Interview with JM DeBord about the creation of his debut novel, Something Coming

Click on the cover to buy the novel
Click on the cover to buy the novel

Author J.M. DeBord first suspected that his debut novel Something Coming might cause controversy when his girlfriend asked if he planned to use his real name for publication.

“She had a dream that someone got really angry about something I’d written. Considering how a dream plays a prominent role in the novel as a harbinger, I decided to use more caution. I had been planning to just slap my full name on the cover,” the author says.

Something Coming tells the story of the return of an ancient king, Antiochus Epiphanes, and the rise of a world peace movement based upon the teachings preserved at Mt. Nemrut, Turkey. King Antiochus is a notorious ruler from Jewish history; an Antichrist, according to some Christians. Telling the story of his return was bound to offend someone, the author says, but DeBord knew from the beginning that he had an extraordinary idea for a sweeping story involving a second coming unlike any other.

“I had several of those spine-tingling moments while writing the book when I stepped back and realized the impact it could have. I set out thinking that I was writing about the machinations of the Antichrist behind a world peace movement, but the characters took me in another direction. They said, “This story is ambiguous. There is another side to Antiochus that needs to be told.” So I had no choice but go along or else end up with a contrived story. The muse is like that. Mine demands authenticity—faith that if I just keep digging, the story will emerge as it should. And the story of Something Coming took me in some unexpected directions.”

One of those directions was portraying the return of Antiochus Epiphanes as a secular second coming. DeBord at first thought that Antiochus could only be an Antichrist, considering his brutal acts against the Jews and his prominence in Christian eschatology. But as the author’s research progressed into the character of Antiochus and the history of the Near East around the time of his reign, a new twist entered the plot: Antiochus returning to save the world, not destroy it.

“If you read only about Antiochus from the perspective of his many enemies, he was the worst of the worst. He not only attacked ancient Israel but also its religion, and he nearly destroyed both. I was surprised as an avid historian to know nothing about Antiochus until I started writing Something Coming. If he would have succeeded in Hellenizing Israel, the world would not have Judaism or its offspring, Christianity and Islam. Considering how those religions are fighting it out and have been for centuries, it really makes you wonder how the world would be different.”

In the novel, Antiochus is the legendary “third king” buried at Mt. Nemrut. His spirit leads his queen from antiquity, Laodice, reincarnated as Darianna, the wife of an archaeological researcher, to find him beneath the mountain. He sets out to be reborn while spreading his New Age beliefs around the world through a trio of mountain priests with highly developed mental powers. The story unfolds through the eyes of the researchers, the priests, a local tour guide for Mt. Nemrut, a journalist, two sisters from an ancient Jewish dynasty and one infamous king who makes a case for his view that Israel and its beliefs are the biggest impediment to peace.

“The hardest parts to write were when Antiochus speaks against the Jews, but I had to allow him to speak forcefully,” DeBord relates. “His actions push the world to the brink of Armageddon and beyond. For the reader to believe that the prophecies of the End Times are unfolding, and that Antiochus does what he does because he truly believes that he is correct, I had to make reasonable arguments. I studied Nazi Germany and its dance with the devil—the appalling justifications for slaughter by a hateful ideology—and in no way did I want to write something that could be used as propaganda. At the same time, I had to stay true to the story. From the outset my number one goal was believability.”

Something Coming presents story lines that will challenge the beliefs of readers: the war in Iraq could be used as an opening for a New Age movement to spread world peace; human cloning is already in advanced stages of application; people from the distant past can be reincarnated and used in a worldwide scheme; and Mt. Nemrut hides an astonishing secret. For that story line DeBord gained inspiration from the monument itself, located high in the mountains of southeastern Turkey—a monument considered an eighth wonder of the world.

