Like Xeno (who may be my alter ego) I’m often reluctant to reveal things about myself, but an author’s companion blog to his own novel should probably discuss how and/or why he came to write the story. I myself don’t know the complete answer to that (implied) question, but I know enough to at least introduce readers to the book and how it came into being.
My parents gave me a book on Greek, Roman, and Norse myths, and my sixth grade teacher encouraged my interest. I was interested in mythology for years, until I went to law school, and almost stopped reading for pleasure. (Reading law is an aggressive and hyper-analytical activity, a way of putting someone else at a disadvantage.) I stumbled upon Tolkien’s Lord Of The Ring trilogy when I had some down time at an airport, and that fortuitous event got me back into reading for pleasure and thinking about myths. Another fortuitous event occurred years later, after I’d (finally) gotten married and started a family. Our twin babies were asleep, and I had a little down time (again) and was surfing the channels and stumbled (again) upon Michael Wood’s In Search of the Trojan War. I still remembered all my mythology, and was struck by how his examination of archeological evidence couldn’t prove whether the Trojan war had even been fought, or whether the mythical Troy had ever existed or might ever be, found. Then the lawyer in me (a toxic aspect of my personality, or an objective aspect of my already toxic personality) began to ask new questions. Why would the king of a culture, that emphasized the group over personal well-being, involve his kingdom in his personal domestic matters? Why would the spartan (adjective) Spartans (noun) consent to such involvement? Why would so many other Greek city states involve themselves in the domestic problems of a supposedly spartan (adjective) Spartan (noun)? I had no answers, but took some twisted pleasure in the fact that the cornerstone myths of western civilization undermined themselves when you looked into them.
This twisted pleasure was rooted in an anti-authoritarian/iconoclastic personality, a prerequisite for being a criminal defense attorney, which I was for thirty-five years. In court, I came to discover that if I could find the story in a case, I had a better chance of winning it. Even when the evidence was overwhelmingly against me (my client, actually), a story that almost induced reasonable doubt would grab the jury’s attention, and keep them out far longer than the crushing weight of the evidence would have suggested. I came to see myself as a story-teller, and made feeble attempts at writing fiction, but being a trial lawyer and the father of twins consumes too much of one’s time and energy.
Our daughters were finishing high school when the United States the Coalition invaded Iraq to prevent Saddam from unleashing his weapons of mass destruction (sic). My wife and I were certified empty nesters as it became apparent that there were no WMDs in Iraq and never were, that we’d invaded on an incorrect premise. Then voices were heard saying that the incorrect premise was actually a fraudulent premise, that the administration knew, or should have known, that its justification for its war was based on patently flawed, as well as inaccurate, intelligence. Anti-authoritarian personalities are not Republicans, certainly not neocons or Bush supporters, and I took more twisted pleasure in these ideas as they developed. Then one day, when I was looking for something else, I stumbled across a short story that I’d begun and abandoned. (So much of this seems to have happened by accident.) The short story was about a grunt soldier in the Trojan Horse, a setting I’d picked because it was innately dark and filled with tension, a mood in which I enjoy writing. The story was originally supposed to end with the soldier, then with no name, realizing that the Trojan Horse had been a dumb idea that worked only because the Trojans were so desperate that they talked themselves into falling for it, and that he volunteered for it only because he was desperate to go home.
Twisted pleasures must have been the subconscious connection between this story and what I was hearing and reading about phantom WMDs. I started to think about expanding the story to have the soldier with no name conclude that retrieving Helen wasn’t the real purpose of the war. At the time, I was thinking of plunder as the real motive, because its modern equivalent was Iraq’s oil. Though I was in my late 50s, and therefore not naturally fluent in “digitalize,” I was comfortable enough with computers and the Internet to use search engines. I found discussions of the Trojan War and maps of ancient Troy and ancient Greece. Ideas about my short story came thick and fast, and I could try them out and change them easily with the computer’s word processor. When I came across a site that discussed the geography of the Dardanelles, and how prevailing winds and currents gave civilizations there control over access to the Black Sea from the Mediterranean, plunder changed to a Greek base on the Dardanelles as the alternative or hidden motive for the Trojan War.
I have twin daughters, no sons, but I was a son myself, once. Until our daughters, were born, my “son-hood” was an unsettling experience for all concerned. After our daughters were born (the beginning of my adulthood, though I was 38 at the time), I came to appreciate how young males often don’t do what their fathers want them to do, how they go off in their own direction, or lack of direction. My father did that by joining the army in World War II, when he probably could have remained deferred. I did that to my dad when I dropped out of a doctoral program for no reason other than being desperately unhappy. This nameless grunt soldier I’d created did the same thing to me. I tried different ways of introducing the “real” reason for the Greek coalition’s siege of Troy; camp rumors in the days leading up to the horse gambit, anonymous whispers inside the horse itself (I liked how that created another layer of tension inside the horse), but no matter what I did, the soldier with no name would do something with my idea that I hadn’t anticipated. Once, he answered the anonymous whispers in the horse and got in trouble with Odysseus. Another time, a camp rumor he’d heard made him suspicious of a soldier who ended up in the horse with him, and once outside the horse, he deviated from Odysseus’ plan because he didn’t trust that soldier. No matter what I did, this young guy went off on his own with it, and my short story got longer and harder to end. Unable to do much else, I followed him, like a dutiful dad, and my short story became a novel. I finally named him Xeno (a prefix meaning a foreigner, a thing from somewhere outside its current environment) because wherever he took me, neither of us really belonged there.
So, I had a protagonist who didn’t belong anywhere, an ancient myth (actually, a group of related ancient myths) that I was going to retell in my own anti-authoritarian way, and a war unfolding in front of me, the news from which made it easy to believe the worst about it and those who started it. the shadow of Xeno’s eye*was like a second set of twins. I was telling two stories at once, though one was ancient and mythical while the other was contemporary and all too real.
This post is getting too long. In a few days, I’ll talk about how the Trojan War myth, and the collection of ancillary myths surrounding it, undermine themselves as one sifts through the details.
*The title, except for Xeno’s name, will always be in lower case, even at the beginning of a sentence; part of my “brand.”