Xanthe’s World

I dedicated my newly released novel Penelope’s Daughter to “all the children leftfather-and-son behind when fathers and mothers go off to war.” While I was writing the book,I spent a lot of time thinking about the impact of Odysseus’ absence not just on my main character, Xanthe, but on her older brother, Telemachus.

Of the two, I think Telemachus had it the worst.  In those days, gender roles were clearly defined, and most of the schooling a child got was from the parent of the same sex.  Xanthe has Penelope to teach her how to weave, how to worship the gods, and how to be gracious; and she has her surrogate mother, Helen, to teach her how to fulfill herself as a woman.

What does Telemachus have?  He has no real peers. A few men remain on Ithaca who were too old or infirm to go to Troy, and otherwise he is surrounded by a group of young men, perhaps ten to twelve years older than he is.  These young men were too young to go to war, but became adults in the two decades Odysseus is gone.

The young men grew up much as Telemachus did, without strong role models to help shape them into strong, productive, appropriately behaving adults. Anyone who could have done that sailed off with Odysseus. A kingdom whose males are almost all young boys and old men does not bode well for the future, and indeed what happens is that the young men grow up to be either  the bullies or the bullied.

The dedication of the book came about because as I wrote, my country was at war. I thought about how important parents are as teachers, and how every deployment takes that away from a child.  From the time I made the decision to dedicate Penelope’s Daughter in that fashion, I knew I needed to put something behind it so it wouldn’t just be a glib little nicety that meant nothing.

I decided to create a blog called Xanthe’s World, and dedicate it to all the children left behind by our current wars. I have posted every day since August. I don’t know how many people are aware that only 2 percent of American families are directly impacted by this war.  I am in the other 98 percent, as are most of the viewers of this website. I hope you will take the time to check out Xanthe’s World, and mark it as a favorite, so you can explore the world of  military children with me.


Good to Go

I’ve been off in medieval Spain for a few weeks now, and I am just now coming back t osun-flower_3301 2010.

It’s not very often that an author finishes writing a novel, and I am just about there.

I finished the first draft some time back and took a break to work on other things for a while. Completing a first draft is a huge milestone, but really, putting the first major revision in order is in many ways a bigger one.

THE SHAPE OF THE WORLD is now “done” to my satisfaction, or at least it will be in a day or two.That’s not to say I won’t revise it again and again.  I am in the middle of a sabbatical where I am studying in depth the history of fifteenth-century Iberia, where the novel is set, and as I learn new things, I will figure out ways to work them into the book.

But that’s the glaze on the roast, the frosting on the cake, the nuts on the sundae, or whatever analogy you prefer. Early next week, my agent will get my novel and soon it will go out to editors at the major publishing houses. It is either going to grab them or not, and revising further will not make the difference between sale or no sale.

I think one of the best things experience teaches us is when to know that something is good enough.  Another thing it teaches us is to decide which “good enough” things are really finished and which are not.  This is not like windows that are almost streakless in bright sunlight, or pot bottoms that are almost free of black, or pasta that is one minute off from perfectly al dente.   Good enough is good enough on those, although I suppose some might beg to differ about the pasta!

The kind of “good enough” that this novel is right now is the “best I can make it, but not as good as I want it to be” type.  I won’t be able to keep my hands off the manuscript for long because it will never be 100 percent as good as I can make it. PENELOPE’S DAUGHTER came out less than two weeks ago, and what I wouldn’t give for one more chance to edit!

Still, it’s time to breathe, time to let it go and let other things fill my days with curiosity, joy, awe, and meaning.  I am a writer, and this is what we do.  We grow the flower and then hope its pollen comes to rest somewhere.