Time travel to Egypt

Eye_of_horus_2   From Loretta:
  My blog went up at the crack of dawn last week (well, before 10 AM is dawn to me) because we were driving down to NYC for the day, so that I could see Napoleon on the Nile: Soldiers, Artists, and the Rediscovery of Egypt, at the Dahesh Museum  http://www.daheshmuseum.org/
      I had never heard of this museum before reading a review of the exhibition in the New Yorker.  It is a very interesting place, and I highly recommend it to those interested in academic art of the 19th and early 20th century.  Anyone interested in a little more insight into some of the historical background of Mr. Impossible would probably enjoy it, too.  If you can’t get there, please do visit the website, which includes a podcast, a short video tour, and pictures.
      Museums–and not only living history museums like Old Sturbridge Village–are important research tools for me.  For those of us without quick access to the British Museum, the collections and exhibitions within driving distance are research oases.
      At certain nearby museums are Regency-era portraits, for instance, that I revisit as one would visit old friends.  Susan/Miranda can tell us far more about these portraits than I ever could–her comments on the portrait of Sarah Churchill used on the cover of Duchess enhanced my understanding of the work tenfold.  But even without really understanding them properly, I get a great deal out of viewing them.  For one thing, a painting in a museum is the real McCoy, not a small reproduction in a book.  One of the portraits I visit repeatedly is of a couple, and the painting is enormous, the subjects about life size.  A picture is a whole different experience when you see it full size, when you can see the texture of the paint.  And in some mysterious way, one seems to absorb a sense of the time in which it was painted.
      The same holds for engravings, I discovered.
      The bulk of the Dahesh exhibition includes engravings from the Description de L’Egypte.  This massive work–published between 1809 and 1829 and comprising in its first edition, according to my catalog of the exhibition, “ten volumes of explanatory text and thirteen volumes of engraved folio plates”–was the work of an army of artists and scholars Napoleon took with him on his Egyptian campaign.  The military campaign (1798-1801) ended in failure.  The Description de L’Egypte, however, is a world wonder, an extraordinary scholarly achievement.  It’s mentioned several times in Mr. Impossible because, if not for it, Daphne would not be in Egypt because she would never have discovered hieroglyphs.  Not only is the Description considered the foundation of Egyptology but it gave rise to the burst of interest and travel (and many other things, good and ill) of the early 19th C often referred to as the “rediscovery” of Egypt.
     Description_de_legypte I have a small reproduction volume of the collection of engraved plates as well as some larger reproductions in various works I consulted while writing Mr. Impossible.  I have seen scholars on TV opening its pages, so I had an idea of the size.  But nothing prepared me for the engravings themselves.
      The works are big, averaging about two feet by a foot and a half in size.  Some are larger, some smaller.  The detail is simply astounding.  And it is its details that make the Description invaluable to Egyptologists.  In some cases, these engravings provide our only accurate record of monuments now lost.  In other cases, they provide a clean, sharp, and reliable record of hieroglyphs and images that over time–and with abuse of various kinds–have been marred, dulled, or destroyed.
      Horus_on_wallsmall Among other stunning accomplishments was a replica of a papyrus:  They copied down every last image and hieroglyph exactly–not that the papyrus was the only example of this.  Wherever they found hieroglyphs–basically everywhere, and at the time, completely indecipherable–they copied them…each and every one.  This strict attention to detail was priceless later, when scholars finally were able to decipher hieroglyphic writing.
      However, I am not an Egyptologist and I can’t read hieroglyphs and my story wasn’t about ancient Egypt but about early 19th C Egypt, and here, again, the Description was indispensable because, in addition to meticulously recording monuments (as well as imagining, based on what remained, what these might have looked like in their prime), it records the “modern” Egypt of about 1800.  Since that Egypt had not changed much as of 1821, when my story takes place, the Description offered the equivalent of photographs of the people and places my char
acters might have seen.
      The Description engravings were not the only interesting objects in the show.  Among other eye-openers for me were some 1830s reprints of James Gillray caricature prints from 1799.  Once again, size matters.  All my late 18th C and early 19th C caricature prints are little reproductions in books.  The real prints (and reprints) have a completely different impact–and the wit comes through more clearly, I found–when one can see every detail and read easily the bubbles over the characters’ heads as well as the lengthy titles of the works.  Seeing these prints life-size gave me a stronger sense than ever of their impact on the public–and why a character like my Lord Rathbourne of Lord Perfect would not want to see himself featured in such prints.  These are not like the small political cartoons one sees in the newspapers.  Imagine yourself pilloried on a colored engraving 10 inches by 14 inches prominently displayed in a shop window on a London street where your family, friends, and enemies might see it as they stroll by.
      I imagine such things as I write my stories, and it helps me understand my characters and the world they live in.  My world includes photography, film, video and the instant gratification of the internet–to see pix of illustrations from the Description de l’Egypte, all one need to do is look it up in Google Images.  The bulk of my research is via books but always I crave visual images.  For those of us writing in the pre-photography era, the art of the time is our window into the past.  And when it comes to art, there truly is nothing like the genuine article.
      Luxor_entrancesmall_1 Still, I’m the writer not the reader, and I know that not everyone finds museums stimulating.  Some of you have expressed your opinions about how much history you want in a story.  My question is, Do you go looking for more?  Do you like to?  Is there any fiction or non-fiction you’ve read lately that has compelled you to do some Googling or make a trip to your library or a museum?  Do you like museums–and if you do, which do you like best?
      Yes, it’s a lot of questions, because I’m nosy.  Feel free to dive in anywhere.

