The Genesis of “A Man at Arms”

My niece Meredith was getting married. She asked me to be the officiant.

My first move was to page through The Book of Common Prayer, seeking appropriate Biblical passages. A few leapt out at once.

Love beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things …

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal …  

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child, but when I became a man I put away childish things …

I started here …

I loved all these. I remembered them from childhood. I thought they were not just superb poetry but also spiritual precepts of the highest order. Then I realized (how could I have not known this?) that all these passages came from the same source—Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians, the book in the New Testament known as 1 Corinthians.

Meredith got married. Two years passed. I forgot about this and never thought of it again.

Then one day I had a flash: “This letter of Paul’s was a real letter. It was really sent from the Apostle to the fledgling Christian community at Corinth in Greece. It was meant to fortify the beleaguered believers, who were under attack from all sides. The letter was intended to strengthen their faith in the face of life-and-death persecution and adversity.”

I thought, “What if the Romans tried to stop this letter?”

“Surely,” I said to myself, “the masters of the ancient world feared the rise of this new and revolutionary faith. In many ways, the Apostle Paul’s letter was the atomic bomb of its time. If its ideas were allowed to spread and take root, the result could be empire-wide insurrection and much more. Surely Rome and her invincible legions would stop at nothing to intercept this epistle and destroy it.”

Suddenly I had the germ of a story. But so much was still missing. What could come next?

… and finished here.

A few years earlier I had written a nonfiction book called The Lion’s Gate. It was about the Six Day War, the 1967 Arab-Israeli clash whose centerpieces were the infantry struggle for Jerusalem and the air and tank battles of the Sinai desert. I spent nine weeks in Israel, interviewing pilots and tankers, recon scouts and infantry soldiers. By the time I was done, I felt like I knew Jerusalem, the coastal plain, and the Sinai desert by heart.

But other forces were pulling on my attention. Again I forgot about this and moved on. Then one day, musing about this potential new story, it hit me that I could use this Holy Land geography as the setting for an action chase story—Jerusalem, with its Antonia Fortress, garrisoned by the infamous Tenth Legion; Gaza and the coastal plain as the first places to which fugitives might escape; and the Sinai wilderness as a desolate and forbidding “land beyond the law,” across which our heroes (whoever they might be) could flee, pursued by Roman columns and cavalry and every other bad guy I could think of.

Now I had some action. The story was gaining momentum in my head.

More on this next week.

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43 Comments

  1. Peter Brockwell on March 31, 2021 at 3:18 am

    Fascinating! Really interesting. Reminds me of Twyla Tharp writing in The Creative Habit about taking two ordinary ideas and ‘rubbing them together’.

    Steve thanks for sharing. I’m very much looking forward to any revelations from you post next week.
    Peter

  2. Joe Jansen on March 31, 2021 at 5:06 am

    Love a genesis story.

    Good share on Twyla Tharp, Peter. It made me think of Steve’s references to her work ethic, quoting her on morning rituals: “The ritual is not the stretching and weight training I put my body through each morning at the gym; the ritual is the cab. The moment I tell the driver where to go I have completed the ritual.”

    The New Yorker recently published an interview with her, now at the age of 97.
    https://www.newyorker.com/culture/the-new-yorker-interview/twyla-tharp-never-stops

    A couple of good quotes I took from that one:

    ** You’ve got to keep yourself from falling in love with every dancer you ever worked with. A dancer walks in with an understanding of their body. With an intelligence. You can see it in a person’s face: a modesty, and a confidence, and a comfort zone in their own skin. That, to me, is a person who is . . . . I’m interested in having a dialogue, let’s put it that way.

    ** I can’t afford regret and remorse and revenge anymore, O.K.? Those are qualities that require much too much energy. I don’t have time for them.

    ** [Dance] is actually made of time and space and how they coördinate through the physical body. It is very critical to everybody’s existence, if only they were given the opportunity to acknowledge that.

    • Joe on March 31, 2021 at 7:05 am

      I’m also curious on the “inside baseball” behind Steve’s officiating a wedding. Here in Indiana, weddings can be run by clergy (priests, imams, rabbis), or members of the court. In California, I understand that you can officiate weddings if you’re a notary public (which also helps consolidate the paperwork), and there might be exceptions made for former cab drivers and apple pickers.

