PTB interviews R. S. Gompertz re: No Roads Lead To Rome
PTB: Tell us about your novel in 50 words or less:
Ron: My novel, No Roads Lead to Rome, and coming sequels attempt to do for ancient times what The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy did for science fiction. (I know this is a tall order, but why aim low?) Just as the future provides a great vantage point for us to examine the present, the distant past offers a steamy window into modern times.
PTB: That was more than 50 words. You clearly have issues following directions. This interview is over!
Ron: Wait! Can I speculate as to why, two millennia later, we continue to find the Romans so fascinating?
PTB: OK. But keep it brief.
Ron: Looking back, the Romans are the culture that most resembles our own. An ancient Roman would be at home in our world. He’d enjoy a football game, a tour of a capitol rotunda or a basilica, and a ride in a convertible sports car as long as you called it a chariot. Our politics, wars, and commerce wouldn’t surprise him, although the iPad would be hard to explain.
The Romans were like the “Borg” from Star Trek — crushing resistance, assimilating everything in their path. They were great engineers and architects, deadly warriors, and corruptible administrators who built and managed the biggest empire the western world had ever seen. Romans considered themselves the only hope for humanity in the face of terror and barbarism.
From the early Republic to the late Empire, their world lasted a lot longer than much of ours has been around. That’s worth a careful look.
In No Roads Lead to Rome, I try to capture the hubris and the histories, tell a good story, and do so with a bit of humor.
PTB: So what’s your story?
Ron: I was born in a suburb of Disneyland.
PTB: So your novel is auto-biographical.
In No Roads, I pair a grizzled, but idealistic old centurion with a chatty young rebel who joined the legion to escape from the police. These two are opposed by an incompetent, party boy politician who is paired with a bamboozling advisor bent on fleecing him. All are pitted against each other, the gods, and the emperor.
PTB: What kind of research did you do for your book?
Ron: The broad brushstrokes of No Roads came to me while hiking with a friend in the hills outside of Barcelona. We were discussing — no — complaining about the decline and fall of damn near everything when it struck me that our conversation was older than the dirt we trod on.
I imagined two frustrated Roman legionaries having the same conversation 2000 years earlier while trudging along the same trail. I could almost hear an old centurion shouting, “The Emperor just doesn’t get it! Slaves too expensive? What are those vexed Roman numeral crunchers thinking?”
The vision that hit me in a flash took another 5 years to extract and refine. Whenever I could, I wandered Europe and North Africa to tap the residual vibrations of the Roman Empire. I did a lot of research to bring the sights, smells, and sensations of ancient times to life.
When I learned that around 123 AD a slave had botched an attempt to kill the Emperor Hadrian in Tarraco — Tarragona, Spain — the first line in the novel wrote itself:
“When it comes to assassination, execution is everything.”
PTB: How do you develop and differentiate your characters?
Ron: Where did you get this question–your High School English teacher?
PTB: Yes, actually. Who do you imagine is your ideal reader?
Ron: The Kindle edition is often in the Top 10 lists for political humor, ancient history, and business humor. From this, I figure that people who like historical fiction, fans of the Dilbert comic strip, and folks who can laugh at the inanity of governments and large organizations are getting a kick out of this book.
Half my sales are in the UK, so I fantasize that Terry Pratchett fans may have discovered the book.
PTB: Please tell me about your parents. Did they beat you?
Ron: What? What kind of interview is this?
PTB: So they did?
Ron: No! Can we get back on track here?
PTB: Fair enough. What is your writing process?
Ron: No Roads was written in Spain where I was a morning person in a late night culture. I had a rough idea where the story was supposed to go, but the characters staged a coup and took it all over the place. Eventually, I regained control of this mutinous bunch, but it was a wild ride.
PTB: My High School English teacher wants to know what one book do you wish you’d written?
Ron: Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. This thin book with chapters that average about one page in length is the most complete and insightful send up of the modern world that I’ve ever found. It’s a mother lode of insight, satire, and pure genius. If you read one book by Vonnegut, I recommend this one.
PTB: You’ve earned the right for some self-promotion. Where else can people find you?
Ron: This site has all the links to my book and web page.
I blog at noroadsleadtorome.blogspot.com
I tweet, therefore I am at: @NoRoadsToRome
I’m in need of friendship on Facebook
And here’s what happens when someone shoves a camera in your face with two minutes notice:
PTB: Thank you.
Ron: My pleasure!
PTB: Don’t exaggerate.