Friday, July 31, 2015

Queen of Heka by the chart

This graphic about what causes the most problems in Egyptian literature (although it probably should say Egyptian mythology) has been making its rounds on the Internet thanks to Kara Cooney.
So, I wondered how my novel Queen of Heka measured up.

 Here are the results:

Famine: Absolutely.
War: A couple.
Gods abandon you: More times than you can count.
Suicidal thoughts: A few.
Hungry donkey: How did I miss this one?
Pharaoh complains too much: Does a whinging King of Gods count? I think so.
Boating accident: Bingo.
Giant Snake: How could I write a novel without mentioning Apep? Obviously, I couldn't.
Prophecy/Oracle/Angry Magician: Duh! This is practically the plot.
Assassination plot: At least two.
Seductive woman: Ever heard of the Kushite Queen Oso? Probably not, but you will.
Misplaced penis: Yes! This IS a novel about Isis and Osiris, although in our house we call this problem the "amazing, missing golden wang."
Uncle sexually assaults nephew: Next book!
Lettuce: The antagonist's favorite food.
Physical attack: It's a given, and at least one features the crocodile god, Sobek.

I might have a classic

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Exciting, interesting, and WELCOME news!

I enter contests for feedback purposes, because it's a way of hearing what readers think before you have readers. I usually do well in contests, often being one of the finalists. But being a finalist and receiving a request for a full manuscript request is rare. You can check the list of finalists and whether or not they received a request from the following link.

Disclosure: I previously finaled in Romance Through the Ages (about 5 years ago) without a manuscript request, so I think this means I'm on the right track.

As always, many thanks to my brilliant editor, Jason Sitzes, who runs the Writers' Retreat Workshop. And to my good friend, Ellan Otero, fellow writer-at-arms and traveling companion, for her support and encouragement.

For more about Queen of Heka, visit my website.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Ancient Egypt this week: Corn maze, Egyptology, Surgery, & Isis in Pink

Jacob's Corn Maze will feature a trip back to Ancient Egypt

 The 2015 design for Jacob’s Corn Maze has been announced. This year, guests will have the opportunity to get lost in ancient Egypt as they travel their way through corn-crafted pyramids, pharaohs and hieroglyphics.

Exclusive: new excavations in valley of the Kings by an Egyptian mission 

Dr. Mamdouh El Damaty told Luxor Times today that an Egyptian mission will start excavation in the valley of the Kings on the 1st of August.


This is the length and breadth of the ancient Egyptian empire for most of its history.

The ancient Egyptians had a seemingly upside-down way of looking at their world: Upper Egypt was in the south and Lower Egypt in the north!

Have you explored ancient Egypt?

Everyone should be an Egyptologist. Three thousand years of well-preserved history. It is a gift. Everything is there. Culture, religion, politics, war, peace, commerce, wealth, power, poverty, victories, defeat, failure, success, rises and falls, fashion, love, beauty, art, music. And ancient Egypt still lives in our culture. Our calendars, the way we judge in the Olympics, the way we associate emotion with the heart

Was surgery performed on Egyptians? Prosthetic pin in 3000-year-old mummy discovered

This mummy has a secret - a medical secret, a mystery that spans over 3,000 years.

Researchers during a routine DNA test on a male Egyptian have made an astonishing discovery after finding a 23cm iron orthopaedic screw inside his knee.

Favorite photo of the week
Isis and Nephthys in the coffin of Teuris. Allard Pierson Museum (Amsterdam).

Friday, July 24, 2015

Me, Walking on the moon, Thoth, & Queen of Heka

 What do these things have in common? A lot when it comes to making me the writer I am today.

Forty-six years ago this month, on July 19 to be exact, I, some good friends, and my family gathered around the television with bated breath waiting for Neil Armstrong to walk on the moon.

I remember my leg jittering up and down, the way it still does when I'm excited. I knew this was a moment I'd remember all my life. It was surely the moment I'd been waiting for since Friday, May 6, 1961 when my teacher herded us into the auditorium of my elementary school. A 19-inch (massive in those days) black and white television sat in splendid isolation on the stage. We watched the lift-off of Freedom 7 and the first American in space.

To me, these men were gods, because who else could stride between worlds or hop around on another one? I was inspired.

