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Tuesday, August 20, 2019

The Judgment of Paris and Imposition by the Gods

 After I published last night's blog post about consent as it relates to rape, and the divine, I started thinking about Paris and his Judgment. When those three goddesses appeared before him and told him it was his job to pick one--it wasn't like he could refuse the task. Not without risking offending them, and there was no way that FULFILLING the task didn't risk offense of at least two of them, too. It was an entirely no-win situation for him.

And he had no real choice. He had to do as the gods asked. He couldn't say no without endangering himself. And not just because it might offend the three goddesses, but since ZEUS had commanded it, Paris risked offending HIM, too.

Angelica Kauffman - El juicio de Paris
Angelica Kauffman's The Judgment of Paris via Wiki Commons

Then again, if we're to believe that Zeus basically organized and orchestrated the entirety of the events that would lead to the Trojan War (as some sources allege), then Zeus had to have known exactly what he was doing, sending those goddesses to Paris to begin with--including the outcome of Paris's choice.

Paris was set-up to be the fall-guy for the gods.

All that disdain with which his character is treated basically plays right into their hands. Like a magician's flash of distraction, while he springs the trapdoor in a disappearing act. We have spent three thousand years blaming the victims of Zeus's machinations--between Paris, Helen, and Achilles (the only person who seemed to wake up and recognize the injustice of the whole situation, and we act like he's a sulky teenager and scorn him.)

The idea of Fate and everything it implies is totally WILD (and so is the idea of a omniscient, omnipotent power, because one can't really exist without the other.) And I'll grant you, it's hard to wrap our minds around it all as mortals living a finite existence. Personal responsibility for one's actions is also a thing that matters, a means by which we hold members of the community accountable in the present--In The Present.

But when we're engaging with these myths, we aren't only engaging with the present. We're engaging, also, with the past. And a past that played by different rules than we do, now, in relation to the divine and the gods, the tension between the mortal and the immortal. Acknowledging that the mortals involved LACKED a certain amount of choice, recognizing their limitations, and the role and power of the gods over their lives seems critical to me.

And this is part of why I dislike retellings that excise the gods from the story. Because removing them unravels the entire tapestry when peoples lives and fortunes are dependent upon their engagement and interference.

Without the gods, Paris is a coward who fled the field when facing off against Menelaus in a challenge he couldn't win.

With the gods, knowing he isn't likely to win the challenge, Paris faces Menelaus anyway, and it's ONLY because Aphrodite whisks him from the field that he lives.

(Sidenote: when Hector breaks and runs from Achilles, we give him a pass and treat him still as a hero, but not Paris, who is physically stolen from the field--Paris just gets trashed as a worthless coward. Interesting to consider which characters we are willing to give the benefit of the doubt to and which characters we are inclined to assassinate.)

And all of this brings me back to the question at the heart of my last post:
If you are chosen by a god for ANY reason, can you ever really say no?

Paris sure couldn't.

In the PAST, the periods from which these myths come to us, the answer seems clear.

But what should that mean for the stories we're REtelling in the present?



Tamer of Horses Helen of Sparta By Helen's Hand Daughter of a Thousand Years A Sea of Sorrow: A Novel of Odysseus
Amazon | Barnes&Noble | IndieBound

Monday, August 19, 2019

Can We Ever Give True Consent to a God?

In response to an article/essay that made the rounds a while back (Rape, Lost in Translation), I found myself thinking, again, about the relationship between mortals and the divine.

I should be clear: I spend a LOT of time thinking about the relationships between mortals and the divine. A LOT. How does a relationship with a god change us, whether that relationship is sexual or otherwise? And I've done my share of eliding what may or may not have been a rape in a myth, too, no question. Sometimes because I think it is absolute B.S. and if the woman in question is that FREAKING AWESOME there is no way she did not kick the hero's butt instead. Sometimes because I just want there to be something else besides rape and violence, because I believe very deeply that the gods (and our understanding of the morality of the gods and ourselves) evolve with us and in our retellings, we should allow for that evolution.

