I’ve been honored and privileged to be featured on various blogs and websites, and I would love to share these experiences. Here they are:
N. Gemini Sasson, the author of The Bruce Trilogy, The Isabella Books, and The Faderville Novels, among others, asked me to give insight about one of my characters, who she envisioned as “the imperfect hero.” For this interview I instead chose Aridela rather than one of my male heroes. (I examine the imperfect hero, Menoetius, HERE.)
Today, author and guest blogger Rebecca Lochlann talks about about her Imperfect Heroine, Aridela, from her debut novel, The Year-God’s Daughter.
To view the YouTube book trailer, click here.
Description: For time beyond memory, Crete has sacrificed its king to ensure good harvests, ward off earthquakes, and please the Goddess. Men compete in brutal trials to win the title of Zagreus, the sacred bull-king, even though winning means they’ll die in a year.
Two brothers from predatory Mycenae set out to thwart the competition and their deaths as they search for exploitable weaknesses in this rich, coveted society.
Hindering their goal is the seductive and fearless Cretan princess, Aridela, an uncommon woman neither brother can resist, and ancient prophecies, which predict that any threat to her people will spark Goddess Athene’s terrible wrath in a calamity of unimaginable consequences.
I would like to explore my heroine rather than one of the heroes, for this reason: current books and movies seem wont to portray women as flawless, lacking even the perfectly normal “flaw” of not having as much physical strength as males. In Aridela, I wanted to create a protagonist who is strong, yes, but real and believable. I wanted to show her as she acquires her strength, rather than simply shoving her out there already formed, as if by magic.
Daughter to the powerful Queen of Crete, this ten-year-old has never known want or suffering. She has never experienced betrayal, humiliation, subterfuge, physical harm, or fear. She is indulged at every turn. Her upbringing has formed a girl who is over-confident, spoiled, and naive.
The people adore her, her mother dotes on her, and even the hard-nosed counselors are impressed by her. Like many of Crete’s citizens, Aridela reveres beauty and beautiful things. She doesn’t realize how shallow she is, because most around her are the same. The reader might be excused for thinking this young royal will grow up to be an insufferable, puerile woman. Naturally, I wanted more for her.
When Aridela meets and crushes on Menoetius, it’s easy to understand why. He’s gorgeous and charming, a seventeen-year-old foreigner with a delightful accent. What ten-year-old girl wouldn’t get starry-eyed over a guy like that? But he goes away, not understanding how his leaving makes her feel abandoned and crushes her immature dreams.
When Aridela is sixteen, warriors from the mainland converge upon Crete, determined to win the Games and become the next bull-king. Chrysaleon, the arrogant prince of Mycenae, introduces her to passion. Again, it’s easy to see what draws her: he’s a prince, he’s handsome, and his personality is breathtaking. It takes her awhile to realize the guard he’s brought with him is none other than her first love, Menoetius, but the passage of six years has profoundly changed him from the boy she knew. He is the first challenge Divine Athene sets in her path. How is she to deal with this angry, scarred, deeply wounded man? She has no experience with the kind of pain he’s suffered. Harpalycus, another mainland prince, is Aridela’s first exposure to humiliation, to cruelty, to a sense of her physical weakness. He and the other mainland competitors lay bare the encroaching danger of the world outside her sheltered island paradise.
And so… the Aridela my readers initially meet is not perfect. Not an idealized version of womanhood. She begins the long adventure I have plotted for her as I see a real-life princess of ancient times would likely be.
Aridela faces challenges that will either destroy her or incorporate the necessary components needed by all rulers from antiquity to the present: humility, caution, empathy, and compassion. Immortal Athene takes her chosen child into the blackest pit where life no longer holds value. From that place, Aridela will survive and recover, honed and wiser, or she become what her oppressors want: helpless, forgotten, and insignificant.
Either way, she will no longer be the joyous, carefree child who brazenly entered the ring and danced with a wild bull.
Thanks for sharing, Rebecca!
V.R. Christensen (author: Of Moths and Butterflies, Cry of the Peacock, Gods and Monsters, and other stories) interviewed me on her blog. I had such fun discussing the themes of The Year-god’s Daughter, the research, and the characters. It also made me think about them, which is always a good thing as I am working on the rest of the series.
Christensen: A little about the book: Aridela is meant to be a priestess, to save herself for no man, and to become an oracle, dedicating her life to Athene. Only she doesn’t want to.
Iphiboë is a princess, destined to become the next queen, to carry on the royal line, to marry and to sacrifice her husband to the Year-god. Only she doesn’t want to.
Aridela’s birth heralds a time of change, but those who love her are determined to protect her. In protecting her, are they not defying the Goddess’s will? All that they understand and think they know is challenged when the sons of the Mycenaean king come to call, with aspirations for the Cretan throne, and for Aridela. Can they have both? And what happens when their year is up? Will they even survive to be the conquerors they are determined to be? And, of course, there can be only one.
As I was reading the book, I kept saying to myself, “A country where the women rule, where the men sacrifice themselves to love the Queen for one year… What a great story that would make! Oh, wait, that’s what I’m reading!” And so, I have to ask, what inspired you to write this book?
I had a spark of an idea way back in the late eighties, early nineties. Pure epic fantasy, the kind where the reader is taken to a make-believe world complete with your classic “world-building” aka Tolkien, LeGuin, Alexander, etc. I wanted a female-run country sitting smack dab against a male-run country. That’s about as far as my outlining went. I started writing the story (longhand, pencil, notebook paper—didn’t have a computer yet), even drew a map complete with little triangle mountains and winding rivers. At this point I had no more of an idea of Bronze Age Crete than anyone else who has not specifically studied Greek history. I didn’t know anything about the “Minoans,” and, of course, during the years I was in school, there would never have been a whisper of matriarchal societies, even if such a thing were provable fact. Anyway, there I was, happily writing my fantasy when I happened across the book Moon, Moon, by Anne Kent Rush. It was in those pages that I first learned about the Crete one can find in my story, and my curiosity was piqued.
I embarked on an in-depth search—a journey, if you will, and the rest is history. Haha. I found out there actually was a place, in our world, a mere few thousand years ago, where women may well have run things and commanded the respect of nearby male-ruled countries. There are signs pointing to a possible matriarchal setup on Crete, but no one can ever really know for sure about these things. (The Cretans’ written records have yet to be deciphered.) This is why I label my genre as “Historical Fantasy,” along with “Mythic Fiction.”
