Monday, February 27, 2012

The Glory and the Power: Heavenly Daze and Worldly Ways in Avignon

The glory and the power: Avignon Cathedral (left) sits beside -- and is dwarfed by -- the formidable Palace of the Popes.
 Character assassination, mudslinging, Machiavellian machinations, and ruthless power plays: I’m talking about the current U.S. presidential primaries, right? Not exactly, but more on that in a minute. I’m talking—mainly—about the deadly struggles that sent the 14th-century papacy scurrying from Rome to Avignon, France: Avignon, the spectacular walled city where medieval mystery meets modern-day murder in The Inquisitor’s Key.

 At the end of the 13th century, Rome—like other Italian city-states—was torn between two powerful factions, the Ghibellines and the Guelphs. To oversimplify shamelessly—nay, proudly (hey, it’s a blog, not a history book!)—the Ghibellines supported the Holy Roman Emperor, while the Guelphs backed the Pope: rival leaders, each claiming to be God’s Main Man here on Earth. In 1298 Pope Boniface VIII destroyed two entire towns, Colonna and Palestrina—he even spread salt on the surrounding lands to ruin them—because they were strongholds of the Colonna family, nobles who sided with his enemies, the Ghibellines. Then Boniface took on an even mightier foe: King Philip IV of France. When King Philip imposed a tax on Church revenues, Pope Boniface excommunicated him, declaring in a 1302 proclamation that it "is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman pontiff." 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

A Tale of Two Covers, or, Which book would you be more likely to pick up in a bookstore … and why?

Okay, it’s reader participation time, for any of you who are game!

Quickly – before you read any further (no cheating!) – glance at these two book covers. If you had just enough time to take a look inside only one of them, which one would it be, and why? Hold that thought, and after you finish reading, tell us your answer in the “Comments” section. Your feedback will make for interesting market-research data!

And now, A Tale of Two Covers

 You might think that a book’s title would be the first, and easiest thing to write, but you’d be wrong, at least in my experience. The first Body Farm novel’s title, Carved in Bone, came fairly easily. Title number two, Flesh and Bone, was also fairly easy. But after that, they got tougher. If you’ve followed the series, you’ve probably noticed that all six of the prior novels have “bone” or “bones” in the title – a way of giving some continuity to the series, and also of underscoring the emphasis on forensic anthropology: bone-detective work. But sometimes that’s been a stretch, especially with novel #5, Bones of Betrayal, which included a subplot about World War II espionage and treachery. It was one of my favorite books in the series, but my least favorite title; it seemed clunky and labored, and I’ve wished countless times that I’d argued more forcefully for the title I wanted, which was Fallout. But at that point we were still committed to a “bone(s)” title, so I lost the argument.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Babylon-on-the-Rhone: Avignon

The treasures of the Vatican didn’t remotely prepare me for the awesomeness of Avignon, the spectacular setting of The Inquisitor’s Key  and its (virtually identical) UK twin, The Bones of Avignon.

The year was 1998. I’d recently started writing and producing documentaries for A&E, the Arts & Entertainment Network, and I’d just been handed the best of projects and the worst of projects: a two-hour A&E special about the Vatican. Cool subject; gorgeous footage; serious script problems. Three other writer/producers had already come to grief on the shoals of the project; it was a high-budget, high-stakes, and high-likelihood-of-failure gig. The production company I was working for, an ambitious young outfit called Jupiter Entertainment, had somehow wrangled a backstage pass to shoot in the Vatican, but the shoot had to be done quickly. There was no shooting script; there wasn’t even an outline for the show. The initial crew was sent to Rome with instructions to “shoot everything.” The only plan was to figure out a plan later, once the footage was in hand.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Road to Avignon … and to The Inquisitor’s Key

My mother cried when I announced, at the end of my freshman year in college, that I was changing my major from pre-med to English. “But how will you make a living?” she wailed.

I shrugged. “I don’t know,” I conceded. “But I’m pretty smart. I’ll probably figure out something.”

Over the years, that “something” has ranged from editing technical reports to teaching teenagers about sex and HIV/AIDS to making television documentaries about aircraft carriers and Vatican art treasures. Now, years later – jaw-droppingly many years later – I’ve just finished writing The Inquisitor’s Key, the seventh crime novel in the Body Farm series. More about the book momentarily, because it’s my favorite of the bunch, and it’s the reason I’m launching this blog – to share behind-the-scenes stories with readers between now and when the book comes out on May 8. But first, a bit of background on the series itself.