But when it comes to the relationships between gods and mortals, this line in particular is a little bit haunting: "It is indeed doubtful that clear consent can even be offered in such a situation."

I'm not sure it applies to only sexual relations. And it isn't limited to the Greek Myths. The story of Jonah and the Whale, for example, lays out the difficulty in refusing big G. (And this again, calls into question Mary's "yes" when the Archangel comes to tell her that she'll carry and birth God's chosen son, as well.)

If you are chosen by a god for ANY reason, can you ever really say no?

For me this question is more than just academic. It isn't only about translation, but speaks also to my spirituality. Though my patron god is Norse, these women in Ovid's Metamorphoses, from my perspective as a pan/polytheist, are not just literary constructs. That makes the stories told in these myths that much more difficult, and in some cases, more critically important to parse.

Are their experiences and fates, the violent nature of these encounters, a reflection of the society in which they lived--or an imposition of authority, a warning sent by a higher power? Are the events that transpired only a mortal interpretation of an actuality that could not be fully understood or perhaps misconstrued? Is that doing the same work of eliding the truth, erasing a violence perpetuated against women across time and space, even by the divine?

And much more personally, did I choose my relationship to my god or was it chosen for me? The moment the divine revealed itself to me, how much choice did I really have in embracing it? (Because there are times when it sure does not feel like much, if any. And I certainly would never have gone searching for a pagan god, having been raised a Good Catholic Girl, but a pagan god came into my life all the same. Never mind that he gave me time and space to get used to his presence--allowed me to set the pace. It still turned my life upside down.)

Just as faced with the Lay of Harbarth and Thor's laughter and eagerness at the idea of helping Odin hold down and rape a woman, I found myself questioning, so, too, should we all be questioning these other, more common myths in which so often the violence done to women has been overlooked or erased. (Is this a function of male wish-fulfillment? That just the wanting of a woman paired with power and beauty can win their hearts and minds and make them return that want vs acknowledgment of imposition and violence upon their person? In my own retellings, am I doing the work of the patriarchy in imagining, here and there, an alternative? Or is there room, too, for the hope that the divine might have treated us with greater respect? Might STILL grant us the opportunity to consent, and model that behavior for the mortals among us who require the reminder?)

Also, all of this is part of why I am desperate to write a book about Aethra. In Helen of Sparta, it is clear (I hope) that Leda was raped by Zeus--not once, but twice. But Aethra's story of Poseidon is different--it FEELS different, to me, even in the sources, and I was glad to be able to offer that contrast--that assurance that the gods are not ALWAYS cruel to women they find beautiful (Poseidon himself DID certainly rape Medusa before his affair with Aethra, even), because I think THAT is true, too. But understanding why they might be cruel to SOME and not others? Maybe it's an exercise in futility, but I can't help but want to try.

(Of course what constitutes cruelty from an immortal perspective vs a mortal one is another kettle of fish altogether and something that also needs to be interrogated. Can we hold the gods accountable at all? Do they exist outside of mortal concepts of justice? How do we reconcile the difference? The power differential, as well as the gulf of what constitutes our existences? I don't know the answers to any of those questions, either, but I'm absolutely sure I'll keep thinking.)



Tamer of Horses Helen of Sparta By Helen's Hand Daughter of a Thousand Years A Sea of Sorrow: A Novel of Odysseus
Amazon | Barnes&Noble | IndieBound

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Mythmaking in Arthurian Legend (A Guest Post by Nicole Evelina)


Nicole Evelina is the author of the non-fiction work on Guinevere, The Once and Future Queen, and also the Guinevere's Tale trilogy, which just completed with the release of Mistress of Legend, available now! We've talked a little bit in passing about Arthurian Legend here on the blog, and I thought it would be fun to get a peek at how Nicole approached the myths involved in writing her series! Enjoy!
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Mistress of Legend (Guinevere's Tale: Book Three)
The story of Guinevere begins in myth, at least as far as we can tell with no historical evidence of her existence. She first appears in Welsh literature in a few poems, then in the epic The Mabinogion, a collection of Welsh tales first written down between 1100-1225 AD/CE, and in the Welsh Triads, group of related stories dating from 1235 AD/CE though likely first written down in the ninth century, that preserve early folklore, mythology, and oral history. Her kidnapping is likely taken from the Celtic myth of the Flower Bride, which is itself much like the story of Hades and Persephone.

