Interview with A.K. Patch, Author, Passage at Delphi

Q: First of all, Dr. Patch, Passage at Delphi is a very ambitious project, a compelling blend of deep history and crafty fiction writing – a magnum opus in many ways. How long have you been working on it?

A: PASSAGE has been in progress for seven years now. I’ve been in no rush to publish it and it has become far more interesting and involved plot. I’ll never have writer’s block. The story just comes out. I occasionally write the story in my head while I’m jogging.

Q: You wrap the story around a pair of university professors from California who travel to their beloved Greece on an archaeological dig – only to be transported back in time, as intended by the Greek god Apollo. Could you discuss the protagonists a bit more?

A: Apollo chooses Zack and Lauren because they have the qualities he desires. They have the potential to survive his gauntlet of hero training, but are guaranteed nothing. Apollo’s goal is to save western culture from a devastating collapse. Thereby, the United States must be secured, or the western world will crumble. His heroes must be American, physically able to endure what he has planned, and knowledgeable of the ancient times in which they are tossed into. Even more so, Zack and Lauren are connected to The Professor in Athens. That is how Apollo found them. They fit his requirements.

Q: Lauren emerges as quite a heroine in the eyes of a male-dominant culture (we’ll leave it at that, so as not to issue a ‘spoiler alert’!), a modern-day Helen of Troy – only more captivating. What were your reasons for depicting her in this way?

A: Lauren, like a lot of women, has the capability to rise to the occasion. She has the temperance of a military upbringing. I have personal experience with military dependents and their silent endurance of multiple deployments, low pay, and the ever-present possibility that their loved one is not coming home. Their dedication and sacrifice should be more celebrated by our nation. Lauren is not so completely hardened, though. She doesn’t realize her strength, and fears separation from Zack. She will endure many physical and psychological battles.

I have asked women what they think they do better than men. One compelling answer is that they multi-task better. Juggling family and career is no picnic. Zack has a lot to learn. He has not had to struggle. He lives under the umbrella of safety that the United States provides to him. What happens to any of us when our umbrellas are pulled and the full force of the storm hits us?

Q: No good historical action-thriller with a romantic twist can thrive without an antagonist – and Passage at Delphi has a most memorable one in Bessus, the Persian commander who threatens and harangues Zack and especially Lauren throughout the story. Can you tell us how you created such a menacing character, and why?

A: Bessus represents evil, but would not most ancient warriors act in the manner he does? There are no terms of chivalry, no mercies extended. That is true today also. One aspect of Bessus I might mention is that he has suffered and struggled, and in his mind, cruelty and domination is survival. A monster such as Bessus is not all evil. He yearns for his son, to hold onto his hard-won gains back in Bactria (modern-day Afghanistan). He was betrayed by his mother and her people, seriously enough that you can hold a grain of sympathy for him. Even though he transposes his brand of malice to the modern day, evil, greed, and malevolence can come in many forms. It doesn’t just hold a two-headed axe. It can wear a three-piece suit with cufflinks and plot domination of markets, too.

Q: How did this gritty, elaborate story originate for you?

A: PASSAGE originated as a vehicle to bring the Battle of Thermopylae to the attention of readers. The Greeks of that time were presented with a horrific decision of submitting to slavery or fighting the overwhelming power and wealth of The Persian Empire. I find the Persian Wars period fascinating, and it could be considered a climactic event in the development and survival of Western culture. The questions may soon come to be: are we living in such pivotal times? And what may we have to do to survive and pass our way of life to succeeding generations?

Q: How do you feel people today are connected to the Ancient Greeks themselves in order to arrive at this correlation you’ve formed as a major plot point?

A: The ancient Greeks might be called our distant grandparents. Their significant advancements in philosophy, mathematics, architecture, art, sculpture, and playwriting are a solid foundation of our western culture. Ultimately, they gave birth to democracy and more so, fought to the death to defend their way of life, allowing those advances in human spirit to be passed to us.

Q: Can you elaborate?

A: Sure! When freedom was largely unknown in the ancient world, when kings and despots ruled the lives of populations, a hardscrabble group of Greek city-states on the western edge of the great empires of the east forged a society. As it turned out, that society made a lasting impact on the future generations of the west – and the east, for that matter. We look to Athenian democracy as our crucible of freedom, but it was not inclusive. Only male citizens of wealth and military training were allowed to vote. It is a kernel of what we have today, but an amazing development for the time. Our enlightened founding Fathers declared equality for all, but that didn’t happen for some time.

Q: What endeared you to the history of Ancient Greece and its relevance in today’s world?

A: I loved Hercules movies and some of the other big Sword and Sandal Classics of the 50’s and 60’s. Cleopatra, Spartacus, The Robe, Demetrius and the Gladiators, and my ultimate favorite, The Three Hundred Spartans from 1962. Without video in those days, you would see a movie once and then wait years to see it again. Torturous, if it was a movie that made a big impact on you!

