This form does not yet contain any fields.

    Entries in Islamic History (3)



    Over the past few days, since leaving Istanbul, I've covered something like 700km by road all across the Pamphyian plain, the Pisidian highlands and the passes through the Tauros Mountains, and on into the Central Plateau. Except while sleeping, I've barely sat still. My great "rest stop" was an afternoon in E─čirdir, a pretty little town on the gorgeous lake of the same name, napping and catching up on my trip planning and emails. Other than that, it's been dawn to dusk exploration. Time is growing short. In eight days, I catch a flight back to the States, and I still have the entire stretch of the old Royal Road from here (Afyon) to Cappadocia and the Cilician Gates beyond to cover.

    I've spent a morning scrambling up the steep escarpment at Sillyon (Sillaeon), one of the major fortified towns near Attaleia (modern Antalya), in 44-degree C heat. I've gotten thoroughly lost trying to find the ruins of Milyos and Cremna, which are a good 10 km away from where the Michelin maps show them, on crazy one-lane rural roads that wind through the mountains. (I got found again. I thank my Viking ancestors for my navigational sense.) I spent two hours trekking around the magnificent pre-Hellenistic, Hellenistic, Roman and early Byzantine city of Sagalassos, high in the mountains in what should have been a nearly impregnable position, though its strategic location stopped neither Alexander the Great nor a series of earthquakes and plagues that ultimately doomed the city.

    I spent a couple hours in the impossibly confusing and traffic-crazy town of Yalvaç trying to find the ruins of Antioch in Pisidia, a major crossroads city that was besieged by the son of Caliph al-Walid I in 713 and never fully recovered. (The remaining ruins are unimpressive, once found.) I've followed both the western route (Via Sebaste) and central route of the old Roman roads through the Taurus mountains to the central highlands, trying to retrace the ways travelers and/or armies might have made it from the coast to the strategic cities in the Anatolikon theme during the time of my novel. 

    Today comes the highlight of this part of the trip: Amorium, the Byzantine fortress city that was the capital of the Anatolikon theme. The city was sacked by the Arabs in 838 and never fully recovered, but at the time of my book, it was a relatively thriving crossroads city, well fortified and crucial to the defense of west-central Anatolia and the approaches to the strategically vital cities farther to the west and northwest. Here, the future Leo III, newly appointed strategos of the Anatolikon theme, played a game of cat-and-mouse with the Arab armies in the summer of 716, holding out to them the possibility that he might be their bought man in Constantinople if they would only help him attain the throne, while buying time and pinning the bulk of the Arab army in place through an entire campaign season while he frustrated them through sheer diplomatic wiles. From here, he raced to Constantinople as soon as the campaign season was over and, with the help of Artavasdos, the strategos of the vital Armenian theme, made his ultimately successful bid for the Imperium.

    Amorium is crucial to my story, so I hope the site will whisper to my imagination whatever secrets it has left to tell. Sadly, the team that has been excavating the site for the past 25 years or more did not obtain their permit to dig this year, so there will likely be no archaeologists on site. I'll have to go by the articles and maps that I brought with me, and then bombard Christopher Lightfoot and Zeliha Demirel Gökalp, the former and current directors of the Amorium Project, with questions about the state of the city in 715. 

    It will be a big day.

    And then, tomorrow, on to Cappadocia, via the ancient roads (or the closest approximation I can manage on the current road system), to see what an army invading from the Cilician Gates would have seen as they crossed the Anatolian Plateau. I look forward to Cappadocia both as a capstone of my journey and as a chance to take a (relative) rest. Assemble my notes, catch up on my actual writing, and explore the remaining areas in south-central Turkey that would have played a role in the story of the Siege of 717-18 and its buildup. 

    I've uploaded several new batches of photos from my journey - so far untagged, but organized by site, to make it easier to identify what you're seeing. When time permits, I'll try to go through and describe each photo and provide further detail.