My secret identity

Solo_spotlight_head_shot       From Loretta
      It looks like I’ll be owing a couple of books because two readers asked questions that seemed nicely connected.
      Jaclyne Laurin wrote: 
      <<I’m fascinated with pseudonyms. The why (were you embarrassed to use your real one?), where (did you get the inspiration for your pen name?), how (did it come about?), who (gave you the idea for it?).
      I think that I’d use a pseudonym (or in my case a ‘Nom de plume’) because I’d be worried I wouldn’t be taken seriously as an author, by the people closest to me.  Become published under another name and THEN let it be known that you’re that person who wrote the book…
      For those of you who write under a name different than the you were born with, what’s your reasons?>>

      And RevMelinda asked:
      <<Word Wenches, are you all "celebrities" in your communities?  Is your authorly identity underground?  Can you go about your day/activities freely? or do people whisper and point at you wherever you go? (And depending on your answer, is that fun or not?) >>
      I will not answer in an orderly fashion.  I have never been known to do anything in an orderly fashion.  That includes explaining the writing process–another question I loved, BTW, but there are only so many one can jam into one blog.  And my question is, Does taking on two questions at once make me a Question Hog?
      I started writing fiction and plays in grade school and had a pseudonym then, so perhaps I always assumed I’d have one.  Gemini Either that or the alternate identity was a manifestation of the Gemini personality.
      Some publishers encouraged/required pseudonyms.  Mine didn’t.  But it was an easy choice for me, for several reasons.  (1) I had been doing it since elementary school, (2) I thought that one who wrote Regencies ought to have an Anglicized name, (3) Chase is easier to say, easier to remember than Chekani, (4) I wanted a secret identity, and (5) the author me isn’t the other me–I am not quite myself while writing the books, so it only seems fitting to have a name that is not quite my name–but this may be the same as (1), and reflects a state of affairs I recognized in childhood.
      Having this secret identity makes it very easy for me to move about my community–or any community, actually–unrecognized.  Not being Reese Witherspoon also makes it easy.  The fact is, writers, unlike performers, don’t do their work in public.  It isn’t a daily part of our job to have our pictures in newspapers and magazines.  We toil quietly in our rooms–some of us wishing for that immense library/studio we’ve been fantasizing about since signing the first contract–and tend to be startled if not alarmed if a new acquaintance, upon hearing that we are a published author, shows any signs of viewing us as a celebrity.  A great many of us tend to be introverted types, for whom celebrity has extremely limited appeal.
      I am slightly a celebrity in the public library but only with certain librarians.  A couple of years ago, when I was researching Mr. Impossible, and seeking help from one of the research librarians, another came to my rescue saying, “She doesn’t know who you are, but I know who you are.”  Then she led me down into the secret bowels of the library where the uncatalogued materials were.  Frankly, that’s the only kind of fame I really want:  the level of notoriety that gets me into, not The Restaurant or The Club, but The Secret Places of the Library.
      I would gladly exchange Red Carpet time for time with the crumbly old books and maps no one else is allowed to touch.
      Mask Meanwhile, I walk the supermarket aisles unmolested, visit the art museum unpursued by paparazzi, eat in restaurants without being asked for autographs–except for the credit card slip, on which I write my given name anyway.
      I am pretty sure I can go almost anywhere (except a romance writers conference) and do almost anything (except sign books), certain that my secret identity is secure.  I don’t even have to change clothes in a phone booth–a good thing, since they seem to have become extinct in the U.S.

What about you?  Have you ever wished for a secret identity?  Or would you rather be famous?  How do you feel about pseudonyms?

YOU Inspire Teresa Medeiros!

Casualhead What a thrill it is to be invited to blog with some of my favorite wenches!  Patricia Rice and I have known each other for…well…way longer than I care to admit.  (If my memory hasn’t failed me, I think we were both wearing powdered wigs and corsets at our first meeting.  Which took place around 1762.)  When Pat first asked me to blog this week, my first thought was, "Oh I can’t!  I’m already sick of myself!"  That’s what happens when you hit the internet circuit to promote a new book.  Ever since THE VAMPIRE WHO LOVED ME was released at the first of the month, I’ve been reviewed, interviewed, and guested on so many blogs that even I (an only child who normally adores talking about herself) can’t think of anything else clever to confess about me or my writing process.

Which is why I’m incredibly grateful to revmelinda and susannac in alabama for coming up with two questions that stirred up the fairy dust of my imagination.  Revmelinda asks:  "Many romance authors write (or are trying their hand at) fantasy/magic/paranormal romance. Why do you think this is? Is there a reason besides "they’re fun and ripping great stories"? I suppose my own thought on the subject is that it’s a "safe" (ie non-religious) way to explore spirituality and that sense of Connection to a power greater than ourselves. (Or is that just a nonsensical piece of wishful thinking on my part?)" 

Vampe_2 I found this to be a fascinating question because writing a vampire romance caused me to do some soul-searching of my own.  In AFTER MIDNIGHT, the prequel to THE VAMPIRE WHO LOVED ME, my hero was a vampire hunter, not a vampire.  But in THE VAMPIRE WHO LOVED ME, Julian was a bonafide bloodsucking creature of the night.  I struggled in the beginning because I was truly concerned that this theme would conflict with my own spiritual values.  Until I realized that it was probably the most overtly spiritual story I’d ever told.  Early in my career, an editor told me that "redemption" was the theme that ran through all of my books.  In almost all of my books, somebody needed saving–usually my hero.  In VAMPIRE, Julian is literally a man who has lost his soul and "all hope of heaven."  (In my vampire universe, a vampire is "turned" when another vampire sucks the soul out of him at the exact moment of his death.) 

As I was writing, my subconscious provided plenty of opportunities to explore this theme.  When Julian realizes that Portia is in terrible danger, he whispers, "Dear God", invoking "a name he no longer had any right to use."  After they make love for the first time, Julian has a dream where he stands in a church "no longer banished from the presence of God" and sees Portia coming to him as his bride.  Once I realized I hadn’t gone over to the dark side and inadvertantly bartered my own soul to write this book, the words began to flow like a river of blessings.  Sometimes I fear that we’ve become so gun-shy about publicly talking about our own faith that we forget that our historical characters would have had deeply spiritual concerns of their own. 

And susannac in alabama writes:  How is writing an undead hero different from writing a mortal one? Does "happily ever after" take on a different tone?

First of all, I had to keep in mind that Julian wasn’t dead.  He was undead.  And there had to be a distinction in my own mind.  I didn’t give him creepy cold flesh either.  Instead, whenever Portia was nearby, his flesh "burned with a supernatural fever", which was actually pretty sexy.  Since he was turned into a vampire at a relatively young age, I mentioned him being "frozen forever in the first potent flush of manhood."  (Not THAT kind of manhood.  Get your minds out of the gutter! ;))  But the most fun part of writing a supernatural hero was letting Julian mock his own condition.  During his appearances in AFTER MIDNIGHT, he quotes Byron’s vampire poetry, although he loathes Byron for being such a melodramatic sot and he tells someone, "When you women are all swooning over the romance of the vampire, you never stop to think about the little inconveniences like blood breath, do you?"  Julian may have lost his soul but he never lost his sense of humor!

I have a theory about the current popularity of paranormals, which is that readers were getting a little tired of books where there was nothing at stake.  We missed those sweeping "I’d die without you!" historicals of the 80’s and 90’s.  With paranormals, something is always at risk, whether it’s a human life or the fate of the universe or a man’s (or woman’s) eternal soul.  And because the risks are so much greater, the payoff can be that much greater, giving your "happily ever after" moment even more impact. 

So how about you?  As a reader, is it possible for you to warm up to a paranormal hero?  If he’s a werewolf, can you suspend disbelief long enough to overlook the fleas and the hairy back?  If he’s a vampire, can you overlook his prominent canine teeth as long as he vows to love you for all eternity?