I don’t claim to have some kind of inside knowledge about how this civilization operated or who ruled it, but the more conjectures I read by various authors, historians, and archaeologists, the more I realized, with growing excitement, that I had leeway, the freedom to merge my fantasy story into the history and myths of a real place. This was so much more intriguing than pure fantasy, because it could really have happened this way.
So what kind of research did you have to do? I imagine it took years and years.
The Bronze Age segment of the series took about 15 years of research, since I was starting from scratch. I read and read and read….and read. In those days, it was hard to find books on the subject. Most of the material I needed was out of print and there was no Alibris.com, no Google, not even a Yahoo. The Internet was still in its infancy. I had to scour used bookstores, and the books I found or ordered were often extremely expensive. I sometimes I borrowed books from the library and transcribed the information I needed.
How much of the story is based on researched fact and what is your own invention? Because it’s difficult to tell, which I think is a characteristic of an author who knows how to weave their research in without showing it off.
It’s all based on researched fact. But many of the archaeological books I read sent my mind on an exploration of new paths. For instance, I realized that just because Arthur Evans coined the term “Minoans,” which he borrowed from famous Greek myth, didn’t mean that’s what the people of Crete called themselves. As I delved deeper, I realized the whole “King Minos” idea was also a later invention, as is so very much of what has come down through history, all very piecemeal, and mostly from a much, much later time. No one really knows where the term “Minos” originally came from or what person it was attached to, but Robert Graves conjectures it was a title held by a female, and the king of Crete had to acquire it through her. Other writers (Jacquetta Hawkes, for one) support this theory. I conceived the idea of “Minos” belonging to a sacred woman on Crete. It made sense that it would belong to a high-ranking woman. I could have taken this in many directions, but I chose to give it to the oracle, the high priestess—not of the royal family, yet just as important as they—maybe more so. In the books that follow The Year-god’s Daughter, the reader sees what happens to this sacred title, but I don’t want to give any spoilers. Athene was a most fascinating character, as well. Her origins are murky, nearly forgotten, or bulldozed over by later myth—you know, the one that shows her to be born (fully armored) from Zeus’s forehead. For some reason, the gifts she is reputed to have given humanity from earliest antiquity—the olive tree, weaving, and the art of combining tin with copper to create bronze, have been stripped from her, or at least muddled over with this idea of her being a lover of war and aligned solely with men. It was intriguing that many sources believe she isn’t even Greek at all, but came from somewhere else: when I researched it, the consensus was Africa. The Erinyes, too, seemed to change as the older earth based religions were shoveled beneath the newer sky-gods. I’ve tried to return life to the older beliefs and myths: those that hang by an unraveling thread on the tapestry of our history. Some might call these details my own invention.
I find action scenes really difficult to write. In the labyrinth scene, in particular, there is a sword fight that I found utterly brilliant. How did you come to write it so well? Did you watch sword fights? Do you simply have a very exacting imagination? Or, like other authors I have known, did you reenact a battle scene?
It wasn’t always that way, to be honest. I, too, find fight scenes almost impossible. But a friend who read the book before it was published was honest enough to tell me that my fight scenes were lacking. I threw myself wholeheartedly into correcting this problem. I studied fighting scenes in movies, in books, and I made use of my husband’s extensive knowledge. Yes, we did enact a few punch-outs. It helped me visualize exactly what could happen. With these assists, I was able to put something together that worked. Then I found out I had gone too far the other direction and people were so horrified they had to skip the scene! I went back and forth until I had a good balance.
You have some very interesting characters. Menoetius, for instance. He’s sort of a dark horse. Did you have a purpose in making him disfigured? Was it simply to serve as a disguise, or is there some underlying symbology there?
Of course, on the symbolism. I couldn’t write a book like this, using so much from Greek myth, without it. Everything about Greek myth contains symbolism. That’s what I found so fascinating about Robert Graves’ Greek Myths: he opened doors to new ways of seeing the myths I’d grown up with and thought I knew.
Ah, Menoetius. He is a classic reluctant hero. But that’s where the obvious ends. There is more to him than meets the eye, more than he himself knows at this point. The Year-god’s Daughter is as much a “coming of age” story for Menoetius as it is for Aridela. This youth from Mycenae begins life blessed in a way, for he is handsome, and given privileges most children of slaves could never hope to experience. Everything changes later, when he is forced into life without beauty, without status, without hope and from that place…he is honed, transformed. The lioness shreds Menoetius halfway to death, stealing his face and his soul. He and Chrysaleon mingle their blood afterward in an unbreakable vow. Menoetius takes this vow very seriously. He will die to protect Chrysaleon. He believes Chrysaleon will do the same for him.
A slave-woman says to Menoetius in The Year-god’s Daughter, “I’ve heard the gods burn those they love. You must be loved beyond imagination.”
What is it that motivates you to write? Your stories are quite long, and as someone who writes many paged tome’s myself, I know that at times it becomes difficult to see to the end of a project. What keeps you going?
Originally, I only intended to write one book, set on Crete, complete unto itself. It was during the process of writing that my mind began formulating something more, bigger, something that would extend beyond the Bronze Age clear into our future. I was really pretty dismayed by this, because at that point I saw just how huge it was going to be. The task seemed to stretch out before me endlessly. But I felt compelled, and still do, to see it through to the end. Athene keeps prodding me along. Like Menoetius, like Aridela, I am being used.
Do the names of your characters have any special meaning to you? How did you choose them?
