Monday, May 28, 2018

Writing and rewriting history



I was never into history when I was in school. Having a mother who was a history teacher meant hearing about it all the time, so maybe, like osmosis, it seeped in. When I started writing about Alexander the Great, it was to be a short story. I had been publishing short stories in magazines, had a good number under my belt as well as a couple literary prizes and a nomination for the Pushcart prize. So, it was in all confidence that I started a short story about a journalist who goes back to interview Alexander the Great - slaps a mosquito - and changes time. The "Butterfly Effect" - a small action with huge repercussions, a little like Ray Bradbury's short story "A Sound of Thunder". 

But things soured quickly. I had no idea where the story was set – ancient Greece? Persia? Babylon? Where did he die, anyway? I got out my encyclopedia and looked up Alexander the Great - and found a half a page with an illustration of a man with curly hair and dreamy eyes, and there was a map with an incredible voyage traced upon it. 

I had read Mary Renault's books on Alexander and loved them, but to me, they had been so fictionalized that I had never really made the connection between the real man and the books. I remember being crushed when he died at the end, and his young wife dying of poison just after. Well, I remembered that, at least. So, I needed some more information. I headed to my library and hit the history section, and there I was in luck - there was a book by someone called Plutarch and he'd written extensively about the young leader and his battles. Very cool. Especially the one against Porus in India. 

Wait a minute – back up. India? How did he get there? I read Plutarch's book, which was good, but he didn't really care for Alexander and it showed. I went back to the library, and found 'The Campaigns of Alexandere by Arrian. Again, all the battles, but very little about the man - unless he was glorified or maligned beyond reason I searched for a biography by a more modern writer, Valerio Massimo Manfredi, but again, it didn't seem very balanced. Something was odd - again, the author seemed to glorify him beyond humanity. Finally, I found a book called "In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great", which was terrific for tracking Alexander's movements. I could see where he went, and when he went, and even how he went. 

So, armed with this, I started the short story, and right away hit a bump. I still hadn't set the story anywhere precise, and when, exactly did this story take place? I picked after the battle of Issus, when he defeats Darius, and he's moving his army slowly towards Babylon. They're camped out on a river (more research - what did the army camp look like? How were the tents made? How many soldiers, horses - and who cooked for them and how? What did they eat? What languages did everyone speak?) The research was taking a ridiculous amount of time, and the short story hadn't even gotten started. I realized that I'd been researching for the better part of a year. I had notes plastered all over my desk - books piled up - and, darn, my library books were overdue. 

I sat myself down and wrote a page, and the journalist was not cooperating. He was not thrilled with Alexander, who was everywhere at once - with his generals, with the grooms, with the doctors, and with the astrologists. He was too busy to talk, and the journalist was struggling to keep up. He only had twenty hours in order to get his interview and go back to the future, because I'd decided to use time travel and send a modern person back to try and see who this Alexander person really was. But there was no spark. The journalist hated the dust, hated the bustle, hated not being taken seriously by this barbarian from the past, and when Alexander introduced him to Bucephale - the horse took a chunk out of his arm. That's when I knew that I had to fire the journalist and get someone else. Someone who would be fascinated by Alexander and someone who would, in turn, intrigue the young man. What better than a young woman? And in a land of olive-skinned, sloe-eyed beauties, she'd be a Viking princess, with frost in her eyes and heart - a match for the legendary hero. 

So I started the short story again and had Ashley come back in time to interview Alexander. And everything went wrong: she got drunk, she fell into his arms, she made love to him, and then she had to pack up and leave - after slapping a pesky mosquito and hopefully changing time. But everything I'd planned backfired. Ashley intrigued Alexander to the point where he was convinced she was Persephone, goddess of the dead, and off he went to her rescue - he wrenched her from the time-travel-tractor beam - and she was stuck. Stuck in 333 BC, with a terrible hangover, no decent shampoo, and, as she wryly puts it, now over three thousand years older than her own mother. 

I kept on writing. Ashley would just have to adapt. And adapt she did. Seven books later, I finally reached the end of the story. But like Ashley says, "It's not the end. Because, you see, in three thousand years I'll be born again. I'll win a prestigious prize and be chosen to go back in time, where I'll meet Alexander again. I'm looking forward to meeting Alexander again." 

Along the way, I deviated from Alexander's history and created my own, which meant a whole lot more research. There was ancient Greece, and fledgling Rome, and the Eaters of the Dead, and the druids, and the Tenes, and the oracle of Siwa...and Alexandria. Each book, after book IV, took a pile of research, which I dove into happily, finding a love of history along the way. Now you can talk to me about the demons in the Game of Phersu, the Thief of Souls, and how long it took an ancient sailboat to go from Alexandria to Massalla (Marseilles). I learned about what they ate, how they washed, and the stories they loved to hear - because all through the ages, stories have been told. First about nature, then the gods, and then the heroes. This is a story about a hero, and the woman who traveled three thousand years in time to meet him. I hope you enjoy it. 





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