Historical Accuracy, Representation and Ancient Egypt

I don’t talk about race much (not just here, but anywhere on the web). I don’t really feel qualified, despite reading and thinking a lot about race, because, well. I’m white. Whiter-than-white. White-bread white. I know enough to know that my understanding of racial issues is a second-hand one, so I usually feel it’s best for me to keep my trap shut and promote the words of more qualified (often under appreciated) speakers who are usually more eloquent on the subject than I am anyway.

However, there is one area which I do feel pretty qualified to talk about, even on the subject of race, and that’s Ancient Egypt. I’ve been studying it for half my life, first as a hobby and then professionally. I’m certainly not the foremost expert on it, but I’m knowledgeable enough to make reading historical fiction set in that time and place a bit difficult for me. Assuming I can find any in the first place of course. But when I do find a historical fiction or historical fantasy set in Ancient Egypt, I’m always hugely excited to get my hands on it, and usually somewhat disappointed by the end. But rarely am I angry. Everyone makes mistakes, and sometimes changes are made deliberately to facilitate the story. Reading fiction is all about suspension of disbelief. I do my best to just suspend my inner Historian and enjoy a well-told narrative. But sometimes the deliberate historical inaccuracies are Not Ok. Sometimes they are rage-inducingly Not Ok.

I (relatively) recently began listening the audio version of a book set in the same village as my own WIP. It was a historical fantasy with obvious magical elements, but I enjoy those when done well. This one had achieved a certain amount of acclaim, so I had high hopes, despite some scholarly differences with the version of the world as I encountered it in the first few pages. And then we got to the deal-breaker. A female character, one who the signs pointed to being the primary love-interest, was encountered by the main character. The female character was described as extraordinarily beautiful…and blonde and blue-eyed. She had a local name, and was heavily implied to be of local ancestry, but she was clearly being described as white.

Ancient Egyptians, like modern Egyptians, were brown and black people.

That’s all there is to it. I have never heard of an authentic case of an ancient egyptian being blonde haired or blue-eyed. Some of them had lighter brown hair, a few are believed to have had green or hazel eyes. But they’re people of color as we say now, not white. It’s doubtful the average Egyptian would even have SEEN very many truly pale people. Blonde hair and blue eyes would have been so unusual as to elicit not just comment, but probably also a certain amount of superstition and perhaps even suspicion.

There are two issues here, historical accuracy and representation. Both are tightly intertwined, but they are separate. To trounce on historical accuracy in order to take away some of the all-too-small percentage of representation enjoyed by people of color is really rather reprehensible. I didn’t actually continue listening to the book, but shut it off immediately in order to preserve my blood-vessels. Perhaps the author found a way to justify this deviation within the story. But I doubt he would have found a satisfactory justification for stealing representation from a dramatically under-served segment of the reading population.

Representation is important for it’s own sake too, even if you need to trounce on historical accuracy to achieve a wider range of it (which you usually don’t, for the record). Representation for oppressed and minority populations is hugely important, both for the people who are represented, and for everyone else. Stories tell us who we are as humans, and if we consistently see characters represented and portrayed in very narrow parameters, we start to believe that’s all there is to humanity in the real world. If you can’t see why this might be a bad thing for all concerned, then I’m afraid there’s not much else to say. We need a wide range of characters. People need to see themselves in stories, in a variety of positions. And people from the dominant groups in society need to see other people, people who don’t look like them, in a variety of stories. We need it as people, and as a species.

So, I will not be reading any more of this author’s work. I’m sorry I bought the audio-book, and feel like I wasted my money. Some authors deserve a second chance. Some don’t.

On the bright side, this did inspire me to work all the harder on my own novelization of this particular Ancient Egyptian village. Mine will be bigger, and better, and truer, and better at representing the amazing badassery of the villagers.

I hope.


