I wrote a book on Alexander the Great. Well, it was a fiction book, and he was one of the main characters. I thought (smugly) that I knew a lot about him, because I’d read some biographies, Aristotle’s quotes, skimmed over The Anabasis of Alexander by Arrian, Plutarch’s and read several fiction books about him including the fantastic Mary Renault series. But even after reading all this, I was not happy with the idea I had of Alexander. For one thing, there were too many discrepancies with the biggest problem for me that most of the writings were not made during Alexander’s lifetime, or even shortly after – but centuries had gone by! Plutarch wrote the most fascinating biography – nearly four hundred years after the conquer’s death – and his research seems to have been meticulous. But Plutarch was Greek, and for the Greeks, Alexander would forever be an upstart barbarian.
I put aside my short story and started researching in earnest. Who was this person, really? Why did he go so far into India, when he’d already captured the crown of Persia? Why go against his generals’ wishes and drag (well, lead) his army all the way across Persia to the Caspian Sea, into Iran and Bactria, into India as far as the Ganges, then down to the Indus Delta, then along the barren coast and desert to Persepolis. It was as if he never really wanted to go home and rule – but go back home he did, where he died soon after. His character came to me by reading between the lines. A warrior, but a dreamer. An eternal student and tourist at heart, charismatic but short tempered. He was a conundrum, but he made a wonderful fictional character.
The character I needed was larger than life, (and even Alexander’s enemies admitted he was pretty amazing). It wasn’t hard, therefor, to create a sort of demigod. But Alexander’s faults were important too – he was, according to Plutarch, ‘choleric‘, and would drink excessively.And the more I studied him, the more the idea occurred to me that if time travel existed, he would be one of the people time-travelers would be most eager to meet. And so the idea was born – a time traveler would go back and interview him, and then he’d do something that would inadvertently change time. Fun! I started writing, but within a few pages I realized that my first idea of a male journalist would not work. For one thing, a man would not fall under Alexander’s spell as easily as a woman would. Men, I discovered as I researched, were – well – a tiny bit jealous. It crept into Plutarch’s work, it seeped out of Arrian’s book, the only one who wasn’t in awe of Alexander was Aristotle. So I needed a woman as a time traveler. And I needed someone who wouldn’t be cowed by him and someone who would fascinate him. It wasn’t hard to create the woman – what surprised me was how fast she fell into his arms. Well, it would be a romance book, then. But love isn’t easy to write about, so they fell in lust first – that’s more understandable – and love came slowly to this mismatched pair; the man from the past and the woman from the future had a lot to overcome before their relationship could be based on mutual trust and understanding. And for that, she has to tell him who she truly is – not Persephone, goddess of the dead, but a woman from another time.
He’s impressed – of course, and all the more so because he realizes that what he’s doing will be in songs through the ages. Heady stuff, for a young man. So the book advanced, and as I wrote, I researched. The army, their route, their food, their weapons, his freinds, his enemies, the weather, the horses…and toothpaste. Did you know that people brushed their teeth very carefully back then? If it wasn’t a soft twig chewed until it was frayed, it was a real little brush with home made toothpaste. So, herewith is the recipe for toothpaste circa 500 BC (it didn’t change much for a thousand years…): Heat snail shells in the fire until they are white and grind them very fine. Add gypsum and honey, and grind into a paste. Herbs such as mint were distilled (the herbs themselves would have made teeth green) and their essential oils were added for taste. Other recipes included chalk mixed with wood ash and fresh urine (as opposed to pee that’s been sitting around all day…) and sea salt mixed with pepper and powdered cloves.
Research was important to me, because I wanted the reader to feel as if they were immersed in another time and culture. Ashley feels disconnected from reality, but it’s the small details of everyday life – how bread was baked, how prayers were said – that anchored her to her new surroundings. Hopefully, the reader will feel the same – not looking back across a chasm made of thousands of years, but actually living, walking, and riding at Alexander’s side.
The Road to Alexander, Legends of Persia, Storms Over Babylon are also available.
Chants to Persephone is coming soon (Nov. 1 2019)