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A reader asks, "What are the major influences on your new book? I'm curious, because it seems like in the past Mary Renault has been a huge influence and this is very un-Renault like."

It's true that Mary Renault is a huge influence on my writing in general, and specifically on Stealing Fire. I definitely write "a Mary Renault Alexander", as does Judith Tarr and Melissa Scott, to name some other authors who've done very similar Alexanders. I've said before that if there were one book in the world I wish I'd written it's Mary Renault's The Persian Boy, so taking on writing Bagoas was pretty cheeky! I was very careful not to contradict any of her extrapolations, both because I think they're the most historically likely in terms of his background and the problem of "the Greeter", and because I admire her work so much. Stealing Fire is designed to work as a companion piece, no pun intended, just as Judith Tarr's Lord of the Two Lands is. A reader could drop Lord of the Two Lands into the gap between Fire From Heaven and The Persian Boy and have it fit seamlessly. So I would say that Stealing Fire is very much in the tradition of other admirers of Renault.

The General's Mistress is a bit different to begin with because it's based on an actual memoir. "Based upon" is the key phrase, because it's not a retelling of the memoirs. The memoirs of Ida St. Elme are political theater, intended to have a certain effect on their publication in the 1820s. They are not always truthful and are almost never as personal and revelatory as they are pretending to be. She uses her life to make a point, uses herself and her lovers to tell a compelling story with a barely veiled moral, and my purpose is at least marginally different! I'd like to think that The General's Mistress is the true story, if she could actually tell you what really happened without regard to the political consequences.

I would say the books that it most closely resembles is Juliette Benzoni's Marianne series, beginning with The Eagle and the Nightingale. That's because Juliette Benzoni cribbed Ida St. Elme all over the place! She used the memoirs as one of her primary sources for the fictional life of Marianne, and so consequently there are similarities. However, as hers is much more loosely based and much more fictional, it's also more (delightfully) over the top! Elza is never kidnapped by pirates or sold to a harem or married to a masked man whose identity is unknown! Mind you, it's the kind of thing Elza would have said happened to her, but she didn't. And of course despite sharing some adventures, Elza and Marianne are very different characters, very different kinds of women with entirely different motivations.

The other book I would say The General's Mistress is influenced by is Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's Dart. "That which yields is not always weak." Like Phedre, Elza is bisexual and has an explicitly masochistic streak, but she is far from weak. Like Phedre, she is underestimated at one's own risk! Like Phedre, she's a lot tougher than she looks and she is unerringly guided by the internal compass of her own faith, even when she's trying to figure out what that is. Their plot arcs are very different and their service is different as well, but readers who like Phedre will like Elza.

Any thoughts, my friends?


( 22 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 20th, 2011 06:58 pm (UTC)
Just an observation: much as I also enjoy Mary Renault, hers is a fictional universe where the women tend to be marginal or evil. And yours never is; not least because of the basic reincarnation concept, but also because even in Stealing Fire on its own, where most of the characters are male, the women
Iike Thais, Lydias' deas wife, Berenice etc feel interesting and three dimensional.

Re: Elza, I think you're also influenced by good old Alexandre Dumas but so was Juliette Benzoni.:) and in a counter narrative kind of way by the 1001 novels presenting the same era from fhe Anglosaxon pov.
Dec. 20th, 2011 11:23 pm (UTC)
It's very true that her women tend to be evil, or as you say marginal. I like her Thais -- all two scenes of her! One thing I was quite determined to do was give Thais her due, and especially give their due to the women of the baggage train who really were the ones to found Alexandria.

