Sunday, October 26, 2008

Guest Blogger: Michelle Moran, Q&A and Giveaway

I am so excited to have Michelle Moran, author of NEFERTITI and THE HERETIC QUEEN, stopping by today to talk about her new book. I absolutely loved THE HERETIC QUEEN (you can read my review here), and I think the guest post she wrote about "history's surprises" is just fantastic. In addition, Ms. Moran sent me a Q&A that I also found very interesting. Without further ado, I'd like to welcome Michelle Moran to Booking Mama!

First of all, thank you very much for having me here! When you first asked me to write a guest post, I knew immediately what I wanted to talk about. History’s surprises. I don’t mean the small surprises an author uncovers during the lengthy process of researching for an historical novel, such as the fact that the Romans liked to eat a fish sauce called garum which was made from fermented fish. Ugh. No, I mean the large surprises which alter the way we think about an ancient civilization and humanity.

The Heretic Queen is the story of Nefertari and her transformation from an orphaned and unwanted princess to one of the most powerful queens of ancient Egypt. She married Ramesses II and possibly lived through the most famous exodus in history. I assumed that when I began my research I would discover that Ramesses was tall, dark and handsome (not unlike the drool-worthy Yule Brenner in The Ten Commandments). And I imagined that he would have been victorious in every battle, given his long reign of more than thirty years and his triumphant-sounding title, Ramesses the Great. But neither of these assumptions turned out to be true.

My first surprise came when I first visited the Hall of Mummies in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Contrary to every single media portrayal of Ramesses and every movie ever made, it turns out the Pharaoh was not tall, dark and handsome as I had expected, but tall, light and red-headed (which was just as fine, by me)! When his mummy was recovered in 1881, Egyptologists were able to determine that he had once stood five feet seven inches tall, had flaming red hair, and a distinctive nose that his sons would inherit. There were those who contended that his mummy had red hair because of burial dyes or henna, but French scientists laid these theories to rest after a microscopic analysis of the roots conclusively proved he was a red-head like Set, the Egyptian god of chaos. As I peered through the heavy glass which separated myself from the a man commonly referred to as the greatest Pharaoh of ancient Egypt, my pre-conceived notions of Ramesses II fell away. I knew that the oldest mummy ever discovered in Egypt had had red hair, but to see red hair on a mummy in person was something else entirely.

My second surprise came as I was attempting to piece together what kind of man Ramesses II had been. I assumed, given his lengthy reign, that he must have been a great warrior who was level-headed in battle and revered as a soldier. Pharaohs who were inept at waging war didn’t tend to have very lengthy reigns. There were always people on the horizon – Hyksos, Hittites, Mitanni – who wanted Egypt for themselves, not to mention internal enemies who would have loved to usurp the throne. But while researching Ramesses’s foreign policy, a very different man began to emerge. One who was young, rash, and sometimes foolish. His most famous battle—the Battle of Kadesh—ended not in victory, but in a humiliating truce after he charged into combat strategically unprepared and very nearly lost the entire kingdom of Egypt. In images from his temple in Abu Simbel, he can be seen racing into this war on his chariot, his horse’s reins tied around his waist as he smites the Hittites in what he depicted as a glorious triumph. Nefertari is believed to have accompanied him into this famous battle, along with one of his other wives. First, I had to ask myself, what sort of man brings his wives to war? Clearly, one who was completely confident of his own success. Secondly, I had to wonder what this battle said about Ramesses’s character.

Rather than being a methodical planner, Ramesses was clearly the type of Pharaoh who was swayed – at least on the battlefield – by his passions. However, his signing of a truce with the Hittites seemed significant to me for two reasons. One, it showed that he could be humble and accept a stalemate (whereas other Pharaohs might have tried to attack the Hittites the next season until a definitive conqueror was declared). And two, it showed that he could think outside the box. Ramesses’s Treaty of Kadesh is the earliest copy of a treaty that has ever been found. When archaeologists discovered the tablet it was written in both Egyptian and Akkadian. It details the terms of peace, extradition policies and mutual-aid clauses between Ramesses’s kingdom of Egypt and the powerful kingdom of Hatti. Today, the original treaty, written in cuneiform and discovered in Hattusas, is displayed in the United Nations building in New York to serve as a reminder of the rewards of diplomacy. For me, it also serves as a reminder that Ramesses was not just a young, rash warrior, but a shrewd politician.