Like many authors, I chose character names based on their meanings. I got my names from The Greek Myths, (Robert Graves) mostly. I actually made up “Chrysaleon” myself, but have since discovered that it already existed. Nothing in the world is new! But I learned from Graves’ book that “Chrys” meant gold and “Leon” meant lion, so that’s how I came up with his name. I discovered Menoetius from The Greek Myths. It means, “He who defies his fate.” It was perfect. I didn’t choose Aridela: it chose me. It came to me gradually, through other research. I learned that the more-recognized name Ariadne was actually a later invention. The older, half-forgotten name for this princess-priestess-goddess was Aridela. I don’t know why it got changed in the more recent story with Theseus and the Minotaur. In the Classical myths, Ariadne is simply a sad, powerless princess Theseus uses then discards. (Pretty obvious symbolism there.) But Robert Graves, and other mythologists, give her (as Aridela) a grand importance and reverence, and this has nothing to do with any male, which leaves me wondering if Aridela was actually so important, so awe-inspiring, so monumental, that later rulers/academics felt they had to diminish her (as they did Athene) for their own power and protection. Aridela’s name has various meanings that hearken to a tremendous majesty according to the author one is reading. Robert Graves calls Aridela “The Very Manifest One”. Carl Kerényi defines her name as “Utterly Clear.” Here are two of my favorite quotes about Aridela:
Carl Kerenyi (Dionysos) says: “Ariadne-Aridela, who had a cult period corresponding to each of her two names, was no doubt the Great Moon Goddess of the Aegean world, but her association with Dionysos shows how much more she was than the moon. The dimensions of the celestial phenomena cannot encompass such a goddess. Just as Dionysos is the archetypal reality of zoë, so Ariadne is the archetypal reality of the bestowal of soul, of what makes a living creature an individual.”
Rodney Castleden (The Knossos Labyrinth) says, “The princess Ariadne… is the mystic, mysterious, feminine heart of Minoan civilization. She is the dark and volatile beauty at the centre of the Labyrinth: princess, priestess, goddess, mistress. She… is that heart of Minoan civilization that was borrowed by the growing civilization of the Greek mainland and subsumed by it.”
Do you write simply for entertainment’s sake, or do you have a higher purpose?
My goal, after writing a story that captures a reader’s imagination, is to return this mythical, historical woman/ideal to human awareness, to give her life again, reminiscent of what she enjoyed thousands of years ago. I want to do her justice.
Do you know your characters before you write them, or do they develop on the page?
Everything revolves around Aridela, and always has. She is the Maiden, the Mother, and the Crone, she who is visible from afar, and has profound tasks to accomplish. She is the collective soul of all women, and carries the wounds of every woman within her. Chrysaleon has always been clear as well, but Menoetius is much more complex, mysterious, and difficult. He hides himself from me: he makes me work at drawing him out, and I’m not completely sure where he will end up in the whole process. Golden Chrysaleon clearly came to symbolize the sun as he evolved: the patriarchal mainland. Darker, sadder Menoetius the moon, the fading matriarchy.
Do you outline? Or are your stories more organic than that?
I wrote five books by the seat of my pants, through inspiration, dreams, and research. When it came to Falcon Blue and When the Moon Whispers, the book that brings the climax of the series, I tried outlining. I liked it. I recommend outlining. It helped me get started, and kept me from going off on research tangents.
This is complex plotting, then. Where does that need to tell a complex story come from? Is it from studying literature, or perhaps the huge tomes written in the tradition of epic fantasy?
It just unfolded that way as I was writing. I began with a plan of simple, unrelated stories, but that’s not what ended up happening. I just got pulled deeper and deeper into these characters’ lives, and through them, into the lives of people as yet unborn. I wanted this ancient story to resonate with modern day people, and future generations.
It strikes me as interesting because I think modern plots are quite simplistic. Perhaps it’s why they can so easily be fit into 100,000 word limits. I struggle with word limits, but I don’t think it’s so much about how many words, as it is about how much of the story to tell. Would you agree with this? And what do you make of the seeming appetite for short, concise, easily digestible books in our digital age? Is there room, do you think, for the classically formed saga?
Gosh I really hope so, but I really don’t know. I fear attention spans are growing shorter by the year, and that there may come a day when no one would pick up a thick book. I hope that doesn’t happen. I grew up with big books and from that place, I was shaped as an author. Although I have bowed to the need for books to be shorter, I still am compelled to write a big, epic story, to unravel it like a ball of yarn, to tangle readers up in it so that they can’t escape, and hopefully don’t want to. I don’t necessarily want to write a “historical,” a “fantasy,” a “romance,” or fit myself into other labels. I want to write a story, in the old sense, a tale that draws in readers, sits them in front of a fire, wraps them in a blanket and keeps them there while the world goes by, unnoticed. That is my true goal, and that can’t be compressed into a certain word or page count.
You chose to break yours up. How do you feel about that decision now? I chose to keep my first two together, as the division between them is less clear than in those that follow, and because I saw mine as one thick book, but I do get the feeling that readers want to get through books more quickly, whereas I like to linger with the characters longer, to form a relationship with them and to learn something from them, if I can. Breaking a book up into a series is one way around this. Are you happy with your decision to go this route?
If I’d felt I had the freedom to do so, and that it would have been accepted by most readers, I would have put the entire Bronze Age part of my story into one book, as it was originally intended. But since it didn’t seem like a good idea, I tried to break it up at strategic points, where the reader is hopefully happy with the ending, yet still looking forward to the next segment.
Now and then, as I read, I found certain themes relevant. Was that your intention, or is it simply that history, and historical themes, repeat themselves through the ages? You could hardly imagine a time more different than our own, and yet there does seem much to learn from within your story.
It struck me early on in my research how the year-god on Crete was honored then ritually slaughtered, only to rise again in the spring. I saw many beliefs I’d thought of as uniquely Christian, not just on Crete but elsewhere, like ancient Britain, who also utilized a sacrificial king, all long before Jesus came along. It seems clear that the early Christians deliberately incorporated older pagan beliefs, probably to make the their religion more palpable. This theme continues through my story and is a big part of the Victorian Scotland tale as well. There is much to learn about ancient beliefs and religions, and how they relate to present day, and how they actually formed a base for present day beliefs. There is a very ancient theme of sacrifice in this world, resurrection, and godhood and how imperative it is to the well-being of ordinary mortals. Another theme I wanted to highlight was how closely the fertility of the land was intertwined with the fertility of women: not too long before the time period in which my story takes place, the theory was that women could get pregnant from the north wind (Boreas), or from eating beans, or from other solitary endeavors. The man’s part was accepted, but wasn’t the only way. Some evidence suggests that for thousands of years, women routinely journeyed to temples, where they offered themselves in sexual acts that everyone considered sacred and holy, rather than degrading or promiscuous. Children born to temple maidens were revered. Hardly any of that particular history has survived, which makes sense if, for thousands upon thousands of years, women were the dominant gender, and that aspect of world history was deliberately erased through violence and rewrites. Am I saying this is what happened? No. I’m saying it could have happened, and that’s what makes it all so fascinating for me—something worth writing about fictionally—an alternate history that might be real.