Even the Best Books Aren’t Perfect

Cordelia’s Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold is one of about half a dozen “comfort reads” that I return to repeatedly. It’s a sort of prequel to her space opera series, The Vorkosigan Saga. Really two books combined, it details how Miles Vorkosigan’s parents met, married, and the events surrounding his conception and birth which heavily influenced who he was in the series. But much as I love Miles, I don’t read it for him. I read it for Cordelia, Miles’ mother. She’s an amazing woman, one of those characters who help me define who I want to be in life. She falls in love with an “enemy”, leaves her planet and family to be with him on his (to her) backward and barbaric planet, and is dropped into the highest levels of politics, civil war, intrigue and assassination. Through it all she maintains an outward calm, and dispenses wisdom, kindness, and common sense to all those around her. All while being completely bad-ass, and without being even a little bit Mary Sueish.

But as much as I love, adore, and continually re-read this book (and many other Bujold books too), there are a couple of problems with it. There are two big ones. The first is a lack of racial diversity, but that’s not really what I want to talk about today (it’s an important point, and worth noting, but not one I usually feel qualified to write about. I’m sure others have written about it somewhere on the web however).

The other problem is also an issue of representation, but it’s an issue of sexuality not race. There’s a scene where a political enemy of Cordelia’s husband Aral is trying to blow up their (very happy) marriage by telling her “scandalous” things about his sexual history. The enemy misjudges his target pretty thoroughly, as what he (and much of the Barrayaran society) considers scandalous, Cordelia considers entirely normal and perfectly logical. Particularly in the realm of sexuality and gender roles. The whole scene is a couple of pages, and it’s generally clever and wonderful and satisfying in that “ha! take THAT you unmitigated ass” sort of way. But right in the middle is this:

He paused, watching Aral, watching her watch Aral. One corner of his mouth crooked up, then the quirk vanished in a thoughtful pursing of his lips. “He’s bisexual, you know.” He took a delicate sip of his wine.
“Was bisexual,” she corrected absently, looking fondly across the room. “Now he’s monogamous.”

And there’s the problem. Here, written bluntly out in black and white is an incredibly bi-phobic statement, one which is often used by narrow-minded people of all sexualities to justify to themselves why they won’t date/marry/love bisexuals, no matter how delightful the person might be otherwise. They want a monogamous commitment. Bi people aren’t capable of commitment, or we’re greedy, or we’re born cheaters, or whatever.

This is all complete tripe of course. Bisexuals are monogamous, non-monogamous, equally attracted to both sexes, or attracted to a whole range along the gender spectrum, or mostly attracted to one gender with the occasional crush on the other, or sometimes even asexual (though then they’re usually referred to as bi-romantic I believe). We can be bisexual without ever experiencing a relationship or a sexual encounter with one whole gender. There is no one way to be bisexual. But the important point here is, bisexuality and monogamy are not mutually exclusive. Lemme repeat: Bisexuality and monogamy are not mutually exclusive. 

Nor is bisexuality something you “used to be.” Bisexuality is not a “phase” we grow out of. This myth stems from the tendency for lesbians and gays to identify as bisexuals on their way to their true sexual identity in an effort to soften the “blow” to those around them. But they’re no more bisexuals than closeted LGBT people are straight. And their misappropriation of the label doesn’t negate the truth of it as an identity for actual bisexuals, and I sure wish people would quit trying to use them as examples to prove it’s all a phase and we’ll grow out of it, one way or another. Thank you, but no I won’t.

One of the things that makes me saddest about this little bit of ignorance (for, given her writing on other topics relating to sexuality I do believe this bi-phobia grows from ignorance on the author’s part, not malice) is what a missed opportunity it is. Here Bujold has set up a major supporting character from a very popular SF series, and he’s bisexual. But also happily married, successful, and his life is not ABOUT bisexuality. It informs his past, which has repercussions on his life during the course of this book. But with this one line, she completely negates all the good that was possible. She blatantly states that his bisexuality was a “phase” and he no longer “counts” as bisexual because he’s monogamously married to a woman. It’s such a tiny mistake to have made, and yet so very damaging to a certain portion of her readers.

This is one of the things that terrifies me so much about writing. If one of my favorite authors — a woman whose writing I admire and wish to emulate and a multi-award winning novelist — can make such an egregious mistake in representation, then what’s to keep me from making one just as bad? I want to write good representation in the characters I create, but I often feel paralyzed by doubt. I read and read and read stories and theory and advice by those whose lived realities I would like to reflect in some way in my fiction. And yet it is still possible, nay even probable, that I’ll make a misstep as grievous as this one, or perhaps even worse.

