Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Strong Girls and Reading

Getting fan mail is a writer's dream. Getting fan mail where young readers question your choices are even better. Why? Because it shows how engaged they were in the story.

Strong girls: not intimidated.
One thirteen-year-old reader contacted me through Facebook to tell me that although she loved my book, one thing bugged her and she wanted an explanation.

In the scene where Cleopatra Selene and her father, Mark Antony, were gambling for fun, Antony teased Selene by explaining that she lost that round because she'd asked Isis for help. "Dionysus," he told her playfully, "would have been a much better choice."

"Why Dionysus?" the young reader demanded. "Antony was Roman. Shouldn't he have said 'Bacchus?'"

Wow! What a close reader. "Good catch," I told her and thanked her for contacting me. I then explained that Antony was called "The New Dionysus" by both Greeks and Alexandrians and that he happily played up to that title, sometimes even dressing as Dionysus in public appearances. Also, since Greek was Selene's first language and the scene took place in Greek-run Alexandria, it was more plausible to me that he would use the Greek form of the god's name and not the Roman.

But seriously, how awesome was she to not only notice the choice I made, but to be fearless enough to ask me about it?

Photo by Marry Harsch
Recently I received another letter where a teen reader wrote to tell me that aside from how much she liked the book, she had some questions. Mostly they were about why I chose to have ancillary characters respond in certain ways (the answer had to do with politics). But she seemed most put out by a scene where the "hot" Marcellus acted like a "wimp" when he was bitten by Cleopatra Selene's cat.

I can't be sure, but I detected a sense of outrage over having her preferred male love interest act less than macho in that scene. I explained, of course, that Romans were not as comfortable with cats as Egyptians. They were still relatively "new" to Romans and cats would have seemed mysterious and dangerous and associated with the "dangers of the East/Egypt." For that reason alone, cats would've likely been reviled in Octavian's compound.  Plus, the snake-like nature of cats (the hissing, the fangs, the blindingly fast strike) would've been very disconcerting to a person who didn't know about cats.

But again, how awesome was it that she felt comfortable enough to ask me to explain my characterization choices?

When I was a young teen, I was way too shy to ever imagine writing to an author, let alone asking him or her such detailed questions. I love that these readers felt confident enough to do so. And more importantly, that they were engaged enough in the story to seek answers. You go, girls!


Amalia Dillin said...

That's awesome!! And for the record, I loved that scene, when Mark Antony and Selene were playing together. AND your explanation about Marcellus makes so much sense. Would superstition have played a role in disturbing Marcellus further, as well? I mean, the Romans did not deny that other gods besides their own existed, right? So, might he have also been disturbed to have such a clear sign of disfavor from an Egyptian goddess?

Elizabeth O. Dulemba said...

I agree - that is the BEST kind of fan mail to receive!! And how awesome that you had concrete reasons to give them for the choices you made. :) e

Stephanie Thornton said...

Very cool that you're getting teen fan mail!

And FYI-my daughter loved the picture of the cat on the mosaic. We're headed to Europe next week and she's excited to see more mosaics.

'Cause she's cool like that. :)

Vicky Alvear Shecter said...

Amalia--great point! I agree, the would definitely have thought about that as well!

e--I know, right?! ;-)

Stephanie--Wow, have a great time. Post lots of pictures!