Over the next 1,500 years of myth and literature, Guinevere continues to evolve, playing a role of varying import depending on the author. (See my book The Once and Future Queen for an analysis of Guinevere’s role over the centuries.) Most Arthurian stories keep to roughly the same facts about Guinevere, which are scant at best:

  • ·         She was Arthur’s wife.
  • ·         She may have been barren.
  • ·         She was kidnapped by Melwas/Malegant/Mordred.
  • ·         She had an affair with Lancelot (either emotionally or physically depending on the story).
  • ·         She may or may not have allied with/married Mordred after the fall of Camelot.
  • ·         She ended her days in a convent.

This gives us a rough outline of her life, but by no means puts flesh on her bones or gifts her with a personality. Because there is so little information about her, trying to tell her story becomes its own exercise in mythmaking. Every author who has touched The Matter of Britain has added to the story and will continue to do so as long as the story is told.

In my own re-telling in The Guinevere’s Tale Trilogy, I had to invent many aspects of Guinevere’s life, especially her youth and her life after Arthur, periods not often touched upon traditionally. To flesh out her childhood and adolescence, I started with the traditional idea that her father was Roman, but took an off-the-wall theory that Guinevere was actually Votadini (a tribe in southern Scotland) for her mother’s lineage. I wanted to show Guinevere as an equal to Morgan, so I made her a priestess of Avalon and had their time in the sacred isle be the beginning of their dislike of one another. (I fully admit to loving Marion Zimmer Bradley’s vision of Avalon in The Mists of Avalon and using that as my starting place. But there are differences as well.)

For the religion of Avalon, I used my knowledge of Celtic Wicca as a basis, but made sure to emphasize multiple gods and goddesses, as would have been historically accurate for Celtic pagans. The gods and goddesses Guinevere specifically mentions, such as Rhiannon and Lugh, are historically tied to Wales (where she was born) or southern Scotland (where her mom was born). I invented a three-degree system of progression for the priestesses in training and also a system of divination for them, but used actual Celtic holidays as their festivals. When portraying the Christian religion, I relied upon Anglo-Saxon documents for guidance because while they are a few hundred years ahead of the time of my books, they are some of the earliest existing sources for Christianity in Britain.

For the final book in this series, I also had to invent the culture of the Votadini because although they are historical, we don’t have any information about what their lives were like. I wanted to show a people who were very much still connected to the land and their ancestors, an intimacy that Roman occupation likely blunted or severed in areas to the south. Their magic is much more wild and violent than that practiced on Avalon because the Votadini are still a savage people. They are a tribe of war that recognizes and respects the need for death along with life, and reveres blood as the connection between past, present and future. They are a highly ritualistic people who are always mindful of their gods and their influence on daily life. To create them I drew upon portrayals of the ancient (pre-Roman) Celts and tried to find commonalities among shamanistic cultures throughout the world. I wanted the reader to really feel the difference between this culture and the one Guinevere was raised in, so they could understand her feelings of displacement and yet understand the connection to the land that sung in her veins. 

I’m honored to have contributed to the 1,500-year-old, ever-changing mythology of Guinevere and King Arthur. I hope that readers see in her a strong woman who is relatable today, but who well could have lived in Dark Ages Britain among the final vestiges of Celtic respect for women before patriarchy took over. Now that modern women are at last shaking off that yoke, it is time that Guinevere did the same.



Nicole Evelina is a historical fiction, non-fiction, and women’s fiction author whose six books have won more than 30 awards, including three Book of the Year designations. Her fiction tells the stories of strong women from history and today, with a focus on biographical historical fiction, while her nonfiction focuses on women’s history, especially sharing the stories of unknown or little-known figures.

