Today I’m sitting down with William “Bill” Munns to talk about his latest release, The Life of One with Three Names. This is a special book in several different ways. For one thing, it addresses the enduring mystery behind the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World. For another, Munns not only wrote the book but illustrated it as well with a rendering software that creates unbelievably lush and detailed scenes. The story and the images combine to create a complete visual experience for the reader. So let’s find out more about it.
MJB: Can you tell us briefly the history behind the Hanging Gardens, the mystery that inspired this book?
WM: The Hanging Gardens were one of seven magnificent constructions of human endeavor listed by the Greek historians Herodotus (484-425 BC) and Callimachus of Cyrene (305-240 BC). Of the seven, two were tombs for kings, three were tributes to Gods, one was a utilitarian lighthouse, and only one, the Gardens, was inspired by a mortal woman loved by the king who built it. Many of the cultures which possessed these wonders were proud of their accomplishment, but the Babylonians were curiously (or mysteriously) unwilling to even acknowledge that the famous Gardens of Babylon even existed. Virtually nothing of the extensive cuneiform documents (surviving today) from the 5 decade reign of King Nebuchadnezzar II documents, describes or acknowledges that this splendid royal garden ever existed in Babylon. This total denial of Babylon’s most famous feature is the mystery historical scholars today have struggled to explain. My book offers a unique and somewhat unorthodox explanation, but one which actually explains the matter more logically than any prior scholarly effort.
MJB: What came first, the desire to tell the story, or the need to show it in the stunning images you create? Did you find the story to inspire the images, or vice-versa? Or did it all evolve as a whole?
WM: The origin of the story actually was derived from the artwork effort. I was commissioned by a 3D graphics software company to create the Seven Ancient Wonders in their software for an advertising campaign, showing the software’s remarkable capacity to visualize wondrous 3D worlds. And in the course of my research on all seven, the mysteries of the Hanging Gardens were revealed. After I finished my graphics contract, I continued to research the Gardens and look for solutions to the mystery of why the Babylonians deny their empire’s most legendary accomplishment. Finally, an idea struck me, one that explained perfectly why the Babylonians would deny the existence of the Garden and also deny the existence of the woman who inspired them, and that idea became the genesis of the book.
MJB: Obviously you’ve done a ton of research on the Gardens? Is your depiction of them accurate in terms of what we know about them?
WM: There are many vague and conflicting descriptions of the Gardens, some suggesting a ziggurat (a sort of stepped pyramid, essentially) covered with terraced planters, trees, vines and flowers; others suggesting a garden area enclosed by high walls. I personally felt that the ziggurat design was incorrect because the view from any terrace was mostly the city around it, and then, what was the point? So I chose a garden area surrounded by fabricated mountains and lush garden plants, so the view in any direction was that of a splendid garden set amid mountain scenery. If one searches for imagery associated with the gardens, you will find many fanciful depictions, which verifies the vague and inconclusive documentation as to their design and appearance.
MJB: I’m curious; have you ever talked with any experts about your theory of the Gardens? Historians, archaeologists? And if so, what kind of response did you get?
WM: I did accumulate all the published scholarly works on the Seven Wonders and the Gardens specifically, and found one of the most popular scholarly theories was that the gardens weren’t in Babylon, but rather were the royal Gardens of Nineveh in Assyria, built by the Assyrian King Sennacherib. I found it hard to believe that the historians who wrote about the gardens could name the wrong city, the wrong king who built them, and name the wrong woman to inspire them. So while I understood the scholarly approach, that the gardens of Nineveh were in fact documented by the Assyrians, while no Babylonian Garden was similarly documented by the Babylonians of Nebuchadnezzar’s time, I still found it too big a leap of faith to assume the historians could get every fact wrong, and that no one would make an effort to correct them. But once my story crystallized, I realized any scholarly opinion would simply label the idea “pure speculation” and wouldn’t likely embrace it with any enthusiasm.
MJB: You’ve categorized this book as a Young Adult novel, but also say it can appeal to all ages. What would YA readers be drawn to? What would mature adults enjoy about the book?
WM: The central character is a young woman, born of common heritage, but married to a King when she is 15, and becomes the Queen of Babylon. In a way, it’s the Cinderella fantasy, an eternal young adult theme, especially for girls. Because the story is her first person account of her life; her thoughts, dreams, opinions and decisions might have particular meaning for young girls growing up and trying to make sense of the world around them. But equally she thinks about issues and ideas of human culture that are eternal and ageless, and more mature readers may still ponder these matters as they sort out their lives. So in that sense, it should appeal to all ages.
MJB: What do you think readers will take away from the book? What conclusions might they draw from the story?
WM: I would hope that the foremost take-away readers might appreciate is the discussion of what constitutes greatness in a person, because our world today seems to be lacking in people of true greatness and is the poorer for that void. Our literature and media today is awash with “flawed heroes”, people who fall far short of any altruistic ideal, but I think we long for an occasional heroic person who is simply and unequivocally great, magnificent, and inspirational without reservation. I chose to offer my idea of one such truly great person. I’d like to believe such people can exist.
MJB: A wish I think most of us share.
Did any parts of the story surprise you? Did any of the characters? I find my characters often take on a life of their own and surprise me by doing or saying things I never planned. Did you find that also?
WM: Once I found the story concept, things unfolded in a fairly predictable way. What surprised me was that when I was writing the first person passages of my heroine, I lost all sense I was writing, and it felt like she was actually alive, dictating, and I was merely transcribing what she said. I still feel that way when I read the text. I don’t pat myself on the back for my writing. I feel she told the story and I merely transcribed it. I don’t recall such a powerful feeling with any of my other books or characters.
MJB: I’ve had very similar experiences with some of my characters. That’s when we know that we’re really “in the zone,” and the magic is happening. Great stuff.
Why is this book different than other historical fiction? Why is this book special to you?
WM: This book differs from most historical fiction in the level of speculation, but that was necessitated by the very nature of the mystery and my premise of a solution. I offer the opinion that the Babylonians deliberately erased or destroyed all records of the Garden and the woman who inspired them. And if I am correct, then only speculation can restore the idea.
The book is special to me because of the incredible investment in time, effort, artistry, and contemplation to bring it to reality. The artwork was a true labor of love, for 6 years. The artwork shown in this edition is actually a mere fraction of the total effort, but the remainder of artworks weren’t sufficiently finished to be included. I finally chose to release the book with the finished artwork examples, rather than risk passing away with it unpublished. But the book is also special because the idea has been continually expanding and I see many more volumes expanding the story and the philosophy the story embraces.
MJB: I’m sure readers will be anxious to see the future stories.
You’ve done image recreations of other Wonders of the World as well; where can readers see those?
WM: I included in the book a portfolio of the Seven Wonders artwork I did, from a printing in Computer Graphics World magazine, April 2000 edition. My online website with my digital art is in flux right now, needing to be revised and restored to online access, but it’s on a very long “To Do” list.
MJB: If readers want to read more of your work, how can they do that?
WM: Amazon.com now has four of my books listed. The others are: When Roger Met Patty (a scientific study of the famous Patterson-Gimlin “Bigfoot” film of 1967), Hopeless (a novel about a quirky racehorse who does runs on his terms only), and The Therapeutic Zoo (a novel about a foster home which adopts some exotic animals and discovers the power of animal therapy to heal humans damaged by the trials of life).
MJB: See all his books on his Amazon Author Page.
And if readers want to contact you, how do they do that?
WM: I always welcome contact from interested people. Email is best, as I am not active in social media. firstname.lastname@example.org.