Today we have an interview with author Vincent Czyz. It is our pleasure to welcome Vincent Czyz, author of The Christos Mosaic and Adrift in a Vanishing City.
Dinh: So I would like to talk a bit about your history, have you always wanted to be a writer?
Vincent: To steal a line from a better writer (Gore Vidal), I always *was* a writer although it took a couple of decades before I was any good at it. As he and many other authors have pointed out, you don’t really choose writing; it chooses you.
I was 12 when I first attempted to write a book. I was fascinated by astronomy and wanted to write a book about Jupiter (cleverly enough titled All About Jupiter).
My next attempt at writing a book—a novel—filled several wire-bound notebooks of 300 or so pages each. It was a sword-and-sorcery fantasy that leaned heavily on The Lord of the Rings. I started it my freshman year and gave up on it by about the end of high school, but as a teenager I was already staying home and writing while my friends were out doing what teens normally do.
Dinh: What was your inspiration to go into this profession?
Vincent: Well, again, it wasn’t my idea exactly. I more or less felt driven to write stories.
For a while my teachers thought I might go into one of the visual arts—I loved to draw and I was pretty good at it.
But once I was out of grammar school I gravitated toward words more than drawings or pictures or paintings. Images generally didn’t carry enough information for my purposes; they’re not a great medium for ideas.
To convey ideas with any sort of nuance or specificity we really only have two media: language and mathematics.
And I never took to math. That’s not to say I’m not fond of images or description in writing; I am. But those are images of a different sort and they serve a different purpose.
Dinh: What’s your favorite part of writing a book?
Vincent: The actual writing. I know writers often complain about writer’s block or not knowing where to start or the near-existential dread of a blank page (or screen).
I don’t really have those issues, and I tend to think that if the work resists you that much, you might consider pursuing something else.
My connection to writing is a form of addiction; if I don’t write for more than a week or so, I start to feel a deep craving for it—so much so that there are times when I simply blow off everything I’m “supposed” to do, ignore the likely consequences, clear a space in my head, and sit down and write.
I’m often happiest when I’m writing—it’s a trance-like state for me at times—and one of the ways, I think, you can tell you are where you should be is by how time passes.
Sometimes I sit down at the computer and think 20 minutes have gone by. I look up and an hour and a half has vanished. I double-check with another clock only to find, yes, I poured myself into a black hole in time—but I’ve returned with whatever pages I managed to finish.
Dinh: Where do your inspirations mostly come from? Personal or world events? Or both?
Vincent: Both. I draw on history and religion and world events but also on very personal experiences of my own and sometimes, fairly often actually, the experiences and stories of others.
I once came out of writers’ group meeting in Istanbul on a cold November night and a couple of us saw a body at the foot of Galata Tower—a major tourist attraction—just being covered up. I don’t know why, but I fixated on this incident and wove a story around it (“The Moon has Fallen Into a Well”), which was later published in Shenandoah magazine.
The story I wrote and what actually happened (a friend translated a newspaper account for me) had nothing to do with each other except that in both cases it was a suicide. This is often how I work. I become obsessed with a voice or an image or an event—personal or otherwise—and start writing a story.
The Christos Mosaic is a blend of sources—history and theology are the non-personal sources, but then my descriptions of Istanbul and the emotional life of Drew, my main character, come mostly out of direct experience.
Dinh: Which genres do you prefer to read?
Vincent: I read almost exclusively literary fiction when it comes to novels and short story collections. My first book, Adrift in a Vanishing City, is what I would call a café book (whereas The Christos Mosaic is more of an airport or beach book). Adrift was actually considered by most critics to be avant garde.
Certainly it wasn’t a traditional collection of short fiction. The most important consideration was the language itself, the voice the stories were told in, and everything else was secondary.
I also love reading nonfiction—books on history, cosmology/astronomy, psychology, myth, biography.
Dinh: You lived in Turkey for about 10 years, how was that and are you glad to be back in the States?
Vincent: Well, to be fair, I never lived in Turkey for more than three consecutive years. If you add up all the time I spent there (including summers when I was actually visiting rather than living there), it comes up a bit short of a decade. That said, it was one of the most formative experiences in my life, if not the most formative.
One of the things I discovered is how insular the United States is and by contrast how integrated the European community is. News wasn’t 75% weather, 20% the latest crimes or accidents, and then a mention of something that was actually news; it was 75% what was going on in the world—and not just Turkey or even Europe—all over the world.
I’ve traveled quite a bit (a total of about 32 countries and 48 of the 50 states), but that doesn’t compare to learning to understand and appreciate a foreign culture through their history, language, customs, and by living and working in their country.
Turkey deepened my perspective in ways I don’t think would have been possible had I not lived outside the US.
In terms of Turkey, specifically, it is often wonderful to be surrounded by so much history. The Sultanahmet quarter of Istanbul is virtually an open-air museum.
Turkey also has a lot of coastline along the Mediterranean and that area is just stunning—almost like waking up in an ancient poem … say, The Odyssey.
I love the Mediterranean light, the sea itself, the islands, the ruins. Allegedly, there are more Greek and Roman ruins in Turkey than in Greece and Italy, but there are abundant remnants of other civilizations as well; nearly 40 civilizations inhabited some part or other of what is now Turkey.