It’s perhaps strange that I empathised with Iphiboë as much as I did. She reminds me, in some ways of my Imogen. (From Of Moths and Butterflies.) What is her background? Can you tell me more about her?
Iphiboë has a very special reason for the way she is. The name Iphiboë means “Strength of oxen.” One might wonder if this name simply doesn’t work attached to this seemingly timid girl. But, as with most of the characters in my series, things are not quite as they appear. Iphiboë takes center stage early on in the second book, The Thinara King. More than that I probably should not say.
The blogger and writer, Diane Dooley, interviewed Libbie Hawker about her book, The Sekhmet Bed, and during the course of the interview, Libbie, who happened to be reading my book at the time, mentioned it, and me.
Dooley: Who are some lesser-known writers you read and would like to recommend?
Hawker: I am currently reading a fantastic ancient-history novel by Rebecca Lochlann, called The Year God’s Daughter. It’s set in ancient Greece and Crete. Lochlann is a fellow independent author and she has a real skill with description. Her world is painted in very lush, highly sensory strokes, and the book has so far been a pure delight to read. I am going to do a review of it on my blog and on the Historical Novel Review blog when I’ve finished it.”
And so she did! Here is an interview I had with her:
Hawker: “One of the things I enjoyed so much about your novel The Year-God’s Daughter was the depth of historical information it contained. You’ve said elsewhere that you did about fifteen years of research on Minoan and other Bronze-Age culture in order to build your world properly. I think it’s rare to find historical novelists these days who care so much about cultural precision. What is it about your setting that drew you in so thoroughly and for so long? Or is this kind of deep enthrallment just one of your personality quirks?”
Lochlann: I am an obsessive perfectionist. To this day, even though I’m committed, (as in the book is for sale: no more editing…..) I still hone in on any documentary that comes along. So far, my research continues to hold up to current facts and theories. Very pleased about that. But one almost has to go into these kinds of things blindly: I mean, if you knew beforehand how much work and how many years the research and writing would consume, would you take that first step? I might not have. As far as what drew me, well, I have always loved how the ancient Greeks wove such fantastic, detailed stories around the natural events of the world. Now those people were real storytellers. I guess, in a way, I wanted to create a new myth, one written so modern readers could get into it, yet still with the flavor of the ancient stories that have come to us through time.
Hawker: Something in your interview with V.R. Christensen really resonated with me: You said you grew up with big books, and that you love a really complex, long story. I feel the same way. As a kid I would often pick the thickest novel I could find and read it just because it was long, and its length promised a lot of entertainment. Sometimes I still choose my reading based on length alone! What did you like to read as a child, and how have your reading habits changed, if at all, now that you are not only an adult, but also a serious fiction writer?
Lochlann: As a child, I was an avid Black Stallion fan (quite a long series). The White Panther. Fury. I loved animal stories. I dearly loved The Narnia Chronicles and the Earthsea Trilogy, and other fantasies like The Black Cauldron and A Wrinkle in Time. I also read tons of science fiction, like Earth Abides. When I got into my teens I started reading more complex books like The Fountainhead and long historical novels, like Anya Seton’s work, and The King Must Die. That’s also when I discovered We, by Zamyatin, literally some of the most beautiful writing I have ever drowned in, (along with The Last Unicorn: “the tiny dry sound of a spider weeping.”) And not surprisingly, I fell in love with The Iliad and The Odyssey. I still love any book that can carry me away to another time and immerse me in the place and characters. Character is all-important, far more so than setting (although one of the things I loved about Rebecca was how Manderley was its own character.) It worries me that so much of what’s coming out now is lacking in character development. I’ll read anything if I can sympathize with, and really dig into the characters. That’s what I love best about the literary genre: for example, The Reader, by Bernhard Schlink. I loved Demian, (Hesse), which I read as a teen, for the same reason. All these wonderful books shaped my writing. I wanted all aspects in my story: literary character development, action, romance, a real historical setting one could get one’s teeth around. In my second book, The Thinara King, the reader is taken with the characters into the eruption of the volcano on the island of Thera (Santorini) and its aftereffects, and the aftereffects of those aftereffects, if that makes sense. Much character development to be had. I am sad to say that reading for pleasure is nowadays a very rare treat. I hope once I get my series published, I can go back to long hours of pure enjoyment reading.
Hawker: Also resonating with me is your desire to give the world a very complex, epic, deeply involved story that doesn’t necessarily fit into strict genre guidelines. So I have to ask – are you a fan of George R. R. Martin? Your plans for your series, The Child of the Erinyes, seem to involve the same kind of scope and large cast of very human characters that have made Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire so hugely successful.
Lochlann: My daughter loves Martin (I used to be a bookseller, and one of the best perks about that job was bringing home books for my kid—I always brought home series books.) But I haven’t read him yet. I have just got to do that! It’s on my to do list. I love series books. So far, I believe Anne Rice’s books may be the longest series I’ve read. When I started reading Anne Rice, there were no vampires anywhere but her books (and Stoker’s of course). As far as I can tell, she single-handedly created the whole current vampire love affair. But even more than the vampire books, I loved Lasher, the deliciously complex and dark protagonist of The Witching Hour. I love male characters who have many layers and complexities.
Hawker: Although I found all the characters in The Year-God’s Daughter interesting, I found myself particularly affected by Iphiboë. Sometimes I really sympathized with her, and other times I wanted to smack her and tell her to put on her big girl panties and do what needed to be done! Did you have a special inspiration for Iphiboë? I sense that there is much more to this character than meets the eye, and I am eager to find out how she develops in the next book in the series.
Lochlann: We modern women are mostly take-charge people, but as we all know, for much of history we’ve not been allowed to be that way—and for many, even now, it’s hard. I wanted to show that even in a matriarchal society, girls sometimes couldn’t make their own choices, but had to follow traditional customs. However, there is more to Iphiboë than meets the eye. She takes center stage early in The Thinara King, and the reader does find out what the heck is going on with her.
Hawker: The thing that really hooked me into your book was the beautiful, lush prose. I think it’s so important in historical fiction to fully engage the reader with the setting. You did this beautifully. Your deft use of language left me wondering which writers are your biggest influences.
