"The wisdom of a novel comes from having a question for everything. When Don Quixote went out into the world, that world turned into a mystery before his eyes. That is the legacy of the first European novel."
Milan Kundera 1929 - "A Talk With the Author", by Philip Roth (1980)
I don't know how many times I've been asked the question "Have you finished the novel yet?"
It started becoming an embarrassment to me some time ago, but I've tried to not let it deter me. Yet, I wonder sometimes, if I had know fifteen years ago when I first conceived the idea for "Shadow of the Lion", intending then to write it as a juvenile historical, if I would have ever begun.
I thought, when I began, that it was a project that would take me perhaps two years maximum. I had another novel partly finished which I'd decided to shelve as I was discouraged with it (my Celtic tale, Dragons in the Sky) . Little did I realize then, that between the long year of preliminary research, followed by a year of trial writing, in which I discovered that it was not going to work as a juvenile historical, and then starting over, that it would take all these years and I'm still not quite finished it.
Of course, there have been other projects. I spent two years rewriting my play The Street: A Modern Tragedy which was later successfully produced. I've also written and published dozens of travel stories. For some of those years I was working full time as a daycare head supervisor, and also teaching writing classes at night school. The research has been endless. I am always stopping to question things, then having to check to make sure I have facts straight: setting details, historical facts etc. I have, at this point, in fact written the equivalent of almost four moderate sized novels. This is an epic Homeric saga. There'll be lots of cutting by the time I am going through for the final edit. But I wanted to tell the tale to the best advantage and let the characters develop. It's been one heck of a journey!
The big question of course is, "Will I finish it?" I long ago gave up setting myself definite deadlines. Small deadlines work best for me. But this time, I'm so close to the finish line that I can't stop and I am determined to wind it up by some time this Fall. So far, I'm sticking to a good writing program every day, even with the sunshine beckoning me to the beach.
The last chapter segments of my novel have been in the point of view of Alexander the Great's five year old son, Iskander (Alexander IV). In a previous blog I included a short passage of some surprising dialogues the child heard between his mother, Roxana, and his grandmother, Olympias.
He has a lot of question, as any child would who is as aware and precocious as he is. So in this following segment he questions Nabarzanes, the Persian court advisor, about the things that he overheard the two women say in the courtyard.
Nabarzanes is dressing the child who has been summoned to his grandmother's room. Nabarzanes is Roxana's Royal Cousin and for all the child's life has been like a father-figure to him. (Alexander died before the child was born.) NOTE: Iskander has lived his whole short life in the company of adults: his mother, Nabarzanes and the soldiers. From his birth he has been taken from place to place living in army camps until they finally came to Macedon to live in his father's home in Pella. Now they are visiting his grandmother in Epiros )
The child tried to be still while Nabarzanes oiled and combed his hair, but everything burst out of him.
“Grandmama got angry and hit Mama. I made her stop.”
Nabarzanes stopped combing out the tangles. “Why were they quarreling?”
“Grandmama said cruel things to Mama. She said Mama killed my father!”
Nabarzanes took a deep breath. “Your father died because someone gave him wine mixed with poisoned water.” His voice trembled as he remembered. “He was already very ill and the tainted water weakened him. It took him a week to die.”
“Who killed him then?”
Nabarzanes answered the child direct. “Alexander had many enemies in Persia because he had conquered their lands.”
“When I’m big I’ll fight those bad men and kill them!”
“The Wise Lord will punish them for their deeds.”
“Everybody loved him, Mama says so!”
“Not everybody, Iskander-shah.”
“Grandmama said my father was god-begotten, so why did he die?”
“He was a mortal man, favoured by the gods. It was his kismet, but he died with glory.”
Nabarzanes tousled the child’s hair. “Yes, like your hero, Achilles.”
“Did Grandmama kill my grandfather Philip?”
Nabarzanes squatted beside him, his face grave. “Where did you hear these things?”
“In the courtyard.“ The child caught his breath in a sob.
“Philip was killed by one of his guards. The guard was angry with your grandfather.”
“Yes, because grandfather was cruel and did bad things to him.”
“King Philip had many enemies, Iskander-shah. He was ambitious and powerful. He had conquered the Greeks and they feared him and he wanted to fight the Persians.”
“Tell me true, Did Grandmama pay him gold to kill my grandfather?”
Nabarzanes took the child‘s face in his hands and looked directly into his eyes. “Where did you hear such a tale? This is not a story for a young boy. Tell me, was it Spitama the horse keeper?”
“No. I heard Grandmama say so. She said she hated grandfather.” The child sat biting his lower lip and swallowed hard.
Nabarzanes put an arm around him. “Don’t take it to heart, Iskander-shah. It was only women’s idle talk.” He stroked his fingers through the child’s hair to quiet him.
But there were still unanswered questions. “Who was Stateira?”
At the mention of the Princess’s name, Nabarzanes stared hard at him. “She was your father’s Persian wife, the daughter of Shah Darius. Why do you ask?”
“What happened to her?”
Nabarzanes was silent a moment, then he said: “Stateira and her sister Drypetis, who was Hephaestion’s wife, were killed on the road from Susa. They were on their way to Babylon because your father was ill and had sent for them.”
“Did my mother kill them?”
Nabarzanes sucked in his breath. He put his finger over the child’s mouth. “Hush, Iskander-shah! You must not think such wicked things of your mother.”
“I heard Mama say...”The child was almost afraid to blurt it out. Her remembered the punishments meted out to transgressors, those who followed The Lie. “If you steal, your right hand is cut off. If you bear false tales your tongue is cut out. If you see too much your eyes are put out.” Yet he needed to know the truth, and surely Nabarzanes who spoke only the Truth, would tell him true. “Mama said she didn’t want the Princess to live.”
For a long time Nabarzanes didn’t say a word. Finally he looked the child directly in the eyes and spoke very softly. The child listened, sensing Nabarzanes’ consternation. He had heard such stories told in the army camps and whispered in harem rooms, tales of vengeance and deadly rivalry like those in the Troy Tales. Nabarzanes had been a Bodyguard of the Shah, one of the Beloved Immortals. He had seen everything a soldier sees. He knew about wars and killings, daggers in the night and poisoned honey cakes.
Nabarzanes looked at him earnestly. “Verily, some people have blamed your mother, but there were others who were culpable. I can not lie to you, Iskander-shah, because the Lie is a sin against the Good Benevolent Lord. But I will tell you truthfully what I know.” He spoke coolly and firmly. “ The guiltiest is dead now -- General Perdikkas -- because he allowed it to happen though he could have stopped it. Some of the Macedonian generals did not want Alexander to marry the Princess and would not let her live to bear his child. The Persians were their enemies and they did not want a child of Shah Darius‘ daughter to inherit your father‘s throne. So Stateira and her sister were murdered. Your mother didn‘t do it, but her brother was an agent of the generals‘. It is he, your uncle Itanes, who is guilty. ”
The child nodded to show he understood. “He had to do it, because General Perdikkas ordered him to?”
“Yes,” Nabarzanes said. “And you were born to inherit your father's kingdom, a child of love, not one conceived for political gain.”
"There are two sidees to every question."
Protagoras 485-410 BC From Diogenes Laertius, "Lives of Eminent Philosophers, Protagoras" book IX sec. 51