble novels don’t catch on.
True, and from the author’s point of view, I think there is very little one can do to get that word of mouth going.
If you could have one wish granted what would it be?
For all people who can help the less-fortunate or more needy to kneel into it and truly help them get to a better place on this journey.
Ah, yes; that would be good. And now for something frivolous …
What is the most unusual object you possess?
A coin minted circa 200 B. C. by Carthage. It shows two of the Carthage’s seventeen gods (one on each side). That coin has a tiny part in FOUR NAILS.
I remember the coin in the story. It was a nice touch.
Anyway, thanks for the chat. Good luck with all your endeavours.
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