The Big Idea: Lisa Goldstein
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.
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