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-

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

New Cover!


I’ve finalized the cover for Mourningtide:

I wanted to follow the format of the other covers, using sculpture that tied in to the story itself.  This took some doing.  There was no statue of the main character that I could use with any success.  I had had the notion of showing the king in mourning. One of the serene sculptures of that era – but with tears in its eyes – was what I had envisioned, but I had no success with sculpture in the round.  In fact, my efforts – using the famous black statue of Ramesses II found in the Turin (Italy) museum – were particularly unfortunate.  The disembodied face with tear-streaked cheeks looked like nothing so much as Darth Vader, hung-over, leering down over the planet of Tatooine.  It was so bad, I deleted it in its entirety once I was able to sit up straight and wipe the tears (of laughter) from my own eyes.  So it was back to the drawing board. 


After a lot of searching I chose to use this bas-relief from the tomb of my hero.  With the sort of arrogance that utterly flabbergasts me whenever I encounter it, people who came to the tomb in the early nineteenth century decided that they would cut it away from the wall and take it back to Florence with them. It is now in the Louvre.  This depiction seemed to be the best prospect, though I could have wished the headdress had been a little different.   People, looking at long hair and what they perceive as makeup (kohl circling the eyes; worn by both sexes in Egypt), tend to think “Ah!  A woman!”  For those in the know, those two gold strands around the king’s neck are military decorations of the highest order – ‘the Gold of Honor’.  This is a warrior-king.  I mention it in the story:        

         Ptahemhat smiled and offered a packet wrapped in cloth. “Lord Nebamun sent these with me.  I’m ordered to hand them over to you after you have been stopped from throttling me and, by reference His Holiness.”

          Seti frowned at the package and then sat down and opened it.  Jumbled within the layers of cloth were three cylindrical gold necklaces, two rings and a falcon pendant of gold, lapis, turquoise and carnelian.  Seti stared at them and then looked up at Ptahemhat.  “And what am I supposed to do with them?” he demanded.
          “I imagine His Holiness  thought you might wish to wear them,” Ptahemhat replied.
          Wear them?  I’m an itinerant scribe!  Where would I have found them?”
          “You are also a king.”
          Seti frowned.  “And another thing:  What are we to do with it?”
          “Hide it,” Ptahemhat replied with a promptness that made Seti’s mouth tighten.
          “Servants come to clean the houses in this village,” Seti said.
          Ptahemhat shrugged.  “Are they thieves?”
         “No.  But they might think that I am one!”
          “I rather doubt it, Sire.”
          “Stop calling me ‘Sire’!  Someone might hear you!”
          “They’ll probably think I’m your son.”
          “Worse and worse!”


I have earlier versions of this cover in this blog; separating the figure from the background was awkward, and I decided to keep it in situ, though I did blot out the extraneous writing at the top.  Fitting the carving into the frame of the cover was a challenge, but I think it worked.  I like having the hands and the edge of the wig overlap the borders of the frame. The gradient coloring worked well, too, highlighting the blue and gold balance.

Now I absolutely must not fiddle with it any more.  (And it would help if I could finish the novel, which is currently at about 77,000 words – 320 pages.)



(Added July 22, 2015:


Mourningtide: Final Cover

Of course, being myself I ended up fiddling further with the cover after I received a trial print of the book, which made me realize that the cover would not work. 


The tone/tint of the flesh came out too red on the cover.  This was fix-able, but other things simply looked wrong.  While this is a depiction of a king wearing the standard ceremonial headgear of the time, the depiction looked, even to my eyes, a little too much like a woman in heavy makeup wearing a wig. 


I did some further work and created this image.


The bas-relief is from Seti’s great mortuary temple at Abydos, which was finished by his son, Ramesses the Great.  The tear took a log time to get right, but it worked, actually, much better than the original concept.


I was able to return to my notion of monumental sculpture, featuring one or another of the characters, whether directly involved in the story or related in some way to the story, as the focal point.