Terence Hawkins’ debut novel, THE RAGE OF ACHILLES, a modern retelling of the THE ILIAD, debuted earlier this month. It "has the paradoxical, invigorating effect of making Homer's epic feel oddly familiar, and of highlighting its deep strangeness at the same time," says Tom Perrotta, author of LITTLE CHILDREN.
Hawkins, an author and trial lawyer, was born in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, and graduated from Yale. His work has appeared in Poor Mojo's Almanac(k), Keyhole, Pindeldyboz, Ape Culture, Eclectica, Megaera, the Binnacle, and the New Haven Register. It has also appeared on Connecticut Public Radio.
So here’s a harmonic convergence if ever there was one: When I first started practicing law, nearly thirty years ago, in Madison, Wisconsin, my secretary was a belly dancer. No kidding. At lunch she’d go off to deliver bellygrams and come back to type out briefs about pendent party jurisdiction and federal exclusivity. All her friends were belly dancers. I’d go to parties at her house where I’d see the distinctions between the various traditional schools demonstrated. At that time, the fusion styles I see on your page were things of the future. At one such party I even met Art Feldman of NPR’s “Whaddayuh Know.” Neither of us danced. I think.
That said, belly dancing did not inspire THE RAGE OF THE ACHILLES. Nice if it had. Because this is a writer’s site I will tell the real writer’s story of how I came to write the book.
I took my first novel in progress to a writers’ workshop in Manhattan. Confident that it would be met with praise if not outright adulation.
Didn’t work out that way. As I read the chapter I’d brought to the group, I happened to glance up to intercept the embarrassed looks my work seemed to be generating. As I read further my shirt stuck to my back with the effusion of flop sweat, because I suddenly knew, down in my heart, that this book was really, really bad. A conclusion that the group seemed to share in its subsequent discussion. When I got into the cab to go back to Grand Central, New Haven, and shame, I asked the driver whether he knew a bar where I could get morphine.
When I got home I decided that I should quit writing or try something else. Given the schooling I’d got downtown, I clearly wasn’t ready for a novel. At that time I was reading Christopher Logue’s WAR MUSIC, a blank verse account of several books of THE ILIAD. And I’d just seen “Saving Private Ryan.” So I decided to try to write an episode from THE ILIAD with Spielberg realism, as an exercise, to see whether I really had novelist chops.
That exercise was THE BATTLE OF PATROCLUS. I thought it was okay, so I decided to try another episode. And another. Pretty soon I had nearly a hundred pages. So I propped Lombardo’s translation up to one side of the screen and wrote the whole book.
Just like that. Well, okay, maybe not just like that. More like in just two years. But I think what this shows is that old adage, which probably predates Gutenberg, the difference between a published writer and an unpublished is as much persistence as talent. This book was inspired not by an idea, or a vision, but by the need to keep writing.
By the way—I’m going to finish that first book.
You can learn more about Terence Hawkins and his novel at http://www.terencehawkins.net/.