In those formative eight years between Freedom 7 and and Apollo 11, my imagination grew by leaps and bounds, and reality set in. I went from being certain that I would be an astronaut to conceding that my on/off fear of flying might make me a person who wrote about going to the moon.

Inevitability my interests changed, too. Space gave way to something older, more mysterious, yet still connected. Mythology. My love of mythology, unlike my love of space, became a little more concrete. I have a minor in World Mythology. There are a lot of gods associated with the moon, and I loved them all. Oh,what was my major you ask?

Of all the world mythologies, ancient Egypt calls to me like no other. Of course, it has a moon god, Thoth (or Djhuty, which is closer to his actual Egyptian name ḏḥwty and what I call him in my novel). Yes, I write. My first bad novels were about ancient Egypt. My current, hopefully, better novel, Queen of Heka, is about Egypt and its gods. Djhuty is a major character as the tutor of the young goddess Isis (Iset), a role he most certainly played in Egyptian mythology.

So, who is this moon god, Thoth/Djhuty? Well, first and foremost he's usually depicted as an ibis, often wearing a lunar crown. (He's also depicted as a baboon, but  I'm not going to talk about that.)

You can go to Egypt today and still see ibises.
The unmistakable form of an ibis, with its small head, large body, sturdy legs and long curved bill, adorns many ancient Egyptian murals and carvings. A species of ibis called the sacred ibis represented Thoth — their god of words, writing, wisdom and truth — whom they depicted as a human with the head of an ibis. In hieroglyphics, the image of an ibis on a perch represented Thoth, and the first letter of the ancient Egyptian alphabet, hb, was called ibis.
From Let's talk about birds: Ibises
The other thing to know about Djhuty is that he is often credited with creating the system of writing and is associated with Seshat, the goddess of writing.  He is the author of the Book of Djhuty/Scroll of Thoth, which contains all the knowledge in the universe, a subject for Pauline Gedge's excellent novel Scroll of Saqqara. This is Djhuty and Seshat scribing on the Tree of Life.

Djhuty played many other vital and prominent roles in Egyptian mythology, such as maintaining the universe and being one of the two deities (the other being Ma'at, his wife) who stood on either side of Ra's solar boat. He also became heavily associated with the arbitration of godly disputes, the art of magic (heka), the development of science, and the judgment of the dead. Truly, a Renaissance god before his time.

In this scene from Queen of Heka, the young Iset meets Djhuty for the first time at the instigation of the god Horus (Heru).

An ibis emerged from the fog. With each step, the bird lengthened into a man. The long, webbed feet became well-muscled legs. White feathers molted into an elaborately pleated kilt. The transformation ended at the neck. When the bird’s beady eyes fixed on me, all the noise in the world stopped.
Heru spoke into the inhuman silence. “May I present the teacher of all teachers, Djhuty, Lord of Truth and Time.”
The great god bowed. His beak opened like a black crescent moon in the white mist. “Hail, Iset wer-Heka, Mistress of the Throne.”
“I’m just Iset.” I giggled for the first time that day. Daily commerce with Heru clearly had not prepared me for the company of other gods.
“You are the lady who will learn words of power,” Djhuty said.

“From the Book of Djhuty?” The prospect chased away every dismal thought. All the priests longed to read the scroll filled with heka and mysteries not even Ra knew. I bounced up and down on my toes, almost taking flight

“Pain and tragedy come to any mortal who reads my book,” Djhuty said.

“Pain and tragedy also come to those who do not read it.” My whole body practically vibrated with anticipation. Heru snickered.

“My book is dangerous.” Djhuty directed an anxious look toward Heru.

“My life is already dangerous.” I thought of Seti and Oso, and I wanted to shake him for making light of my predicament. I might have if he hadn’t put his cool hand on my forehead. My heartbeat slowed straight away, keeping time with the waves lapping our feet.
“So it is.”

