Scepter of the Gods: The Rod of Truth (Author Interview)

Can you talk about the origin of the title "Scepter of the Gods: The Rod of Truth" and how it ties into the book's themes and story?

The title first occurred to me about fifteen years ago when I was envisioning the overall storyline but the initial story first occurred to me forty years ago as part of a Dungeons and Dragons campaign that I created. The idea needed a lot of work and over the years as I saw our technology develop and became fascinated with other things in the news and on TV programs, I evolved how I saw this storyline. I can’t be more specific than that because it would give away spoilers to not only The Rod of Truth, but to the subsequent four books in the series as well. Back to the title question, I knew that the story was too much for one book. I decided to break it into five books but I needed each book to have a standalone purpose so that I wouldn’t have what happens in a lot of series, which is an installment that only serves as a bridge but isn’t a standalone story. To me that isn’t good storytelling. So rather than having one relic or treasure that was the object of a quest, I decided it would be a better story if there were pieces of one relic that had to be assembled. The characters would have to rebuild a powerful item with capabilities mostly unknown until they fully assembled it having faith in a legend that stated this item would restore their civilization. So, I then decided what these pieces would be and gave them names, deciding that the first book would be about the core piece of the scepter, that being a rod and called it the Rod of Truth. The second book will be titled The Rings of Azimuth because one ring will go at each end of the rod, but that’s all I will say about that yet. Each item or piece, such as the Rod of Truth, has properties that tie to values and character and themes that bridge spirituality and functional realism. Each piece also will tie to something having to do with one of our main characters such as Alex and truth, of Phelia’s medallion which for now shall remain an enigma.

The book has a unique mix of mystical power and rustic civilization. What inspired this setting and how did you build this world?

Well, this is a huge question fraught with the possibility of leaking spoilers, but I will do my best to explain. I have to back up to the gods. Boy, this is difficult without giving things away all the way to book five. I can say that the dynamic between the gods and the civilization along with ancient history in this world gave rise to the rustic civilization, however things have not always been so. What seems to be magic may be something else and what seems to be ancient may not be so old. I can say that there are different sources of different kinds of power. I wanted to have some setting where big things had happened but where even the players in orchestrating those big events in the past were not completely aware of a larger history stretching back millennia. I built the world we see in Rod of Truth as a backdrop that will change throughout the overall storyline.

Each of your four main characters, Alex, Mila, Phelia, and Peter, comes from different backgrounds. How did you develop their characters and ensure they would clash and complement each other in their quest?

Each of the four characters form a sort of haphazard balance. Alex represents complacency that doesn’t recognize an underlying discontent until brought off balance. In comes Mila who provides that tip to throw him off balance and yet her background and core are all about balance of nature and body/mind/spirit. Alex comes from a world of swords, shields, and armor in a setting of deep spirituality. Mila is kind of a blend of ancient Celtic fairy lore, Native American spirituality and medicine, and ancient Huna ways. Phelia is a hot-headed, highly educated, self-entitled elitist with grandiose ambitions who was already going to launch off on a personal quest for fame and fortune but that was cut short by an intentional intervention by the gods. Peter is an enigma and I would prefer to let him remain so until probably at least book three, maybe book four, but he is more than happy to take advantage of Phelia’s aspirations. But they all have their differences because I wanted to have characters of different backgrounds, different abilities, different worldviews, and different values having to learn to trust each other and work together.

The quest for the lost relics is central to your story. How did you go about creating these relics and their significance to the world you’ve built?

My answer to the first question addresses a lot of the intent behind this one, however I can add that if I just answer this question at face value it will blow apart the entire series and there would be no point in anyone reading them. The full answer to this question truly is the story of the Scepter of the Gods. The gods, the relics, the ancient civilization, and the hinted at but untold, deeper story are the reason for the relics and the relics are the key to restoration.

Your book combines elements of adventure, friendship, and deceit. How did you balance these themes to create a cohesive story?

