What does an Antique Textile have to do with how Men Worshiped Women Thousands of Years Ago?

Men used to worship women, I mean really worship them.

Our value wasn’t weighed by how thin we were (lean was mean), or how young, or even how pretty. We were valued based on our contribution as the life-givers, our ability to generate new life to continue the tribe and, following our fecund years, honor was bestowed on all we’ve been and done.

Research on ancient humans plunging way back to the Bronze Age, have unearthed round, bountiful female statues that would never make the cover of Vogue. Fertility Figures they’re referred to now, as if that can tidy them away among the fossils and dinosaur bones.

Ancient sites like Turkey’s Çatal Hüyük discovered an advance civilization where men and women appear to live in a harmonious balance of mutual admiration. The Goddess sits on her leopard throne in a shrine surrounded by symbols of male energy, the bull (some things never change), as if the male hunters and warriors served the giver of life rather than ruled her.

And the Goddess looks more like your great aunt Mable than Gisselle Bündchen .

Think about it. Was this ancient civilization so much more advanced than ourselves that we actually valued multiple kinds of womanhood? Could it be that we didn’t lose our value in society as we aged and ‘lost our looks’?

Which brings me to the title of this post: how does an antique textile relate to how men worshiped women thousands of years ago? That question lays in the heart of my second book in the Crime by Design series, Warp in the Weave.

The answer may surprise you. It certainly should change how you look at traditional carpet patterns in the future and, just maybe, how you view women, ancient or otherwise.

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Sanity, Disembodied Voices, and the Writer’s Life

I am crazy. Certainly by some definition, I probably qualify. I walk around the house talking to people who aren’t there; I live in a parallel universe which can seem as real as the one surrounding me; and there are always multiple voices chattering away inside my head. In other words, I am a writer.

I am also a murderer, a liar, a manipulator of emotions. I can’t help myself. When a story begins taking hold, the morality inside my fictive world shifts polarities constantly. In order to write emotions, I must feel them.

Once, while lunching with a friend, she commented on how troubled I seemed. I confessed how I had just flung a character down the stairs and left her bleeding, alone and afraid. Equal parts guilt and worry interrupted my enjoyment of both her company and the chowder. It didn’t make sense by anybody’s definition, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that the longer I stayed away from my desk, the more I risked Phoebe dying a long and painful death. I mean, I’m not completely heartless. Let’s just say I skipped dessert.

And then there’s talking to myself.  You remember the sayings about people who talk to themselves?  In my case, this means I’m holding a lively debate with a character, testing dialogue, and sussing out the authenticity of a tone in certain circumstances.  Yes, I’m the one in the otherwise empty car chatting away to the nonexistent passengers, something I did long before hands-free cell phones. You’ll also find me in the kitchen arguing away to the invisible while  busy with some menial task.  My life runs a parallel course, with me coexisting in both worlds simultaneously, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. That’s me, crazy and loving it.

Why Must a Favorite Character Die? Or, why Authors have Murderous Hearts.

When I’m watching a movie, especially thrillers or films with plenty of characters, I’m always looking for the ‘dead meat’ , or DM’s for short. DM characters are usually primed to attract our sympathies but are guaranteed to be bumped off somewhere before the end of the movie. It’s kind of a predictable, watch-for-it moment, but it still gets me every time. After all, I cared about those characters. They snaked their way into my heart with good deeds and decent, good-guy actions until I had no choice but to feel their loss, regardless of whether I saw it coming.

Movies reveal their DMs more easily than novels which, due to the differences in length and form, take longer to unfold and may include more subtle character detail. Still, almost all engrossing fiction has a character or two who will meet an untimely end. Remember Little Women?  Louisa May Alcott breathed life into a cast of characters, made us love them all, and then killed off  beloved Beth. I can think of hundreds of examples, as probably you can, too. Nearly every piece of literature features the death of a beloved character. In fact, when you think of it, we writers are a murderous lot. Fellow writers, hold up your hands.

In a recent book club meeting, one of my readers asked why I felt it necessary to kill off a certain character. I felt on trial, she was that unhappy with this character’s passing. She liked that person, identified with the personality, and hoped to become reacquainted in a future book. I explained that, in fictional terms, I was only doing my job. If you’re not experiencing real human emotions, if you don’t care about the people you spend time with inside the covers of a book, the author hasn’t hooked you.

But, all that aside, what turns a writer’s heart to murder?  The simple answer is because we must. In many cases, we love our characters, too. They emerge from our imaginations in some alchemy of creativity and intense observation, and almost like children, we watch them develop. In my case, I don’t give  birth to a character to see him or her die, but as the story world unfolds, often someone must. Writing, like art, should move you. Readers want to laugh and cry so that, when they turn the last page of the fictive world, they feel as though they’ve experienced something authentic.

Were you moved? Did you shed a tear? Good, because I did, too. I promise never to take a reader anywhere I wouldn’t go myself.  Rest assured that while you cry over the demise of a favorite character, I did the same while bumping them off. Otherwise, I am guilty as charged.

Pondering Character in Fiction

Readers crave fictional characters who grow and change as they drive the story forward.  A character in the process of internal transformation offers another plot to unfold within the story world, possibly the most important engine of all. Without character transformation, stories feel empty and one-dimensional.

Can you think of a favorite fictional character who began exactly in the same state as she ended?  Think of Scarlet in Gone with the Wind.  Brewed in a deep well of privilege, she begins selfish, entitled, and manipulative, as fascinating as she is unlikable.  When blow after blow strikes her down, we cheer as she hoists herself back up and keeps on trudging through the mud of civil war. That’s character. We want them strong, yet vulnerable. We want them to bleed, but still wade back into battle undaunted and, most importantly, we want them to learn from their trials.

We identify with the patterns of humanity we recognize. We need to see a living, beating heart in every book we read, even if it’s science fiction or fantasy. That’s where we identify the heroes that help us recognize a germ of the heroic in everyone.

As a writer, I set my characters on a path without knowing exactly how the voyage will transform them. So much of writing is a process of discovery for the author as well as the reader. We never take our fictional journeys alone.

For Phoebe McCabe in the Crime by Design series, a young woman begins in Rogue Wave believing that maturity can be measured in digits alone  until life and mayhem force her to dig deep inside herself to discover her true substance. By Warp in the Weave, she is maturing, her edges hardening, and by book three in the series, we will see a more heroic manifestation arising as the girl becomes a woman. In Frozen Angel, a woman fails to realize the power she possesses to change the destiny of both herself and those she loves. Though her journey pits her against supernatural forces, her character remains indelibly human.

In the end, it doesn’t matter whether our stories are set in reality or in some semblance thereof, the core of fiction always pivots around what we recognize as human, even if it beats inside an alien heart.