“As I read the inscriptions at Nemrut Dag I saw a uniting force of its time. Here were words, written before Jesus of Nazareth walked the earth, that talk about the beliefs of East and West really being one belief, and if we’d just stop disagreeing for a moment we might realize that our commonalities far outweigh our differences. Mt. Nemrut’s message needs to be heard today, when the divide between us is wider than ever, carrying ramifications of world war. At first I saw how the message could be used as a disguise for an Antichrist to deceive humanity and grab power. Then as events in Iraq played out I began thinking more in terms of a solution. Antiochus emerged as a counter to the forces which drove that ill-fated war, and a vehicle to tell a story untold by the American media. I knew from the first time Iraq was mentioned as a potential target in 2001 that Bush was going to start a war and it would be disastrous. It was foretold.”

Other world situations are used as plot lines in Something Coming, including Turkey’s bid for European Union membership and the status of the unofficial Kurdish homeland in northern Iraq. In the novel, the charismatic high priest from Nemrut—Demetrius—uses the openings provided by those situations to establish himself on the international scene as a peacemaker. He first brokers peace between Turkey and the Kurds, then moves on to Iraq, convincing the world that he brings a new peace among nations blessed by the awakened powers of the mountain. The world responds to miraculous events at the historic monument, believing that a new age for humanity has begun. But at the same time, fundamentalists think it’s all the work of the Antichrist—and they might be right.

On the way to its thrilling and unexpected conclusion, the story drops in around the world to witness lives transformed by the power unleashed from Nemrut. The ills of a world driven by greed and fear are coming to term, and only a mass awakening to the true nature of the universe and life’s place in it will prevent environmental and social catastrophe. Antiochus brings with him answers, but also an ego fed by his own brilliance. The reader is left to wonder about his true intentions all of the way to the end.

“I had a general picture in my head of how the story would conclude, following the scriptures and stories of many world beliefs about the second coming. The first conclusion to the novel was dictated by the relationship between Antiochus and Darianna. The plot was building toward a different climax, but once again I had to let the characters tell their story and go off in an unexpected and really interesting directions. I actually finished the book and began editing when the most unexpected twist of all came to me. It was daring but it also added to an important story line and provided an opportunity to unite an underlying theme: the nature of evil, or what I prefer to call shadow.”

The author’s quest to understand personal and collective shadow was a motivating force behind writing the novel. A decade in the making, Something Coming was a long labor squeezed between teaching fitness classes for a living and writing newspaper articles and columns for locally-based publications. Authoring novels was DeBord’s teenage dream along with playing music, but it’s a big leap from small-time journalism and short fiction to major novel with complicated plot lines and character arcs. Writing sessions came in spurts, and all of the early chapters were completely rewritten several times as the story evolved. When time came to begin editing, he had a mountain of material to be condensed into 538 pages of story, contained in two books that divide the novel into two, one-year segments.

In the first book, The Sacred Mountain, we learn about Mt. Nemrut and the lives of the people close to it. Lives change as the mountain’s awakening captures the public imagination. Nemrut comes to stand for peace, and everyone from heads of state to college students has an angle for what it represents to them. For a local tour guide, Akbar, it means the return of tourists to fund his business. But success comes with a price for the villager and his family as events take a drastic turn and Akbar has to confront the loss of his parents while being used as a tool to make peace in Iraq. For the high priest Demetrius, Nemrut’s awakening is part of a master plan hatched when Antiochus was ruler of the lands around the mountain. Demetrius acts an ambassador with an all-seeing Eye behind him that reaches out to more people in more places and awakens them to their true selves. They served Antiochus once, almost 2,200 years prior, and they prepare for his return.

In book two, The Second Coming, Antiochus comes into his own. With his reincarnated queen, Darianna, as his mother, he grows rapidly, helped by Darianna’s mastery of arcane healing secrets and a special chamber of power below Mt. Nemrut. We learn the mountain’s significance in ancient history, and how Antiochus was entombed there in a bid to preserve his spirit for another shot at life in his own flesh. The prospect of his return sets fundamentalist leaders against him, also a family of Jews who follow an ancient prophecy from Maccabean times. He has planned carefully, though, using media savvy and miraculous events to neutralize opponents and parlay questions about the origins of the world peace movement. His devoted people are placed in key positions around the globe, brought together behind a peace treaty to unite all people in common bond and all nations in mutual security. One country is critical to his success, his ancient enemy: Israel.

