In the summer of 2000, I moved to Barcelona with my family for reasons both professional and personal.
Unlike many people who change countries, we weren’t fleeing chaos. We weren’t forced to move under duress. No one was shooting at us.
But the truth is that I was fleeing something.
I was running away from my own complacency.
There’s a French word, “depaysment,” which roughly translates to mean “out of your element,” and that’s what I needed. Moving to Spain jerked me out of my comfort zone.
Of all the expat adventures, comic defeats and small victories that emerged from my five years abroad, the one I’m most proud of is “No Roads Lead to Rome.”
Here’s how the book hit me.
One weekend, I was hiking with a friend in the Collserola, the hills above Barcelona. We were lamenting the decline and fall of damn near everything when the story hatched like a bird in my brain. I imagined two Roman soldiers having the same conversation 2000 years earlier. We were walking in their footsteps. The world had changed, but people had not.
As revelations go, this tiny insight could have easily escaped me. People have always felt like things are changing too fast and rarely for the better.
Big deal, right?
Within minutes, I was possessed by an old Roman legionary and a young conscript. I could hear them lamenting their lot in life. How could the Senate vote to build another monument when people can’t even afford a decent pair of sandals? How did those vexed Roman numeral crunchers conclude the bread dole was too expensive? Much of the dialogue between my grizzled old centurion, Marcus Valerius, and his chatty young sidekick, Gaius Severus, took root that afternoon.
Centurion Valerius is frustrated that the old ways are changing too fast. He’s tired of being marched off on fool’s missions to defend an empire he no longer believes in. He wants to retire, but no empire ever went broke paying pensions to old soldiers. The smart and mysterious conscript, Gaius Severus, thinks things aren’t changing fast enough. He’s full of opinions, eager to make his way in the world, and his nonstop talking nearly drives old, silent Valerius crazy. These two are pitted against Festus Rufius, the party boy Governor of Hispania, and his shady advisor, Winus Minem, a fast-talking bamboozler who would sell the world, twice, if he could.
When I learned that around 123 AD a slave had botched an attempt to kill the Emperor Hadrian in Tarraco — Tarragona, Spain — the first line in the novel wrote itself: “When it comes to assassination, execution is everything.”
My cast of characters staged a coup and took over my life. They took me hostage and have yet to let me go. They have many new stories to tell. Each one wants to star in a sequel.
There are books and ideas that will change your life—relax, this isn’t one of them. I’m not trying to make you think because you’re already a thoughtful person. I worked hard to capture the sights, smells, and sensations of the ancient world and render the story humorous, entertaining, and relevant to modern readers. The e-book version costs less than coffee and a scone and lasts longer.
Of all the reviews I’ve received, this excerpt from a reader named Jerry, is the most gratifying:
”I have a pretty dreadful life at the moment and rarely laugh but several times throughout No Roads Lead to Rome, I found myself not only laughing but laughing out loud…”
I’m gratified that so many people have bought the book. Some people write for themselves, and that’s fine, but I wrote “No Roads” because a handful of old Romans colonized my brain.
Maybe all roads don’t lead to Rome, but I know they lead somewhere good and I hope we meet along the way.
If you like “No Roads,” please return the favor by posting a review. Whether you love it or hate it, I’d be happy to hear from you. Please post a comment below or send me a note at noroadsleadtorome (at) gmail.com . If you have a favorite character, let me know so I don’t accidentally kill him off in the sequel.