Interview with Joseph Finley
TaraStone Press (2012)
Reviewed by Marty Shaw for Reader Views (2/13)
Article first published as Interview with Joseph Finley, Author of ‘Enoch’s Device’ on Blogcritics.
Joseph Finley is a writer of historical and fantasy fiction and the author of “Enoch’s Device,” a fast-paced medieval adventure steeped in history, mythology, and mysteries from a dark and magical past. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia.
Tyler: Welcome, Joseph. It’s a pleasure to meet you. To begin, will you tell us a little about the basic premise of “Enoch’s Device”?
Joseph: It’s about two Irish monks, Brother Ciarán and his mentor, Brother Dónall, who are trying to prevent the apocalypse at the end of the Tenth Century. Their quest is driven by a cryptic prophecy that speaks to the End of Days and an artifact called Enoch’s device, which might have the power to prevent the apocalypse. Their journey leads them to a French village whose deceased lord and widowed lady have some mysterious connection to the device. There, they end up rescuing the lady Alais from a heretic hunting bishop, but are pursued by the bishop and seemingly supernatural forces as they race across Europe to locate the device before it’s too late.
Tyler: Are you able to tell us just what the device is, or is that part of the mystery?
Joseph: I can’t say too much without revealing some huge spoilers, but one of the novel’s central mysteries centers around the questions: what is Enoch’s device? And where is it? Early on in the story, it’s revealed that the device is an ancient weapon with the power to prevent the apocalypse. The device has left clues of its passage through history, yet discovering exactly what the device is, and how it has influenced history, is a puzzle that both the characters and the reader must solve.
Tyler: Why the name Enoch? Who is Enoch in your story?
Joseph: Enoch is a reference to the biblical Enoch, the great-grandfather of Noah. He is also the namesake of the Book of Enoch, an apocryphal text that features prominently in the novel. In fact, buried in that text is a reference to Enoch’s device. The Book of Enoch was actually well known to first-century Jews, but then it all but disappeared for more than a thousand years until it was rediscovered in 1773 by the Scottish explorer James Bruce during his travels in Ethiopia. Incidentally, a copy of the Book of Enoch was also discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Tyler: For readers who may not know, can you tell us what is significant about Enoch in the Bible, and also, what is significant about the Book of Enoch?
Joseph: In the Bible, Enoch is very close to God. The book of Genesis says that Enoch walked with God until God took him, which many believe means that Enoch never died and was literally carried to heaven. The significance of the Book of Enoch is that it tells the whole story behind Genesis 6:1-4, where the “Sons of God”—who were angels—saw that the “daughters of men” were fair and took them as wives on earth, giving rise to the race of Nephilim. These events lead to the wickedness that convinces God to use the Great Flood to wipe out creation. The Book of Enoch goes into far more detail, explaining how the fallen angels taught men sorcery and revealed to them the eternal secrets before God dispatched the archangels Michael, Uriel, and Raphael to deal with the problem.
Tyler: Will you tell us about the main character, Ciarán, and how he becomes involved in trying to save the world?
Joseph: Ciarán is a twenty-year-old Irish monk at the monastery of Derry whose world changes when his mentor, a senior monk named Brother Dónall, is accused by a bishop of heresy. In his attempt to prove Dónall’s innocence, Ciarán discovers a series of warnings hidden in the illuminations of a copy of the book of Revelation. Those warnings reference a cryptic prophecy tied to the End of Days—and the unfortunate fact that the prophecy has already begun. So Ciarán not only has to save Dónall, but together, they need to decipher the prophecy to save the medieval world.
Tyler: Apocalyptic stories have become very popular in recent years, but what made you decide to set one in the past rather than the future?
Joseph: I adore history, and the Middle Ages in particular, so I always knew that if I was going to write a novel, it would be set back then. When I decided to tie the story to the biblical apocalypse, the late tenth century became the natural setting because back then, many in Christendom feared the world would end by 1000 A.D.—one thousand years after the birth of Christ.
Tyler: Did you worry that the story’s excitement might be diminished since obviously the world didn’t end in the year 1000 A.D.? If so, how did you get around that issue to keep the story intriguing?
Joseph: Actually, I did have that concern, and I think most writers of historical fiction do. It’s history, after all, so we always know how it’s going to end, but that doesn’t mean you can’t create a compelling story. In Bernard Cornwell’s “Agincourt,” for example, we all know that the English won the Battle of Agincourt, but what we don’t know, until we finish the book, is if all the characters the author got us to care about were going to survive. I think that is the key to writing a good historical novel: creating characters whose fates the readers care about. Another good example is “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” We know the Nazis didn’t use the lost Ark to win World War II, but we still enjoyed the movie because it was one hell of an adventure. My hope is that readers of “Enoch’s Device” will enjoy the mystery and the fast-paced adventure, and then care about the characters and their fate until the very end.
Tyler: The story takes place largely in Ireland and France. Why did you choose those countries as your setting?
