Monday, April 30, 2012

If I Had it to Do Over Again, Would I?

I started my book Sacred Fire five years ago, and I’ve learned heaps since then. Occasionally I wonder what my book would be like if I started it knowing what I know now. It would be a million times easier to write, that’s for sure. I would avoid the many mistakes I had to fix.

If I started my book today instead of five years ago, Tuccia wouldn’t be my main character. I’m not saying I don’t love her; I knew I wanted to tell her story as soon as I read about her on Wikipedia. She was accused in 250 BC of losing her virginity, a crime that for a priestess was punishable by death. She proved her innocence by performing a miracle to show she was favored of the gods; she carried a sieve full of water from the river Tiber to the temple of Vesta.

Here’s the problem: Tuccia lived through some pretty heavy stuff – the Second Punic War which almost destroyed Rome, a Vestal Virgin’s execution, a Vestal Virgin’s suicide (which I didn’t include), the extermination of the fire of Vesta which caused mass panic through the city – but it all happened long after she performed her miracle. I wanted the miracle to be the climax, so I took some artistic liberties and switched the events.

Come to find out, another Vestal Virgin performed a similar miracle at around the same time I say Tuccia performed hers. When Claudia was accused of losing her virginity, she proved her innocence by pulling a ship onto shore that mysteriously stopped moving before it could reach the harbor. I should have caught this when I first started my research, but I was a novice at the time and didn’t realize my mistake until a few months ago.

If I had it to do over again, I would write the story the way it really happened. Assuming these women weren’t just legends and Tuccia didn’t die prematurely, Tuccia was an old woman when Claudia was a child. I'm sure Claudia grew up hearing stories of the miracle of the sieve. Maybe she was in awe of Tuccia. She experienced the war when she was young, as well as the executions and the fire going out, and eventually had to perform her own miracle, probably using Tuccia as inspiration.

I would change the story structure, too, so that it didn’t have so many subplots and was more focused. I’m sure the themes and characters would be completely different, since I’m a different person than I was five years ago and what matters to me now isn’t quite the same as what mattered to me then. I wouldn’t have to spend as much time revising, which would be wonderful beyond description.

As I thought about this other book I would write, I realized if I hadn’t going through the process the way I did, the book I love and worked so hard on wouldn’t exist. That was a little scary to think about. This novel makes me want to tear my hair out sometimes, but I like what I wrote.

If I could choose between starting this book five years ago and starting this book now, I would keep everything the way it is.


  1. Sometimes, it's the things we learn in the midst of trials and tribulations that make us appreciative of what we create and develop.

  2. Great last line!

    It took me four years to get my first historical novel hammered out. Oh, the things I've learned since then!

    But it was all worth it, even if there was much gnashing of teeth involved along the way.

  3. I'm sure in the end you will be proud of the finished product either way!


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