Amy Tan: Chance & creativity

These two brief oral essays by Amy Tan are charming and well-aimed. The first, about what her closet suggests about her disordered consciousness, is especially funny, and (I think) will be recognizable to you as it was to me: We all keep disordered closets in our minds.
Two Essays | Narrative Magazine

Her remarks on her second topic, "Serendipity"reminded me of unexpected discoveries in my recent work, set in and around Constantinople in 1402 and the world-changing battle at Ankara (Timur, or "Tamerlane," defeated the Ottoman sultan, incidentally saving Constantinople from the Ottoman siege).

At the beginning, I knew I had to bring together the fiercest of Ottoman warriors with the gentlest of Byzantine Christian princesses, who would have to be a daughter of Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos. But she would have to be nubile in 1402 and Manuel didn't marry until 1392, so she would have to be a bastard and yet treated as a princess. But was this historically plausible? Dubious, I went ahead anyway and created the mystically inclined, quick-witted bastard princess Theodota.

And then in my more-or-less random readings of everything I could find about the period I discovered Zampia, a real bastard daughter, whom Manuel cared for enough to marry her to a nobleman. And then, a Turkish friend surprised me with the information that the name I had invented for my Ottoman warrior, combining the words for "lion" and "hawk" -- Arslanshahin -- was in fact a well-known and fairly common name; she directed me to an Istanbul telephone directory, where I found several.

In these and other instances, my research kept confirming things I had already invented. That's what Amy Tan would call serendipity. I think it really has to do with being open to discovery, and to "listening" to an epoch or setting so we can anticipate the things that will fit.


My latest disguise

   I just received the reviews by the "expert reviewers" of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, based on the excerpt consisting of the first three chapters of A Gift for the Sultan. One of them surmised that my novel must take place "at the height of the Holy Roman Empire in Turkey" -- which I can forgive. There must be a lot of people who confuse the Byzantines and their rivals. It was all a long time ago.

The other review was more surprising. The reviewer was convinced that the author of this "more or less religious-themed historical science fiction story" must be a "young woman of religious bent." The reviewer wasn't much interested, because "I don't read science fiction, nor religiously-themed works."

Me either.

From p. 61 of July 5, 1993 issue of The New Yorker, (Vol.69 (LXIX) no. 20)only for academic discussion, evaluation, research and complies with the copyright law of the United States as defined and stipulated under Title 17 U. S. Code.

Armageddon is us!

Check it out. A photo essay on the military presence in our nation's capital. By Laurie Arbeiter.