Definitely a counter narrative way to Hornblower and Sharpe and all the rest! And certainly Dumas. I think the Count of Monte Cristo is one of my top five favorite books ever. I know you're a Juliette Benzoni fan from way back, and I admit I've been at my wits end trying to figure out how to do Moscow differently when JB followed Ida St. Elme so closely!
Dec. 21st, 2011 03:14 pm (UTC)
Always tell yourself: at least you don't have the burden of a JASON in the narrative.:)

*indulges in obligatory Jason dislike*

Though in all fairness I should say that Marianne at least gets to dump Jason in the end, whereas Juliette Benzoni's earlier heroine Catherine put up with all kind of crap from Arnaud enlessly. (This is why, as faf as French bodice ripper novelists are concerned, I liked Benzoni but I LOVED Anne Golon (the first six Angelique novels, though, not the later ones). ) Clearly this was Elza's good influence; I can just imagine Juliette B. studying the memoirs and eventually concluding no woman based on her, no matter how remotely, should have to put up with a Jason forever.
Dec. 21st, 2011 03:40 pm (UTC)
That's true! I have no Jason. *joins you in Jason dislike*

You're right that Elza would never have put up with him, not for six books anyway. She'd have dumped him soundly somewhere in the second book. And seriously? Jason or Napoleon? Why is this a question? :)
Dec. 20th, 2011 11:14 pm (UTC)
readers who like Phedre will like Elza

Ooh, I'm re-reading the Kushiel books right now! (And getting more and different things out of them than I did the first read-through when I was about 18.) That only makes me more excited for The General's Mistress!
Dec. 20th, 2011 11:30 pm (UTC)
I love the Kushiel books so much -- and it's clear that Jacqueline Carey is a Mary Renault fan too. Compare the wrestling scene on page 508 of Kushiel's Chosen with the ball court scene in The Persian Boy! I think Demetrios Asterius makes a fine Mary Renault Alexander! :) Also, look at the first two lines of Kushiel's Dart and the first two of The Persian Boy! (And the first two of Black Ships, for good measure!)

Phedre is the only example other than Elza I can think of of a courtesan who is acting out of deep-seated faith, unorthodox as it may be. They're very different in who they are and what they do, but that's a similarity I don't think either of them share with anyone else. (And I've got about that level of sex in The General's Mistress, too. Which I hope people don't have a problem with.)
Dec. 21st, 2011 01:28 am (UTC)
Phedre is the only example other than Elza I can think of of a courtesan who is acting out of deep-seated faith, unorthodox as it may be.

If you've not read Elizabeth Cunningham's "The Passion of Mary Magdalen," you probably should. It's technically the second in a series, but the first is utterly skippable.
Dec. 21st, 2011 01:38 pm (UTC)
I haven't! I should look that up. Thank you.
Dec. 21st, 2011 04:15 am (UTC)
I'm now bouncing up and down in my chair wanting this. I adore Phedre,and those sex scenes - Mmmmmm.
Dec. 21st, 2011 01:41 pm (UTC)
Yes, mmmmm. :)

Definitely about that level in The General's Mistress, but it has to be. I don't think that it would actually make sense if I drew the curtain over those scenes, because that's where a whole bunch of important decisions are made. And that's implicit in the original text -- the comparisons of three men are not just political, but personal as experienced by their lover.

And there is a scene that once again harkens to The Persian Boy, though I have more nouns and verbs than Mary Renault!
Dec. 21st, 2011 01:50 pm (UTC)
I've read a couple of Mary Renault books years ago, but never that one. I should probably go rectify that while I'm waiting for this one. :-)
Dec. 21st, 2011 01:53 pm (UTC)
It's one of my favorite books ever. If I could have written anything, it would be the first five chapters of The Persian Boy! And of course it was even more daring when it was published in the late 60s, as a gay protagonist in a mainstream novel was so out there. My hardback copy has a review taped in the back, generally good but warning the reader not to give this book to women who read historical novels as the content "requires a strong stomach."
Dec. 21st, 2011 12:19 am (UTC)
I am such a huge fan of Renault's (who I found after reading the Kushiel's Legacy series) and of Carey's and yours (since reading Black Ships). It's exciting to see the similarities. I am really looking forward to reading the General's Mistress.
Incidentally, I'm also a perfumer who is in the process of doing fragrances based on the Kushiel's Legacy series, (with full permission of Jacqueline's and input by her as well.)
I have to tell you that I've been positively obsessing about doing a Pythia fragrance. The scene that I would love to capture in scent is the one where Gull is on the beach, her feet covered in blood, with the full force of the Goddess on her.
I have no idea how to begin to capture that but I've been thinking about it for about a year now.
Dec. 21st, 2011 04:17 am (UTC)
You might want to look at some less traditional scent components, like the resins commonly used in incense. Frankincense, or possibly benzoin.
Dec. 21st, 2011 05:19 am (UTC)
I use the resins quite a bit in my perfumes (frankincense, myrrh, benzoin, copal etc.) Myrrh was something that I was toying with because of the mention of it in the book. :)
Myrrh is darker, frankincense has a high. bright note that I'm not entirely sure that I'd want to use for 'this'.
Also, resins are very much traditional perfume components. They aren't used as much in modern, commercial perfumery but they do very much have a long, long, history in perfume.

