Monday, December 27, 2010

The Return of Cleomenes.

Happy Holidays, Everyone!

I hope you had a great time with family and friends, or at the very least enjoyed time by yourself and caught up on things like eating yummy food and curling up with a good book.I myself spent a very merry Christmas with my family and even texted friends with my new smart phone (a Samsung Fascinate). I've also done a lot of writing.

Still a bit stuck on my Themistocles novel, I found myself writing a story for a video game based on Heracles instead (more about that on a future blog). I also returned to a murder mystery I had started long ago about the death of King Cleomenes I of Sparta. Who is Cleomenes, you ask? Well...

Cleomenes was a very unusual ruler. Unlike other Spartan kings who were more or less hereditary generals, Cleomenes was an aggressive policy maker as well as a fearsome warrior. He bullied his allies, tried to kill off the fledgling democracy in Athens, bribed the Oracle at Delphi in order to get rid or a rival, burned down a sacred grove near Argos where enemy soldiers had taken refuge, and threw Persian messengers down a well after they demanded tokens of submission. This was a cunning and often unpredictible monarch.

Cleoemenes' death was as unusual as his life. After finally being caught bribing the Pythia at Delphi, he fled Sparta in an attempt to escape prosecution. Somehow the Spartans managed to coax him back into the polis, but by then his sanity had begun to slip, and he started poking passersby with his staff of office. The Spartans claimed they had no choice but to lock him up, leaving a helot (a sort of Spartan slave or serf) to watch over him. According to Herodotus, Cleomenes managed to somehow talk the helot into giving him a knife. Once the weapons was handed over Cleomenes then began to disembowel himself, dying a painful and gruesome death. Why the helot didn't stop him is unclear; perhaps he simply wasn't sorry to see his master go. In any case the Spartans ruled the king's death a suicide, blaming his madness and subsequent end on his excessive drinking habit. Apparently nobody challenged this rather dubious explanation (perhaps because most people outside Sparta simply assumed that his suicide was divine retribution for bribing the Oracle and burning down the sacred grove near Argos), and the matter of the king's death was soon forgotten in the face of an impending invasion by Persian forces.

My story starts after Cleomenes' death, and is told from the point of view of Orthryades, the king's closest companion and the only one willing to investigate the death as a crime. As he questions each suspect Orthryades starts having flashbacks of all of Cleomenes' wrong-doings and how they affected people, allowing the reader to understand how and why Cleomenes ended up with so many enemies.

By the end of the first few chapters the protagonist finds himself with a long list of suspects. There's Prince Leonidas (next in line for the Agiad throne), Prince Cleombrotus (also in line for the Agiad throne) King Demaratus (disposed Eurypontid king and rival to Cleomenes), King Leotychidas (current Eurypontid king who may have wanted to be rid of a difficult partner-in-crime), Prince Euryanax (son of Prince Dorieus, half-brother to Cleomenes who died overseas after an unsuccessful attempt to take the throne from his older sibling)and Dieneces (leader of Sparta's secret police and Demaratus' loyal right-hand man). There are also a lot of witnesses who may know more than they are letting on, including Princess Gorgo (daughter of Cleomenes and wife to Leonidas) and Prince Pausanias (son of Prince Cleombrotus).

At any rate, I'm pretty excited about revisiting this story. I think Cleomenes is one of Sparta's most fascinating kings and a murder mystery surrounding his death makes for a good tale. What do you guys think? Interesting? Boring? Confusing? Let me know in the comments section! (And don't worry, I'm still working on Themistocles' story!)

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Plot? What Plot?


Hear that? That's the sound of yours truly hitting the dreaded Writer's Block.

You see, I can't seem to go forward with my Themistocles novel. Why? The pacing is all wrong.

I read once that often people struggle with pacing because they don't have a concrete plot. My plot is about the rise and fall of Ancient Greece's best military strategist. It's a fictional autobiography. The idea is to cover his entire life (which was fascinating from beginning to end). Yet how can I do that when 80% of the story takes place in the MIDDLE of his life? I don't relish the idea of starting the tale during the Persian Wars. It strikes me as disjointed. Any ideas?


Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Nano Fail.

Well, I pretty much failed NanoWriMo (poor Artemisia) but I'm still happy I tried. If nothing else this was good writing practice and inspired me to go back and take a look at another story I started but never finished (a murder mystery involving the uber-insane King Cleomenes I of Sparta). I've also had sufficient enough time away from my Themistocles novel to go back and see it with fresh eyes. So it looks like I have three novels I need to finish: I, Themistocles, Cleomenes and Queen of The Wine Dark Sea.

Next blog up is my review of The Pericles Commission. Here's a big hint: it's GOOD.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

NanoWriMo Report

Yes, I'm still writing my "Artemisia novel" for NanWriMo. It's not the most epic writing ever, but the idea is to get to the 50,000 word mark by November 30th. Truth be told, I may not make it. It's harder than you think to write an average of 1500 words or so a day. I can't seem to get past 500 and some days I'm too tired or unmotivated to put anything down. But I'm still working at it. At the very least this will give me enough time away from my Themistocles novel to go back and look at it with fresh eyes.

Speaking of novels on Ancient Greece, I've also finally gotten around to ordering The Pericles Commission off of Amazon! I and am super excited to read it because very few fiction writers write about Ancient Greece with a touch of humor. Not only that, but I've read reviews that exclaim how great Gary Colby is at making readers feel like they're actually in Ancient Athens. Good times!

And finally at some point I have to get around to playing Ghost of Sparta. I'm a huge God of War fan and IGN has given it a very positive review. Nice!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Want To Win A Trip To Greece? Click Here!

Want to win a trip to Greece? Of course you do!

All you have to do is take the God of War Quiz on IGN and you'll be entered for a chance to win a vacation for two to Athens. You don't even have to get every answer right, so if you're not well-versed in Kratos lore you can still play to win. Go take the quiz. Now!


*In case you're wondering why I'm not entering I can't. I'm an employee of the company. But I'd love for someone who reads my blog to win and take lots of pictures for me! :D

Friday, October 29, 2010

Entering Into The World of NaNoWriMo.

November is National Novel Writing Month, and I decided to join in on the fun in the hopes it will motivate me to write more and edit less. If you don't know what it is, here's a blurb from the website:

"National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing November 1. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30.

Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.

Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It's all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.

Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that's a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down."

This year I've decided to focus on a novella involving Queen Artemisia of Halicarnassus, the first female naval commander in history. It's part historical fiction, part romance. I'll be updating the project both here and on the site, so look for that soon.

An idea of what Artemisia looks like to me.

In the meantime, I'm still working on my Themistocles novel, though it's going slower than I'd like. Themistocles needs more personal conflict in the beginning, which is hard because he's so young. Hopefully something will inspire me by participating in the above contest.

Speaking of which, I encourage you to join as well. It's a fun way to learn and a good way to meet people (though DON'T believe anyone who says they're an editor or agent looking to buy your book, especially if they ask for fees up front). You can access the site by clicking on the link above. :)

Monday, October 25, 2010

Blog Revisions

If you glance slightly to your right, you'll notice I'm making a few changes to my blog's format. See? -------------->

I thought it would be fun to organize my posts by labeling them more clearly. From now on, you can view my take on everything from Ancient Greece in movies to Ancient Greece in video games, as well as read book reviews or even pieces of my upcoming Themistocles novel. It's all still a bit messy of course, but at least I've labled most of my blog posts and added a couple of neat gadgets for people to look at.

Let me know what you think and what suggestions you might have!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

More Buried Treasure.

Last week I told you how I stumbled upon a gem of a book I found at a used bookstore. This week I went back to said bookstore and found yet ANOTHER gem. This one is called Voyages in Classical Mythology, and I snatched it up for only $15.

Voyages in Classical Mythology is an encyclopedia that chronicles the voyages and adventures of 44 heroes and deities from Greek and Roman mythology. Besides recounting the tales of famous heroes like Herakles and Achilles, author Mary Snodgrass also covers the travels of lesser-known characters like Nauplius and Palinurus. Although this book doesn't directly help me with my Themistocles novel, it does sometimes explain the origins of certain place names in and around Attica/Athens which I find useful. For example, history tells us that Themistocles lived in an area of Athens called Melite. As it turns out, Melite was the name of a queen of Athens whom King Aegeus divorced because she bore him no children. It's the kind of fun fact I like to slip into my stories.