Lochlann: When it comes to prose, Hesse, Schlink, Zamyatin, and Peter S. Beagle. Beagle was perhaps the first, and biggest inspiration. I actually remember thinking, “If I can ever write that beautifully, I will be happy.” All their books are quite small, but oh, what they pack in there. The paths they create for imaginations to explore! I think that might be what I love best about reading, and maybe writing as well. I will ponder the placement, combination and choice of words for hours. Words, and how they can be woven (with, maybe, the fewest adverbs possible…) make it all worthwhile. Thank you for saying that! It’s a wonderful compliment.
Thank you, Libbie, for the interest, and the lovely interview!
(Update: The above interview happened in 2011, when Libbie and I were first starting out. Now, in 2018, she is a hugely successful author who writes prolifically. I’m so proud of her!)
V.R. Christensen wanted to do a blog series on “Flawed heroes,” and asked me to write about one of my triad, Menoetius–the most mysterious of the three. This was one of the hardest things I’ve ever been asked to do. Yes, honestly, Menoetius keeps to himself, even from me. He is one of the biggest introverts I have ever known. I have to fight an overwhelming sense of betrayal whenever I reveal anything about him.
When the Greek youth Menoetius first comes to Crete, he is seventeen, with a young man’s smooth skin and lustrous dark hair that ten-year-old Aridela likens to a waterfall. His eyes are what really capture her imagination, however. Cobalt blue like the heavens at twilight, in this land where nearly everyone’s eyes are brown or black, they have a glow about them, like the sun shining through deep water, or the star Iakchos, rising above Crete’s mountain summits in the fall.
The Goddess lives in his eyes; Aridela, who has communed with this deity from birth, senses it.
Seventeen-year-old Menoetius has an easy smile and affectionate nature. One of the paramount characteristics Aridela loves is his devotion to Potnia Athene, the Mistress of Labyrinthos. The first time this child comes into contact with Menoetius, she is alone, bleeding profusely and near death. He plucks her up from the labyrinth floor and carries her to the courtyard, where she is given over to physicians. If it weren’t for that act, Aridela would surely have died at the age of ten, and there would be no story to tell. As she slides between life and death, she peers up at him, half-conscious, and sees those eyes. She believes Goddess Athene is holding her. Fully trusting, she loses all fear of death in the arms of the Goddess.
Who knows what might have happened if Menoetius had remained on Crete, at Aridela’s side? His instincts tell him to. But, following his father’s orders, he returns to his homeland, and Aridela doesn’t see him again for six long years.
One month after returning to the Greek mainland, Menoetius and his brother are attacked by a lioness. Menoetius survives, but he will never again mesmerize women with his beautiful face. The beast steals something else from him. She extinguishes the singular goddess-light that has always winked and glimmered in his eyes. She leaves little more than scarred flesh over bones. He loses his confidence and devotion. He blames and rejects the Goddess who allowed this to happen. Although he now has her most sacred symbol carved onto his face—the shape of the crescent moon—he believes he is cursed by the Immortal he once adored.
When Menoetius sails to Crete again, he is so changed Aridela doesn’t even recognize him. She unwittingly verifies every bad thing he has come to believe about himself. He retreats further, hiding his pain behind a morose exterior. When she is told who he is, she is nearly as traumatized as if she experienced the attack herself.
Why has Athene done this? Why has she taken a handsome, devout youth who willingly dedicated his life to her, and shoved him into the jaws of an enraged lioness? Why has she made him suffer this way, while leaving his brother, the cynical, arrogant, impious Chrysaleon, whole and unmarred? The reader will soon realize that Menoetius’s wounds go much deeper than any mauling. They wend down into his soul.
The child he once befriended is now the woman he craves, but she is beyond his reach, wholly in love with his shallow, self-absorbed, yet still handsome brother. Menoetius was charged with protecting the sacred child; instead he abandoned her to serve mortal obligations. Now, stripped of all that could have been his, he must watch, torn between loyalty and love as his brother sets out to deceive Aridela and every other Cretan.
Aridela can almost see the inexorable bonds between these two brothers. The invisible rope that binds them is frayed, untwined; neither can sense it, or they have deliberately turned their backs on it. In the way an angry tide strikes at the cliffs, or the sun forces the moon from the sky, these two are uneasy halves of a single whole. She sees this, but doesn’t know how to forge peace between them. Not yet.
Goddess Athene, she who has watched mortals live their lives since the beginning of time and who sees into the future, knows how hard her hand-chosen triad will have to fight. She sends her beloved heroes into the deepest suffering, to the very portal of death, and she leaves them there, to either expire or claw their way to triumph. It’s the only way.
As a woman and an author, I was strongly affected by the Phantom of the Opera story, most notably Susan Kay’s vision in her book, Phantom. The story of Erik, especially how he is born and what he endures as a baby, is unforgettable. Along with other influences, it swayed the way I wanted to tell my story, and Menoetius was the obvious choice to send into a life of struggle, of “what-ifs,” yearning, and remorse.
Eventually, Aridela must grow beyond her immature adoration of physical beauty. If she doesn’t, she will fail in the ultimate goal. She and her countrymen revere beauty in everything. Now here is this conundrum. Once, Menoetius was lively, charming, different from anything she has ever seen. She’s never encountered or even imagined such an agony as this man has suffered in her entire pampered life. It forces her to reexamine everything she has always taken for granted. Can she love something ugly? It’s even a bit worse for both of them, as Menoetius did enjoy seventeen years of unmarred beauty, so there is a thread of regret neither can completely ignore.
Aridela has always been told she is wise and far seeing, insightful and clever. She believes it because this is reflected back at her every day. Athene, who knows what comes, wants her child to understand that what she’s been told is not necessarily the truth. She wants more from all three of her chosen heroes.
I am often struck by how obsessed our own society is with beauty, to the point where women are spending great sums and suffering terrible pain to reconstruct and transform everything they can, often turning themselves into odd-looking almost alien beings in a desperate quest for perfect beauty. Menoetius’s wounds, and the growth Aridela experiences because of them, is a strong underlying theme in the Bronze Age segment of the series—and beyond.