Djhuty’s thumb caressed the spot where lore placed the mystical Third Eye. His heka thrummed, solid and resilient. Even a novice like me recognized his power, against which Oso was less than a Nile fly. My limbs loosened, and my chest relaxed into a long breath. My troubled heart went quiet.
“Lady of everlasting joy and constant sorrow, answer this. What mother offers her breast to countless sons? What mother’s milk flows more abundantly the more her children suckle?”
A riddle. How did he know I loved riddles? His thumb continued its soothing caress. All the noise and chatter left my head and only his voice remained. My breath came slow and easy. The tranquility of the evening gathered around me like a soft blanket, and I was content to rest for a moment in the sanctuary Djhuty offered. Full dark fell over the island. The wind whispered faintly and ruffled his feathers, a gentle reminder to solve the riddle. I knew the answer. I most certainly knew it.

“Wisdom is that mother.” I made my voice very, very serious. “The more one drinks, the more one seeks.” 
“Then, I am your mother.” He kissed my forehead and inhaled. “Ah, that’s a lovely bouquet. You make your own perfume, I imagine. Is it rosemary, lavender, and rose? ”

I nodded.
“Love, remembrance, happiness, and healing. Very appropriate for you,” he said. “I daresay you already know more about herbs than all my priests together.”
Don’t boast, I told myself. Don’t boast, even though his praise filled me like a wineskin and made me just a little drunk.

“Now, are you ready to learn heka and move the universe?”

Proud, grateful, just a little fearful, I could not hold back the giggles for another heartbeat. “Oh, yes, please.”

Monday, July 20, 2015

Ancient Egypt this week: Artist's rendering, Egyptian Musical in Tokyo, Tut mini-series Reviews

Soviet-Born Chicago-Area Artist shows updated Ancient Egypt
Marina Muze is a 33-year old Chicago-area artist who grew up in the Soviet Union. Her current 27-piece show in Glenview is broken down into two groups: 5 pieces showing her depiction of an updated ancient Egypt and and 22 pieces, all pencil, exemplifying her latest work.

Of the Egypt pieces, Muze said, "I had this idea: What if ancient Egypt didn't become extinct? For thousands of years, they used ... and continued with their traditional art. So I made my version of modern ancient Egypt, in a humorous way, using symbols that we use -- such as computer keyboards (and the Starbucks Coffee logo)."

Musical about Ancient Egypt, Imperial Theatre in Chiyoda, Tokyo  2016
A website opened to announce that a stage musical adaptation of Chieko Hosokawa's Crest of the Royal Family shōjo manga is in the works. Hungarian composer Sylvester Levay (Elizabeth, Marie Antoinette) will compose the music, while Takarazuka Revue veteran Kōichi Ogita will direct the musical.

The story centers around Carol, an archaeology student on a study trip in Egypt. When an excavation team unearths the tomb of an Egyptian pharaoh, she goes back 3000 years to Ancient Egypt, where she meets the cruel and charismatic pharaoh, Memphis, and falls in love with him.
Tokyo anyone?

Add caption
Ancient Egyptian child mummies and their secrets unwrapped in Germany

(CNN) -- The stories of two mummified children are being unwrapped as researchers perform CT scans to determine the secret lives of the ancient Egyptians.

Rare Gift from Father of Cleopatra
A linen cloth that was once given as a gift by the father of legendary Egyptian Queen Cleopatra VII has been discovered by Polish archaeologists during excavations in Western Thebes, now the modern city of Luxor. The cloth was given to an Egyptian temple.

My favorite picture from Ancient Egypt this week

Ozymandias, anyone? Yeah, I know Ozymandias is about the broken statue of Ramses II at his mortuary temple, but the poem was the first thing that came to mind.

Tut the Mini-Series & the Reviews

There are links to a bunch of the official review, but here's my take.

So, I didn't throw anything at the television and I didn't walk out like I did for Exodus: Gods and Kings. I'll watch Parts II and III. It could have been a lot better. So, here's some my thoughts.

Historically, we don't know much about the reign of Tut, so the series can take almost any liberty they want as long as he dies before he's 20. Still, I'm think this is pretty far from the truth, but hey, it's television.

It seems like they could have done more with the family drama instead of manufacturing romances, etc. For example, Horemheb was married to Nefertiti's sister, making him Ankhe's uncle. Ay might have been her grandfather. That must have fed a few ambitions that were slightly more interesting and also gave them more authority over Tut.

