Albert Camus

Don't walk behind me; I may not lead. Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

the epochal meaning of the Bone Box by Jay Amberg

On a hill overlooking the Aegean Sea in Turkey, an international team of archeologists discovers a stone box that first-century Jews used to rebury their dead. 


On a hill overlooking the Aegean Sea in Turkey, an international team of archeologists discovers a stone box that first-century Jews used to rebury their dead. The box’s Aramaic inscription: Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ. Sophia Altay, the beautiful French-Turkish archeologist who heads the team, tries to keep the discovery secret until she can authenticate the ossuary. She knows that people will kill to obtain the relics—and to suppress the box’s other contents, documents that could alter Western history.

Joseph Travers, an American sent to Turkey to evaluate the archeological dig, soon finds himself pulled into the web of betrayal, reprisal, and violence. In his journey through Istanbul’s mosques and palaces, the archeological sites around ancient Ephesus, and, ultimately, the strange and mystical terrain of Cappadocia, he comes to understand the epochal meaning of the bone box.

“Politics, religion, sexuality, culture, deceit, greed, and prejudices turn this thriller into a page-turner.…The stories within the story demand attention and remind us that one event can be perceived rightly or wrongly from several perspectives.” —T.B. Markinson, Self-Publishing Review

Thank you, Mr. Jay Amberg 
1. History, religion, politics, conspiracy, adventure, even love they are all good ingredients for a mystery/thriller story, but how can they be mixed in order to obtain a great story?
The characters and the setting, the time and place of the story, stir the mixture of history, religion, politics, adventure, and love. I originally went to Turkey thinking that a third to half of Bone Box would be set there. But standing on Ayasuluk Hill, I could see remnants of much of Western religious and political history—a Selcuk Turk citadel, the ruins of a Christian cathedral, a mosque, the Temple of Artemis, the ancient city of Ephesus, and the Aegean Sea. It’s all right there.

Cappadocia was a revelation as well and, as I came to understand, the perfect place for all of the elements of the story to play out. The stark natural beauty of the tufa spires combined with the religious and political history of the now vanished cave dwellers to provide a terrific backdrop for the story’s final scenes.

2. From Indiana Jones to The Da Vinci Code (named only because they are well known by everybody) – what a new story should have to win the readers?
To win readers, any story needs to focus on the human factor. Writers can’t count on technology or special effects to carry the story. In an action/adventure story, there may not be much character development, but there still must be some. Each character is on a journey of discovery, even if he/she doesn’t really know it. In Bone Box, Joe Travers is literally on a journey, but so too, at least figuratively, are Abrahim and Sophia. As I was writing the book, I also came to understand and respect Nihat Monuglu—as does Travers. The characters came alive for me, and I hope they do for readers as well.

3. How important is to observe the history and how much freedom an author has when he reinterpret the generally accepted facts/myths?
An author is, I think, bound by the central logic of the story. In Bone Box, I didn’t want to contradict any historical facts. Rather, I began with a question: What if a particular ossuary (a bone box used by Jews in the first century of the common era to rebury their dead) were discovered at an archeological site in Asia Minor (what is now the area near Izmir on the Aegean Sea in Turkey)? All of the action in the story follows from that question.

Although the characters draw their own varying conclusions, neither the bone box nor its contents are ever authenticated in the story. The idea that John the Apostle took Mary, the mother of Jesus of Nazareth, to Asia Minor before the Romans destroyed Jerusalem is widely accepted in some major strands of the Christian tradition. Finally, all of the statements presented in the document (the final testament) discovered in the bone box are drawn from the four New Testament gospels; none of it contradicts the Bible.

4. Beyond the thrill of action, could the reader find some messages for him/her? What is the best way to deliver such messages?
Yes, of course, there can be messages, what are currently called take-aways. The best—and, perhaps, only—way to deliver the messages is through the story’s action. The story starts with characters, situations, events; any message comes through the story. For example, my short novel, Whale Song, delivers a clear environmental message. But even there, the message comes out of the narrator’s experience. While writing the story, I heard the narrator’s voice. He comes alive, and what happens to him, what he relates to us, conveys the message. I hope that what Joseph Travers, Sophia Altay, Abrahim, and Nihat Monuglu experience conveys messages as well.

5. You are a teacher from 1972 and you have written several books for students and future authors. From your experience, what would be the best advice you can give to a young reader?
My advice is this: Read! Read fiction or nonfiction, classics or best-sellers or both, biographies, sports, fantasies—whatever. But don’t merely read snippets. Read complete stories. Entire books. Enter the writer’s world. Spend time there. Come to understand the people, places, events. Respond. Reflect.


