On Friday, I'm heading to a cottage in the Catskills, where I plan to spend an isolated week writing. It's an artist's retreat, something I've fantasized about doing ever since I moved to NYC two years ago. A week isn't long enough, of course. I need a month! Two months!! The idea is that I will write 12 hours a day, and during the time I'm not writing, I'll just do a little cooking, go for a swim, take a walk around the lake, then go back to the book.
My creative challenge is to take my personal history and wind it around the histories of my Bad Girls. I want it to feel like a natural weaving, and not like the self-important meanderings of a writer who wants to keep inserting herself into a narrative that has nothing to do with her.
I've already written biographies of my Bad Girls, which will be a tremendous help as I write. You could say that I'll be plagiarizing myself. I've done the research and laid out the stories to my satisfaction. And now as I write my memoir, it's fun to go back and read about the Bad Girls' lives. Here's the opening to Empress Theodora of Constantinople's story:
A beautiful girl steps onto centre stage. She strips off her clothes and stands nude in front of her audience, wearing only a look of bold defiance on her lovely face.
The audience has come from miles around to witness this 16-year-old’s sensational act. But tonight the spectators are unprepared for the sheer force of her personality. They watch, bewitched, as the girl artfully arranges herself in a spread-eagle position on the floor.
A drum sounds. Servants appear from both sides of the stage and sprinkle barley grains over her private parts. The servants retire to the wings, leaving the girl exposed and alone.
She claps her hands. Cages of hungry geese are rolled out onto the stage and released. The audience roars as the geese devour the grains one by one from her young flesh. She laughs, her flexible body twisting with pleasure, until every grain is gone. Then she stands proudly, her eyes impassive, her laughter subsiding to just the trace of a smile. The crowd cheers her wantonness and she takes a bow.
As the rich, fat old men file out of the Hippodrome and return to their comfortable homes in Constantinople, little do they suspect that this shameless whore will one day rule the Eastern Roman Empire.
The girl is Theodora, the year 517 A.D. Fate has decreed that in just a few years she will marry an emperor named Justinian, share his power, find religion and outlaw prostitution.