This is one of those “fun and surreal” stories it was suggested to me I should share to build my author platform. The ridiculous things that sometimes happen to a writer, oh my, what a cartload of laughs. I should do a brief cartoon of this one. But I can’t draw so here we go, it went like this…
I wrote the first Aculeo & Amunet story as a very first submission to an American anthology. It was, if I remember correctly, 2012. The story bounced back – deservedly, I should add – and I let it sediment for a while and then revised and rewrote it for self-publishing. Without a word-count limit and with the freedom to push the story in directions I wanted to explore.
My first aim, writing what was to become Bride of the Swamp God, was to put on the scene two characters subverting the usual clichés – Aculeo and Amunet would have no sentimental involvement. I wanted two smart, interesting people working together for a number of reasons, chief among them that they respect each other, but not because there was any love or passion. I actually liked the Steed and Peel dynamic of the Avengers, and I liked the rationalization Brian Clemens offered once about why Peel and Steed had this sexy and yet platonic relationship. For Aculeo and Amunet I wanted the same, and even the rationalization, for me, is the same (thanks, Mr Clemens).
Secondly, I wanted to go beyond the “strong man kicks butt and saves the day” gimmick. Nothing wrong with that, but I wanted a modicum of extra depth. Aculeo is competent and yes, his fighting skills are important, but might does not make right in my stories. He’s a soldier, and in my experience, true soldiers hate war and do not enjoy killing. Aculeo is an underachiever, a smartass, a contrarian. He does what needs to be done, but he does not necessarily enjoy it. And he cares for the people that depend on him.
At the same time, Amunet is not just a pair of boobs or a woman acting as a man, Xena-style. Writing Amunet as a woman – self-centered, spoiled and sharp-tongued, but still a woman – was part of the challenge of writing these stories. Indeed, I wanted Amunet to be a spoiled brat, but one able to worry about the fate of other people, and other women in particular. Often in the stories she does something unexpected because she cares for what happens to the women in her world. Once again, a small modicum of depth.
And finally, I wanted to defuse the rhetoric of the Roman Empire – that caused so much grief to my country in the 20th century – while at the same time dodging the anti-civilization attitude of Howard – because Howard did it first and best, and because I am much in favor of a civilized lifestyle.
The net result was a story I enjoyed very much writing, a couple of characters that I love and to which I’d like to come back more often, and even my readers seem to enjoy the series.
I was also quickly and brutally labelled a fascist.
Because, of course, my story was sword & sorcery, “obviously” a fascist genre of narrative. Add a Roman centurion as a character, and my story was “obviously” fascist propaganda. And sexist to boot.
The news spread fast. Old friends disappeared.
Now, the people that circulated these theories had not read my story – nor did they read the follow-up stories in the series. They just picked a prejudice, and stamped it on me and my work.
Don’t cry now dear reader – as you can see, I am still alive and well, and working right now on a new Aculeo & Amunet story I’d like to pitch to a magazine.
And I would like to say that this deeply offensive misconstruction of my writings is the reason why I get really nasty when I see someone using fantasy for extremist right-wing propaganda, but actually, no – this is just a personal bit of involvement. An extra.
For the rest, I stick to what my archaeology teacher taught me.