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Wednesday, October 30, 2013


As I mentioned last week, I participate in NaNoWriMo every year -- and that means blogging takes a backseat in November! After November, we have the Christmas Holiday Lead-Up of Doom, complete with family invasion, and since I'd only really be able to come back for two weeks max, I'm going to be taking off both November and December from the blog!

That said, I promise a little bit of Santa Herc action when the time draws nearer, so I suppose you have at least that much to look forward to before the year's end.

Expect me back around the second week of January, with more Age of Heroes Excellence, and in the meantime, the best of luck to everyone participating in National Novel Writing Month! May you meet and exceed your 50,000 words in these coming 30 days!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

NaNoWriMo is coming!

I take part in National Novel Writing Month every year (since 2002!) and one thing I've learned is that when writing historical fiction -- definitely do your research and readings in October, before the amazing race to 50K begins. But most importantly, just write every day, and try to have fun! In that vein, here are some resources that might be worth bookmarking for the big event:

But if you find yourself stuck for a (non-historical-fiction) story, or maybe a plot twist, definitely check out this idea generator:

And if you're hoping for some inspiration on the mythology side of things, there's this handy-dandy illustration of ALL of Zeus' affairs and the resulting offspring, organized by author (and the period in which the author was writing!) which ought to give you PLENTY of fodder for conflicts and strained relationships!

Still not enough? Or not sure why Zeus and his various conquests did what they did? Here's 123 ideas for character flaws -- I am SURE you'll find at least ONE which explains his (mis)behavior... beyond the "I'm King of the Gods" excuse, of course.

Maybe your characters need some downtime -- or maybe you do, because the constantly torturing them business is wearing you thin -- don't forget, 5000 years ago, people totally played board games. I'm betting you can find some words if you have to make up the rules.

If all else fails, give IN THE TIME OF GODS by Dar Williams a listen -- an entire album all about the Olympians! Including a really interesting one about Hephaestus (it might be my favorite!)

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Jason and the Argonauts

I love Classical mythology. But there is no question that it is a mess of contradictions sometimes. Parallel stories growing up from different regions, only combined later, and never reconciled results in a number of fascinating Gordian Knots of confusion and crossed-paths. Sometimes there's enough of a narrative that you can fudge it without too much of a problem -- like the relationship between Theseus and Heracles, and their shared adventures -- but sometimes, there really is just no way to make it all work together coherently.

For example, Jason and those pesky Argonauts. Let me count the ways in which I find them impossible, for me, as a writer of historical fiction:

1) No one agrees about who all took part in this famous Voyage of Heroes.
          This muddling is no fault of Jason's or his crew, but rather the city-states who each wanted to have their hero take part and so, over time and with each addition, completely obscured any truth that might have ever existed. And here's the thing that makes this so frustrating: I can totally see Castor and Pollux elbowing Joe Hero who's trying to impress some king while bargaining for a wife, winking and smiling and saying "Oh yeah, Joe? He was with us on the Argo! He's the real deal!" I imagine, with that many people taking part, it would have been easy to fudge your way onto the list. Not unlike claiming you're some by-blow of Zeus or Ares or Apollo or Poseidon, because everyone knows the gods get around, right? BUT...

2) Trying to fit the voyage of the Argonauts into an historical and linear narrative with OTHER heroic quests and adventures is completely impossible.
          If you do figure out who went, fitting it in between Heracles' 12 labors etc, Theseus' Labors (and don't forget "Not Without Theseus" was actually a SAYING because he was involved in everything, apparently), Helen's abductions and the Trojan War, and the stories of the Dioscuri (Helen's brothers) is kind of ridiculous. It all takes place AT THE SAME TIME. Frankly, I'm inclined to believe that none of the major players went with Jason at all, because there is just no way to put it all together and have everyone be where they're supposed to be later. No. Way.
          Now, if the only book you're writing is Jason's, this isn't an issue, but guys, I love Theseus, Helen, Heracles, and Pirithous, and if I'm going to write me some historical fiction, for my own sanity, I'd like it all to fit in the same world. Jason and the Argonauts would shred my already extremely delicate balancing act of a timeline into pieces that would never, ever fit together again.