It was also believed that Ahkenaten's religious heresy haunted Tut, which could have provided a little more meat for the high priest role, who should have been the bald one. :-)

The actors bear a passing resemblance to the statues and funerary paintings of Tut, Ay, and Horemheb, but Ankhesenamum is totally off base. Everyone else looked alarmingly European,

Minor irritation: I know many think that Egyptian Kings were called Pharaoh; but they weren't. The word pharaoh means "great house." Saying Pharaoh Tut is like saying White House Obama. Can we just say "King? I know, I know, people would have been disappointed.

The costumes, except for the occasional scarabs and Eyes of Horus, looked more like what is commonly ascribed to the ancient Libyans per some tomb paintings (see below).

The gold looked like plastic. And why couldn't we have some Egyptian hair? At least everyone wore the right crowns, unlike Exodus where Ramses wore the Queen's vulture crown.

The sets looked pretty authentic, although the palaces looked more like temples. But hey "Pharaoh" doesn't live in an adobe palace.

Finally, Osiris is one of my favorite gods; afterall, I'm writing a novel about Isis and Osiris, but he wasn't the only god. Not that you would know that from the mini-series where his name is evoked on almost every occasion. Maybe that will change.

What did you think?

Walk Like An Egyptian: Spike's 'Tut' Struts His Stuff

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Bob sings Isis

During which I get to reflect on two of my favorite people: Bob Dylan and Isis. In my spare time, I try to pair phrases from the song to the portions of the Isis and Osiris story. That might be a little weird.

Monday, July 13, 2015

So, you want to be a mummy? (video)

The one thing everyone associates with ancient Egypt (besides the Pyramids and the Sphinx) is mummies.
But, just how do you become a mummy. The following video explains the process. Don't try this at home, kids!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Ancient Egypt this week: Eating, bowling, and rocking with Pharaohs, Inventions, Museums, Technology, Videos, Oh, my

Food of the Pharaohs The great fertility of the Nile valley provided the ancient Egyptians with a delicious and wholesome diet ranging from staples such as bread and beer to herbs and spices like dill, mint and cumin. Using these ingredients the British Museum's 'chef du tempe perdu' has created 35 recipes for dishes the pharaohs and their people may have eaten, including soups, starters and snacks, main dishes, desserts and baking. I have and enjoy the book. (A chef friend did a themed birthday party for me.) More importantly, the Egyptian Grand Museum likes it.

Ancient Egyptian Inventions That Are Still Used Today

There are so many things in our lives that we use on a daily basis that we don’t really consider them inventions anymore. But are we aware of their origins? You’d be surprised to see just how many things we have the Pharaohs to thank for.

Pharonic Music
At least that's how google translates the Arabic.

San Jose’s Egyptian Museum Vibes off its Secret Society Roots

In sixth grade, students in the California public school system study ancient Egypt. And every year, thousands of these students visit the largest collection of Egyptian artifacts in western North America.

Where? In San Jose at the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum, of course.

5 Amazing Stories About Ancient Egypt That Deserve to Be Movies

We' ve seen stories of ancient Egypt on-screen before—the biblical tale The Prince of Egypt, the extremely long Cleopatra, and the Mummy trilogy, as well as that one episode of Futurama on the possibility of ancient aliens. But have we mined all the stories of ancient Egypt, which spanned thousands of years and several cultural milestones in human history? Of course not, and we have a ton more ground to cover.

I'm working hard on making number 2 a distinct possibility in Queen of Heka.

Technology reveals ancient Egypt’s complex history
Oriental Institute team uses digital tools to capture nuances and share research

Thursday, July 2, 2015

June Reads

Oh, the mood was dark. Deceit. Murder. Mutilation. Terrorism. Weird religion. Just a few of the cheerful themes in this month's reading list.


Amazon sezAs a teenager at the prestigious Bradley School, Ani FaNelli endured a shocking, public humiliation that left her desperate to reinvent herself. Now, with a glamorous job, expensive wardrobe, and handsome blue blood fiancé, she’s this close to living the perfect life she’s worked so hard to achieve. But Ani has a secret.

MM sez: Hard to find a review that doesn't compare this book to Gone Girl. Ultimately, though, this book is about redemption and making amends, something Gone Girl never addresses. Luckiest Girl is a brilliantly written book that introduces you to a cringe-worthy character with whom you can identify, no small feat. Ani FaNelli’s story shows that it is possible to take charge of your own life, no matter what. I highly recommend it.


