[Today, we sit down with Hellenic polytheist, Suzanne Hill Thackston. Here, she discusses her practice; her new book, Dark Horses; and her upcoming projects.]
ev0ke: How do you define your personal spiritual practice? Do you belong to a specific tradition, or are you more eclectic?
SHT: I’m a Hellenic polytheist, but my personal practice is very fluid, eclectic, and weird. I’ve been following the siren calls of various gods and spirits for so many years now that my cultus is almost entirely subjective.
ev0ke: If you could correct one common misconception about modern polytheism, what would it be?
SHT: That if your practice varies at all from what the ancients did, it’s invalid. Unless you’re falsely claiming that a personal gnosis is documented ancient wisdom, you’re free to move beyond what our ancestors (blood or spiritual) did.
ev0ke: You recently published Dark Horses: A Tale of the Arkadian Terror. First, congratulations! Second, the novella is based on a rather obscure ancient Greek myth. When did you first encounter this myth? And why did you decide to base a novella around it?
SHT: Thank you! I didn’t encounter this mythic variant until I was well into my worship of and service to Demeter, specifically, and the gods of Greece, broadly. I had a vague premise come to me during a meditation with Demeter that came more into focus after a writing prompt from a local writers’ group. The story that arose from that prompt became the first chapter of the novella. I originally conceived it as a series of short stories, but after the first few chapters I realized what it was a narrative and re-worked it.
ev0ke: In Dark Horses, Kiri is responsible for tending her family’s flock of goats. Why did you make Kiri a goatherder? How is that important to the story?
SHT: The goats didn’t start out to be important — they were just a vehicle to get Kiri in a place where she could witness the rape. But as the story progressed they began to take on a greater significance. It was fun to experience them inserting themselves more intrinsically into the tale. In fact, it was a question from Melia when I posted it on my blog that jump-started their greater role, when she asked what the significance of the ‘yin/yan’ goats was. At that point I didn’t know.
ev0ke: What sort of research went into writing Dark Horses? Did you have a stack of books? Spend lots of time online? Base it on your own experiences?
SHT: All of the above. I’m fortunate in being the librarian for the group Hellenion, so I have a wonderful store of books in my basement. All of us writers dive into the research rabbit holes on the internet, don’t we? But most of Kiri’s personal experiences came in flashes out of the blue, and sometimes from meditation. It’s a little terrifying how much time one can spend chasing down obscure details. I can’t tell you how many hours I took researching ‘himation’ and eventually discarding it, for use in a single sentence. And the geography of pre-historical Arcadia. Midwifery. Domestication of dogs and horses in ancient Greece. Bardic customs. Sacrifice. Almost everything I thought I knew about ancient Greek religion and culture had to be sifted through a screen of research. I even had amanita mushrooms growing in a circle. Thank all the gods for beta readers!
ev0ke: Dark Horses is self-published. What advice can you offer to those who are also considering the self-publishing route? Things they absolutely must do? Mistakes to avoid?
SHT: It’s been such a rocky road. My naivete at the start of the process was astounding.
First you need beta readers, lots of them, and ones who don’t know you and won’t sugar-coat. After you’ve recovered from the shock and depression resulting in how badly your precious, beloved, adored work gets pounded, dig in and edit. You don’t have to take every criticism and suggestion as gospel, but if you have a chorus of similar critiques, believe them.
Scrimp and save and get a professional editor. No one can edit their own work — your brain will read what you think should be there. You can get a cheap editor, and it will show. If you’re comfortable with the technical aspects, formatting and getting your work to KDP (or whatever self-publishing venue you’re using) may be fine for you. But I’m a dinosaur, and need help. Winged Word Designs was incredibly helpful for me, and worth every penny.
ev0ke: Where can curious readers find Dark Horses?
SHT: Amazon first and foremost!
My author copies should be here soon and I’ll be schlepping them to local (to me) bookstores like Turn the Page, The Curious Iguana, and Four Seasons. But those won’t be local to most of your readers, so please! Get it at Amazon!
ev0ke: What other projects are you working on?
SHT: I’m collaborating with the artist who did the illustrations for Dark Horses on a picture book about death for children called When I Am a Tree. I’m also working on a series of short stories that take place here on my little Moonshadow Farm tentatively titled Tales for My Grandchildren (But Probably Too Creepy For Yours). I’m also working on a short story for my critique group’s next anthology, and my bi-monthly column in Luna Station Quarterly, ‘Waifs, Wolves and Warriors.’