Interview With My Main Character


I have the pleasure to interview His Majesty, King Seti of Egypt, today.  His Majesty has graciously agreed to answer some questions about his role in my latest book, Mourningtide, which will be published May 31.  If it please your majesty-

Please call me Seti.  A character never outranks its author, and I am a character that you created, based on a man in history.  We are not the same, and Mourningtide is not a textbook.  You diverge from what is known in one or two regards, but you do cover those episodes in an afterword, do you not?
I certainly do.  Well…Seti…  I thought it would be interesting to speak with you about the events that are covered in Mourningtide.
By all means.
Tell us about yourself.
I was named for my grandfather, who was a troop commander in the Royal Army.  I came from a non-royal family that had spent generations in the armies.  We did have some wealth, and ours was a position of increasing influence.   By the time of the book – according to the reality of the book – I had succeeded my father, who had been named by Horemheb as his successor, and had ruled for a year.  At the opening of the story, I had been King three years.  Two of those years had been spent on campaign, winning back territory and allies Egypt had lost.  I was in my early fifties with four children – two sons and two daughters – and six grandchildren, with two due to arrive at any moment.
And you were expecting a prosperous reign?
I was hoping for one.  I was ready to do what I could to achieve it for my people.
And your son died through an accident.
Yes. 

I’m sorry.

Don’t be.  He disregarded the warnings of another, more experienced man, walked into a dangerous situation with his eyes wide open, and was killed.  It happens, as we both know.  I was overset for a time, and Mourningtide tells the story of my healing.  You have chapters up for review on your site.  Did you wish to go over the story itself?  Or did you want to chat about other things?

Let’s chat about other things.  This is not your first appearance in one of my stories. 
No, it is not.  My very first appearance in something of yours was a mention, almost in passing, in Pharaoh’s Son.  Prince Thutmose entrusted me with a secret which I, in turn, entrusted to Ramesses as I was dying.  His Highness the High Priest had some very kind things to say about me.  My second appearance was in The City of Refuge. In that story I led a division of the Army of Lower Egypt that served as guards and laborers for Lord Nebamun’s mission to Akhenaten’s capital city. My father and Lord Nebamun were good friends.  I knew nothing of this at that time.
You had quite a large part in that story, didn’t’ you?
It was large enough.  I was considered a major character.  Enough happened to make it clear that Lord Nebamun – the hero of that story, along with my good friend Khonsu – was capable of running rings around anyone who came up against him.  I was thoroughly embarrassed, though I did mean well.  Reading over the book, I found myself laughing.
I enjoyed writing the book.

Did you have to have me locked in an escape-proof courtyard on a stormy night?

I did.  It worked.  

Let me ask you: will I be appearing in any other stories of yours?

You appear as a memory several times in Kadesh.  As to other stories with you as a living person…   I don’t know.  Your conflict was handled in Mourningtide.  There may be other stories, I can’t say.  But not now.
Let’s talk about objections people have to books set in Egypt.  The unpronounceable place and personal names-

Punxsutawney
I beg your pardon?