      Myself, I’m considering being ordained in the Church of Dudeism (with Ethan and Joel Coen in the roles of “The Two Popes”):

      https://dudeism.com/ordination/

      • Joe on March 31, 2021 at 7:27 am

        Hey! I’m in! Fully ordained! I didn’t even have to go to a monastery or seminary or anything. The Vows were easy: “I vow to uphold the principles of Dudeism: To just take it easy, to be *dude* (easygoing) to everyone I meet, and to keep my mind limber.” CAN DO, BABY!

        I’m considered a tattoo with the church motto: E Pluribus Dudeinum (In Dude We Trust)

        http://bit.ly/DudeismOrdinationJansen

        So, I’m available for weddings, bar/bat mitzvahs, nikahs, ship christenings (bring your own bottle of champagne and I’ll smash it on the bow of your yacht or whatever), or the occasional bris (bring your own mohel; I’ll stand by and utter a reverent “Duuuude” in blessing).

        My mother will be so proud when I tell her.

        • andrew lubin on March 31, 2021 at 8:00 am

          Joe – I’ve got an 1877 Martini-Henry, a ’42 Enfield Mk4, and a ’68 MGB Roadster that could use christening; do you do package deals?

          • Joe on March 31, 2021 at 8:13 am

            Andrew — we can hold the ceremony someplace with a rug that really ties the room together.



          • XoseFrench Diéguez on April 6, 2021 at 10:10 am

            I think that you Joe, was drinking a lot of wine.



        • Steven Pressfield on March 31, 2021 at 10:35 am

          Joe, all I did was buy a priestly collar and wear it with a white shirt. Actually my brother Mike had secretly performed the marriage ceremony months earlier (he applied for certification with the State of California somehow) so all I had to do was act out the public version of the ceremony.

          • Joe on March 31, 2021 at 7:27 pm

            White shirt. Sounds fancy, Steve. Church of Dudeism requires only a bathrobe and pair of Jellies.

            Joking aside, sweet that she’d want you to officiate. And great genesis story



          • Gary Emineth on March 31, 2021 at 9:26 pm

            I think what is happening is when the Holy Spirit speaks to a mans heart – strange things occur! The God of the universe reaches and taps him on the shoulder. Some call it a muse – I say it is God – Maybe Paul the Apostle was right and it is indeed real.



    • Richard Williams on April 1, 2021 at 9:27 pm

      Joe: Thx for the link to Twyla Tharp’s discussion about her career. I love her creativity book so this was a fun interview. Great to see her feisty and active at 79! My mentor will be 93. During Covid Lockdown, he composed a Covid Sonata that is being played around the world; published 15 new music compositions; completed 25 superb paintings; and wrote one book. Great motivation for all of us to keep creatively writing.

      • Joe on April 2, 2021 at 3:18 am

        Richard… Your mentor sounds incredibly productive. Is his “Covid Sonata” on YouTube or Soundcloud or somewhere we could hear it?

    • Maureen Anderson on April 6, 2021 at 10:02 am

      Loved the article, Joe — and added two books to my reading list. Thanks!

  3. Mary Doyle on March 31, 2021 at 5:10 am

    Thanks for sharing this. Last night, I was reading the late Larry McMurtry’s 2010 preface to Lonesome Dove. He wrote that his first “impulse to write about these two ex-Texas Rangers” being “feeble at first,” but then saw a sign on an old bus in Texas that said “Lonesome Dove Baptist Church. “I knew, at once, that I had had a piece of luck; I drove straight home and wrote the novel.” I’ve learned from you that inspiration and ideas are always around, but recognizing them for what they are, and putting the pieces together is what counts. Looking forward to this series!

  4. Mike Lally on March 31, 2021 at 6:13 am

    Hi Steven! Is there any chance you could publish a list of sources for “additional reading” – specific to Man at Arms. On the old website, you had a list of ancient greek history sources. Would love (LOVE!) the same for [email protected] And thanks again for the amazing gift. It was too much but it helped me push on.