Amazon sezA anthology of neo-noir stories described as ". . .stories that will skulk across the footplate of literature for many years to come. Exigencies is the cloak thrown over the world, to show us that in darkness we can still find beauty, and will forever serve as a keepsake to great writing.”

MM sez: As with most anthologies, there's a certain unevenness to the stories. However, unlike most anthologies, I was NOT tempted to stop reading any of them. A friend of mine and I agreed that "Ceremony of the White Dog" was a hands-down winner. However, for your own peace of mind,I would not recommend reading "Wilderness" if you're flying out of a regional airport anytime soon.  And "Cat Calls" made me impatient for the release of Rebecca Jones-Howe's Vile Men anthology.

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly

Amazon sez: A hard-hitting and hopeful story about the dangers of blind faith—and the power of having faith in yourself. The Kevinian cult has taken everything from seventeen-year-old Minnow: twelve years of her life, her family, her ability to trust. And when she rebelled, they took away her hands, too.

MM sez: A novel with  a seventeen year old main character who has her hands chopped off by her father for refusing to marry a sixty year old cult leader is going to be intense, right? The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly is Jonestown meets Orange is the New Black. Minnow Bly is a compelling and somewhat unreliable narrator of the bizarre events leading up to and following an incident in a cult compound. It is saved from being the train wreck that you can't avoid looking at by the redemption of Minnow that ultimately has nothing to do with religion and everything about Minnow's inner journey.

In the Skin of a Jihadist

Amazon sezA young French journalist’s riveting and unprecedented look at how today’s most ruthless terrorists use social media and technology to reach disaffected youth—witnessed through the undercover investigation that led to her deep involvement with a key member of ISIS.

MM sez: I read this book as research for a novel I'm working on that has a terrorist as a major character. Plus, I admit to being intrigued by why so many young European girls are fleeing to Syria as brides. The author is a French journalist writing undercover for obvious reasons after Charlie Hebdo. For a journalist, Anna Erelle (whoever she might be) is not a great writer, nonetheless, this book was somewhat of a page turner, particularly in light of recent events. Oh, yes, I did get some insights into the jihadi mindset. Anna Erelle deserves kudos for her courage, and as one other reviewer said, "Don't try this at home, kids.

The Virgin of Small Plains

Amazon sezSmall Plains, Kansas, January 23, 1987: In the midst of a deadly blizzard, eighteen-year-old Rex Shellenberger scours his father’s pasture, looking for helpless newborn calves. Then he makes a shocking discovery: the naked, frozen body of a teenage girl, her skin as white as the snow around her. Even dead, she is the most beautiful girl he’s ever seen. It is a moment that will forever change his life and the lives of everyone around him. The mysterious dead girl–the “Virgin of Small Plains”–inspires local reverence. In the two decades following her death, strange miracles visit those who faithfully tend to her grave; some even believe that her spirit can cure deadly illnesses. Slowly, word of the legend spreads.

MM sez: My editor recommended this book for the brilliance with which the author constructed Deep Point of View. I liked it well enough, and I'm always interested in books that deal with mythology, no matter its source. There are some startling revelations and some plot twists that dyed- in-the-wool mystery readers might have caught, but I didn't. A most enjoyable read.

Daughter of Deep Silence

Amazon sezIn the wake of the devastating destruction of the luxury yacht Persephone, just three souls remain to tell its story—and two of them are lying. Only Frances Mace knows the terrifying truth, and she’ll stop at nothing to avenge the murders of everyone she held dear. Even if it means taking down the boy she loves and possibly losing herself in the process.

MM sezWhen Carrie Ryan's The Forest of Hands and Teeth came out in 2009, I was immediately drawn in despite my disdain for most zombie books. (OK, OK. I'm not that disdainful, but Forest was pretty darn good.)  So, I had rather high expectations for this book, and it didn't meet them. I liked the premise, and the book started off with a bang. After that, it became fairly predictable, and I saw the end coming about half-way through. The writing was serviceable, but this pretty much falls in the category of a beach or airport read for me.