Clio is the Greek muse of history. She is often seen with a scroll or a set of tablets. Clio is pictured on the left, reading from a parchment scroll.
Because I studied and taught history and art history, it was natural that Clio should be my muse. She inspired me throughout my first novel, Return of the French Blue, and in my second, She Rides with Genghis Kahn. My third novel, When the Eunuchs Ruled, will draw greatly from China’s dynastic history, in particular the Ming Dynasty when the eunuchs were most powerful and ruled the country with a vicious hand.
My novels are not historical fiction. I take what I want from history and spin a fictional tale from fact. For example, let’s take Return of the French Blue. I began writing the novel shortly after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, September 11, 2001. Al-Qaida was all too present in our minds and a natural for my antagonist. But I needed a lot more information on them – and it was only beginning to pour out from government documents and the media. Google became my best friend. I read newspapers, magazines, trial accounts, and books. I watched documentaries and films. My plot began to take shape.
I discovered that al-Qaida’s currency was often contraband diamonds or “blood diamonds” originating from the west coast of Africa. When Western nations closed their bank accounts to the terrorists, they needed an alternative to cash. This discovery led me to research diamonds, their history, and how they are traded. Further research took me to a mix of diamonds and revolution when I read about The French Blue – a giant 120 karat rough diamond that was sold to Louis XIV – who then had it cut into a cushion shape and set in gold. (What happened to the diamonds that were cut away? How much was lost to the grinding process? Could there be a story here? Absolutely.)
I researched more, and discovered that at the beginning of the French Revolution Louis XVI and his queen were jailed in Paris, and the Royal jewels were taken from Versailles and deposited in a large warehouse on Place de la Revolution. On September 11, 1792, thieves broke into the warehouse and stole The French Blue and much more. They left a trail of diamonds behind them as they pulled their over-laden bags down the streets of Paris.
When I read about the theft I knew I’d found a focus for my novel. I couldn’t resist thinking, I can’t make this stuff up. September 11th was an omen, a light, a beacon, that shaped Return of the French Blue.
With the bulk of my research complete, I sat back and assessed my plot and how I would shape the story. I had my antagonists – the al-Qaida – and their world-shattering goal of destruction. Now I needed a protagonist, and I wanted it to be a woman. I felt, for a very long time, that the world needed a contemporary, but slightly unusual heroine. To gain inspiration, I watched movies and read books on women spies – past and present.
I concluded that my heroine should be a female version of Indiana Jones. With that in mind, I speculated on how she’d compare to Indy. What would be her weapon of choice, her academic expertise, and how would she use her knowledge? I made her a spy in the CIA, and then asked who should be her male partner? I wanted a love interest and friction that often results in such a partnership. After researching the French counterpart to the CIA, I paired her with a French Directorate agent – one who was also on a mission to eradicate terrorism. I gave him the last name of Bonhomme – good man, in English.
My story and the characters had come together. I had my spy team, Catalina Syrah and Nicholas Bonhomme. I had my terrorist, Gul Mazeer. I had a mission – stop the next attack on America. I had diamonds as a means of currency, and I had the history of the most famous diamond of all, The French Blue (known today as the Hope Diamond). I decided on the French Riviera as the setting, and had Bonhomme set up a sting operation in the Rothschild Mansion on Cap Ferrat. From there, the rest of the story took shape.
Some writers, at this point in their research say, “My book just wrote itself.” I contend, as my mother used to say, that this is pure hog-wash. Without the writer’s imagination and inspiration from history, and without skills to spin a good story – you have no novel. Believe me, the author is always in control, history is simply a wondrous guide.
Now, you should understand why I owe so much to Clio. She will forever be my inspiration and my muse. Please know that she is there for you too. You simply have to search for her.