    • Steven Pressfield on March 31, 2021 at 10:42 am

      Mike, three books that really helped me were Joesphus’ “The Jewish War,” which gave me the flavor of the times and how the Romans fought the various rebellions. Another great one was “Legions of Rome” by Stephen Dando-Collins. He took the legions one-by-one and explained everything about them. Who knew there were TWO Tenth Legions … the Tenth Gemina and the Tenth Fretensis. Another big help was “Legionary: The Roman Soldier’s Unofficial Manual” by Philip Matyszak. This was written tongue-in-cheek, as in “So you wanna join the Roman army?” But it had tons of great info on weapons, length of enlistments, how a Roman camp was set up, etc. But the bulk of what I did for research came from my time in Israel and just being there on the ground. Also I read everything I could find about psychotropic plants that grow in the desert.

      • Mike Lally on April 1, 2021 at 6:04 am

        Thanks! All 3 added to the list. 🙂

      • Joe on April 2, 2021 at 3:20 am

        I marked the reference to “almahlusat” and “vision maker” on pg 65 and wondered about that.

  5. Sam Luna on March 31, 2021 at 7:52 am

    A Man at Arms really struck me as the ultimate coalescence of all your writing — part ancient world epic, part 90’s action movie, part military parable. I look forward to hearing more about the writing process!

  6. Brian Herrian on March 31, 2021 at 7:57 am

    When I began to recognize this I felt more connected to the story because of the stories of Paul’s travels have been a part of my early life training and how the communications were sent out in human conveyance. What a great story this is, I’m on chapter 38, The Village

  7. andrew lubin on March 31, 2021 at 8:35 am

    In June 2003 I was driving home from Camp LeJeune with my son, a Marine just-returned from the March invasion of Iraq, and a case of beer. “So, my combat-veteran son,” I asked, “tell me about the fight at An-Nasiriyah.” Fueled by more than one beer, he began to tell me about the week-long artillery-won fight that was kicked-off by the Army’s 507th who blundered into the city and gave America the Jessica Lynch saga. After listening for 30 minutes, suddenly I knew I need to memorialize his experiences in 5-10 pages, add them to the dozens of photos he brought back, and throw them in my dad’s locker box of WW2 gear; my goal was decades years later some grandchild or great-grandchild could look at them and say “Wow, that old Marine did this? I wonder if I could measure up?”

    Those 5-10 pages soon turned into 50 and several book submissions, and a year of heavy writing later my first book was published, and then seven years as a combat correspondent in Iraq and Afg. Who knew I could write? Oh, just all of my AP English teachers; I just needed a topic that spoke to me to bring it out.

    • Brian Nelson on March 31, 2021 at 9:12 am

      Andrew,
      That is a great genesis story! Needed something to write about. Great stuff.
      bsn

  8. Brian Nelson on March 31, 2021 at 9:33 am

    So fascinating to read how this idea came to fruition. The human mind is amazing in its ability to find connections and create narrative. It seems that narrative is the delivery system of information for us.

    The world is a better place because Meredith asked her Uncle to officiate her wedding. I have now committed 1 COR 13 to memory, and am better for it. It is something I bring to mind each time I scowl at someone (it does not dishonor others), crab at my wife (it is not easily angered), am not patient, kind, trusting, protecting, hopeful….

    It is a tall order.

    Odd story about piecing disparate things together. I’m a hack golfer, but love it anyway. In 2004, I was pretty well addicted tot the game. In the military intelligence world, many of the Soldiers speak a foreign language. We were port of a unique organization in the DOD in which all Soldiers and Officers required foreign language proficiency.

    I had just taken command when one of my LTs said, “Hey Sir, you need to re-appoint the CLPM (Command Language Program Manager).”

    The CLPM is a bureaucrat who keeps records of everyone’s proficiency tests, when they need to retest–and this inane document called the ILTP (Individual language training program) in which each Soldier writes how he/she will improve their proficiency in the next year. Asinine. Hey SGT, with all you have to do the Army has decided to put the onus of proficiency on your shoulders instead of creating a program that does the job for you.