Kealakakua.  Angkor Wat.  If we are speaking of strange or unpronounceable place names, they might fit.  Or, to go ‘across the pond’ as you Americans and British say it, how about ‘Worcestershire’ – spelled ‘Wore SES ter Shyre’ and pronounced ‘Woostersheer’.
Well, I-
Or Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwll-llantysiliogogogoch (or Llanfairpwllgwyngyll)  That may be cheating, perhaps, since the name is a sentence describing the location, but it is on the maps.  Looking at it syllable by syllable, I can pronounce it.  Try Pontchartrain.  Neuschwanstein…  How are they worse than ‘Waset’ or ‘Men-Nefer’ or ‘Iunu’?
Those who read fantasy books have no problem with ‘Gormenghast’, ‘Minas Ithil’, the Baranduin, or Dol Amroth.  Prince Imrahil is one of my favorite characters, but his name is no easier  to pronounce than my son’s.  And added to my objections is the fact that modern society does not know how my language sounded.  Like the Hebrew writings, we did not supply vowels.
I see your point.  But some of the Egyptian names can be difficult.  Like Amunhorkhepechef.
Be careful: you are meeting yourself coming.  You said that name was easy to type.  And you know better.  It is a ceremonial name that means ‘Amun Mighty in Battle’.  Your own sources have indicated that that name was altered depending on what city was home for that prince at any given time, so that if he was residing in Iunu (Heliopolis, if you wish), he would have signed his name ‘Rahorkhepechef’, and if in Khemnu (Hermopolis, if you are not a purist) he would have been Tothorkpehechef or Thuthorkhepechef.  You were right to give him the nickname ‘Hori’, by the way.  That’s what they called him.
Speaking as an experienced father, a person’s name must be something an angry parent can yell at the top of his lungs while running after a naughty child.  Amunhorkhepechef does not satisfy that requirement.  Ergo, it was not the boy’s actual name.  It is as silly as someone thinking that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth of England – may God bless her! – answers to ‘Defender of the Faith’ when that title is used by a grandchild at the dinner table. 
Good point.  Do you have anything else to say on the subject of language difficulties?
Yes.  A Elbereth, Gilthoniel!  Silvirin penna Miriel-  You are laughing!
You meant me to. You read Tolkien!  (ahem)  Let’s talk about that ‘weird Egyptian culture.’
The problem with that perception is that all they know of my era… or, let us say, 85%, comes from tombs and the items taken from them.  I wonder how archaeologists of the future might view North Americans and western Europeans if their only source of information is what they find in Forest Lawn Cemetery or Westminster Abbey.  In fact, there is a hilarious book by David Macauley with the title Motel of the Mysteries that explores what future archaeologists think of a dig in North America.  Their interpretations are very amusing – and they are in line with the folly I see pertaining to my own culture.

Tell me about the hero of your story.
The hero?  There were two.  My son, Ramesses, is one – he showed himself to be like a bell that rings true no matter how you strike it – and Djedi, the young man of the small village that sheltered me.  He saw a need to protect his town from attackers, and he set out to do so.  I helped him as much as I could. 

They had no idea who you were.

Correct.  Lord Nebamun met some ghosts from his past through my inadvertent actions, but he won through, though he did give me a piece of his mind when I returned.
But you were not the hero?
I was the main character, the protagonist.  I did experience hardship and change – but I was not heroic.
We will have to agree to disagree.
You will have to agree.  I did what I always did – though I did mourn the loss of my son.  I had no heights to scale, and falling in love with a wonderful woman required no heroism on my part.  No, Djedi was my hero – and Ramesses.
Djedi.  You helped him.
Yes.  How could I not?  He needed to be coached, they needed to be protected, and I had the experience.  And they were my subjects, after all.
What about Ramesses?
He became the man who would be ‘Ramesses the Great’.  That name is spoken with curled lips by some.  It seems that a great man  or woman is always the target of sneers.  People seem to want to see them taken down, their reputations sullied – their clay feet in evidence.  Ramesses was great.  He ruled for nearly seventy years, and his rule made it possible for that part of the world to enjoy peace and stability in what truly was a golden age.
You started it.
Perhaps.  But my reign was not long, and Ramesses stepped in and did his magnificent best.  Poor lad.
‘Poor’ lad?
Yes.  He is to be pitied.  Think of it:  he saw the deaths of all he loved.  His four oldest sons – three of them serving as Crown Prince – died before him.  Hori after thirty years, Rai – another Ramses – after another twenty-five, Khay (Khaemwaset – one of the heroes of ‘Pharaoh’s Son’)- after another five, when he himself was old.  He watched his children – the children of his youth and his loves – die one after another, themselves old men.  And then he began to fail, himself.  Those people who like to examine corpses and do DNA testing and x-rays have shown that Ramesses had arterial occlusions that probably led, late in life, to senility.  There was, I know, a moment when he stood aghast and realized that he was failing, growing feeble…  I was spared that.
I am sorry.
Don’t be, Diana.  There is nothing to weep over.  All hurts are healed now, but we would do well to take that lesson with us.  There.  You are smiling again.  What else do you wish to ask me?
As a character in historical fiction, what is the one thing you would like to say.
I would say that people don’t change:
You are an historian, as I was (at least in your novel).  In your studies, have you found that people have changed at all?  Time has given us ways to kill more people, or heal more people, ways to suppress our imaginations – all the imagining seems to be done for our children now – but as a species, if you will, there is no change to our fundamental nature.  There is a song by Neil Diamond, with the title, I think, of ‘Done Too Soon’ that ends with this verse:
They have sweated beneath the same sun,
Looked up in wonder at the same moon,
And wept when it was all done
For being done too soon…
For being done too soon.

