How Girl in the Arena Came Into Being

Dear Teachers, Librarians and Parents reading Girl In The Arena,

97290014Recently, I was asked how on earth I ever came up with the idea of writing about Lyn, a neo-gladiator’s daughter, living in current day Cambridge, Massachusetts. It’s not easy to recall exactly how it began—maybe with a line of dialogue or a single vivid image–but I know that I was trying to get at something related to the impact of violence on young women in our culture.

Watching my own teenage daughter explore gaming websites with personal avatars influenced me a good deal. Here you could manifest an identity that bore some relationship to yourself, but was at the same time entirely different—someone who could talk and walk and fly about on a hovercraft. The world of gaming can be intensely violent as well—at least it seems to me—yet for my daughter it was simply a game. I was trying to see how both realities—her relaxing activity and my parental and culture anxiety—could co-exist and make sense.

I was certainly thinking about 9/11 as the story unfolded, the War in Iraq, and the many ways in which the world as I knew it has changed in recent years. Added to this was an awareness of the numbers of young women going into combat both here and abroad. And I was thinking about what it’s like for a young person to grow up in our culture today, where violence is a part of daily life—both virtual and tangible, certainly aware that for many this has always been the case.

Over the first few months as I began to write Girl in the Arena, I kept thinking, I abhor violence, why am I writing about this insane world? Eventually, that question made me realize I had pushed myself beyond a comfort zone—both as an author and as a person–and then I felt I was on to something, that I was ready to understand a world uncomfortably close to our own through Lyn.

About this time I became intrigued by Ancient Roman culture and read that there were women gladiators, and that a once-existent list of gladiator rules had been lost. With funding from Harvard I was able to travel to Rome. There I recall how I leaned against a sun-soaked wall in the Coliseum one day, and saw the neo-gladiators, heard their shouting, and understood just what Lyn was up against. I hope you will step into her world as I did, and hear Lyn’s story, and understand why part of me will always dwell with the Girl in the Arena.

Lise Haines

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