There were other surprises as well; about the personal history of my narrator Nefertari, the Exodus, and even the Babylonian legends which bear a striking resemblance to Moses’s story in the Bible. Researching history always comes with revelations, and it’s one of the greatest rewards of being an historical fiction author. There’s nothing I like better than being surprised and having my preconceptions crumble, because if I’m surprised, it’s likely that the reader will be surprised as well.



Q&A (awesome questions, but not mine!)
Q: When your debut novel, Nefertiti, was released last year, you spoke about how the inspiration to write it came while you were on an archaeological dig. Was there a different inspiration behind The Heretic Queen, or was it a natural progression from where the first book left off?

A: In many ways, The Heretic Queen is a natural progression from my debut novel Nefertiti. The sequel picks up the plot after the brief interceding reign of Tutankhamun. The narrator is orphaned Nefertari, who suffers terribly because of her relationship to the reviled “Heretic Queen”. Despite the Heretic Queen’s death a generation prior, Nefertari is still tainted by her relationship to her aunt, Queen Nefertiti, and when young Ramesses falls in love and wishes to marry her, it is a struggle not just against an angry court, but against the wishes of a rebellious people.

But perhaps I would never have chosen to write on Nefertari at all if I hadn’t taken a trip to Egypt and seen her magnificent tomb. At one time, visiting her tomb was practically free, but today, a trip underground to see one of the most magnificent places on earth can cost upwards of five thousand dollars (yes, you read that right). If you want to share the cost and go with a group, the cost lowers to the bargain-basement price of about three thousand. As a guide told us of the phenomenal price, I looked at my husband, and he looked at me. We had flown more than seven thousand miles, suffered the indignities of having to wear the same clothes for three days because of lost luggage… and really, what were the possibilities of our ever returning to Egypt again? There was only one choice. We paid the outrageous price, and I have never forgotten the experience.

While breathing in some of the most expensive air in the world (I figured it was about $20 a gulp), I saw a tomb that wasn’t just fit for a queen, but a goddess. In fact, Nefertari was only one of two (possibly three) queens ever deified in her lifetime, and as I gazed at the vibrant images on her tomb – jackals and bulls, cobras and gods - I knew that this wasn’t just any woman, but a woman who had been loved fiercely when she was alive. Because I am a sucker for romances, particularly if those romances actually happened, I immediately wanted to know more about Nefertari and Ramesses the Great. So my next stop was the Hall of Mummies at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. There, resting beneath a heavy arc of glass, was the great Pharaoh himself. For a ninety-something year old man, he didn’t look too bad. His short red hair was combed back neatly and his face seemed strangely peaceful in its three thousand year repose. I tried to imagine him as he’d been when he was young – strong, athletic, frighteningly rash and incredibly romantic. Buildings and poetry remain today as testaments to Ramesses’s softer side, and in one of Ramesses’s more famous poems he calls Nefertari “the one for whom the sun shines.” His poetry to her can be found from Luxor to Abu Simbel, and it was my visit to Abu Simbel (where Ramesses built a temple for Nefertari) where I finally decided that I had to tell their story.

Q: Did you read a lot of historical fiction set in ancient Egypt before writing Nefertiti and The Heretic Queen?

A: Actually, no. I never read Egyptian fiction before publishing Nefertiti and The Heretic Queen partly because it didn’t appeal to me (ironic, I know). A great deal of fiction set in ancient Egypt feels “heavy”. The dialogue seems stilted because the author is attempting to make it sound old (which seems silly, since the dialogue isn’t going to be accurate anyway. Firstly, we don’t know what rhythm or cadence the ancient Egyptians used, and secondly, they didn’t speak English!). Also, a lot of fiction set in places like Rome and Egypt focuses on the lives of men. The books are filled with war or male-dominated politics, and that’s simply not what I’m interested in.

