The beginning of this series dates back to 2006 when I wrote the first draft of what will become the Virtus Saga. At that time, it was a very long novel entitled simply Virtus, so long that I later split it up in three separate books—The Sex, The Gameand The Festival. Before I managed to find a publisher, I started writing Virtus 2, the rough basis for what will become The Leader and The Pledge. Then I moved on to Virtus 3, which turned out to be The Heat, The Princess and The Lord.
Through it all, I kept submitting Virtus to various publishers, all of which turned me down. Not that I blame them any. I was a nobody at my first experience in professional writing and with an extremely long and different kind of fantasynovel. One without battles or epic competitions. No dragons. No elves, dwarves or trolls. No wondrous creatures or wizards. Just three ordinary individuals struggling to grapple with the unexplainable mysteries that were their powers, but mostly their feelings, which were far more unruly and uncontrollable than any mystifying Virt they seemed to be endowed with. No wonder nobody wanted to take a chance on it, until eXtasy Books did at the end of 2007.
For this and for all the support, help and invaluable teaching, I’ll never finish thanking them. Once eXtasy accepted it, my life changed forever, which is another reason I cannot thank them enough.
I’ll never forget what inspired this particular story of mine. I’ve said it in a lot of blogs and interviews about seeing Duncan lost in a land that was as familiar to him as the back of his hand. If it didn’t make sense then, it didn’t stop me from reaching Ylianor’s shack and discovering a woman so similar to him she could’ve easily been his twin, a twin he had never seen before in his life! That he had no memory of her whatsoever didn’t make much sense, either. But again, it didn’t stop me from following them, as if they took me by the hand and led me. Their story unfolding the way it would to any reader approaching it for the first time. I was not the author. I was just a spectator. Nothing more. Up ‘till the very end, the characters kept me in the dark, revealing only what they wanted me to know when they decided it was the right time. Like with Duncan and Ylianor, how was I to know the prince’s insufferable lover had erased her from his memory way before their phase even started? Not until I was deep into writing Virtus 2 did Chris saw fit to share this itty-bitty information! Can you imagine it?
I’m just glad that genius husband of mine second-guessed them most of the
time! From the first reading of Virtus’s primordial draft, he had it all figured out, bless him! Unlike me, he understood the characters and the reasons behind their actions, to the point of knowing where they were going and how they’d get there. Like that bit about inferring Chris was in love with Ylianor after reading only their very first sex scene with Duncan, which was news to me. Not to him, evidently, and to his insightful analysis that made me understand what motivated my characters in a way I wouldn’t have otherwise, going as far as telling me how their story would unfold based on their personalities.
All the things that didn’t make sense to me became suddenly clear, but I’d have never figured it out without that emotionally keyed-in husband of mine. He and his precious insights have gone through the saga not for the story, for the emotions it conveys, bringing me to a whole new level of awareness. For this, I’ll never stop thanking him, same way I’ll never stop thanking my characters for coming up with a happy ending. To tell you the truth, I wouldn’t have stood for anything less.
Now I’d like to take a brief moment of your time to explain a few things I think are important about the Virtus Saga starting from the name. What does Virtus mean?
No, it’s not an imaginary name or an invented name, either. It’s a real term that comes from Latin, Virtus meaning Virtue.
Virtus was a specific virtue in Ancient Rome. It carries connotations of valor, manliness, excellence, courage, character, and worth, perceived as masculine strengths (from Latin vir, “man”). It was thus a frequently stated virtue of Roman emperors, and was personified as a deity.
Well, I think all my characters proved their undisputable valor, courage and more. So the name is quite suited for the saga and for the relation between Virtus and Virts. For Virtus is the expression of strength, something that must come from within before it can shine out. And since this is a fantasy series, I immediately turned these strengths into supernatural powers or Virts, as they are known on planet Sendar. But there’s more.
In Roman mythology, Virtus was the deity of bravery and military strength, the personification of the Roman virtue of virtus. The Greek equivalent deity was Arete.
Heshe was identified with the Roman god Honos (personification of honor), and was often honored together with him. As reported in Valerius Maximus, this joint cult led to plans in 210 BC by Marcus Claudius Marcellus to erect a joint temple for them both. This led to objections from the pontifical college that, if a miracle should occur in such a temple, the priests would not know to which of the two gods to offer the sacrifice in thanks for it. Marcellus therefore erected a temple for Virtus alone which was the only way in to a separate temple of Honos, financing them both with the loot from his sacking of Syracuse and
defeats of the Gauls. This temple was at the Porta Capena, and later renovated by Vespasian.
