Cloaks and slings and the siren song of authenticity

Or, the pleasures and perils of writing about three thousand years ago.

As the publication date for The Giant Slayer gets closer and closer (I’ve declared it to be October 1), I’ve been taking care of what seem like thousands of details. Besides all the super-fussy stuff like registering ISBNs, I’ve written a glossary and a discussion guide, and started a Facebook author page (insert craven plea to head over and “like” it).

I knew I had to do a Facebook author page eventually, but I’d been dragging my feet. What would I do on such a page? I didn’t want to just repeat my regular Facebook posts, and, despite my recent posts here, I don’t want to talk about the process of publishing or even about writing (not because I think the latter is bad, but because there are already so many people who do it so well). And then I read Austin Kleon’s Show Your Work! and had my aha moment.

What better to do with my hundreds of pages of research and dozens of pins on Pinterest, than share them?

So that’s what I do. Every day, I share one tidbit about ancient Israel. So far, I’ve covered ovens, the unique properties of the white broom and white squill plants (particularly when one might be on the run in the wilderness), and how the clothing did not resemble Jedi robes.

I’ve been jazzing up my research tidbit with a photo, which has meant more research. Which has meant making adjustments in my manuscript. While there’s still time.

replica of ancient sling
sling from http://celticclans.oakandacorn.com/

For example, I’d been thinking of the sling as an open leather pouch with four lead strings, but it’s far more likely that it was a leather (or “skin” as David would have referred to it) pouch with two leads, one of which had a loop at one end to slip over a finger, and the other with a knot at the end, to hold onto during the revolution and then let go of in the launch. Here’s a video that demonstrates it quite nicely.

From Biblical Archeology Daily, photo by Seung Ho Bang
From Biblical Archeology Daily, photo by Seung Ho Bang

Ovens were totally different than I’d been imagining: they looked more like open volcanoes than like a wood-fired pizza oven. I’d had a soldier sitting on an oven while he watched David’s front door (while David escaped out the back), so I had to change it.

a homespun cloak/cape
The closest image I could find for how I now imagine a farmer or shepherd’s cloak to be.

And despite my research, I’d had firmly planted in my mind that tunics had sleeves and cloaks looked like Jedi robes — probably because I’d sewn too many costumes for church Christmas pageants. Also, in my defense, the few contemporary illustrations I found were of kings delivering tributes to other conquering kings, so there were sleeves and full-length garments. But people living subsistence lives didn’t have fabric to waste for sleeves, and a full-length garment would only get in the way during lambing or plowing. So I had to change the text again to make sure I removed any references to sleeves, and to ensure that cloaks were wrapped or draped around a person, not put on like a bathrobe.

So these are the perils of writing about 3,000 years ago: nobody really knows about daily life for sure, but we have enough hints that we can figure things out. Which means I can still get it wrong. Since one of my goals in writing this story has been to put the reader into 1,000 BCE, I need to get as much right as I can, with as many details as possible to make it feel like an authentic, fully-fleshed-out world.

Join me on my Facebook page or Pinterest board and keep me honest!

2 thoughts on “Cloaks and slings and the siren song of authenticity

  1. Very cool details, and thanks for sharing them. I can really identify with this post.

    “Since one of my goals in writing this story has been to put the reader into 1,000 BCE, I need to get as much right as I can, with as many details as possible to make it feel like an authentic, fully-fleshed-out world.”

    I’ve run into this problem, too. Where does it end? I find out something about Ancient Rome or Romans (for example on our recent trip to Hadrian’s Wall), and am dying to go back and thread the new info through all four manuscripts. It’s a herculean task, and at first it caused no small amount of internal dissonance. But then I realized: one of the earliest and most consistent items of praise I’ve received on my work is how real the world feels. Why do I think that needs my constant fussing and adjustment?

    I think people are far more interested in our characters, and the changes they undergo during the course of our stories. I’m starting to learn to let it go. I appreciate your attention to detail, and I’m sure it’ll make the book better. But I’m guessing you should let some of it go, too. Do what you can, then let it go. I will if you will.

    Really looking forward to reading it, Natalie! 🙂

    1. Very good reminder, Vaughn — I will need to let it go so I can let the book go out into the world. We’ve always got to seek that balance of which research tidbits to include and which ones will just inform *our* mental pictures of our worlds. Happy writing! 🙂

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