Each hero's story is broken down into four parts: genealogy and background, journey, alternate versions of the story and the symbolism behind the tale. This makes reading the book much easier to digest and allows the reader to keep everything straight in their head. There are even bullet points for heroes like Herakles who not only went everywhere but did everything.

It would have been nice if the book had focused on maybe ten heroes and really done an in-depth analysis of their travels around Greece and their influence on Ancient Greek culture, but this book is really meant as a basic encyclopedia of Ancient Greek and Roman deities and heroes and to be enjoyed by anyone of any age. At only $15 and full of interesting stories fun facts, Voyages in Classical Mythology is a good book to own.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Finding Buried Treasure.

These days it's very hard for me to find a book on Ancient Greece I don't already have. Every week I poke around Borders looking for something new on the subject, and every month I do a search on Amazon's massive website to see if I missed anything. Lately it seems the only books I don't have on Ancient Greece are ones I can't afford (some textbooks cost well over a hundred dollars). So imagine my surprise when I nonchalantly glided into a used book store the other day and found (gasp!) a book on Ancient Greece I'd never seen...for only seven bucks!

A History of The Greek City States 700-338 B.C. by Raphael Sealey is a great find. Published in 1976, this book gives a basic account of...well, the Greek city-states between 700-338 BCE. But what makes it stand out is the level of detail. The author dives into not only what happened but WHY. Take a look at this paragraph from Appendix A, which tries to explain some oddities in Cleisthenes' division of the trittyes, demes and tribes:

"Usually each trittys held a connected parcel of territory, but [D.M.] Lewis draws attention to some anomalies. Two of these are especially revealing. The first concerns the costal trittys of the tribe Pandionis. Most of this trittys lay in a block south of Brauron; but the deme Probalinthos, just south of Marathon, belonged to the same trittys, although seperated from it by the coastal trittys of the tribe Aegeis. This anomaly can be explained.

There was a much older unit, the Tetrapolis, consisting of the adjacent villages of Marathon, Oenoe, Trikorythos and Probalinthos; this continued to perform religious functions; indeed as late as the first century B.C., on occasion when the Athenian state sent the sacred deputation called the Pythias to Delphi, the Marathonian Tetrapolis sent its own seperate envoys. Cleisthenes detached Probalinthos from the old Tetrapolis and allocated it to the more distant trittys of the tribe Pandionis. The district of Marathon had Peisistratid connections; the anomaly surely reveals a desire to prevent the old Tetrapolis from retaining political significance."

Super detailed, right? Although all this convoluted stuff might explain why I'm one of the few people crazy enough to take on this time period in Athenian history. There's a LOT going on!

In short, A History of The Greek City States 700-338 B.C. is full of maps, illustrations, notes and interesting ideas. If you can find it or order it online, it's a good one to have in your collection (at least if you love ridiculous amounts of detail like me).

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Lightning Thief (Full Review)

Percy Jackson & The Olympians is not really for adults. It's a tween adventure series meant to be read by 6th graders just starting to learn about Ancient Greece and Rome. Still, that didn't stop me from picking the first book up at Borders yesterday, and I have to say that I found The Lightning Thief to be a quick and entertaining read.

The basic premise of the story is this: Percy Jackson is an somewhat ordinary if troubled kid from New York who finds himself in the middle of a war between the gods. It turns out that Percy (Perseus) is the son of Poseidon and is suspected of stealing Zeus' master lightning bolt, which allows any god that posseses it to rule over all of Olympus. Of course the poor kid has no idea what's going on (or even who his father is) until every imaginable monster from Greek mythology comes after him and he's forced to go on a quest to clear his name. Tagging along for the ride is Annabeth, daugher of Athena, and a satyr named Grover. They have only until the summer solstice to find the missing bolt and return it to Zeus, otherwise a war between the gods will commence, and the world will be destroyed.

What I really love about this series is the idea that the Greek Pantheon not only existed in ancient times but still exists today; as long as Western Civilization lives on, so do The Olympians. Author Rick Riordan doesn't just have them sitting around Olympus wearing chitons and togas either; the Olympians are active around different cities in America and have modernized themselves: Dionysus wears a Hawaiian shirt, Ares rides a motorcycle, Charon likes Italian suits and Medusa owns a shop that (naturally) sells stone statues. This unique twist makes for some great reading, and the action is fast and furious as various monsters pop up (always in interesting disguises) in an attempt to prevent Percy from completing his quest.

I only have a couple of complaints about this book. One is that Annabeth is said to be the daughter of Athena. Anyone worth their weight in Greek mythology knows that Athena is a virgin (along with Hestia and Artemis). Another is that the kids can't seem to learn their lessons fast enough when it comes to monsters. They keep ignoring their instincts and doing things that get them into trouble. I'm aware that it's a plot device, but sometimes I have to shake my head at the lack of common sense these kids sometimes show.

Speaking of learning lessons, I DO like how Rick Riordan explains learning disabilities like dyslexia and ADHD, both of which Percy has. Rather than them being something that kids should be ashamed of, they are something magical. For Percy, dyslexia is a result of his brain being hard-wired for Ancient Greek instead of English, and his ADHD is explained as a battlefield reflex, one that will save him in his fight against powerful monsters. I think that sends a really positive message to children: ADHD and dyslexia are not disabilities that you should be ashamed of. They do NOT make you stupid in any way, shape or form.

The Lightning Thief is not a long read; it's 375 pages of big print and short chapters, each full of adventure and starring a likable young hero who is able to overcome all manner of adversity in order to save the world. I managed to get through the entire book in a day, and am thinking about getting the next book in the series soon. So if you like Greek history and mythology, I highly recommend The Lightning Thief. :)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Themistocles Update.

Last night I managed to type out over 3,000 words for my novel. I'm proud of this accomplishment because it's been so long since I've been hit by the Muses like this. The chapter involves a sneaky Themistocles, a clever Mnesiphilus and a very crafty Cleisthenes. At some point I might post this one. We'll see!

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Greekless in Seattle

First, I have to apologize for not updating my blog in awhile. I've been busy with my job, as well as some other stuff. Still, that doesn't mean I haven't been working on my Themistocles novel. In fact, I've started to carefully reconstruct it using an Excel worksheet, and I have to say this method of outlining has been really successful so far! I'll be sure to blog about it later.

In the meantime, my job took me to Seattle for a gaming even called PAX, where I was a speaker at the IGN Girlfight panel. If you don't know what it is, Girlfight is the name of a podcast on IGN featuring me and four other women talking about video games and any relevant topic pertaining to them. It's a far cry from Ancient Greece (well, unless you count games like God of War and Kid Icarus), and I didn't expect to see anything that would inspire ideas for my novel. How wrong I was!

I arrived in Seattle Friday afternoon, and was welcomed not by blustering winds and showering rain, but by a flawless blue sky that arched elegantly above lush green boulevards and the most pristine city streets I’ve ever seen. So, I decided to take advantage of the great weather and play tourist, visiting everything from the Space Needle to the famous Pike Street Fish Market. I even saw the original Starbucks...I think. The chain is so ubiquitous that I couldn't even tell which coffee shop was the original--there are two old-school stores right down the street from each other!

But what really surprised me was the Seattle Art Museum. It's home to mostly modern art, which to be honest doesn't appeal to me. I mean, I too can paint a canvas blue and call it something exotic, like Tears of a Whale or Mermaid Eyes. Luckily the museum also features wings dedicated to more traditional art pieces, including artifacts from Ancient Greece, Persia and Egypt. Naturally since I'm a lover of history, I took in every detail of every vile, vase and votive offering with relish. I was especially surprised to see a small portion of the palace wall from Persapolis, featuring a servant carrying a wine skin to King Darius. And as always I was amazed at how well intact all the Greek pottery was, despite being thousands of years old.

So, Greekless in Seattle? I expected to be, considering I was attending a video game event. But happily I was able to see some rare pieces from Ancient Greece, and that has inspired me to get going on my novel!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Marathon: "Nike" (Just Do It)

Close to 2500 years ago, a small army of Athenian Greeks and their plucky Plataian allies took a bold stand against an invading army. It was at a place called Marathon that the outnumbered Hellenes achieved total victory against the might Persian Empire. This victory is still known today by almost everyone, thanks to a young runner named Philippides who practically flew the 26 mile distance between Marathon and Athens to report the stunning win. Once he arrived in the city, Philippides used the last of his strength to shout "NIKE!" (victory) and immediately dropped dead. The modern Marathon race is in his honor.