Nicole’s writing has appeared in The Huffington Post, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Independent Journal, Curve Magazine and numerous historical publications. She is one of only six authors who completed a week-long writing intensive taught by #1 New York Times bestselling author Deborah Harkness. 

Nicole is currently working on her next historical fiction novel, which centers on an obscure WWII heroine, and researching two future non-fiction books. You can find her online at http://nicoleevelina.com/

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Confessions from Daughter of a Thousand Years

I chickened out.
I pulled my punches.
I was afraid, and I let my fear take the wheel.

One of the criticisms DAUGHTER seems to receive goes something like this: If Emma had a true and authentic spiritual experience, she wouldn't doubt her faith.

As a heathen who has definitely had profound and entirely authentic spiritual experiences and also still doubted her faith, let me tell you, FIRST of all, that no, having the experience does not magically make one's faith bulletproof. You are still surrounded by people on all sides telling you it cannot possibly have happened and your experience cannot possibly have been what you think it was because your god isn't even REAL--there's definitely some not-so-subtle gaslighting taking place under those circumstances and it sucks. If you can get the people you love to admit that what you experienced is an authentic spiritual experience at all, often times they want to co-opt it and claim it existed inside the framework of their own faith, that that's the only possible way it could be authentic and real, again undermining your experience completely and your faith and trust in YOURSELF and your own senses.

But SECONDLY, and maybe even more importantly, I want to apologize, because the reason that Emma doesn't have an authentic spiritual experience ON THE PAGE in DAUGHTER OF A THOUSAND YEARS is 1000000000000000% because of my own fear. Because while I was writing it, I was still TERRIFIED of putting anything approaching my own experience of the divine, of Thor, on the page, and having that experience rejected.

Again.

This time by the whole publishing, reading world. Or worse than that, other pagans.

I didn't want to include that very personal truth and have it labeled "fantasy," for that matter, either. (It was devastating enough to see it ultimately categorized as fantasy as it was, let me tell you--maybe especially because I'd denied myself and my truth in the hopes that if I did, it would be more acceptable, somehow.)

I was so, so afraid. And that fear took something from the authenticity of Emma's characterization. The reality of her experience of her faith and her god. Which is not to say I'm not still proud of DAUGHTER OF A THOUSAND YEARS--because I am! SO proud! In some ways, it feels like it is very much my best, most literary work. But I wish I had been more honest with myself then, while writing it. I wish I hadn't been so afraid.

That said, I think when I was writing DAUGHTER, I was doing the best I could do. I think writing DAUGHTER gave me the courage and strength to look back on it now and say "this book was written from a place of fear. I want to do better next time."

So this is my promise to you, and to myself: In the future, I'm going to lean into the things that scare me instead of trying to skate around their edges. In the future, I'm going to keep control of the wheel. I hope you'll find the courage to do the same!



Tamer of Horses Helen of Sparta By Helen's Hand Daughter of a Thousand Years A Sea of Sorrow: A Novel of Odysseus
Amazon | Barnes&Noble | IndieBound

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Paris, Polypoetes, and the Trojan War I Swore I'd Never Write

Eduard Lebiedzki Urteil des Paris
Urteil des Paris By Eduard Lebiedzki (1862-1915) (Dorotheum) [PD], via Wikimedia Commons


I should have known better than to say I would never write the Trojan War. I knew I had no intention of doing it as part of Helen's story, for sure, and maybe I should have qualified my statement then--but I genuinely didn't think that five years later I'd be back in this place, desperate to continue Paris's story. Paris of all people!

And yet, here I am.

Since 2018 is the year that I give my authorself a break, and try to remember to write for the love of writing first and foremost, I started writing it. And once I started writing it, I realized something else: It wasn't only Paris's story I wanted to tell. There was Pirithous's son, Polypoetes, too, who was begging for more.

And really, what's the Trojan War without the Greeks? What's the point of retelling the story unless you can see a little bit behind the lines on both sides? The Trojan War has been done and redone a thousand times, but it was always about Achilles and Agamemnon, Menelaus and Odysseus. It was always Hector and Helen and Paris as a convenient scapegoat and coward.

