When my novel about Cleopatra Selene's early/teen life came out, readers often asked me if I was writing a sequel. My answer was always an unequivocal, "Nope." But they wanted to know what happened to Selene after she set off to marry the King of Mauretania! Why wouldn't I continue her story? My answer was always a bit convoluted, but I eventually settled on this: I write young adult fiction, which tends to focus on the emergence of self and identity. I was fascinated by what it must have been like for Selene to grow up under the shadow of such a famous and powerful mom and how she might've intellectually and emotionally come to terms with both the tragedy of her life--and the opportunity. The story of what happened to Selene after she left Rome didn't call to me in the same way. (Besides, Pompeii was knocking at the door. :-D). But thank goodness the rest of Selene's life did call to fellow author, Stephanie Dray, whose third book in the trilogy of Selene's life releases today. I was honored to read this book before it went to press and I have to tell you, Daughters of the Nile, is a tremendously mesmerizing and moving read. It is more than worthy of the fascinating Princess of Egypt and Queen of Mauretania. Daughters concludes the series, so if you haven't read the first two, check them out--Lily of the Nile (of which the Kindle version is currently on sale) and Song of the Nile. Seriously, go forth and read. Check out the excerpt below.
Below me, six black Egyptian cobras dance on their tails, swaying. I watch their scaled hoods spread wide like the uraeus on the crown of Egypt. Even from this height, I'm paralyzed by the sight of the asps, their forked tongues flickering out between deadly fangs. I don't notice that I'm gripping the balustrade until my knuckles have gone white, all my effort concentrated upon not swooning and falling to my death.
And I would swoon if I were not so filled with rage. Someone has arranged for this. Someone who knows what haunts me. Someone who wants to send me a message and make this occasion a moment of dread. My husband, the king must know it, for he calls down, "That's enough. We've seen enough of the snake charmer!"
There is commotion below, some upset at having displeased us. Then Chryssa hisses, "Who could think it a good idea to honor the daughter of Cleopatra by coaxing asps from baskets of figs?"
The story the world tells of my mother's suicide is that she cheated the emperor of his conquest by plunging her hand into a basket where a venomous serpent lay in wait. A legend only, some say, for the serpent was never found. But I was there. I brought her that basket. She was the one bitten but the poison lingers in my blood to this day. I can still remember the scent of figs in my nostrils, lush and sweet. The dark god Anubis was embroidered into the woven reeds of the basket, the weight of death heavy in my arms. I can still see my mother reach her hand into that basket, surrendering her life so that her children might go on without her. And I have gone on without her.
I have survived too much to be terrorized by the emperor's agents or whoever else is responsible for this.
If it is a message, a warning from my enemies, I have already allowed them too much of a victory by showing any reaction at all. So I adopt as serene a mask as possible. My daughter blinks her big blue eyes, seeing past my facade. "Are you frightened, Mother? They cannot bite us from there. The snakes are very far away."
I get my legs under me, bitterness on my tongue. "Oh, but they're never far enough away."
The advanced reading copies (ARCs) of Curses and Smoke are here. It doesn't release until May 27th, but STILL. It's a pre-book! I'm a little freaked out that the latest round of changes aren't included in this version, but then again it does say "Uncorrected Proof," right? On this gray, cold December day, all those fires on the cover leave me with the strange desire to rub my hands over the book to warm them up.
Yesterday, we had a sold-out workshop for children at the Michael C. Carlos Museum of Antiquities at Emory University. During the first part of the program, I gave an "Anubis Speaks" tour through the galleries, focusing on some of the not so well-known depictions of the god of embalming. The one up top, for example, shows an atypical posture for the god. Instead of weighing hearts or presiding over a ceremony, Anubis seems to be throttling a snake, likely a representation of the evil monster Apophis. In his front hand he seems to be holding up a lotus flower cup, a symbol of renewal. Anubis is everywhere in the Egyptian galleries, from Old Kingdom coffins to Ptolemaic/Greek era mummy covers (right). The kids particularly relished my detailed, gross talk on the actual process of mummification. After that, we moved onto the workshop part of the program--making masks! Artist Pam Beagle Daresta helped the kids create their three-dimensional black and gold beauties. While the kids were cutting the fancy black and gold paper, I reminded them that many of the rituals of mummification were performed by priests wearing similar masks. This made some of them cut even faster! The project required a lot of concentration and attention to details but the kids were up for the challenge. After-ward, a number of the kids asked me to sign their copies of Anubis Speaks! The bloody paw-print stamp, I've been told, was a favorite part of my "autograph." I was determined to make my own mask but didn't get to because I was assisting Pam and museum education manager, Nina West. I'm not a visual artist, so my "help" ended up being more of the "fetching glue and patterns" variety. I took all the raw supplies home, though, determined to make my
very own jackal-headed mask of the god of embalming and death. I can't wait to make scary god-dog noises through the 3-D snout! Teachers, making Anubis masks is a fun activity. So is stuffing little felt hearts and weighing them against the feather of truth (which I conveniently bring with me!). Invite me to your schools/classrooms so we can enjoy the wonderful-strangeness of Ancient Egypt together!
In celebration of the ("BICEPS!"--sorry, it's become a bit of a tic) ridiculously wonderful cover of my upcoming Pompeii novel, Curses and Smoke (thanks AAL Books/Scholastic!), I decided devote this week's Friday Funnies to volcanoes. And, because at the heart of my novel is a love story, I played with movie titles. Got any suggestions for adding to this "collection?"
A reporter once asked an industry insider how an author gets on the New York Times bestseller list. "Oh that's easy," the guy said. "Already BE on the NYT Bestseller list." His answer was a nod toward the reality that once an author makes it to the big leagues, it's usually hard to knock him or her off the list. First, because usually (and especially in children's lit) the book is really, really good. Second, because the publisher will support that author/book with even more aggressive marketing for current and future projects. It becomes a self-perpetuating cycle. So what are the rest of us to do (outside of writing the best book we can)? We do our own marketing, especially if the publisher is smaller. We "hit the streets" as best we can--telling librarians and booksellers about our books, sharing about it on FB and Twitter, and asking our friends and acquaintances to help spread the word. Supporting a local author doesn't necessarily mean having to buy the book (though that would be nice!). It could be as simple as:
Asking your local library to carry it.
Telling your child's school librarian about it.
Requesting that a local book seller carry it.
Recommending it to book clubs.
Sharing the book with friends and getting them excited about it.
Anybody game to help me spread the word about Anubis Speaks!? Do you know someone who teaches ancient civ? Who loves Egyptian mythology? Who works with kids in the 4th through 6th grades or in a Gifted Program? Let me know and I'll send you bookmarks as well as my undying gratitude!!