Q. Hail Judeas Caesar is your first fictional novel. Was this a project that came together quickly or one that was years in the making?
A. It took several years. After the idea first came to me, it took years before I even thought of writing a book. Then I spent a few years researching the time period, ancient Roman culture, Jewish history, and the Middle East. I spent many long hours in libraries, reading books on ancient Rome, and jotting down a great deal of jumbled notes. Then came writing in piece parts, writing one scene here and another scene there when ideas came to mind. All of the scenes had to be arranged and tied together so that the story would flow, yet always maintain consistency with ancient written documents. Then came editing and re-writing, with periodic searches for literary agents and publishers. Every step of the way has been important in shaping the book, but it was a long time coming and I am very happy with how it turned out.
Q. We have no shortage of books based around the idea of retelling or novelizing stories from the Bible, but your take was as refreshing as it is likely to be polarizing. In your Author’s Note you include a number of passages in the Bible that back up your theory. Was there one in particular that sparked the idea?
A. Yes. It was the biblical accounts of Barabbas and how the people of that time called emphatically for his release instead of Jesus. Originally, I was thinking of the title “Jesus vs. Barabbas,” but that sounds more like a boxing match rather than a novel. From documented record, the Jewish people chose Barabbas, and for many reasons that are too numerous to get into here, didn’t trust Jesus. Maybe they were reasonable people who saw through something that was being forced on them. Barabbas must have been a hero to the Jewish people, implying a courageous man. This contradicts typical, modern-day Christian media portrayal of a crazed, deranged lunatic. I always thought the Jewish people of that day would be no different from you and I (except for the fact that they were living under the severe oppression of the Roman Empire). In contrast, the Roman governor argued vehemently for a Jewish peasant whom he supposedly had never known, even until a riot was forming, as it is documented. Christians and biblical accounts attribute his defense solely to Pilate being swayed by some type of magical premonition dream his wife had (she also supposedly never having known the Jewish peasant). To me this sounds like a fabrication after-the-fact to explain Pilate’s actions, rather than a real event, unless one believes in a contrived supernatural explanation.
Q. Hail Judeas Caesar is a heavily character driven novel. Did you find yourself struggling with creating any of their voices? Were you drawn to any personality in particular?
A. I didn’t struggle with portraying characters, they seem to fall into place while I was writing. I had to go out on a limb in some cases, introducing non-traditional characteristics to make things interesting without deviating too much from written accounts. As for Jesus, the only documented third-party description of him was “a glutton and a drunkard, and a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” So, I didn’t want to make him tall and lean—the traditional image, because it is contrary to the image of a glutton. And I also wanted him to be fond of wine, to be consistent with a drunkard (not my words, just the Bible), which carries through to the very end.
I was drawn mostly to Claudia. The mere fact that she is mentioned in historical records means she probably was a strong and powerful person. Even though the particular account of her having had a supernatural-mind-implant from the god of a religion she didn’t practice is highly unlikely, the account suggests she did have influence on Pilate. I actually wanted more of her in the book and I took every opportunity I could to keep her involved. I also wanted a love story between her and Pilate to bring the book down to earth. I used the necklace as a symbol of their relationship, with its loss denoting deterioration, to its recovery building towards a united climax.
Q. People who write historical fiction often spend more time researching than they do actually writing the book. Was this the case for you?
A. Yes, the research took many, many years. A lot of hours sitting in libraries, thumbing through card catalogues, searching countless rows of book shelves, and internet research.
Q. When writing, do you have a particular routine or specific writing quirks such as those who only ever write using a typewriter?
A. No. In fact I always wanted to shy away from quirks or particular routines. If I would have waited until I was in a certain mood, or the time was “right”, I would have never finished the book. I would just sit down and start writing – hoping “inspiration” would make itself happen. I frequently took personal leave from work to make time.
Q. Were there any authors or particular books you looked to for inspiration?
A. Yes, John Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath. I remember “living” through the words of his book, and then the last paragraph was an unexpected surprise, almost making the whole book flash before your eyes. I wanted to get some semblance of that in my book, and I wanted Claudia to get the last word.
Q. What part in the publication process (research, writing, editing, publishing) did you find to be the most enjoyable?
A. Editing was the most enjoyable. Editors helped me grasp important concepts in creative writing, since I had never had formal training. I have had classes in “technical” writing as a structural engineer, which didn’t come close to important base skills needed for writing a novel. One editor graciously recommended Stein on Writing by Sol Stein, which was immensely helpful. I also liked the process of polishing the novel to make it read better, which in turn led to creating new prose. The process of writing, or creating from scratch, was much more stressful.
Q. After the experience of writing this novel, are you eager to begin a new project or have you already begun something new?
A. I am eager, and I have ideas for a couple of others, one of which could be fascinating if done well (a tall order). However, I am not sure I have enough time to devote to such endeavors until I retire, which I am looking forward to by the way.
Q. What advice would you give to anyone interested in writing their own historical fiction novel?
A. Start writing. Whether on a piece of paper, typewriter, computer, or talking into a recorder, just start writing. Sometimes ideas come to you while you are writing, rather than the other way around. Secondly, take time to research the time period and location of interest, and write as if you are living that time period. Thirdly, learn the basics of creative writing from taking classes, reading books, or talk to other writers. I can’t stress that enough. You want your finished work to be an enjoyable read for people who give you the honor of reading your book.
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Ryan Fleming was born in Cheyenne, Wyoming and raised in the Midwest. After graduating from college, Mr. Fleming developed strong interest in the origins of religion including Christianity and Judaism, researching their earliest written records and how they evolved through culture, word of mouth, and literature. Of particular interest were the different sects of Christianity, their perceived authority in interpreting and disseminating supernatural truth and how these perceptions were handed down from the time of Rome’s occupation of Judea. “Hail Judeas Caesar” is a culmination of these studies and Ryan’s first novel.
Mr. Fleming graduated from Columbia University in New York City with a Master of Science and from the United States Air Force Academy with a Bachelor of Science. He enjoys riding dirt bikes (off-road motorcycles) in the mountains and desert mesas of New Mexico.