Writing is a scary business, especially when writing from a perspective not your own.

You May Have Noticed I’m a Little Nerdy…

So, those of you who follow me on Twitter or Tumblr probably have already caught on to what I’m about to say, but I thought I’d do a longer post here. This is my own little corner of the web, after all. Anyway, you may have noticed in the past that I’m a little nerdy. *pause for Readers to get over their surprise*

I know, shocking. But one of the ways my nerdiness expresses itself is through gaming, though I’m not as much of a gamer as…say…my husband (just for a not-randome example). So, what better way to express said gamery-ness than by starting up a game company with my husband and friends? The answer is…no better way.

At least, no better way if you like creating things and playing games. Both of which I do.

All of this is to say, one of the new big projects in my life is a game company called Roan Arts. It’s still in its infancy, we’re just getting off the ground, though the concept and seed of Roan Arts has been around for several years now. It’s truly the creation of our good friend James Weimer, the CEO, but we all believe in the company and are working hard to make it a success in a difficult but booming industry.

So what am I doing for the company? A lot of things really. I’m doing a little bit of social media (and later media) outreach, a little game-testing and game-design, and a whole lot of writing. I am literally writing the lore for our first board-game release right now (well, ok, right this very moment I’m writing this post, but that is my current project). And yes, that’s as mind-blowingly awesome as it sounds. The first installment is available on the Roan Arts DevBlog right now (go read it!)

So, in the future this means there will be the occasional post here about Roan Arts/Gamery type things, there will be some of my fiction appearing in places other than this blog, and my posting will probably be as erratic as always in this space. But never fear, I’ll never fully abandon this little blog! I just wanted to get an update going on what’s happening around here!

Flash Fiction Challenge: Twisted Love

This past week’s flash fiction challenge from Sir Wendig was a Valentine’s Day themed one called Twisted Love. It does what it says on the box, and any genre was welcome. So I knew I needed to write about a character from my historical fiction novel. She’s one of the antagonists (sort of) and this is the only bit of writing I’ve done from her point of view. As an aside, I really recommend writing snippets from another character’s point of view which will not be in the final novel. Writing this little piece (which ties in closely to a very pivotal scene in the book) really clarified and expanded some things, and helped me understand the motivations of one of the supporting characters. That greater understanding then helps to inform my writing when I’m working with her in a scene. Which in turn gives her and the scene greater depth and reality. So as much as I generally just enjoy writing for the Flash Fiction Challenges, this one also helped me with my main WIP, which makes it even more valuable. 

Here it is: Twisted Love

She crouched behind the small decorative pyramid attached to a House of the Ka, her fists clenched and her stomach  roiling with a mixture of desire and hatred. Her onyx-hard eyes followed the two people walking hand-in-hand among the monuments for the dead. They always slipped away together to come here. She always swore she would no longer follow them, but somehow, time after time she found herself in this same place where they came to be alone. She had never yet been able to watch them once they were truly alone, but she could picture it. His hands would caress the girl’s soft brown skin, his lips explore her sensitive spots, breath tickling and warming, hearts beating together as he tasted her on his tongue.

Henutmire shook her head to rid herself of the painfully arousing images, whimpering softly in her throat. It should be me.  The thought was seductive, no matter how often she told herself it was impossible. She peeked around the corner. The couple had disappeared into one of the chapels nearby. She ought to creep away. She had no business here. Her love was not returned, and there was nothing she could do here except make herself miserable. Yet still she stayed, knees bent painfully and back prickled with sweat from the glory of the Sun-Boat.

She would go. This was madness, beneath her to stay here in discomfort hoping for some scrap of sound or glimpse of flesh to feed her lovesick imagination. She had too much pride to hang on anyone’s shadow like this. Her father was rich, a Foreman of the Gang, and she herself was destined for Training to Serve the Golden Goddess. Who were they? Nobodies. Just kids, playing at love. Hapiwer’s grandfather might be rich, but he himself was nothing. And Meretseger was the daughter of a faithless whore. She was less than nothing.

