Qa’a, the final book of The First Dynasty trilogy was a no-brainer as far as I was concerned. If I had started the series with the first King of the First Dynasty, I felt I had to end it with the last King.
Yet, the more I researched the history of that period, the more engaged I became and wanted to weave a yarn that incorporated what we actually know along with the drama and intrigue that could have been part of Qa’a’s life story.
My Research: The Name Says It All
The name Qa’a is translated as “his arm is raised.” Wow!, I thought, that’s pretty powerful. So, without giving away any of the story, I felt the name alone could be descriptive of the man, his strengths and weaknesses.
Although I have been to Egypt several times and have visited all the principal sites where the action over all three novels takes place, I was constrained from traveling to Egypt while researching Qa’a by political events there. So I had to rely on notes from previous visits, my own extensive library on Ancient Egypt, my interviews with Egyptologists and reasonably accurate web-based sources.
There were also tantalizing clues along the way that allowed me to create plot elements. For example, there was obviously a major transition from First to Second Dynasties, so something significant must have occurred related to Qa’a’s offspring, assuming he had any. Also, while little is known about Qa’a- after all we are speaking of the period around 3,000 B.C.E.- we do know more about the first King of the Second Dynasty, Hotepsekhemwy (now THAT’S a mouthful!). All in all it was a pleasure pulling the threads together into one coherent yarn. I do hope you enjoy Qa’a. I look forward to your comments.
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 computer 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?
Qa’a’s name means “His Hand Is Raised.” Does that suit him?
Do you see any parallels between the behavior of the early Egyptians and today’s Arab societies?
Were there any aspects of early Egyptian life that surprised you?
What were Qa’a’s strengths and weaknesses?
What in Nomti’s character helped him to embrace his responsibilities and agree to ascend to the throne?
Was Irisi’s decision to accompany Qa’a reasonable?
Should General Nebibi have taken a more active role in preventing the coup?
Was the role that Urshte played ethical?
Was Khenemet a victim of his beliefs or was he a puppet master seeking his own glory?
If you were in Hotepsekhemwy’s sandals, what would your first course of action be to unite the Two Lands?