I want to know about women’s lives. That’s not to say there aren’t any politics in my novel. Harem politics could be just as heated and dangerous as politics in the Audience Chamber. And that’s also not to say that there aren’t any battles. After all, Ramesses took his principal wives with him to war. But I want to hear about the experience of everyday life and war from the women. What was it like for them? What did they see, and hear, and do? So that’s one reason I didn’t read Egyptian fiction before writing my own. However, my primary reason had to do with my own writing and research. I didn’t want to be influenced by another author’s take on events or their approach to the ancient world.

But now that I’m finished writing on ancient Egypt and my next book will explore Imperial Rome, I’m eager to start looking for Egyptian fiction with strong female leads. Any suggestions are welcome!

Q: What would you like people to take away from your books after reading them?
A: I’d like readers to feel that if a time machine were to suddenly appear and whisk them away to ancient Egypt, they wouldn’t be totally lost. They would recognize the traditions, the gods and goddesses, and know what to expect in Pharaoh Ramesses’s court. I have tried my best to make the writing accessible to a modern audience. That means not dating the dialogue, or using too many long and unwieldy Egyptian names, or overdoing it with ancient Egyptian terms. Hopefully, by doing this, readers will come away with the sense of not only having been there for a little while, but of relating to the Egyptians. Because for all of the technological, medical and philosophical changes the world has undergone in the past three thousand years, people have remained the same. They had the same desires and fears in ancient Egypt that we have today, and I hope that readers can come away with an understanding of that.

Q: I saw on your website that you travel extensively. Do these travels influence your writing?

A: Yes! Traveling has a huge impact on my writing. I’m currently writing an article for Solander Magazine which addresses the issue of whether or not travel is essential for the historical fiction author. While I don’t think it’s essential, I do think it’s incredibly helpful. Here’s an excerpt from the article, which will come out in November.

“Before I began writing my second novel The Heretic Queen, I took a trip to Egypt to see for myself the magnificent temple of Abu Simbel. One of the many building projects undertaken during the reign of Ramesses the Great, the temple fa├žade is carved with statues of both Ramesses II and his beloved Nefertari. Twice a year a thin beam of sunlight crosses the temple to illuminate three of four statues sitting in a darkened sanctuary. The only statue the sun doesn’t strike is that of Ptah, the god of darkness. I had timed my trip in order to see this bi-annual spectacle, and with hundreds of other visitors I watched as the sun struck the statues of Amun-Re, Ramesses II and Ra-Harakhty in turn. It was an almost mystical moment, made even more poignant by the fact that the narrator of the novel I was preparing to write would have witnessed the same event more than two thousand years ago. When I returned to America, I immediately began work on my second book, outlining the scene where Ramesses II takes Nefertari to his newly built temple in order to watch this special event. Did any of the wonderment I felt standing in Abu Simbel translate to the pages of my book? I hope so.”

Q: Do you have plans for your next book, and will it be set in ancient Egypt?

A: My third novel will be Cleopatra’s Daughter, which will be released September 15, 2009. The book will follow the incredible life of Cleopatra's surviving children with Marc Antony -- twins, named Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene, and a younger son named Ptolemy. All three were taken to Rome and paraded through the streets, then sent off to be raised by Octavia (the wife whom Marc Antony left for Cleopatra). Raised in one of the most fascinating courts of all time, Cleopatra's children would have met Ovid, Seneca, Vitruvius (who inspired the Vitruvian man), Agrippa (who built the Pantheon), Herod, his sister Salome, the poets Virgil, Horace, Maecenas and so many others.

Thank you so much for having me here!

