Today I’m delighted to welcome Mitchell James Kaplan with a guest post about how he came to write his latest novel, released today, Into The Unbounded Light.
First of all, let’s see what the book is about…
Into The Unbounded Night follows the lives of five troubled individuals as they struggle for survival and purpose in the first century Roman empire. The story is primarily seen through the eyes of Aislin, a refugee from Albion; other important characters include Yohanan ben Zakkai, Saul of Tarsus, the emperor Vespasian, and Azazel, a doomed angel.
Throughout Into The Unbounded Night, these characters’ lives intertwine in unexpected ways that shed light on colonization and its discontents, the relative values of dominant and tyrannized cultures, the sense of imminent apocalypse, and the holiness of life itself — even the weakest of lives.
Into The Unbounded Night is not only relevant to the world today, it is also a meditation on who we are, the stories we tell, and why we tell them.
Now over to Mitchell
My first novel, BY FIRE, BY WATER, treated a period in Spanish history when Christianity and Judaism were not getting along well (to put it mildly). While writing it, I began wondering how and when these two traditions had come to see each other as so dissimilar—indeed antithetical—despite their close genetic relationship. The answer was not obvious, and the question would not leave me alone.
Even before I finished BY FIRE, BY WATER, I started researching this issue. The purpose at that point was merely to satisfy my curiosity. My reading, when I am not actively researching a novel, is broad and unfocused. Science fascinates me, and music, and fiction of all genres, and… well, you get the idea.
But as I delved into the first century Roman empire in which Judaism and Christianity formed their separate identities, that world opened to me and beckoned me further. Mysteries begat other mysteries. How did Roman religion resemble, and differ from, the belief systems of the Jews and the early Christians, and how did the Jews’ and the early Christians’ belief systems differ from each other—or did they? Why did St. Paul insist he was a Jew? Why did Rome destroy the Great Temple of the Jews in 69-70 AD? What were the underlying issues? Why did the Romans persecute early Christians? etc.
As I pondered all this, a woman started speaking to me. I saw her face; I heard her voice. She was a refugee from Britannia, which the Romans had invaded in 43 AD. She was living on the streets of Rome, trying to care for a child—a child whose life, as the Romans saw it, held no value. Her name was Aislin.
I realized I had to write her story, and I understood that her son would play a pivotal role, but I had no idea how their lives fit with the other elements I had been studying. Aislin was pagan—not Jewish, Christian, or Roman.
It is in the process of “taking dictation” (as I call it) that one learns about the worlds our characters inhabit. So one morning I sat down in my dining room, well before dawn (as usual), sipped my coffee, and started to write a scene about a lamb being born in a village in Britannia, and the stars that shot down through the black sky afterward. This was the village where Aislin, the immigrant to Rome, dwelled as a young girl.
Another morning, the voice of a boy in Judea, Yohanan, spoke to me. The place where he lived, the people he knew, and his goals and attitudes differed markedly from Aislin’s. Both however lived on the fringes of the Roman empire, but Rome affected their lives in profound and dire ways.
These characters’ lives followed paths that twisted, turned, and intersected in ways I could not have planned. Each step forward illuminated a little more of a rich, diverse universe, inhabited by angels, scholars, and generals. I woke up early every morning for several years to take dictation. I was as amazed with the way “Into The Unbounded Night” unfolded as I hope readers will be. It was an experience I will never forget, a gift.
Love and peace,
Thanks so much, Mitchell and Happy Release Day!
Mitchell James Kaplan graduated with honors from Yale University, where he won the Paine Memorial Prize for Best Long-Form Senior Essay submitted to the English Department. His first mentor was the author William Styron.
After college, Kaplan lived in Paris, France, where he worked as a translator, then in Southern California, where he worked as a screenwriter and in film production.
He lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia with his family and two cats.