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Danae Giveaway

I've set up an Amazon Giveaway for Danae. Two lucky entrants will win a Kindle edition of the novel. Don't miss out on this opportunity. The giveaway runs until May 5, 2016. Don't miss out. You don't have to do anything to win except follow my Amazon Author Page.

That's IT!

Of course, if you're impatient you can always purchase the book earlier!

Enter HERE.

And The Winner Is...

What a nail biter!  After weeks of my admiring everybody's amazing entries and waiting for the results, Take Back Halloween just announced the winners of their 2014 costume contest.


I won!  I actually won something.  A $25 Amazon gift certificate.  Of course, the costume cost more to make, but it was so much fun.  I almost didn't include the Lady of Tiryns image, but did because I was afraid the judges wouldn't understand that it was a historical Bronze Age Greek look (minus the boobage).

You should see the lady who won for doing Queen Pu-abi of Ur.  Amazing!  I myself am working on a Pu-abi costume with the full headdress and everything, but this lady is just so regal.  And the little Athena with the hand-crocheted aegis.  I thought she was the best of all the junior Athenas.

Queen Clytemnestra Has Arrived

When I heard about the Take Back Halloween costume contest, I knew I had to participate.

Even though the deadline is Sunday, November 9, 2014, I knew deep down in my cold black heart that I needed to get my entry in by Halloween.  Rain was in the forecast, Mom is leaving for Philadelphia on business early Wednesday, and I wanted to be DONE in ALL CAPS with costume making/sewing by October 31 so I could concentrate on my writing.

When did I learn about the contest? Tuesday, October 28.

How much time did I have to make the badass Queen Clytemnestra costume that I knew would wow the Take Back Halloween staff?

72 hours.

Could I turn out a bodice, skirt, and polos headdress in 72 hours?

Just barely.

clytemnestrashoot copy
The trim on that red bodice comes straight from the fresco of the Lady of Tiryns.

Did I have trim that looked even REMOTELY like that? Hell, no.  Cue the yards of black grosgrain ribbon and white felt.  Remember how nice felt used to be?  Know how crappy store-bought felt is nowadays?  How would you feel about tracing and cutting out HUNDREDS of those little circles and gluing those bastards onto the ribbon?

The skirt went better.

Now I know that I could never, ever take a job in a sweatshop down in the Garment District sewing cheap rags for Wal*Mart.  My back and shoulders can't take the strain.  I have a knot at the base of my neck that needs a hot Swedish guy named Sven to knead into submission.

The hat was surprisingly easy for a newbie who spent most of Tuesday night obsessing about how to put it together.  No, I told Mom, it's not a pillbox hat, it's a polos headdress.  She has no idea what that is.

The one thing I could not complete in time?  The labrys this costume needs.  Clytemnestra just doesn't feel fulfilled without her double axe.  I had to tell the Take Back Halloween staff that I left it buried in Agamemnon's chest in the bathtub up in the palace.

The whole ensemble?  Scared the whiskers off Molly and Ru, who dashed straightaway under the bed.  Molly runs away from her own shadow.  Ru knows who Clytemnestra is.  Smart cat.

The Sisters In Crime Blog Hop Post

I don’t write mysteries or thrillers, but was tagged by the wonderful Judith Starkson, whose new release, Hand of Fire, about the Briseis of The Iliad, isn’t a mystery either. And my latest release, Knossos, definitely isn’t a mystery.

Which male authors write great women characters? Which female authors write great male characters?

I tend not to think about other authors in terms of gender. A story and its characters either work for me or they don’t. But since you asked for an example, I love the way Colleen McCollough draws her male characters in her Masters of Rome series. Gaius Marius, Sulla, Caesar, she does a fabulous job getting inside their heads. I also like her portrayal of Odysseus in Song of Troy. Odysseus is not an easy character to write. McCollough shows him being clever and cunning during the ten years of the Trojan War, which not even Homer does in The Iliad.

If someone said, “Nothing against women writers, but all of my favorite fiction authors happen to be men,” how would you respond?

