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A Sad Goodbye

It is with sadness that I say goodbye to the inspiration for Rodney's cat Newton in the Legacy series, my cat Selene.  Though she was only eight, purebreds are prone to all sorts of things, and she passed away of liver failure.  My dear Selene will be so missed!



Finding Alexandria

The month before I turned five years old, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton's Cleopatra aired on US network tv.  The movie was ten years old then, but it had been a great sensation and if my parents had seen it in the theater, that was ten years ago.  (Remember, there were no VCRs or DVDs in 1973 -- you watched things when they aired or not at all.)  I suppose they started talking about it when the TV Guide came, deciding that they were going to have a movie night after my sister and I had gone to bed.  We were plopped in (a little early, I thought) and told to go to sleep.  Which my sister did promptly.  I, on the other hand, knew something was afoot.  And if it was something only for grown ups, it must be too cool for kids.  I gave them a few minutes to decide we were asleep and then snuck downstairs.  If you sat on the third step from the bottom and peeked through the metal stair rail, you could see the tv over the backs of the big people on the couch, but they wouldn't see you unless they turned around.  This was my plan, and just in time because the movie was starting.

It opened with the credits, the names of actors superimposed over pictures of places and things rendered weathered, as though they were old paper left out in the rain.  It was interesting, but not that much.  It was hard to see what the pictures were or what the people were doing.  They were static, drawings in a storybook, not real.  And then.  And then there was that moment when the drawing faded into reality, into glorious technicolor, soldiers burning their dead on pyres and an urgent messenger arriving.  Not dead.  Not a storybook.  A bunch of men talked about people I'd never heard of and decided things and then we were back to the pictures again and the ponderous voice over.  A ship's sail spread with an eagle upon it, and Mr. Narrator intoning, "Just as the Romans, the Egyptians also made war upon one another."  Then the magic again -- the sail belled, filling with wind.  The galley was real, rounding the point with the Great Lighthouse, Alexandria spreading out before it full of living people, all in glorious technicolor.

Real.  Vivid.  The shiver that ran down my spine -- I can still feel it.  I can still feel the metal of the stair rail in my hands, poking my face out through it to see better.  I was utterly transfixed.  I wanted to step through the screen, to go there.  To be in that place that must be as real as my grandparents' house or the grocery store, somewhere real but just not here.  I wanted to be in that story.

I crouched there on the third step all the way through the first half and a bit. I remember Cleopatra's farewell to Antony at the boat on the Tiber after Caesar's death.  I was crying for Caesar, trying to be quiet, but I remember thinking, "This scene isn't right at all.  Antony shouldn't be there and it should be scary and rushed, not dignified and sad.  I wouldn't tell the story this way."  I remember Cleopatra's arrival in Tyre with her fleet, and how hard it was not to bounce up and down on the step and make noise because yes!  That was perfect and beautiful and oh to walk into that scene!  And then the banquet.  I remember thinking that some of this food had to be cooked ashore because seriously?  Roasts and sautes, maybe, but someone whispered in the back of my head, even I can't cook cheesecakes on a galley!

And then I got caught.  One of the big people turned around and saw me, so I was marched unceremoniously back to bed.  "Don't you realize it's almost ten o'clock!"  I didn't see the end, not that time.

The next day I tried to draw it, but I couldn't.  My not quite five year old hands couldn't make the crayons produce Alexandria or Rome in technicolor.  All they produced were boxes with columns in front and some Christmas tree looking plants and smiling stick people with the right colored hair.  I showed them to my father and told him what I was trying to draw.  He got out a book of his, or maybe it was an issue of National Geographic, and showed me a two page spread -- the ruins of the Palace of Minos on Crete on one side and the artist's rendering of the palace as it had looked on the other.  Wow.  Oh wow.  "But how does the artist know what to draw?"  My father explained that archaeologists dig up ruins, and for some places there are also descriptions of them that were written in the past, and then the artist uses this information to bring the place to life.