Henutmire rose and turned to go back down the hill toward the Village when she saw something that stopped her in her tracks. A man stood near the gate, looking about as if he had lost something. She recognized him immediately as the father of Hapiwer. Mery-Sekhmet, a successful man in his own right, and yet there were all those rumors about him. Rumors about women. Especially about Meretseger’s mother. Henutmire didn’t know their truth, but the sight of his broad figure in its shining white kilt and festival jewelry raised a horridly beguiling thought in her mind. What if Meretseger and Hapiwer were siblings? What if his father discovered them together? Would he tell them? Would they stop sneaking away like this, torturing her, if they knew? What if she told him where his son was, and with whom? No. She couldn’t.

Yes. She would. Before she had time to think, she was down the hill, her feet answering for her heart. She would tell him where his son was, and he would break up their romance. Then Meretseger would be free. Perhaps, in time, Meretseger would find a new love. Perhaps that love would even be Henutmire. She suppressed the swirl of longing that threatened to overwhelm her, concentrating on this first step. She must show Mery-Sekhmet the way. Later, she could set about wooing her beloved. Surely, with Hapiwer out of the picture, she might have a chance.

A Small, Unintended Break

Today I wrote new fiction for the first time in over a month (I do not include blogging, which was entirely about books read recently). It wasn’t much, just a few extra paragraphs in a completed short-story which needed some fleshing-out in certain sections. But it was all new, and it felt good.

I didn’t mean to take a break from writing over the holidays, and I certainly didn’t mean to let it go on for this long. I have a myriad of projects, some unfinished, some un-begun, some merely awaiting final polish. But somehow, I couldn’t muster enthusiasm for ANY of them recently, and even the thought of sitting down to write was profoundly unappealing. Naturally, this fuelled my perennial sense of being a writing impostor. If I was really meant to be a writer, wouldn’t I be writing? Aren’t I a fraud to call myself a writer despite not feeling that insatiable need so many others talk about?

Of course, this is all a bit harsh, but that’s the way of the writer-brain sometimes. In this case, I apparently desperately needed that small break, and eventually gave myself mental permission for it. During that month, my subconscious was evidently working over-time at various plot problems and untangling knots. At the beginning of this week, it finally presented the solutions to me, tied up in tidy bows, and I found I actually did want to write after all. In fact, my brain wouldn’t let me turn to any other projects, either writing or reading, until I had unburdened it properly today.

I didn’t write enough, and I need to get back into some self-discipline, but the break seems to have been just the thing I needed to re-kindle my enthusiasm. The break may have been unintended, but it was just my writer-brain telling me to chill out for a bit. If I wasn’t a “real” writer, the break would have simply stretched out indefinitely until I admitted I had quit. The fact that I sat down to write today, despite various attempts at procrastination, means perhaps I’m meant to be a writer after all.

Writers write, but everyone is allowed a vacation now and then. Even if sometimes it feels like we don’t yet deserve one.



An Epic Failure?

Nanowrimo is over for another year, and once again I didn’t even come close to finishing. I didn’t even finish a single project (I was rebelling and trying to finish two previously-started projects). Some might look at my numbers and conclude I failed epically. But really, I achieved one of the goals I set myself this Nanowrimo (use the energy and social dynamics of it to make myself write more often). I did write more often, and I discovered a writing partner along the way in an old friend. We found a way to help each other achieve more and better wordage and that’s worth gold all by itself.

But one of the other things I got out of Nanowrimo was unexpected, though not unwelcome. I learned some things about myself, and my writing process. That sort of self-discovery is deeply important to any artist, and the realizations can strike at any time. In this case, the very structure and culture surrounding Nano helped me to see things about myself that I had previously been blind to. Self-knowledge of an artist’s own process is vital to success. We can talk endlessly about ways others have succeeded, and recipes for success, and lessons from the greats. But one thing oft repeated in the writing world is that what works for one writer may not work for another. We each must find our own path and follow it. Sometimes the path changes, sometimes it doesn’t, but if we don’t know it then we’ll be lost in the weeds, stumbling in circles like footsore adventurers gone astray. So this December I’m more thankful for the clarity achieved in November than for any great strides in word-count. Being conscious of what works for me (and what doesn’t), I think I can begin to craft a routine that will do more for my out-put than any outside devices or regimes could do.

