Today I welcome Marie Savage/Kristi Blank Makansi to the site! If you missed my review of her debut novel, Oracles of Delphi, which is a mystery of ancient Greece, you can read it here! Enjoy the interview!
Hi, Marie, and welcome to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! You’ve been working with books for years, but how does it feel to have published your debut mystery?
Marie: SCARY! I always tell the authors I work with to put out the best book possible and then not to obsess over reviews, but … and when my daughters and I published the first books in our Seeds Trilogy (a YA/sci-fi) series, I could rejoice or lament with them as reviews came in, but having my own book out in the world makes me feel like I’m parading around the town square with no clothes on.
Erin: It’s chilly I think where both of us are, would like to join me for a cup of hot tea? I can put on a pot of hot chai, or whatever your pleasure is, just let me know? Cream or sugar or lemon?
Marie: I’d love some tea with a bit of lemon.
Erin: I’ll pour. Here have a seat in my library, over there in the comfortable chairs by the window. I think you’ll enjoy my ancient world décor. I’ll be right back to bring out some gingerbread scones, fresh from the oven.
Marie: This is all so delightfully cozy.
Erin: With tea and treat in hand, let’s get started on your questions!
Q: When did you first decide to write Oracles of Delphi? How long did it take you to write it?
A: I was inspired by a comment first suggested by my sister as we were visiting Delphi. As we stood up by the stadion looking out across the valley, she said something like: “Imagine you’re a young woman who has the skills to solve a murder, but no one will listen to you.” For the rest of the trip, we brainstormed storylines and obviously, the much has changed since then, but that was the genesis. That trip was in 2008. After we returned home, I worked on the book on and off, hired several editors to help, got it historically fact-checked by a friend who happens to be both Greek and a professor of Classics, and then let it sit for another year or two before I went back in and reworked it. Finally, I decided it was time to unleash Althaia and her friends on the world.
Q: Have you always fostered a love of ancient cultures? Why or why not?
A: I’ve always been a night owl and was one of those kids who enjoyed a good chapter or two in the encyclopedia as well as an exciting novel. I don’t remember how old I was when I first read about the discoveries at Mycenae and Schliemann and Troy, but I’ve been captivated by the ancient Greek world ever since.
Q: Did the intriguing aspect that most ancient cultures seem to carry give you the nudge to make your book a mystery as opposed to just a regular historical fiction?
A: I love mysteries, so I guess the answer is yes…from that moment in Delphi, it was always a mystery and there was always a girl who had some special knowledge that the men around her didn’t have. As a woman with two daughters, I wanted to write a strong, independent female protagonist, but I also wanted to make sure that the real-world social limits of the time could not simply be contravened by magic or the gods. I wanted the challenges involved in solving the mystery to be grounded in the real world, however they characters themselves might want to interpret them. That said, the question of whether there are indeed gods and oracles is left as a bit of a deeper mystery.
Q: You have many complex characters in your novel. How did your devise and construct them? Are they based on any real people you know?
A: No one character is based on a single person, but rather aspects of people I’ve known or people I’d love to know–real or imagined. My biggest concern (besides all the other normal worries writers fret over) was that my characters were true to their times and personal histories. For instance, one of my favorite characters is Theron, Althaia’s tutor. His back story came to me in one chunk and isessentially the same as the first time I wrote it. His life affected me and I wanted to be true to him and honor his reasons for being so obsessed with finding “truth” and why he has turned his back on the gods. Similarly, all the characters, I wanted to try my best make them as fully formed as possible so that no one felt like a cardboard cutout. Like a movie with an “ensemble” cast, I tried to approach each character as someone so valuable to the story that they could stand alone. Whether or not I’ve accomplished anything near that is for the reader to decide.
Q: How did you create your plot? Did you use an outline or do you write as pantser? Either way you answer, how did that work in writing something as intricate as a mystery?
A: I outlined and then ignored it and wrote like a pantser and then reworked the outline based on what was on the page and then threw that out again. So I guess I’m a hybrid…a bit of a pantser and a bit of a planner. I like to have the general direction in mind before I start, but then the story takes over. For instance, in the first draft(s), Nikos was a much darker character and – SPOILER ALERT – Kleomon was the killer. But I came to love Kleomon with all his bombastic vices and decided he may be a lot of things, but he wasn’t a murderer. So, if he didn’t do it, who did? I had to figure out who was the really bad bad guy as I went along.
Q: What common elements of mysteries did you employ? What, if anything, did you do differently or did you try anything original?
A: At one time, I played with the idea of unfolding the story as a three-act play since so much of plot revolves around the theater of Delphi. One of the editors I worked with LOVED this idea and encouraged me to rework the whole novel. But as I went, it started to seem contrived, so I dropped it. One of the other editors I worked with helped me work on the voices and selecting which characters to give POV chapters to, and his assistance was invaluable. Alternative POVs allowed me to get inside the skin and bones of different characters and, I hope, made the story richer. And, of course, I tried to build suspense along the way by writing scenes/chapters and chapter endings that would, hopefully, compel the reader to turn the page to find out what happens next.
