Monday, January 20, 2014

Bring your life into your novel

They tell you to write what you know.

Horus, Isis, Osiris
The gods (the Egyptian ones, anyway) know, I've used that excuse to justify a lot of things. Like fulfilling my childhood dream of going to Egypt to see the temples and monuments. Like justifying the most expensive Nile cruise because it was the only one that actually went to Abydos, the home of the Osiris (Asar), the "love interest" in my novel, Queen of Heka: The Autobiography of Isis. I even visited Philae and the temple of Isis three times. I learned a lot.

For example, I read a novel where the author described the inside of a tomb in the Valley of the Kings as cool and damp. Not true, those suckers are hot. Leaving the tomb, the 110 degree heat of the desert feels almost like air-conditioning. They're also dry, which is why the paint was preserved so perfectly. Reading that bit of misinformation made me doubt the premise of the novel.

Do you always need to visit exotic locations to get source material? Actually, no.You can do research and mine your daily routine for experiences that apply to whatever you're writing about.

I read a post on the blog of a woman who writes sword and sorcery fantasy and who also happens to raise horses. She wrote about common mistakes people make when writing about horses . . . like the ubiquitous finding a horse when all is lost and riding for days and days and days (even though you've never ridden before) to find the gold buried under the mountain and save the world. Apparently, in reality, if you've never ridden before, you will be so chafed and your muscles so sore after the first couple of hours, you might not ride again for days, much less save the world. If horses play a role in  your novel, take a riding class or find someone who owns horses who will happily tell you all the misconceptions non-horse people have.

As for me, I have other interests besides writing, which happily feed my writing muse, such as my rather large garden. Believe it or not, Austin is almost the same latitude as Cairo, and weather conditions are similar. I understand gardening in what is for all intents and purposes is a desert. After the droughts of the last couple years, I understand it even more than I did before. I also grow and use herbs, and Isis was a noted herbalist. When I write about Isis, her garden, her frustration with drought, her herbal concoctions, I am one with her.

I also have chickens and goats, both common in Ancient Egypt. In fact, it was an agrarian society, and even Pharaohs had their kitchen garden, as did every peasant. Osiris is often portrayed as teaching people how to farm and make beer. (For the beer part, I rely on my son.)

I raise Egyptian Fayoumis, a breed seen in some of the tomb paintings. I know how those chickens, which are not nice chickens, act. After spending a few years around them, I understand why they survived into the 21st century. They fly high and fast, are aggressive, and suspicious. If a Nile crocodile came after one, there's no guarantee it would get dinner that night. I might have used that information a time or two.

Now, about the goats. . . I have read SO many novels where the hero or heroine is lost and starving  and happen upon a cow or a goat. As often as not, they are city folk or nobles who might have seen a goat or cow, but never milked one. Yet, they milk them in nothing flat and live to fight another day. If your character has never milked a cow or goat by hand, he's going to starve. It's not as easy as it looks. I watched a hundred youtube videos and still didn't get it. I finally ended up taking a class. So, yeah, I can write really knowledgeably about the frustrations of trying to milk a goat the first time.

And of course, there is all that lovely billy goat mating behavior that's just waiting to go into my novel. (The phrase randy as a billy goat came into being for a good reason.) A time or two, I compare the antics of the mischievous son of Isis and Osiris to baby goat behavior.