To Jerusalem we go for the stunning finale when Antiochus faces his detractors and supporters alike to reveal his true identity in the shadow of the Dome of the Rock. Worldwide prophecies of a second coming and Armageddon are fulfilled in a display of ritual magic performed by Antiochus and his peacemaker, Demetrius. Then the unthinkable happens. Explained the author:

“There is a lot more going on with Antiochus behind his perfect calm and his cunning. He is experiencing life again after many centuries in the dark, disembodied. He has achieved a sort of divine state, mastery of the mind, but does he truly know everything going on inside of himself? His spirit is contained in a cloned body, and even I didn’t realize until writing the scene that he might have overlooked something so elementary, so human.”

The portrayal of Antiochus in Something Coming will be controversial, predicts the author. So will the role of religious fundamentalists. DeBord says the story line was dictated by reality.

“Any whiff of association with Antiochus Epiphanes, or of world peace for that matter, would incite fundamentalists—Christian in particular. Their hard-right views have become a powerful political movement in the United States that fashioned itself into a war crusade behind George Bush. For Antiochus to rise to world power he’d have to go through them and the Jews and beat them at their own game. They could very well have been the heroes of the story if it had detoured another direction. They had to be treated as an enemy, a threat. Depending upon how one interprets the meaning of the end of the novel, they might have been right all along—at least about Antiochus.”

The novel treats all fundamentalism as a threat when it goes against insights and wisdom gained from intelligent observation. Truth is contained inside, accessed by using techniques of breathing and meditation. But the road to inner truth is a lonely one, a personal one, different for everyone who makes the attempt, and perilous for its contradictions with consensus reality. The author says:

“Writing Something Coming was my walk down a lonely road to truth. I put something like 10,000 hours into it, and the story line often parallels my own experience. I too discovered intuitive knowledge that I’d lived before as another person. I had to come to terms with my shadow side, and also with my gifts and capacity to channel the Light. I researched questions that begged for answers, like why the world is so beautiful and at the same time can be so ugly; why people are separated from what they truly are inside; what is the meaning of the Second Coming, and why is it a worldwide belief? The characters and story lines were created to pose the questions and answer them, compelling me to devote many years and overcome many frustrations and misfortunes in bringing it all to a conclusion. I couldn’t imagine back in 1999 when the idea first came to me that it would take ten years to complete, or what I’d discover along the way, but it was worth it.”

DeBord describes creating Something Coming as a “mission,” and feels that its message is meant for the world today. “The truths I uncovered, and the means to uncover them for oneself, are written into the novel. You’ll have to read closely and understand the parallels; I avoid being preachy and instead work the message into the story.”

The author was reading a newspaper article in July of 1999 about the ongoing archaeological work being conducted at Mt. Nemrut when the central idea for the novel—the return of a spirit from the mountain—struck him, felt like an epiphany, DeBord says. “I knew I had to write it, but I had only the first ideas how. Like all great endeavors, I was chosen because I could do it. Figuring out how, and finding the energy and dedication, was up to me. Several times along the way the story sat for long periods with no attention, and I doubted if I’d ever finish it, let alone publish it.”

DeBord hopes to publish a hardback edition after getting more feedback from readers, and attract attention from movie producers. Like his girlfriend’s dream that some readers would be angered by the novel, he has also had a sign that it will be made into a movie.

“One day back when I was writing the first chapters, a friend’s young son was watching over my shoulder. We call him Thor because the night of his conception was announced with a booming thunderstorm. He asked what I was doing and I explained that I was writing a book. Then I had one of those spine-tingling moments when he said, “It’s going to be made into a movie and I’m going to see it!” He was so sure, it was like he already saw the end result in his mind.”

And what did DeBord reply to young Thor?

“I hope you’re right.”

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