    Fresh from the trenches of the early 8th century, we have this update

    Yes, the novel is still plugging along. A few updated statistics on my progress:

    • Current version of the manuscript: 48,000 words (about 130 paperback-formatted pages)
    • Total written thus far, including partial scenes and rough-rough-rough drafts: 135,000 words (about 490 pages)
    • Bibliography: more than 100 primary and secondary sources researched (no this does not count Wikipedia)
    • Dents in desk from banging of forehead: too many to count

    The work has benefited enormously from both of the advisors under whom I've studied thus far in Pacific University's Master of Fine Arts program, Mary Helen Stefaniak and Frank X. Gaspar. I can't say enough about how incredible these two people are, as mentors, writers, and unbelievably generous, patient human beings. When you add in the other talented writers who have touched this manuscript in various ways, large and small - Mike Magnuson, Elizabeth Kostova, James Hynes, Pete Fromm, and Bonnie Jo Campbell among them - I've been extraordinarily blessed. I can only hope I don't embarrass any of them in the end, though I strongly suspect Mags will moan over every split infinitive and dangling participle no matter what I do.

    Over the past two weeks I've been working primarily on structure and pacing. My method: roll out an 8-foot length of plotter paper, jot down each plot point for each major character (point-of-view and otherwise) on a color-coded sticky note, and lay them out in time sequence. This has helped me sort out who was where when between the beginning of the story (October 714) and the end (late 718). It also works well as a visual tool to identify clusters of action and conflict, weaknesses in the pacing, and the major milestones in each character's story arc. 

    The only issue: even rolled up, this beast is kind of hard to carry around to the various coffee shops that serve as roving offices when the kids are besieging the house. That, and I've discovered that 3-year-olds love re-organizing Post-Its, when left unsupervised for more than 45 seconds. 

    Note that I've added a new page, listing the most useful reference sources I've located thus far. It's a fairly extensive list - so much so that I suddenly figured out where all my time has gone over the past two or three years - but I make no claims about its completeness. It is, after all, as idiosyncratic as my book (or, indeed, as I am myself). Still, someone out there might find it useful. 

    Note also that I've finally, officially become a Twit. (My sister will claim that this is not news.) You can sign up for my Twitter feeds by looking up @KDavidSmithAuth, or by subscribing via the widget on the sidebar. I'll do my best to tweet updates and interesting tidbits about Byzantium, early Islam, writing, and/or General Life Stuff as I stumble upon them. Joy!

    And that, folks, is all the news that's fit to print. For now.


    Rumors of the book's death have been greatly exaggerated...

    The ruins of Anazarbos, a former Roman city that served as the launching pad for Muslim raids into Asia Minor by the early 8th century (courtesy of the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut)I'll spare you the lengthy explanations of all the delays that have interfered with the timely completion of my project on the Second Siege of Constantinople and the clash between the Eastern Roman Empire and the Umayyad Caliphate. That kind of hemming and hawwing might work for George R. R. Martin, but somehow I doubt it'll help much.

    On the other hand, I don't have fans by the millions making death threats if I don't hurry up and complete it. So there are pros and cons, I suppose.

    The novel does continue, let's leave it at that. I draft a bit, research a bit, hack off extraneous subplots (which tend to sprout like suckers around the trunk of a pear tree), and draft a bit more. Along the way I learn every day about the deep and complex cultures I've chosen to inhabit during the writing of this sprawling work. It's hard to say whether I find the Romaioi (Eastern Romans, Byzantines) or the early Islamic peoples more fascinating. Half the battle is trying to remain true to the different worldviews of those two distant cultures - each distinct from the other in profound ways, and both utterly unlike our own.

    One day, I'm an amateur archaeologist, sifting through summaries of projects spanning much of southeastern Europe and northwestern Asia. The next, I'm trying to get a grasp of numismatics, or medieval economics, or comparative linguistics. I've found myself delving into the history of food and agriculture, metallurgy, shipbuilding and navigation, cartography and the methods and materials used by early medieval scribes. Comparative religion... always top of mind, for better or worse. I constantly have to remind myself that the research is merely the means, not the end. The book still has to get written.

    And here I said I wasn't going to make excuses...

    I'll be starting to work on a Master's in Fine Arts degree in Writing at Pacific University in June. A major element of my work there will be to make significant progress on this novel, with the help of some of the best mentors in the business. Stay tuned. Both of you.