Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A Modern Book of the Dead

Today, author David LeRoy blogs about writing his historical fiction novel, The Siren of Paris, and how it is like the Egyptian Book of Dead.

Choosing to use The Egyptian Book of the Dead as a paradigm for The Siren of Paris has raised questions, especially for a debut novel.  The ancient text is obscure and rather mystical.  Many would argue inappropriate for a historical novel for modern American readers.  Perhaps they are right?

The Siren of Paris has attracted critical attention and sometimes negative reviews.  “Paris” is sort of like the 90210 of the publishing industry.  Eighty-three percent of books in America are bought and read by women, with many of these customers having a certain obsession with Paris.   The publishing industry is under pressure to produce books with mass market bestseller appeal, and hence they look for stories that entice and entertain romantic ideas of the City of Lights to potentially be the next cash cow in the Paris obsession market.   The title is perfect, but the story contained inside The Siren of Paris is one hundred and eighty degrees from what a traditional publisher would probably be seeking.  Historical novels with romantic themes often have an Alpha Male paired to with Beta Female.  The reverse is found in my novel of a Beta male in love with a narcissistic Alpha female.  This is repulsion to the romance genre, and that is considered publishing suicide. 

Furthermore, I choose to use an ancient mythical funeral liturgy from Egypt, of all things, as the core thread of the story.  Instead of a hook of some exciting scene in the book as the opening, I have placed a stumbling block, almost a gate of sorts, as a threshold that the reader must pass through in order to continue the story.   This mystical, strange gate is required to understand the equally mystical ending of the story, increasing the challenge to the reader to use his or her own imagination.   Between these two bizarre pillars, instead of picture panels or hieroglyphics of The Egyptian Book of the Dead, I have inserted lucid dreams and hallucinations from the protagonist’s point of view that are drawn from a modern well of mystery known as Jungian Depth Psychology.  This not only shows the reader the extent of the post traumatic stress disorder that Marc experiences during the war, but it contains their own meanings and messages .

Here is the reason I chose to leave the path of mass-market appeal. The historical
figures in the story are real people.  The fictional element of this story is of course the lucid dreams, hallucinations, and afterlife scenes.  A purely rational and materialistic point of view would argue that I should just give the reader the real people and story and drop all this other philosophical nonsense.  However, I clearly do not have such a rational point of view and do hold a belief in the life of the soul.   

Elda, Robert and Philip, who appear in this book, are still alive.  However, in the body of the text of The Siren of Paris, the Belgian orphan boy and girl along with dogs, Jean, Georges, Dr. Jackson, and the victims of the RMS Lancastria, perish just as they really did during World War II.  Not only do these people die, but they have no physical graves of their own.  No one even knows the names of the Belgian orphans, but everyone who survived the sinking remembered seeing them and their two dogs, that day, when they boarded the ship.  These two children who walked across France, boarded the Lancastria, and disappeared into the sea haunted me as I wrote this book.  Jean’s body would have either been placed in a mass grave or cremated upon arrival at Buchenwald.  George’s body was cremated at Buchenwald or placed in a mass grave.  Dr. Jackson’s body was lost at sea with the sinking of the S.S. Thielbek.  As for the dead of the Lancastria, all the gravesites listed in the opening chapter of the story also contain graves labeled “Known Unto God,” which means “unknown victim. ”  

The Siren of Paris for the modern reader is a strange book.  It does not pander to any romantic ideas of the war and Paris.  The story fails to entertain the reader with the dream of an idealized love affair.  The message it contains about unresolved guilt is unlike any other Paris novel.  Marc’s involvement with the French Underground lacks the Hollywood warrior hero model many readers know and love.  This is a book that appeals to some readers but not to others. 
However, for the characters in the book who died,  The Siren of Paris is the only book where their stand and fall is recorded along with the millions of other people who died in the war.   Lacking any grave, this is “Their Book of the Dead.”  I wanted to tell this story, but I did not want to exploit these people in their death.  The only way I knew how to do that is by placing the story inside a sacred text.  For them, this is a 48 chapter, 101,891-word long funeral scroll that is constructed and formatted using sacred geometry and enclosed within a grand circle.   This is the essence of The Egyptian Book of the Dead.  The opening words “May the Lord Be With You,” is connected in the end with the words “Thanks Be to God,” as all of these ghosts I have gathered together in this story are free to leave World War II.  

There is no risk that this book will ever become some kind of bestseller to cash in on the Paris obsession.  The story is written as a way to bring closure to all of the souls involved in that apocalyptic war.  I may have placed the interests of the souls of the dead above the interests of the living reader when I wrote this novel, much as a priest in the ancient church faced the cross and altar instead of the congregation as he beseeched the Lord, on their behalf, in prayer. 
David LeRoy

Synopsis of the Novel: 
Born in Paris and raised in the United States, 21-year-old Marc Tolbert enjoys the advantages of being born to a wealthy, well-connected family.. Reaching a turning point in his life, he decides to abandon his plans of going to medical school and study art in Paris. In 1939, he boards a ship and heads to France, blissfully unaware that Europe -- along with the rest of the world -- is on the brink of an especially devastating war.

When he arrives at l'École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux Arts, more ominous signs surface. There are windows covered with tape, sandbags shielding the fronts of important buildings, whispers of Parisian children leaving the city, and gas masks being distributed. Distracted by a blossoming love affair, Marc isn't too worried about his future, and he certainly doesn't expect a Nazi invasion of France.

Marc has a long journey ahead of him. He witnesses, first-hand, the fall of Paris and the departure of the French government. Employed by an ambassador, he visits heads of state, including the horribly obese gray-haired Mussolini and the charismatic Hitler. He witnesses the effects of the tightening vise of occupation, first-hand, as he tries to escape the country. He also participates in the French resistance, spends time in prison camps, and sees the liberation of the concentration camps. During his struggles, he is reunited with the woman he loves, Marie, who speaks passionately of working with the resistance. Is she working for freedom, or is she not to be trusted?

About the Author:
A native of California, David LeRoy received a BA in Philosophy and Religion at Point Loma Nazarene College in San Diego. After returning from a European arts study program, he became interested in the history behind the French Resistance during World War Two. Writing fiction has become his latest way to explore philosophical, moral and emotional issues of life. The Siren of Paris is his first novel. You can visit him at http://www.thesirenofparis.com/

Additional Info:  You can purchase The Siren of Paris from Amazon -- AMAZON and KINDLE-- for more information about this virtual book tour, please visit -
BookPromotions.com-Siren of Paris Tour

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