I’m not into the whole male versus female author thing to begin with. If a male can write an awesome female character or vice versa, then that’s great. If a reader chooses to read only male authors or vice versa, well, that’s their call, although they may be missing out on some great books. That may sound rather nonchalant and off-putting, but I’m a very down-to-earth person. I’m just here in my little corner writing the books I’d like to read. I’m not here to “convert” anybody. And when I read, all I care about is that the author can write characters that are convincing, compelling, and not walking clichés.

What’s the best part of the writing process for you? What’s the most challenging?

If you mean, a part like doing the research, writing the ending, collecting the royalties, well, I tend not to break the writing process down like that. I could be doing research while simultaneously writing the last chapters of a novel; this is what happened with Knossos, because each chapter covered a different period in time. If I had to choose one thing, it probably would be doing the research, but then the most challenging thing about that would be how much of that research to incorporate into the manuscript. I collected enough material on the Knossos Labyrinth to write two books, and in the end there were eras and stories I had sketched out that I couldn’t cover.

Editing a manuscript can be as challenging as writing the first draft, because by that time I’ve lived with the setting and characters so long that I’m exhausted. Writing Knossos was particularly challenging because when I finished each chapter I had to decompress before starting the next, as the chapters are self-contained stories with their own characters, problems, plot, etc. It was like writing ten separate novels.

Do you listen to music while writing? What’s on your playlist?

I’m one of those fussy writers who needs absolute peace and quiet when writing. But I do listen to music in the car. Soundtracks, mostly, from movies like The Lord of the Rings, Alexander, Troy, etc. Sometimes the film tracks will inspire a scene. For example, I have a copy of the score from Michael Wood’s BBC documentary In Search of the Trojan War. A track from that album inspired the scene in The Young Lion where the adolescent Orestes drives a chariot for the first time.

What books are on your nightstand right now?

No fiction, unfortunately. I’m in the last semester of Medical Billing and Coding, so my pleasure reading is the textbook Insurance Handbook for the Medical Office, a copy of ICD-9-CM 2012, and CPT Procedures. But I have ordered a gently used copy of Through A Glass Darkly, and have Adrienne Mayor’s latest, Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women, on my wish-list.

If you were to mentor a new writer, what would you tell her about the writing business?

To tell the truth, it’s not something I like doing, because most writers don’t want to hear that they need to work harder at their craft, so I always send a disclaimer to warn them what they’re getting into with me. I’m not a squealing teenager cooing all over you on FanFiction.net. I don’t sugar-coat things. Please, don’t get the impression that I’m some modern-day Medea sitting at the keyboard eager to butcher your baby—I’m not a mean person, honest—but if you come to me with terrible grammar, a lazy attitude, and your work is full of clichés, and you insist that you’ve written a masterpiece, I’m going to tell you. And you should be glad I told you. I’ve worked with “editors” who never bothered to take the time to explain the mistakes I was making, and so my writing did not improve. I need to hear what’s wrong so I can correct it.

I have a marvelous editor now. Kev can rip my work a new one and make me laugh about it. Well, he did in the beginning, with Helen’s Daughter. Not so much now, because I listen to his advice and don’t make the same mistake twice. Both of us work hard to make my novels the best they can be. But most writers who ask for my advice aren’t ready to hear that they haven’t written the next blockbuster. I’ve had to deal with some adults throwing tantrums that would my cousin’s two-year-old to shame. You know what I say to them? Suck it up. Would you rather hear it from me, or from your readers?

When it’s a younger writer, I blame today’s school system for the way they screw kids up, and trust me, I know. I was a teacher for three years. It made me ill, the attitude the school administration had, all based on studies by university academics who’d never seen the inside of a real classroom, or hadn’t been in thirty years. Everybody has to be a winner. We have to cushion those fragile egos. Nobody is allowed to fail. Except that in real life you do fail. A lot. Kids need to fail sometimes. Failure is a great teacher of persistence. It challenges people to try harder and deal with rejection, and rejection is a big part of every author’s life.

