I suppose it was inevitable that I developed an instant connection with Dana Cameron. I like smart women–she’s brighter than me. I like inquiring minds–hell, she digs for truth. I like people who have a solid core and a strong heart–well, hello Dana. Did I mention that she’s won all kinds of writing awards? And that her latest urban fantasy release, SEVEN KINDS OF HELL, is getting rave reviews?
About Dana: Whether writing urban fantasy, historical fiction, noir, thriller, or traditional mystery, Dana Cameron draws from her expertise in archaeology. Her fiction (including several Fangborn stories) has won multiple Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity Awards and earned an Edgar Award nomination. The first of three novels set in the Fangborn ‘verse, SEVEN KINDS OF HELL, was recently published by 47North. Dana lives in Massachusetts with her husband and benevolent feline overlords.
How reading Homer saved my life
by Dana Cameron
One spring Saturday morning, a long time ago, I boarded an early train in Liverpool for London. Although I usually travel very light, I also brought my hardcover copy of Robert Fagles’ translation of The Odyssey with me. It’s a big book, but I couldn’t bear to leave it behind, for the month I’d be traveling and doing research. I was the only one in the car, and was looking forward to a little quality time reading.
All of a sudden, the train was swarmed with very large, very rowdy Liverpool football supporters. They were apparently traveling to an away match, and although it was only 7:00am, they were seriously drunk. Not giddy, or in high spirits. They were plastered like they’d been drinking since Thursday, cans of lager in hand, flasks being handed around. Playful scuffles broke out, but then something angry started happening one car up. I looked around: There was nowhere to escape to, no sign of the conductor, and I suddenly felt like I was the only woman around for miles.
Then I noticed guys elbowing each other and gesturing at me; they’ve figured it out, too. As the train pulled out, I became seriously nervous: the only way I could have been more obviously out of place was if I had been served up on toast points, wearing nothing but a bikini and a Manchester United scarf. The harassed conductor arrived, took one look at me and announced, “behave yourselves, there’s a lady!” Which only underscored the fact that I’m alone. He was answered with laughter and jeers. I asked if there was anywhere else to sit, and he said no, the whole train was like that. Brilliant.
All my instincts were screaming “trouble,” but there was nothing else to do. I kept my head down, trying to hide behind my book, figuring if anyone tried anything, I’d cosh him with that.
The noise continued, getting even worse as we traveled. But I was also getting sucked into the story again, and against the odds, eventually, forgot where I was. Not smart, really, but I didn’t have many options. I got near the end, where Odysseus, who’s been away for twenty years, proves who he is to his wife Penelope by describing their wedding bed. And when she recognizes him:
Living proof–Penelope felt her knees go slack, her heart surrender/recognizing the strong clear signs Odysseus offered.
At this point, I was totally immersed in that amazing, epic scene, actually sobbing, nose running, a mess. And it’s only when I realized I couldn’t breathe for want of a hankie, that I noticed…
The car had gone dead silent. Not only was there no noise but me snuffling, but seats have been vacated in front and behind me, creating a no-go zone around me. Men were staring, horror-stricken, completely unsure what to do about the hysterically crying woman in the corner.
I snuffled again, and thought: cool.
Shortly after, the muted football rowdies reached their stop, and I eventually arrived, safely, in London.
This may be a moral about the power of poetry, but I think it’s also about the utility of playing to your strengths and weaknesses. Maybe it was Athena “bright-eyed Pallas,” watching over me (“no warrior, you, little one/I’ll gift you with tears and phlegm/and your enemies will run, unmanned”). That’s something I’ve used in my writing ever since then. Strength is well and good, but there’s power to be found in unexpected places, too.