I can't express how much I enjoyed THE HERETIC QUEEN! Ms. Moran is definitely on my list of favorite (and must-read) authors now! In keeping with the theme of surprises, I am thrilled to announce that Ms. Moran offered to giveaway two signed copies of THE HERETIC QUEEN! All you have to do is leave a comment (with your e-mail address) saying why you enjoy historical fiction books. If you'd like to double your chances, please blog about this giveaway with a link back to this post. The contest will be open until November 14th at 11:59 p.m. EST. I will announce the two winners on Saturday, November 15th. This contest is open to those of you with United States addresses only. Good luck!

47 comments:

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Just dropping in to say I've got this posted at Win a Book.

No need to enter me (as much as I'd like to; Nefertiti is on my wish list) 'cause I don't have a good reason why I like historical fiction so much. I just do, and that's not a good reason. If I used that argument in an English term paper, I'd have to fail myself.

Linda said...

I would love to win a copy of Ms Moran's book. Historical fiction is absolutely my favorite genre, but it's hard to explain why. The past perhaps helps us understand the present.

lcbrower40@gmail.com

Janel said...

I love historical fiction because it takes me away to another world in another time. All books transport you to some extent, but with historical fiction the effect is even greater. Thanks for the great interview and contest!

jgbeads AT gmail DOT com

Serena said...

No need to enter me in the contest, but I wanted to stop by and say that I have these books in my TBR pile and I cannot wait to get to them.

I loved the Q&A.

Stacie said...

I loved "The Devil in the White City" and "Water for Elephants". I don't know if these are considered historical fiction, but it was interesting to me to learn about the side of the circus in "Water for Elephants" that the public doesn't see and the depression and how that affected families attending the circus and their profits. Also, in "Devil in the White City" the story line was behind putting the Worlds Fair in Chicago. There were a lot of details paid to the building of the Worlds Fair center and then the storyline of the murders. Just facinating and I like learning about those eras. So, count me in to win, please!

Tammy said...

I was a history major in college and love historical fiction as a natural continuation of that. I've blogged about this giveaway here.

missporkchop AT yahoo DOT com

Ti said...

I love historical fiction because I feel as if my time spent reading is not only a guilty pleasure but also an excuse to get in some history.

thereedfamily at sbcglobal net

Gwendolyn B. said...

Reading historical fiction is like time travel. I think it has enriched my understanding of the human experience. It's one thing to know and learn the facts, but historical fiction delivers the personal and emotional aspects of any time or event. Thanks, Michelle, for bringing history to life for all us!
Thanks for the chance to win this book - I'll be on pins and needles till the drawing!
geebee.reads AT gmail DOT com

Sara said...

I think I love reading Historical Fiction simply as an extension for my love of History. Not only do I usually learn something, but a good Historical Fiction novel breathes life into and sets perspective on a setting to me. It adds more to my understanding and appreciation of historical events and characters.

Amber said...

I love historical fiction because it is the most interesting way to learn about history, much better than reading a text book! Thank you for the contest - I hope I win!

hurdler4eva@gmail.com

ChristyJan said...

It is so interesting to see what life was like in different time periods and to see the differences between then and now. I enjoy reading how the themes in novels set in the past still pertain to today.

Please enter me to win a copy of Michelle's THE HERETIC QUEEN.

hawkes(at)citlink.net

Colleen M. Johnson said...

I so hope that I win! I love historical fiction. Why? I was a history minor in college, I'm a genealogist and I love learning new facts and discovering other cultures. These books do take me to another realm. I loved reading this blog posting and will be back to read more. Wonderful job!

I have blogged and tracked back over at http://cmjoffice.com/blog/2008/10/26/historical-book-giveaway/. Love the fact that I could double my chances. Thanks!

ruth said...

I enjoy historical fiction since it enables me to learn and teaches me about important historical people. Thanks for this lovely giveaway.

darbyscloset said...

Julie,
I so enjoy historical fiction because I learn so much about the time period....more than I ever learned in any history class!!!!
To bad they didn't use these type of books to teach with back in the day! ;-*
I so want this book!!!
Thanks!
Darby
darbyscloset at yahoo dot com

Beawhiz said...

I love historical fiction because it makes me feel like people back then had the same kinds of feelings and relationships that we do now--kind of a connection with the past.

busweet(at)gmail.com

Margaret D. said...

No need to enter me in the contest, because I've just finished reading The Heretic Queen. (And loved it - I've posted my own review at www.HistoricalNovels.info.) This is a wonderful interview, and I'll be linking to it from my blog there. I love historical fiction because I think reading about past times when people's customs and attitudes were different from our own helps us see what remains the same from age to age. We can learn so much about our own time, and how to live better within it, from reading historical novels.

traymona said...

If a historical novel is good, it will take me into that time and place, to be lost there until I finish the book. Historical novels are my favorite way to learn about history ,without being just dry data such as names and dates. I like to know what the people wear, what they eat, what they do in everyday life.
traymona[at]aol.com

Chain Reader said...

I like historical fiction because it reminds me of the people living during certain times rather than just the events.
I would love to be entered!
saz AT chainreader DOT com

Red lady-Bonnie said...

I like historical fiction because it takes me to a place and time where I can learn and explore about that time in history. I find the fictionalized approach to history makes it more interesting and draws you in to the past in a way that you can relate to and understand.

toohotforturtle said...

I love historical fiction because all of my life, I have learned lots of facts. I understand how these facts came about; I understand the impact they have today. Historical facts, however important, seem so unidimensional. I am intrigued by all the details that accompany the facts. People's lives are intriguing. Understanding how people lived during significant time period is engrossing.

Katy Lin :) said...

i love reading historical fiction because I often feel like i learn more about a given time period after i've read a well-written piece of historical fiction. :)

Anonymous said...

I like to think of myself as a lifetime learner, and historical fiction fits in nicely with that. And it is such a "painless" way to learn!

SunnyLea at gmail dot com

Lisa said...

Ever since I was a little girl and pretended to live in the Little House on the Prarie, I have enjoyed historical fiction. It's a great way to visit other times and places. I've seen great reviews of this book and I am really looking forward to reading it.

Lisalynne@gmail.com
Minds Alive on the Shelves

Ruby (Mouth) said...

I am a big fan of Egyptian history books because that culture has always facinated me. I love the pyramids and their history.

angelleslament @ gmail.com

Bookfool said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bookfool said...

Forgot to say I love historical fiction because I think it's a much, much easier and more enjoyable way to learn about a time period. Instead of feeling that you're reading about it, you feel like you're there -- experiencing history. I love that!!

I'll delete my other post, so you don't have me down twice.

bookfoolery (at) yahoo (dot) com

A side note -- I just finished the copy of Creepers that I got through your blog and enjoyed it. Thanks so much for all of the contests you host.

Impkatt said...

What an awesome interview! Please drop my name in the hat.

Amy said...

I love the romance of being transported to another place and time.




thanks for the chance to win!

Mom of 5 Boys said...

Historical fiction gives me the chance to vicariously experience another time and/or place. As a result, I understand it better and remember the details of history better. And as the famous saying goes, Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

That's why I love historical fiction!

Becca said...

Please enter me! I like historical fiction because I have always had an interest in history in general. Learning about a time before my own fascinates me. And I love a good story. So to me historical fiction combines two things I really enjoy. Thanks
rebecca.bradeen(at)verizon(dot)net

susan48 said...

Hi. Booking Mamaa- I have always loved history but never read historical fiction. Because the story was motivated to Romance but lately I have had a interest because I wanted to get a idea of the time period and relive it particular Tudor/ Stuart History, French Revolutionary. I have alway been interested in the Pharohs, but there was not a book on historical fiction that hit me until now. So if you could put me in the drawing that would be great. bookmark60 AT hotmail.com

Jenny Girl said...

I enjoy historical fiction because it makes the past truly come alive. History books by themselves are dry, and lets face it, written mostly by men.
When I read historical fiction, it also makes me want to seek out more knowledge about that particular time period. So I guess you could say, it assists in briadening my knowledge.