This deity was represented in a variety of ways — for example, on the coins of Tetricus, it can appear as a matron, an old man, or a young man, with a javelin or only clothed in a cape. Within the realm of funerary reliefs Virtus is never shown without a male companion. Often her presence within this realm of art is to compliment and provide assistance to the protagonist of the relief during a scene of intense masculinity or bravery.
In 1776, Virtus was made the central figure in Seal of Virginia and the subsequent state’s flag which features the seal. The Virginia Four-Dollar Note, a Continental currency, had a similar Virtus pictured on its obverse.
This I find even more interesting. It relates perfectly to Computer Virtus’s feelings. It thinks of itself as a god, which is what stalls planet Sendar in its technological advancement. And then they say
Like Virtus, other terms in the saga have special significance, for instance Stella, Sendar’s sun, which is Latin for star, or the Nephis Valley. Sendar’s most sacred place—ironically also the seat of its most technologically advanced device—owes its name to the Arabic language.
Nafs is an Arabic word (cognate of the Hebrew word “Nefesh” נפש) which occurs in the Qur’an and means self, psyche, ego or soul. In its unrefined state, “the ego (nafs) is the lowest dimension of man’s inward existence, his animal and satanic nature.” Nafs is an important concept in the Islamic tradition, especially within Sufism and the discipline of gnosis (Irfan) in Shia Islam Tradition.
When I first heard the word during my visit of Jordan, I thought it was just perfect to describe the place I already had in mind. Then I went to Petra, and it literally blew my mind away. The long, winding passageway that leads to the city (the one also used by Steven Spielberg in the movie Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade) seemed to highlight the secretiveness and the depth one must reach in order to find one’s soul. This matched the name and concept of the Nephis Valley, like nothing else I’ve ever seen. So Petra’s hidden passageway became an integral part of Sendar’s Nephis Valley. And there’s not a moment I write of it that doesn’t throw me back in the magic of Petra.
My Jordan journey also inspired me as far as deserts and mountains went. The Wadirum Desert my characters have to cross on their first journey together is
in Jordan, and it’s also quite famous as Lawrence of Arabia’s desert.
When Lawrence, as a junior officer, was first sent out into the desert to locate the Hashemite rebels who he would join in revolt against the Ottoman Empire, he found himself in a vast gorge, where red rock monoliths rose more than 800m into the air around thin sand corridors.
Another place I frequently mention are the Jeruashi Mountains. In Sendar, this mountain chain connects the Hall to the Nephis Valley. In real life, it’s an Ancient Roman city, Jerash, founded in Jordan.
Jerash is famous for its ancient Roman architecture, with colonnaded streets, Corinthian arches, outdoor Roman Theaters and the Oval Plaza.
The names of the various estates have also special significance. Not just Black Rose, which is to homage the Caldwells’ dark beauty, or Fair Haven for the Templetons’ fairer one. Belleview, Carl Strepton’s home, where Chris and Duncan’s phase began, means Beautiful View, which is what a gorgeous pair like Duncan and Chris make whenever they’re together. No need, instead, to explain about Blue Oasis, Cecilia’s home. Set as it is in a desert and built with blue stones, the name seemed kind of a given. Or Darkley, the Lenz’s home. With a depressed weather controller for a master, the name seemed quite apt.
Finally, I’d like readers to be aware that the language used in these books is a rough translation of Sendar’s vernacular, particularly when it comes to dialogues. Some words just don’t exist on Sendar. Words like buy, sell, priceless, bet or similar have no place in a society that has no money, where economy is based on barter and that has no sense of private property. If I used them at times, it was because I couldn’t find a meaningful translation to what the characters wanted to convey.
Bastard is another word that has no place in a world where pledges control births, where no child can be born without knowing exactly who both his parents are. When I did use it within the story, it was just because I do not know how to translate the equivalent Sendarian insult. Also bitch has no place in the idiom of a society where sex is the highest form of achievement. Again, I just used it to convey Chris’s initial scorn of women in a way that would make it understandable to readers.
Similarly, words like shoot or anything relating to offensive actions have no place in a violence-free society. These I was very careful to avoid, even if at times nothing better came to me. My fault for living in a world that doesn’t condemn violence like Sendar does, but I hope readers understand I did it just to enhance their comprehension, not because these words actually exist on Sendar.
All right, that about covers it all. I hope you have enjoyed reading the Virtus Saga. I certainly did in writing it, and I’m real sorry my characters are out of my head. They’ve lived in it for so many years I really got used to their constant presence. But it was time for me to let them go, so I did. From now on, Duncan, Chris and Ylianor will live solely on the pages of my books and in the minds of all the readers who know them or will in the future.