I didn’t set out to use my (mostly) Greek mythology in Bad Blood to justify years spent in Latin class painfully declining verbs. I didn’t really set out to use it at all. I began with a character in my head. I didn’t know much about her at first, just that she was in the wrong place at the wrong time to see something very bad go down. I knew that she was pretty hard-boiled because of her voice, which started out originally in the very noir and self-consciously literary technique of talking to the audience, in this case about the properties of blood—particularly the scent, and the way her hind brain reacted to it.
My novels always seem to start with voice, and the first draft always begins with the character waxing all expository, talking to the audience…or, really, to me. I quickly do away with all that in subsequent drafts, but this is how I always come to know my characters. I knew that Tori Karacis, my heroine in Bad Blood, had to be something special, not because of marketing concerns, but because of the way she responded to the really bad thing—a little too calmly, a little too analytically and a little too credibly. She’d seen weird before, and it didn’t phase her.
I don’t know when I realized about the gorgon blood. Probably about the same time the heroine realized it herself. As soon as I knew, though, it all made perfect sense. Who wouldn’t like a heroine who could literally stop men in their tracks? I knew I totally wanted to be her. That’s the great thing about writing, I could be someone else for awhile and call it writing rather than insanity.
But my blog title says that I’m here to talk about myth, and really I am. I was an anthropology and English/writing double major in college. Now, as any English major knows, any ten people (or more) can look at the same piece of writing, whether it be poetry or prose, and read entirely different things into it. In anthropology there are endless theories about human evolution and no definitive family trees because every scientist wants his or her own find to be the conclusive “missing link.” We’ve created entirely new and subsequently debunked species on the basis of a single molar or lone skull cap.
Let me tell you, nothing, is more bendy than mythology. If you read any five books on the subject, I can almost guarantee you that every one will have a different take on the origins of the god Apollo, for example, or whether Medusa was turned into a monster by Athena in revenge for committing sacrilege in her temple with Poseidon (I’ll leave it to your imagination the form of sacrilege) or whether she and her sisters were already all gorgonic. The thing is that myths and legends were passed along orally for ages…and anyone who ever played telephone as a kid knows just how twisty a tale can get going from point A to point B. Beyond that, myths and worship would spread as places traded and invaded. Local tales and deities would get all tangled up with the outside influences until one would transplant another or become nearly indistinguishable.
Why is this good for readers and writers? Well, for one, chances are that my Greek mythology won’t be just like someone else’s. I can choose the version of the stories that fit best with what it is that I want to do. Someone else’s mileage may vary. It doesn’t mean that mine is right or that someone else’s is wrong. If Zeus or Poseidon came down from Olympus tomorrow to set the records straight—I know, I know, but just ride my crazy train for a moment—I doubt even they’d agree on how everything went down. So, it’s fun and it’s different and ever-changing. I can write-off my mythology books, read about all sorts of ancient scandals and call it work. Best of all, I can twist it all up like a bendy straw, stick it into a nice, modern setting and let you drink a taste-bud tingling concoction through it. Plot, action, hot gods and heavenly heroines.
That’s my hope anyway. You’ll have to let me know how the nice bendy straw works out for you.
Continuing Science Fiction, Fantasy and Paranormal week, I'm pleased to present New York Times-bestselling author Rob Thurman, who likes to take mythology and turn it completely on its flea-bitten ear. I offered her Cal Leandros series up in the webinar as an example of how you can take something established and completely make it your own.
Myth-information by Rob Thurman
I’m often asked where I get my particular take on mythology. The majority of my readers recognize that I’m intentionally twisting existing myths and a few enjoy pointing out my ‘errors.’
Yeahhh, they’re not errors.
While I do love shoving myths into a wood-chipper to see what comes out the other side, enjoy putting my own stamp on tradition, what I’m actually doing is bringing mythology up-to-date. If you’re old enough to remember the trash rag, the National Enquirer, then you remember if two celebrities passed in the street, they were instantly emblazoned on the front page as having a torrid (hey, that is the only time I’ve used the word torrid) affair, cheating on their spouses, and destroying their children’s lives. It wasn’t true of course, but that’s what gossip is all about and if your ‘prey’ won’t talk to you, gossip is all you have to go on. Now we have TV trash shows for that, but the practice is the same.
Mythology is the gossip of the ancient world.
Think of the mermaid. One day a horny sailor saw his first manatee. And you’d have to be an extremely horny sailor to envision a gorgeous mermaid out of a wallowing sea cow. But apparently he was and that was the seed of the mermaid legend.