Writing a book about the Battle of Marathon is an excellent idea, and Professor Richard A. Billows is smart to release this book on the eve of the battle's 2500th anniversary. Unfortunately, Marathon: How One Battle Changed Western Civilization wasn't quite what I was hoping for. Rather than a detailed account of the battle with an array of new theories to offer, the entire first half of the book is simply a broad overview of Archaic Greece. That's great for those just starting to dip their toes into the world of ancient history, but for those of us who are a bit more advanced, it's kind of a let down.

To be fair, the author has some imaginative insights. He stresses what it was like to actually be there. The sights, the sounds (or lack there of), the smells; even the feel of what it must have been like to be a phalanx hoplite. When trying to capture a sense of the ancient experience for a modern audience, Billows smartly compares phalanx warfare not to modern warfare, but that "...It is rather the experience of being in a huge crowd that gives way to commotion: a demonstration crowd, perhaps, confronting a formation of police and surging to and fro under police baton charges, or the water canon, or charges mounted police." Professor Billows also offers a strong case for which route the Athenians took to return to Athens after the battle (some think a mountain pass and some think the main road; according to the author, it was probably both). Yet even with this insight I was disappointed there wasn't more.

Like many battles in history, most of the time spent at Marathon was a waiting game. The Greeks and Persians waited for days before anyone actually made a move. This gave the Athenians a lot of time to think. Not just about the Persians, but about their surroundings. What did the Ancient Greeks think when they saw the eerie marsh lights flickering above the swampy marshland that surrounded Marathon? What did the local sanctuary dedicated to Herakles possibly look like? Would the Greeks have made sacrifices at this sanctuary along with any other local shrines in the hopes of being granted victory in battle? What would it have been like to cut down local trees and use them as a barrier against a cavalry charge? Didn't the Persians SEE this happening? How long would it have taken? How many men could the Greeks afford to spare from patrol duties in order to finish the project? I would love answers to these types of questions.

That said, it's pretty apparent that this book isn't really aimed at more advanced students of Ancient Greek history. It's really a guide for those who might be curious about why a modern Olympic even is named after a long forgotten battle. Thus, I can't object to any book that teaches people history. :)

3.5/5 Stars

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Chrono Trigger: Good or Bad Historical Fiction?

I'm almost finished with the Marathon book, and hope to have a review up by the weekend, but in the meantime...

I love history. And I love historical fiction. AND I know that my Themistocles story is important to tell. I've felt that ever since I came across Berry Strauss' The Battle of Salamis five years ago. I've always wanted to read a book that really dove into the historical figure who made that battle happen. More to the point, I've always wanted to BE that person. Yet I keep getting stuck. Over and over and over again. Events happen quickly in Herodotus, and sometimes it's hard to get a handle on WHEN they happen. It makes my ficitonal autobiography all the harder to write. Yet I know that Themistocle is like Churchill: he would want to tell the tale himself, and he would want to tell the WHOLE story.

I've decided that in order to do just that, I'm going to have to go outside the box. Things are going to have to happen sooner. A LOT sooner. And sometimes out of historical sequence. The historian in me kicks and screams against this, but the author in me realizes that this is not only an easier way to write Themistocles' "autobiography", but it may also prove to be easier and more entertaining for the reader.

What say you, Gentle Readers? If Cleomenes' attack on Argos happened BEFORE Aristagoras arrived in Athens, would you be offended? If the events of the first Persian War took place in LESS than ten years, would you balk? Let me know in the comments section below!*

* Also 1,000 HP to the reader who gets the title reference. :)

Monday, August 09, 2010

My Birthday Party with Miltiades.

Today is my birthday, and although I spent most of the day recovering from a cold, I still think it's been a pretty cool start to this birthday year. On Friday I went out with my co-workers for an early b-day party, Saturday I got my hair done and then yesterday I went out with my family to one of my favorite SF restaurants before we headed to the bookstore. What books did I get for my birthday? History books, of course!

The first book is Richard A. Billows' Marathon: How One Battle Changed Western Civilization, and the other is Lost to The West by Lars Brown Worth. I'll hold off on my review of Marathon for now, but I will say that I'm really enjoying Lost to The West. I've never paid much attention to the Byzantine Empire, but it's actually quite an interesting subject. Lars Brownworth is a solid writer, and takes pains to make the convoluted history of the empire easy to understand. So if you've always wondered about the Eastern half of the Roman Empire, pick this book up. It's great!

Oh, and don't worry, Themistocles fans. I'll have another piece of my story up for you to read soon! :)

Monday, July 19, 2010

Xerxes: The Comic Book!

If you're a fan of 300 (the comic or the movie), you might be interested to know that Frank Miller is making another graphic novel, this time based on King Xerxes.

The new comic, which will come out in six installments starting next year, is based on the movie's fictional portrayal of Xerxes, played by Rodrigo Santaro. It will start ten years before the Battle of Thermopylae, opening with the Battle of Marathon (woot!) and following Xerxes' meteroic rise to power and his search for godhood. But what REALLY interests me is the news that one of the main characters will be none other than...THEMISTOCLES!

According to Frank Miller, Themistocles is..."[A] character who is the dead opposite of Leonidas in that Themistocles is a conniving, brilliant heroic figure. He was nicknamed the 'Subtle Serpant' and he always manages to do the exact right things that will resault in him benefiting greatly."

I'm stoked because my entire novel is told by Themistocles, who is out to prove his metis, that combination of quick thought and bold action. I feel like the more people who acknoledge his cleverness the better told his story will be.

Speaking of stories, I enjoyed both the comic book and the movie 300, and I am certainly lookning forward to this prequel. Maybe I should aim to have my book published by next year as a companion source? ;)

Friday, July 16, 2010

Writers In Pain.

Looks like I'm in good company:

What Took You So Long?

The thing is, I don't WANT to give up. Themistocles needs his story told. And I want to tell it. I just worry I'm not good enough...

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Archaic Athens: The Bluebeard Temple.

The Bluebeards of Bluebeard Temple.

When most people think of the Athenian Acropolis, they think of the Parthenon with its massive columns or the Erechtheum with its famous porch. But in Themistocles' time, these structures didn't exist. In fact, most of the structures you see on the Acropolis today are from the Periclean Age. This of course makes writing about Archaic Athens a bit tricky, but also fun. In some ways I feel like a fantasy author, introducing the reader to a whole new world they've never been to. One of the things I would like to introduce my readers to today is an ancient structure known as the Bluebeard Temple.

This temple was built in the Archaic period (800 BCE to 480 BCE) and was sacred to Athena Polieas, (Protectress of the City). It is refered to as the Bluebeard Temple because of the pedimental three-bodied man-serpant sculpture whose beards were painted a dark blue (other pediments of the temple may also have included snakes, lions and even a Gorgan) . It is not entirely certain exactly where the temple stood; the building was dismantled in the early 5th century BCE. None the less, there is enough evidence to signify that it played a significant part in Athenian religious and civil life.

In my novel, old, aristocratic families are known derisively as "Bluebeards." They resent change and look upon anyone outside of their elite group as upstarts. The "Bluebeards" especially resent younger, richer and more powerful families, namely the Peisistratid, the Alcmaeonid, and the Kiomoneioi. These three families will prove to be both beneficial and detrimental to the people of Athens during the early 5th century BCE, even after the tyranny of the Peisistratid is toppled. Beneficial because they create new laws and freedoms for the average citizens of Attica, detrimental because many in these families consider democracy temporary and no more than a means to an end. It will be up to Themistocles to ensure that Athens' fledgling democracy is not crushed under the boot of a new tyranny. It will prove to be a difficult battle, one Themistocles must win before the mighty Persian empire reaches the gates of the city...

Thursday, June 17, 2010

New Page Design & More.

As you can see, I decided to upgrade my blog.

The truth is it didn't look all that exciting and I felt it needed to be refreshed. I admit I'm not thrilled with the color of the font, but otherwise I'm pretty happy with the new layout (I chose the ocean because of course it makes me think of Themistocles' and his fleet of triremes).

Now that I've changed the look of my blog, I have a question for you:

What can I do to make the blog more interesting?

What questions do you have about Themistocles or the time he lived in? What do you want to know about Triremes, Archaic Athens or any other related topic? I can't really post about Classical Athens because in Themistocles' time many of the things and people you associate with it (the Parthenon, Aristotle, Socrates, etc.) don't exist yet. Thus it makes Archaic Athens a tricky time to write about, but the upside is that not many people have touched upon it. And there's still lots of things to cover. Here's a quick list of potential topics (and things that incidentally appear in my novel):

1) Marathon. Not just the battle but the actual area and why it was so important.

