Dear Decembrists (if you're offended, you can google the term),
I kept looking at the calendar this past week, day after day, feeling as though I should write a blog post. It's been a while, though I have nothing much to confess. Or comment on. Problems everywhere. More of the same out there in the real world. Even the fantasy realms are somewhat boring this time of year.
The only news of any worthiness, I suppose, would be the fact that I recently sent back my so-called final look at the final manuscript version of my debut novel* AFTER ILIUM, the sordid tale of the innocent young man tricked by the evil older woman, and so on. Been done many times before. I've tried to put a unique spin on the template by creating a parallel to the Trojan War couple's story.
In a summer creative writing workshop, it became a fun exercise to me. As a what-if kind of story it was easy to plot...if one is deliberately plotting to follow the plot of a well-known classic. (In that summer, however, I only managed to put it into an 11,000 word story; definitely too much telling, less showing.)
1. Find a young man, recently graduated from college, a nerdy, geeky, bookwormish fellow who likes studying history, has some computer skills (I suppose that may be redundant with "geeky"), and sees the world always through rose-colored lenses. Give him the name Paris, but not too obviously. Make it a surname: Parris. Then send him to Turkey, to the site of the ruins of ancient Troy, often also called Ilium (hence the name of Homer's other book, the Iliad). So far, so good. What could happen?
2. Introduce a "Helen" character in a believable way. Can't name her Helen outright because that would be too obvious, so name her Elena--close enough. The young man, Parris, becomes enamored with this woman, of course: she is sexy in an older woman way, voluptuous, sensual, seductive. Let her be running away, seeking some adventure. And they meet. It's easy for him to like her, but she...? She will need to gradually warm to him, decide to flirt and seduce him, to toy with him for the few days of this trip.
3. Then, as young men are prone to do, this Parris fellow decides that this Elena woman is Ms. Right, especially after she lets him play with her in bed and other venues. Voila! They are a couple. Believable enough so far, eh? So, from this point, do they live happily ever after? Or does something else happen? In the Homer epics, they remain a happy couple until Paris, the Trojan, dies in battle. Helen is recaptured by her husband, Menelaus, and returned to her home. But here in modern times, there is no war to solve the plot conundrum.
5. So here we have this Parris guy, sensitive, intelligent, but not a leader or a fighter, mooning for his lady, trying to reason his way out of his predicament. He has to find his way back to her. That has "odyssey" written all over it. The rest is mere parallelism. In the Odyssey, Homer has his hero visit different places, each with unique challenges and each leaving him with new lessons learned. Eventually he makes his way home, of course, and even there he faces challenges. So does this Parris fellow, only his must conform to the realism and available technology of the modern era.
6. Instead of a cyclops, Parris encounters a constable with an eye patch. Rather than his crew being incapacitated from eating lotus plants, his odyssey buddies get stoned on wild hashish. A quartet of farmer's daughters take the place of Sirens. The stormy sea and the rugged cliffs Parris must traverse replace the monsters Scylla and Charybdis. And he is found washed up on the beach not by King Alcinous and his lovely daughter Nausicaa but by a lonely Greek fisherman. Instead of calling the gods for assistance with a message via Hermes, our Parris fellow gains access to a computer with internet connection. He is finally on his way back to his lady, Elena.
The ancient Paris never returned to Troy; he died there. Our modern Parris does return, expecting to find his lovely Elena there. Instead, he meets....whoa! What was I thinking? That would be quite an egregious faux pas, giving away the ending like that. Nobody likes a spoiler. However, to complete the point of this report, it is perhaps enough that you can now see how the challenge of retelling an ancient tale in a modern setting can be accomplished. Has it been done successfully? That is the only worthwhile question in need of answering. And I, unfortunately, am not allowed to answer it. Only our dear readers may do so.
And for that, I have much gratitude and appreciation, no matter the result. Enjoy your reading!
Available soon from Fantasy Island Book Publishing, and via ebook sites like Amazon and Barnes & Noble, with print format following quickly after.
*Although I have written 7 novels to date, After Ilium will be the first to be made available to the purchasing public. Some of the others will be published in coming years.
(C) Copyright 2010-2011 by Stephen M. Swartz. All Rights Reserved. No part of this blog, whether text or image, may be used without me giving you written permission, except for brief excerpts that are accompanied by a link to this entire blog. Violators shall be written into novels as characters who are killed off. Serious violators shall be identified and dealt with according to the laws of the United States of America.