“Do you speak German? What experience do you have with Austria that motivated you to write this book?” Fair questions, I suppose. But without me explaining, they might think the purpose of the book is to explore Austria and its history with compelling characters.
While those things do happen in Salamander and the Unscarred Mind, the important thing that happens is that I force readers to ask why people believe the things that they believe. What is Austria in the first half of the 20th century? It’s a place where various stripes of fascists, socialists, and Nazis are competing for power. It’s a place where traditional nobility is eroding and where Catholicism is a power structure and culture that holds great sway over the minds of people. This is a time and place that is rich with beliefs of all kinds. I saw that and knew that Austria was the perfect place for this story to unfold.
We have an antagonist who is struggling with the things his Nazi ideology compels him to do. A holy man who guarantees life after death. A child looking at his own mortality and desperately hoping that afterlife is real. A Czech veteran who struggles with the glorified image of the soldier versus the reality of what he and his men have done. Our protagonist Rose, a devoted Catholic, uncovers the discouraging utility of falsehoods as she seeks and argues with Salamander himself.
The time and place of 20th century Austria, Vienna especially, is a ripe location for these arguments to take place. It’s a place where it matters a great deal what you believe and why. Wars are fought and millions of lives are at stake. (Conveniently, it’s just far away enough in time and space to feel fantastic and real at the same time. I have researched deeply, and consulted with several translators and a professor at great length to make the work as authentic as possible.)
This might sound academic, but it’s personal to me. The way people treated me and the way I’ve treated others has always depended upon the political and religious ideologies I believed. I have seen good people tormented for beliefs that are purely fictitious. Our beliefs motivate our actions and spur every interaction from dinner table small talk, to our votes, and even who we kill.
I’m not here to tell you what to believe. I’m here to tell you that there’s nothing more important than believing what is true. The people of Salamander and the Unscarred Mind have beliefs that range from a firm basis in reality to a psychopathic head trip—and there are consequences.
People believe they have a sacred privilege to believe whatever they choose, and selfishly pick whatever ideas appeal to them. The mind is a garden that needs grooming and pruning. Without accepting that responsibility, a person’s philosophical/ideological eccentricities manifest a fractal catastrophe in their daily lives. Politics are the highest expression of that. It’s everyone’s responsibility to dismantle and remove bad ideas from their own minds.
That’s why I write.