Welcome to BookView Interview, a conversation series where BookView talks to authors.
Recently, we talked to M.D. Missaiel about his writing and his recently released novel The Alternative History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (read the review here).
M.D. Missaiel (aka Martin Missaiel, aka Mina Yehia Danial Missaiel) is an indie author, with a background in art and architecture. He was born in Egypt, grew up in Chicago, and is currently based in the metro DC area. He focuses on the arts, classics, history, and activism, all of which come together in his debut novel The Alternative History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
Learn more about M.D. Missaiel’s work on his web site: www.mmissaiel.illatease.info
What are your favorite books?
My favorite book is Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. I love Wilde’s witty writing style, but I am most enamored with the art commentary. The notion that the artist pours their soul into their work in a way that exposes them in the artwork resonates with me as an artist, and it applies to writing as well. Oscar Wilde has commented on his reflection in the characters, that each of the three main characters represents an aspect of himself.
My second favorite book is Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan of the Apes. The scene that touched me the most is oddly a scene I have never seen depicted on the screen despite how many Tarzan movies have been produced. In that scene, Tarzan finds his father’s cabin, finds books, and teaches himself how to read.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
2 others, both alternate histories just like this one but set in different universes, one touches upon the topic of religion and the other upon Egyptian history.
Tell us more about your book.
My book The Alternative History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is a novel that follows the protagonist fossil fuel lobbyist Saul Brutus’s journey into an alternate universe where history played out differently. In that the universe he discovers the full potential of civilization if humanity had made different choices in history, and he reconsiders his own professional, personal, and political choices and their impact on the future.
Tell us a little about how this story first came to be. Did it start with an image, a voice, a concept, a dilemma or something else?
I first thought of an idea for a novel of a queen’s court analogous to Elizabethan or Victorian England but set among the modern descendents of the Amazons, the legendary matriarchal society referenced by the ancient Greeks. That idea of an ancient world in a modern setting evolved into an alternative history where the Roman Empire survived, avoiding at a minimum the Middle Ages and the destruction of the Library of Alexandria. Between the time I started the book and 2020 when I finished, parallels became self-evident between the signs predating the decline and fall of the Roman Empire and contemporary issues in the United States. The ultimate message of the book is to mind our choices as citizens, as a society, and as leaders, lest we look back with regret, especially if we risk repeating history.
P.S. The initial idea of a Victorian-like Amazonian queen’s court did not survive into the final book but is potentially a book of its own.
Which scene or chapter in the book is your favorite? Why?
The chapter where the protagonist and his partner end up in Egypt, my home country. I have given a lot of thought into what Egypt would look like in an alternate utopia , so this was easy to write. Similar to the original idea of the book, of an modernized version of ancient civilization, the full potential of the grandeur of ancient Egypt is actualized. Since ancient times, Egypt has been a diverse melting pot, and in the alternate universe it developed into a multicultural metropolitan community united in its love of country. In that version of Egypt, the ancient pagan religion survives and is accepted among religions.
Which scene, character or plotline changed the most from first draft to published book?
Several aspects of the book changed drastically from first draft to published book. The macguffin driving the main characters’ tour around the world (the alternative world) used to be a policy for eliminating poverty. But I changed it to an environmental policy, the antithesis of the protagonist’s occupation prior to the adventure, as a fossil fuel lobbyist. I decided it fit the narrative better and it belonged to a more existential crisis, climate change. Also the scene where the protagonist discovers the scrolls of the alternative history in the Library of Alexandria was entirely rewritten. At first the scrolls were spliced into the story alternating between the chapters telling Saul’s story and the scrolls recording the alternative history of that world, but for the published version I combined all the scrolls into one chapter and embedded them into the story as Saul discovers them and retells their content, thus maintaining the narrator’s perspective.
Is writer’s block real?
Writer’s block is absolutely real, and for me it manifests itself in three ways. I can be stumped on the larger plot elements, the words themselves, or the names of people and places. In all three cases, I usually combat writer’s block with the stream-of-consciousness writing. I keep writing even if the result is incoherent or disconnected, and I come back with a fresh mind to edit it.
What does literary success look like to you?
I think a work of literature is most successful when it is relevant in both its own time and for the long term. When an author crafts a book with both short-term and long-term messaging, the result can have both topical relevance and universal resonance. And thus the book can become both a timely bestseller and a timeless classic.
What do you hope readers will take away from this story?
That pivotal choices and events determine the trajectory of history. Throughout history, events such as the fall of the Roman Empire, the burning of the Library of Alexandria, and the isolation of East Asia have impacted progress. Similarly, decisions made by our society and leadership will set the course of history for the foreseeable future.