Dr. Mary Kolbe Ross

Author of THE MIDAS CURSE

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When I decided to write an alchemy thriller, my idea was to have a woman being pursued by a dangerous element, like a religious cult, who believed she knew the secret to turning lead into gold. I designed my character to have an ancestor who wrote a mysterious alchemy text back in the dark ages, and envisioned this cult to be after her because they were worried she'd discover the truth. With this in mind, I started the rough outline and began to research the topic, scouring through the history books. I was hoping to find an old alchemy text I might use for a model, to add some spark to my story. I didn't know I was in for a bonfire.
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I found that there was an actual Gnostic sect that broke off from the Christian Church hundreds of years ago. They were called the Ophites, and they revered the snake sent to Eve by God. The Ophites also believed in alchemy, and some branches felt that it was too dangerous for mankind. There was even evidence that a famously beautiful and talented alchemist had been murdered in broad daylight, perhaps to prevent the secret from being released. How strange to find that such a religious cult had actually existed. One of their branches, the Borborites, were particularly twisted with acts of "sexual Eucharist" so extreme you couldn't make it up if you tried.
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Then I found there was indeed an actual ancient alchemy document, written in Germany in 1518. This was the first mining text ever printed, called EIN NUTZLICH BERGBUCHLEIN ("The Little Book of Mining"), with some strange notions about transforming elements.  In this historic document, towards the end of the text, the "mining expert" claims he will proceed "tomorrow" to the smelter to reveal the specific technique on how to process the ore. But "tomorrow" never comes and the book ends right there, abruptly, without a clue on how to perform the transformation. Was the book left unfinished or was the crucial final chapter deleted?
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I didn't think it could get much weirder but I was wrong. I found that the ancient text's author had died unexpectedly after the book's publication. And while he wrote anonymously, he was later revealed to be Ulrich von Kalbe, which I knew from my grandfather, Richard Kolbe, was a name rooted in our own family tree.  In other words, the ancient author who wrote that mysterious alchemy text wasn't just any ancestor, he was mine.
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I found an English translation of the ancient book (printed in 1949, nearly 450 years after its initial German publication) and bought a copy from an antique book seller. I thought the strange little medieval text would come in handy while I was writing. What an understatement. This little historic text quickly inserted itself as it wove its way through my story, interacting with the characters and guiding their desperate quest.
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I intended the action in my story to head for Peru, where the Inca's gold treasure included literally tons of gold, but no source or mine was ever found. But I got stuck, trying to figure out how to take the story from medieval Germany to Peru. The dates didn't line up because the year printed on the oldest dated copy of the German text is 1518. This means it was written at least 15 years before the Europeans (Pizarro) made first contact with the Incas (which happened in 1532). So how could I possibly tie together these two opposite sides of the world? The archaic text provided the answer as I realized the ancient German author, my ancestor, had used specific words and phrases that mirrored Incan culture, particularly regarding their beliefs about gold and silver. It shouldn't have been possible. But there it was, undeniably, in black and white.
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And as I continued to write my novel, whenever I ran into a dead end, I would turn to my ancestor's ancient text to look for a link. And I would find it. Another fortuitous clue that shouldn't be there, but was. Another freaky coincidence. Another unexpected "gift". It happend so often I started taking it for granted that if I wrote myself out on a limb, the ancient text would provide a twist or a sentence or a fact to bail me out and keep the story going.
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Deep into the project, I needed a specific place to send my characters. Maybe somewhere adventurous on the Inca Trail, or in the Sacred Valley. So I went to Peru and visited Machu Picchu and was wowed by the sight. It was eerie and stunning, like nowhere else on Earth. But at the same time, I knew I was close, but didn't quite have the perfect place to start the story's "map." Later I found the amazing carving known as The Moonstone, cut into a giant boulder west of Cusco. Immediately I knew the moonstone was pivotal to my story, but I wasn't sure why. It was a weird and powerful feeling that I just couldn't shake. Could my ancestor's book confirm it? Could it explain it? I had already read that little book, only about a quarter of an inch thick, a number of times. But if I checked it again, would that crazy little text offer me one more trick it could pull out of its magic hat?
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At that point, I thought I was beyond being shocked. But when I found a woodcut illustration in that nearly 500-year-old German text (on page 23), that shows a diagram that eerily mimics the Moonstone, once again sending chills up my spine.
 
At this point, I just gave up on disbelieving. After all, when fate bangs on your door with "hints" that clear, you might as well pay attention.
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So I wrote along, unsure what would happen next or where the story would take me, but knowing it would go somewhere as I let my ancestor's text guide Savannah's journey from the Moonstone to her ultimate goal. I developed a code of "instructions" in the ancient German book and followed them, pleased but no longer too suprised when they continued to match the specific geography of that region of Peru. If you think I made that up, feel free to check BERGBUCHLEIN against a topography map of Peru. I used IGN map 2444, 27-r, (Urubamba, Peru) but any contour map of that region will do.

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Now that I've finished writing it, here are some of my thoughts and reflections on TEARS OF THE MOON. 
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Do I really believe the Chinese arrived in Peru before Columbus, with knowledge of advanced metallurgical science? Yes.
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Do I believe Balboa knew information about the Inca's gold that he passed on to Pizarro? You bet.
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Do I believe Pizarro invaded Peru because he was convinced there was an insane amount of gold? Absolutely.
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Do I think Colmenares went to Augsburg after his request was turned down by the King of Spain, and met Ulrich von Kalbe? Probably not.
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Do I believe that back in 1518, Ulrich von Kalbe wrote his ground-breaking and historic book to be full of clues for someone (like me) to eventually find? I doubt it, at least consciously. The reason he wrote it may be one of those mysteries that stays a mystery.
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Do I think there is a secret trans-smelter buried in the foothills of the Andes in the Cerro Huilcaray Hills? No. However, I do think Ulrich von Kalbe's book is a treasure map, of sorts, that leads to something very precious. But I don't think this "gold" is the metallic kind. Ulrich von Kalbe left something amazing behind, specifically, his burning desire to write. Of all the things I will never understand about this project, that man's passion for writing is something that I fully understand. This same passion was passed down to my grandfather, C. Richard Kolbe, and then onto me.
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I believe that TEARS OF THE MOON is not just MY book, it is OUR book. From Ulrich von Kalbe to my grandfather, they have helped me every step of the way, at times gently guiding the way like a twinkling north star, and at other times, dropping clues and historical truths on my head like lead buckets. 
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All I can say for sure is to read the book and see what you think.
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But buckle yourself up, because it is one crazy ride.

Monday, May 23, 2011

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9:58 pm gmt          Comments

2011.05.01

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