And it wouldn’t stop with mermaids. Every myth, mythological creature, mythological god would be far different than the humans of those times managed to put down on paper or pass along. If your world is inhabited by vamps, weres, fey, and a thousand monsters, do you think that, say, a lycanthrope sat down about 25,000 BC to tell their furry story to any human who came along? That’s not in their best interest to survive. If your vampires existed (as mine did), before the time of Christ, why would they fear a cross, be burned by holy water, sleep in coffins before there were coffins? They probably sat around at the weekly vamp meeting and concocted all sorts of crazy fake legendary weapons to pretend to cower from right before they ate you. Good joke for them, eh? No doubt they’d swill blood from their cups and snort blood out of their nose when the Italian vamp added garlic to the list. Hell, he probably drank his blood with ground garlic around the edge of his chalice of blood—like salt on a margarita glass.
In my universe of the Cal Leandros Novels and Trickster Novels, Puck, Pan, Robin Goodfellow is now a used car salesman (what better job for a charismatic, arrogant, slick and slippery con artist of a trickster?) And he never had goat legs. They were fur chaps long before they came into fashion. Goodfellow didn't follow the trends, he set them.
Elves are worse monsters than demons from the deepest depths of Hell. They are the bogeymen even to other monsters. Their ‘seed’ to elven legend is long white hair and pointed ears—history left out the hundreds of metallic teeth, lava-red eyes, and the insatiable desire to kill. They were the first predators—the first murderers to walk the earth.
Werewolves aren’t werewolves at all. They were once in the same evolutionary line of prehistoric wolf and split off into a species that could turn human if they wished—all the better to infiltrate their prey and gobble them up with those great big teeth, Grandma. They didn’t start out as people who can turn into wolves, they started out as wolves that can turn into people—they are were-people.
And it goes on and on. It’s your world, your universe, your rules….different, strange, mythology turned upside down is good. No, hell, it’s great. Your only limits are the ones you set on yourself.
Me? I never liked rules.
Wanna hear more? You can visit Rob Thurman on her blog or listen to her at Binwalla Radio right here (her portion starts at about 33.45).
You can also check out her very cool book videos and get her Cal Leandros widget here.
In honor of my urban fantasy novel releasing digitally at the end of this month (June 28th to be exact) from Samhain, I'm guest blogging today over at Jon Sprunk's site on How Books are Like Children. Samhain currently has Bad Blood available for preorder at $3.15. So if you're so inclined.... (If you're holding out for print, that'll be along in 2012.)
Copyright © 2011 Lucienne Diver
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
Detective Nick Armani—no relation—tried to stare me down from the other side of the tiny vanity table cum desk in Renee’s office, which had been temporarily appropriated. He was tall, dark and none too happy to see me. I had to admit the glower was effective, with those brows in desperate need of taming lowered to shade pale blue eyes. I didn’t think he’d be gratified to find that the effect on me was anything but intimidating, especially with his knees bumping the girly desk every time he shifted. It should have been comical—probably would have been if I weren’t still having flashbacks to the wet sound of the fish-man yanking his hand from Circe’s chest—but it also emphasized his fairly impressive proportions.
“Tori Karacis,” he said, just as the silence was starting to get interesting. “Why is it that I always seem to find you at my crime scenes?”
“Yours, detective? Do you have something to confess? I’d be glad to make a citizen’s arrest, especially if you’ll let me borrow your cuffs.”
Damn. My brain and mouth always seemed to disconnect in the detective’s presence. No wonder he glowered.
And yet, I thought I might almost have detected a twitch of the lips. Play nice, I reminded myself.
“No such luck,” he answered, rocking backwards on Renee’s spindly chair. “If there’s any restraining to be done—”
The office door opened, interrupting whatever he’d been about to say—and dammit, I wanted to hear. No surprise the impeccable timing had been brought to us by none other than Armani’s esteemed partner Detective Helen Lau, who from our first meeting acted as though she’d despise me if only she could work up that much enthusiasm.
“I’ve got Officer Jennings doing a ride-along in the ambulance with the male vic. We’re still waiting on the ME. Learned anything so far?” she asked.
I couldn’t help myself. “You’re just in time. Detective Armani was about to break out the rubber hoses.”
Lau finally deigned to look my way, but couldn’t be moved to put on an expression, let alone respond. Damn, I wanted to rattle her cage. This whole more stoic than thou thing—and hello, I wasn’t even in competition—freaked me out. Of course, that might have been why she did it.
Armani gave me a quelling look, but I’d had years of Yiayia’s evil eye to draw on. I was nigh unquellable.