Edited at 2011-12-21 05:24 am (UTC)
Dec. 21st, 2011 01:47 pm (UTC)
Oh thank you so much! And I'm so very glad you enjoyed Black Ships.

I love that scene on the beach myself -- it's the second one that came to me, nearly the oldest scene in the book, and still one of my very favorites ever. "On your knees to Death!"

I love scent and I'm a total mess for a million perfumes and bath products and creams and lotions and oils. I don't know what I associate with Gull -- well, not a blended scent, but things that go with it. Myrrh definitely, and some of the darker woody essential oils, cedar and cypress. Those are all things she'd know. She'd also know rosemary (which she calls Star of the Sea in the book) but that's probably too bright, unless it might work as a top note.

I have a very clear idea what Elza wears. The modern scent that's closest I think is Amarige by Givenchy. Although there used to be a Body Shop scent, Ananya, which was also very Elza, though I think it's discontinued now. Rose and ambergris, lush and dark at once.
Dec. 21st, 2011 02:55 pm (UTC)
I think rosemary could work very well because the bright green would alleviate some of the darkness in the the rest of the elements.
I think Pythia's would be a different fragrance than Gull's though. Pythia's would speak of caves and darkness, golden boughs and the sacred office of death.
Gull's would be salt water and flax. Ships and waves.
I think I'm going to spend the rest of the day blending.

I can't wait to read The General's Mistress!
Dec. 21st, 2011 03:41 pm (UTC)
Yes, I think Pythia's would be different from Gull's. Definitely a salt note. Gull is so complex.

What would you say for Charmian?
Dec. 21st, 2011 04:19 pm (UTC)
I've actually thought about this a lot!
I think for Charmian: Rose and lotus, sandalwood, a tiny bit of frankincense and myrrh and dragon's blood. Lush and golden.
Dec. 21st, 2011 04:39 pm (UTC)
Oh yes! Definitely lush and golden.

In the comments to my newest post I realized that I was describing people by scent as well, that Victor is orange and sandalwood.
Dec. 21st, 2011 12:32 pm (UTC)
I adore Kushiel's Dart, so now I'm looking forward to The General's Mistress even more (if that's possible). Due to your mentioning them, I've just finished reading Fire from Heaven and the Persian Boy (and am halfway through Funeral Games). Which of course means that now I have to look up Benzoni!
Dec. 21st, 2011 01:51 pm (UTC)
The Funeral Games is, sadly, the only Renault I hate! Which is probably why I dared tackle the same subject matter in Stealing Fire. I don't think I would have dared the subject matter of Fire From Heaven or The Mask of Apollo. And as it was I had to rely on two good friends, Tanya and Anne-Elisabeth, to poke me into doing it!

Benzoni is MUCH lighter! It's more of a bodice-ripping romp, and you don't expect her history to be as good as it is, things that are very real dressed up in a fluffy wrapper. Which is pretty much Elza to a T. The whole Moscow sequence is ripped straight out of the memoirs. If you read it, start with The Eagle and the Nightingale. There's a scene in there which is ripped from Ida too, one of the same ones that appears in its original context in The General's Mistress. I've followed the source much more closely, but you can see where JB got it.
( 22 comments — Leave a comment )