Maybe, I thought, just maybe, this would be enough to set my retelling apart. If I showed the war through the eyes of a less invested hero on the Greek side. If I let Paris be the hero that I knew in my heart he could be. A flawed hero, a failure in the end, but not the coward we've all painted him as again and again--all flash and no substance.

In August's Newsletter I included a little bit of a sneak peek--I've only got six more chapters or so to go, and in a huge change of pace for my authorself, I even have them outlined. But I'm still not done, and honestly? Because it's still 2018, I'm not putting any pressure on myself to finish it yet. (Which leaves you plenty of time to catch up by reading HELEN OF SPARTA and BY HELEN'S HAND before I do!)

Even so, I'm excited. So excited, that I wanted to include another brief peek behind the curtain for you all, here!

“You wish me to speak with them?” Her hands knotted into the fabric of her overskirt, her eyes casting about the room, avoiding his own. “With Menelaus among them?”

“Perhaps,” Paris said, taking her hands in his and guiding her to a seat upon the bed’s edge, hoping to settle her. Never before had he ever seen her so unnerved. Not since that first day after she had returned to him in Egypt. “But Helen, you will not face them alone. Hector and I will stand beside you, and Priam and Hecuba as well. You need not fear them. They cannot touch you while you dwell behind Troy’s walls as my wife.”

She swallowed hard, twisting her fingers through his and staring out at the city beyond the balcony. What he would have given to know her thoughts—but though they shared much, Helen still kept her own counsel more often than he liked. Whatever else had changed between them when she had given herself up, at last, that much had stayed the same.

“I do not see what good it will do,” she murmured. “To parade me before them again, to tease them with what they will not have—what they would have never kept. By leaving Menelaus, have I not left them all? Chosen a foreign prince over everything they offered.”

He squeezed her hands. “But you did not choose, not truly. The gods chose for us. Zeus and Aphrodite bound our fates together, our lives and our hearts. In truth, were we not both powerless? How can any man expect you to defy the gods? To defy your own father?”

She pressed her lips together, her gaze returning to the city, to the horizon beyond it. As if, if she only looked hard enough, she could see the ships themselves and the men upon them. And then she tipped her head, just slightly, and he knew she had made her decision.

“When?” she asked.

“A sevenday, perhaps. No more than a fortnight, to be sure.” He grimaced. “There are few villages left for them to plunder on their way here.”

Her eyes sharpened, her gaze finding his and the corners of her mouth turning down. “Hector sent out messengers, did he not? To warn them.”

“Yes,” he assured her, wishing he had never mentioned it at all. She hated it, he knew. Every bit of blood spilled, every life taken in her name. She tried to hide it, but it was not hard to see if you knew how to look. And ever since Egypt, her true face had been open to him, the queen’s mask torn away. She had become guileless in a way she had never been in Sparta, and that, beyond anything she had said or done, had convinced him of her love. Persuaded him that he had finally won her. “Our swiftest ships and our fastest horses, and we have taken in all the men, women, and children who have heeded our warning. To the good, truly, for it will mean more men to swell our ranks as soldiers when we must fight. A greater show of force. The nearer the Achaean ships get to Troy, the fewer innocents they will find to slaughter. We are doing everything we can, I promise you.”

She nodded, but he knew it was not enough. The way worried lines creased her forehead, and her pretty mouth still curved down instead of up. The way her gaze had slipped from his again, even if she had not turned away.

“Helen,” he said softly, tipping her face up to his to catch her eyes, willing her to hear him. “If the gods are determined upon this course—there is nothing you or I can do to stop it. You must remember that. You must remember that none of this blood is on your hands or mine. We have only done as the gods wished us to do, as they demanded in truth, and there is no turning back now.”

If you're interested in more of my musings on Paris's character while you wait for me to finish writing this hopefully-will-stay-novella-length project, check out my post on Paris and Oenone, and maybe The Sins of Paris, as well. And of course, there's plenty of Paris to be found in BY HELEN'S HAND, too!


