The Big Idea: Lisa Goldstein
Posted on November 9, 2015 Posted by John Scalzi 11 Comments
The writing was on the wall for Lisa Goldstein, whose chance encounter with a single scrawl led to the story behind her latest novel, Weighing Shadows. Let us take you back in time to that moment.
Practically the entire plot of Weighing Shadows came to me while I was sitting in my car in a parking lot. Someone had painted the word KORE on one wall of the lot, and I wondered, idly: What did that mean? Who had written it, and why? Kore is another name for Persephone, isn’t it? And then, because I write fiction and can’t help coming up with weird explanations for things: What if it was a sign intended for a secret society of goddess worshippers? What if those worshippers still existed, and had existed for thousands of years? What did they want, and why did they feel the need to hide themselves and communicate in code words?
I’d been thinking about writing a time-travel novel and how much fun I could have with it, and suddenly these two ideas converged. Now there was a time-traveling corporation from the future that tried to subtly nudge the course of history by changing one or two small things at a time, a corporation that had started by being idealistic and high-minded but that now supported the status quo as a way to hold onto power. And there was another group, this one clandestine, much less powerful and without access to time travel, that was trying to stop them. And the first break between the two happened in ancient Crete, where the corporation supported the patriarchal Greeks against the goddess-worshipping Cretans.
(Yeah, it’s a feminist book. Just go with it.)
Plot-lines grew like ivy, branched out, proliferated. Where else could I take my protagonists that dealt with these two world views, that of a power structure imposed from above versus one that grew organically? I’d always wanted to learn more about the Library of Alexandria — and wait, wasn’t there a famous woman mathematician who’d taught there? (There was indeed — Hypatia.) And what about troubadours, I’d always liked them… I could show some of the complexities of history, the stuff that didn’t fit into the sanitized version I’d been taught. And of course the more I researched those eras the more complex I found them.
The thing is, I didn’t want to write a novel. I’d just finished a book, The Uncertain Places, that had been extremely difficult to write, with lots of stops and false starts and dead ends. I wanted to write short stories, not because they’re easier — they aren’t — but because if they don’t work out it’s less painful to walk away from them. And yet this idea just wouldn’t leave me alone.
Anyone who’s ever written anything knows what happened next. I kept reading history books, telling myself that I was only doing research and not writing anything yet. A main character showed up, Ann, a woman who was happy to get out of her boring job and go work for the corporation but who started to question their purposes. Ann needed to be able to get into the company’s computer files, so I made her a hacker. She needed to blend in, to avoid suspicion, so I made her an orphan, someone who grew up in foster homes and learned not to make waves. (I also wanted her birth to be mysterious, so that while the corporation was checking out some of the origins of civilization she would be checking out her own origins as well.)
Before I knew it I’d started writing the thing. Well, it pretty much wrote itself actually — because I’d done so much research and thought about it for so long, and because it had arrived in almost one piece, it went faster than any book I’d ever written. It was a gift, really, something to be accepted gratefully. If only they were all that obliging.
Weighing Shadows: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s
Visit the author’s site.
I need to read this. It sounds fantastic!
I must read this!
This sounds like a brilliant idea. I’m very intrigued!
Regarding the collision of hierarchical-patriarchy and organic-goddess, at the intersection of secret organized time travellers, I came across it in one of the earlier Andre Norton Novels, The Time Traders. The hero is a young delinquent. He operates, suitably disguised, out of a base in the prehistoric bronze age. One misty morning, by a marsh, he and his mentor meet a confident lady collecting herbs who reminds them of the goddess ways. It’s a very short passage, not really connected to the plot, but I’m sure Norton couldn’t resist including it, and I can’t resist telling about it.
Sometimes I think I am locked inside this physics experiment: how many books can I buy before my apartment reaches critical mass and implodes?
(Yeah, it’s a feminist book. Just go with it.)
With two dynamite daughters on my life’s resumé, I can’t wait. Off to Powell’s Beaverton tomorrow morn, with fond memories of the Doubleclicks and their itinerant ukelele player…
My budget reached negative mass, or I’d get this now. It’ll need to wait until later.
“Weighing Shadows” — Great title, interesting development process.
Now, show me the word “KORE” scrawled on a wall, and I will likely critique the typography and the art design and color usage. (Heheh.) That’s if I really pay any attention. — But I will also go at it from a linguistic perspective. KORE — Is the E silent, or EE, or AY (É)? Is it core, like a computer core, Earth’s core, apple core? Is it a person’s name? Something has me thinking there’s another Core / Kore with a non-silent E and something more tacked onto the syllable. And not something like Corey, though I’d think of that one. I didn’t know Kore was another name for Persephone, so that’s intriguing. (Etruscan or Latin? Proserpine was, I think, the Latin / Etruscan version.)
I always enjoyed Andre Norton’s Time Traders and Solar Queen novels, and Gordon R. Dickson’s time travel series.
The whole idea of the “prehistoric matriarchy” created by Marija Gimbutas et al. really rubs me the wrong way, since we don’t seem to have much more evidence for it than Gimbutas’ wishful thinking and selective interpretation of archaeological evidence.
I’ll grant that we do have a good idea that the Archaic Greeks *were* highly patriarchial, and that Minoan Crete was a different society founded by different people – but a lot of our assumptions about Minoan society are guesswork at best. It’s more probable that the Minoans were goddess-worshippers than that Gimbutas’ broader hypothesis (that pre-Indo-European Europe was a peaceful matriarchy before being overrun by evil patriarchial Indo-Europeans) is correct (and in recent years a good deal of evidence (primarily genetic) has arisen against the idea that the Indo-Europeans entered Europe from the Ukraine with the introduction of the horse (the “Kurgan hypothesis”) championed by Gimbutas).
It’s worth noting that pictures of female deities don’t mean that a society is matriarchial; for instance, in 16th-century Spain there was a major cult venerating a female deity, with female clergy and a great deal of votive images of that deity, while in the 16th-century Netherlands the religion de-emphasised the female deity, female clergy were unknown, and votive images in general were frowned upon; yet women’s rights – for instance, to own property and conduct business – were stronger in the Netherlands.
It is *probable* that the Minoans did worship at least one goddess – all the surrounding societies did, after all, including the Archaic Greeks – but to infer the presence of matriarchy from that is foolish at best.
At the end of the day there’s no way we can know without a time machine, so maybe this is too much fuss about a fantasy novel – but, as you can probably tell, this is a pet peeve of mine.
Interesting book – going to look it up now, but just want to say I think the featuring of all of these cool books is not only helpful to my ever-expanding reading list, but really generous of you – thanks.
I’ve read it and it was Full of Win and Awesome. It does the tricksy time-travel bits correctly. And there is indeed Crete, and Hypatia, and troubadours, and many Core puns.