Plato wrote, “Lying is in general wrong, but it is permissible for the ruling classes to tell ‘white lies’ when it is for the benefit of society.” [Greek and Roman Classics, by Meyer Reinhold]
In researching my novels which take place during the Roman empire (196-198 so far), I’ve found so many captivating and unexpected “Eureka!” moments like that quote from Plato, that I thought it would be fun to share them with others who are intrigued, but not fanatical, about the stories commonly known as “history.”
Around twenty-five years ago, in Boulder, Colorado, I started writing a novel. Every morning I would leave the house at 5:30 a.m., so early that the raccoons were still out searching through garbage cans, and walk three miles to work, arriving two hours before my actual job began.
I worked at JILA, a scientific institute at the University of Colorado. It’s one of the best in the world, with a governing body of Fellows that includes physicists, chemists, astrophysicists, astronomers, and variations such as physical chemists and chemical physicists, and of course theorists who collaborate with all of them. A really counter-intuitive thing is that the arrangement is half NIST
(U.S. Dept. of Commerce) and half University! Administrative duties are divvied up between the two! It works so well that numerous prestigious awards are common – Nobel Prizes, MacArthur “Genius” awards, Gold Medals, grants, etc.
Best of all, for me, was an atmosphere that allowed me to mold my administrative assistant job to fit me, rather than the other way around. What a concept! It was a great place to work.
The university let employees attend classes for free. One year, I took Latin from a graduate student named Gerald. The hardest class I ever had, but I loved it!
That class inspired me to find out more about the Romans, and eventually to write The Amulet . It is about a young girl from Britannia whose actions help determine who will become emperor, Albinus or Septimius (196-197 AD).
I would write for two hours, then work for six or seven. After work, I’d take the bus home, do the family things (three children and a baby), and then write for another couple of hours or so if I could.
With family traffic swirling around, I’d sketch out the next scenes by pen and paper on the dining room table. In the morning, I’d take the notes in to transcribe and flesh out on the computer. It amazes me now that none of the kids suffered from this compulsion of mine.
The book grew and grew until it was finally finished. I sent it out to a few publishers and a few agents. In those days before the Internet, big manila envelopes held manuscript pages and SASE envelopes for the inevitable rejection letters.
Discouraged, I put The Amulet away for 25 years until last year. Gosh, it was embarrassing to read some of the passages I’d been so proud of before. Not just one but several rewrites later, I sent it off to Elaine, a friend and poet who had also worked at JILA. She helped enormously by finding things that didn’t fit, by asking questions, and by making suggestions about things like the care of horses and the spinning of wool.
We went back and forth for months until finally I thought The Amulet was ready. So far, no agent has taken it up, but I’m writing the second book now.
Whatever happens, it’s exciting to keep finding correlations between the Romans and us. They and the Greeks whose culture and literature they adopted – and adapted – are surprisingly relevant to our time. Half of the expressions we use every day seem to be quotes from Plato or Sophocles or one of those guys.
I promise that you will enjoy what is coming!