I had the wonderful opportunity to read a review copy of WOLF’S EMPIRE: GLADIATOR, and to put questions to the authors, Claudia Christian and Morgan Grant Buchanan, about their collaboration. Given the premise of the novel, mixing space opera with the Roman Empire, and my fandom for Ms. Christian going back to the days of Babylon-5, I was delighted to have a chance to do both.
Paul Weimer: For our readers unfamiliar with you, can you please introduce yourselves?
Claudia Christian: I’m an actress, author and I run the C3 foundation, a non-profit that focuses on treating alcohol use disorder.
Morgan Grant Buchanan: I’m an author and teacher of Taoist philosophy tai chi and meditation.
PW: You’ve worked together previously on Ms. Christian’s memoir: Babylon Confidential: A Memoir of Love, Sex, and Addiction. How did you two start working together?
Morgan: We met on a short sci-fi movie project called Barrier. I was writing and Claudia was starring. After the movie premiere we got to talking about other projects we could do together. As we were discussing Wolf’s Empire the opportunity arose to work with Claudia on her biography and she kindly asked me if I was interested.
PW: Wolf’s Empire marks your first fiction collaboration. What prompted the two of you to write a novel together?
Claudia: We both love history and thought it would be exciting to create a strong female kick-ass protagonist. We work well together and wanted to do something more fan-centric this time around, a sort of “thank you” for supporting “Babylon Confidential” as well as a project that would have the same broad scope as a show like Babylon 5.
PW: Writing a novel is a different challenge than short stories, or comics, or scripts. What did you have to learn to bring Wolf’s Empire together? What’s your collaborative process like?
Claudia: Morgan is the master of world building and structure but he lives in Melbourne and I’m in Los Angeles so we use Skype. Skype was such a Godsend on Babylon Confidential, we had to really talk and dig deep as far as my childhood and life and that could only be accomplished with many, many Skype sessions. After that we found we’d developed a good foundation for working long distance. I like working nights and Morgan’s a morning person so the time difference between Melbourne and LA worked to our advantage.
PW: Mixing Rome and Space Opera is a fabulous high concept. How did you develop the “future” that brings Rome to world and stellar domination? How did you come up with the set of Houses?
Morgan: We extrapolated ancient Rome onto a future, space opera setting. One idea was that maybe over-expansion wasn’t a weakness of the old Roman Empire; maybe they didn’t expand quickly enough. So what if Rome took over the world and then kept on expanding into space? Getting the mix right wasn’t easy. There had to be enough signals for readers to recognize Ancient Rome and at the same time a representation of future technology that made sense as something that might have organically developed out of Rome’s culture and mentality. The houses are the natural extension of the Roman families that warred for supremacy in the days of the ancient empire. We carved up the galaxy and assigned different sectors to different families as the starting point for the story arc’s broader conflict.
PW: There are motifs and references throughout the novel that reference or mirror real Roman history. What sources and research did you use?
Claudia: We started putting the idea together in 2009 and since then have done a great deal of reading. Mostly source material as well as Gibbon’s Decline And Fall.
PW: Accala is the burning star of the heart of the novel as a protagonist. Who and what were your inspirations in creating her as a character?
Claudia: Susan Ivanova from Babylon 5 for sure, she’s got Ivanova’s sense of righting wrongs, of the right way the universe should be structured and if it’s not in that form then she’s going to beat it into shape personally. In terms of historical inspiration, Accala is a modern Aeneas, a seed archetype who will take the empire in a whole new direction. There are also references to the Roman hero Mucius Scaevola. Throw in a soupcon of Katharine Hepburn and I suppose Gloria Steinem is in there somewhere, ha!
PW: You chose a tight focus first person perspective for the book. Why did you handle Accala’s story that way?
Morgan: We wanted to put the reader right there in the protagonist’s shoes, not have them watch on from a distance. We felt that would help create a more immersive experience, to really sink the reader into future Rome. It was certainly more engaging for us as authors to write and we hope readers will have a similar experience.
PW: One of the small and important bits of the novel I loved was Accala’s discus. Where did the design of that come from?
Morgan: We researched ancient weapons to fit out the main characters with their equipment. Originally Accala was going to have a gladius (short sword), the gladiator’s traditional weapon, but we felt strongly that as the hero she needed a unique, signature weapon. Reading about the ancient Olympics in Greece provided inspiration. We decided to take athletic equipment, the javelin and the discus, and turn them to a gladiatorial purpose. So Accala has the discus, and her nemesis the javelin. There’s a symbolism in their choice of weapons too.
PW: Now that Wolf’s Empire is out, what comes next?
Claudia: Wolf’s Empire part deux and a new sci-fi noir series that we’re pitching! Morgan is going to be stuck with me for some time 😉
PW: Thank you so much to the both of you.
Wolf’s Empire hits stores on June 21st, 2016.