My Favorite Bit: Howard Andrew Jones talks about THE BONES OF THE OLD ONES
When I was first introduced to Howard A. Jones he mentioned this book he was working on, which he said was sort of like a cross between Arabian Nights and Sherlock Holmes. The first book, The Desert of Souls, totally lived up to that elevator pitch. Rollicking! He’s back with the sequel, The Bones of the Old Ones, and I think you’ll enjoy hearing about his Favorite Bit.
HOWARD ANDREW JONES
In my stories, Dabir ibn Khalil is sort of like an Arabian Sherlock Holmes – except that he’s not as infallible as the famous Englishman – so let’s say that his deadliest enemy, Lydia Doukas, is a little like Irene Adler, except with necromantic powers. And she, more than any particular scene, is my favorite part of The Bones of the Old Ones.
Her relationship with Dabir has sort of an odd origin, one birthed not from historical fiction or fantasy, but space opera. When I was 9 and looking over the paperback book rack at the neighborhood Goodwill I chanced upon E.E. “Doc” Smith’s Skylark Duqesne. I didn’t know much about the history of science fiction or what was new/old/groundbreaking and, like I said, I was 9, so you’ll have to forgive me for thinking this back cover copy was one of the coolest things ever written:
Dick Seaton & Marc DuQuesne are the deadliest enemies in the Universe—their feud has blazed among the stars & changed the history of a thousand planets. But now a threat from outside the Galaxy drives them into a dangerous alliance as hordes of strange races drive to a collision with mankind! Seaton & DuQuesne fight & slave side by side to fend off the invasion—as Seaton keeps constant, perilous watch for DuQuesne’s inevitable double-cross!
I read and re-read that back cover copy as I tracked down the preceding volumes, anticipating the good times I was to have reading the whole series, culminating in that fantastic ending. By the time I finally read Skylark Duqesne, I had imagined something pretty different from the conclusion Smith delivered. I felt disappointed. I’d kind of enjoyed the book, sure, but it seemed sort of old fashioned, and… I got to wondering what would have happened if it had been done differently.
Decades later I was still thinking about the kind of character dynamics I’d wanted to see, and how I might incorporate an interaction like that into one of my own stories, even if that story was in ancient Mosul rather than deep space. By then I was better informed in genre matters, and just as I took a little from the relationship between Holmes and Adler, I took just a smidge from the whole Batman/Catwoman dynamic. Don’t laugh. Okay, well, laugh a little. Dabir doesn’t dress up in a costume to fight crime, but he is dedicated to justice, and like the Animated Series Batman, he’s pretty smart. Lydia isn’t remotely a sexy cat burglar, but she’s got that “I’m out for my own good” vibe coupled with that whole air of “I’ve had to be tough to make it on my own.” After all, she’s an incredibly gifted woman in a world dominated by men even more than it is today.
I knew anyone who could stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Dabir had to be pretty smart, and to have his respect she’d have to be talented and driven. Lydia’s got all of that going on. She’s smarter than just about everyone else she meets, so she doesn’t know what to make of the brilliant Dabir, who’s one of the first people she’s ever met that might be her equal. Because the narrator, Asim, had to kill her father in the previous book, Lydia wouldn’t especially mind seeing Asim dead, and that naturally doesn’t sit well with his best friend Dabir.
Just as Seaton and DuQuesne had no choice but to ally, Lydia and Dabir have to join forces to stop the disaster Lydia herself had a hand in creating. Watching those two and Asim try to find a way to work together was some of the most fun I’d ever had writing. Each side watches the other for that fatal betrayal at the same time that they’re beginning to feel inklings of trust and even affection for one another. Each new piece of information revealed – sometimes against someone’s wishes — over the course of the novel created so many character sparks for me that great chunks of those conversations are almost identical to their first draft. I could hear the characters so clearly I got it “right” the first time. I wish it always felt like I was taking dictation while rough drafting.
I happen to be proud of a number of things I did in this novel, along with the creation of another important character or four. I like the added complexity I wove in, and I think I somehow managed to pull off the feat of having Dabir be far more brilliant than me (mostly because I give myself a few months to figure out dilemmas he unravels in a minute or two on the page). I’m pleased with the character arcs, and the background mythology and some scenes I don’t want to give away. But for all that, I think most of my favorite parts involve Lydia in some way or another. It’s funny how a beat-up old paperback from a different genre can inspire you. I wonder if The Bones of the Old Ones would even have been written if someone hadn’t turned over that old novel to Goodwill thirty some years back?
When not spending time with his family Howard can usually be found hunched over a laptop or notebook, mumbling about doom-haunted towers and flashing swords. His debut historical fantasy novel, The Desert of Souls (St.Martin’s/Thomas Dunne Books 2011) made Kirkus’ New and Notable list for 2011, and was on both Locus’s Recommended Reading List and the Barnes and Noble Best Fantasy Releases list of 2011. Its standalone sequel, The Bones of the Old Ones, released this week, has received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly. He is hard at work on a third historical fantasy novel as well as a sequel to his Pathfinder Tales novel, Plague of Shadows.