    Back to golf. I had been thinking about it doesn’t matter how great one’s drive is, a drive must be followed by three more well swung shots. The way we did language training in the Guard was every Saturday of drill. We sucked and continued to get worse in our scores.

    I thought of this Saturday 8 hour chunk of training like a 300 yard drive, followed up by a blade shot that screams into the woods.

    As the LT came up to me, I answered, “I f-bomb HATE the COMMAND LANGUAGE PROGRAM. Lecture and counsel your Soldiers to a better score….” A tirade ensued when I said in the stream of consciousness rant, “…what w need to do is train 12 hours a day for 2 weeks straight. No English allowed. No other training. All language…”

    This little rant turned into the “341st MI BN Language Immersion Program” which continues today. We ‘violently’ shove 150 contact hours of language down our Soldiers’ throats in 2 weeks. That is, thinking in University vernacular, a college major. Works famously. I’ve gone through it 3 times myself–feels like getting hit with a stupid stick for about 4 days straight, and then the language begins to open up again.

    Genesis stories are cool.
    bsn

    • Andrew+Lubin on April 1, 2021 at 6:50 am

      Brian – “Education by Intimidation?” But it works!

      I learned German via intense immersion in HS; it was only German in class, and if we ran into the teacher in the halls, lunchroom, etc, it was still ‘nur Deutsch.” And now, 51 years later, I can still understand about 75% of any German I hear; the only challenge is remembering enough vocabulary in order to respond // Andreas

  9. York on March 31, 2021 at 10:28 am

    Steve,

    Working through the audiobook and reading this is awesome. It really gives a “behind the scenes” view of the process.

  10. Bill Pace on March 31, 2021 at 11:22 am

    Great stuff to know Steven! What a fascinating origin.

    I love how ideas collide and collude in our minds, and what we do with them to create something new.

    Thanks (as always) again,
    Bill

  11. Yvonne on March 31, 2021 at 11:48 am

    I just love that you shared this with us, Steve — thank you! As a reader, I’m always curious where and how writers get their ideas and inspiration, because it fascinates me. As a writer, I’m amazed each and every time where and how inspiration comes to me; it’s usually the smallest nuance, a gesture, a spoken word or sentence, an observation, the wondering “what if’s”…nothing usually “earth shattering” for me, but it’s there. It just reinforces to me that as a writer, I always need to have my eyes, ears, and heart open for inspiration. I can’t wait for the continuation next week!

  12. Rod Collman on March 31, 2021 at 3:26 pm

    Steven, you have given us a book to really enjoy many thanks for that
    very best regards
    Happy Easter
    Rod Collman

  13. Mike on March 31, 2021 at 4:51 pm

    Steve,

    Do you speak any of the languages from the world and time of which you write? How much cultural expertise on the classical world have you built up over your writing career? I am always curious as to how much of your world-building is artistic license or genuine history. In your books, it all seems authentic.

    I remember in an earlier post you argued for simply putting pen to paper rather than procrastinating for the sake of research. I’m working (procrastinating, but for different reasons) on my first novel, and I wonder how much an author can rely on imagination and still sound like a credible expert.

  14. BRENDON LUMGAIR on March 31, 2021 at 4:53 pm

    Just passed the mid-point climax! Really enjoying the book (and the pre-order interview with Major Jim Gant)

    This book brings me back to my backpacking adventure across the Sinai. We hiked to the top of Mount Sinai through the night. It was the first time I had truly seen the Milky Way. Huddled in our rented sleep bags, we watched the most glorious sunrise.

    The scenes in “A Man at Arms” where they are sitting, waiting, and watching in silence bring me right back to that place. A truly “Martian” landscape on Earth.

  15. Jeff Sutherland on March 31, 2021 at 7:42 pm

    Now I REALLY can’t wait to read Man at Arms AND Lion’s Gate. I appreciate the respect you show these ancient texts. Thank you for sharing this, a rare peek behind the curtain.

  16. Bill Evans on April 1, 2021 at 7:07 am

    Do you think the Israelis are still pissed at the Italians? I know the Greeks are…

    A Man at Arms was a good read-congratulations.

