FROM THE JACKET FLAP:
Herodotus is a fine old chatterbox and reads more like a Boys' Own Adventure than the founding document of history and anthropology. Thucydides is full of geopolitics and is better than any modern thriller.
Both can be mined mercilessly for material. There's a novel on every page. For example you may have heard of a movie called 300. It comes from Herodotus, seriously mangled.
It's surprising how much information about daily life comes from archaeology and not written history. For example, what if your character is putting out the garbage? (In which case the character is certainly a slave.) People at the time never thought to write down where they dumped their rubbish. Archaeologists find the middens so we know most people kept a dump out back. We get house plans, cooking utensils, boat design, weaponry, clothing pins, bronze mirrors, hair combs, assorted pottery, voting tokens, clothing styles, musical instruments, and all sorts of other stuff from archaeology. The Metropolitan, the Louvre, the British Museum and the National Archaeology Museum of Athens are my friends.
There're a host of other contemporary writers with useful things to say. Who you read depends on what you're after, and you just have to know who's who. For anything to do with manly pursuits, Xenophon's your guy. For civic administration, you probably want Aristotle. Besides being hilarious, the comedies of Aristophanes are packed with details of everyday life, especially life's little irritations. For anything to do with the life of Socrates, you definitely want Plato.
Plato's a good example of how to read these sources. He wrote reams of profound thoughts about philosophy. It's all totally useless to me. But he made his philosophy interesting by writing it as dialogues, and in the dialogues, historically real characters make off the cuff comments that are absolute gems to me. When I read Plato, I ignore the signal and read the side-channels.
OMG; not exactly what I’d consider light reading before bed! Ok, I’ll have to take your word for it on those fantastic books; apparently there’s this whole genre I’ve been missing out on. This sounds less like research and more like a life time obsession. I’m curious if you obsessed as much over the hook line that begins your novel: A DEAD MAN FELL FROM THE SKY. I don’t know about anyone else, but IMO (awestruck, not humble) this is one of the best first lines I’ve ever read. It engaged me the moment I saw it; and I didn’t even know what the book was about. So which came first: the line, or the novel concept?
The novel concept came first. In fact, it came 2,300 years ago, from a book called The Athenian Constitution, by Aristotle. Aristotle relates, in a short section of only about 3 paragraphs, a for-real murder mystery that happened in Athens in 461BC. The guy who created the world's first total democracy was assassinated, and they never caught the men behind the plot. The moment I read of that killing, I knew it was my book to write.
I wrote that opening line off the top of my head, without a moment's pause, and it's one of the few lines I never had to change afterwards. The line as it appears in the published book is identical to the line in the very first notes, which are dated from years ago. There's a basic rule of craft that you have to grab the reader at once; I got it right the first time and never fiddled with the result. Once the opening line was written, I stopped to wonder how a dead body could fall from the sky, which I honestly hadn't thought through!
I'm a total seat-of-the-pants writer. Notice how I even wrote the first line without knowing the second. My initial thought was catapult, but the Greeks didn't have them. My next thought was he fell off the Acropolis, but that was far too obvious. Then the Areopagus occurred to me. It's a rock outcrop next to the Acropolis that was used back then as the HQ for senior statesmen. My victim was a statesman. Perfect! That I could pull the Areopagus out of thin air like that was my fairly extensive knowledge of ancient history working for me.
Yes, why mess with perfection. That’s awesome that you were able to build your novel concept around the line. I love the process you went through too; much like a puzzle, just putting all the pieces together. And partially answers my next question . . Are you a plotter or pantster? Character driven or plot driven?
Total pantser, as per previous question. But I dislike the term. Stream of consciousness is unwieldy but much more accurate. If I'm in the zone then I fly; if I'm out of the zone then I'm grounded.
Plot = Character + Situation. The characters will tell me how they'd behave in any given situation, but conversely I'm free to set their opening situation, so we're both in control. The fact that I talk about figments of my imagination as if they had independent existence, tells you something about my mental state when I write.
I honestly can't explain where the characters come from. As soon as I think of a character, I know almost everything important about them. I'll research for extraneous but highly important historical accuracy, but their core being, that I know at once. For example, the Chief of the Scythian Guard of Athens is Pythax, a barbarian slave. I knew right away he was the ancient world's equivalent of a tough, embittered New York police captain. His opening line, the moment he sees our hero Nico, is, "We don't take piss-poor little Mama's boys in this outfit, so if you've run away from home, go find some other place to cry." That line is so typically Pythax. Pythax told me that's what he'd say; I can't explain it any other way.
Character building is something I can totally relate to. I can see how your characters could come fully formed to you based on your extensive knowledge of Greek society. And you seem to have a healthy sense of creativity to turn these historical figures into fascinating fictional characters. Speaking of creativity, can you tell us about your publishing experience?
I wrote a standard query and got pulled from the same slushpile we all inhabit. My experience might be slightly out of the norm in that I then went out of my way to avoid a literary agent who wanted to sign me, and that seems to have become the stuff of legend, but ultimately fate overcame my cluelessness and I ended up signed and published. I queried agents in Australia, the UK and the US. (In passing, I don't know why more authors don't query agents outside their own country.) It was ultimately luck that connected me with Janet Reid, who is simply the perfect literary agent for me.
I'm published in the US through St Martins Minotaur, and in Australia through Penguin. How foreign rights are handled varies a lot from contract to contract. It's impossible to make generalizations. In my case, St Martins bought worldwide rights. A publisher in, say, Germany, who wanted to publish the book would need to buy the rights from St Martins, not from me.
Talent, not luck procured you the elusive Ms. Janet Reid and the excellent publishing houses you signed with. I’m impressed - but not surprised - that your lifetime of study paid off so well. The book tour appears to have been a good idea, and I’ll assume it was Janet’s. Now that you have completed one tour, what - if anything - would you do differently, and what type of advice would you offer others contemplating a national or international appearance?
A single tour is not remotely enough to offer advice to anyone! One thing I'll suggest though is this: get some public speaking training, and practice, practice, practice, until getting up in front of random strangers holds no terrors. I had both training and practice in public speaking from my previous work, and it held me in good stead.
at 11:01 AM