I hope everyone else had a satisfactory Nano, with the achievements and goals reached or strived for that you set yourselves, whether you achieved 50k words or a complete novel or not.

I Was a Reader First…

So, I’m gonna do another post about current-internet-affairs  here. (Two in a row! *gasp* Weird, right?) Anyway, the last few days there’s been a certain amount of Twitter and blogosphere discussion about whether authors should negatively review other books. This is part of a recurring and ongoing discussion that pops up periodically over whether authors should write reviews about anything ever or just keep their goddamn mouths shut and smile for the birdy. Usually I don’t bother to weigh in on it, but it sort of occurred to me that as I’ve been writing more and more posts about the books I’m reading here, and since my first (and so far only) paid (theoretically) work has been for a book review, perhaps it’s time I did.

This particular discussion really crossed my radar because of two posts by two authors who I follow on Twitter, read their blogs, respect enormously, and generally like as people. They pretty well represent the opposing arguments here, in respectful and non-prescriptive fashion. Chuck Wendig wrote an “anti-negative-review” opinion and Jenny Trout wrote the “pro-negative-review” rebuttal. You should go check out what they have to say and then come back here, because I’m not going to rehash what they’ve already said so eloquently. So go on, I’ll wait.

Ok, you back? Good. Because I agree pretty much point-for-point with Jenny and disagree respectfully and only for myself with Chuck. I can get behind “authors shouldn’t review on Goodreads, or Amazon” or wherever else they’ll decide we shouldn’t express our opinions next. Those are privately-held sites and they can make whatever rules they’d like. Also, they are communities, and communities make rules for themselves, and the rest of us can either play by the rules, get drawn & quartered by the community, or just stay the hell away from it.

But the thing is, no one should be telling anyone else what they can post in their own space on the ‘net. This here blog? This is my little virtual house. Terrible Minds is Chuck Wendig’s, Whatever is John Scalzi’s, and Sweaters for Days is Jenny Trout’s. We all, regardless of our experience, professional standing, or career-choices, get to make the rules for our blogs/websites. We get to decorate them as we please, welcome or ban people as we please, and lay around in our underwear as we please and feel comfortable. If you came over to my real house and started telling me that you didn’t like the curtains and could I please put different clothes on because mine clashed with yours, then one of two things would happen. I would either laugh at you, or tell you to get the hell out of my house if you didn’t like it, depending on how much I liked you before you started trying to dictate my space to me.

Here in this space, on my blog, I am a writer (albeit in the very early stages of my career), but I am also a reader. I was a reader first, and looong before I ever even considered the notion of becoming a writer. I started reading when I was about three. Books spoke to my soul and provided a refuge when life got hard. They were my escape and my comfort, and I’ve always been grateful and a little bit in awe of the magic of books. When I got a bit older, about 7 or 8, I started to realize that these people called authors created books, they didn’t just pop out of the bookshelves like magic beans. I thought that was pretty amazing, and determined to give this peculiar sort of magic a try myself. Naturally, I failed miserably because I was 8 and didn’t realize that writing is a skill to be honed from raw talent, not just an innate part of who you are. So I returned to reading. I read and loved and loved and read, and I would certainly consider myself a fan of books in general. Now, anyone who has met a fan of anything knows that one of the things fans do is have opinions about the things they love. I’m no different. I have opinions about books because I love them, and I share those opinions in the hope of finding other people who love books enough to have opinions as well. And frankly, if that somehow tanks my writing career forever, well then it’s worth it to me. I love to write, and I’ll keep doing it, but reading is my first love and always will be.