If anyone is interested, a detailed account of a trip my wife and I took to southwestern Turkey was published by MayDay Magazine.
Dinh: Where would you live if you could live anywhere in the world?
Vincent: Probably on an island between mainland Greece and Turkey. I’m an “islomane,” a word coined by Lawrence Durrell in a sort of travelogue (Reflections on a Marine Venus) about the island of Rhodes.
Islomanes “find islands somehow irresistible. The mere knowledge they are on … a little world surrounded by the sea fills them with an indescribable intoxication.” I went so far as to write a poem called “Island Life” about my Islomania.
It’s not just geography; I prefer the slow pace of islands, the leisurely atmosphere that seems to infect everyone with a benign torpor. It’s conducive to reading, writing, enjoying the sea, whatever washes ashore, and a more (it seems to me) natural rhythm of life.
Vincent: Well, my awakening to the possibility that Jesus of Nazareth never walked the Earth began in Istanbul when a friend of mine loaned me a book called The Jesus Mysteries. I knew virtually nothing about the Mystery religions before reading that book, and it was fairly revelatory to discover that the dying-and-rising aspects of Jesus had been borrowed from the much older Mystery cults.
I wasn’t, however, quite convinced, but after more reading, the evidence began to mount. Finally, around 2006, while living in Istanbul, I was browsing the Internet for books about the Dead Sea Scrolls and came across a number of provocative observations made by John Allegro, one of the scholars who studied them (I quote him several times in the novel).
Like Drew, I made frequent trips to Istanbul’s Market of Secondhand Booksellers, and on one of these trips I came across Robert Eisenman’s James, the Brother of Jesus. Reading Eisenman’s book, I realized I had enough material for an intellectually entertaining novel.
So in many ways, the story began for me the way it begins for Drew: in the Market of Secondhand Booksellers.
I should also point out that I traveled to all of the locations in the novel—Cairo, Alexandria, the monasteries in the desert near Alexandria, Antakya—and that, in fact, the destinations helped shape the story.
For example, when Drew and Jesse emerge from St. Peter’s Grotto Church, they see a huge stone carving of what appears to be Mother Mary. I won’t spoil anything for readers who haven’t gotten to the book; I’ll just say that the carving is there and Drew’s observation about it fits in perfectly with one of the themes of the novel.
When something unforeseen like that happens, it always makes you feel like you are a medium channeling something or other. The mosaic on the floor of the Grotto Church had a similar effect.
Again, I had no idea it was there before I visited Antakya, but once I saw it, I knew I had to get my characters to that church under the right circumstances.
Anyone interested in seeing photos of the actual sites (including a photo of me next to “Mother Mary” in Antakya) can go to www.vincent-czyz.com/
Dinh: How long did it take to complete The Christos Mosaic? (How long did it take you from the time you got the idea for the book, to do the extensive research, writing, and then to publishing…how long was the complete process?).
Vincent: The novel was written between 2006 and 2008. It took another 7 years—and many more revisions—to get it published.
It was originally nearly 800 pages! I got the manuscript down to 549 pages and the novel as a hardback is now 531 pages.
The length was part of what put off many publishers. Also the fact that I was not a well-known author.
More importantly, however, very few large houses were willing to take on a book that was so controversial. Henry Morrison, who was Robert Ludlum’s agent and still handles his literary properties, read a few early chapters and warned me: “Whether Jesus existed or didn’t exist is always a fascinating question but not one that is likely to grab the excitement of a major publisher because major publishers are inherently conservative.”
Dinh: How did you come up with the names of your characters? They seem to fit perfectly in this novel.
Vincent: Generally that’s mostly instinct. Zafer is a name I’ve always liked (pronounced Zah-FAIR) and it means “victory,” so I thought it was suitable for him.
Drew’s first name was purely an intuitive choice. His last name is a town in Croatia; I just liked the sound of it.
Jesse’s name is loaded (as one finds out by the end of the novel). Kadir was another instinctive pick.
Dinh: Did you ever get discouraged and think you would not finish it to your expectation?
Vincent: Not really, but I was terrified I’d never find a publisher, and all that work would go to waste.
Dinh: Are you working on new ideas for a new book?
Vincent: My next novel is with my agent now.
Soul-Burners, it will probably be pitched, is a neo-Gothic novel set primarily in New York City during the mid-1990s.
Bob Bostwick, an editor at a struggling imprint, becomes obsessed with a serial killer whose methods bear an uncanny likeness to those of a fictional killer he contrived more than a decade earlier.
Suspecting that the killer is his own dark reflection, Bob delves into disparate fields—Aboriginal dreamtime, alchemy, Gnosticism, ghost sightings, art history, sympathetic magic, and Bohmian physics among them—in an attempt to understand the connection between himself and the killer.
While he is experimenting with these unorthodox detective methods, he becomes ensnared in a love quadrangle that involves a younger editor, one of his authors, and an East Village dominatrix. With the gender of the killer in question, no one is above suspicion.
Dinh: Where can your fans find you?
Dinh: Thank you for the interview Vincent, I hope these were not too many questions.
Vincent: No, not at all. I’m really just happy to have this much interest in The Christos Mosaic and in me as an author. Many thanks!
I hope the interview with author Vincent Czyz gave you some insights to The Christos Mosaic and to the author who wrote the novel. You can get The Christos Mosaic here.
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