FAQ’s

You say much of the book is based on your own experiences in the Balkans.  How much is fiction and how much is fact?
The Lazarus Covenant is a novel. It fits in the suspense and psychological fiction genres. While the setting is real, the characters and events are entirely fictitious.  And yet, I would argue that the events described in the novel are nonetheless plausible. We are often quick to point to other religions as “fundamentalist” or “extreme,” when the truth is, all religions and faiths can be misused and misinterpreted for dangerous, even lethal goals.

I have seen the terrible dehumanizing result of political and religious extremism (both Islamic and Christian) in person, around the world, on the battlefield and off.  Many of those experiences and scenes came flooding back to me as I wrote this novel. Take a look at the LINKS page (Why is The Lazarus Covenant Relevant?)  to gauge for yourself what is fact and what is fiction….

A virtual tour of the novel is offered on your website. How do you take that tour?
The Lazarus Covenant Tour
is designed to further bring to life what you will read in the novel. It will lead you through the path of Mark Lyons, chapter by chapter. 

I deployed to the Balkans on several occasions with my Special Forces Company and I visited again recently to do some additional fact-checking.   The novel’s story is a chase across the Balkans and Europe, through cathedrals, mosques, palaces, mass grave sites, minefields, an aircraft carrier, and even a special operations tactical headquarters. The Photo Tour illustrates the setting locations described in the book.

I thought Bosnia was on the mend, but your novel assumes another crisis there. Is that realistic?
I think it’s entirely realistic. In some respects, some things have improved in Bosnia. New construction, such as a new airport terminal in Sarajevo, reconstructed homes and neighborhoods, displaced refugee returns, and rebuilt governing institutions have made for a stronger infrastructure, but my impression from a very recent visit there is that significant challenges remain. Organized crime, massive unemployment (roughly 40% and increasing), scant foreign investment, and high foreign debt diminish the country’s prospects for any rapid progress, at least in the short term.  My observation has been that to improve any war-ravaged state, it is the economic ties that are most successful at binding people together. Montenegro's referendum for independence has also sparked the same movement for independence in Kosovo and in the Bosnian Republika Srpska. A lot depends on the progression of events now underway after the recent general elections: if the Republika Srpska votes to secede from Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bosnian Croats could quickly follow suit and make their bid to unify with Croatia. Kosovo remains a flashpoint, as does the Vojvodina region in northern Serbia. In short, the political situation is far from stable.

The spread of the radical version of Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia; Wahabism, is another big concern. Tremendous infusions of Saudi money have contributed to rebuilding large mosques and homes throughout the country.  But during my latest visit to Bosnia, I noticed a dramatic increase in the number of young men with long beards and head scarves than there were a decade ago. These are only indicators, but when you also consider the same issues raised by Roman Polko’s character in the novel: the subterranean hatreds that linger between Bosnian “ethnicities:” the Serbs, Croats and Muslims the picture is more worrisome. These emotions still exist, in spades. Addressing that undercurrent of hatred is a long-term project that we have to undertake if we want to see a permanent culture of peace in the Balkans. For any who might contest that these hatreds are deeply entrenched, I’d recommend they read Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon. Written during the early part of the 20th Century, between World War I and World War II, it's really superb--and just as cogent today as it was when she wrote it.

Lately, I've found myself wondering whether truth is indeed stranger than fiction after President Obama's newly appointed Director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, recently stated that ttensions in Bosnia have reached the “highest level in years”  and that Bosnia’s ability to survive as a single, multi-ethnic state is in grave danger.

The Lazarus Covenant also describes a deadly terrorist threat against the Vatican.  That scenario, too, is grounded in reality.  I would encourage you to review some of the news articles provided in the Current Events page to get an idea of the ongoing security challenges that the Vatican faces. As you read these articles, keep in mind that the Vatican, in addition to being the central governing capitol of the Catholic church, is also a sovereign state.  109 acres in size, it is a European Microstate, much like Liechtenstein and Monoco. Like any other nation-state, wouldn't you expect the Vatican to have the ability to covertly detect and counter threats targeted against it and its head-of-state (in this case, the Bishop of Rome--the Pope)?  Or, would you say that the Swiss Guard could handle that by itself....?

I am a member of a book group. Is there a reader’s guide for The Lazarus Covenant?
Yes. Here is the Reader’s Guide.

Where can I find photos of the Balkan scenes you describe in your novel?

Go to The Lazarus Covenant Photo Tour.

How do you balance writing and being an active duty Army officer?  Where do you find the time?
And, don’t forget being a Dad!!! I have two young daughters and a two year old son, so it’s not easy! Juggling work, writing and home is a challenge, but I truly enjoy doing it all and wouldn't trade it for the world.

