Judith Starkston writes historical fiction and mysteries set in Troy and the Hittite Empire. Her novel, Hand of Fire, tells Briseis’s story, the captive woman who sparked the bitter conflict between Achilles and Agamemnon in the Iliad. There was more to her than the handful of lines Homer gave her.
Starkston’s upcoming mystery series features the indomitable Queen Puduhepa of the Hittites. On the first surviving peace treaty in history, Puduhepa pressed her seal beside her foe’s, Rameses II, but she didn’t realize until now that she was a sleuth.
Starkston is a classicist (B.A. University of California, Santa Cruz, M.A. Cornell University) who taught high school English, Latin and humanities. She and her husband have two grown children and live in Arizona with their golden retriever Socrates.
You can follow Judith Starkston on Twitter or Facebook or Google+. Starkston reviews historical fiction for the Historical Novels Review, the New York Journal of Books, The Poisoned Pen Blog, and on this website. She is a proud member of Desert Sleuths Chapter of Sisters in Crime and the Historical Novel Society. She leads the Arizona Chapter of HNS in order to foster an active historical fiction community in Phoenix.
The Longer Bio for those interested
As an undergraduate Classics major at the University of California, Santa Cruz and later as a graduate student at Cornell, Judith Starkston fell under Homer’s spell. It was probably inevitable that her penchant for story telling would combine with her passion for the Iliad to produce Hand of Fire, a novel set against the legendary backdrop of the Trojan War.
Over a long career as a high school English, Latin and Humanities teacher, discussions with her students left Judith with some burning questions about the people of the Iliad, not the least, why does Briseis love Achilles? This mightiest of Greek warriors has, after all, killed her brothers, destroyed her city and taken her captive. Finding too much to like in the existential hero Achilles to blame this peculiarity on an ancient version of the Stockholm syndrome, Judith went digging into the past. She got more than she bargained for—just as it turned out Achilles had gotten more than he’d reckoned on when he fell in love with Briseis.
The world has known the location of Troy since the late 1800’s but only recently have its inhabitants begun to emerge; their ethnicity, culture and interests. Most of this outstanding modern archaeology post-dates those Classics degrees Judith worked so hard on. She had a whole new world to uncover.
That process included adventures in Turkey, climbing through the ruins of Troy and the Hittite capital of Hattusa. (Hittites and Trojans turn out to be quite closely related culturally.) Her children complained about the “ruined ruins,” but her husband and she marveled at the huge Cyclopean stones that formed the foundations and the mysterious tunnels and exposed amphorae that make up the sites at Troy and Hattusa.
Judith intentionally planted a reference to Cyprus in her upcoming novel so that in the spring of 2014 she had every excuse to go exploring that island and all its Bronze Age sites as a future setting for one of the sequels to Hand of Fire. This research trip also took her again to Turkey where she met with archaeologists at several key Bronze Age sites, museums and institutes.
A highlight was the site with seven lovely springs proposed as the ancient city of Lawazantiya where her current work in progress is set—an historical mystery with the Hittite Queen Puduhepa as “sleuth.” If the Hittites hadn’t been buried in the sands of time, she’d be as famous as Cleopatra and perhaps soon she will be—with help from both the scholarly and historical fiction realms.
Fortunately, all that digging into Briseis’s possible life story—she only has a handful of lines in the Iliad so it had to be found elsewhere—produced a wealth of information, much of it in cuneiform tablets describing magical rites and political intrigue. A powerful role for Briseis, that of a healing priestess, called in Hittite a hasawa, also came to historic light. That role made perfect sense for a woman who fell in love with a half-immortal warrior who was a healer and a bard. The stories meshed and a strong-willed redhead started bossing Judith around in an increasingly “real” imaginary world. You can find her in the pages of Hand of Fire.
Judith is ably assisted in her writing by her golden retriever, Socrates, a canine philosopher who sits on her feet and makes sure she gets the job done.
You can follow Judith on Twitter or Facebook or Google+. Judith reviews historical fiction for the Historical Novels Review, the New York Journal of Books, The Poisoned Pen Blog, and on this website. She is a proud member of the Desert Sleuths Chapter of Sisters in Crime and the Historical Novel Society. She leads the Arizona Chapter of HNS in order to foster an active historical fiction community in Phoenix.