Now, all that being said, I probably will rarely, if ever, post a truly negative review here. This is for the very simple reason that if I don’t enjoy a book, I don’t finish reading it. Reading is my hobby, my pleasure, and if I’m not enjoying it, it becomes rather pointless for me. I don’t really like reviewing books I haven’t finished, so it’s not real often that I’m going to write entirely negative reviews. The only thing which might induce me to do so would be if I ran across a book which I felt was dangerous (as opposed to one I just didn’t enjoy). Then I might talk about what I thought was wrong with it, and why I think people should only read it with a critical eye. Otherwise, I’ll just keep on writing about the books I enjoy, why I like them, and what problems they may have despite my enjoyment. Because it is perfectly possible to love a deeply flawed book (helloooo Ender’s Game), and I think it would be both dishonest and a disservice to my readers to ignore the problems with something just because I loved it.

So, that’s my opinion, and the train of thought which informs what I post here. Mr. Wendig is of course perfectly free to NOT post negative reviews on his site, and Jenny is totally within her rights to post reviews of things she really hated on her site. And no one should try to tell any of us that we’re “wrong” for doing so, just because we also happen to write fiction. Because Writer and Reader are not mutually exclusive occupations.

New Blog Series: West Wing Recaps

the west wing1

I have blogged about The West Wing before, and how much I love it. It’s one of my main go-to shows to watch, both actively and as background filler. I love the characters, the writing, the politics, almost everything about it. There are the occasional problematic bits, too, but overall I love it. I’ve been thinking for a long time about starting a new regular feature here. I want to do a(nother) complete rewatch of West Wing so I can write about it on an episode-by-episode basis. I’ll be focusing on two things, the political and social issues the plot of the show raises and the narrative tricks the writers employed. I’ll do this by giving a recap of the show, then providing some analysis and thoughts. This will make for some rather long posts as each episode is 45-47 minutes long, and they’re often complicated with several plot-threads developing in each episode. I’ll do my best to be succinct, but expect a couple thousand words on each episode! I’m going to start with Season 1 (naturally) and we’ll see how it goes from there. I may get bored after a full season, and I may not.

The West Wing is very important to me for a few reasons, but most especially because I discovered an interest in politics from it. I voted in my very first election in 2004, dutifully casting a party-line vote in line with my family’s politics. I wasn’t interested in politics of any stripe, having a prematurely jaded view of the political process in this country and most especially those who participated in it, I.e. politicians. I certainly wasn’t going to vote for a Republican of all people, but I didn’t particularly care for any of the Democrats either. I wasn’t engaged, and I believed it didn’t much matter. Shortly after that first election, I began to watch the odd episode of West Wing (it was still running at this point) because people I knew were fans. I saw enough to intrigue me, but it wasn’t until about 4 years ago that I finally had the chance to sit down and watch the show in order, from beginning to end, as it was meant to be seen. It was a revelation to me. The show has been lauded by former White House employees, cabinet ministers, and even one or two former presidents, as a fairly accurate (if necessarily limited) portrayal of life in the White House and how the top tiers of our Federal Government work behind closed doors and how that translates into the public sphere. So I feel no shame in admitting that I learned a lot from the show about our political process. But it did more than that, it also helped to remind me that there were real people, many of whom pursued politics out of a profound sense of duty to help their fellow citizens (even if their ideas on how that should happen weren’t always very good). It reminded me that Republicans, even conservative ones, can be good people attempting to do good things too, and that I could even like a few conservative politicians now and again. In short, it engaged my interest in real politics, an interest that hasn’t waned and has made me a better citizen and a more engaged voter.

Beyond its political lessons, West Wing also gave me an example of some truly excellent writing. Not every episode is brilliant, but many of them are, and the entire story-arc over the course of the 7 seasons is pretty compelling. There are sympathetic, dynamic, multi-faceted characters; thought-provoking questions and issues to grapple with embedded in the narrative; and snappy dialogue. It may be a television show, but it still taught me a lot about writing good stories with complex and interesting plots.

