Today I am excited to feature author Jerry Soffer on my blog.
An excerpt of his novel, the shadow of Xeno’s eye, is included below but first let’s find out a little more about Jerry.
1. Please tell us about your current release.
the shadow of Xeno’s eye tells the Trojan war saga as a parable of the U.S invasion of Iraq. It’s consistent with every detail of The Iliad, The Odyssey, The Aeneid, related Greek myths, Greek tragedies, and the geography of Greece and Troy, but it reveals the many parallels between the two wars, though they were 3,200 years apart.
Xeno, the narrator, was conscripted into the Greek coalition force off a merchant vessel as it brought supplies to Troy. He became a merchant seaman to escape his grim life in a fishing village in Ithaca, a past that leads him to see the dark underbelly of things around him. We first meet him inside the Trojan horse. During the sack of Troy and its aftermath, he learns that the war was fought to make Troy a Greek base on the Dardanelles so Greece could control access to the Black Sea. “Helen of Troy” had nothing to do with the cause of the war, but was used as a fraudulent excuse; she was an ancient arsenal of non-existent Weapons of Mass Destruction. Both wars were really fought over natural resources (we really wanted Iraq’s oil) and both used false justifications to sway emotions and conceal their true purposes.. In the end, Greece, like the USA, can’t sustain its presence, and warring local elements overrun the territory. Xeno embeds with a tribe of local fishermen, becoming the last Greek soldier. In both wars, a western superpower invades asia with “shock and awe,” but both war efforts bog down into a decade of inconclusive slaughter. Our iconic myths and images aren’t what they seem: they never were.
2. What inspired you to write this book?
Several years before we invaded Iraq, I saw a PBS documentary on the Trojan War, which examined history and various archeological sites to see if there was evidence that the Trojan War was really fought as the myths describe. The evidence was inconclusive. I looked at a globe and became more skeptical. When the Iraq war broke out, I re-read an obscure section of the Iliad that summed up the forces of both armies. Both armies were coalitions of different countries (city-states) and, hidden in the poetic language, was a startling fact: Even though the supposed purpose of the war was to rescue Helen, queen of Sparta, Agamemnon, the King of Corinth, bankrolled a major part of the coalition, and sacrificed the life of his daughter just to get a win that would bring the Greek fleet over to Troy. In other words, the Iliad contains a hidden clue that its own story is a lie. I started to write a short story, but Xeno is a young adult male who didn’t always do what I wanted him to do. He and the story got away from me, and I ended up writing a long historical novel.
3. How did you come up with the title?
I couldn’t think of a title that I or anyone else liked. After the manuscript was done, my wife and I were at a restaurant with friends, and I was telling them about the book and my difficulties with the title. They started suggesting titles, none of which I liked, but the conversation stimulated my thoughts, and I came up with “the shadow of Xeno’s eye” while we waited for dessert.
4. What kind of research did you do for this book?
I ended up doing exhaustive research as the short story spiraled into a novel. I re-read the Iliad and the first part of the Aeneid, reviewed the Odyssey, researched all the satellite myths (Iphigenia, Clytemnestra, the Laocoon Priests, etc.) read pertinent Greek tragedies (these’s a scene from Euripides’ Trojan Women, as seen through Xeno’s eyes) and studied the geography of ancient Greece and the Dardanelles (the area in what is now western Turkey where Troy once stood), including prevailing weather, wind, and tidal patterns around Troy.
5. Which of your characters is your favorite?
Xeno, my protagonist and narrator, is my favorite character, and the one most like me. That stands to reason, because I tell the story through his eyes and with his voice. The horrible things that happened to him when he was growing up didn’t happen to me, and I was never a soldier, but my odd-ball personality and innate wariness come out in him. The term “xeno” is a prefix referring to an outside object, something that doesn’t belong or fit in. That’s him. That’s me.
I tried to make other characters like Iraq War figures. Agamemnon was portrayed as a jerk in the Iliad, and I made him like Pres. Bush 43. He even says ”Mission accomplished” and “They’ll welcome us as liberators.” He’s a neocon. Odysseus is the greatest con artist, schemer, and manipulator of all time, Bernie Maddoff and Carl Rove rolled into one.
The excerpt is the book’s opening, with Xeno and the other volunteers at the breaking point, after almost twenty four hours in the horse.