I have been entranced with ancient history for so long that a lot of the events and settings are second nature to me. I did dig deeper into authors and texts regarding life in those times. I especially respect author and educator Edith Hamilton and her works. When I develop plot twists, then I’m looking for an unusual aspect of ancient life to add substance.

Q: One part of that historical record you used most effectively in Passage at Delphi was the concept of the oracle. You used it as your time travel trigger in this book. Could you discuss that?

A: I like the idea of using ancient oracles to transmit my characters between the past, present, and future. I see the site at Delphi as kind a mysterious religious site. A shop –owner in Athens actually did tell me that when he walks among the ruins, he senses a tingling and feels as if he is gliding over the ground. This may be a deep cultural connection with his heritage, or a lightening of oxygen content, but nevertheless, it is a place where many people over two thousand years invested their hopes and prayers. I had many conversations with an associate, Dr. Anthony Marciante, regarding the intricacies of time-travel and how that relates to the movement of characters across millennia.

Q: The other centerpiece of Passage at Delphi, which is also the centerpiece of the future books in this series, is the Greek sun god, Apollo. You stretch beyond the classic description of Apollo to position him in the modern world, tasked with a solemn undertaking of utmost importance – to help save us from ourselves through Zack and Lauren. Why Apollo?

A: I see Apollo as a teacher. Not only must Zack and Lauren struggle to survive, but they are also in a kind of classroom themselves. Many of our countrymen live a stable, comfortable life in the U.S. There are those that don’t, for which daily life is a battle. Lauren, but especially Zack, must struggle and suffer to learn. Apollo is fashioned after the Greek Stoic philosophers. He is a benevolent taskmaster. He doesn’t just want you to talk a good story; he wants your actions to back it up. Zack and Lauren must become warrior–citizens for democracy, to preserve our nation when times become perilous.

Apollo’s training is not over. He has seen the future, even lived it. Greek gods like heroes to carry out their will. People are not hardened by one experience. It takes time, so our heroes must endure and learn before they can be effectual in the great fight that awaits them. It is our fight too. Can we learn and act in time?

Q: You’ve written Passage at Delphi, and moved forward with subsequent books in the series, for reasons far more significant than penning a fine historical action thriller. What is the underlying issue that prompted you to create this novel and series?

A: I’ll answer that with a question: What is the state of our democracy today? It’s a subject best debated by political and constitutional experts, but from the point of view of a citizen, developing events are troubling. More and more, greed, arrogance, and corruption are the mainstays of our politics. Who do we believe? Who can we trust to maintain the secure and bountiful future of our country? Look at the ridiculous shutdown of the government and the way we nearly fell off the debt ceiling. Why? How can a few hundred people shut down a government that we, the people, pay for and are supposed to have representation in? The Athenians had a hand in destroying themselves, as did the Romans. Can we learn any good lessons from their triumphs and tragedies? In PASSAGE, our heroes are propelled into real-time history. They will struggle and suffer, but they will emerge tempered by their experiences and be more cognizant by what has been sacrificed by previous generations.

Q: To that end, you’ve created a novel with non-stop action that will surely appeal to younger readers as well as older ones. How do the Millennials figure into the overarching story of PASSAGE?

A: There are times when people need to recognize the lessons of history and realize that their generation is the one that is likely to be called upon to save this great country. I see the Millennials as that generation, so the message of this and my other books points to them. We will undoubtedly change as a nation on the path of that struggle, but we have to hold onto our freedoms and not let them be compromised. Other generations will see this in the experiences of Zack and Lauren as they endure real-time what the ancient Greeks did in facing overwhelming odds, and yet, emerge victorious. This is about instead of saving the virtual world, saving the real world.

Q: Finally, how and when did the writing bug first bite you?

A: The earliest writing project I remember was a short story written in 5th or 6th grade, 1966 or so. The Cold War was prevalent and I crafted a story about a Russian spy hiding out in Charles Lindbergh’s plane when he flew solo from New York to Paris in the 1927. I wrote it the spy’s point of view. He described how Lindbergh had to stay awake and eat sandwiches, had to fly above the waves and was excited when they crossed over Ireland. The spy escaped in the celebration after the landing and was impressed by the bravery of Americans.

Q: How did you keep it going during your long military career?

A: During my 26-year career in The United States Navy and serving with The Marine Corps, I held unit positions that required some writing skills – personnel evaluations and reports. As a commanding officer of Marine Corps Medical Unit, we concentrated on physicals and combat casualty care, but it seemed like the evaluation and reports evolutions never ceased. Also, I spent a lot of time in Greece … which found its way into the center of my writing.