3) Balancing UMPTEEN Heroes all in one cast of characters while giving them all distinct personalities and a fair shake while not IMPOSSIBLE, definitely poses challenges.
          There sure would be plenty of conflict within the party. No lack of ego and hubris as they all struggle to work as a team when each one is used to taking the lead and doing their own thing. I mean, if Jason is in charge, that makes everyone else involved his SIDEKICK, and I'm just not sure how to tackle Heracles or Theseus as a sidekick to anyone -- they're both forces to be reckoned with, to say the least. Then of course there is the potential of bad blood between heroes who had engaged in altercations pre-voyage, all confined to a ship for how long?
         This is an ensemble cast of EPIC proportions -- and I do mean Epic in the most definitive sense -- and frankly, it gives me a headache just THINKING about it. Ensembles are hard to pull off, and while one day I might be ready to tackle that mess (in a standalone totally its own continuity adventure) I just can't imagine how I could do it justice at this juncture. Remember that there were between 40 and 60 men (and women) named as Argonauts. That is a LOT of folks to work into a narrative, even after you pair it down to the essentials. And the story of Jason and the Argonauts? That is definitely a retelling that will require some cutting of characters and creative license with the source materials to make it work, no question.

So when the day comes that my books are on shelves -- there is one hero you can safely bet won't be in the mix.

Sorry, Jason, it isn't you, really, it's me.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Prometheus and People! (Plus Punishments)

This is a super fantastic summary of the trials and tribulations of mankind at the beginning of their existence, as well as their creation! Proving once again that Classical Mythology is, itself, fantastic in every way, as well.

The whole creation of mankind thing gets to be something of a slippery slope, and the who did what isn't always the same in ANY myth, but knowing one of these stories is better than knowing none, not to mention that this looks like the start of a great vlog series on Classical Myth!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Hair Dye in Ancient Times

In one of my novels, one of my characters dyes her hair -- this is easy enough to imagine in the modern day, of course. We all know where to find hair dye today, and the process of applying it is pretty simple. In the ancient world, and going even further back to the Bronze Age, it requires a bit more research. And by a bit, I mean that I probably lost a whole day to the process.

For your benefit and mine, here's what I found!

Classical Antiquity:
The process that was used during antiquity to dye hair is mind-blowingly awesome in its simultaneous simplicity and complexity. You see, during antiquity, Greeks and Romans and Egyptians dyed their hair using nano-technology without even knowing it! Of course the downside is that it required lead oxide, which probably didn't do much for their health.

For my book, the problem was, how the heck would my character get her hands on lead oxide or lime? And that kind of dye process is absolutely permanent--which is, of course, what my character was going for, but not at all helpful to ME for later events, and Homeric Greece was certainly not Antiquity. I can believe that these kinds of techniques were known in Egypt, however, and in the east. Troy by all accounts seems to be very rich in these kinds of things-- a center for trade. But my character, working under the radar, wouldn't really have access to what was needed for this technique, even by trial and error.

Another common dye, Henna, would most likely have been beyond her reach because it required trade to acquire from the east, but it was certainly available if someone wanted to go red. And it might have even been available (by trade) even earlier, which leads us to...

There are a variety of pigments that were available to people in Mycenaean times. Umber and Ochre for browns, reds and yellows, Bone and Carbon blacks, for, well, black for certain. But could any of these pigments be made into dyes? It would certainly require some kind of solvent (and I'm totally wishing I had blond hair of my own that I could trim and try mixing dyes in my kitchen sink about now.) The only information I was able to find on making ochre based dyes involved soy milk as the bonding agent. Earliest records of soy milk do not stretch back to Mycenaean times, even in China. Cow's milk has a similar amount of protein to soy milk, but I'm not sure it has the same enzymes to allow the bonding-- or it might require the addition of an acid to activate them (like Vinegar or wine, I'd imagine, though I have no idea how the chemistry would all work out), or maybe egg would do. Either way, for hair dye, these pigments probably aren't an optimal choice.

So what is?

Walnuts, actually. Boiling the fruit of the walnut tree apparently makes a dye which will darken as it oxidizes. While information on the cultivation of walnuts CERTAINLY dates back to Classical times, the information for the bronze age is a lot sketchier. Walnuts have been found in Europe well before the Bronze Age, though there are no signs that it was necessarily cultivated before the the classical period (pdf).

However, Walnuts do play a role in Greek Myth (relating to Dionysus), and working in a Homeric setting, or under the guise of the random naturally occurring walnut tree, or perhaps a walnut tree growing into existence by divine will, you can certainly get away with their use. They would have been known, even if they weren't a staple, and one would not necessarily have had to depend on trade in order to find a tree in the woods. Just breaking open the green outer shell would reveal the aspect of the dye -- in fact I witnessed this first hand just the other day, along with the stained fingers which resulted -- and a smart character could plausibly recognize its utility without requiring much of anything else.