Leveraging the Setting to Add Drama to THE LORDS OF POWDER

The Lords of Powder is a mashup of modern fantasy, historical fiction and action/adventure (  https://amzn.to/2HqdqU5 ) Below, I describe how the novel’s settings supported created drama in the story.

Part of the fun of The Lords of Powder’s 1,500-year-old protagonist is that the author can plunder history for exciting times and places to deploy in the story. To that end, most of the novel takes place during the “cocaine wars” of 1978 Miami. Other episodes are set in tenth-century Spain, eighth-century Lindisfarne in England, and fifth-century Cornwall.

In Miami, many of The Lords of Powder’s scenes are adapted from events that actually occurred in and around that city in the late 1970s and early 1980s. An author is hard pressed to create incidents more vivid and violent than reality. However, besides being appalled at the level of bloodshed, it’s edifying to consider the organizational and logistical acumen displayed by smugglers in moving their product around the Caribbean and United States. Interested readers can explore documentary films including Billy Corben’s Cocaine Cowboys, and books including Black Tuna Diaries by Robert Platshorn, American Desperado by Jon Roberts and Evan Wright, and Saltwater Cowboy by Tim McBride. Popular media accounts from this period also describe activities of criminal organizations in the shipment, distribution, and sale of illicit drugs.

Tenth-century Spain and, more specifically, the Caliphate of Córdoba, is also a fascinating setting though The Lords of Powder only touches on its politics and culture. Under the Caliphs, Abd al-Rahman III and his son, al-Hakam II, it was an imperial realm jockeying with contemporary powers for regional dominion, but also a center of culture and learning. The poet, scribe, and librarian, Lubna, is variously described, but appears to have been an accomplished member of the Caliph’s court during this period and deserves additional biographical research.

For a modern writer, efforts of eight-century monks at work in Europe’s scriptoriums are admirable. One contrasts their circumstances, presumably ill lit, facing temperature extremes, and subject to occasional interruptions by Viking raids such as occurred at Lindisfarne in 793 CE, with modern authors composing on computers or tablets while sitting in ergonomic chairs. A wonderful starting point to understand Middle Ages texts is Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts by Christopher de Hamel. Further, there are many histories of the Vikings, but an interesting recent addition to this canon is Tom Shippey’s Laughing Shall I Die that delves into the mentality and attitudes of these marauders.

Fifth-century Britain is yet another intriguing setting, with a retreating Roman Empire, large-scale population movements, invading barbarian tribes, and, despite it all, evidence of trade with distant parts of Europe and the Levant. A surprising amount of that trade appears to have reached Tintagel on the remote north Cornish coast. By legend, this is where King Arthur was conceived. There are any number of interpretations about how much, if any, historical fact underlies stories of Arthur and Merlin. However, based on archeological excavations at and around Tintagel, it seems clear that this site could have been a center of political and mercantile activity during the fifth and sixth centuries. In other words, it’s a perfect place for The Lords of Powder’s protagonist to get his start as Merlin and King Arthur’s protégée (see the previous book in this series, The Lords of Oblivion  https://amzn.to/2ErV96l ). And one only has to stand overlooking Tintagel’s coastline in late November when the tourists are gone and the stone fortifications and dwellings are the only company during frigid, dark gray weather to feel close to whoever occupied the place 1,500 years ago. Among the writing about this site, a good place to start is the visitor’s guidebook by Brian K. Davison.

Meshing (or mashing) these apparently wildly disparate settings together was intended to imbue The Lords of Powder with drama, ideal for a novel which seeks to be an entertaining adventure overlaying a morality story. Additional themes include the appeal of wrongdoing and the ease of slipping into a criminal weltanschauung as well as the tense relationship between creativity and power. Further, the diverse settings noted above lend themselves to considering the nature of borders both geographic and attitudinal. After all, the protagonist is a smuggler and might well reflect on crossing all manner of borders.

Many thanks to Anne, Steve L., Carolyn, Shikha, and John B. for thoughtful edits and suggestions. Any mistakes in the novel are likely because I disregarded their input. And, finally, a shout out to my father, Foster W. Blaisdell, Ph.D., a scholar of Germanic languages including old Norse at Indiana University (Bloomington), who inspired my own interest in history.

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