Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Today, I murdered 36,277 words. Oh, I'll bring them back, some of them, but Penelope was just hitting wall after wall and I realized, I was writing around Penelope, but like in the Odyssey, she was a focal point without being a full actor. After reading a writer's forum column on book writing, I realized Penelope must be established, she needs to be known and if I can't describe her, how she looks, what she thinks, give a snippet of who she is, then I can't very well tell her thoughts.
So I went back to original sources. What do we know about Odysseus's wife?
1) She's the cousin of Helen, described as quieter.
2) Her father Icarius is so devoted to having her around, he challenges all would be suitors to a race. He beats them and in some versions simply sends them packing, and in other myths, kills them off. When Odysseus wins the race, Icarius tries to persuade Odysseus to stay in Sparta. Odysseus tells Penelope to chose between her father and him. She raises her veil to her father, indicating her choice.
3) She is conveyed in the Odyssey as being both patient and cunning, with her unraveling of the shroud, and willingness to wait 20 years.
4) She is also portrayed as being unable or unwilling to make a decision, allowing 104 suitors to linger about, eating everything in sight.
5) She's Spartan educated nobility who holds together a people not her own for 20 years.
What else? From my own book, (and these were figments of my imagination), I have a little more. She's been in the Helen book in three little slices of the story, indicating a touch of bitterness or sarcasm when she sends a golden spindle to Helen (Helen gets the dig but appreciates the gift). Her tapestry work is known to the ancient world. (An original Penelope with her signature knot, the Odysseus knot). And the story of the four girls as the four seasons, where she in a hunting challenge with Polyoxo, Helen and Clytemnestra weaves a fishing net out of the reeds to bring back her catch. She doesn't win.
Pictures of her indicate tall Greek beauty with dark hair and dark eyes. She is also described as having dark eyes and being a woman who ages well. She is desired by 104 suitors, and one would presume, for more than simply the title and the riches of Ithaca. At least a few of those courting her attempt to do so honorably, offering earrings, a necklace, and proposing to be a father to her son.
It's not fun, but because Penelope wasn't going anywhere and I felt the need to try and beat the book forward. But when I realized, I didn't know what she looked like or why Odysseus chose her, I knew I had a problem. I have a lot of texture to weave into her, to tell her story of how Odysseus chose her and why, what she brought that he could see before they were married, and to tell of the challenges she faced as an outsider/newcomer to a world that she then had to manage and manage well. And then there's the aftermath of his homecoming, where he kills all of the men in a society that has for 20 years been fatherless, brotherless, husbandless and childless, and he's been unfaithful, and somehow, it is supposed to get better.
But it stinks, to kill 36, 277 words. However, I'd rather write a book people want to read, than one that when people finish, they still don't know who she is. In a sense, starting over is very Penelope. As when one weaves a tapestry, if you make an error, you have to pull that thread out and fix it before you can continue or it will simply grow more messy. So I'm now, unraveling the tapestry, to start over.
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