The Next Big Thing: My Novel-in-Progress

A few weeks ago, Nancy Adams, a fellow book blogger, Sister in Crime member, and historical fiction writer, asked me if I wanted to participate in “The Next Big Thing” blog chain, in which writers chat about their current work-in-progress by answering ten questions and link their post to other similar posts. I am delighted to be involved.

Gargoyle by Laertes Nancy Adams Images and PhotosNancy’s previous novels have been historical mysteries, but her novel-in-progress is breaking new ground for her. Set in Paris in the current day, it features a gargoyle that comes to life to warn a Jesuit priest about a young woman’s suspicious death and a demon rising from the city’s ancient past. You can read her engaging post here:

My Novel in Progress Nancy Adams

Judith Starkston’s Work-in-Progress

What is your working title of your book?

Hand Full of Fire

Where did the idea come from for the book?

The idea—to write the story of Briseis, the captive woman over whom Achilles and Agamemnon quarrel in the Iliad—came from a question the poem presented to me: how could Briseis fall in love with Achilles, the killer of her husband and brothers and destroyer of her city? Some people suggest the Stockholm Syndrome when they hear me pose my question, but that is not the answer I found for this woman who receives only a passing mention in the epic poem.

Briseis taken from Achilles. Illustration by John Flaxman for Pope's translation of The Iliad, 1805. photo reproduction by Bibi Saint-Pol on Wikimedia Commons

What genre does your book fall under?

Historical fiction

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I’ve deferred to my two critique partners to answer this question. I have to confess I can’t make any real human beings fit the images I have in my head.

Briseis: Diane suggests a hypothetical young Meryl Streep, Carolyn suggests Rachel Weisz
Achilles: Diane says Sean Penn or Robert Downey Jr. Carolyn Daniel Craig

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

In the midst of the mythic Trojan War, Briseis, healing priestess and strong-willed princess, fueled by unspeakable grief, raises a sword against Achilles, mightiest of Greek warriors, igniting a passion that seals his fate and changes her destiny.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I am currently seeking representation for Hand Full of Fire.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

The short answer is about a year and a half. That ignores the years of writing previous drafts on this same general topic, which should never see the light of day. Through many classes, workshops, critiques and approaches/drafts, I’ve been learning the craft of writing. Then, of course, that “first draft” underwent a lot of editing.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Madeline Miller’s Song of Achilles, which won the Orange Prize this year, is also based in the Iliad. She chose the other love story in the poem, the one between Patroklos and Achilles.
Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent, which expands the hints of a woman’s story found in an ancient text to a fully imagined novel.
Nancy Bilyeau’s The Crown follows one young woman’s development in the midst of crisis and danger, as mine does, while organically weaving in historical background.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I’ve been drawn into Homer’s world of the Trojan War since my undergraduate days. I think the single most humane and moving moment in literature is the scene in the Iliad where Priam begs Achilles for his son’s body. And, as I said above, I’ve been dying to figure out what made Briseis love as she did.
image Greek vase depicting the Trojan War Metropolitan Museum photo © Rosemania Wikimedia Commons

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

I’ve tried to maintain the mythic, larger-than-life quality that is integral to the tradition of the Trojan War. Achilles is half-immortal and invincible in battle, and yet at the same time so flawed and fragile. Briseis thrives with him because of this innate contradiction. But I also want to immerse the reader in a real and solid world that existed at a moment in human history and that is, to our eyes, quite exotic and marvelous. I loved exploring the Mycenaean Greeks and the more recently uncovered civilization of the Hittites.

image Procession of 12 Hittite Warrior gods, rock relief at Yazilikaya photo © China Crisis Wikimedia Commons

Here are the writers I tagged. Please tune in to their blogs the week of November 12-16.

photo image Elizabeth Speller authorElizabeth Speller is the author of two of my favorite historical mysteries set in the Lost Generation after WWI: The Return of Captain John Emmett and The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton. She is also a poet and author of the memoir The Sunlight on the Garden: a memoir of Love, War, and Madness.
Link to Elizabeth Speller’s blog

photo image Linda Graham authorLinda Graham is the author of two books set in 18th century Philadelphia, Voices Beckon and Voices Whisper. Poignant and emotionally honest, Voices Beckon is a compelling story about growing up and finding love—against all odds. Romance and ambition collide in Voices Whisper, the story of a young man’s struggle to cast off the shackles of his background to make the most of this new country in which a man can create his destiny, regardless of his roots. Linda’s post will go up November 12.
Link to Linda Graham’s blog

photo image Cynthia Robertson authorCynthia Robertson has recently completely her novel Sword of Mordrey, an historical adventure set amid the sun-baked alleyways of ancient Jerusalem and the squalor and color of medieval London. She’s an active book blogger and accomplished reviewer.
Link to Cynthia Robertson’s Blog

photo image Stephanie Thornton authorStephanie Thornton’s debut novel, , comes out in July 2013. Daughter of the Gods will come out in 2014. Stephanie’s books reflect her obsession with infamous women in history, especially Hatshepsut and Theodora. Her post will go up November 12.
Link to Stephanie Thorton’s Blog

Message for the tagged authors and interested others:
Rules of the Next Big Thing
***Use this format for your post
***Answer the ten questions about your current WIP (work in progress)
***Tag five other writers/bloggers and add their links so we can hop over and meet them.
Ten Interview Questions for the Next Big Thing:
What is your working title of your book?
Where did the idea come from for the book?
What genre does your book fall under?
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?


The Next Big Thing: My Novel-in-Progress — 11 Comments

  1. Judith, Hand Full of Fire sounds wonderful – I can’t wait to read it! You’ve piqued my interest as to the reason you give for Briseis falling for Achilles. Your one sentence breakdown is so good…I still dispair of coming up with one for my novel.
    Thanks for tagging me 🙂

  2. Thanks, Cynthia. I’m so glad you like my one sentence–it took a lot of pages of notes and scratches for that 1 sentence to come into being. And I couldn’t have done it without my wonderful critique partner.

  3. Love this interview Judy! Your story idea and the characters are so compelling. It’s amazing to me that you could take a line from a poem and create a whole world from it. I hope I’ll get to read it in book form one day SOON!

  4. Briseis sounds like such an intriguing character, and I can’t wait to read your book. I love being drawn into other worlds.

    I agree with Cynthia that you’ve come up with a skillfully written and attention-grabbing one-sentence synopsis.

    Thanks for the nice shout-out!

  5. Judy, best of luck with Hand Full of Fire. I know you must have had an interesting journey into the minds of a Greek warrior/god and his captive, Briseis. And thanks for the beautiful images you included in your blog; those horses look as though they are about to speak!

  6. I love the story of Briseis! Daughter of Troy was one of my favorite historical fiction novels when I was in college–I’m glad to hear her story is being written about again. Such an intriguing woman!

    And thanks for the tag!

  7. Judith, you did a great job with the questions. I want to read your book! It sounds fascinating, and even though historical fiction isn’t what I write, I do read it. Good luck with it. Let me know when it’s out.

  8. Thanks to all of you. Your enthusiasm is much appreciated. So glad to hear Briseis’s story intrigues you. Glad you like the phrase “fueled by unspeakable grief,” Linda–see what can arise from a conversation over a glass of wine!

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