I believe I have mentioned several times both on this blog and via Twitter that I am active redditor. I don’t think I would be surprising anyone by saying one of the subreddits I frequent is /r/writing, which puts me in touch with other writers all over the world to talk about our craft. Yesterday someone asked, “Do you have a quote/song lyric/poem at the beginning of your book?” The general consensus seemed to be it usually does more harm than good, but I do include a couple of quotes at the start of each of my novels. I read and write historical fiction, and the little extras like epigraphs, maps, and end notes from the author are pretty common in that genre. I went on to list the quotes I used for each book and why I chose them, and within six hours I had received a message from someone who bought one of my books based on my post.
Well, that certainly got my attention!
Several times on this blog I have talked about why I wrote something or how I wrote something, so why not take that random post on reddit and expand upon it here?
Let me begin by saying for each of my three novels to date I have made a point of sourcing two quotes that I believe reference my plot and help fit my book into a larger literary space. For Inca I went with:
“Explain your words so that I can understand them.
They are like a tangled skein.
You should put the threads in order for me.”
— Act 1, Scene I of the Quechua play Ollantay
“Tempus edax rerum.”
Time, the devourer of all things.
I chose them because the book’s premise is an Inca bureaucrat translating his memoirs into Spanish before his story is lost to time. The Inca had a record-keeping system of knotted string called quipus, so using a line from an old Peruvian play about putting the tangled threads in order is a direct reference to what the narrator is doing as he tells his story. For a long time I toyed with the idea of actually calling the book The Tangled Skein, but eventually I decided that would be a very poor choice from a marketing perspective. Still, I know these two quotes have resonated with my readers. A couple years back I even received an email from one man saying he planned to get, “Tempus edax rerum” tattooed on his arm.
That was not an eventuality I envisioned when I first starting writing the book!