  17. Marco on April 2, 2021 at 2:06 am

    I like love, I love humannity, I love all and every people in the world, love is so good, love is healing, love is peace, I wish good things for every people , all people, everyone in the world, I wish happiness, prosperity, longevity and love and good health to every person in the world, please pardon me of anything I have said or have wrote, please pardon me of anything I say or write, I love you, I love peace, peace is the only way, love makes happiness, helps me have a good mental health, my mental health is going to be better and better from now on, I am sure, I would like to say thanks to everyone, thank you,

    I am Marco Antonio Queirolo Taves

  18. Marco Antonio Queirolo Taves on April 2, 2021 at 10:52 pm

    I love and I am always loving and will continue loving everyone during many more and more years and continue living a happy and longeval living with everyone on the world and continuing living in love with every person on the world and the universe, the meaning of the word peace is the living meaning as in World Peace, there is no other meaning of the word peace then the same meaning as in World Peace, and is the only meaning and the only meaning is loving each other and we the whole humannity live and longstanding solidarity and fraternity I have and continue to have with everyone in the world, and Jesus is God and Jesus loves we loving and happy,
    I only believe in Jesus,
    I do not believe in numbers,
    I do not believe in signals,
    I do not believe in writings,
    I do not believe in scriptures,
    I do not believe in any other things,
    I only believe in Jesus,
    I am the one who believes,
    I love Jesus and Jesus is God,
    I am happy and joyful being the one who believes,
    Jesus is the only perfection and miracle,
    Jesus is God and I believe in Jesus and Jesus is the only believing that has power, Jesus is my happiness and my joy and my God and Jesus is everything and Jesus loves everyone,
    Believe me when I say I am saying the Truth and writing the Truth,
    I am saying the Truth and writing the Truth because Jesus is Truth,
    Jesus is true and Truth,
    Jesus always helps me having more sanity and always saves me,
    Jesus helps me having more and more sanity and starting having a good happy sanity and being more and more sane day and day, everyday, thanks God,
    I am always saying thanks Jesus,
    Thanks God,
    Jesus is God and I always say thanks God,
    I love Jesus and thanks God,

    Jesus ao mundo todo ama
    Obrigado Jesus,

    marco

    • Marco Antonio Queirolo Taves on April 2, 2021 at 11:04 pm

      Oi,
      Perdão, gostaria de escrever melhor essa frase, escrever certo,

      Jesus tem muito amor por todos,

      Obrigado,

      marco

      • Marco Antonio Queirolo Taves on April 2, 2021 at 11:08 pm

        E numerologia e numeros não tem nenhum poder,

        Só Jesus é Deus,
        Eu creio em Jesus,
        Obrigado Deus

  19. Anonymous on April 2, 2021 at 11:10 pm

    Perdao e obrigado

  20. Marco Antonio Queirolo Taves on April 2, 2021 at 11:12 pm

    Perdão e obrigado,
    Obrigado Deus

  21. Marco Antonio Queirolo Taves on April 2, 2021 at 11:33 pm

    Obrigado Steve,
    Obrigado a todos,
    Desejo só coisas boas e felizes pra todos vocês, muita saúde , prosperidade, longevidade, amor e alegria,
    Graças a Jesus,
    Obrigado Deus

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  23. marco on April 3, 2021 at 3:27 am

