If I write nothing else my entire life, I want to write a series of stories, one for each of my children. They may take me the rest of my life or the next 10 years, but I have been meticulously researching settings for each of them.
Several months ago I was stumbling through some Tumblr posts and came upon a vase depicting the Amazon queen Penthesilea riding into battle to face Achilles.
Perhaps I missed that day in history class, but I always thought the Amazons were a race of warrior women living along the banks of the South American River to which Francisco de Orellana to gave their name.
Turns out they are as mysterious and widespread as mythology knows, residing along the Black Sea, the Baltic Sea and in jungles across the oceans.
Delving into their mythstery, as I like to call research into vague and ephemeral pieces of our past, I found that though the Amazons are well documented across history, they are kept in the distance, beyond reality in a world that could very much have been, but which has almost no physical or even historical evidence.
The Greeks even idealized the Amazon culture as the dividing line between myth and reality.
Legendary warriors every bit the equal of the greatest mythological male heroes, Amazons are not merely the birthplace of feminism, they are the embodiment of it as a secondary and vital fight extending so far back into history that their exploits can not be separated regardless of their designation as myth.
Just a few weeks ago, our government changed the rules and will allow women into combat.
History, as we know, often repeats itself for lack of trying to avoid it by knowing it, and because mankind is inclined to wipe clean his collective memory from time to time in increasingly violent and apocalyptic ways.
I think I have found in the ideology of the Amazons, a setting for my story for my daughter Gabrielle.
For many months I struggled with the idea of placing their stories in violent settings, even though violent struggle is what most shapes mankind.
I wondered if I could find or create settings that would transcend violence and warfare. But even looking back across our own history, I see its telltale mark everywhere.
My grandfather fought his way across the Russian steppe, at times conscripted to fight for Turkic armies and at other times for the Chinese.
My father’s best friend was killed in Vietnam, and even Gabrielle has attended school with children whose fathers have died in Afghanistan and Iraq.
War touches us even in the most peaceful of times. It shapes us. It has shaped us.
And so I see the Amazon culture as a setting for my daughter, a place to give context to her beginnings. She is 1/4th Ukrainian, which is the cradle of the Amazon culture.
She is strong and fearless, and though she is young, those attributes have been long in her blood. And they came from somewhere back in time, perhaps far enough back to have crossed that line between myth and reality.
And is it too much to speculate that one of the male children born to the Amazons might have been left in the wilderness to die only to sharpen his wits against adversity and hopelessness only to give birth to the great Cossack culture 2,300 years later? Another race of warriors born more out of necessity than myth and for a particular time, the Cossacks were nation and empire builders.
A land may be invaded a million times, as Ukraine has been, and though they destroy the buildings, the art, the wheat, the very foundations of civilization, they cannot destroy the spirit of the place, which is why another generation always rises in place of the invaders.
In their blood is the blood of the Amazons, the Goths, the Tatars and the Cossacks, the mortar between the bricks of the breadbasket of the world.
In looking for settings for these stories that will explain and help solidify the vast influences of the rivers of our past, I have found the big picture of our past.
Now I have to find the characters in those settings.
The work of a writer is much like the iceberg. Most of it is under the surface.