2) Rhamnous. The fort north of Marathon functioned both as a small port and as a fortress (it's also home to the temples of Nemesis and Themis).

3) The Archaic Acropolis. Before the Parthenon there were smaller more ancient temples with an interesting mix of gods and heroes worshipped there.

4) Athenian Class System. Before Cleisthenes' reforms there were form distinct classes of Athenians created by Solon.

5) Ancient Agora. Before Cimon planted trees there and it was surrounded by stoas and philosophers the Agora was a different place.

6) The Demes of Attica. Attica was divided up into different districts; even Athens had its own demes. Who lived where and why might be an interesting topic (as well as what each deme thought of its neighbors).

7) Powerful Families. Before democracy took hold of Athens, it was ruled by various kings, oligarchies, and even tyrants. By Themistocles' time there was a small handful of families who wielded power: the Peistratid family, the Alcmaeonid family and the Kimoneioi family.

8) The Laws of Athens. From Draco to Solon and even Cleisthenes the laws in Athens frequently changed in an effort to make things more equal for the common citizen.

9) Women in Archaic Times. How they differed from their Classical counterparts.

10) Foreigners and Slaves. What rights they had (or rather didn't have) and how they were perceived.

If you read this blog please feel free to suggest what you'd like to see on it in the future. I'd love to hear from you!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Aeschylus, Themistocles & The Persians

In 472 BCE, the Athenian playwright Aeschylus wrote his earliest surviving play, The Persians. It was produced eight years after the Battle of Salamis and is considered a valentine to the heroes who fought in that epic naval encounter. The Persians is the first reference history has to the battle, and it may also be the first reference to Themistocles and his cleverness.

In the play, a Persian messenger relays the disastrous events of Salamis to the royal court in Susa. When Queen Atossa (King Xerxes' mother) asks how the battle started, the messenger's answer is rather odd: "A Hellene from the Athenian army came and told your son Xerxes this tale: that once the shades of night set in, the Hellenes would not stay, but leap on board and by whatever secret route offered escape, row for their lives." This incident is also mentioned in Book 8 of Herodotus' Histories, and is tied to Themistocles: "Themistocles...sent a man by boat to the camp of the Medes (Persians) with precise instructions as to what he should say." The man was identified as Themistocles' servant Siccinus, who told the Persian king that "…The Hellenes are utterly terrified and are planning to flee, and that you now have the opportunity to perform the most glorious of all feats if you do not stand by and watch them escape." Predictably, Xerxes ordered his admirals to surround Salamis with their ships, forcing a showdown between the two sides the next morning. The Greeks, thanks to Themistocles' knowledge of the windy and narrow straight between Salamis and Attica, soundly defeated the Persian fleet. It is this amazing victory that Aeschylus pays tribute to.

Oddly enough, the play was produced around the time Themistocles was ostracized from Athens. You would think that a play praising the Battle of Salamis would make people a little more grateful for his services, but instead they not only ostracized Themistocles, they even put a bounty on his head for supposedly working with a Persian agent! Thus the Hero of Salamis was forced to flee for his life, first west and then east, until he finally ended up in Persian territory where he eventually died. It is a strange end to one of Athens' greatest men.

None the less, his legacy lives on in various sources, including The Persians. It's even tempting to think that Aeschylus may have written the play as a reminder of Themistocles' tactical genius, perhaps in the hope that the people would vote not to ostracize the man responsible for winning Athens its freedom...

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Themistocles & The Trireme

In this scene, a young Themistocles has wandered away from his family and makes his way to the harbor of Pherelon, where he meets Mnesiphilus and Dionysus of Phocea, men who will have a huge impact on him later in the story. Themistocles has just boarded Dionysus' trireme The Siren and is allowed to tour the ship. This particular section is crucial because it introduces both Themistocles and the reader to the vastly important trireme, the war vessel that would be the deciding factor in the Battle of Salamis in 480 BCE. Enjoy!

I wandered the deck from one end to the other, inspecting everything I saw. I sat on the captain's chair, inspected each spoke of the steering wheel, attempted to row the large pair of oars alongside it (they were too big and kept going in different directions), puzzled over the two strange platforms attached to the sides of the ship and marveled at the bronze ram and it's three tiered edges. I made my way down beneath the deck, wrinkling my nose as the pungent smell of pine grew heavy in the air. Early morning light streamed in through the open spaces near the rowers' benches, allowing me to take note of a large pile of stones sitting on the ship's bottom and a series of taunt ropes that stretched from one end of the haul to the other. I poked around the area where the rowing oars and lattices were kept and made a note of everything I liked, as well as things that I felt could be improved. Satisfied I had seen all there was to see, I made my way back onto the deck.

When I returned the men were by the captain's chair in serious discussion. Mnes said something I did not catch, and the Phocean snorted contemptuously. “No offense to you Citizen, but this land of yours is nothing but rocks, cliffs, goats, grapes and figs. There is no gold and little silver. There is no abundance of mullosks for casting dye, no exotic animals or flowers or spices, and no room for palaces and parks. No, I wouldn’t worry about the Medes coming here. It is said the Great King casts his eye north towards Scythia, where the threat to his kingdom’s border is very real.”

“My inspection is finished,” I interrupted, walking over to them. Dionysius chuckled down at me and patted the wooden chair next to him. “Have a seat, Themistocles, and tell us what you think of my ship. Does she meet with your approval?” I scooted onto the solid pine, my feet dangling a good way above the deck. I was a bit nervous. I did not want to insult the captain, but…finally, I took a deep breath and began my report.

“I think I like it. But I noticed it has some things that are wrong with it.” The captain raised an eyebrow. “Wrong?” I ticked off the numerous errors with my fingers. “Well, I saw the oars were of different size. So are the windows. And the ship’s cheeks are all puffy and the eyes look mean. The mast is missing too.” That bothered me; how was I to escape the Sirens’ call if I had no way to be tied to the ship? “Oh. And there are ropes and rocks on the bottom. That's silly. And I don’t like the smell. It smells like a pine tree. I want my ship to smell like the sea.” Dionysius began to laugh but I was not finished. “ And the ram looks strange. It has three beaks, like a funny goose. And those two big oars near the wheel don’t need to be there. And why is this chair at the back and not the front?” “Sharp as a Scythian razor, this one is!” the captain chortled and bent down to ruffle my hair. Mnes merely frowned. “You don’t miss much, do you Themistocles?” “The trireme is broken,” I insisted. Dionysius shook his head. “Actually, the ship is in perfect condition, Navarch. All those things are supposed to be the way they are." He gestured around the ship as he explained.

"You see, the two big oars are to help steer, and the captain’s chair allows allows you to see the whole length of the ship and what the men are doing. You have to keep an eye on them.” That was true; Odysseus had very much to restrain his own men. “ The ram has three levels in order to do the most damage to another ship by cutting through its hull, and it helps the prow slice through the waves so water doesn’t get inside the ship. The port holes and oars are different sizes because the ship is not the same size and length from stem to stern nor are the rowers on the same level. See how it narrows at the ends? The oars must be longer there to reach the water. ” “Oh.” “The ship is very light—you need only a hundred or so men to carry it up and down the shore, but it is vulnerable in a storm, so the ropes are there to hold the ship together nice and tight. Otherwise the waves will break it apart." "Like Odysseus' ship when Poseidon sent a big storm," I concluded. "Exactly. Now, the eyes are important because they look for safe passage upon the waves, and in war they are meant to frighten the enemy. The cheeks are actually the outer part of the trireme where the men on top row. As for the mast and sails, they are onshore getting repairs. We were hit by a sudden storm not long ago. But know this, Navarch: in battle we leave them on the beach because a mast and sail are useless in a fight unless you plan to run away. Only cowards take their main sail into a battle.” I nodded. That made sense. “As for the smell, that is pine pitch. It helps keep water and ship worms out." I blinked. "Worms?" "Strange to hear I know. Yet it's true. Worms can eat through the wood and cause terrible damage to the ship. At any rate Navarch, take care of her and The Siren will serve for years to come.” I was pleased to hear it.

“I want to buy your ship. I have ten obols. You can have eight." The adults hooted at that. I scowled, sensing they were mocking me. "A trireme costs far more than that, I'm afraid," Dionysius told me between laughs. "Besides, you still need to become navarch. You are not quite in command yet." "How can I become a Navarch then?” Mnes answered that one.

