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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Michelle Moran - Guest Post

We'd like to welcome Michelle Moran to Royal Reviews for a special guest post about the inspiration behind her bestselling historical fiction novels.


For every novel I have written, I can look back and say that there has been a very specific moment of inspiration - usually in some exotic locale or inside a museum - where I’ve said, “Aha! That’s going to be the subject of my next novel.” I never began my writing career with the intention to write books about three different princesses in Egypt. In fact, I had no intention of writing about ancient Egypt at all until I participated in my first archaeological dig.

During my sophomore year in college, I found myself sitting in Anthropology 101, and when the professor mentioned that she was looking for volunteers who would like to join a dig in Israel, I was one of the first students to sign up. When I got to Israel, however, all of my archaeological dreams were dashed (probably because they centered around Indiana Jones). There were no fedora wearing men, no cities carved into rock, and certainly no Ark of the Covenant. I was very disappointed. Not only would a fedora have seemed out of place, but I couldn’t even use the tiny brushes I had packed. Apparently, archaeology is more about digging big ditches with pickaxes rather than dusting off artifacts. And it had never occurred to me until then that in order to get to those artifacts, one had to dig deep into the earth. Volunteering on an archaeological dig was hot, it was sweaty, it was incredibly dirty, and when I look back on the experience through the rose-tinged glasses of time, I think, Wow, was it fantastic! Especially when our team discovered an Egyptian scarab that proved the ancient Israelites had once traded with the Egyptians. Looking at that scarab in the dirt, I began to wonder who had owned it, and what had possessed them to undertake the long journey from their homeland to the fledgling country of Israel.

On my flight back to America I stopped in Berlin, and with a newfound appreciation for Egyptology, I visited the museum where Nefertiti’s limestone bust was being housed. The graceful curve of Nefertiti’s neck, her arched brows, and the faintest hint of a smile were captivating to me. Who was this woman with her self-possessed gaze and stunning features? I wanted to know more about Nefertiti’s story, but when I began the research into her life, it proved incredibly difficult. She’d been a woman who’d inspired powerful emotions when she lived over three thousand years ago, and those who had despised her had attempted to erase her name from history. Yet even in the face of such ancient vengeance, some clues remained.

As a young girl Nefertiti had married a Pharaoh who was determined to erase the gods of Egypt and replace them with a sun-god he called Aten. It seemed that Nefertiti’s family allowed her to marry this impetuous king in the hopes that she would tame his wild ambitions. What happened instead, however, was that Nefertiti joined him in building his own capital of Amarna where they ruled together as god and goddess. But the alluring Nefertiti had a sister who seemed to keep her grounded, and in an image of her found in Amarna, the sister is standing off to one side, her arms down while everyone else is enthusiastically praising the royal couple. From this image, and a wealth of other evidence, I tried to recreate the epic life of an Egyptian queen whose husband was to become known as the Heretic King.

Each novel I’ve written has had a similar moment of inspiration for me. In many ways, my second book, The Heretic Queen is a natural progression from Nefertiti. 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 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 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 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.

It’s the moments like this that an historical fiction author lives for. And it probably wouldn’t surprise you to learn that my decision to write Cleopatra’s Daughter came on an underwater dive to see the submerged city of ancient Alexandria. Traveling has been enormously important in my career. My adventures end up inspiring not only what I’m currently writing, but what I’m going to write about in the future.

Visit Michelle Moran @ her Official Website or @ her blog History Buff

Order your copy of Cleopatra's Daughter from Amazon or Book Depository (free postage worldwide).

Don't forget to enter here to win a copy of Michelle Moran's latest novel - Cleopatra's Daughter


Blodeuedd said...

Great post :)
I always wanted to go on a dig, thought it might just be too dirty for me

SusiSunshine said...

Great post. A prof at my university makes a trips to many great archaeological places to meassure them: Patara(Turkey, Tlos(Turkey), Gabii(Italy)and Albano(Italy). I can't wait for next year cuz I hope to get a place in the excursion this time. We don't know where it will take us but I don't care. The book sounds great. I'm a little sucker for all things Egypt. I bought a book: How to read hieroglyphics? That says enough I think.

elnice said...

I have been hearing sparkling reviews of this book. I love the setting, it sounds like something I would enjoy.

Carolyn Crane said...

Hey, I love that you're doing ancient week! I'm in the mood for ancient. And like elnice, I've been hearing great things about this book. Thanks for this guest post. Sounds like writing this book was way more fun than digging ditches in Israel. I really enjoyed the interview below, too. it's always fun to hear about people's journies to authorhood.

Laura's Reviews said...

Wow - Fantastic post. Michelle has really gotten to go on some amazing journeys. It would be cool to go on a dig . . . although I can imagine it not seeming so cool at the time. I would love to make a trip to egypt one of these days.

I have not read any of these books yet, which I can't believe as I love historical fiction.

I would love to be entered in the giveaway. My email address is laarlt78 (at) hotmail (dot) com.



i have so fallen in love with her blog site!

Anonymous said...

I would love to be entered in your draw. Thanks.

Jennifer said...

Awesome interview. I adored the photos, especially Michelle on a dig. Well done!

Virginia said...

Michelle really gets into her research, and that adds to her descriptive flow as a story teller. Awesome! gcwhiskas at aol dot com

ibeeeg said...

My gosh...the price tag of seeing Nefertari's tomb. Wow! After reading Michelle's Guest post...I want to read The Heretic Queen even more now than I did yesterday. The background information is very intriguing.

What amazing trips. I would love to take trips such as Michelle does, maybe one day...

(Please do not enter me into the giveaway as I already own this fabulous book.)

Patti said...

Great post - love the pictures. It's obvious Ms. Moran enjoys what she does!

The Book Resort said...

I love Egypt, too. As a little girl *blush* I always imagined I was an eyptian princess in a previous life. Can you imagine how that went over? LOL!

My Blog 2.0 (Dottie) said...

I would have loved to be involved in a dig, always fantasized about learning first hand... old civilizations.

Dottie :)