1. How did you come up with the title?
The book is about a search for the Holy Grail; it's really a cross between Harry Potter and the Da Vinci Code set at Boston College, with a bunch of students running around putting clues together in their search for the Grail. I wanted something that sounded mysterious and arcane, and since the book is an adventure/mystery, the idea of "Mysterium" floated up in my head.
2. Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Most definitely. The book is not just a romp in a search for the Grail; it's my interpretation of what the Grail is, or means. The Grail after all is an image of a lot of things, just as throughout history in the literature in which it appears, it varies in what it is. At times it's a shield, or a piece of the cross Jesus was on, or a cornucopia, or a platter of food that is never exhausted. For Dan Brown the Grail is a blood line, and it's his way, I concluded, of attempting to bring the 'feminine' back into Christianity, via the notion of a bloodline and a woman being related to Jesus.
For me, reflecting on our time and what I consider to be the crucial theme of our time--connectedness--the Grail is an embodiment of just that. It stands as a principle of connectedness, which means that it's about love, which the ancients called the Principle of Connectedness. So in the students' search for the Grail, they are working out how we are all connected, what it means to be connected, and now acknowledging that fact will help us survive the various crises--environmental, economic, national, that we face.
3. How much of the book is realistic?
The book is both realistic and magical; it's set in the real space of Boston College's main campus in Chestnut Hill, with references to actual locations and real places. The characters were mainly based on students of mine over the years.
4. If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your book?
What a question! It's such a relief to have finished a book, to have brought it to a successful conclusion, that one doesn't like to start second-guessing oneself. However, if pressed, I suppose I might say I should have tried to make the book shorter.
5. What was the hardest part of writing your book?
As always, fiction takes an immense amount of research. Grail Mysterium tracks a half-made up history of the journey of the Grail from the mideast to Europe with the Templars, from there to Portugal and then to Spain, where in my telling the Grail is handed over to the Jesuits. From there the Grail travels to South America and so forth. While the travels of the Grail are fanciful, the history is real; there really is a huge map made by a Jesuit in China with all sorts of symbols on it; there really was a Jesuit mission in South America; there really is a church in Mexico City where the altars are arranged in a quincunx. And so forth; the hard part is merging history with fiction and making it believable.
6. Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
Writing is essentially educational. Each time an author writes, he or she learns more about his craft, how to do it, delineate character, arrange plot devices and so forth. I'd say this time I learned how to use the terms of Harry Potter like magic and to combine them with a serious idea, weaving them together to write a book which is intentionally half way between a fun read and a heavy piece of literature that engages some complex ideas in a serious way.
7. Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
Yes! In 5th grade I wrote a story about being kidnapped by pirates and read it to the class. It was a hit, and mainly my feeling about that and other stories I began to write that year was that I had finally found my home--the world of fiction, where I belonged. Since then I've had the distinct conviction that I'm just sojourning here in the 'real' world; my actual home is in stories, and so my life is lived with an underlying feeling of homesickness.
8. Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
Lawrence Durrell, who was a friend of mine, is a gorgeous writer whose language rivals Shakespeare's. He combines stunning beauty of language with profound ideas and an acute psychological examination of character. His stories, like the Alexandria Quartet, are set in exotic locations which Durrell evokes with wonderful clarity and insight. I've always tried to work toward that level of writing.
9. Tell us your latest news.
Working on the next book in the series I've decided to write, all books that take place at Boston College. This one will be a murder mystery called "Satanis Mysterium". I'm playing with the idea of keeping the "Mysterium" in the titles of the books in this series. I struck on the idea of writing a series that takes place at BC and features students. It's fun to write, the students love it, and it turns their 'real' world into fiction. I have no idea how many books there might be in the series, but the idea seems to be like a beautiful Muse beckoning, so I have no choice but to follow.
10. Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Thanks for your attention and affection when you read. I mean that in the broadest sense; I'm forever touched by how readers take my (and all our) words seriously. Of course I mean everything I write seriously, but we are such a quick, often unthinking, culture, that I'm always surprised when people take the time to pause over words and to take them to heart. I and every writer cannot thank you enough!
About the Book
It’s the fall of 2010 at Jesuit-run Boston College, where senior Jack Knecht has just seen a ghostly figure in long antique robes slipping into Gasson Hall, the Gothic bell tower looming over the stately campus. Students and faculty alike, comfortably at home on The Heights, know the building is locked for major renovations this semester. Why would a spirit in 18th-century dress be haunting contemporary college life? Jack wonders.
Thus begins this driving mystery-adventure in which Jack and his girlfriend, Fran Romero, run from menacing ghosts, are attacked out of the blue by a fiery dragon overhead and a raging bull underground, and have to face suspicious Jesuits threatening expulsion, all while keeping up with classes in this most sociable of schools. These are reasons enough to quickly decipher a tantalizing ancient map that convincingly points to the BC campus as the secret site of the Holy Grail, lost for centuries now.
Proceeding by their wits with crucial help from eccentric art history professor Melinda Galen, the fey ghost of the last Templar grand master Jacques de Molay, and an imaginative, close-knit circle of college friends, Fran and Jack embark on a journey of discovery. The trail, however, is a twisted one, winding from the religious cult of Mithraism rooted in the ancient Syrian city of Dura-Europos through the medieval Templars down to modern-day Jesuits bearing a colorful history from Old World to New. Amid campus Quidditch games and undergraduate parties, dance rehearsals, middle-of-the-night discussions about hooking up, and communal meals, the young students pool their various esoteric disciplines to pursue the mystery of the Grail’s location.
In the course of investigating the recondite riddles of the Mithraic cult, Fran and Jack come to pursue a Grail for a new millennium and thereby seek to become initiates into the mysteries of love. But in our age of crisis, with the planet suffering while economies spin out of control, can Fran and Jack find a way through the phantasmagoric maze confronting them, to find at last the Grail and arrive at a newly awakened consciousness?
Grail Mysterium is a novel about love and its possibilities, about dating and relationships among the younger Linked Generation, and about the fundamental shift in human interconnectedness now underway in the 21st century.
Price: $14.95 paperback, $6.99 ebook
Publisher: Kepler Press
Release Date: February 27, 2012
Buy Links: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kindle, Nook
About the Author
Novelist Thomas Kaplan-Maxfield is an English professor at Boston College, where for over twenty years he has taught writing as well as literature courses in Love and Gothic Fiction, among others. In 2011 he published the reverse detective novel Hide & Seek and in 2005 published Memoirs of a Shape-Shifter, both to wide acclaim; they are available through Amazon in both print and ebook versions.
The late modernist novelist Lawrence Durrell referred to his friend’s Kaplan-Maxfield’s work as “direct messages from the script.”
Kaplan-Maxfield is also a green residential builder in Greater Boston.
Link to connect with Thomas: