Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Fact in Fiction - Part 1 of 5

Khamsin, the Devil Wind of the Nile-Book 1 

Every movie lately seems to have “The Making of ...” clips. Well, here is a little insight into “The Making of the Legends of the Winged Scarab” series, Part 1.

With my historical saga, reaching back to 3080 BC, the question was how much research a writer should do on his or her chosen era. My answer: A lot. Next, how much “real history” should be incorporated into a novel. I’d say, 10% (unless writers want to emulate James Michener – still one of my favorite authors, by the way). These days, however, most of us must remember, it’s fiction. Readers these days want to be entertained rather than learn something.

As the premise for my conflict, I chose the strict laws of Ma'at - Ancient Egypt's "world order" that had to be strictly observed; those who failed could be punished by a horrible death.
When I started my research into Ancient Egypt (and by that, I mean, really ancient), the biggest confusion was over city names. It would have been easy to use Memphis, for instance. But that name – like most of the commonly used ancient names – came from the Greeks, specifically the historian Herodotus who described many of the wonders he found in Egypt during his visit around 490 BC. At the time, Egypt was under Persian occupation in the 27th Dynasty - a full three-thousand years after my story takes place
(during the 1st Dynasty in the Old Kingdom).
Therefore, I resorted to use the ancient Egyptian names (wherever I could find them). But, for my readers, I enclosed an appendix with both names and a map in the hope this would satisfy the historically curious. In recent years, Egypt began to use Arabic names for its towns. Still, many of the tourist sites still bear their familiar Greek names.

As to real people, I only used Aha, the Horus-King. He is documented as the second king of the First Dynasty. Its first king and founder of Egypt is usually said to have been Narmer (or Menes). There is also the mysterious Scorpion King of Dynasty Zero. Egyptologists’ opinions on dates vary greatly.

However, what “my” King Aha was or did stems solely from the figment of my imagination (although, he really did have a son called Djer; his successor). 

The popular and entertaining astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson calls it “the Argument from Ignorance.” 

 However, I did have proof that Aha was credited to have kept the newly unified kingdoms of Upper and Lower Egypt together. Why? There are cartouches with him wearing the double crown indicating both regions.

 (Faience vessel fragment inscribed with the Horus-name Aha, on display at the British Museum)

And, of course, there is the dreaded khamsin (the devil wind of fifty days), its choking red sand bringing death to those caught in the open. Will it overcome our young lovers as they try to outrun their pursuers in a desperate flight through the Wadi Hammamat. No longer awash, this arid gorge was already an ancient trade route connecting the Nile to the Red Sea. 

One of my biggest worry, however, was whether or not there were donkeys at the time. You think that’s silly. But I poured over volume after volume in hopes of finding a depiction of my desperately needed flea-ridden ass (camels and horses were introduced only much later). Since donkeys were used primarily by commoners and farmers, artists did not depict them on tomb paintings and stone reliefs.  At last, I found one rare picture of the lowly donkey – sending up my thanks to Horus. Phew.

I could now have my fictional King Aha (in disguise) chafe his royal backside raw on a donkey. Perhaps he appreciated my ruse of escape from enemies’ spies, for his real mummy was found buried with the remains of ten donkeys to accompany him into the Afterlife. Would it have mattered if wild asses had not yet been domesticated? Yes. 
For instance, I read some Nile/Nefertiti novel in which the author describes a woman’s “strawberry-lips,” and “apricot-cheeks.” No strawberries. And precious apricots were brought in from Lebanon – in their dried form. Imagine a maiden’s puckered brown cheeks. Put me right off. 

I didn’t want to make a mistake like that. Still, an observant reader chided me for the use of royal “bark” instead of “barque.” When I politely countered with an explanation about the 15th century use of the Portuguese word “barque,” she graciously upped her review to a glowing five stars. Needless to say, there was some private gloating on my side. Mostly, though, it reinforced my belief that when in doubt, check and double-check. 

In the end, while Historical Fiction must ring true to its time, it has to be readable. Loving or hating those characters, readers want to care about them. Oh, and do we writers love to invent hateful people. They are often the most intriguing of the bunch. 

Take my ugly vizier, Ebu al-Saqqara, for instance.
Lowly of birth, ambitious to the point of treason, he is being interviewed by the best-selling British author Helen Hollick.
Read what my puffed-up Ebu al-Saqqara has to crow about here:

(Note: All images - Public Domain)

Fact in Fiction - Part 5 of 5

The Nile Conspiracy
Book 5 of the Legends of the Winged Scarab Series

Love the cover (if I say so myself). It’s part of an original photograph taken in Morocco’s desert by Canadian poet Jim Bennett. 
(Do check out Mr. Bennett's wonderful poetry here)
I approached Jim if I might use part of it for The Nile Conspiracy’s cover as it so aptly portrayed Egypt’s fight for water. He generously granted me the rights.

The main gist of the novel centers around the (real) Grand Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam – and Egypt’s grave and most real concern about the Blue Nile (from where the country receives 85% of its water). Could the Nile downstream turn into a trickle once the gargantuan dam reservoir starts to fill (supposedly taking up to five years). In the novel, Egypt sets out “to do something” about it with the "help" of one of my bad boys, Vergil. (Hopefully NOT to become a reality).