When it’s an adult writer around my age (I’ve been 29 for the longest time, you know), then I have no explanation, only this: Leave your ego at the door, stop encouraging shill reviews from your friends and family, learn and keep honing your craft, and deal with it when your mentor/editor points out an error. And, I suppose, that’s how you go from being a writer to becoming an author. I'm still learning as I go.

I’m tagging L.M. Ironside/Libbie Hawker, whose historical novels about Hatshepsut and Thutmose III deliver entertainment and intrigue.

And Still

And still, the Minoan lady is wandering around Knossos sniffing posies.

hallofbulls copy

Interview With Judith Starkson

I recently interviewed author Judith Starkson, whose new release, Hand of Fire, is the story of Briseis, Achilles' famous captive from the Iliad.

  1. I see you and I share an enthusiasm for writing about marginal characters in the late Bronze Age. What in particular drew you to Briseis rather than, say Chryseis or one of Priam’s lesser-known daughters?

I had a very specific question that drove me to Briseis, but before I get to that, I’m intrigued with these two possibilities and why they would or would not have worked in a similar way as Briseis did for a novel I could write. Chryseis, I think I’d have eliminated because she has a clear rescue plan set by the Homeric tradition. Her father comes and complains. He gets metaphorically kicked in the gut by King Agamemnon who says he prefers sleeping with Chryseis over sleeping with his wife—which would have provided a good inside joke since everyone knew that said wife later murders Agamemnon. Then the god Apollo takes the father’s part and forces, with a plague, the return of Chryseis to her father. The other reason Chryseis doesn’t work as well, I think, is that Agamemnon is such a total jerk. He makes too one-dimensional a villain and he certainly can’t be presented as offering anything positive to Chryseis. Achilles, in contrast, offers a lot of ambiguity—he has captured Briseis but he also speaks of her as his legal wife. He is willing to offer emotional and societal compensation for the harm he’s done. And while he’s a psychological disaster area, he’s pretty sensitive and deeply capable of love. That starts to make for an interestingly complex relationship rather than one where you’re just waiting impatiently for a knife to do the creep in as we are with Agamemnon. As to a lesser-known Priam daughter. First, due to the movie Troy’s misrepresentation of Briseis as a daughter of Priam rather than the princess of Lyrnessos that she is (Lyrnessos is a city allied to Troy), I’m kind of philosophically opposed to giving unknown Priam daughters any more airtime. Troilus and Cressida had their moment in the romance limelight even in the Middle Ages, but the ones we barely know about don’t offer much of a hook—we know they are all doomed. Their fates are pretty set. Briseis, bless her, disappears from the mythic/Homeric record without explaining what she does in the end, so I had the privilege of letting her decide and announce it via my novel. I know this sounds like she’s a living character somewhere, but yes, that’s pretty much the case with my characters. I’ve heard other writers talk this way, so I’m claiming sanity despite having gotten to know a host of imaginary characters who are living independent existences that they tell me about in order to get the story down on paper.

Now, why did I choose Briseis to begin with?

While teaching the Iliad for a couple decades, I kept wondering with my students how Briseis, the young captive woman who sparked the conflict between Achilles and Agamemnon, could possibly have loved Achilles—which is what Homer shows us. The half-immortal Greek killed her husband and brothers, destroyed her city and turned her from princess to slave—hardly a heartwarming courtship. She’s central to the plot of the Iliad and yet she gets only a handful of lines. In those few words, the one clear notion expressed is her sorrow at being parted from Achilles.

I should say I always liked Achilles, the existential hero who calls the whole war into question—which shows he’s no brainwasher—so the answer wasn’t some ancient version of Stockholm Syndrome—which was the early suggestion of several friends. I started exploring who Briseis could be that would solve this psychological puzzle and that led me to writing a novel about her. The question preceded the concept of writing a novel and, unfortunately, when I started I didn’t know how to write a novel, so I took some time to learn that process with the help of an extended crew of remarkable teachers and critique partners.

