Sunday, December 20, 2009


Those ambitious ancients really knew how to multitask.

This is the Pont Julien in southern France, built 2000 years ago. During a picnic Sally and I took there in 2002, I began to sketch out the character of a young Roman architect who’d fallen in love with the architectural detail known as the semicircular arch.

During a visit to the Pont du Gard aqueduct in nearby Nimes, the highest stone arcade the Romans ever built, I realized my architect was also the historically forgotten hydraulic engineer who designed and built it. In an apartment in Rome, and at Villore during the summer and autumn of 2003, I began to flesh my engineer out in words. His name was Hiero Anasus (Hiero the Duck). The son of freed Greek slaves, he was a Roman citizen at the time of Caesar Augustus when the Pont du Gard was probably built. In about a year I’d written the first draft the novel I'm now polishing as AQUARIUS. But I left one thing out of the story -- politics.

Then came the 2004 re-election of George W. Bush. I knew the book had to be politically substantial. I did my homework and learned that a two-party system was at least partly responsible for bringing the Roman republic down, among other things. To express my deep disappointment in my countrymen, and to illustrate what happens when too much power is handed to one man, I refocused the story. And that is how my ancient hydraulic engineer became a Tribune of the People at the moment democracy died in ancient Rome.