    Gente, nós somos humanos e as vezes, num debate entre duas pessoas, um fica bravo com o outro e fala uma coisa mais rispida, aí o outro responde falando outra coisa rispida, aí talvez vira agressividade verbal, tem gente que tem mais Paciencia, tem gente que tem um pouco menos, tem dias que voce tem mais Paciencia e dias que voce está com menos, é normal, nós somos humanos, eu não cultivo o habito de provocar as pessoas e sempre tenho empatia com as pessoas e sou amigo de todo mundo, as vezes, em uma conversa, sinto que estao me provocando, em algum dia com talvez um pouco menos de sanidade mental, e aí falta um pouco de razão e tal, mas sempre depois estou amigo novamente das pessoas e está tudo bem graças a Deus, as vezes, nós humanos, em um dia de menos Paciencia, sentimos medo, e o medo é que faz a agressividade verbal, é normal, nós somos humanos, só Jesus é perfeito, em dias de menos ou mais Paciencia , o melhor é ignorar provocações, as vezes a gente entende errado as palavras, é normal, então o melhor é ignorar e não dar importância, tanta coisa boa pra fazer na vida, pra que ficar perdendo tempo com briguinha virtual igual criança, eu não quero me preocupar muito com problemas do mundo, eu nao, eu vivo minha vida normal, as vezes, assistindo as noticias, tem periodos de tanto problema junto que é normal a gente ficar mais emocional, mas temos que viver uma vida normal e aproveitar as boas coisas da vida, tanta coisa boa, graças a Deus, eu sempre agradeço a Deus

    Obrigado a todos,
    Desejo muitas coisas boas e alegrias a todos
    Obrigado Deus

  24. marco on April 3, 2021 at 8:18 pm

    Good and happy Eastern everyone,
    how are you, so good, thanks God,
    I would like to say something about so many coincidences,
    I would like to say, that I am sure Profecies do not have any power, I do not believe in any scriptures, and they have no power, the only real Divine power is the power of Jesus and Jesus love, any comment on internet that is of my authoring or of anyone’s authoring or any of my writings in the internet, that is not this one I am writing here, is literature or fiction from something similar to schizophrenia or drugs craziness, is not real and have no Divine power and do not have any sobrenatural power and do not have any extraterrestrial power and do not have any energy and do not have any power, the only Divine power in the universe is Jesus, before Jesus arriving, maybe could exist some other energy, but when Jesus came Jesus became and is and is going to continue being the only Divine power and the only God in the universe,
    I am only referring to this same one comment I am writing here when I say I am writing the Truth and saying the Truth, any other previous comments of my authoring or any of my writings in the internet are not included when I say I am writing and saying the true and Truth, thanks God, Jesus is the only true and Truth,
    I am saying this because I have these psicological craziness and sometimes I have confusion with coincidences, so many coincidences and I sometimes have confusions, so in the situation that someone is having confusions with coincidences, to explain that only Jesus has Divine power, thanks God
    I wish only happy things to everyone on the word and in the universe, I wish happiness, good health, prosperity, longevity and love to everyone and every person on the world and in the universe, Thanks God
    I am happy and joyful being a person who believes in Jesus,
    and I am going to continuing loving Jesus and living happily with the other human beings on the world and I am going to continuing living being a good person and believing in God during many more years and years, always happier and happier and always healthier and healthier and more and more happy and joyful, thanks God
    Jesus is God and Jesus is the only God and Jesus always saves hummanity and loves everyone and every person on the world and in the universe, and is going continuing being God and always saving humannity and everyone on the world and in the universe, and hummanity is going to continuing being happier and happier during thousands and thousands more years, Thanks God
    This comment has no double meanings and have no other meaning then the simple and clear meaning that is the only meaning and the Truth, and has only happy and good meanings, thanks God
    I do not know and I do not have any dialogues with anyone who is feeling surprised with coincidences and I prefering continuing being like this in order to improving my psicological normal reason and happiness giving no importance to coincidences, this is no double meanings or any other meanings, I believe persons are free to believe in their believings, Thanks God
    I am a human and things are surprising when I realizing believing in God, Jesus is good and I say thanks Jesus and I am living more and more joyful believing in Jesus, I only believe in Jesus, other believings have no power and I do not believe in mistical things, I only believe in Jesus, Jesus is my God and I say thanks Jesus, Thanks God

    thanks everyone,
    Good Eastern everyone,
    Thanks God

    marco

  25. Alan Gideon on April 11, 2021 at 9:39 am

    I just finished Man at Arms, and immediately downloaded Gates of Fire. Thank you very much for [email protected] It’s one thing, as a. Christian, to know that the words of 1st Corinthians reflect true principles and doctrine. It’s quite another to be able to clearly picture the character of the time in which the words were written. You’ve done us all a great favor.

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