Thanks for the contest!
jennygirl73@gmail.com

Anonymous said...

I love historical fiction because besides enjoying a good story about the past, you can actually learn something as well! I have learned more about history from reading historical fiction than I learned in school, and I've enjoyed it more! Sometimes the historical fiction book is so good it leads me on to find a nonfiction book about the subject. I have read some historical fiction about Cleopatra-I would love to learn about more Egyptian queens. Michelle Moran's new book about Cleopatra's daughter sounds fascinating, too.

Thanks for the contest!
Bonnie F.
dbsfind@fedtel.net

Amanda said...

Oh PLEASE! I'm trying to win this book :) I've always loved historical fiction because I'm a history major. A.K.A. a lover of all things history. Thanks for the giveaway!

Amanda said...

I've always been a HUGE history fan, as well as an avid reader even from a young age. I remember checking out all kind of history books, biographies, etc as a kid. I like it because I love hearing about the lives of people in our past that shaped history and historical fiction brings their stories to life for me. I get to travel through time and see what life was like for them. I absolutely loved this book. I had borrowed it from the library and would LOVE a copy of my own. Please enter me awalworth19(at)gmail(dot)com. I'll be blogging about it too.

Amanda said...

I blogged about your giveaway here:

http://thelusciousliterarymuse.blogspot.com/2008/10/want-to-win-copy-of-heretic-queen.html

awalworth19(at)gmail(dot)com. Thanks for this amazing giveaway!

Anna said...

No need to enter me, as I have both of Moran's books. Just wanted to say I really enjoyed this post, and I can't wait for Cleopatra's Daughter!

--Anna
Diary of an Eccentric

annie said...

Thanks for this lovely giveaway. I enjoy historical fiction greatly because I can drift away to another realm. and time. I love it.
rojosho(at)hotmail(dot)com

Red lady-Bonnie said...

Julie,

You can take my name out of the contest. I just won a copy of The Heretic Queen through Dar's giveaway at Peeking between the Pages.

Thanks for hosting a great giveaway! Now, I need to get a copy of Nefertiti!!

Stephanie said...

I was never a big fan of Historical Fiction until I read Sharon Penman. Then, I just couldn't get enough! I like the idea of creating a story around an actual person. Real history is interesting, but historical fiction is WAY more fun to read!

stoland at ameritech dot net

Jennifer said...

I adore historical fiction. It is one of my favourite genres. Maybe because it is important to understand the thinking of the past to move forward.

Your site is one of my fav's and you are linked to my blog. :)

knittingmomof3 AT gmail DOT com

Paradox said...

I like to read historical fiction that covers events or times in history that aren't usually written about because I love unexplained things and learning something new.

I don't like to give out my e-mail online, but I can be contacted at my e-mail account through the contact page on my site: http://www.geocities.com/webpainter_one/contact.html

bluebyrd said...

I love historical fiction, and this book sounds fascinating. Please enter me!

bluebyrd24 at gmail dot com

Anonymous said...

I can think of no genre I love more than historical fiction. I have always been a history buff anyway. However, through historical fiction I can travel back in time and live other lives that otherwise I would never be able to live. Definitely enter me in this contest. You may contact me at:

donnajridge@yahoo.com

Laura said...

I love historical fiction because not only is it great reading like fiction is but you also learn true things about a certain place and time or event that you may not have any previous knowledge of.

I have also blogged about this contest at

http://idlerantandrave.blogspot.com/2008/11/another-great-book-contest.html

My email address is Laura.Adams@ky.gov

traveler said...

Historical fiction is a favorite of mine. I become enthralled within the pages and can picture the era and their lives. I enjoy it tremendously.

Marie said...

The Q&A's were great. Having traveled to Nefertiti's tomb myself, I am keen to learn a lot more about Nefertari from this book. Historical fiction has helped fuel my younger daughter's passion for ancient history, and I also find that well-researched historical fiction makes history come alive in a uniquely accessible way. Please enter me!