NaNoFeed: Absolutely no inspiration (except for the Muse of Research)

This NaNo novel has felt like a term paper; I’ve been keeping my eye on the clock, reviewing my research materials, and hacking the work out in chunks. Such success as I have had has depended upon keeping pace at (average) 1,667 words a day, with the definite understanding that I will fall behind from time to time.

At last night’s Open Book write-in, very much less populated (maybe three or four of us?) than the ones two weeks ago when it was hard to find a place to sit, I scored 3,000 words or so, with a whole lot of help from my good buddy Mreauow. She proposed a word-race. (Ready-set-go and whoever reaches 500 words first raises their hand). That set the pace for the rest of the night.

The key with a word-race is that you have to let go of any notions of the perfect word. That’s really important, given that I’m working the same turf as good ol’ Bill the Bard, not to mention Horace, Plutarch, and sundry Dead White Guy worthies.

I think the thing that’s kept me going is research. This NaNo pep talk by Scott Westerfeld (one of my steampunk/neo-pulp inspirations with his Leviathan series) has another take on the Muse of Research. If in doubt, he writes, look up details from the complex glory of the Real World to make your characters, setting, and plot less generic. My chief muse-between-hardcovers for this project has been the wonderful Cleopatra biography by Joyce Tylesley, which looks at Cleopatra and the Ptolemaic dynasty through the lens of Egyptology. This morning I re-read the account of Cleopatra’s summit with Mark Antony, which analyzes the Isis iconography used in the design of her costume, concluding that she came to the summit not as a mortal queen but as an incarnate goddess. At the time of this meeting, Antony recently had been received by the priestesses of the temple at Ephesus in his character as the avatar of Dionysus, so she was both taking a leaf from his book and raising the stakes with an implicit dynastic offer.

So I’m going to write this famous meeting, one of the most-painted, most-performed, altogether most-celebrated episodes from Cleopatra’s career–from backstage. Cleopatra was most certainly one of the great impresario-director-performers of all time, so the highest drama in this scene from her POV lies in the preparations and the raising of the curtain.

And now, in spite of no preparation whatsoever and what feels like a glacial writing pace, I am inspired.

A brief note: remember the classic description of the ship in which she arrived? Purple silk sails. Which implies–trade with China, at that time the exclusive producer of silk. I started reading up on this, and yes, Alexandria is a transshipment point for silk and other East-Asian goods, which will excite unfavorable comment from Roman moralists some years hence.

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