Tamer of Horses Helen of Sparta By Helen's Hand Daughter of a Thousand Years A Sea of Sorrow: A Novel of Odysseus
Amazon | Barnes&Noble | IndieBound

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Helen of Sparta Summer Sale!



For the month of August, grab Helen of Sparta for just 1.99!
Don't forget to follow it up with By Helen's Hand, and/or prequel it up with Ariadne and the Beast and Tamer of Horses! If you recently read and loved Circe by Madeline Miller (I sure did!)--Helen should absolutely be on your TBR, too!

Things have been a little bit all over the place for me this summer, between family adventures and authorstuff. Publishing is such a strange beast. Sometimes it feels like you have a tiger by the tail. Sometimes you think you're on your way to the finish line only to get bounced back to start. But as long as I'm writing--I can't even tell you how much I love the writing.

This month, Newsletter Subscribers got a sneak peek of my most recent Mythic Bronze Age Work-in-Progress (I usually share a small snippet of whatever I've been working on that month at the end of every issue of the Amaliad). And I'm going to share the latest newsletter with you all here--to give you a taste of what you're missing if you haven't subscribed yet!

So Klikk Klikk get a peek at what I've been writing, and then make sure you subscribe so you don't miss out on future WiPpets!

I'm not sure yet when this one will be finished--or how long it'll end up being. It's definitely an epilogue to Helen of Sparta and By Helen's Hand, and doubly definitely takes on the Trojan War that I swore I would never write. But assuming I can keep it novella length, maybe I can get it out into the world sooner rather than later. Sooner being completely relative, of course. Because while I only have 6 outlined chapters left to go, it's something I've only been picking at on the side while I'm working on other projects, and there are contract things to negotiate too. So! We'll just have to see how it goes. And I'll of course let you know--one more reason to subscribe to the Amaliad, I suppose!

Happy Thor's Day!


Tamer of Horses Helen of Sparta By Helen's Hand Daughter of a Thousand Years A Sea of Sorrow: A Novel of Odysseus
Amazon | Barnes&Noble | IndieBound

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Ariadne and the Beast, Plus New Newsletter Subscriber Exclusive!

So I have some excitement to share after all!

Those of you who follow me on twitter and facebook or are keeping up with my Newsletter probably already saw, but I've got a short story release for you later this month: ARIADNE AND THE BEAST!

Pre-Order Now!

Previously only available to AMALIAD subscribers as an exclusive, my short story Ariadne and the Beast, the story of Ariadne, Theseus, and the Minotaur, is now available for pre-order on kindle! YAY! It's set about 30 years before the events of Helen of Sparta and you can grab it for just 1.99. Ariadne releases May 31st, because I love having extra excuses to celebrate my Thor's Days.

Due to its length (short story!) this is an e-only release. But I hope you'll enjoy it all the same!

AND.
Because this is no longer an exclusive goodie for AMALIAD subscribers, I'm giving you all a NEW exclusive in exchange--FOUR never before seen BY HELEN'S HAND chapters that were left on the cutting room floor! I'm calling this little bonus Not Quite Queen of Sparta, and it all fits into the final book somewhere between chapters 33 and 38. They'll be available to all new subscribers going forward AND if you're a current subscriber, the link went out to you today, so check your inbox and happy reading!!

Finally, for those of you not stalking my twitter feed, I watched Troy: Fall of a City and livetweeted it for your entertainment and my... um. well. displeasure? My thoughts and feelings begin here:


I have a few. More than a few. Lots of feelings guys. LOTS. And shut up I know I said I would never write the Trojan War but after that showing...

Well, let's just say I maaaaaaaaaay have changed my mind. Amaliad subscribers will likely learn about what may or may not be coming down the pipe FIRST, and also get sneak peeks behind the curtain of the drafting in process, so if you haven't subscribed and you love my Bronze Age brand--there's really no better time than now!



Tamer of Horses Helen of Sparta By Helen's Hand Daughter of a Thousand Years A Sea of Sorrow: A Novel of Odysseus
Amazon | Barnes&Noble | IndieBound