The Memoirs of Helen of Troy marked my historical fiction debut as well as my hardcover debut.
Although as far as I know we have no Hellenic blood running through our veins, my maternal grandmother was so enamored of everything to do with ancient Greece—the mythology, the architecture and art—that she named my mother Leda. Is it any surprise, then, that I would gravitate to the story of Leda’s demi-mortal daughter, the beautiful and passionate vain and adulterous Helen of Sparta? Okay, things could have been worse; I could have identified instead with Helen’s sister—the equally adulterous Clytemnestra, who also happened to become a murderess.
My grandmother’s interest was infectious. As a child I became as interested in the Greek myths and legends and the ancient culture as she was; and that passion never left me. As the years passed, Helen remained at its epicenter. When my grandfather—a poet, among other literary disciplines—first explained iambic pentameter to me, he invoked Christopher Marlowe’s line from Dr. Faustus, “Is this the face that launched a thousand ships?” as an example of the perfect meter.
Even before I became a writer I yearned to tell Helen’s story from her own point of view because she was the victim of millennia of misogyny, and none of the male authors who tackled her unusual history—even Shakespeare—really bothered to get inside her head to examine her motives and explore whether her choices and her actions were justified. It took just a few months to write the novel because as the saying goes it was “a book of my heart” and poured out of me. I was already quite familiar with Helen’s story, although I went back and re-read Homer, as well as the ancient playwrights who wrote their own stories of Helen and the Trojan War. I delved into several books on Bronze Age history, revisited all the myths I’d read before, and discovered some lesser known variations. The latter particularly piqued my imagination. Extensive and exhaustive research went into The Memoirs of Helen of Troy; although when all is said and done, it is, of course, a work of fiction. Let’s face it, if you know anyone who’s only half-mortal, you’d better book them on Oprah, PDQ!
Over the past three millennia, Helen and the heroes and villains of Troy have appeared in many iterations, each as expressive of its age as it is of its author’s imagination. My story of Helen is no exception: It is a tale for our era, which, while based on evergreen legends, has a certain resonance to our own time and place in history.