23 November 2014

Author Interview & Book Giveaway: Shirley Graetz on SHE WROTE ON CLAY

This week, we're pleased to welcome author Shirley Graetz with her latest release,  SHE WROTE ON CLAY. Join us again on Sunday for an author interview, with more details about the story behind the story. One lucky visitor will get a free audiobook copy of She Wrote on Clay. Be sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's post or Sunday's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb.

Set nearly 3,800 years ago on the banks of the Euphrates, the novel traces the journey of Iltani, a gifted girl from a scribal family, who dreams of becoming a scribe. In order to fulfill her destiny she enters the gagû, becoming a nadītu, an elite class of monastic women. There, she is expected to lead a sheltered life and be cared for by her aunt and taught by a fellow nadītu-scribe. But life is not that simple; she is soon forced to deal with many unforeseen misfortunes.  After eventually reaching her goal, she is invited by a male scribe to take part in engraving the stele for King Hammurabi; an invitation which will cause turmoil and uncertainty in her peaceful existence.
            The unique feature of She Wrote on Clay is not only the exceptional account of the nadītu women, but also the integration into the plot of original Akkadian material (cuneiform letters, contracts etc.), vivid testimonies, which are rarely encountered by anyone outside the field of Assyriology.

**Q&A with Shirley Graetz**

What got you interested in women who lived 4000 years ago in ancient Mesopotamia (Iraq)?

I was studying Assyriology- that is the history of ancient Iraq which is also called Mesopotamia.  I was learning cuneiform script and the ancient language Akkadian. These languages were spoken over 4000 years ago.

While searching for a topic for my MA and PHD thesis, I came across many women who were writing different kinds of letters to all sorts of people.

Among these women were the naditu women, a class of monastic women whose lives really intrigued me. I started to read more and more about them and the letters, sales contracts, adoption contracts and inheritance contracts that they wrote. The fact that all of these ancient letters were written in cuneiform on clay fascinated me even more.

Did women really know how to write back then?

Well, actually most of the people 4000 years ago did not know how to read or write. The cuneiform script was hard to learn as it included more than 600 signs. There were schools called E-Dubba- meaning- the house of tablets- in which boys from affluent families would learn how to read and write and then became scribes. They would write documents for the temple or the kings or for anyone who would pay for their services.

Although only boys went to school, it was not forbidden for girls. Thus we know of some women who became scribes, especially amongst the naditu women.

You were studying for an MA and PHD - how did you come to write a novel?

My academic studies only answered some of my questions concerning the naditu women. These dry studies did no address questions like: What did they feel? Were they happy? Did some of them want to escape their status of being a “nun”? Did some regret never having married and not having children? All these questions were churning around in my head.  And one day, the story just burst out on paper (not cuneiform) to answer all these unasked questions.

Is writing a novel different than writing an academic dissertation?

In academic writing, everything, every thought and claim has to be with proved with references to previously written material. One is not encouraged to use one's imagination. Writing a novel is just the opposite.  There is the plot, which is influenced by historical sources I use, but the sources are full of gaps. There are many questions I had to answer using my imagination. Although all the characters are based on a specific historical source, it is not enough. I had to get into the character's skin and flesh them out so that they would seem real. 

At the beginning I felt uncomfortable that I was not using footnoting each sentence. But in a novel, references are background, not foreground.   

Was the research for your novel different than for your academic studies?

Of course! In academia you usually focus on a narrow topic. For my novel I had to widen my research. I had to learn about details of the life back then, such as kind of food did they eat, what clothing they wore. I also had to absorb details concerning the architecture, art, life, customs, and religion of this time period.  I had to learn about what it meant to love, give birth and die for these Mesopotamian women. For instance, in order to imagine Iltani’s house (the heroine), I looked at many house plans and eventually I drew a plan of her house. That way I could imagine it every time I was describing a scene in the book. I looked at a hundreds of artifacts from that period in order to get a sense of their style and their craftsmanship.

How did you find the time to write both a novel and a doctorate? 

I got up very early (4 o'clock in the morning) and wrote my novel until I had to get my children (3 little children) off to school. I then went to the library to work on my doctorate. Although both were labors of love, I felt driven to write the novel—after all I wanted to know what would happen to my creations, and every morning I would learn a little more.

Find the novel here: http://www.amazon.com/She-Wrote-Clay-Shirley-Graetz/dp/0989263126