Q: Oracles of Delphi featured many cultural, religious, and historical details. How did you conduct all the research of this ancient time? How did you come up with your beautiful descriptions?
A: As for the research, I’ve read fairly extensively about Ancient Greece and have shelves full of books—historical fiction and academic—to turn to. A big challenge, one many historical fiction authors face, is getting so excited about the research that they don’t know when to quit or when to shut up. Deciding what to put in/leave in to move the story forward and what to take out because it slows the story down is nigh impossible sometimes, which is why a good editor is essential.
As for the “beautiful descriptions” (and THANK you for that!), I’ve been lucky enough to travel to Greece several times and have walked everywhere my characters walked. The landscape and history is so rich that I simply tried to put into words the feelings I had when I was “on site.” The scenes in the Korycian Cave, in particular, were important for me to get right. My sister-in-law, an archaeologist, and I went to the cave and it is amazing. I have photos from my trips on my website: www.kristinamakansi.com, but here is one from the cave:
Q: You really intertwine the spiritual essence of the time and place in your book. Do you feel there is an importance of sharing these ancient religions and thoughts? Share how you so vividly represented the spiritual aspect of Delphi.
A: Religion and belief in the supernatural is a fascinating topic for me. When my mother warned that a good guest never discusses religion or politics, I thought who the hell wants to be a good guest, then? These are my two favorite subjects! Belief – or absence of belief – fundamentally affects one’s world view and shapes how communities cohere, or not, and how laws and customs come to be and are enforced. This was true in ancient times and it is true today—witness what is going on in politics here in the US and in the Middle East. If today we believe that ancient religious beliefs from thousands of years ago were nothing more than misplaced belief in “myth” and that now we know better because we know the “truth,” then I wonder what people will think of our own beliefs thousands of years from now?
In dealing with the oracular prophecies, I wanted to have the characters grapple with the passage of “old” ways and the portent of “new” ways on several levels. First we have Apollo “replacing” Gaia, and then we have the prophecy at the end where a new resurrected god will claim the site from Apollo. When you visit Delphi and imagine the grandeur and power of the Sacred Precinct in classical Greece and how people came from all over to seek answers to their questions—from the political to the mundane—and then look around the modern town and see the lovely churches with their beautiful icons, it, at least to me, demonstrates the power of people’s enduring quest to get those same political and mundane questions answered—should we go to war, should I marry, why is my child sick? Ultimately, I guess, the characters in Oracles of Delphigrapple with how we answer those questions. Do we turn to the gods or do we turn to science? Or do we have to choose?
Q: For those who don’t know of the history of Delphi, can you explain about the Gaia worshippers and the Oracle of Delphi , before it eventually fell to the spread of Christianity?
A: I took great liberties with the idea that there was competition or rivalry between the worshippers of Gaia and those of Apollo. There’s actually no evidence to suggest this is the case, although I’ve read quite a bit about the idea that male gods/male priests did supplant female/earth-mother goddesses/priestesses about the same time as the rise of the Apollo cult in Delphi. The earliest archeological finds date to the Neolithic period, around 4,000 BCE, and have been found in and around the Korycian Cave. The earliest mythological traditions associate the site with Mother Earth, Gaia, and say the area, including a sacred spring, was guarded by a great serpent that lived in the Korycian Cave and that was later killed by Apollo who claimed the sacred site as his own. In Oracles, I’ve named a popular inn The Dolphin’s Cove, because Apollo was said to have taken on the shape of a dolphin to lead a ship full of Cretan sailors to Delphi’s port so they could become his priests.
Once Apollo and his priests took over, the fame of the oracle and the Pythia spread throughout the ancient Greek world and did not diminish until the rise of the rationalists, the movement Theron represents. Throughout antiquity, the Oracle of Delphi was thought to be the most reliable of all the oracles and kings, princes, tyrants, as well as common people, went to Delphi seeking answers. Delphi was also famous because it was considered the omphalos—or navel—of the earth. It was over Delphi that the two eagles that Zeus had unleashed at opposite ends of the world crossed paths signifying the center of all things. Even in the Hellenic era and into the early Christian era, the traditions of the oracle continued. It wasn’t until 394 AD that Theodosius, the Byzantine emperor, shut the oracle down and turned Delphi into a Christian stronghold.
Q: Do you hope to make your novel a mystery series with your lead character Althaia as the sleuth? If so, where might further adventures take her?
A: Yes, I do. Our next installment has Althaia back in Athens awaiting Nikos’s arrival while her husband Lycon gets into trouble that endangers everything Althaia cares about. The whole crew is in place—Theron, Praxis, and Nephthys—and it is set against the political background about the debate over whether to make peace with Philip of Macedon or not.
Q: I know you have edited many books, but is this the first novel that you’ve ever written? If not, what else have your written or will be writing?
A: This is the first solo novel that I’ve written that has seen the light of day. Earlier efforts were pretty awful and mostly never finished. I’ve got several projects in process including the outline and first four chapters of the sequel to Oracles. I’ve been slowly doing the research and taking notes on a novel featuring Olympias, and my daughters and I are hard at work on the third book in our Seeds Trilogy. Also, I’ve started a time travel thriller/romance that is based on an artifact and legend from my very extended and very old family history. That’s one I’m particularly excited about.