Menoetius’s biggest flaw isn’t the scarring from the attack. It’s that he creates and magnifies his own misery. He assumes he knows what people feel about him, and he pushes everyone away without giving them a chance. Aridela is too young and inexperienced to understand this, so she takes it all very personally. Selene, the Phrygian warrior, is the only one who does understand. She slips through his barriers and begins the healing process—a necessary step to help him dig his way out of his second biggest flaw: the loss of his courage. Somehow, Menoetius’s courage must be reacquired, so that when it comes time, he will know what to do, and he will have the strength to do it.
Divine Athene is patient. She realizes it will take a long time to prepare them. Again and again, she sets these three upon widely diverging paths. She doesn’t guide them: she leaves it up to them to make their own choices. For an Immortal, thousands of years mean nothing.
The only way Menoetius can earn Athene’s forgiveness and put the world to rights is to face the lion. Can he do it? Or will he leave Aridela to whatever fate might come at his brother’s hands? Ah, that is the question, dear reader.
Elisabeth Storrs (author of The Wedding Shroud, The Golden Dice, and Call To Juno, interviewed me about the Erinyes series, taking me deeper into inspiration and themes.
What or who inspired you to first write and when did you start?
That question takes me back many years, though I remember writing my first stories like it was yesterday. I was quite young: six or seven. I remember feeling like all at once, my tight, small, restricted world had opened up into a veritable universe, because my imagination, which no one could control or take away from me no matter how much they might want to, was given life and freedom. (Rather like the main protagonist of The Yellow Wallpaper?) I guess it was my mother who started me down this long and winding road; from the beginning, she encouraged her children to read. She took us to the library like clockwork every weekend. I still remember the wonderful quiet hours and bookish smell of that neighborhood library. It was magical. (Those old hard covers: does anything smell better? I don’t think so.)
Is there a particular photo, piece of art, poetry or quote that strikes a chord with you? Why?
Many, actually: one that pops into my mind is Gustav Klimt’s “Love.” I do weave fantasy into my fiction—maybe even a little magical realism. That painting inspires an entire story—perhaps multiple stories. It seems to combine my beloved myths, romance, fantasy, the many varied faces of love, and the living, observant magic of trees. Another would be “The Oracle Of Delphi,” painted by John Collier, along with his “Lilith.”
The Thinara King is the second book in a series. What was the inspiration for this series and how many books can we look forward to reading?
When I first learned about the amazing civilization that existed on Crete for thousands of years, and I read the conjectures about how Crete could have been the dominant influence upon the West (rather than Athens) had it not met its mysterious end, I began envisioning what our world would be like if that had happened. How would we be different? It’s hard to know, since what we truly do understand of Crete is miniscule. Nobody knows for sure if Crete was a matriarchal society, (Those who state so emphatically that this would have been “impossible” are biased by some kind of personal prejudice, I think) but I chose to write it that way, which naturally led into the “what-ifs” for our present day. I had help in this idea, partially from Robert Graves, who figured that the term “Minos,” for so long attached to a king, was probably originally a title attached to a woman: either a queen or priestess—some sort of important female. I took that idea and ran with it.
Is there a particular theme you wish to explore in this book?
Growth. Change. Preparation through adversity. Throughout the series, Aridela takes on the guise of the ancient trinity, “maiden,” “mother,” and “crone.” In the Bronze Age trilogy segment, she is the “maiden,” the immature innocent girl. Yes, she has been educated, but no amount of formal education can teach a young girl emotional maturity. She begins this long journey as your typical spoiled, sheltered ten-year-old child. The first boy she gives her heart to is Menoetius, a flawless youth of seventeen, but after he returns to the Greek mainland her memories of him fade. By the time she’s sixteen, she has followed in the footsteps of her countrymen and is obsessed with all things beautiful, as are most of the Cretans. Now a woman, she falls in love again, this time with Lycus, a beautiful Cretan bull leaper, and then with Chrysaleon, an equally beautiful Mycenaean. Yes, Aridela is shallow. How could she believably be anything else with the upbringing she’s had? Not only has she always been given whatever she wants, she has this aura of divinity which makes people treat her with awe; rumors claim she would make a better queen than her older sister. Aridela has no fear. No doubts. She is “confidence, epitomized.” Which pretty much guarantees she’ll be a poor leader.
Aridela lacks the qualities so important in a ruler and even more important in a girl chosen by Goddess Athene to travel through time and become her spokesperson. Humility. Caution. Compassion. The internal growth that disappointment, sorrow, loss and grief usually inspires. Aridela has been allowed to run free and be spoiled because her future is not considered as important as her sister’s. The Thinara King strips her of all that. In The Thinara King, this spoiled, shallow child is changed profoundly, taken down to her emotional skeleton. The only question is, will she survive it? Maybe not, and certainly not without help.
What period of history particularly inspires or interests you? Why?
The Bronze Age certainly, which is the setting for the first three books of my series, but also the Victorian Age. I find both an absolute wealth of interesting people, myths, and events. So many fascinating people lived during the Victorian Age, and so many fascinating things happened. The Bronze Age captures my imagination partly because it’s not so well known; everything everyone believes about it is really just conjecture, mostly put together from pottery shards! That gives a writer the freedom to explore “what ifs.” The fourth, fifth, and sixth books are set in Scotland; I conducted years of research into the Highland myths and culture for those books, and discovered just how ancient, rich, and complex the Scottish tradition is. It’s more interwoven with the Bronze Age Cretan society than one might think. For instance: there are conjectures that the well-known Celtic goddess Morrigan or “The Morrígu,” was another name for Athene—the Cretans traded with the early British tribes, and no doubt they shared their beliefs. I’m also intrigued by Norse myths and culture, but haven’t really had the time to explore it. Maybe one day.
What resources do you use to research your book/s?
I have thousands of books, written by archaeologists, historians, speculative writers, mythologists and novelists. All have inspired me. The Internet, of course, has been invaluable in the last few years: but when I started, there were no personal computers. It was all longhand construction and books. It took a long time for the Internet to become a valuable partner in my writing. For many years it just wasn’t there or there wasn’t much to find on it. Consequently, I have relied mostly on books, maps, helpful local people, and travelling to/exploring the settings on my own.
Which authors have influenced you?
