It wasn’t necessarily a theme I set out for when I started writing. Yet over time, a pattern became clear: I was mostly inspired by history, and I had a knack for finding extraordinary women who were often little more than footnotes in history books. Sometimes they had a few paragraphs, and legend and facts intermingled. It didn’t seem fair, and I realized it wasn’t always the fault of the writer (well, except in cases such as Professor Jared Sparks at Harvard, who threw out the letters of Ben Franklin’s sister while working on a biography of Mr. Franklin). Such details were simply not recorded, depending on the era and culture. When I researched the woman known as the wife of Prince Vlad Dracula (though evidence indicates she was a consort), her actual name was unknown. My portrait of her is based more on reading about medieval life in Eastern Europe. Even when I went to Romania to talk to historians, they shrugged helplessly when I pressed for detail, though they were very helpful in filling in many gaps I couldn’t obtain in books.
When I worked on Dark Lady of Doona, I found many of the stories about Irish pirate queen Granía O’Malley were repeated with variations on details from book to book, and there weren’t that many reliable biographies to use. The novel I’m currently working on, about a woman who lived in Tombstone, Arizona, during the time of the gunfight at OK Corral, has had its challenges as well, and that’s as close to modern times as I’ve gotten as I add to my list of stories to tell.
The biggest obstacles come when studying my favorite era: ancient history. Sumerian tablets provides precious few mentions of incredible women, from High Priestess Enheduanna to the only woman on the King’s List. If it weren’t for Herodotus, I doubt we’d have ever heard of Artemisia of Caria. How lucky that she now is immortalized in the sequel to 300, Rise of an Empire! I keep kidding to my husband that I’ll carry Herodotus’s time with me to the theater. He jokes that the old historian won’t be there to autograph books.
The list of novels and stories to write has become so long that I sometimes fear picking up another history book, for fear I’ll discover another woman with a compelling tale to tell. There are several novels on the list that stray from historical fiction entirely, with an epic fantasy and some speculative fiction. I can only hope that future advances in nanotechnology can prolong my life and ability to keep writing, or upload my consciousness into a computer so my thoughts translate directly into Scrivener (or whatever writing program will exist!)
The first week of March has been celebrated as Read an Ebook Week for the past few years. March is also Women’s History Month. While the focus is often on American women in history, I always look globally. Amazing women who have changed the course of history are everywhere. They may have been behind the scenes, people may have deliberately erased their names, or were forgotten as cultures merged and evolved, but I intend to tell as many of their stories as I can, and share out the best works I can find of others who have found themselves on a similar path.
A small selection of books that have inspired me, in no particular order:
- The Memoirs of Cleopatra, by Margaret George
- The Whip, by Karen Kondazian (a story about a women who lived as a man, driving stage coaches, in the Old West)
- Boudica by Vanessa Collingridge
- Granuaile: Ireland’s Pirate Queen, by Anne Chambers
- Princess, Priestess, Poet: The Sumerian Temple Hymns of Enheduanna, by Betty De Shong Meador
And to honor both Read and Ebook Week and Women’s History Month, my two historical novels are available for free, exclusively on Smashwords, through March 8, 2014: The Veiled Mirror: The Story of Prince Vlad Dracula’s Lost Love and Dark Lady of Doona. Use code RW100 during the check-out process. Please enjoy, and celebrate by sharing the stories of the women who have inspired you.