“Dinner in Audoghast” takes a look at an almost forgotten oasis city in Africa. Why did you choose to explore this speck of history?
I found Audoghast while reading a book about Moslem travellers and explorers. By the way, Audoghast really is “forgotten”—Audoghast was a wealthy, good-sized metropolis once, but nobody’s ever yet found any trace of its ruins. In these days of GPS and aerial photography, that’s pretty odd.
What effect did the few sentences of source material have on shaping your narrative?
I threw that quote in there so that the reader would realize that the city was historically existent—it’s not an Edgar Rice Burroughs fantastic lost city of Africa; Audoghast was a real place with real inhabitants. I also decided early on that the story wouldn’t have any Tarzan figures in it—no Europeans, no Christians, no lost English noblemen raised by apes. These remote strangers never had any role in the urban life of Audoghast.
Do you think fiction can serve a role in preserving cultures that are nearly lost to time?
Well, yeah, certainly, if that fiction was actually written by people from the lost culture, as with the Iliad or the Epic of Gilgamesh. In those cases, fiction truly is a precious relic, it’s of huge cultural value. If somebody from the actual Audoghast read this modern story of mine, they’d consider it a distorted fairy-tale, more like weird satire than an act of “preservation.”
On the other hand, they might like the story better than I think. Literate people in early Islam were rather keen on melancholy stories of fatalistic ruin. When you grow up in the ruins of the Tigris, the Euphrates, the Nile, there are plenty of dead civilizations underfoot.
Is there a piece of advice you would like to share with new writers who are thinking about tackling a secret history story?
Yeah. Try not to be a self-important hick. Above all, don’t write any secret histories where the subtext is all about how smart you are, and how dumb they were.
What can we expect from you in the future?
How much future do you want? In a thousand years we will all be creatures of fantastic obscurity.
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