A Writer’s Notebook: travel fiction

This isn’t all new writing, but some of it is. This is, though, a response to an exercise, which I’ll explain below.

When Name was a child, his mother would tell him stories while his father and and older brother worked and the infant children slept. Some of the stories were local tales of the eternal fires in the eastern regions, or of the curious fairy chimneys with their great comical caps of solid stone, or of the holy Saint Nikola of Myrna in the south, and of the work he did for the poor and for the criminals, and how even after long days of service to God he would sneak into the starry night and leave gifts to children who were good. His mother told him that Saint Nikola did this still, even now some six centuries since his mortal death, because Nikola had become an angel of God. Sometimes he heard stories of Saint Basil the monk, and very very often he would learn the lessons of his faith, and he would be told the tales of Moses and of Jesus and of Saint Paul who was from Tarsus nearby. “Our faith was born in the deserts far below,” his mother would say, “but it matured in our own lands, away in the Tarsus mountains of Saint Paul, to the west in Ephesus where he preached, beyond in Antioch where the first church of Christian men was built, and even here in Kapadokya, up in Kaysari and over in Nicea. This is where Christianity has come to rest and prosper, my little Name, here where the old empire protected it, and this is where our Lord Jesus will return, you mark me. This is the land of the Parousia.”

But the tale that Name loved most, for the fury and the battles and the terror and the glory and the wonder of the thing, was the story of how his people had come to live beneath the earth in the carven tunnels and grand chambers hewn of stone by men long ago, in the great subterranian city of Derinkuyu. And this is the story his mother would tell him:

Many ages ago, when my grandmother’s grandmother was still a little girl, the Christians had not lived and thrived above the ground as they did now. In those days the land was wholly Roman, not beset by encroaching Persians and Seljuks as now, but the Romans then were heathens, not yet converted to the true word of God. Their many faiths denied that glorious word, and they hunted and persecuted our Christian brethren, Name, with citizens bullying citizens and with armies made of strong men used to fighting, and so the women and the younger of us, and also some of those who chose to turn their cheeks to war and live a peaceful life, we fled. We fled into these enchanted hills, where the rocks climb like holy saints in bishops’ hats to protect us. I know we call them the fairy chimneys, Name, but it is from a pagan time, and that is a pagan name. We believed otherwise. And we moved among them with faith in our hearts and we lived there happily for a short time.

But the Romans did not fear the rocks for long, so we retreated into the rocks themselves, carving homes and chapels into small stone pillars, and some even hewing great cathedrals out of the taller hills of stone. Some ways north of here there still is a great monastery, Name, carved into the living rock and so hidden from the eyes of many. But we were great in numbers and not all monks, and we needed a place to gather in numbers the way goats will herd for protection from the wolf. And that is when we found these rooms. They were here before us, it is true; some say the first levels were made in the time of the evil Pharaoh of Egypt, and it was from him those early peoples hid. But great and impressive and livable though they were, we needed more of them, and so we took to them and copied them and down we dug further still. We cut and hewed and planned and descended into the earth like Jesus into his tomb, knowing we would rise again to conquer.

We put up the great stone doors with the holes for spears, and the long shafts running into the cold winds for fresh air, and the deep wells from which to draw our water, water fit even for drink, Name. We were safe. And we have lived here these many years since, until my grandmother’s grandmother grew old and went to the Lord, and then my grandmother’s mother, and then my own mother’s mother, and then my mother, too. And no I am growing old in years, and here we live still, though the world above is safe and we have risen again from the tomb; we live here still, because this is our home. And that is the story of Derinkuyu.

A while back, Heather Wright posted a whole list of exercises on her site Writing Fiction: A Hands-On Guide for Teens. I like a lot of what’s there, but #18 caught my eye:

What place have you always wanted to visit? What attracts you to this place? What do you wish you could experience there?

I was thinking about this, and while there are plenty of places I would love to visit (Egypt, England, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Tibet) and plenty of places I’d like to re-visit (Austria, British Columbia, The Netherlands, Prince Edward Island, Scotland, Thailand), one place in particular has been on my brain lately: Turkey. Maybe it’s because some friends of ours from the United Arab Emirates recently traveled there, or because I recently saw a photo from the Turkish edition of National Geographic making the rounds on Facebook, or because I’ve been reviewing some of my fiction that’s currently out on the market and one of my stories is set in Istanbul. But I do love Turkey, and one of my favorite places when I visited almost 15 years ago was the Cappadocia region.

All of that reminded me of a novel idea I had a couple of years after my trip to Turkey. It’s an historical novel, set during the 10th century in a monastery in the Cappadocia region. To write it fully will take me a LOT of research and, I hope, at least one more trip to Turkey to walk the locations again, but I have an outline for the general story, and a long time ago I’d started something like a first chapter for the book. This is an update and expansion of those first few hundred words.

You might notice that the main character’s name is Name. That’s just a placeholder — I don’t know what to call this guy yet, so rather than get bogged down in name research I just dropped in that moniker.

You might also notice that some of the spellings are weird. Cappadocia, for instance, shows up as Kapadokya in the passage. I don’t know if that’s accurate or if it’ll stay, but a lot of the Turkish maps and books I have refer to it by that spelling, so I’ll run with it for now.

And in case anyone’s curious: even though this novel is set in a monastery and the main character is going to become a monk, the book is supposed to be a love story. Just in time to celebrate another Christian saint….

Happy St. Valentine’s Day, everyone!

Published by Samuel Snoek-Brown

I write fiction and teach college writing and literature. I'm the author of the story collection There Is No Other Way to Worship Them, the novel Hagridden, and the flash fiction chapbooks Box Cutters and Where There Is Ruin.

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