Saturday, February 08, 2020

Guest Blogger Judith Starkston

Type M is thrilled to welcome our guest Judith Starkston, whose historical fantasy series is set in the most fascinating place, in the most interesting era, and features the most original protagonist you can imagine!

Murder and Magic in the Bronze Age

Thank you, Donis Casey, for the invitation. I’m delighted to be here and to introduce you to my historical fantasy series set in the distant Bronze Age past of the Hittite empire that once spanned the area covered by modern Turkey, Syria and Lebanon.

Type M for murder, you say? That was the easy part: the murder, I mean. What about the other m’s? The murderer, the motive, and the muse? I studied classics. I believe in muses.

I’m not sure if I discovered my particular muse because I love to explore archaeological ruins, or if the muse decided to make herself known in the person of Puduhepa because the long-forgotten queen was tired of waiting more than three thousand years for someone to pay her proper respect. Puduhepa ruled the huge Hittite empire for decades. The legacy she left behind survives today inscribed on clay tablets. Through these writings I’m able to “listen” to her across time in her prayers, letters, judicial decrees, and diplomatic skirmishes with her various foes, particularly Pharaoh Ramses II (of Biblical fame). She had a brilliant mind and a tough but gracious manner. Reconstructing her ancient world so my readers live there for a time—see, smell and taste it—is one of the pleasures of writing fiction based in a culture unfamiliar to most of us. Queen Puduhepa became the inspiration for my priestess Tesha in the series. The Hittites became my Hitolia.

As for the easy part, the murder. In Priestess of Ishana, an unsuspecting shepherd discovers a charred dead body in a dank hillside cave and, lying next to it, the murder “weapon”: “…a black lump of bitumen, the size of a man’s thigh. Even with its arms and legs partly melted, the tarry figure formed an evil effigy.” I borrowed this murder method directly from the Hittite records written in cuneiform on clay. They had some fantastical beliefs—an obsession with sorcery and curses, for example—that make great source material for murderous plots that combine mystery, romance, political intrigue, and magic. I use these tantalizing ancient descriptions as the base from which my fiction grows.

Then there are the murderers and their motives. The villains step into my books from the fascinating conflicts of this empire. Some reflect the deadly disagreements within the royal family that the tablets hint at. Some march in from rival empires and bring international intrigue in their wake. Some more fantastical foes arise from the Hittite penchant for the supernatural and afflict their victims from within. Thus, I craft historical fantasy from both specific rites or customs found in the records and from the broader sweep of events suggested there. I allow full range to the magical beliefs arising from this world and that produces the fantasy amidst my historical grounding.

The initial two books of the series are available now, Priestess of Ishana and Sorcery in Alpara. Sign up for my monthly newsletter and/or my weekly blog posts to download a short story set in this world and updates on my latest history and archaeology finds that could wind up shaping one of my future plots.
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