Magic.  Utter magic.  "I want a time machine," I said.  My dad said, "The artist's imagination is a time machine.  The artist takes what he or she sees in their mind and turns it into something that everyone can see.  Dead people and places are gone, but art can make them live again.  A drawing, a movie, a book.  Art can resurrect the past so that anyone can step into it."

To make the past live again.  To make a door that you can step through and be there.  "That's what I want to do," I said.
I generally don't start sharing something I'm working on when it's just an idea -- before the point when it becomes clear to me that the sketches are going to really and for certain turn into a book.  For the last few months I've been playing with a new project, a historical fantasy set in the Roman world called The Eagle and the Owl.  It's far enough along now that I'm pretty sure this is a real thing, so I wanted to share the very beginning with you, and I'd love to hear what you think!

This takes place in 8 AD, a generation after Hand of Isis.

Via Claudia AugustaCollapse )

I would love to hear what you think!

It's a wrap!

Amy Griswold and I have finished our interactive novel, The Eagle's Heir, and delivered it to our editor.  We'll have edits and revisions to make, but The Eagle's Heir is essentially done.  It should be out later this spring.

One of the things that's been fascinating to me when working on this book is looking at how small decisions change history.  In a regular, linear book there is only one outcome.  Because of that, there are always so many unexplored avenues, so many AU possibilities, and most of them remain forever obscure even to the author.  In a gaming campaign (and I've been running rpgs since I was twelve) there are many possibilities, but they are closed by the actions of the players.  In other words, even if it would be possible for a party to do Y, if  this party chooses X then I will never see what was down the path opened by Y.

With The Eagle's Heir, all the possibilities exist simultaneously.  It's Schroedinger's Story.  The main character both betrayed their friend and gave their life for them.  They both supported the Revolution and an Austrian prince.  They both went down in flames with an airship and saved the day.  The game can be played over and over, with many possible endings.  Which is the best?  There are three best endings down different paths, different continuities, if you will.  There are three worst as well.  And sixty some in between, good and bad, compromises.  Also, what is best?  That depends in part on what the player believes.  What should the future look like from two hundred years in the past?  What future do you want?  What do you believe is a good government and a good life's work?

Writing this has been fascinating.  I can't wait for it to come out.  When it does, I'm going to create a spoiler thread because I'd love to hear what you guys chose and what your various lives turned out to be.

Elza and The Eagle's Heir

One of the things I'm enjoying most about writing The Eagle's Heir with Amy Griswold is writing AU Elza.  (The Eagle's Heir is an interactive novel we're writing with A Choice of Games, due out early next year.)  The premise of The Eagle's Heir is based on a very simple historical change -- France won the Battle of Waterloo because Comte d'Erlon did succeed in reinforcing General Honore-Charles Reille at Hougoumont Farm, thereby forcing Wellington's retreat before Grouchy arrived.  It was, as Wellington later said, "a damned close-run thing" when one choice altered the course of history.  Because of this the British and Prussian forces were divided and Wellington evacuated Brussels and retired to the coast, the usual maneuver for a British expeditionary force that has been cut off.  The subsequent crisis in Parliament caused the fall of Castlereagh's government and the formation of a government that agreed to a much more favorable peace treaty with France than the one Castlereagh had supported at the Congress of Vienna.  Napoleon retained his throne and those territories currently held by France with the exclusion of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany and the Grand Duchy of Warsaw.  Europe settled into an exhausted peace.

The Eagle's Heir opens twenty years later, in 1835.  You, the main character of the interactive novel, have grown up with Alexandre Walewski, Napoleon's illegitimate son with Maria Walewska.  You are also Madame St. Elme's grandchild and she is the Emperor's spymaster.

In the real world, Elza had reinvented herself after the Hundred Days not as a soldier or a courtesan but as an author.  Though under the Restoration her books were banned in France and published in Munich or Brussels, she sold thousands of copies of her "scandalous" memoirs that made a popular case for the Empire and a moving account of those she had loved and lost.  She had also written several novels and a travelogue of Egypt.  Yes, Elza went to Egypt, climbing through the cisterns of Alexandria, journeying up the Nile to Abydos, and offering one of the first accounts of the Temple of Hathor at Dendera with its astrological ceiling dating from the reign of Cleopatra.  If the pen was the only weapon left to her, Elza proved amazingly adept at fencing with it.