So, I’ll be starting this new feature Saturday and running it once a week. Hopefully I’ll manage to post on the same day every time, but it’s possible I may be off a day or so either direction sometimes, so if you can, follow me on Twitter or Tumblr because I’ll be sure to announce updates (or late updates) there. You can also subscribe to the blog and just have it emailed directly to you or use the RSS feed to put it in your blog-reader (those still exist right?). I’m doing this primarily for my own satisfaction and out of a deep love of the show, but I’m always delighted to have comments and feedback from readers so please do be sure to engage me in discussions if you so choose! The West Wing is an older show, but a lot of the themes and issues it discusses are absolutely still relevant in today’s political arena.

As always, thank you all for reading. I appreciate all of you, from the casual drive-bys to the one or two regulars.

Camp Stories

I went and signed up for Camp Nanowrimo a while ago (Just like Nanowrimo, but in April, and with a Summer Camp theme). A friend who is just getting into writing wanted someone to write with, and I said sure. So I’m taking a break from the Egypt Novel to write 7 or 8 short stories. Some will come here to the blog, and some will get polished to within an inch of their lives and sent into the scary world of submission for publication.

I’m fairly excited about several of my stories, and I started writing right at midnight. My first story is tentatively called “Sunshine on a Cloudy Day” and is a story about a lesbian Selkie. It’s inspired by the artwork submitted during Neil Gaiman’s “Calendar of Tales” project. I’m having fun writing it so far, especially as it’s my first foray back into First Person POV in quite some time.

Anyway, to anyone else joining the Nano-family this month, Happy Writing. Feel free to stop by and compare stories or wordcount goals.

Ancient Greek Heroes and French Maidens

Writers can sometimes get inspiration, help, plot points, characterization etc, from the most unlikely places. My novel is set in Ancient Egypt, before the Ancient Greeks were more than a few disorganized tribes of shepherds and before France was even the glimmer of a twinkle in the eye of Europe. But I’ve gotten a little help today from Ancient Greek heroes and from one badass 17th Century French lady.

The first of these, came about during an online course I’m taking (CB22x: The Ancient Greek Hero. It’s free and open to anyone in the world, and I believe you can still sign up. Very cool!). Currently we’re discussing the Iliad, and most specifically a passage about Achilles (Iliad IX: 410-416). It’s one where he talks about his choices, and the stakes for the choice he makes. Which basically boils down to: Go home and die an old man in obscurity, or become the hero of the Iliad and die young and tragically (spoiler alert: he dies young). You wouldn’t think a guy (Homer) dead for thousands of years would have anything to teach the modern scribbler, but he does. Simply put: make sure the stakes are clear to the reader. Also, at some point, the stakes should be clear to the character as well. This is important because ultimately plot is a product of a character’s choice, and an informed choice is more compelling than random chance. An informed choice leads to character development and resolution. Random chance is just something that happens.

So, that’s something I need to make clearer both to myself and to my Main Character: What are her choices, and what are the stakes for each choice?

The second thing was the French Lady, Julie D’Aubigny or La Maupin. I first discovered her here at the Badass of the Week, but you can read more about her here too. La Maupin was this amazing swashbuckling Lady born in 17th Century France. She was taught swordsmanship at an early age and quickly became a Master. She was a bisexual, cross-dressing adventuress, an opera singer, and a clever and wily woman. She’s one of those fascinating characters from the pages of history, and I’m thoroughly disappointed I hadn’t heard of her before.

But one thing she has reminded me is that the women of history are a lot more bad-ass than we are often led to believe by the patriarchal media/education machine of Western (and most other) society. Society would often have us believe that women who stood up and said “screw the system”, who did and said amazing things and led extraordinary lives, and maybe even changed history just a bit, were rare until recently. That the push-back by women against patriarchy is recent, a 20th Century phenomenon. We are led to believe that the rare celebrated woman from history was just that; rare. The occasional extraordinary queen, or saint, or great writer. But that just isn’t true, and La Maupin is just one example of many women who are quietly pushed to the side and forgotten by all but a few dedicated historians.

La Maupin reminded me that Meretseger should finish the book an accomplished and slightly bad-ass lady herself. She can’t begin that way of course, but the point of the story is to show her transition from unformed child to Woman of Destiny. She must be worthy of the story, no matter how common her origins or commonplace her story might seem.

Though I grant you, she probably won’t actually kill anyone, never mind ten men, at the end. Probably.

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