"You must become a great military man and a great man of the polis. A man of many good words and a knack for leadership.” “And anyone can do this?” “It depends on your status as a citizen, Themistocles,” Mnes said slowly, eyeing my hair. “Do you know your class?” “My class? “Is your father a knight? A noble? Can you name your tribe?” “The Leontid.” Mnes brightened. “Ah. Well then. It’s possible you can become a great man. The Leontid are an ancient tribe as I recall, if no longer powerful. Even if money is a problem a good marriage can solve that. By the way, how old are you now, Themistocles?” “Seven.” “Then you are just starting your education?” “I know how to spell my name.” Indeed I did—just the other day I had scratched out the name Exekias on a vase and wrote my own. For reasons I did not understand my step-mother had been furious. Mnes tapped a finger against his lips, peering at me carefully. Finally he nodded. “Would you like to learn how to be a good speaker? So that one day you can lead men and maybe one day be a Navarch?” “And have my own ship?” “If you wish.” "And I can start learning now?" Mnes laughed. "Well, first you need to ask your father for permission. I dare say that will take some persuasion as sophists are not always a popular group." "But you could convince him, right?"

"That is the nature of what I do. To speak wise words and convince men to listen to them. Come along, then. You shall have your first lesson of the day: how to open up men's minds when they are closed."

*This is actually an older draft of this particular chapter. It has since been re-edited.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Where did Themistocles go?

My apologies for neglecting my blog. I'm busy with work, outside projects and playing an addictive video game called Harvest Moon: Tree of Tranquility (don't ask). But don't worry! I've also been gearing up to share another part of my Themistocles novel with you. In it a young Themis is introduced to the trireme, the warship that will help him win the Battle of Salamis in 480 BCE. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

I did it!

No, I haven't finished editing my Themistocles novel (although it's starting to come together a little better). I did however reach my goal of owning over 100 books about Ancient Greece and Persia!

I plan to revise my book list from 2007 (which hovered around 50) and also do a top ten of my favorite titles. Some of my favorite purchases in the past 3 years include The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times, The Role of the Physical Environment in Ancient Greek Seafaring, The Colors of Clay and The Ancient Mariners. Look for more soon!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Mark Noce Interview

My next interview is with Mark Noce, whom I met at the San Francisco Writer's Conference this past February. We were both standing in line waiting to see agents when we struck up a conversation about....history! Mark is a big Civil War fan and has finished his first novel The Long Defeat. I was lucky enough to get a sneak peak at it and I have to say it's amazingly written. That's why I decided he would be the next person to be interviewed for my blog.

Please be sure to visit Mark's blog and take a look at his writing. It's fantastic!

1) Who are you (Intro)

I’m Mark Noce. I work as a Technical Writer at Google by day and as a novelist by night. I write mostly historical fiction, although I do write in other genres for fun, and I currently have several literary agents interested in a novel I’ve written set during the American Civil War entitled The Long Defeat. To learn more, checkout my blog here.

2) Tell us about your book THE LONG DEFEAT.

At the height of the American Civil War, the destinies of two men are set on a collision course when they and their comrades meet under a flag of truce, only to later find themselves facing one another again on opposing sides of the battlefield. The Long Defeat chronicles the personal stories of a Northern soldier, William S. Book, and a Southern Confederate, Nathaniel Saxon. William S. Book of Boston embodies the Northern man of industry and progressiveness; Nathaniel Saxon of New Orleans represents the Southern soldier of culture and tradition. The novel revolves around these two diametrically opposed protagonists and several of their fellow comrades-in-arms who convey their thoughts and fears in letters written to mothers, wives, and other women back home. Each chapter is written in a third-person objective style and concludes with a letter written by one of the primary characters in the novel. Written from epistolary perspectives, these men describe hard marches, severe hunger, brutal battles, even more brutal hospitals, prisoner exchanges, and even death. In addition to this novel being a historical fiction, I have also gone to great lengths to ensure the authenticity and historical accuracy of the campaigns and armies portrayed in The Long Defeat. For those of you who haven’t had a chance yet to read an excerpt of my book, just give me a ping and I’ll email you a copy.

3) How did you come up with the title of your book?

Oddly enough, my title has a The Lord of the Rings origin. I’ve always liked Tolkien’s concept of “the long defeat” whereby even those supposedly victorious in a struggle still end up ultimately defeated by the destructiveness of war and conflict. In the end, I really like the title because it gives a sense of how in war, in a civil war in particular, both sides are defeated. I also found numerous references throughout Civil War regimental journals of soldiers who spoke vividly on this recurring theme of defeat even in the midst of victory.

4) What is it about the Civil War that fascinates you?

I’ve been a big civil war buff since childhood. As the saying goes, when the civil war bug bites you at that young an age…its terminal. I’ve been to the battlefields, watched movies, and read books on the subject for as long as I can remember. I think what really hooked me was how personal the Civil War comes across even after almost 150 years. People went to war with their brothers, cousins, friends, and neighbors together, in the same regiments. In the border states, sometimes against their own family and neighbors. It was before the mechanized age, before planes and nukes, so the men had to face each other down rifle barrels paced only a few hundred yards apart. You saw the man shooting at you and the man you tried to shoot back. Well, sometimes anyway. Even the causes for the war were very personal. You went because your own farms and fields would soon be invaded by opposing armies, because your livelihood did or didn’t depend upon slaves, because you didn’t want others to call you a coward. It was a very emotional conflict and I think that still resonates in American society to this day.

5) Have you visited any of the places that appear in your book?

Just about all of them. I’ve spent time in Boston, New Orleans, Washington D.C., and battlefields across Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. I like to revisit places in different season too, in order to get a different feel for a place. My first trip to Gettysburg as a kid is probably one of my most memorable, and many of the places I visited then eventually featured in my novel years later.

6) Who is your favorite historical figure during this period?

My interest is usually in the unsung, social history of every day people. My main character, William S. Book, is actually inspired by the real life story of a Massachusetts man named Benjamin F. Cook, from Gloucester who served with the 12th Massachusetts and later wrote a regimental history describing his experiences. But I suppose if I had to pick someone famous from the era, I’d say probably generals like Grant and Chamberlain from the North and Lee and Jackson from the South, simply because their actions and decisions had such widespread effects upon not only the men at the front, but people’s perception of the war back home.

7) What is your favorite Civil War book/movie/game?

Best civil war book is tough, for me it’s a three-way tie between The Red Badge of Courage, Gods and Generals, and of course, The Killer Angels. For movies, I certainly like Gettysburg, Glory, and Cold Mountain. As far as games go, I’m not sure, but I am an active civil war reenactor, so if living history counts as a game, then reenacting is where it’s at.

8) What other moments in history are you interested in writing about?

Tons! The American colonial period, Slavery and Piracy in the Caribbean, Italian Renaissance, French Resistance during WWII, ancient Polynesia, the Viking age, Medieval Japan, Celtic cultures in Wales and Ireland, Upper and Lower Egypt, and aboriginal Australia just to name a few.

9) Any WIPs you can tell us about?

I’m blogging chapters about an online Sci Fi story for fun right now. With regards to historical fiction, however, I’m looking into more American topics at the moment, probably either frontier life in the 1700s or maybe even more maritime activities set earlier. It just depends where my imagination takes me!

10) Anything you'd like to mention to all the readers out there?

If you’d like to learn more or would like to share your own writing/reading endeavors with me just give me a ping. I always like to meet new people and hear their thoughts. You can usually find me at my blog here. I like to include input from my followers into my writing and also sometimes conduct fun contests online too. Just drop on by. Thanks for reading!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Did the Greeks just lose their freedom again?

I was thinking about returning to Greece this year, but it looks like that's not going to happen. Greece is a real mess. And it just got worse:

Does Greece Have a Tea Party?

I hope no violence erupts from this, and I also hope that Greece cleans up its act quickly so the people can get back what is rightfully theirs. For them to lose part of their sovereignty is sad. After all, Greece is the country that inspired us to believe in sovereignty in the first place.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Gary Corby Interview

Welcome Gentle Readers to my next author interview. My second victim--er, interviewee, is the talented Mr. Gary Corby!

Like Scott Oden and yours truly, Gary loves Ancient Greece. His novel THE PERICLES COMMISION is due out in October 2010, and I encourage everyone to pre-order it on Amazon or B&N. Now on to the show!

1 ) Who are you?