  1. What makes your Briseis different from other portrayals of the character? How is your Achilles different?

When I first sent out my manuscript to agents—not the current version in the published novel, but a longer, less skillful version that still needed editing although I did not realize it yet—a legendary agent wrote back to me that he would dearly love to read this manuscript because no one had ever written a novel about Briseis and clearly this needed to be done. He thought the idea was brilliant. But, unfortunately for me, he said not to send it because he was definitely too old to take on any more clients and if I sent it, I’d harbor some hope that he’d take me on and he didn’t think that was fair. I’ve liked this encounter for many reasons, not the least because it affirmed what I thought I’d researched. There really isn’t any other modern portrayal of Briseis except the movie Troy and, I learned recently, an Italian film that is actually kind of similar to Troy. That is, a feisty girl who nonetheless falls for the handsome hunk and has sex with him and then disappears from our attention. My Briseis is the point of my novel. She’s not the sexual interlude, although great sex is included in the novel. For me sex wasn’t the point of including a woman in my tale of Troy. One of my more astute reviewers/interviewers asked me if I had intentionally spent almost half the novel without bringing Achilles on the scene. I can’t claim to have had a precise design from the beginning, but I definitely chose to develop Briseis fully first before I brought Achilles on stage. I created her as a strong but flawed and full-of-doubts young woman with a pretty impressive array of skills for surviving the crap that life dishes out. She enters the stage alone and she departs at the end in a manner that is quite different from the “happy ever after, arm-in-arm-with-her-man” romance arc style. So Achilles is part of her development, but it’s her growth as a human being not her romance that matters to the themes of my book. Fortunately, the historical record about women in the Trojan/Hittite Late Bronze Age milieu supports my portrayal of Briseis as a powerful, literate leader of a woman. This record has been rather recently revealed via huge cuneiform clay tablet libraries that were excavated and translated in the last decade or two. My Briseis formed up as I read translations of some of the tablets.

Now for Achilles. How is my portrayal different? In this case, I’m going to argue that I’m truly Homeric and most modern views aren’t, although mostly those views aren’t expressed in novels or movies but in literary criticism. A lot of people read the Iliad, the Homeric poem where all these characters are first introduced to Western Civilization, and conclude that Achilles is a violent, self-centered man of limited imagination. From my remarks already, you can tell I clearly don’t agree. I honestly don’t know how they read the same poem and get that idea. It isn’t what the Greek words say, but I’m telling you, people get pissed at my “read” of Achilles. One twenty-something young man was furious because he thought my sensitive, thoughtful Achilles was a wimp. I’d ruined his hero. He wanted blood and gore, and I brought him a poetry singing healer who is full of remorse for the harm his fighting prowess does daily, even while he refuses to stop fighting because that’s the only way he can protect his men, whom he views as his brothers. Remember what I said about psychological mess? Achilles is so full of contradictions that it’s amazing he doesn’t explode, and, frankly, he pretty much does, as I show in my novel. So I’m sticking by my complicated, sensitive guy. I’ll include one quote (Lombardo translation) from the bard himself in defense of my position. Here is how Achilles describes himself in the ninth book of the Iliad, as a mother bird taking care of her chicks, which in this case are the other Greek warriors:

“And what do I have for all my suffering,

Constantly putting my life on the line?

Like a bird who feeds her chicks

Whatever she finds, and goes without herself,

That’s what I’ve been like, lying awake

Through sleepless nights, in battle for days

Soaked in blood, fighting men for their wives.

  1. From the novel excerpt I’ve read, I see that Briseis keeps her traditional Homeric Greek name. Were you tempted to give her a Hittite name?

