Imagine paintings that hold the secrets to the meaning of life, and death—or scribbled words that can alter past and reshape the present. We know art imitates life, but in Michael B. Koep’s thriller fiction trilogy he brings the arts to life in an action-packed tale spanning seven centuries.
A new book, The Newirth Mythology: Leaves of Fire (June, 2015) tells of how a journal has inadvertently created real lives off the page, changed history, and made myths and their characters real. There is a battle for life on Earth – and the Afterlife – and the fate of existence itself hangs in the balance. The war of the immortals has begun. Koep’s latest installment entwines seemingly unconnected lives from different time periods and deeply explores myth, memory, revenge, and the hope of forgiveness.
“I have always had a love for myths and how myths frame a culture’s narrative,” says Koep, “and ultimately, I wanted to try my hand at my own mythology.”
Amid swordfights, shootouts, betrayal, secret guardians prone to poetic monologues and murders – in a milieu of fine art, fine food, secret lovers, myth, mafia, ancient languages, and the loud music of classic vinyl LPs, Koep’s trilogy will leave the reader questioning what it means to be human and what lies beyond this world.
The following is a Q&A with Michael Koep:
MEDIA CONNECT: Michael, what inspired you to launch your thought-provoking, supernatural thriller series?
Michael Koep: A number of things inspired the writing of Part One of the Newirth Mythology, The Invasion of Heaven, for the story has been haunting my notebooks for a little over 15 years. Looking at the book now I’m thrilled to see that I managed to fit nearly all of my obsessions into the story: music, painting, poetic monologues, sword fighting, bits of psychology, poetry, mafia, international travel and mystery. I even got to explore the big why are we here questions.
I dedicated Part One to my mother. She has suffered from depression for most of her adult life, and growing up watching her battle the illness was a confusing and helpless experience. Reading helped me through those years. Psychology became a poignant interest, as did escape vehicles like fantasy and science fiction– and because I didn’t have the kind of mind to become a psychologist myself I felt that the best way in which I could help my mother was to entertain her with stories and music. The character of Loche Newirth appeared in my journals very soon thereafter– and as a mental health professional, Loche could explore not only the difficulties of being human, but he just might discover a cure to the darker parts of our nature. Maybe even depression. Of course, he hasn’t yet become the kind of hero that I had imagined, but he’s trying.
As a touring rock musician, my travels influenced large parts of the story, too.
MC: Your story involves mythology. Could there be truth to our mythologies? Is there a need to create a new mythology?
MK: Certainly mythologies contain truth- human truth. Consider the term mythos: the pattern of basic values and historical experiences of a people characteristically transmitted through the arts. Or, made up stories to make sense and express the inexpressible. Myths tell two stories at once. On the surface they are usually straightforward, plot based narratives with symbolic characters facing fantastic circumstances–very often supernatural at their core. Simultaneously, these stories can provide transformative insights and footholds of understanding about the mysteries of existence and the human condition. Mythology can change not only the behavior of the individual, but so, too, an entire culture. It is this transforming characteristic of storytelling that is of great interest for me– and it is the central theme of The Invasion of Heaven and Leaves of Fire. I am fascinated with the deeply held beliefs that people have for stories–and how those stories dictate both love and fear.
As long as there are questions about our existence, there will always be stories reaching for answers. The historical cannon of myth over thousands of years has changed along side our ability to reason and adapt. Though we still worship the sun (at the beach, mostly these days), our little star no longer holds the divine nature it once did for the ancients. The Sumerian gods fell to the Greek gods– and they to the recent cast of divine characters that hold their place on the current metaphysical and religious stages. When a new evolutionary burst of thought happens for humankind, it is to be expected that another system of belief flourish.
In The Newirth Mythology I wanted gather all mythological narratives, the stories themselves, the events and characters and their metaphorical values, and pronounce, simply: they are all true– they all happened– it is all very real. What main character Loche Newirth discovers, however, is that there is always more to the story.
MC: The balance of good and evil is weighed throughout your story. Can we know one without the other?
MK: With volumes written on the problem of evil, I’m not sure that I can add much other than providing another story to hopefully keep the discussion going. Unlike classical myth, The Newirth Mythology leans away from the black and white nature of morality. I am more interested in the many sides and emotional levels of characters, their pasts, their fears, their hopes and what motivates their actions. The character of Helen Newirth, for example, has been called evil by some of my readers in emails and letters. In fact, I’ve been asked more than once by readers at book events, “Why is Helen such a bitch?” I have to agree because the story paints her rather unfavorably, but I often add laughing, “You don’t know Helen like I know Helen.” In other words, there is more to the story. Her past is dark. Her upbringing was a horror– and how she survived is touched upon in Part Two, Leaves of Fire. In other words, Helen operates out of what she knows and out of the environment she has been dealt. Does that make her evil? I’m not sure. I tend to agree with Plato’s idea: “Ignorance, the root and stem of all evil.” It is my hope that Helen will find redemption by the end–and hopefully not continue her spree of bad choices.
MC: In your series, art comes to life. Pictures influence behavior and a journal’s words create real people out of the writer’s imagination. What role should art play in our lives?
MK: Art is transcendence. It is a time machine. It is the shiny thing. It is the mirror. I had intended to use art as a sort of character in the trilogy, though, it didn’t quite work out that way. Instead, art became the environment and setting. It surrounded the story.
Like most artists and writers, I walk beside my characters, I live with them, I see what they see and I (safely) experience their joys and horrors. I’m often thankful that I am able to leave them on the page and escape. I remember thinkingwhen I was creating the writer/psychologist Loche Newirth: wouldn’t it be nightmarish if he couldn’t escape his creation–his art? If what he made came into being?
From that point dominos tumbled, and a huge pile of notes with “what if?” (my favorite question of all) scribbled at the topn of each began cluttering my desk. What if Loche changes history? What if God couldn’t escape his own creation? What if all myths and gods exist in reality? What if art is the vehicle between this life and the next?
Art’s role in The Newirth Mythology is just that–a vehicle to the unknown–to what if. But hasn’t art always been just that? Art transports us beyond ourselves and guides us out of ignorance to empathy and knowledge. To me, art is the singular proof of a soul.
MC: You are a bit of a renaissance man- educator, world traveler, poet, artist and rock musician- as well as a novelist. Do you hope your books further the arts and inspire others to create new worlds- and nourish ours?
MK: Art should knit us all together. It should inspire, elevate and excite. So yes, it is a humbling delight knowing that readers are identifying with my work. Learning that what you’ve created resonates with others and inspires is the primary aim–and better still, the connection invigorates the entire process–from wanting to continually pursue improving one’s craft, to new approaches, reaching further, and dreaming wider and longer. I like to think of art as a good conversation that you don’t want to end–so you order more drinks.