Patricia A. McKillip is one of the greatest influences. She doesn’t write historical fiction, but her fantasy and her way of weaving words expands my mind. For the same reason, Peter S. Beagle will always linger at the top of my inspiration list, along with Yevgeny Zamyatin. Anita Diamant taught me that historical fiction doesn’t have to be dry or boring. The Red Tent is one of my all time favorite books. Authors like Anne Kent Rush and Charlotte Perkins Gilman have inspired me to think of women in new ways. My eyes and mind were initially opened by Anne Kent Rush, later by Riane Eisler, Robert Graves, Anne Baring, Carl Kerényi, and Marija Gimbutas. All these knowledgeable, generous authors were instrumental in helping me find my voice, my imagination, and the courage to explore the “what ifs.”
What do you do if stuck for a word or a phrase?
This has been happening to me more and more of late. It’s actually a little concerning. I remember when I could write for hours with hardly a pause. Now it seems like I find myself pausing more, searching for that one perfect word, although this may have more to do with the editing process rather than the creative process. I adore my thesaurus. Even if I can’t find the actual word I originally wanted, the choices make everything possible—I often find something better. Sometimes entire scenes can give me grief: I have been known to utilize dreams to help me with those. Athene steps in and provides the answers.
What advice would you give an aspiring author?
What is your next project?
I am putting the polish to book number three in my Bronze Age segment: In the Moon of Asterion. It is the culmination of the story of Aridela, Chrysaleon, and Menoetius. Everything comes to a head as Chrysaleon fights to save his own life, Menoetius struggles with his obligations, loyalties, and desires, and Aridela confronts profound truths that explode everything she thought she knew. The scene is set for the continuation of the series in a very different time and place.
Ash, earthquakes and tsunamis devastate Crete and all the surrounding islands. The will of the survivors fades as their skies remain dark, frost blackens the crops, and nothing they do seems to cool the rage of the Immortals. Young Aridela faces an arduous task: reviving the spirit of her people and rebuilding her country’s defenses. In the wake of the Destruction, she and Chrysaleon are closer than ever—knowing he must die in a few short months becomes torturous agony. How can she put this man she loves so much to death? Yet if she doesn’t, she risks drawing even more divine anger down upon Crete’s innocents.
More threats loom on the horizon—Greek kingdoms see a weakened Crete as easy prey. Chrysaleon faces his own demons as he feels the shadow of death over his shoulder. Will he thwart his fate? No other man ever has.
The Thinara King is book two of The Child of the Erinyes series.
Thanks so much Rebecca for sharing your journey with me.
13 May 2012 by Elisabeth Storrs
Suzanne Adair, author of the Michael Stoddard thrillers and other books set during the American Revolution, recently asked me to write about Queen Victoria and her odd friendship with John Brown, her Scots serving man.
Lochlann: “There are many articles and biographies about John Brown, the Scotsman who served Queen Victoria before and after Prince Albert’s death. He’s portrayed as a rough, ill-mannered gillie, a servant and one-time stable boy, who yet managed to charm the widowed queen out of her grief, at least somewhat. He is said to have been a heavy drinker, uncouth, rude, smelly, even “insufferable.” One reason this story captures our interest is because Queen Victoria has an ongoing reputation, true or not, of being the epitome of propriety, notorious for not allowing any unorthodox behavior or speech in her presence—except when it came to John Brown. He, apparently, could do no wrong.”
Kate Wyland won a copy of Book One, The Year-god’s Daughter,for commenting on the article. Congrats, Kate!
Click HERE to read the complete scoop on Victoria and her kilted Highlander, and thanks to Suzanne for this opportunity!
The Year-god’s Daughter has been awarded the coveted Indie B.R.A.G. Medallion! Today I’m being interviewed by Indie B.R.A.G. about my experience writing the book.
IndieBRAG: “I’m one for finding inspiration in all things. My mind never shuts down….what was yours for this book?”
Lochlann: “Besides D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths, I was also inspired by many other books, notably Moon, Moon (Anne Kent Rush) and Robert Graves’ Book of Greek Myths. Both sent my mind racing down new paths of imagination. In Graves’ book, I first learned that the famed “Ariadne,” of the well-known Cretan myth involving Theseus and the Minotaur, was originally called “Aridela,” and may have been considered a goddess rather than a mere mortal. What an amazing idea! I wondered why she was transformed (if indeed this is true). Carl Kerényi, another treasured author, theorizes that she was too powerful, too magnificent, and as time went by, she was deliberately diminished to suit a changing society who wanted their male gods to hold the most power. There is some evidence that this same diminishment was carried out on Athene, Hera, and other goddesses.”
IndieBRAG: “What can you tell me about the period of time your story takes place in? Something that has really impacted you.”
Lochlann: “The fact that Crete was so sophisticated is fairly well accepted. Whether it was matriarchal or not is still debated, but that possibility inspired me. Many historians believe that women were very important in this society, whether rulers or not. It seemed to me this could be true, as Crete, being an island, was a bit removed from the other Mediterranean cultures. There’s evidence that Crete was far-reaching, and had outposts on Thera (Santorini), as well as other places, and may have traded regularly with ancient Britain. What impacted me the most was imagining what our present day world might be like right now, if Crete hadn’t been so damaged by outside events—the volcanic eruption and subsequent environmental disasters. These catastrophes made them vulnerable to attack and a complete overturn in power, and eventually, their culture was lost, lost to history, lost in every way, until relatively recently. Right now, much of western society is considered a product of ancient Athens, but what would things be like today if Crete had been the major influence? Athens was a tiny, inconsequential village when the society on Crete was enjoying its heyday, with sprawling palaces, enormous wealth, and widespread power. What if it was matriarchal, and the societies of today were influenced by that? As a woman, I find that intriguing with a capital “I.”
IndieBRAG: “I noticed in your bio you joined with Erinyes Press to publish and distribute The Child of the Erinyes series, mythic fiction beginning in the Bronze Age. What an amazing project! Can you tell me a little about that?”
Lochlann: “I’m a control freak, I admit it. The advance of indie publishing was a perfect fit for me. For a long time I thought I’d missed the boat by spending so many years writing, then finding myself struggling with publishing houses who were cutting back, and unwilling to take chances on new authors. Now I believe Fate or Destiny was merely holding off for this indie movement. For one thing, my books are thoroughly entwined with each other: even in the first book, The Year-god’s Daughter, there are hints of future books, and vice-versa. It would be very difficult for editors and in-house marketing groups to know what to do with these books, taken on a one-by-one basis. Erinyes Press was the right answer. I, as the author, chief editor, and publisher, have all the control I have always desired.”
