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James Matthew Byers Publishes First Book

Busy Student Writes Novel Between Classes

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By Al Harris
News Bureau

27 OCTOBER 2004 — A Jacksonville State University student who found himself too busy to pursue writing on a regular schedule completed his first published novel during spare time between classes.

James Matthew Byers of Rainbow City is now busy with signings and other promotional efforts for Grecian Rune (PublishAmerica, 313 pages, November 2004), a fantasy tale set in Greece, Crete, China, and Egypt that tells the story of a collection of heroes, gods, and goddesses who joined forces to overcome evil.

"I wanted to reintroduce the epic poem into modern culture," Byers said. "So, like its predecessors, the Iliad and the Odyssey by Homer, in Grecian Rune I decided I would design an epic poem broken up into chapters so that it reads like a standard novel. But the rhyming sequence, I thought, would be more interesting to relay the message of the story."

Although Rune is his first published book, Byers, 30, has completed six others. "I'm hoping Rune's success will lead to the publication of the others," he said. And Byers is already at work on the sequels — working between classes, of course.

Set in the Bronze Age, Rune is the story of a group of six beings who find that in order to defeat a serpent monster named Sthedusa they must first defeat their own prejudices. The major characters are Tauros, the bull-man; Shang Xia, tiger god of ancient China; Bast, Egyptian goddess of war and fertility; Jameracles, a Herculean type; Mythrus, dwarf son of a god; and Panthera Tigris, a giant cat-beast. The union of figures represents mankind's last hope and an effort to thwart impending darkness.

While Byers' full-time academic schedule in elementary education was daunting enough, he faced many other challenges. "I've been working full time at The Learning Tree, where I deal with mentally challenged children. I'm also a parent with a 3 1/2-year-old who demands all of my attention." He also researched and drew the illustrations.

Byers says his book is for readers "anywhere between the ages of 15 and 100.

"I used a lot of analogy and metaphor, so younger children may not grasp the concept of this, but I feel that at about the ages of 12 and 15 people can start picking up on the messages inside the novel."

Of his publisher, Byers said, " I'm really excited I was able to join PublishAmerica's ranks because they allowed me the creative freedom to not only write the manuscript but to do the illustrations and cover art."

Byers carried his manuscript on a computer disk and worked wherever he found an available computer and a free moment. "When I would have a minute between classes, I would add something here, edit something there, and that process continued on even throughout the publishing process.

"When the publisher sent me the proofs, I had a certain amount of time for review before I had to send them back. Well, every computer in my family had some sort of virus or problem where I could not pull up the manuscript, so once again I resorted to the trusty Jacksonville State computer lab, which enabled me to proofread and edit the book."

Byers wrote the manuscript in iambic pentameter because he has the rare ability "to think in verse."

He said, "Poetry is at the heart of everything I create; it's almost like a curse sometimes. For example, this morning I was driving down the road looking at trees on the way to school. And so this comes to mind:

The trees tell us a story of the land.
As humanity we must unite and stand.
Down the road as we travel on
Breaking out in reach of dawn
The sun will shine a better day
And hope that leads us on the way.

"And in a book like Rune the rhyme sequence actually tells the story. I use iambic pentameter and other various means of poetical structure to denote emphasis, speed, emotion, and importance."

Byers hopes to make classic literary styles more accessible.

"For me as a writer, if I want to be true to myself, I have to go the classic route. Someday I would love to be considered along with people like Samuel Coleridge Taylor, one of my all-time favorites, and James Joyce."

Rune can be found at online bookstores now or in the fantasy or mythology section of bookstores in early November. Byers said readers who enjoyed The Hobbit should also enjoy Grecian Runes.

"I thought if I wrote mythology that I could still accomplish my dream of writing fantasy, but in a much broader spectrum. There are a lot of people who are interested in mythology. It falls under western civilization, under history, the beginnings of literature itself. I'm really hoping that this book will allow me to branch out and will not lock me into one genre," he said.

The title Grecian Rune implies Teutonic or Germanic characters, as well as Greek — a diverse cast for one book.

According to Byers, "A rune is a symbol, and part of the reason I chose it is that it is defined as a myth, riddle, or a poem, so I thought, why not call the book a Greek poem in a fancy way. The title is suggestive of the material inside the book. There are many analogies — there are theological comparisons in the book, there's a Christ-like character in the book, there's also the symbolism of slavery, the breaking of the bonds of slavery and rising to freedom. There's the notion of religion and how instead of fighting to destroy cultures we can unite and respect each other's beliefs. I thought the title of Grecian Rune implied the riddle, the mystery of life itself."

To create the illustrations and cover art, Byers performed hours of research.

"I chose to research and study Cretan and Grecian frescoes because I wanted to create an image that looked like it could have been painted thousands of years ago. I wanted something that kind of coincided with Minoan civilization, which, lately, archaeologists have discovered that Knossos, the palace above the labyrinth, did indeed exist. So, I am really excited that my book is set in the Bronze Age at a time when it was dark and briefly mentioned in Homer's Iliad as something that was fantasy itself."

The Acmar (St. Clair County) native is nearly a hundred pages into the sequel, The Gloaming. He's also working on his fourth poetry compilation.

"The sequels are going to be a lot more advanced and a lot more in depth than Rune, just because the criteria demands it. Grecian Rune actually started out 15 years ago in a book called The Legacy of Mythril. I've written it three or four times in the process, and they've all been in rhyme. I've had a dream that when I became a writer, I wanted to be known as the rhyming writer — that has always been my goal.

Byers can be contacted at

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