Elizabeth Tammi On Making Mythology Your Own

Inspiration is a funny thing. It can come to us like a lightning bolt, through the lyrics of a song, or in the fog of a dream. Ask any writer where their stories come from and you’ll get a myriad of answers, and in that vein I created the WHAT (What the Hell Are you Thinking?) interview. Always including in the WHAT is one random question to really dig down into the interviewees mind, and probably supply some illumination into my own as well.

Today's guest for the WHAT is Elizabeth Tammi. California-born and Florida-grown, she's currently in Georgia at Mercer University as a Stamps scholar. Her debut, Outrun the Wind, releases November 27.

Ideas for our books can come from just about anywhere, and sometimes even we can’t pinpoint exactly how or why. Did you have a specific origin point for your book?

As long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated with Greek mythology and history. I was a huge fan of Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson stories, but even before reading them, I was intrigued by the mayhem and magic of the Greek pantheon and heroes. Though I’d heard the name ‘Atalanta’ in passing many times, it wasn’t until I was 18 that I actually read a detailed account of her story, and it didn’t sit well with me. I was impressed and captivated by Atalanta herself, but so much of her story made zero sense to me. Why would she kill the men she raced? Why did her father really bring her back home?

Questions piled up, and weeks later, she hadn’t left me alone. I started inventing my own answers and adding new characters (while shifting and altering plenty aspects of her myth) until it made sense to me personally. I also took the opportunity to answer other questions I’d always harbored about Greek myths, like the true nature of serving as one of the goddess Artemis’s huntresses, and how being an Oracle at Delphi might actually affect a girl. In short, things that had long bothered me about Greek mythology finally got their resolution through this book. It was inspired purely out of my own spite and confusion.

Once the original concept existed, how did you build a plot around it?

I first allowed myself to take immense liberties in changing aspects of the story of Atalanta. When retelling an old story, I think I hesitated at first to find the balance between respecting the origins and writing my own tale. It’s a tricky boundary, but I focused on creating new, original characters that could serve both as their own people, while also heightening certain aspects of the original myth. I used a few general timeline points from Atalanta’s original mythology as plot guides, and filled in the blanks between with scenes that I thought offered a new perspective on what was really happening with her, Kahina, and the other characters.

Have you ever had the plot firmly in place, only to find it changing as the story moved from your mind to paper?

To an extent, yes. I’m a pretty big believer in extensive planning and plotting prior to drafting, but I’ve certainly had far too many instances where I’ll realize that I’ve just written myself into a logistical plothole nightmare. I think most authors have been there. I do my best to avoid that, and there’s been instances where characters will ‘take the wheel’, and say or do something that alters a scene slightly. But for the most part, I tend to outline extensively so I hesitate less as drafting.

Do story ideas come to you often, or is fresh material hard to come by?

Flashes of concepts and aesthetics come to me frequently, but fully-fleshed ideas are rare for me. Outrun the Wind sometimes feels a bit like cheating, because while I definitely completely reimagined Atalanta’s story, there’s still a lot inspired by the original mythology. On other stories I’ve written and am writing, I’ve had to try a lot harder to create thorough, smooth plots. I’ve found if I can come up with at least a handful of characters and a main dilemma, I can usually ‘snowball’ my way into a full story. It just takes a lot of mental energy! Stories don’t really drop on me. I have to fight for them to become defined.

How do you choose which story to write next, if you’ve got more than one percolating?

I’ll sit down and write out, by hand, as much of the plot of each story that I have planned out. Whichever one is more fleshed out and thorough is the one that’s ready to move onto the drafting stage.

I usually have at least one or two cats snuggling with me when I write. Do you have a writing buddy, or do you find it distracting?

I’m far too easily distracted even when I’m just by myself, unfortunately. I’m in college as well, so no pets for me right now. I have a dog I adore back home with my parents, but she’s too cute for me to focus on writing, haha! I’ve found I can’t even listen to music while writing. If I’m editing, music is fine, but especially when drafting, I just need to be alone and preferably with a caffeinated beverage on hand. So yeah, maybe my writing buddy is a caramel latte?