I'm a writer of historical mysteries. But I didn't start that way. I began with a degree in pure mathematics and worked as a software developer for twenty years, the final fourteen at a small software shop called Microsoft. I watched software development change from being a fun cottage industry to a boring big business, just like every other boring big business. So I decided I'd try my hand in a completely different cottage industry: writing novels. Having 6,000 books in the house and a deep love of history probably helped with that decision. I began writing what became The Pericles Commission. In the meantime I won the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Prize for historical mystery for a short story called THE PASION CONTRACT. Then the book sold to St Martin's Press, and here I am, an author.

2) Tell us a little bit about your novel, THE PERICLES COMMISSION.

THE PERICLES COMMISSION is the first of a series starring Nicolaos, the elder brother of Socrates. Nicolaos walks the mean streets of Ancient Athens, keeping the city safe from enemies both domestic and foreign. It's not only a series of fun murder mysteries, but also an easy introduction to the moment when Athens founded western civilisation. Thus I get to combine three of the things I enjoy most: writing humour, solving puzzles, and ancient history.

3) What fascinates you the most about Ancient Greece? How did you first get interested in the subject?

I've read ancient history for fun since I was a teenager. I'd read Herodotus, Thucydides, Tacitus, Caesar et al. well before I was 18, and I have an excellent memory (he says modestly).

Ancient Greece particularly attracted me because it was such an exciting time. The founding of modern civilization can hardly be anything other than fascinating. At the opening of The Pericles Commission it is 461BC. In that year: The world's first democracy was founded. A sovereign state with one man one vote, free speech for every citizen, written laws and equality before the law, with open courts and trial by jury. Sounds very modern, doesn't it? Drama was being invented. Aeschylus was writing his plays; two young men called Sophocles and Euripides were beginning to write their own. Anaxagoras was developing a theory of matter in which everything is made of infinitesimal particles. It was the beginning of atomic theory! Herodotus was traveling the world, writing his book and in the process founding both history and anthropology. A young kid called Socrates was outside somewhere, playing in the street. And on the island of Kos, a baby called Hippocrates was born to a doctor and his wife. My hero Nicolaos and heroine Diotima begin their career right at the start of the 50 golden years of Athens. If they survive, they'll live to see the founding of western civilization.

4) Your novel has a murder mystery slant to it. Are you interested in that genre?

Oh yes! If I weren't writing historical mysteries I'd be writing SF, the type in which the heroes have to solve some puzzle. Puzzle stories of any sort I love, and I think for most people, wanting to know the solution to a puzzle moves along in the plot.

5) The cover of your novel is great! Who did that and how did you find them?

The series was bought by a major publishing house: St Martin's Press, which is part of Macmillan. My good friends at St Martin's do all the outside bits of the book (the art director is David Rotstein). I'm responsible for the words on the inside. That's how a standard publishing contract works. (Those of you writing a book take note...there's no point thinking about covers because your publisher will handle that.) So weird as this may sound, I don't know who created that cover! I've asked for the name of the artist so I can write him or her a nice thank you note.

6) Speaking of Ancient Greece, who is your favorite historical figure from that period?

There are too many to choose from! Some of them very eccentric characters indeed. I'll mention Callias, who was the richest man in Athens, owned a rent-a-slave business and a silver mine, fought at the Battle of Marathon in the robes of a priest, and was a diplomat par excellence. He was an outspoken democrat. He fell madly in love with the sister of Kimon and married for love, unusual in those days. In an age when girl-children were property, he asked his daughters who they wanted to marry and then bought their husbands of choice with massive dowries. In many ways an amazingly modern man, if you don't count the rent-a-slave business. I use him as a minor character in the first two books.

7) What's your favorite book/movie/game on Ancient Greece?

Favourite movie is the old Jason and the Argonauts with the fighting skeletons done using stop motion photography. It's far better than any recent Hollywood movie. I don't generally play computer games. There's a boardgame called Attika which is interesting. I've always thought it would be fun to create my own boardgame of strategy based on the struggle of the Greek city states. I doubt I'll ever find the time though. Favourite book series must be Mary Renault's tales of Ancient Greece. Highly recommended.

8) Besides Ancient Greece, what time in history do you enjoy reading/writing about?

I read across pretty much every period. I know European history in general fairly well, and particularly military history and the history of science. After Ancient Greece my next best is World War 2.

9) Any future WIP you can talk about?

The first book deals with the beginning of democracy. The second book in the series visits a friend of yours: Themistocles, at the time he's in exile in Magnesia. I called the working title The Magnesia Sanction, but that is guaranteed to change. Apparently it reminds Americans of something I'd never heard of called milk of magnesia, which has to do with bowel movements. As soon as I heard about milk of magnesia I was tempted to go back and write in a glass of milk. The third book I'm writing now. It's set at the Olympics of 460BC, where one of the contestants is going to have an unfortunate experience. I'll note in passing the Olympics of 460 is one of only 14 to have included a donkey race.

10) When can we expect THE PERICLES COMMISSION to come out?

October 12 is the on sale date. As I write, you can pre-order it this minute from Barnes & Noble, Borders and Amazon, with other book stores coming online over the next few weeks. It's a huge kick watching your first book appear!

I'll be at the mystery fan conference Bouchercon in San Francisco in mid-October. Thereafter I'll be touring some bookstores around the US. I'd love to meet all the kind people who've been following my adventures, commenting on my blog or emailing me, so if you can make it do please come along to one of the events. I'll post the events list on my web site as they're booked.

Monday, April 12, 2010

How to look like a marble Kore.

I've always loved the hairstyles of Ancient Greek women. Complex, feminine and flattering, these elaborate fashion statements have always captured my imagination. It turns out I'm not the only one who loves them!

The Caryatid Hairstyling Project at Fairfield University tested the possibility of replicating the hairstyles and braiding techniques of the marble Caryatids (maidens) from the South Porch of the Erechtheion on the Athenian Acropolis. The project was led by Dr. Katherine Schwab, associate professor of art history at Fairfield University. She chose six lovely students as her test subjects, and the results are pretty fantastic!

For some, fashion and hair may seem a frivolous subject, but to me it's an important part of human history. Many styles start out as a point of necessity and quickly become a characteristic of an entire culture (like kohl eye-liner in Egypt).

If you're interested, then you might also want to purchase the DVD that shows you the entire process of completing the complicated hair of the lovely marble maidens of the Acropolis.

*Next author interview is coming up!

Monday, April 05, 2010

Scott Oden Interview

Guess what, everyone? I have a real treat for you! All this month I will be doing a series of interviews with historical fiction authors, starting with one of my favorites...Scott Oden!

Scott is the author of several books, including Men of Bronze, Memnon and Lion of Cairo. He graciously agreed to do this interview at the last minute, and his answers are really fantastic. I appreciate the time and effort he put into each question. It just proves how awesome he is as a professional and as a person.

Please make sure to comment below and let Scott and I know what you think!

Author Interview #1: Scott Oden

1) Who are you?

I am Scott, son of Arthur, of the tribe of Oden and the deme of Somerville (to use the ancient Greek format); by trade, I am a writer of historical fiction and historical sword-and-sorcery – gritty fantasy set in the historical past. I’m also a rabid video gamer and a long-time – nigh upon thirty years – player of pen and paper role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons.

2) Your latest novel The Lion of Cairo is going through the editing process. How close are we to seeing it on bookshelves?

As I write this, The Lion of Cairo should hit the shelves in time for Christmas, 2010. I’m told it will likely come out sooner in the UK, perhaps as early as August.

3) Your current WIP Serpent of Hellas returns readers to Ancient Greece, this time the early 5th century. What is it about this time period that fascinates you?*

The 5th century BC represents the first time in Western history that we have recorded evidence for a “Greatest Generation.” The Athenians, spearheaded by Themistokles, did some amazing things, things that are often overshadowed by the Spartan sacrifice at Thermopylae. Not to lessen the example of Leonidas and his Three Hundred, but it’s my position that the allies of Sparta sacrificed far more than the Spartans did, and the Athenians sacrificed most of all. Honestly, it was expected for a Spartan to die in battle – they prepared for it from birth. But it went wholly against Athenian nature, indeed the grain of any of the Greek poleis, to abandon their beloved city to sack and ruin, to evacuate their women and children to an allied city, and then to have men of rank put aside their class distinctions and pull an oar like the common folk. THAT took courage. And that they won against impossible odds makes it even better.

4) What other time periods would you like to write about? Civil War? WWII? Ancient Rome?