You make a good point.  And I thank you for spending time with me.    I assume you are going back..?

Yes.  To the place you left me this morning.  The village is fighting off the attackers, Djedi leading under my eye.

Does he know you are king?

You must ask him.  And now, if I may, he is down with a spear in his side and I am holding him…

Will he die?

You are the author.  You know already. And if I told, you would never let me forget it.

Probably not.  Thank you for stopping by and speaking with me.

It is not for a character to object to its author’s actions.  Adieu-

Uppity Characters



Dorothy Sayers wrote an excellent and fascinating book with the title The Mind of the Maker.  It is actually a treatise on the theology of the Trinity – but since it is told from the focus of a writer, specifically, it is a wonderful read.  You can find  it HERE on Amazon.

She talks of the three parts to a work – the Idea behind the work, the Energy involved in creating the work, and the Power that arises from the work – the reaction that readers have to it, and the way it changes them.  My copy is hopelessly marked up.

One of the most enjoyable discussions (for me) is her talk about the nature of characters, and how they have to arise out of a plot and be firmly centered in the plot to have any reality.  She gives as an example a passage from Writing Aloud by J D Beresford in which he tells about his attempt to write a book based on a character that he dreamed up.  It was a shambles.  The minute he put this character into a story, other characters, arising from the story itself, and conceived of as being in a situation took over.  They were immensely more powerful and more compelling.

Interesting, I thought all those years ago.  Something to mull over and marvel at.

And then it happened in my writing.

Pharaoh’s Son takes its title for the literal translation of the Egyptian term for ‘Prince’.  It is ‘King’s Son’, or ‘Pharaoh’s Son’.  Since the book involves a number of princes, I thought it appropriate.

The main character is a son of Ramesses the Great, well-attested in history with a character that comes through clearly across the centuries.  Historically, he was a scholar and was credited with being the first archaeologist in history.  He served as High Priest of Ptah and Governor of Memphis, and was Crown Prince at the end of his life.  He fulfilled these roles with such distinction that he was remembered as a wise man for centuries after his death.

With these attributes, how can such a character help but be splendid?

Well, my would-be main character was overshadowed by his brother, the Crown Prince of Egypt, who stepped into the story as a quasi-villain, had a turnaround, and ended up stealing the show.  A character in a situation, he was far more powerful than his brother, far more interesting…

The original hero ended up holding his own, and we had two main characters.  It worked.

And it provided for me  a very good illustration of Beresford’s situation.

Six Weeks


I will be releasing Mourningtide in six weeks – April 30, to be precise.  I am posting the current cover, but I have a newer design that will be posted a little closer to release.

It has been an enjoyable story to write.  I am often sad when I finish a project like this.  I will be seeing a favorite character for the last time – he appears only as a memory in the next installment.  And at the end of the next one I will be saying good-bye to my favorite character, ever.
Here is the older cover: 

Sample chapters are HERE

Small Celebrations – Busyness (a guest post)


Good morning, good readers and bloggers.  Diana Wilder, being quite busy with the subject of this post (as you will see) has asked me to step in and post for her, explaining why she is unable personally to post this morning.  It is, of course, a pleasure for me to do so.  The gods know she has done enough for me over the years.
 

She is, as she so divertingly puts it, ‘up to her eyebrows in editing’, and as she is putting the final polish on a story involving His Majesty my father, and myself at a younger age, she is also impatiently looking forward to working on another story set some fifteen years later in which I, unfortunately, make something of an ass of myself.  But it features four of my sons, and that is always enjoyable.  And she describes me, privately, as a ‘bonny fighter, if  distressingly gullible’ – I  call it wishful thinking – ‘and a bit of a doofus as to strategy’.  History shows that I was a statesman, not a strategist.
 
She is also polishing an older story – set in Paris (in my time it was most likely a pile of mud upon which wretched barbarians squatted and squabbled) – with an eye to putting it out on Kindle without a great deal of fanfare.
 
All of this has her, as she says, ‘crazy busy’, but she is also delighted.  She informs me that only those who have gone through extensive dry spells can understand her delight and celebration at running mad in this way.  She will be visiting the other blogs on this ‘hop’ (such an undignified term!) as she can.
 