Uncovering the Ossuary

The sky is cobalt, but the sun is already low—and little light reaches the trench in which the two men work. The evening air is hot and still as though it has hung there for centuries. Sweat soaks the stout man’s sleeveless T-shirt and mats the gray and white hair on his arms and shoulders. His nose is bulbous above his mustache, the top of his head bald except for long strands of hair hanging limply over his left ear. He grunts as he pushes dirt aside with his trowel. The taller, younger man is more careful, but he, too, breathes hard as he whisks dirt with his brush. The discovery, far more than the exertion, is taking his breath. He is clean-shaven; his features are fine, his black hair thick. Neither man speaks until they have completely uncovered the ancient ossuary, the bone box.

When the stout man stands, his head is still well below the trench line. He stabs the trowel into a pile of dirt, wipes his grimy hands on his pants, pulls up the front of his shirt, and smears the sweat from his face. He picks up an empty plastic water bottle, glares at it, and tosses it next to the trowel. The younger man sets his hands on his hips, catches his breath, and stares at the ossuary. The bone box, a meter long and seventy centimeters wide, seems to glow even in the trench’s shadows. Although he can’t read the words etched into the stone, he recognizes them as Aramaic. The symbols—the equal-armed cross within the circle within the six-pointed star—are familiar, but their juxtaposition is not.

As the call to prayer begins, a cirrus horsetail swirls through the rectangle of sky. The voice barely carries into the trench, but the two men turn and stand still. The heavy man murmurs prayers, and the thin one bows his head in silence, his prayer of a different sort. A prayer of both gratitude and supplication. A prayer that this ossuary is what he yearns for it to be. The cloud’s wispy tail snaps clear.

When the echo of prayer ceases, the stout man squats and digs his fingers under the corners of the bone box.

“Wait!” the young man says in Turkish. “She should be here. We must wait for her.”

Glowering across the box, the stout man grabs the hand-pick he used earlier.

“No!” The young man stoops and presses his palms on the ossuary’s lid. “She must open it.” His face reddens, and his fingers burn as though the ossuary is too sacred, too hallowed, too inviolable, to be touched by humans.

The stout man swings the pick across the young man’s knuckles.

The young man leaps back, his eyes wide. His mouth opens, but words don’t form. Blood beads on the index and middle fingers of his right hand.

The stout man leans over and jams the pick’s tip under the rim of the ossuary’s lid. As he pushes the handle with both hands, getting his weight into it, the lid creaks open. Keeping the pick in place as a wedge, he kneels and runs his stubby fingers under the lid. Stale air rises as he lifts the lid, holds it to his sweating chest, and stares into the box.

Despite himself, despite his stinging fingers and welling tears, the young man steps forward and peers into the box. Making the sign of the cross repeatedly, he takes a series of deep breaths in an unsuccessful attempt to calm himself. Blood trickles down his hand and drops, bright splotches darkening into sandy soil. Blinding sacrosanct light rises from the ossuary, weaving around them and spiraling from the trench. He glances at the stout man who is unable to see the light, runs his hand through his hair, and gazes back into the box. He cannot draw his eyes from the contents, though his pupils might at any second be seared and his skin peel away. The moment is every bit as frightening as it is exhilarating. His blood boils—the Janissary blood, the blood of his lost ancestors, the wanderers and cave dwellers alike. There is much more to this even than he imagined, much more to it than she will at first believe.

About the author:
Jay Amberg is the author of eleven books. He received a BA from Georgetown University and a PhD from Northwestern University. He has taught high school and college students since 1972.

His latest book, Bone Box, is now available from Amika Press. Amberg has also published Cycle, America’s Fool, Whale Song, and compiled 52 Poems for Men. Cycle, a novel giving unique voice to the world’s environmental crisis, is the winner of a 2013 Independent Publisher Living Now Book Award.

Prior to Amika Press, Amberg published thriller novels Doubloon (Forge), Blackbird Singing (Forge) and Deep Gold (Warner Books).

Among his books on teaching are School Smarts and The Study Skills Handbook, published by Good Year. Amberg wrote The Creative Writing Handbook (Good Year) with Mark Henry Larson and Verbal Review and Workbook for the SAT (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich) with Robert S Boone.

For more information and to contact Jay Amberg, please visit his:


Amika Press said...

Very interesting! I'm especially intrigued by #3. Thank you for posting this interview.

Jay Amberg said...

Thanks for featuring the book. If you have any other questions, please contact me.

Jay Amberg