I’m pretty sure I have a Musketeer novel in me, an honest look at the life of Charles de Batz-Castelmore d’Artagnan. I like time periods or personalities that haven’t received a great deal of coverage from other writers, eras with a surfeit of blood and thunder. So, maybe something about the Vandals in North Africa or the very Conan-esque rise to power of Baibars I.

5) You also have a love of all things Orcs. Any chance we’ll being seeing an Orc novel or two in the future?

Definitely. I’m working on one that should come out after the Emir of the Knife trilogy (THE LION OF CAIRO and its sequels). I don’t really have a title for it yet, but it takes the Orcs as envisaged by Tolkien and works them into the fabric of Norse myth. It’s also going to be something of a quest, but from the Orcs point-of-view.

6) What are you currently reading?

I just finished Roger Crowley’s excellent 1453: The Holy War For CONSTANTINOPLE and now I’m about to pick up The Club Dumas by Arturo PĂ©rez-Reverte.

7) What’s your favorite historical novel? Movie? Game?

Favorite novel is Steven Pressfield’s GATES OF FIRE, followed closely by Mary Renault’s THE PRAISE SINGER. My favorite historical movie is not a movie at all, but a cable series: HBO’s ROME; as far as games go, I’ve not played a really good historical video game. I do like Mongoose Publishing’s CONAN RPG, and I tend to adapt the rules to historical settings . . . it makes an awesome engine for campaigns set during the Crusades.

8) Who is your favorite historical figure?

Memnon of Rhodes. I mean, this was the man who could have stopped Alexander the Great in his tracks, but for the xenophobia of the Persians. Had he lived earlier, during the Persian Wars, perhaps, then no doubt he would have been reckoned among the great men of history; because he lived in Alexander’s shadow, though, he is remembered as little more than a footnote.

9) If you could live in any time period, when would it be?

I have several, actually: Athens in the age of Pericles; Alexandria during the reign of Ptolemy II; Republican Rome; Cairo during the reign of Saladin; Venice at its zenith; 16th century Paris . . .

10) Anything you’d like to add to all the readers out there?

Just keep reading. And if you’re a writer, keep writing. Books are more than windows on the past . . . they’re mirrors, as well.
* Scott gets a million HP for mentioning my favorite historical character Themistoc/k/les!

Thursday, April 01, 2010

My Life in Ruins Review

Georgia (Nia Vardalos) is a former professor at Athens University who is forced to take a job as a tour guide. Since her passion is Ancient Greece, Georgia's itinerary always focuses on the ancient sites rather than modern ones. Unfortunately, one summer she gets stuck with a bunch of particularly clueless tourists more interested in cheap souvenirs and partying than the ancient ruins of Greece. Her attempts to educate them are futile until one tourist (played by Richard Dreyfus) suggests she make learning more "fun." Once Georgia loosens up a bit the tour becomes much more interesting and it ends with big smiles and dancing.

Truth be told this movie isn't very good. The jokes fall flat and although I appreciated Georgia's attempts to educate the masses, I'm not really sure they fully appreciated what they were seeing (Delphi seemed to be the only real exception). I also wasn't sure I liked the end message that it's better to skip the sites and go to the beach. Why Georgia didn't try to convince the group that history is pretty cool instead of tossing her itinerary out the window to please them is beyond me.

There are two saving graces in this movie: one is the handsome bus driver played by Alexis Georgoulis, and the other is a collection of stunning shots. The panoramic views of Delphi, Olympia and Athens made me nostalgic. I knew exactly where the group was when they toured the Agora, loved seeing the column drums again in Olympia, and miss that powerful presence one can only feel in Delphi (glad they mentioned that in the movie). I just wish that history wasn't portrayed as unbearably boring for most of the movie. I would rather go see a temple than go to the beach, thank you very much!

At any rate, if you like romantic fluff comedies and want to see some awesome sites, check out My Life in Ruins. Or better yet, just go to Greece.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A good sign of things to come?

I'm always on the lookout for anything new about Themistocles. Books, movies, TV shows, games, etc.

Well, guess what?

Today when I Googled "Themistocles" and "novel" blog came up first!!

Check it out!

I hope this means that more and more people are reading Ancient Musings (even if it's just to check out my God of War III review) and are taking an interest in my work.

More on my book coming soon!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

God of War III Thoughts

Let me start off by saying that God of War III is an impressive feat. The scale is huge, the music is epic, the graphics are amazing (with a few oddball exceptions), Kratos is as amoral (or rather as immoral) as ever, and the action is fast and furious.

God of War III doesn't change the series' winning formula so much as it tweaks it to make it an even more solid experience. Now the jump and roll commands are actually valuable. In fact, jumping and rolling were the two things that saved me in many a boss fight. I also liked the ability to utilize enemies as weapons. This added another element of strategy that kept things fresh and interesting.

If there is any weak spot in God of War III, it might belong to the story. It's pretty clear that the developers were trying to tie loose ends as fast as they could and ran out of time before they could really smooth out the details. That's not to say it's terrible. In fact some parts of the story are fantastic. It just feels a little rushed. I'm also scratching my head over the inconsistency in graphics. The character designs for this game are all over the place. Kratos looks amazing, as do Hephaestus and Hercules, but for some reason the character designs for Helios and Hermes are really lacking. The same thing goes for environments: some levels are breathtaking in scale and beauty, while others are bland and elementary looking. It's nothing too awful, but it is a bit jarring.

At any rate, despite a few issues, God of War III is a solid effort. If you had fun playing the other three GOW games, (and love Greek mythology as much as I do) there's no doubt you'll enjoy the final chapter in Kratos' story.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Themistocles Lesson #4.0 -- The Daric vs The Drachma

Money in the ancient world was still relatively new when Themistocles was born. Invented by the Lydians only 100 years previous, coins were made of gold, silver, a mix of gold and silver (electrum), and so forth. As money began to replace the bartering system in Greece, city-states began minting their own coins.
Each city-state had its own unique stamp. The Athenians minted coins with owls, the Aeginetans turtles, the Argives horses, and so forth. Only the Spartans stubbornly refused to use coins; they thought money invited greed and corruption. Thus the government forced the populace into austerity by only allowing them to exchange iron bars dipped in vinegar (the vinegar was added so the bars could not be melted down and made into something more valuable). The Ancient Greeks weren't the only ones with coins however...
The Persian Daric was one of the most valuable coins in the ancient world. It was issued by King Darius in the late 6th century BCE as a way to help stabilize his empire's monetary system. Darics were made of gold and were stamped with an archer king, perhaps originally a portrait of the Darius himself.

Below is a part of my novel will probably not make the final cut since it's not crucial to the story. It is however an interesting read for those of us who love ridiculous amounts of detail. :p ...
To the left of was a stall flanked by two unsmiling guards with pale skin and strangely curved swords. Beneath the purple-dyed canopy a merchant with dusky skin and flowing robes was waiting patiently for a customer. Curious I went over. The merchant gave me an indulgent smile when I asked where he was from. “Phoenicia,” he answered in a bright, chirping accent. I didn't know where that was. "A place far to the east," he explained when I asked him.
"Are your guards from there too?"
"No, they are from Scythia, which is far to the north."
"How did you find them then?"
"That is what it means to be a merchant, young Athenian. I travel all over the world and meet many people." I frowned at his empty stall front.
“If you're a merchant, then where are your things? What do you sell?”
“Money, actually."
"How can you sell money? ” He laughed.
“Ah, a good question. You see, every country uses different coin. What you can buy with Owls in Athens you can only buy in Eretria with Squids. Here. Let me show you.”
My attention was directed to a large cedar box. Inside, a cloth cradled a variety of shiny coins, each a slightly different size and color. The merchant picked up each one as he spoke. “Here is the winged horse Pegasus, the symbol of the hero Bellerophon and the pride of Argos. And this one has a turtle, the symbol of Aegina. This coin here is stamped with the Theban Shield--”
I pointed to a small, shimmering coin, slightly separated from the others. “What’s that one?”
“Ah. The Royal Archer! You have a good eye, my young friend. I believe you Hellenes call it a Daric.”
“Why is it nicer than the others?”
“Because it is of pure gold, a symbol of the Persian empire’s wealth and prosperity.”
“Could that coin me get to Ithaca?” I had no interest in Persia or Scythia or Phoenicia or any other strange place for that matter. I only wanted to see the home of Odysseus. The merchant gave another laugh.
“The Royal Archer can pay your way to Hyperbole if you like!” I didn't know where that was, but I decided it had to be much farther than Ithaca.
“I’ll take it,” I declared, putting the obals my father gave me for food on the table. I figured he wouldn't get too mad. The Phoenician's smile turned apologetic.
“Sorry, my young friend. That is not enough. You would have to exchange many, many coins for just one Daric. But why not keep these wonderful coins?” He held up one and pretended to inspect it carefully. “Ah. You see? An owl. A symbol of great wisdom. A wiseman would be wise indeed not to let his money fly away. Take your owls and keep them caged to let free for something very important.” He stacked my coins neatly and gave them back with a pat on my head. “May Fortune smile upon you.”
I sulked as I moved away, wondering if I would ever get to Ithaca...
*I apologize for the weird formatting. I tried to change some of it and I keep going in circles (?)

