The Ionia Sanction releases in Australia

It's the start of a new year. Happy 2012 to everyone!

 That also means The Ionia Sanction has finally released in my native homeland. Yay!

It's quite bizarre to poke your nose inside a store and see your own work on the shelves. Also fun.  I'm afraid it's reached the point where my children automatically say, "Don't look, daddy!" every time we approach any store that displays books. Oh well. So much for impressing the kids.

I want to say a huge, vast, enormous thank you to Belinda Byrne, who in addition to being a really nice person, took a chance on the crazy idea of a detective series in ancient Athens. If it weren't for her, there wouldn't be that lovely cover with the blue background and the lion's head coin that you see on the right. 

Thanks too to my wife Helen, an entirely apposite name under the circumstances, and to our daughters. The dedication on The Ionia Sanction says this:

For Helen, Catriona and Megan

Negotiating the fate of characters

Every now and then my wife forbids me to kill a character. A good example is Bathocles in my short story The Pasion Contract where, even as I was writing it, she told (ordered) me, "Bathocles has to live."

The moment Helen wants to protect someone, it's a signal for me to maim, mutilate or destroy the guy, because it's the characters you care about that mean something when they suffer. I've never actually diverted the plot to run over a character Helen likes, but then I've never really needed to since if you're stuck in one of my stories then you're already in great danger.

This has led to some conversations that would be considered unusual in most households, such as an intense and prolonged negotiation over how many toes I was allowed to cut off one nice but care-worn fellow, Helen arguing for none and me for all but one per foot. The decision turned on how many toes were required for the character to hobble about for the rest of his life. Some of the negotiation was carried out in a public eatery and I wish to apologise to the people sitting next to us.

This reached the stage where I said, "You do realise, don't you, these people don't actually exist?" She did, but apparently it doesn't matter, which is good news for me because it means the characters are working, but probably bad news for the characters. The moral would appear to be, try hard to stay out of my stories.

In praise of Helen, Goddess of Punctuation

I've been deep in major edits for the last week or so, and this tends to put my head into a weird place. Just ask my wife Helen, who has to put up with me in this mode.

Helen is, of course, the perfect name for the wife of a Classical Greek mystery writer. She's my first reader for everything. I know I have a scene right when I want to read it out to her before I'm finished.

Helen is the Goddess of Punctuation. When she checks my writing, the conversation goes something like this:

Gary: What did you think of the scene?

Helen: There's a missing semi-colon on the first page, I fixed all the commas and broke up several sentences that were too long and--

Gary: No no no! What did you think about the story?

Helen: The story? Oh, it was fine.

At least, that's what used to happen. We now have a deal whereby she has to keep her hands off the text and can only comment about the story until the book's finished. Then Helen is unleashed and she fixes everything. Kathleen, Janet and Jo have all commented how clean my manuscripts are. It's nothing to do with me and everything to do with my wife.

Helen has an astonishing memory for text of any sort. She not only knows off the top of her head the phone number of everyone she's ever called, she can tell you what their phone numbers were twenty years ago too. I haven't remembered a single phone number since we got married; I don't need to when I have a walking database beside me. Helen used to do immigration law, when she could recite from memory the entire immigration act. Not only that, but the applicable law for a visa is whatever it was on the day of application, and there are hundreds of tweaks made to the rules every year. If you nominated any random date, Helen could recite what the law was on that particular day. This remarkable ability found its way into my stories.

Here is Diotima, wondering why the other priestesses are a little bit annoyed with her. Nico says:
“I suppose, when you arrived here, they asked you to learn the local prayers?”

“Every temple in every city has its own festivals and rituals and prayers. I could hardly do my job if I didn't know them.”

“Tell me, did you by any chance learn the rituals better than women who've been here for years?”

“Well...maybe,” she admitted. “The actions were a bit complex, but mostly I only had to remember some simple lines.”

“How many simple lines?”

“I don't know, I didn't count. Should I have?” She chewed on her thumbnail as she thought about it. “I did get through all the rituals for the year, plus the special events...umm, three thousand, maybe four thousand?”

“Let me guess; you had them word perfect within a month.” Diotima could recite much of the Iliad from memory. If she hadn't been a woman, she could have become a famous bard.

“Eighteen days. Practically all of it rhymed.”

“And now you're wondering why the other priestesses dislike you? Diotima, couldn't you at least pretend to make a mistake?”

“Is it my fault their memories aren't good?”
Despite her outstanding memory Helen has zero willpower when it comes to study. When we were first going out she did everything in her power to avoid studying for her law exams. This drove me up the wall, to the point at which one day I removed all the shoes from her apartment so she couldn't leave, and then left her to spend the day with nothing to do but study. When I returned that night her oven was spotless. She'd spent the whole day cleaning it.