Well, I started, obviously, with adventure. I wanted to write a story with a compelling storyline, but you can’t just write a story that goes from A to Z, no matter how fast the story goes, without bumps, roadblocks, disasters, celebrations, and mystery. It’s not the good stuff that makes a story interesting, it is bringing main characters to the brink of disaster and then giving them a way out that makes a story interesting and engaging. So, friendships must form. But in life, none of us have friendships that have been totally without withdrawals and conflict. Your best friends have stayed your best friends throughout your bumps, times you’ve let them down, times they have let you down, but they’re still your friends. The deal-breaker in a lot of friendships and acquaintances is when there is deceit. Now, sometimes that deceit comes from fear. Maybe one person has a secret so horrendous that they can’t tell even their best friend and to keep it secret, eventually they may have to lie about something or a lot of things. Then, that deceit comes back around to create more adventure. Maybe characters launch off in some direction based on that deceit and then it creates a lot of problems. Maybe.


Can you talk about the role of the Ruach in the story and how it affects the characters and their journey?

Well, this is huge and the elephant in the room is that any Star Wars fan will say, “Oh, well he’s just ripping off Lucas and the Force.” So, that needs to be addressed. In truth, George Lucas engaged theologian and historian Joseph Campbell as his spirituality consultant and the mysticism throughout those stories is based on multiple religious practices, beliefs, and constructs. So, no, I’m not ripping off Lucas or the Force, I’m going back to the source that informed where he got it and creating my own take on the matter. The Ruach is a major pillar throughout the entirety of the five books and will be … let’s just leave it at that. The word “ruach” is a Hebrew word that runs throughout the Old Testament, or Hebrew Bible, meaning “breath of God.” In the New Testament, the Greek word used is “pneuma,” which is where we get the word pneumatics. Alex and Mila start off as the two characters well-versed and practiced in the Ruach, however Mila also performs a healing using Native American words from the Quapaw language. The contrast in the story between light and shadow is a spiritual theme. The very idea that matter is reality manifest from spirit is a theme that has been in countless literary works as well as many, many religions such as even Wicca. A HUGE theme is the contrast and conflict between the practice and belief in the Ruach and technology. An oversimplified way of stating that is that Tekka represents technology and followers of the Ruach represents power that exists but is usually unseen. There are countless more layers to it than that, but we have the same dynamic present in our own cultures worldwide and that dynamic is addressed as a major plot development throughout the entire story.


Your book includes some unusual elements, such as fire-breathing rabbits. What inspired these fantastical aspects and how do they contribute to the story?

Fire-breathing bunnies. I love it. I mentioned earlier that I need ways to bring our characters to the brink of disaster and then give them a way out of it. I couldn’t just have Peter and Phelia just saunter down a white brick road through a forest and come out the other side as if they’d taken a walk in the park. I also needed a way to disclose another major piece in the mystery of what is going on in Adamah. Dreams are great tools for disclosing mysteries. Suddenly being thrust into conflict and danger is a great tool for characters digging deep within and pulling out things they’ve never known about themselves. What could be the worst, most dangerous way you can imagine being waked up? For me, fire would definitely be involved, but what would cause the fire? You can’t just have a forest fire if you’re going to need the forest later. There are no fire departments in Adamah. So, they’re in a forest, what lives in the forest? Rabbits. Bunnies are cute. Usually. Unless they breathe fire, which makes waking up really scary. So, it occurred to me that having fire-breathing rabbits would be funny, dangerous, and also provoking to Phelia’s character development. In fact, that spot is a major piece of her development.

I’ve used the same kind of thought process for the other fantastical beasts I put into the story. Sure, there is a griffin and there will be other beasts that we’ve all seen in stories before. I like doing new things or changing old things to create unexpected twists and turns. I created the branch munching creature in the forest where Alex and Phelia are running from guards because the reader wouldn’t know what to expect. That thing is new so we don’t know whether it will be dangerous or not. So, for me, the fantastical beasts are not just to have critters to slay or to make it interesting, I believe these animals can be used to drive the story where it needs to go and sometimes, like in the case of Koss, get included as interesting ancillary characters.