Joseph: A good number of my ancestors were Irish, so when it came time to find a home for my two heroic monks, Ireland was the natural fit. Also, in doing research for the book, I read Thomas Cahill’s “How the Irish Saved Civilization,” which further inspired me to make the two heroes of the novel Irish. As for France, a lot of the mysteries in the novel, including the cryptic prophecy, involve the writings of one of the paladins of Charlemagne named Maugis d’Aygremont. As a result, a good deal of the adventure takes place in France, but there’s also a portion of the novel set in Moorish Spain, so I’ve always viewed the characters’ journey as spanning much of Western Europe.
Tyler: Can you tell us more about Maugis d’Aygremont? Are his writings real or did you make them up?
Joseph: Maugis d’Aygremont was one of the legendary paladins of Charlemagne, although I’ve not seen any evidence from the eighth or ninth centuries that he actually existed. That said, he is a major character in the French “chansons de geste” written in the twelfth century. In those stories he’s like a younger version of Merlin, although he’s also a belted knight who adventures alongside Roland and the other paladins. So Maugis, like most of the paladins of Charlemagne, is similar to one of the Knights of the Round Table. He is historical in a legendary sense, but may not have been real. As for Maugis’ writings, the “chansons de geste” are filled with references to his book of spells, which, according to one story, he learned from a Fae (or fairy) named Orionde. This spellbook inspired the Book of Maugis d’Aygremont in “Enoch’s Device.”
Tyler: What can you tell us about the fairies in the novel without giving away too much?
Joseph: In the novel they’re called the Fae and they are the same mysterious figures from many of the Celtic legends. The twist is that in “Enoch’s Device” these beings are actually fallen angels who received clemency following the war in heaven and were allowed to remain on earth instead of being imprisoned in the underworld. The story of these fallen angels is a central topic of the Book of Enoch and is even hinted at in the Book of Genesis. One of the monks in “Enoch’s Device” theorizes that this story became the origin of various legends and myths about the Fae and the pagan gods. The Fae of “Enoch’s Device” have largely faded from the world, but they left behind some of their arcane secrets and entrusted a few of them to the paladins of Charlemagne.
Tyler: Joseph, what is it about the Middle Ages that intrigues you so much?
Joseph: I love history and grew up reading about Robin Hood, King Arthur, and Ivanhoe, as well as the fantasy classics by J.R.R. Tolkien, David Eddings, and other authors who used settings similar to the Middle Ages. That interest has stuck with me ever since.
Tyler: I know from visiting your website that you read a lot of novels and history books about the Middle Ages. Do you have any favorite books or authors on this or other topics that you would say have influenced your writing?
Joseph: My favorite author of medieval fiction is Bernard Cornwell, and he had a big influence on my writing. Umberto Eco and his novel “The Name of the Rose” also helped inspire the book, and then there were a host of fantasy authors I read growing up who nurtured my interest in the genre, including Katherine Kurtz, David Eddings, and Michael Moorcock. I love the work of George R.R. Martin as well, but I didn’t start reading his books until after I had written “Enoch’s Device.”
Tyler: What do you think is the most difficult part of writing historical fiction?
Joseph: To me it’s the enormous amount of research involved. I think most writers of historical fiction strive for historical accuracy, and when you are dealing with a time period as old as the tenth century, the research doesn’t exist in one easy-to-find place. I spent lots of time in a dusty university library reading some rather old books, some of which were written in French, which posed another challenge.
Tyler: And why do you think people are interested in history, and what can they gain by reading historical fiction that they can’t by reading historical non-fiction?
Joseph: I think historical fiction brings history to life in a way that non-fiction never can. Fiction gives you characters, and emotions, and drama—all the things we love about stories. I like non-fiction books about history and read them all the time for research, but I would much prefer reading Bernard Cornwell’s novels about the Vikings in the late ninth century England than a dry history book. Trust me, I’ve done both.
Tyler: What kinds of responses from readers have you received so far for “Enoch’s Device”?
Joseph: The response has been great so far. One of the things that pleases me the most is hearing from readers that they couldn’t put the book down once they started. I intended it to be a fast-paced read, and deliberately kept the chapters relatively short, so I am really glad to know this worked. The reviews from bloggers and other authors have also been very positive.
Tyler: Do you plan to write any more books, and can you tell us a little about them if you do?
Joseph: I’m actually working on the sequel to “Enoch’s Device” right now, which will pick up where the first book ends. It will also take the characters and the reader on another journey, this time to England, where the Vikings were a huge problem, and ultimately to Rome.
Tyler: Thank you again for the opportunity to interview you today, Joseph. Before we go, will you tell us about your website and what additional information we can find there about “Enoch’s Device”?
Joseph: My website is called “Fresh-scraped Vellum” and it’s a blog devoted to book reviews and discussions about historical and fantasy fiction, with a big focus on the Middle Ages. Folks can read it at http://fresh-scrapedvellum.blogspot.com/. In fact, I just started writing a series about medieval fiction that looks at novels set during the various centuries between the fall of Rome and the Renaissance. Also, on the blog, I post updates on giveaways, sales, and other news about “Enoch’s Device.” The book has its own website too at www.enochsdevice.com.
Tyler: Thank you again, Joseph. I wish you much success with “Enoch’s Device” and hope you’ll come back to talk about the sequel when it’s finished.