Monday, April 13, 2015

Ten Questions from Tara: Interview with Amalia Carosella

Welcome. You’re here to promote HELEN OF SPARTA, a historical fiction novel. Tell me, please, what was the inspiration behind this story? How did it come to you?

Readers, here's the blurb:

Long before she ran away with Paris to Troy, Helen of Sparta was haunted by nightmares of a burning city under siege. These dreams foretold impending war—a war that only Helen has the power to avert. To do so, she must defy her family and betray her betrothed by fleeing the palace in the dead of night. In need of protection, she finds shelter and comfort in the arms of Theseus, son of Poseidon. With Theseus at her side, she believes she can escape her destiny. But at every turn, new dangers—violence, betrayal, extortion, threat of war—thwart Helen’s plans and bar her path. Still, she refuses to bend to the will of the gods.

A new take on an ancient myth, Helen of Sparta is the story of one woman determined to decide her own fate.

In 2009, I was running kind of short on time to prepare for National Novel Writing Month, but since I graduated with a Classical Studies degree, I knew my myths pretty well, and I figured I could squeeze in the research I needed to bring one to life. Helen of Troy seemed like the most logical choice. Certainly it was one of the most familiar. But the more reading I did that October, the more I realized just how much of Helen’s story I didn’t know. Everything before she’d gone to Troy was a mystery to me, and when I started researching the events that came before, I found a story I hadn’t expected – her early abduction by Theseus, the great hero-king of Athens. Once I found this footnote in Helen’s history, I couldn’t let it go – and so often, Helen is portrayed as kind of feckless, but suddenly, I could see a totally different perspective, a woman who ACTED, rather than just being acted upon. From there, HELEN OF SPARTA was born.

We focus a lot on heroines here on Book Babe. Tell me what makes your heroine(s) strong.

Helen is nobody’s plaything. She isn’t content to sit in her room and wait for her fate to find her, whether it’s determined by her father or the gods. When she starts dreaming of a war, caused by her impending marriage, she doesn’t waste time. She’s a princess, the heir of Sparta, and she takes her duty to her people very seriously. Helen is willing to go to incredible lengths to protect her city and her loved ones – and she isn’t afraid to make huge personal sacrifices when they’re called for.

Do you see any of yourself in her?

I think pieces of myself work their way into my fiction without my realizing it, mostly. But maybe I see myself most in Helen’s struggle with her gods. She isn’t sure what to believe or what she WANTS to believe, and that’s something I can I definitely identify with, personally.
Was there any particular part of this story that was the hardest for you to write? Tell me why.

The ending. And I don’t want to spoil it, so I’m not sure I should explain why, but any readers who know their myths can probably guess!

What kind of research did you do when you penned this novel? Did anything surprising come up in your search? 

I read and reread a lot of classical source material including The Iliad, extensive passages of The Odyssey, translations of Hesiod’s works and the Cypria Fragments, Pseudo-Apollodorus’s The Library, Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Heroides (which are absolutely fantastic), Plutarch’s Life of Theseus, the relevant plays by Euripides, and also Mary Renault’s Theseus books, and Margaret George’s Helen of Troy, in order to get a handle on what had already been done. Pretty much everything I could get my hands on! And the thing that surprised me, and really stuck with me, was Theseus. His character, his entire life story, his role in the book, his bff relationship with Pirithous. All of it kind of blindsided me. (Theseus is one of my most favorite heroes, now, because of all the reading and research I did for this book!)

What would you like readers to gain from reading your book? Is there a strong moral? Do you hope they will laugh, learn something about a particular subject/person, ponder a point?

I hope they see Helen as more than just a beautiful woman to be stolen and traded and blamed for a war. I think she deserves better than to be treated as a prize in our retellings. But I wouldn’t say this book presents any kind of moral, so much as it is just an exploration of an often overlooked piece of myth, legend, and history. If readers are inspired to read a little bit more about the myths or Mycenaean Greece, the way other works of historical fiction have inspired me to read up on new historical periods I hadn’t been interested in before, then I’ll feel like I’ve done my job exceptionally well!

Your book takes place in Bronze Age Greece. If I were a tourist, what would you recommend I see in this town/country? 

Pylos and Mycenae are probably the two best Bronze Age archaeological sites to visit in Greece itself. But Knossos on Crete would definitely also be on my must-see list! Just the realization that these walls are still standing after 3000-3500+ years is mind blowing.

Moving on to personal things...if you could time travel to absolute any time and place in history, where and when would you go and what is it that draws you to this time period? What would you do whilst there?

This is hard – I would love to go back to the Bronze Age, both in Greece and Scandinavia, and find out what was really what. I’d love to sit down with whoever Homer was, in Homeric Greece, and learn how much of his epics were fact and how much were fiction. I’d love to go back to Bronze Age Athens and find out if there really was a king named Theseus. I’d love to walk through the palaces in Athens and Mycenae and Pylos and at Knossos and see them in all their newly-made glory. The thing that fascinates me so much about the Bronze Age is how advanced these people were, and how often we overlook their history. We’re still only just putting some of these pieces together to understand what their culture and their world looked like – and for me as an author, that makes a fantastic backdrop for storytelling.

What’s the one thing you hope to accomplish before you die? Your main goal?

Keep writing books. Becoming an author has been my number one goal in life for a very, very long time. But aside from that, I think my next big dream is fluency in Icelandic, with a side order of a masters in Old Norse Religion and a trip to Iceland.

I’m a dog mom, so I always ask this. Do you have pets? If so, tell me about them and do provide pictures.

I do! We have two cats, a black long-haired named Maya, and a gray/silver short-haired tabby named Baldur. They’re both about 3 years old, and still learning to get along, but they’re doing a fantastic job of keeping the mice from invading the house (and keeping me on my toes.)

Amalia Carosella
Amalia Carosella graduated from the University of North Dakota with a bachelors degree in Classical Studies and English. An avid reader and former bookseller, she writes about old heroes and older gods. She lives with her husband in upstate New York and dreams of the day she will own goats (and maybe even a horse, too). For more information, visit her blog at

She also writes myth-steeped fantasy and paranormal romance under the name Amalia Dillin. Learn more about her other works at

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