No! No! This is not music- flies buzzing, vomit, the slaughter of goats, they speak wretch and sing pig squeal, stink turned to sound, and our own people lie to us about what they don’t know and do, leading us blind up here into our own filth.
Sit and wait.
Sit and wait.
The Old Man nods to himself like he knows what’s out there. He don’t know shit, he thinks we’ll panic, panic after all this- well, yeah, it’s close, and it’ll be on him if we do, he’s the reason we’re here. Him. Who else could tell us this shit and not sound crazy? So he has that sly smile and I don’t know if anyone believes him any more but we’re scared so he might fool us or make us fool ourselves and he knows he’s working us both ways, maybe that’s why he’s smiling. I’m wondering if our own stink will seep through and betray us, but he won’t worry himself about that, he already turned away his face like he’s too good for it, so we sit and wait, sit and wait.
Back when we loaded in, yesterday, last night, I forgot already, he talked like we were kids: empty your bowels, sit down, be still. The rags they put on us to muffle noise made us look like swaddled babies and he tried to be serious but couldn’t help laughing. Mitri can fart at will and he put his thumb in his mouth and cut a ripe one while he shook his feet in the air; he sounded like those pigs outside. The Old Man slapped Mitri’s helmet but the rags softened it and Mitri didn’t even know he’d been hit. He put his helmet back, thinking his own blast moved it, waving the air away from his face. It made us all laugh, even Old Graybeard, but now I wonder if the Old Man hadn’t set it all up to relax us before we locked in. Sometimes he thought of everything; sometimes. He’d kept food from us all that day, but by now we were too scared to shit. Good thing, that; it smelled enough in here.
He played us again, we just didn’t see it then. He lay back droopy-eyed against the planks, sighed, drew his knife slow like he had nothing to do, and blinked as he looked at it like he’s fighting off sleep, making himself stay awake as he checked the blade for dings. He wiped it clean and sheathed it, real slow so there’s no scraping sound, like they’d hear anything out there. His eyes drooped but he caught himself and motioned us to check our own knives. We did, and damn if I didn’t start to feel tired. I couldn’t have been alone. Who’d blame us after all this? He had this fatherly look on his face, still laid back, and he motioned for us to do the same, slow and lazy, and we did. I still watched him, I don’t know why. His eyes looked like he was thinking about something but they got loose and looked straight ahead, real loose, and then they closed. Then they opened, not with a start but like it didn’t matter. He looked around at us, started to fade again, and shrugged like there was no point keeping himself awake, and I’m thinking he may be right, and I couldn’t have been alone in that either. What could we do? Sit and wait; lay back and relax. A stillness settled in, the squall outside faded, and rest weighed on my eyes. I couldn’t tell when stillness changed to dreams:
The fire dims; Gramps slumps against the wall like his bones fell and pulled the rest of him along. Soup-faced, jaw dangling one way, tongue another, only his eyes show life. He’s talking to my father but one of those eyes strays over and looks at me. I’m too scared to squirm away. His hand tremor stops and he raises one into a crook-fingered boat hook, trying to rasp out words. The wheeze takes form:
“His own girl … He … He murdered his own … girl … for a wind.”
Anger and the wine, sap his strength and he folds himself back to the wall, teeth jutting out here and there like javelins in the sand. I don’t know if he’s alive or dead. He scares me either way.
I’m coming up on 66 years of age, and have been retired for a little more than three years. I was a criminal defense attorney for thirty five years, and loved it for most of that time, but it’s very stressful, and not really for old folks; towards the end, I was ready to go. I have a law degree from Rutgers Law School, and a Masters degree from the Rutgers Graduate School of Criminal Justice. I live with my wife (who’s also an attorney, but still working) in Maplewood, New Jersey. We’ve been married for thirty one years, and have grown twin daughters who are twenty seven. One is a senior project manager working in Manhattan, the other just graduated law school, and will work for a major law firm that’s also in Manhattan.
This is my first novel. After years in court arguing motions, appeals, and especially addressing juries, I realized I was a storyteller, a narrator of events and possibilities. I sketched various ideas for short stories, and liked this one the best, because it was timely and topical. However, the story, and Xeno as a character, got away from me, and “shadow” turned into a novel. I spend too much time trying to promote this book, and would like to spend more time writing my next book, which also uses a well known myth as a vehicle for telling several stories at once.
the shadow of Xeno’s eye can be purchased either at Smashwords or Amazon.