However, in The Eagle's Heir, her life has taken a different turn.  Fouche was of course never trusted by Napoleon after his betrayal, and he was dismissed from Imperial service in 1815, just as he was in real life by the Bourbons.  Those who had worked tirelessly for Napoleon's return from exile were exalted, including Madame St. Elme, who had carried vital messages back and forth to Elba.  (Really does any reader of her memoirs believe she went to Elba in February of 1815 on a pleasure cruise?)  By 1835 she is the Emperor's spymaster.  It's fascinating to write her as she might have been if her worst imaginings hadn't come true, if she hadn't lost Michel and most of her friends and come out on the other side as a tireless advocate.  What if instead she had won? What if recognition and responsibility had come her way instead of blacklisting?  What if she had Michel at her side and the Emperor's trust?  She's taken a turn more toward Charmian and away from Beatrice, if that makes sense.  And Alexandre is her Caesarion.

The question for you as the main character is: is he yours?  Do you want to put Alexandre on the throne?  Or his half brother raised in Austria, the Duke of Reichstadt?  Or do you want to defy all the powers of Europe by running up the banner of revolution in 1835?  There are many different options to explore of history as it might have been.  What would you choose?  And can you succeed?


A reader asked if I had a list or a plan for other ancient world Numinous World books, that I had made references to lots of places that were tantalizing. I do have a list! Here it is:

Gull 1198-1138 BCE This is the story told in Black Ships

Kadis 1034-982 BCE Kadis is an Egyptian of Nubian descent who is a professional animal trainer. She's the cheetah trainer who Lydias dimly remembers when he first encounters the hunting cheetahs. Her job takes her north to the cities of the coast when Pharaoh gifts a pair of cheetahs to a minor allied king named Saul. There she encounters a court in turmoil and a wind through the world named David.

Amenirdis 719-640 BCE She is best known as Amenirdis II, a Great Wife of Amon, the Divine Adoratrice -- essentially the highest ranking priestess in Egypt. This is Gull stepping back into a more familiar role, but one that tests her utterly when the Assyrians under Sennacherib attack Egypt. She is the one who set the border guard sphinxes that Lydias saw, the one Lydias is drawing on when he's stealing the hearse.

Artazostre 521-457 BCE This is the Persian life just before Lydias. In fact, she is Artashir's great-grandmother. This is the one who chooses to turn away from priesthood as a vocation and to wield temporal power instead. Which makes sense -- Amenirdis has done that. It's time to do something else. She fought at the Battle of Salamis commanding a warship.

Lydias of Miletus 349-277 BCE This is the story told in Stealing Fire.

Bindusara 257-213 BCE I've only begun to touch the story of his life in Ashokan India, but he is a Buddhist monk who travels as a dutas, and as such returns to Alexandria in the reign of Ptolemy III as a monk and teacher.

Charmian 69-30 BCE  This is the story told in Hand of Isis.

I've also done some writing on one earlier than Gull, a boy named Geb in the Amarna Period. I'm planning to put a section of that up on my Patreon on October 2, so if you'd like to see it please consider subscribing to my Patreon.  For $2 per month, the cost of a cheap movie rental, you can rent, er, me.

So what are the links between them?  One thing I see is the constant tension between priestly vocation and the sensual world which is so much the base of this character, not conflict between but integration.  She begins that integration as Gull, in deciding that dedication does not mean being apart from the world and caring for nobody.  It is possible to serve the gods while loving the world.

Kadis begins with Gull's desire to return to the Black Land, and she is an "average person", not a princess or a priestess.  She has a normal job, but her choices lead her into the middle of a war in the Peleset lands, in the mess of the Mediterranean Dark Age following Black Ships, when it's every tribe and every city for itself.  There she encounters Baalthasar, a eunuch who serves Ashteret -- Xandros who is giving a life of service in return for taking Ashterah from that service.  And there of course too is Mik-el, determined to put this harper boy on the throne.  What Kadis comes out of this life wanting is knowledge and power -- the ability to change events rather than simply be part of them.  She wants greater agency.

