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Behind the Scenes: Of Ashes and Dust

How Of Ashes and Dust Came To Be Written

By Ron Roman, the Author

The timeline for the composition of Of Ashes and Dust dates to when I was teaching college courses to the US military on Diego Garcia, an atoll in the Indian Ocean; a beautiful spot if there ever was one. That was a halcyon interlude in my life; there was plenty of time to linger on the beach every morning, since I taught evening classes, pondering the story arc, which appeared seamlessly out of nowhere in my mind. Perhaps it was the charming and calming atmosphere of the place that so easily birthed in my mind’s eye this novel’s initial events. Everything just fell into place; it wasn’t until later, when I left the island after about five months, that difficulties arose in the narrative flow and at almost every juncture in it. Episodes of doubt and stagnation occurred almost consistently, the bane of any writer. The following are appetizers, some profound, others perhaps not that deep, for readers to nibble ….

Envisioning the plot came easier to me than the development of the three main characters. I knew I wanted to write an alternate-history apocalyptic doomsday thriller set in rural New England around the time of the Millennium. Something about the rounded-off number 2000 buried itself in my head. I wasn’t the only one. Older readers may recall the expression “Y2K” for Year 2000, a neologism that soon fell into disuse and ultimately oblivion when civilization didn’t collapse after all. To be sure, just before the Millennium there were calls from hotheads to bring the world as we knew it down. “Let’s get it on now!” and “Why wait!” went the refrain. There was even an exchange of high-ranking officers between the Pentagon and the Kremlin; each had their man in the bowels of the other’s secret war room to disable any accidental computerized nuclear launch. (It was feared that computer systems, even sophisticated nuclear-weaponized ones, could go haywire after midnight of the last day of the Millennium for not having been programmed to function after the 20th century; that planes might fall out of the sky in mid-flight, etc.). The worst thing to happen was that a guy in Ohio, or so I believe it was, got an astronomical fine for a public library book believed overdue by a century. Yet even he survived. In Of Ashes and Dust, except for the protagonist, tortured Vietnam War veteran Professor Will Watson and his Japanese-born paramour Kimiko Tanimoto, along with another local couple, nobody else is initially that lucky. Nobody.

Speaking of Watson and Tanimoto, their names and character development came easily. Watson was a compilation of several military vets I’ve come to know; Tanimoto was the compilation of several, if not many, Oriental women I’ve come to know equally well. (Use of the term “Oriental,” which some may consider outdated, is deliberate. No time for elaboration here). “Tanimoto” was the name of a soldier in my own Army unit; it stuck to me long after my discharge from the way it rolled off the tongue. Mine, at least. Also, the name of the third major character, Watson’s friend, confidant and fellow Vietnam War vet Mark Mercotti, was named after a college football player I used to work out with in the local YMCA. Development of his character, however, was more diffuse, having been derived from many guys I’ve gotten to know down the years.

As for the origins of the rest of the story and its explosive ending, buy and read the text. No explanation forthcoming here, dear reader. So shake a leg, get the book, and bear witness to the kaleidoscopic patterns of unholy madness in Of Ashes and Dust. It’s the ultimate "alternate truth.”*

---Ron Roman

September 2022

*Will there be a sequel? Could be. Story details are coalescing and percolating in the mosaic of the mind. Stay tuned.

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