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Reminders of Greece

Currently I'm in Santa Barbara for a housewarming party/vacation. The weather's been great, and I just discovered that despite hardly ever touching a racket, I'm pretty firece at tennis!

What I really enjoy about Santa Barbara though is the beautiful mountains on one side and the ocean on the other. It reminds me of Greece, with its combination of soft sands and jagged ridges.

It's been nearly two years now since I went to Themistocles' homeland. I've thought about returning but this doesn't seem like the right time to go, especially with all the troubles they've been having there. Still, I would love to return and re-aquaint myself with the Acropolis of Athens, the powerful presence at Delphi and the majestic ruins of Olympia.

In the meantime I'll just have to make do by emersing myself in my novel. I've still got a lot of editing ahead of me, and I want to make sure the book gets done before summer.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

If Ancient Greece had Facebook...

The above title is inspired by this HILARIOUS post found on Susan Higgin's blog:

I encourage historical authors to do something like this for their work just for fun. I know I'm going to!

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Themistocles Lesson #3: Meet the brother!

According to Plutarch*, Themistocles had at least one brother. Supposedly his name was Agesilaos and he was a scout sent by the Athenians to spy on the Persians.

While it's difficult to imagine that Themistocles was an only child, many ancient authors put a lot of stress on his foreign blood. It may be that any siblings he had were not actually full kin. They were either related by blood through his father, or not related at all (step-siblings).

In my novel Themistocles does indeed have a step-brother, and a wicked one to boot! Here's a small sample from my novel introducing the Bully of Phrearrhioi.

The Bully of Phrearrhioi

The morning dawned warm and fragrant, as it always did in summer. But it was not the heavy scent of thyme wafting down the slopes of Mt. Hymettus that stole me from Sleep's embrace. It was a fierce kick directed at my face.

"Wake up, foreigner! Neocles wants to leave for the festival before it gets too hot." Rubbing my temple, I shrugged off my wool blanket and sat up. "Good morning, Sir Piggy," I yawned. That earned me another kick, harder this time and better aimed. For a moment I saw stars. "I told you. Don't call me that! I'm better than you are. I'm a citizen of Athens and you're just some stupid butter-eater! So you show me some respect." "I called you Sir**," I pointed out, making sure to put the bed between us as I climbed out of it. My step-brother glared at me through small, squinty eyes half-hidden in folds of fat. I was not family to him. I was merely some Thracian's get that he had to put up with because my father had married his mother.

"I don't know why you're going. Foreigners shouldn't be allowed to attend the Panathenaea. But then, maybe your father finally decided to sell you to a slaver in the Agora!" He squealed a laugh. I addressed him levelly as I attempted to smooth out the wrinkles from my favorite tunic, a square of faded green cloth with a blue border. I wore it everywhere, even to bed. "If my Da wanted to be rid of me he would have put me in a pot and left me out on the street like all the other babies nobody wants. Your parents tried that but you were too fat to fit." Agesilaos turned pink, only making him look more the pig. "I'll beat your ugly face in!" he hollered, shaking a hammy fist at me.

"Is everything all right, young Master?" Agesilaos' paidagogos appeared in the doorway, a look of concern on his face. At 80, Xenos was thin as a reed, as blind as the Fates and as old as Chronos. Agesialos speared him with a look. "Mind your business, you old fool! And where are my things? I told you to lay out my best cloak and sandals! My mother says I must look my best today. Oh. And get something for the butter-eater to wear, too. I don't want him embarrassing me with that UGLY tunic." "Alright, Ages. I shall do so as soon as I can." "Do it now!" Sir Piggy crossed the room and gave him a vicious swat. The old man yelped and scurried away. Agesilaos laughed. I glared at his back, dreaming of the day when I could smash his ugly snout in. That that was far away, though. I was seven to his twelve, and could not hope to best him in a contest of strength. And so I endured...

* Plutarch, Moralia.

** The word "sir" may strike readers as anachronistic, but there was indeed a sort of class system in Ancient Athens. Nobles were the top tier, the knights came next, then the middle class and finally the poor. Themistocles would have been ranked as middle class, and his step-brother --through his mother's side-- from the knights or noble class.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Themistocles Lesson #2 -- What's in a name?

Themistocles means "Glory of the Law." It's a fantastic name! It's also a rare one, and it makes me wonder why his father gave it to him. The answer might be found by looking at Neocles' own name.*


Neocles means "New Man." New to what? We can only speculate, but perhaps it has something to do with the period in which he was born.

If Themistocles was born around 525 BCE, then his father (assuming he got married and had children between 20 and 30) was born around 550 BCE. It was at this time that many poor Atticans were forced into a form of indentured servitude. A family struggling on a farm could not mortgatge their property for a loan. Instead, the farmer would have to offer himself and his family as security, providing some form of labor in lieu of repayment. If he failed to meet his obligations, he and his family could be sold into slavery.

This went on for a number of years, until a noble named Solon recognized the injustice of the sytem and wrote a series of reforms known as Seisachtheia that made it illegal for indebted families to be sold into slavery. If Neocles' parents were affected by these reforms, it is possible that they wanted to name their son "New Man" to symbolize a new and better era.

Yet despite his family's hopes, Neocles would still struggle under the nobility's yoke. The higher classes barred all but the top men of Athens from holding the most prestigious offices, and ignored the lower classes in the Asssembly. Neocles probably chaffed under these invisible shackles, and may have named his son Themistocles in the belief that would one day the child would bring justice to the people.


Themis was the Greek goddess of divine law and justice, representing the natural order of things. She was one of Uranus and Gaia's children and is one of the few Titans venerated by the Greeks. Anyone who had Themis in their name would be expected to fight for what was right. Themstocles would do just that, but his methods were more shrewd than fair. Perhaps Neocles would have been better off naming his son Metistocles instead.

Metis was the goddess of "magical cunning", and anyone who was of "bold thought and bold action" possessed her attributes. Themistocles was nothing but cunning. He would lie, cheat, steal bribe and bully his way to the top of Athen's fiercely competative political game, using his metis to get ahead. Although this would prove to be a good thing in the long run, the Athenians did not appreciate Themistocles' daring genius and would eventually ostrasize him after he helped them win the Persian Wars.

*Of course this is all highly speculative on my part. There is no way to know the reasons why Neocles and Themistocles had such unusual names.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Meghan's first writing samples!

After assurances by a few different people that I will not close any doors to publication should I show off bits and pieces of my writing online, I have decided to take the plunge and share a tiny bit of my novel with you. Enjoy!

When the world's largest empire threatens to invade his city-state, it is up to Themistocles to unite the factious people of Athens and save its fledgling democracy. To do so he will have to lie, cheat, steal, bribe and bully his way to the top of Athen's fiercly competative and fatal political game. Based on the real-life naval commander who led the Greeks to victory over the Persians 2,500 years ago, I, Themistocles recounts the life of this extraordinary man through his own words.


They say poison makes for a good death.

Oh, not the kind that leaves you clawing at your throat like hemlock, or the kind that leaves you with that...Sardonic smile. No. A good poison should be something quick and painless. That is why Bull's Blood is perfect.

Why poison? To escape the trap my enemies have set for me. To go to a place where they cannot follow. It is my last act of defiance against them, one more clever ruse to ensure my place in the pantheon of heroes. And what better way to do so than to die a hero's death? After all, poison is what took the lives of Heracles, Achilles, and Odysseus.

Yet it would be a shame for me to leave this world without recording the events of my life. Doesn't a hero deserve to have his tale sung to eager ears? I cannot rely on the goodwill of my enemies to do so, of course. It is up to me to tell the tale. And so before I cross the river Styx, here it is, the story of Themistocles, as remembered by the hero himself.