1. How would you describe Marc, the protagonist of your novel?
Marc is a very nice, good-looking, young man who is a total hot mess piece of work. First, Marc really is very Catholic, so he is one of those people who feel guilty for something someone else has done. Second, he is a co-dependent enabler, so he is a real people-pleaser and is constantly compromising himself without even realizing it as he tries his best to help others and fit in. In other words, Marc is a lot like family members we all know and share. Nice guy and very attractive, but he is 20 years old at the start of the story, so completely clueless about life, love and most of all, war. That all changes, of course, the by end of the book.
2. What are some aspects of your novel that distinguish it from other historical fiction which addresses World War II?
Many historical war novels of this period focus upon the macro war. It is all about some battle, or maybe spy mission that the hero participates in that makes a difference with the war. More than a few modern novels have a romantic theme running through them that has an Alpha Male who over time finally chooses and wins the Beta Female, perhaps by rescuing her. You will find none of this in The Siren of Paris. The book does not really focus on the macro war, but instead the day-to-day micro war of survival and holding on that civilians experienced as they lived through World War II. And the relationship that Marc has in the book with Marie is the exact opposite of what you read of in modern romance novels. Marc is a Beta Male who falls in love with an Alpha Female who proves to have a nasty narcissistic streak in her, and this relationship costs Marc nearly his soul. Instead of the guy getting the girl, it is the girl who gets the guy, and it is not pretty. Many of the characteristics you would expect to find in a male character, actually rest in Marie, and for Marc, he is far more sensitive than you would find a typical Alpha Male lead. Some readers do not relate to this and don't get it, but others know exactly the kind of relationship in this book, because they had one.
3. How did the Egyptian Book of the Dead influence your depiction of Marc's journey?
The book is about getting over guilt and shame from World War II, specifically, the kind that comes from a horrible relationship choice. There are a few kinds of World War II stories. There are the types that veterans brag about and never stop telling. Then, there are stories that come out years later, usually after a lot of drinking and maybe some time to get over them. The Siren of Paris is the kind of story that goes to the grave without ever being mentioned. So, upon Marc's death, instead of successfully avoiding ever reliving the story, his experience of World War II becomes his own personal spiritual journey through the underworld. It is his personal hell. This is how the Egyptian Book of the Dead comes in, because it is a journey of a soul, upon death, through the underworld passing tests and temptations, which successfully upon the completion of the journey finds rest in the most sacred place of eternal peace. It was perfect for this story, and is why the book is structured the way it is today. It is also why the novel is self-published, because a major publisher would never risk a budget upon such an experiment in writing.
4. What role does the character of Marie, the female lead of the story, play in Marc's life?
Well, Marie in 1939 is the answer to all his dreams. She is charming, attractive, and of course, a nude art model at that, so Marc never had a chance. He came to Paris already with a wounded ego from one failed relationship with his high school sweetheart, and you know, at that age, those sorts of things are huge. Had it not been for the war, they likely would have gotten married, Marc for love and Marie for money, because narcissistic personalities are attracted to such things, and that is why Marie ultimately was dating Marc in the first place. In the course of the story, Marie becomes a complete nightmare to him, and the source of a lifetime of guilt for the choices he made with her--most of all, trusting her. It is not a happy story, but one that played out many times over in the course of World War II. The tales of betrayal are hard to read, even 72 years later, and perhaps this is why so few novels explore them.
5. How does the novel's handling of complex issues of psychology, identity, and interpersonal relationships work to place it in a context beyond what readers might think of as "historical fiction"?
Well, a lot of historical fiction novels focus on the history, so you have tons of descriptive writing and a fair amount of exposition that serves to explain to the reader some aspect of the war, relationships, or maybe politics of the day. This book has not very much of that going on. There are some historical events which do not appear in other historical novels, such as the Sumner Wells trip to Italy and Germany, and the RMS Lancastria sinking. But, I break some rules in this book and one of them is about keeping all of the characters throughout the story. Dora, Nigel and David do finally escape France just in time. This is a "flaw" to some, but it is a reality of the war that it really was a constant struggle to keep any long-term relationships going on. Marc is forced to deal with loss, both from people fleeing the war, death, and betrayal.
Something else I explore in this novel is the nature of fear vs. confidence. Most novels never deal with the false war period, which is from Sept 1939 to May 1940, when the Germans broke through into France. During that part of the book, I really try to show the reader the "confirmation bias" people engaged in to give themselves reassurance that everything was going to be fine. This allows me to later in the book explore that absolute horror and dread that comes when the confirmation bias proves to be false, and the denial must fall away and the truth must be dealt with. Marc engages in this denial several times in the book, and it is part of the reason for his betrayal, because he did not want to accept that someone he trusts and loves could be a collaborator.
Many readers want heroes who are cocksure, and a tad arrogant in the face of danger because it reassures us that the myth of the hero is really true, but the reality is that World War II is something that so damaged people, on a physical, mental and spiritual level, that it created deep, dark shadows in souls of the survivors of the war. They are people who often have secrets. A Siren is that which calls us to our own destruction, and for reasons known or unknown, we answer the call. Sometimes it is the destruction of our mind, or maybe heart and soul. Some Sirens take away the body, our strength and youth.
Marc survives the war, but that is all, and he knows that he was foolish, and only luckier than others. Others less foolish did die, and that haunts him, which is the essence of survivor’s guilt. It is the nagging feeling that the person who survives does not deserve their life, because others they felt more worthy to be lucky did not survive. It becomes their driving force. This is why in this historical fiction novel of World War II, guilt is the ultimate force that the hero must face and overcome. It is not the Nazis. It is not some enemy outside of the hero. The dragon he must slay is in his own heart.