She makes her apologies, informs you all that she is raising a toast to all your celebrations, and knows that those of you who are running in the same lines of madness will understand and celebrate.  She also directs me to inform you that she is providing one and all with some ‘eye candy’ here.  I am blushing at the compliment.  Now if they could just find a better place to put the sheath for that dagger I would be a happy man.
 
Ramesses
by his own hand and seal.



http://www.linkytools.com/basic_linky_include.aspx?id=179014

NaNoWriMo 2012


NaNoWriMo is taking place right now.  I’m participating. 

 
And I am an idiot:  I have a whole lot going on. 
 
I’m polishing Mourningtide, I am doing a once-over on a (Civil War) novel that will be on KDP Select as a freebie later this month, and I signed up to write a minimum of 1700 words a day to produce 50,000 words in 30 days.  (1700 words works out to about six printed pages).  It’s do-able if you work steadily, but in this case I am also working at a day job. 
 
I’m giving it my best shot, and I think I can do it, but if one thing or another has to go Kadesh will be the casualty.
 
Which reminds me: Kadesh is a working title.  Fans of Egyptian history will know that it was the battle that Ramesses II touted as his greatest triumph.  The Hittites, whom he fought, were equally emphatic about their ‘successs’.  My read is that two superpowers met and mauled each other, though Ramesses probably had the shock of his life in the process.  (There’s a strong indication that his father, Seti I, died of a heart condition, and I’ve used that supposition in my own ‘family history’ to account for some deaths.  It would appear, though, based on what happened at Kadesh, that Ramesses did not have a weak heart.  He survived the shock of seeing the Hittite army breaking through the palisades of his camp.)
 
I’m telling this story from the point of view of lesser characters.  Hori (Amunhorkhepechef) as a nineteen-year-old Crown Prince is given nominal command of one of the armies.  Others of his brothers (Ramses and Montuhirkhopechef, who died prior to the opening of Pharaoh’s Son) are in high command in other armies.  Khaemwaset (‘Khay’ in Pharaoh’s son, and the most well known,  historically, of Ramesses’ sons) is with his father, being all of fifteen years old.
 
It’s important to understand strategy, but this event shaped Ramesses’ reign and world history.  It turned him from being a ‘warrior king’ (though he tried) to being a true statesman, where his greatness lay.
 
So I’m writing Kadesh.  I truly must redo the temporary cover, but it’s a decent placeholder for now.
 
My website has sample chapters that I’ve whacked out.  Hori seems to be taking center stage just at the moment.  (I know him rather well).  Check them out here:
 
  
 

Using Visuals When Writing


One of the things I really need when I’m working on a story is something that I can actually look at, that will give me an idea of how something looks, works, is sized.  Several series of books are chock-full of photos and explanations, and they are invaluable.
The Shire Egyptology series is a good example.  It is published in the UK and each book covers a subject – food and drink, household pets, medicine, textiles, weapons and warfare, Akhenaten’s Egypt…  They are not written by the same person.  The photographs and explanations are especially useful.
Their website is here
Ancient Military history is covered by the Men At Arms series published  by Osprey (here is a sample of one of their books on New Kingdom Egyptian military). 
I have similar sources for other books; one series set in 1830’s Paris was helped immensely by a book of old photographs.
 
Time-Life books put out Echoes of Glory in two volumes.  This is one of the most useful books I have ever encountered.  It is separated into sections covering edged weapons, firearms, soldiers’ life, the home front.  Modern photographs of arms and equipment are paired with period depictions.  It has been invaluable to me, being, as I am, rather visually oriented.
In Mourningtide, I write of the effect of the death of a son and brother on his family.  One of the characters is Ramesses, the younger brother of the man who died.   He became the pharaoh Ramesses II, one of the great rulers of his age.  I have seen his statues and photographs of his reliefs, but finding anything that has him pictured as a living person in the flesh is difficult.  Fortunately, I have succeeded.
Here he is, Ramesses himself, as depicted by Yul Brynner in the movie The Ten Commandments.  He is not a prince in this photo – the golden headband with cobra and vulture tends to indicate that he has succeeded his father.  I find it a very enlightening photograph, something that I will have to refer to over and over, I think. 
One more item for my toolbox…