IndieBRAG: “When did you first begin to write and who are your influences?”
Lochlann: “My first story, a sci-fi fantasy, was written when I was seven. As an adult I’ve encountered many authors who began their career at age seven. What is it about the age of seven, I wonder?
So many influences! For historical fiction to be successful, it must find a way to combine research with writing that creates images and emotion in the reader’s mind, and characters the reader can root for. But I think it also requires an imagination that is formed by paying attention to modern life, so that the stories are relevant to today’s readers. My influences stretch clear back to when I first learned how to read and listen, so I will scratch the surface: pertaining to research and myth, Robert Graves, Jacquetta Hawkes, Barbara G. Walker, Carl Kerényi, and Charles Pellegrino, to name but a few. In the area of the kind of glorious writing I aspire to, Yevgeny Zamyatin, Patricia A. McKillip, Anita Diamant, Peter S. Beagle, Clarissa Pinkola Estés, and the unpublished work of Annia Lekka. I hope the series resonates with ordinary women just trying to survive and thrive as history happens around them, and perhaps offers new ways of seeing the female as a gender. I owe a great debt to the women who have shaped my outlook. Margaret Atwood, Anne Kent Rush, Maggie Smith, Carol P. Christ, Eleanor Roosevelt, Marija Gimbutas, and many others.”
IndieBRAG: “Have you written anything outside this genre?”
Lochlann: “The final books of the series take place in the future, so the “historical” label doesn’t apply. The final book in the series is more literary, with elements of magical realism.”
IndieBRAG: “Please tell me a little about your writing process?”
Lochlann: “I start early, with a quick perusal of social sites to see what’s going on in my online worlds, then I usually work (except when extremely tired or blocked) 12 to 14 hours a day. A lot of that time is taken up with research, and since all the books in the series are written, albeit in rough draft, my work is mostly slicing, polishing, changing and fleshing out. Marketing and promotion also takes its time. I work every day in one manner or another until my spouse grumbles enough. Then I put aside the computer and go reacquaint myself with life, (This occasionally includes a noxious interlude with a vacuum.)”
IndieBRAG: “How did you discover indieBRAG?”
Lochlann: “My author contacts are like moonbeams. They are many, varied, bright and generous. I am or have been a member of several writing groups, and when someone discovers a fantastic opportunity like indieBRAG, he or she always shares! Indie authors for the most part are a universe of wonderful give-and-take and support. Several members of my group, the Historical Fiction Authors Cooperative (HFAC), an international group of authors joined together to offer readers a selection of high-quality historical fiction, have been awarded the B.R.A.G. Medallion!”
IndieBRAG: “Is there a message you would like to give to your readers?”
Lochlann: “I am humbled, honored, and grateful to those who have taken a chance on my story, who have taken time out of their lives to read my work. It’s a lifelong dream to put this tale out into the world: sharing it with others is amazing! Then to actually win awards, like the B.R.A.G. Medallion, has truly been one of the high points of my life. We authors invest more than can be imagined in our goals. I constantly work on this series, whether I’m at the computer or not. It consumes me. I can’t remember my last “vacation” from it. All that effort becomes worthwhile when even just one person appreciates what I’m trying to do.”
IndieBRAG: “Where can readers buy your book?”
Lochlann: “The series so far is available at every Amazon site across the world. It’s also listed at Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and Kobo. Readers can find it as well at many international sites, in both paperback and digital forms. Here’s my website, which has a page dedicated to sales links and lots of info on myth and research. Rebecca Lochlann
IndieBRAG: “Thank you, Rebecca!”
Rebecca Lochlann began envisioning the epic tale that has become The Child of the Erinyes series at a very early age. Getting it into the world has become her life’s work, although she didn’t exactly intend it to be that way.
Her goal for the series is to create a new myth: one that offers the same flavor and unique magic as the Greek classics, yet which will interest modern readers.
She has always believed that deities will sometimes speak to us through dreams and visions, gently prompting us to tell their lost stories.
Thanks to Indie B.R.A.G. for the award, and this opportunity!
Colleen Turner at A Literary Vacation interviewed me about The Year-god’s Daughter in February, 2016.
Colleen: “Historical fiction happens to be my all-time favorite genre and I find myself going back and forth between what periods of history are my favorite to read about. Is the Bronze Age your favorite time period to write and/or read about, or do you enjoy jumping around as I do?”
Rebecca: “Thanks for the question, as it gives me the opportunity to explain my thoughts on that! The Bronze Age was my favorite for many years but I spent so much time and energy there that I’m a bit burned out on it now. Thankfully, my series accommodates this need to research and build new adventures in new places. It skips forward and backward in time and travels to different areas of the globe. Plus, the characters change, giving the reader (and me) a whole new person to bond with, and is, in my opinion, more interesting than keeping everyone static. Though they all carry certain identifying characteristics from one life to the next, each incarnation brings new personality quirks that living over and over again will necessarily create. After all, the whole purpose is to groom them for the climax, so they do need to change and grow—or, in some cases, diminish.”
Click HERE to read the entire interview, and my thanks go out to Colleen for taking the time and effort to interview me!
I am so honored to be named not once, not twice, but three times at BookSquawk Book Reviews in their annual “Squawk of the Year Favorite Reads” section.
In the Moon of Asterion won in 2013, The Moon Casts a Spell won in 2015, and most recently, The Sixth Labyrinth won a favorite read in 2016. Thank you BookSquawk!
Judith Starkston is the author of Hand of Fire, a compelling blend of myth and history that delves into the life of Briseis, Achilles’s famous captive at Troy. She read The Year-god’s Daughter in 2018 and wrote a lovely review for it HERE.
And HERE, you can read reviews for Hand of Fire, which is scheduled to be re-released soon.
Links to my awesome author buddies and their books:
N. Gemini Sasson: Blog
N. Gemini Sasson’s Amazon page
Libbie Hawker: Blog
Libbie Hawker Amazon page
V.R. Christensen: Blog
V.R. Christensen’s Amazon page
Elisabeth Storrs: Blog
Elisabeth Storrs: Amazon page
Suzanne Adair: Blog
Suzanne Adair: Amazon page
A Literary Vacation: Home
Chanticleer Book Reviews: Chaucer First Place Winners 2014
BookSquawk Book Reviews, Fav Reads of 2016: Home
Judith Starkston: Website
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