Fortunately, writing is a flexible profession, so I can schedule it whenever I’m free. Usually that’s early in the morning or at night after the kids are in bed. The great thing about writing is that it doesn’t only involve sitting down at a desk:  you can think about it when you’re driving, or when you’re out on the jogging trail, or when you’re overseas on a research trip. But to get the novel done you must write, and that’s where the early morning and late evening hours are crucial for me.

Are any of the characters in The Lazarus Covenant real or autobiographical?
The characters in The Lazarus Covenant are based loosely on people (often a composite of people) who I have either known or encountered around the world--usually in crisis spots and war zones, or here in Washington (lots of grist for any writing mill there!). And yet, by design and necessity, the characters in this novel are still entirely fictitious.

My writing reveals my interest in people—people who have complex, intriguing, animated lives…who must sort out their own pasts if they are to resolve their present and future challenges. By design, my characters change and evolve and they propel the story forward. Often, the plotlines are consistent with situations that I’ve actually witnessed or participated in. I care deeply about my characters, and so my goal is to make them as realistic and believable as possible.
 
What kind of research did you do for The Lazarus Covenant?
Much of The Lazarus Covenant is based on my own experiences over the past two decades—the result of personal observations of ordinary people from around the world, in times of extraordinary crises. Once the novel was completed, I traveled to the Balkans to walk the ground again, where the story takes place, just to ensure accuracy and realism (take a look at the Photo Tour!) Some aspects of a place do change, and so it often calls for an adjustment here and there to the setting. Usually those revisions are pretty minor, but sometimes major revisions are in order. That, ultimately, is the novelist's challenge! My belief is that if realism is your goal in writing, you just can’t achieve that in a library or behind a desk conducting Google searches—to achieve realism and accuracy, you have to go there and see it for yourself!

The authenticity of the intelligence reports and other information in The Lazarus Covenant seems to be TOO realistic!  Are you revealing any classified information?
I haven’t revealed any state secrets in this book.  However, I did write it with the intent of giving readers a level of detail and operational fidelity difficult to find elsewhere. The novel has also been cleared for publication in a comprehensive Department of Defense Security Review. Even the DoD reviewer, who said she has reviewed some of Ken Follet's books, went out of her way to say how much she enjoyed The Lazarus Covenant!

Your character dialogue includes profanity--is it necessary?

The language is indicative of what I routinely encountered in the many war and crisis zones I have deployed to, and represents precisely the statements and language used in those situations. The language deeply troubles me, but the dialogue in the novel was the only way that I could adequately (or accurately) convey the dynamics of the Balkans' history, the character descriptions and the plot in an authentic way.  Much of that dialogue was taken directly from survivor transcripts, and actually softened.  Eliminating the profanity altogether would have resulted in a less authentic story.  My objective in writing the novel was to provide a nearly unvarnished view of the crisis zones that we deploy to.  I realize that view may be too much for some to accept--it nearly was for me, and writing this was in many ways cathartic. One of the dominant themes of the book is the threat of religious extremism to the values we all cherish.   That threat is not isolated to Islamic extremism, as I have witnessed on countless occasions.  I've personally seen the mass graves of people (to include children) executed in the name of Islam and Christianity.   I'm Catholic, and as such, have been surprised to see other Catholics waging violence on others around the world--this story accurately reflects what I witnessed in the Balkans.  I could relate many actual events in conversation--but that is where I have failed so frequently in the past, and why I wrote this book.  In an effort to convey an authentic understanding, accurate dialogue--as troubling as it may be--is essential.  I have had many priests, chaplains and rabbis read the novel, and they have all agreed.  They also approved of the interfaith reconciliation depicted at the end of the book.  That story, too, is historically accurate.

I'm interested in learning more about the Balkans.  Where should I start?

I would recommend you start by exploring the links on this website and then get your hands on the books mentioned in the Reading List and in the Store.

Is it realistic to assume that Christian religions could become as violent as Islamic extremists?

A new brand of mystical, conservative Christianity has already spread across Africa, Latin America and Asia, and Christian extremism has followed this explosive trend (for example, the Lumpa Church in Zambia, Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda).  Any religion or church that promotes communal orthodoxy, mysticism, puritanism, obedience to spiritual and prophetic authority--those that are messianic and apocolyptic in their approach--risk the kind of violence depicted in The Lazarus Covenant.    As Islamic migration spreads throughout Europe, I believe we'll see a corresponding emergence of Christian fanaticism...even among traditional "Western" religions that teach non-violence.

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