Hamilton Wende on www.thrillerwriters.org

House of War by Hamilton Wende

House of War.jpgI love storytelling. It would literally be impossible to articulate the joy I feel each time I finish a story and look back over the work. Creating the characters' world and filling it with villains and trials is simply what I was born to do. But when I conversed with Hamilton Wende recently about his new release, House of War, I realized that my writer's journey has only been across the street compared to this author's life-altering travels.

Hamilton Wende is a freelance writer and television producer. He is a regular contributor to From Our Own Correspondent on Radio 4 on the BBC. He was born in the US but now lives and works in Johannesburg South Africa. He is the author of six books and he is a columnist for The Star in Johannesburg and his articles have appeared in many international and South African newspapers and magazines including National Geographic Traveler, The Chicago Tribune, GQ, Maclean's Magazine in Canada, TravelAfrica in the UK, The New Zealand Herald, The Buffalo News in the US, The Sunday Times, Business Day, The Sunday Independent in Johannesburg and many others.

My first question, for which I absolutely had to have the answer, was how did you come to select the subject of Alexander the Great for this story? But then I could not know that answer without including another question. Had you spent a great deal of time intrigued by the history behind your subject before launching into the actual research for the novel?

I was on the edge of my seat waiting for the answer and let me say, before you read on, this is an absolutely amazing answer...no, not an answer, this is an amazing story of its own.

"I was born in Buffalo NY in 1961 and lived there for the first five years of my life until my parents got divorced and my mother remarried my wonderful stepfather and we came to live in Johannesburg South Africa.  Sadly my father died when I was 13 but I have remained in pretty close contact with my uncles and aunts and cousins in the States.  I went to the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg during the height of apartheid and left South Africa in 1985 while the country was under apartheid and came to live in New York - by way of a year's detour to teach English in Japan! 

"I really enjoyed living in the States, but in 1990 when Nelson Mandela was released, I found the pull to return to South Africa and to be a part of the changes here impossible to resist so I came back to SA in 1991 and, while I have travelled extensively and returned to the States often, my base has been Jo'burg.  Having a dual identity has sometimes been confusing for me, but I always say that America is my inheritance while South Africa is my gift and I feel blessed to be a part of both of them.
 
"I came to the story of Alexander and his love for his teen wife Roxanne, by way of one of those wonderful coincidences of life that you only see for their full value sometimes years later. I was working for NBC News in Afghanistan in 2001 during the initial invasion shortly after 9/11.  Of course, those were frightening days for all of us and we really didn't know where our world was headed.  Our team arrived in the village of Khudja Bahouddin in northern Afghanistan just hours before the first air and missile strikes were launched against the Taliban.  A few days later we went to the front lines with a Northern Alliance escort.  

wende-hamilton.JPG"Their tank emplacement was on a stark hill high above a beautiful valley where the Taliban were entrenched some distance away.  A couple of shells were fired by the Northern Alliance commander and I was worried that the Taliban would fire back, so I was in quite a perplexed state of mind when one of the Northern Alliance soldiers said to me quite insistently 'Iskander, Iskander,' which of course, means 'Alexander' in Dari or Persian the language spoken by many of the ethnic Tajik Afghans in the Northern Alliance. I knew that Alexander the Great had been in Afghanistan, but I didn't really understand what he was getting at. 

"Still, somehow, he was trying to make a connection with me, trying to tell me something that he was proud of, and it was only when I got back to Johannesburg and, months later, was doing some research on Alexander in Afghanistan that I came across an old copy of Scientific American in the library of my alma mater, Wits, and I saw an article about a lost city of Alexander the Great in northern Afghanistan called Ay Khanoum that I realized that what that soldier had been trying to tell me was that I had been standing there, on a city founded by Alexander and still remembered with pride by him and many other Afghans. 

"It was a tremendous coming together of personal coincidence, and both ancient and modern history and as I leafed through that old article, one of the last scholarly pieces of research published just after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, the hairs on my arms tingled as I realized that I had the core of my story.  What I had to do then was find Claire and Sebastian and Abdulov and go on the journey with them...

"As you can tell I hadn't done much research until I came across that article and then the research really began!  Of course, because I had travelled in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan I had much of a sense of place, so the 'research' had already been done by my news work long before I began to write the novel.
 
"I have also travelled extensively in Congo, Iraq, Zimbabwe and the States, so all of those places came alive, too, for me in the writing of this book.  I find that I must have a deep sense of place to write properly.  Part of the challenge of writing fiction is to give your readers a sense of possibility of other lives in other places and paradoxically to imagine, you need to have experienced."
 
I cannot tell you how moved I was by this story. I had planned out several questions to ask but the answer to questions one and two said it all. This author wasn't simply born to write...he was born to merge the past with the present and to bring that incredible story to his readers.  I did have the presence of mind to ask one last thing, can you share a bit about the next novel currently in the works?

"My next novel has the working title of Only the Dead which is from the saying popularly attributed to Plato that 'only the dead have seen the end of war'.  It will be set in eastern Congo, there will be a warlord called Faustin who like Goethe's Faust has two souls living in one heart.   Susan, a psychologist from Johannesburg is an expert on the psychology of fear and has done a lot of work on the history of the mythology of the lion in human history and its symbolic link to our deepest sense of fear, and its flipside, the healing power of awe and wonder.  She will be hired by the UN to help write a study of the psychology of child soldiers, many of whom are forced to fight for Faustin, who was also one of the men responsible for the genocide in Rwanda and is now living with his band of soldiers deep in the Congo forests.  Chris is an ex-apartheid soldier who is hired by the UN to provide security for Susan and her team as they do their work with the children, and slowly they begin to uncover the depth of Faustin's greed and ruthlessness..."

webb-debra-small.jpgDebra Webb wrote her first story at age nine and her first romance at thirteen. It wasn't until she spent three years working for the military behind the Iron Curtain and within the confining political Walls of Berlin, Germany, that she realized her true calling. A five-year stint with NASA on the Space Shuttle Program reinforced her love of the endless possibilities within her grasp as a storyteller. A collision course between suspense and romance was set. Debra has been writing romantic suspense and action packed romantic thrillers since.