Friday, April 24, 2020

Madeline Miller (Song of Achilles/Circe) talks about the HBO series and her next projects

From her recent AMA.

Writing advice:
A lot of it was instinct. As they say in theater, "follow the heat." If I am not interested in a story (like Circe turning Picus into a woodpecker), I can't make it interesting for the reader either. If I am obsessed with something, I trust that. I couldn't get the strange detail of Circe arming her son with a sting-ray tail spear out of my mind. That small detail turned into one of the most significant episodes in Circe's journey--a portal she has to go through. I had no idea why I needed that idea so much, or why it meant so much to me or where it would go--but when I got to the right moment, there it was.
Future Projects:
Pandora, who is an Eve figure. A woman who gets blamed for all the troubles of the world because she is THINKING TOO MUCH (that's how I interpret being "too curious". I am working on a short story about her currently).


I have two things I'm working on: in the far distant future, a novel inspired by the Aeneid. I find Vergil the most personally moving of all the ancient poets, because of his deep humanism.

And currently, a novel based on my other love: Shakespeare. A story inspired by The Tempest has been bubbling away in my brain for about ten years. I’m focusing on Caliban and Miranda. And of course, there’s a nice Circe connection, since The Tempest is also about magic and witches and islands!
Involvement in the Circe HBO series:
Basically not at all! But that is okay with me. I know nothing about the small screen, nothing about screenwriting. I spent a lot of time talking to the people I gave the book to, and a lot of time in the beginning speaking to the writers. They were so passionate about the book, and Circe's story, and were thinking so deeply about it. I felt like they "got" it. I can't wait to see how it comes out!
Drawing lessons from ancient texts:
The ancients had a saying: there is nothing new under the sun. The Iliad begins with a plague, and King Agamemnon’s refusal to deal with it is what kicks off the entire plot. There is some comfort for me in knowing that we are not alone here. Humanity has walked these paths before, even if we personally haven’t. Of course, sometimes that thought is depressing too!

I am finding comfort in stories of courage—of our ability to work together to solve a terrifying problem. I was researching Egyptian mythology the other day and found resonance in the story of the Goddess Sekhmet, a terrifying lion with an endless appetite for drinking human blood. (Stick with me here, the comfort part is coming). After she is loosed on the world, people set aside their differences and work together. They make a giant vat of beer (!!) which they dye red to make it look like blood. She drinks it, and calms down. Human ingenuity, human courage, caring for each other, working for the greater good. That is what comforts me right now. And there is so much cause for comfort and hope. I see kindnesses around me every day--people banding together, people helping each other, and of course the tremendous courage of all those out there risking themselves to keep us fed, safe, and healthy.