No. Confession: when I first started thinking about Briseis, I didn’t know about Hittites. That was more than ten years ago and a huge amount of the translation and analysis has happened in that decade plus. The Hittites are the lost empire. We totally forgot they existed, except for a misleading trace in the Biblical record. When I started researching, I figured I needed to sort out the Mycenaean Greeks in greater detail than I gained in many years of teaching and that would give me Briseis’s world. I gradually discovered I had a much bigger job to do—teach myself about a whole lost empire. No one back in my graduate program at Cornell was talking about Hittites in regards to understanding the Homeric world. That was back in the Jurassic Age, it’s true, but nonetheless, the idea of renaming Briseis wouldn’t have crossed my mind when I first got to know her. Indeed many of the key characters I worked on early in the process of writing the novel have Greek names because I hadn’t started thinking like a Hittite. Later, when the expansive world of the Hittites had begun to unfold before me, I started finding names by using the online “Repertiore Onomastique” on the Hethitologie portal which lists all extant names known from the cuneiform tablets of the Hittites. My somewhat irregular smash up of Greek and Hittite names seems reasonable in this geographical area where the two cultures intermixed and had close trade ties, so I kept the earlier names. The only time I changed a Homeric name, was to give Briseis’s father a distinctly different name than hers, which, since hers is a patronymic based on her father’s name, would otherwise have proved confusing. Having two important characters with names only a letter different than each other seemed to be pushing my readers’ tolerance too far.

  1. The Hittites wrote about the Mycenaean Greeks on clay tablets that became part of their diplomatic archive at Hattusas. Was the Hittite archive part of your research?

Yes, I used the archives because they are the “other half” of the story. The Mycenaeans tell us the story of the Greek invading army, but to know what Briseis’s world is like to we have to study the Hittites who are culturally, religiously, and politically similar/related to the Trojans and their allies such as the Lyrnessans. I wanted to build a historically accurate Briseis, even if she herself may have been a figment of Homer’s imagination. The woman I portray could have lived in that time and place to the best of our knowledge at this time.

  1. Have you been to any of the places you’ve written about, or are you a starving artists/armchair historian like me?

I’ve been lucky enough to go on two major research trips to Turkey, Greece and Cyprus (the sequel to Hand of Fire will move to Cyprus, I think). The first trip I went with both my husband and kids who were in high school and college at that point. We loved the trip, but my kids did label some of the ruins, “ruined ruins.” They tended to find the Roman ruins more exciting than the random-seeming piles of stones that make up most of the Bronze Age sites. This spring, my husband and I went alone, and I have to say, he’s now an expert at recognizing ashlar stone, fortifications, shards, signs of copper smelting and various other details that make a Bronze Age ruin come alive. We also explored Cypriot wine production, which is my husband’s area of interest, so he wasn’t complaining. I’ve enjoyed visiting the archaeological sites and meeting with the directors of the various digs so that I can understand what lies within those piles of rubble as best as we can. I also love being able to see the physical settings of the places in my novel first hand. So much of what I describe like the cities and buildings has to be reconstructed from scholarship. It’s great to be able to write the landscapes directly from experience. Our travels are a luxury that I definitely appreciate.

6. I’m very excited to hear about your forthcoming Queen Puduhepa mystery series. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone else write about Puduhepa, and she’s such a remarkable woman. What inspired you to make her a sleuth?

She definitely stands out amidst the Hittite rulers. First because she’s a woman and a powerful one (not unprecedented among Hittites) and second because she’s clearly so smart and diplomatically skillful. We have her judicial decisions, her letters and treaties. They all point to a clever woman who could definitely solve crimes if she put her mind to it. Making her a sleuth seemed like a fun way to introduce her to the world. I’ve been saying lately that she’d be as famous as Cleopatra if she hadn’t been buried by the sands of time. Now that she’s been dug out, it’s time to make her a household name. For that, she needs to be fun to read about—and who doesn’t love a mystery?

Purchase Hand of Fire for Kindle and hardcover on Amazon.

Knossos Giveaway

Did you know that a giveaway is part of this week's Knossos Blog Tour?

Head on over to A Diva A Day to enter!

Blog Tour: First Stop

I'm being interviewed today about the writing of and inspiration behind Knossos. Go check it out.

I'm also over at The Thrifty Reader.  Come on over and find out what my favorite movies are.

Making Connections Knossos Blog Tour

This week over at the Goodreads Making Connections forum, I'll be making stops on my blog tour to promote Knossos.  Certified 100% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes--if RT reviewed books, that is.

