You already wrote two novels about Egypt’s First Dynasty. What possessed you to write a third?
I find the First Dynasty to be an incredible period of time. While the 18th Dynasty seems to draw the most attention, and perhaps rightfully so due to all the well documented events that transpired then, I felt drawn to the much earlier periods. I was motivated by how this entire dynastic rule began. Who started it? What barriers did they face to unification of the Two Lands? How did all those rich, complex rituals start?
I started with King Narmer in The First Pharaoh, and followed with the first female king, Meryt-Neith, in The Dagger of Isis. I felt compelled to complete the series with Qa’a, the last king of the First Dynasty. His reign provided me with the greatest challenge because we know nothing of the hows or whys of the transition from First to Second Dynasty.
How much of what you write is known fact and how much is invented by you?
I try to incorporate as much fact as possible in my historical fiction writing. However, not much is definitively known about the earliest Dynasties. There have been some exciting archaeological finds recently and two of the finest Egyptologists have been my mentors on my projects. But facts alone would make for a pretty b-o-r-i-n-g story. In the case of Qa’a, due to our lack of knowledge of that specific time period, I had to embellish quite a bit to develop the story line.
Was Qa’a really king?
One of the few things we know for sure is that Qa’a existed. We do not know how he died or under what circumstances, nor do we know why the dynasty ended. That’s the fun of writing fiction. We get to create an alternate reality, or maybe not. Perhaps Qa’a’s rise and fall followed my script!
What do you enjoy most about the writing process?
That’s a hard one to answer. I’m inclined to say that I enjoy it all. The part I find most tedious is when I get to draft three or four and am re-reading sections for the umpteenth time (and still finding typos!). But then there are times when I am writing and I completely lose myself in the writing. I find that my characters have come so alive to me that I am just transcribing what my characters are saying. Then I know I am in the groove. As a writer, you learn to stay with that as long as you can. That is the most joyful part of writing.
What does your writing day look like?
On the days that I devote to writing, I start with a pot of strong tea, a hearty breakfast and two newspapers. I am usually at my desk in my studio by 9. I designed my desk myself and had it custom built to my writing needs, with plenty of space to spread out my research, notes, laptop, desktop and more. I also have lots of drawers for easy access to my file folders.
I spend the first hour going over what I did the day before and organizing my notes and chapter outline. Once I begin I stick with it for 2-3 hours. I am a “grazer” in that I get up often to snack, walk around thinking or whatever. When I’m hungry I have lunch and then it’s back to the computer. I find that I’m more productive in the afternoon. At around 4 I break for the gym, a 20-minute meditation and dinner. After dinner, depending on whether my characters are calling me back to my desk, I am back to the keyboard, refreshed, for a couple of hours.
You’ve written five novels and have more than 650 articles published in major national magazines and newspapers. What advice would you give to newbie writers?