BackStory: Seven Questions with Jack Somers
Author of The Defenestration of Jezebel
What inspired you to write ‘The Defenestration of Jezebel’?
For years, I had heard the term “Jezebel” used as a derogatory term for a woman, but I didn’t really know what it meant or what the origins of it were. I looked it up and found out the term originated with a Phoenician princess who ended up becoming the Queen of Samaria back in the 9th century BC. She was demonized by many of her own people for worshipping her ancestral gods, and eventually she was executed by being thrown from a window. What intrigued me most about her were two things: 1) According to multiple sources, she put on her best clothes and make-up before she died. 2) Supposedly, she taunted the general (Jehu) who ordered her death. In short, this was a strong woman who was determined to die with dignity. This was a woman of the ancient world embedded in a highly patriarchal society who wasn’t afraid to challenge men. I don’t think it’s a stretch to assume that her “bad” reputation (and the association of her name with a “wicked woman”) had less to do with any real wickedness and more to do with the fact that she threatened and mocked male power at a time when doing so was considered verboten.
Who are your favourite historical fiction writers (flash or otherwise) and why?
I really loved Anthony Doerr’s All The Light We Cannot See (set during World Word II) and Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad (set in the mid 19th century). I think both books were beautifully written and deserved the recognition they received. I don’t know if this counts as historical fiction or not because the historicity of the Trojan War and Odysseus is debatable, but I recently finished Madeline Miller’s book Circe and adored it. With its focus on the minutiae of the ancient world and the experiences of a misunderstood and powerful woman in that world, Circe, more than anything else I’ve read lately, probably inspired “The Defenestration of Jezebel.”
Were there any interesting facts, details, or turns of phrase that didn’t quite make the final piece?
Originally, I wrote the piece from Jezebel’s point of view. I changed it because I decided I didn’t feel comfortable telling the story as a female character. I think men can write from a woman’s point of view and women can write from a man’s point of view, but I think doing this well requires a lot of skill and sensitivity, and I’m not sure I’m there yet. I felt much better writing this story from the perspective of one of Jezebel’s male servants.
How much research did you do while writing and editing this piece? How important is historical accuracy to you in your own writing?
I did a fair amount of research, including scrutinizing The Book of Kings in the Hebrew Bible (the book in which the story of Jezebel, at least as most people know it, originally appeared).
I want to be accurate enough with my historical detail that I enable my reader to imaginatively enter the period. I may not have all of the details correct, but I am not going to insert a cannon or a train into a story set in the 9th century BC.
If you could live for one year in any historical period, when and where would it be, and why?
I would like to live in London in 1966, with the caveat that I would also have to be twenty-five years old. I would just love to be surrounded by all the wonderful music and vibrant colour and burgeoning psychedelia. It seems like it was such a fun time to be alive. My second choice would probably be 1815 London or Bath, hobnobbing with John Keats and Jane Austen.
What, if anything, do you have in common with your main character?
Well, my narrator is a Samarian eunuch, and I am neither Samarian nor a eunuch. What I do have in common with him, I suppose, is my tendency to be more of an observer than a talker and also a desire to see past whatever is “said” about other people in order to find out what I really think about them.
What do you think is the most challenging and/or rewarding aspect of writing historical flash?
The most challenging aspect for me is writing a piece that becomes a story and not just a snapshot in such a limited amount of space.