Amenirdis begins with it.  Like Old Pythia, she's the daughter of a king dedicated as a child to become the Great Wife of Amon, a celibate priestess married to a god.  However, while she is still young and the former Great Wives living, before her sacred marriage, Egypt is attacked by the Assyrians.  In fact, their allies in Judah are already being pressed to the bone, and it looks like this rising wave -- the first of the new great empires after the Dark Age -- may in fact conquer old Late Dynastic Egypt.  Or not.  She has the power.  She also has the person who will be Dion.  And of course Michael.

Artazostre starts on the other side of the border.  That's another pattern with Gull -- in one life she is interested in her opposite number, in the enemy, in the life on the other side of the line.  So in the next life she begins there.  Artazostre is one of the new people, a Persian, one of the people who came into the political void of the dark age, belonging to the new empires and to a culture that is Indo-European rather than old fertile crescent.  Her challenge is to try to bring some kind of balance, some kind of peace between these cultures, to make a bridge.  Unfortunately, that bridge leads through war.  She also explicitly rejects becoming a priestess in favor of marriage and children -- to be a ruler with secular power instead.

Lydias begins in Miletus, which in Artazostre's day is a conquered city that her husband and she rule.  But he is a slave.  Lydias takes a chance and grows into his own power, coming unexpectedly and unimaginably back to the Black Land.  There are more Lydias stories to come.  As Elza said of him, "I carried Ptolemy's banner on many fields before I was old."

Bindusara is once again the flip.  Lydias loved India, and so in his next life he's born there and comes of age as a warrior of the Mauryan Empire.  But Lydias never loved blood, never loved war, though he had no framework, no moral teaching that expressed what he felt to be right.  Bindusara  finds it in the rising new religion of Buddhism and becomes a monk.  But contemplation is not for him.  He's a scholar, an emissary.  This is a role that eventually leads him all the way around the wheel as a teacher sent to Alexandria.

I'm sure there are one or two stories between Bindusara and Charmian.  I don't entirely know what they are yet!

What do you guys think?

Last Lines

Here are my favorite last lines from my books, ones from scenes I really love. Can you guess which book each last line is from?

All the stories end so.

The window was open, and the Hammond passed through.

"Then dance with me until the music stops."

"The navel of the world is home."

And the world was mended.

Beyond, the snow fell soundlessly into the sea.

Stasi laughed, her head against Alma's shoulder, dark against bright, "Anything goes, darling."

"So you did," I said, and kissed him amid the falling snow.

"God help us all," she said, a prayer for the ruin of Ethiopia and for all that hovered in the future, just beyond the door.

Random Memeage

Because I'm trying to remember to update here more often, some random memeage:

What music are you listening to/have listened to most recently? At this moment I'm listening to the soundtrack to Oliver Stone's Alexander. This track is The Drums of Gaugamela.

If you could cosplay with someone else, what would it be? I would love to do Fingon and Maedhros from the Silmarillion with Amy Griswold. I'd be Fingon. I have long, dark hair and hers is red. (Yes, I do have a thing for gingers!)

What books are on your desk? I just cleaned up my desk, so there's only one book on it right now: The New College Latin & English Dictionary. Why? Because I was looking up a name for a gladiatrix in a story/book beginning that I'm playing with.

Coffee or tea? Coffee at the moment. Hot buttered rum coffee in fact. With no real rum. Because the rum is gone.

What's a Jo Graham book?

I was doing a grant application recently and one of the questions stumped me. "What makes it a _____ book? How would a reader know your work out of all the books in the library?" So I put that question to you: What is a Jo Graham book? What makes it different? How would you guess a book was mine?

Patreon and Lydias

A giant thank you to everyone who has already subscribed to my new Patreon! I have 3,000 words of Lydias ready to post next week, but I am still $3 short of the goal. Anybody?

ETA: We're there! Thank you so much! If you'd like to read the new Lydias section and you haven't subscribed, it's only $2, the price of a movie rental.