Q: Are there mystery authors that you like to read yourself? Favorite mysteries of all time?
A: I love Ruth Downie’s mysteries set in the Roman Empire—they’ve got a lot of intrigue, historical detail, and humor! I also love Lindsey Davis, of course, and have enjoyed Gary Corby’s series set in Classical Greece. I also enjoyed Bruce Macbain’s Roman-era mysteries featuring Pliny the Younger as the amateur sleuth, and I’m particularly excited about his books because I’m publishing the first of his Viking saga next spring—Odin’s Child, Book One of the Odd Tangle-Hair Saga. (It’s excellent, but Book Two in the series is even better!) It’s impossible to name a favorite because it depends on my mood.
Q: Are there other types of writing, genres, authors, or particular books that you enjoy?
A: I’m “genre blind” and will read anything if it’s a great story with a great voice—and if there’s nothing handy, I’ll read the nutrition facts on the back of the cereal box. One of my recent favorites—and this was from a year or two ago, but still stands out in my mind—is Alex Shakar’s novel LUMINARIUM about how technology affects our understanding of reality.
Q: If you could go back in time to any ancient place, with any ancient person, where and with whom would you go? Why?
A: GAH! This is such a hard question, but perhaps it would be Olympias, Alexander’s mother, who I am, slowly but surely, writing about. Her relationship with Philip and Alexander surely impacted the outcome of Western history and, by all accounts, she was a schemer first class. I guess I’d love to hang with her for a while and watch her political machinations. I’d also love to participate in a salon/symposia led by Aspasia, Pericles’s lover.
Q: Where can people connect with you?
A: I’m available through my www.kristinamakansi.com website as well as through www.blankslatepress.com. I’m on twitter at @readwritenow and @blankslatepress and on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/blankslatepress?ref=bookmarks and for those who like Scifi and YA, you can find me at www.theseedstrilogy.com and https://www.facebook.com/TheSeedsTrilogy.
Erin: Thank you so much for stopping by to talk about your book and your writing! It was a pleasure to have you here, as I know our busy writing and editing schedules leave us both eating many midnight snacks. Lol! I wish you lots of success with your own novel and hope for more mysteries in the future from Marie!
Marie: This has been wonderful, and I thank you so much for such thoughtful questions!
Publication Date: October 15, 2014
Blank Slate Press
Formats: eBook, Paperback
Series: Althaia of Athens Mystery
Genre: Historical Mystery
All Althaia wants on her trip to Delphi is to fulfill her father’s last wish. Finding the body of a woman in the Sacred Precinct is not in her plans. Neither is getting involved in the search for the killer, falling for the son of a famous priestess, or getting pulled into the ancient struggle for control of the two most powerful oracles in the world. But that’s what happens when Theron, Althaia’s tutor and a man with a reputation for finding the truth, is asked to investigate. When a priest hints that Theron himself may be involved, Althaia is certain the old man is crazy — until Nikos, son of a famous priestess, arrives with an urgent message. Theron’s past, greedy priests, paranoid priestesses, prophecies, and stolen treasures complicate the investigation, and as Althaia falls for Nikos, whose dangerous secrets hold the key to the young woman’s death, she discovers that love often comes at a high price and that the true meaning of family is more than a bond of blood.
Praise for Oracles of Delphi
“Mysticism, murder and mystery in ancient Delphi: Marie Savage weaves intrigue and suspense into wonderfully researched historical fiction while introducing the reader to Althaia, a spirited Athenian woman with a flair for forensic detection.” (Elisabeth Storrs, author of The Wedding Shroud and The Golden Dice)
“Oracles of Delphi is an original and compelling mystery. Savage’s complex characters and deft writing shine as she pulls readers into the fascinating world of fourth century B.C. Greece. A wonderful debut!” (Sarah Wisseman, author of the forthcoming Burnt Siena Flora Garibaldi art conservation mystery and the Lisa Donahue archaeological mystery series)
“It is hard to make a female character both strong and vulnerable, but Marie Savage has done just that with Althaia of Athens. Well done!” (Cynthia Graham, author of the forthcoming Beneath Still Waters)
Buy the Book
Author Marie Savage, Bio~
She is co-founder and publisher of Blank Slate Press, an award-winning small press in St. Louis, and founder of Treehouse Author Services. Books she has published and/or edited have been recognized by the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA), the Independent Publisher Book Awards (IPPY), the Beverly Hills Book Awards, the David J. Langum, Sr. Prize in American Historical Fiction, the British Kitchie awards, and others.
She serves on the board of the Missouri Center for the Book and the Missouri Writers Guild. Along with her two daughters, she has authored The Sowing and The Reaping (Oct. 2014), the first two books of a young adult, science fiction trilogy.
Oracles of Delphi, is her first solo novel. For more information visit Kristina Makansi’s website and the Blank Slate Press website. You can also follow Krisina Makansi and Blank Slate Press on Twitter.
Tour Schedule: http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/oraclesofdelphiblogtour/
Hashtags: #OraclesofDelphiBlogTour #HistoricalMystery #AlthaiaofAthensMystery
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