on your marks…

The ouroboros can represent the cyclical or even the infinite. I wonder though – does the snake ever think to itself, “It seemed like a good idea when I got started.”

There is a mythical account of punishment imposed upon the immortal soul of Sisyphus, king of Ephyra. His torment in Hades was to perpetually move a large stone to a hilltop only to have it roll back down after each attempt. When I was first taught this story I remember asking, “Why doesn’t he just stop?” I was told that such things were part of the nature of Hell. I thought, “Well, that’s stupid.”

The tale may serves as a lesson on the dangers of obstinacy or in how to discern a no-win situation before too many resources have been lost. The moral of this particular story is also warning about hubris and other character flaws.

During the research for and early writing of A Song Heard in the Future there have been three problems for which I’ve been seeking solutions: 1) In ancient Greece, the practice of slavery was not only ubiquitous – none of the city-states could imagine a world without slaves. They were considered a necessary part of society, 2) the more loathsome custom of infanticide of the unwanted also seems to have been prevalent, and 3) the treatment of women had them treated as all but indistinguishable from cattle.

In Song, I have been attempting to make the characters more real and accessible. One mechanism has been the removal of monsters where possible. For example, it seems very likely that the fabled Chimera was not a beast with three heads but a pirate ship. Another part of the process has been to build a synthesis of the often contradictory plot threads in the shared universe (or common agora) of the mythological canon. Could a certain graceful spinner have been married Chiron before being present when Teiresias gained the gift of prophecy?

Any true hero would make the three significant injustices his or her cause to end and right. Heroes have to be more than marginally better than the society that produced them. In a purely fantasy setting (such as Clash of the Titans or Hercules) writers may ignore these issues.

As an author, I cannot in good conscience write a story in a setting that has these and other problems without said story being about proper address. With due respect to the tail-devouring snake, I won’t be giving up on Teiresias; there’s too much potential, too strong a message in the telling. I’m determined. The collective journey of heroes is, as it turns out, a staggered start. As my definition of a hero is somewhat strict, and perhaps superhuman, the song will have to be heard in the future.

Luck and inspiration has saved months of research and the purchase of several reference books from being in vain. I recalled a conversation I’d had with a friend about sociology and human nature. We’d concluded that very few notions (construed as race cars) ever leave the track. What resulted was an epiphany about a how I might craft an unexpected new tack on a cult sci-fi setting that’s long been a favorite of mine. Even more pleasing – the value of my work on Song can be included without much revision at all.

Many novelists and editors alike will tell you that crafting a story is about the choices made. Prioritization of one novel over another is not giving up. Simmering one while another’s on the boil is part of the process. An illustrator I am privileged to know once gave me good advice: the best outline for a story leaves the audience with no plot-holes to point to and no questions unresolved.

me-ta

I’m very confident that the new idea will be enjoyable to write and to read. I’m equally certain I will solve the problems mentioned above and be able to return to the novel set in ancient Greece. One has and will inspire the other.


 

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cogito ergo hmm…

Is it safe to assume most authors of fiction hold J. R. R. Tolkien in high esteem? I must admit that, to an extent, he’s something of a guiding star. I admire the thoroughness of his work and its success and apparent timelessness.

During the research process there are, of course, moments of discovery. Some data is deliberately sought. Then there are unanticipated details that, once turned up, seem essential to the story. I do not intend to take a decade to develop any of the worlds for which I’ve novels in progress; in that respect, Mr. Tolkien couldn’t be more remote were he a constellation. Aiming for comprehensive seems sufficient. Trying for exhaustive can interfere with the actual writing.

Within the past fortnight I’ve made some discoveries that may, in fact, prove vital in A Song Heard in the Future. The first concerns what seems to be everyone’s favorite constellation: Orion. In Greek mythology he was a giant, mentioned in both of Homer‘s most famous works.

While most of Song plays out over three or four generations, I felt it was important to thread as much of mythology through it as served the story. Some of the characters are able trace their ancestry back to survivors of The Flood (≈1440 BC, by my estimation, with Deucalion in the place of Noah); this becomes an important vantage point they have on themselves and their roles. Others sprang up from the earth in the aftermath of that cataclysm. For their descendants, having an autochthonous claim as a birthright, is equally momentous. According to the family trees I’ve developed in conjunction with the chronology, all of the featured characters would have known Orion only as a constellation. He’d have died before they were born.

Orion-constellationOrion being mentioned this way seemed right. It helps me feel that the characters live in the world about which I’ve been writing. This unexpected realization also seemed to build similarity between those characters and the readers. They’d be looking at the same stars, calling many by the same names. For Teiresias, the constellation now holds a special significance.

It isn’t a surprise to me that I would find a way to include astronomy in some capacity. The subject has fascinated me – since before my love of Star Trek – and only enhanced by it. What was unforeseen was finding a pair of characters that served to buttress the narrative and share a name. In the timeline, I have them separated by about 180 years – one before The Flood and the other at about the time of the Trojan War (≈1260–1180 BC, according to Frank Calvert and Heinrich Schliemann). Genealogically, the younger character could claim the Antediluvian as tritavia†. This seemed designed as part of the story as if penned – almost literally – at the time Song ends (perhaps by Homer, Sappho, or Aesop).

The past two weeks provided a coming full circle sense with Song. I’m certain that more writing will create more unexpected moments of epiphany. These two gave me a smile. I welcome more.


great great great great grandmother


ἐπιφάνεια…

Sometimes it is difficult to hear a particular Muse clearly. More often than not, it isn’t just one speaking to me. Ideas for sculpture, writing, and other art are coming all the time – simultaneously. From time to time, I will have to pause one project in favor of another. Even in an ideal world, in which I could devote every second of the day to the arts, I’m certain this would be the case. It’s just the way it goes.

During any pause on a specific writing project, there is not a complete silencing of the voices of the characters involved. They are, in the back of my mind, still seeking deeper subtext and greater clarity about their motives and missions. There’s probably no way to stop this and I wouldn’t want to. When research and writing resumes there are new epiphanies that, I feel, improve the richness of the work in question.

Recently, my thinking returned to the story of Teiresias, which I am calling A Song Heard in the Future (based on a quote from Tennyson’s poem treating the same character). Before the pause I knew there were two major holes in the novel. Two characters – both of whom are women – were going to disappear into them.

Being a seer, Teiresias is frequently a giver of advice. As a person, though, he lives through some truly fantastic upheavals. It stands to reason that he might – from time to time – seek some advice. Part of Song deals with this but for a while I wasn’t sure how.

The advice in this case becomes the foundation of the third act. The two characters who provide it were apparently very active during my break from this tale. They were in danger of vanishing from the story after merely being messengers. It is perhaps a platitude that an author’s characters speak to their creator. In this instance, these two were defending their importance. It really is like they knew.

One of them “reminded” me that she also had to be involved in some of the first scenes of the book. I can’t argue with the logic. And how could I have missed it‽

In trying to stay as close to the source material of Greek mythology (the origin of so many tales of heroism), it seemed a little cowardly to let important characters fade from the story and follow other paths to the end of the saga.

The song may be heard in the future but I have to listen to it, and the Muses, now.

muses light


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