Walking shadows is a cool thing that just came to me while trying to figure out how Mila was traveling and during the first draft I decided to have it play a major part. In fact, I liked that it gave me a way to contrast physical and spiritual themes of light and shadow, good and evil. I also like that it provides a way for us to see a character deal with preconceived notions of something thought to be dark and evil and come to understand that they had it wrong and then accept a new understanding. That kind of thing will come up again and again but maybe the opposite. What was thought to be good and acceptable is revealed to be heinous or diabolical. Fantastical constructs are fun ways to wrestle with things like this.


The relationship between Alex and the headmaster is a significant part of the story. Can you talk about how you developed their dynamic and its importance to the plot?

This relationship is actually a successful accident. My first draft of this story was with Alex waking up suddenly from his vision, that was initially just a dream. My wife loved it but she couldn’t get past my detailed description of his swordplay in the courtyard after waking up to clear the dream from his head. She said it was too drawn out and bogged the story down before it even got started. Then I started thinking how characters waking from a dream as an opening sequence has been vastly overused and I needed to change it up but keep the important stuff. I rewrote the opening another five or six times and she didn’t find any of them interesting. I already had in mind that the headmaster would be mentioned in this book but have more importance as the stories develop, so I came up with the idea to start the story later in the morning with Alex in the headmaster’s office explaining the vision and his students, etc. I also had two other entire chapters of the mysterious traveler coming to the Citadel and searching for something and to get the story moving forward more quickly I decided to fuse it all together in the first chapter.

I say all that to say that this gave rise to the headmaster’s character development in ways I didn’t originally conceive and I was able to give him his own mysteries and secrets and apparent abilities all hinted at in the first chapter. As with most of this book, things are not as they might appear. The dynamic between Alex and his headmaster will continue but that’s about all I can say about it at this point. As Alex says at the end of the first chapter, “Headmaster Jornigan absolutely knew more than he ever let on.”


Trust and power are recurring themes in the book. How do you hope readers will interpret these themes in the context of the story?

These are both commodities and each human being trades with them every day. If we value trust, we take care of relationships where we trust other people and they trust us. Stephen Covey wrote about a dynamic that he called the “emotional bank account,” in which we make deposits every time we earn another person’s trust and vice versa. When we or another person violate trust, we make a withdrawal and as long as there is still a balance in the emotional bank account, we’re good. Do something big that overdraws that emotional bank account and then there are big problems. Contrasting to that, the seduction of power, the promise of power, the use and misuse of power, can all serve to violate or build trust. The ancient phrase, “absolute power corrupts absolutely” may come into play through these stories but I can neither confirm nor deny that at this point. Clearly, there are characters discovering new power but it isn’t quite so clear as to how that power may affect them later. My hope for interpreting this dynamic is that no matter how much power we have, it should always be secondary to protecting trust and not misusing trust to further one’s power or one’s schemes.


What do you hope readers will take away from "Scepter of the Gods: The Rod of Truth"?

The easy answer is what I’ve already been hit with is, “Where is book two? I want book two!” I was almost afraid on one occasion. Just kidding, but so far people have been already pressing me for the next book, which is currently a sketchy outline and mostly still in my head. I am working on it fast and furiously. The more complicated answer is that I hope this story helps readers ponder our relationship with nature, with the Universe, with the indwelling spirit within that gives rise to our creativity and gives us far more power than we ever admit we have. Do I believe any of us will be using the spirit within to blow holes in walls or blast a hole in the middle of a forest or walk shadows? No, not really, but who knows what a human being can really be capable of doing if we eventually fully embrace what we are and what we are created to be?

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