So all week you'll be seeing links to interviews and promos.  No one felt brave enough to tackle the book to do a review--sad horns--but my historical fiction compatriot in crime Judith Starkson is currently reading it (and LOVING IT, I might add), and will be posting a review as soon as she comes up for oxygen.

Orestes Is Twittering

For those of you who have Twitter, Orestes Agamemnonides, the sometimes-twitchy and homicidal High King of Mycenae, Sparta, and Argos, invites you to join him on Twitter. Step through the Lion Gate, and enter the crazy here.

More on Kourotrophoi

Back in June, I mentioned kourotrophoi. These ceramic mother-child figures have turned up at Mycenaean sites all over the Aegean, particularly in children’s graves. Kourotrophoi were not exclusive to the Bronze Age; the practice continued into later times.

The kourotrophos might have represented a divine Mother Goddess and Child, like the Christian Madonna and Child, or it could simply have been a form of sympathetic magic. Mycenaean and Minoan Goddess and Divine Child representations have been found elsewhere, and my next post will be devoted to a very special such artifact.

I mention kourotrophoi in my books. Here is a passage from Helen’s Daughter in which Hermione reflects on childbearing and the talismans that accompany it.

As high priestess in Sparta, I had seen women die in childbirth. Sometimes, they asked for me, to give them my blessings, and perhaps avert disaster by it, but though I held their hands, wiped the sweat from their brows, and said the prayers, they died, anyway.

Opening my eyes, I gazed at the kourotrophos standing on the table nearest the bed. She was very old, crafted in an outmoded Cretan style. Her scarlet and black paint was fading, but she had faithfully watched over the confinements of my foremothers for eleven generations, and had not lost a single woman in childbirth.

Purchase Helen's Daughter on Amazon Kindle or at Smashwords.

Excerpt: Helen's Daughter

Seeing her legendary beauty for the first time with an adult’s eyes, I was not impressed. Helen was dainty and dark-haired like a woman in a fresco, but she was also cool and impenetrable. Why in the world had so many men wasted their lives fighting in her name, or had they even known what they were dying for? I would not have died for her.

Read more...Collapse )

Buy Helen's Daughter at Amazon and Smashwords.



Linear B: Man and Woman

𐀪   𐂁

Linear B ideograms meaning “man” and “woman,” respectively.


As a correction to a statement I made in an earlier post, Linear B does appear to have had some diphthongs, but they are separate signs, and the script still does not represent all the sounds (such as the liquid /l/, /g/, and /h/) that the spoken language must have had.

I am slowly working on Orestes: The Outcast, the second book in the trilogy, but also trying to get the word out there about The Young Lion and Helen’s Daughter.  If you read and liked either book, please pass the word along (and let me know your thoughts, of course!).

First Review!

Orestes: The Young Lion has its first review, and it's a five-star one.  Wow!  I was having such doubts over whether people would like the book, and whether it was worth it to start the second one, but this fires me up again.

I normally don't find "the early years" parts of historical bio very interesting, but Ms. Gill makes the telling of Orestes, son of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, and scion of the cursed house of Atreus, very compelling. In particular, I think the author does two things very well...

First, the author does a very good job dealing with the psychology of Orestes. Orestes reveres his absentee father, and at times, has to come to grips with the fact that Agamemnon was not a very nice man. His interactions with his mother and stepfather are also interesting from a psychological standpoint. Orestes' relationship with his tutor was also heartwarming. But the most interesting aspect, I thought, was Orestes' attempting to come to grips with his destiny, namely that he is cursed to kill his own mother.

Secondly, I was surprised at how, at least in my mind, accurately Ms. Gill was able to get into the mind of a young boy. As a dabbling writer myself, I always find it daunting to attempt to narrate from a feminine point of view, but Orestes rings true as a very compelling boy and young man, with all the emotions, impatience of youth, and flaws portrayed beautifully.

I eagerly await the second installment of this story!

Go forth and see for yourself!  Orestes: The Young Lion is available on Amazon Kindle and Smashwords.  I am already 9,000 words into the second installment, Orestes: The Outcast.

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