I was such a pious Catholic girl that I couldn't believe that Guinevere and Lancelot actually committed adultery. I thought they just had a pure and hopeless love. I was privileged to see Camelot on Broadway, with Richard Burton and Julie Andrews. It was enchanting, but I complained to adults afterwards that it was wrong because it showed Lancelot and Guinevere as committing adultery, which they wouldn't have. (It was also hard to believe, beautiful songs notwithstanding, that any woman would choose Robert Goulet over Richard Burton.)
Guinevere's trapped situation always pained me. Perhaps that was a pre-feminist reaction.
Later, when I first started writing about Lancelot, I had dreams about Lancelot's misery at loving a woman who had to have sex with her husband. I was Lancelot, in the next room, and I was miserable.
I was also struck by the idea that Arthur, even though he was king, had to allow his wife to be burned at the stake. Really? Various books' attempts to justify that seemed strained at the very least.
Then when I was a freshman in college, I read a story in which Lancelot was a woman. That story struck me deeply at the time. Many years later, I tried to find the story, but I didn't remember the title or the author. All my attempts to find it failed. I learned who the authorities on contemporary Arthurian fiction were, and none of them knew. So I wrote my own version.
Lancelot is so courteous, so deeply concerned about women, so faithful to Guinevere, that it made sense to me that Lancelot would be a woman.
The second reason that I wrote the story is that I have been and am deeply distressed by the wars my country has entered into in my lifetime. I wanted to write about war, and show that even in those much-glorified tales of King Arthur, soldiers did terrible things and were damaged by them. They are not “we few, we happy few,” as Henry V says in the bombastic speech Shakespeare gives him. If soldiers have any sensitivity, they are traumatized.
I thought of that particularly at a time when more and more women were entering the military and fighting in distant wars. That made it important for me to write about a woman warrior who didn't just feel that her fighting was saintly, like Joan of Arc, even though she was fighting a people who were attacking her people.
War is always a tragedy, even if it is necessary. I'm not sure whether I should put “necessary” in quotes, because governments always justify war as necessary. But sometimes it is. Yet even if a war like World War II was necessary, some of the means used in it were not. I think particularly of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I think it is always right to question the means.
In this book, I especially wanted to show how limited options are for women in a society where even the most privileged are controlled by men. And although the primary characters are Lancelot and Guinevere, I try to show that less privileged women suffer more.
Those are serious reasons, but I also longed to write a story that will entertain readers. I have written many essays, but I believe that fiction is more profound because it shows a fuller picture of the world, of people in their daily lives. And despite the serious themes, I also hope that I interspersed a fair amount of humor, because that is also part of life. And to say that people, both women and men, can love even in this imperfect world. Love exists. It must.