Read "An Interview with A Pirate" here on this blog:

Check out an Excellent BBC YouTube clip about the Nile’s Journey, entitled:
The Grand Renaissance Dam| Why Egypt Will Go To War with Ethiopia

When I stumbled upon the idea of using the Dam in my novel, it was supposed to be opened in 2016. I never imagined that it would become such a controversial project for Ethiopia, Egypt and the Sudan.
In July, Ethiopians were in shock and in a state of disbelief following the tragic death of Semegnew Bekele, chief engineer of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam who oversaw the multi-billion dollar dam project. Officially, his death was ruled a suicide due to mounting pressure about the dam’s delays and cost overruns. There is also an unconfirmed belief that he was murdered. So sad. He was a good man and a dedicated engineer.

Interspersed in the book are many other trials and tribulations my protagonists (and their adversaries) must face – along with a treasure hunt through the real Lost Labyrinth of Egypt
While The Nile Conspiracy brings the Legends of the Winged Scarab series to an end, there might be a prequel about Ancient Crete – way before the Minoans. Following a prehistoric eruption of the volcano Thera, could those survivors have become the first Egyptians of 7000 years ago? We’ll just have to wait and see if this writer can get off her ... well, you know.
For now, however, I hope your curiosity was peaked to pick up some of these historical fiction and adventure novels.
 Check out the entire series starting with Book 1, in Khamsin's Ancient Egypt, to modern-day adventures in Books 2-5.

Fact in Fiction - Part 2 of 5

Here is some insight into the research of  
Sirocco, Storm over Land and Sea -
Book 2 of the Legends of the Winged Scarab series.

For this modern-day quest to find and decipher the ancient Golden Tablets from Book 1, I incorporated real places and timely political events, namely the 2011 Arab Spring uprising. The regrettable chaos it brought to Egypt made many of my fictional events plausible.

In Sirocco, Storm over Land and Sea, my Egyptologist protagonist, the exotic Dr. Naunet Klein, is sent to Cairo and Luxor where she meets a charming stranger. After a weekend invitation to Hurgada, she is kidnapped and spends some days (rather involuntarily) imprisoned in a village on southern Crete.
Loutro, then as now, can only be reached by boat or by climbing over a treacherous mountain path.

It is from those cliffs rising straight out of the sea that she witnesses the terrifying demise of a South American by-hook-or-by-crook art collector’s luxury yacht, the Bucanero I

On board is a (real) stolen Rembrandt. 
(Check out the cover description in the LookInside on Amazon.com). If, by any chance, you know of this painting’s whereabouts (perhaps in your Uncle Guido's safe room), the FBI still promises a huge reward for the recovery of this priceless painting.

Lorenzo, my gangster-art collector, later restores a Russian ghost ship – the real Lyubov Orlova – which he registered as the Bucanero II, out of Caracas.

In Sirocco, we also reconnect with my opportunistic Con Extraordinaire, Edward Guernsey-Crock.

Throughout Books 2-5 of the  
Legends of the Winged Scarab
the increasingly less charming Englishman skitters toward his just deserves. 
Is he someone from my past life upon whom I heaped vengeance for wrongs done to me?  

That’s for me to know, for you to imagine – 
and for the indigenous Cretan Kri-Kri 
to keep silent about as they nimbly scale the craggy coast of Crete. 
(Do you spot them in this picture?)

Sirocco, Storm over Land and Sea 
is available at Amazon.com for Kindle and in Print.


Dr. William Jefferson Browning, the Boston Museum’s sixty-year-old Head of Research, was never on time. ‘Occupational hazard,’ the Einstein-maned scientist decreed when someone suggested he might think about installing an alarm clock in his lab.
The story went that after a vacation trip to Europe, Bill Browning was overheard to complain at a museum board meeting, that ‘Florence would have been great, except for all those tourists.’ At which point an illustrious member of the old Boston establishment supposedly remarked, ‘And what the hell did you think you were, Bill!’
It provided a rare snicker for the thirty-plus trustees. Over time, their meetings had become more terse than academic, and they welcomed any morsel of good humor thrown their way.

Bingham Adams, the seemingly forever museum director, was affable and well liked. He was an excellent judge of a good brushstroke. There was a saying among the crusty old Bostonians: ‘Before you invite Bingham to dinner, lock up all your Singer Sargents.’ 
More often than not, Adams would walk out of one of those patrician brownstone homes encircling Louisburg Square on Beacon Hill with a host’s unplanned contribution of a stern forefather gazing from his gilded frame.
While this was great for the collections and the museum’s standing in the art world, it became painfully clear that Adams sorely lacked in administrative talents. 
The venerable institution’s cash flow was in dire straits. The board elected a new president.
George Searing, the business-savvy fifty-six-year-old CEO of a fertilizer company, was thick-set, demanding and utterly impervious to the tender psyches of the art world. But he scythed and bullied the Grande Old Dame back into the black. 
Bingham Adams and his curators hated him.

* * *
 Legends Of The Winged Scarab Series: