Alan Van’t Land is author of Eternal Light of the Crypts (new book from Full Quiver Publishing).
1. Tell us a bit about yourself.
I was blessed with a multicultural upbringing. My family moved from Wisconsin to Hong Kong when I was six, and from there to Malaysia when I was ten. I attended a small Evangelical missionary boarding school as one of many “business kids,” where my parents and a devoted staff immersed me in the Bible. My siblings and I spent our free time exploring the jungle beyond our backyard. We didn’t move back to the US until I graduated high school, and then I went straight into the US Air Force Academy. When I graduated, I cross-commissioned into the Marine Corps, and served as a logistics officer.
When I started dating my future wife, I started going to Mass with her. I began investigating Catholicism and stumbled onto the history of the Early Church. I had never heard of it before, much less studied it. It not only led to my conversion but also sparked a life-long interest in early and medieval church history, to the point that I earned my graduate degree in it. Despite that, though, I never used it professionally, instead serving in the military and the police department.
Beyond work and writing, I love to play games with my family and hike/bike/camp/ski the Rockies. My desire exceeds my ability in gardening, woodworking, and playing piano, but I keep trying anyway.
2. What was the inspiration for your book?
In late 2014 I bought and read Furta Sacra: Thefts of Relics in the Central Middle Ages, by Patrick Geary. It’s a modern, historical study of early medieval relic thefts. My wonder at the motivation behind anyone stealing saints relics, when everyone believed he might get killed just for trying, inspired my character Egilolf. Geary’s main thrust—that bones without a written record authenticating their source and justifying their acquisition would have been just bones—necessitated Egilolf’s companion Aristeus. I kicked around ideas for a few months before writing an outline over six weeks. No more than 20 percent of that outline still remains in Eternal Light, but that first sketch got the ball rolling.
3. What drew you to writing historical fiction? This is a novel that depended on extensive research, correct?
My interests in writing and historical fiction were separate until Eternal Light. I’ve been writing since grade school, but never historical fiction before. My fascination with history, as I said, stemmed from my study of the development of the church, particularly with regards to saints and relics. When I studied about relic thieves, the book idea seemed to come naturally. By the time I sat down to draft the outline for my first historical fiction book, I had been studying various angles of church history for ten years. Very little of this book was something I had to research while I outlined or wrote. I did delve into Saint Philibert, Saint Martial, and Saint Valerie, and researched Limoges and the church of St-Philibert-de-Grand-Lieu, where my characters find the relics of Valerie. But all the rest of the research—the laws, saints, catacomb art, the medieval view of stars, Viking invasions, processions, food, magic—all of it I had already read and studied before. I got to write a book in a world I already knew and loved.
4. What do you hope the reader will take away from your book?
That depends on the reader. For the Catholic, a love of our glorious saints, many buried in time and space even more than earth. For the Protestant, an appreciation of the breadth of time where Catholicism was the only Christian faith, facing insurmountable challenges century after century, only to rise again. For the historical fiction lover, a vivid picture of the early medieval world: its daily rhythms, values, fears, and hopes. For the modern warrior, a step on the road to peace. For anyone not totally pigeon-holed by those categories, a renewed sense of wonder when gazing at the stars, or at least an adventure from your Sunday afternoon couch.
5. How do you find time to write?
Time is a lesser problem for me than energy. I’ve put in a fair amount of overtime in some of my police jobs, particularly as a Crimes Against Children detective, but for me writing—creating—takes spare brain power and emotional energy. Many work days leave me with none. I’ve heard of writers making themselves write at least five minutes a day, and that’s likely a better strategy than mine. My writing came and went in waves, particularly on vacations and during less demanding work assignments, or when I could spare a few hours to go to a coffee shop and exchange this world for an ancient one.
6. Are you working on any other writing projects?
I’ve almost always been working on writing projects since middle school. Some were mere ideas, some actually made it into notebooks of world-building, character backgrounds, and plot outlines. But until Eternal Light, I never wrote more than a handful of pages (I would like to skip over two very rough books I wrote in middle and high school, which will remain appropriately buried in my basement). Since Eternal Light, I’ve tinkered with a historical fantasy about 9th century missionaries to a group of newly discovered race of dog-headed men. That’s obviously made up, but the idea is historical, since two German bishops in the mid-800s actually reported the behaviors of such creatures and debated whether they were rational and descended from Adam. But I set aside that work when I stumbled upon The Life of St Gerald of Aurillac, a saint and noble who lived 70 miles south of Limoges, reigning from about 880 to his death in 909. The setting, time period, and the subjects of St Gerald overlap too much with Eternal Light to pass it up as a sequel to Egilolf and Aristeus’ stories. I have the outline nearly hammered out, so I’m hoping it will come to fruition faster than another six years.
7. Who are some of your favorite authors?
Historical fiction: Stephen R. Lawhead’s Pendragon Cycle about King Arthur in a historical dark age of 5th and 6th century England and Wales blends history and Celtic myth. The only thing he missed was the Church’s irrefutable ties to saints and relics during that period. Or Umberto Eco: despite the success of The Name of the Rose, he captured the medieval imagination best in Baudolino.
Fantasy: For scale, I can’t beat Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time epic series, which I started in high school and finished in my 30s. But for sheer style, I’ve always loved Steven Brust’s Khaavren Romances, especially The Phoenix Guards. But if you didn’t care for Dumas’ The Three Musketeers, you may want to pass.
Catholic apologetics: Rod Bennett, for without his Four Witnesses: The Early Church in Her Own Words I wouldn’t have found the history whereby I came to accept the Catholicism I had already fallen in love with. For a study of historical works, it’s extremely approachable for any reader.
War novels: Tim O’Brien, particularly in The Things They Carried, paints trauma accurately but obliquely with his short stories.
Science fiction: Ray Bradbury. In high school, I was caught up in pulp fiction Stars Wars books, and never appreciated the likes of Farenheit 451 or the Martian Chronicles. My 10th grade English teacher had better taste.
Hagiography (stories of saints, typically written a long time ago): Prudentius, of course.
Comics: Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes. No explanation needed.
Eternal Light of the Crypts is available in print or on Kindle.