So why, you may ask, did I come to write novels set in ancient Egypt? Especially when the majority of my novels are scifi romance, not paranormal romances set thousands of years ago.
In the summer of 2011 I’d been working hard on my craft as a writer and I wanted to submit something to a publisher but hadn’t decided what to write. Carina Press, an imprint of Harlequin, put out a general call for Ancient World romances. I’d always loved ancient Egypt, since first reading Eloise Jarvis McGraw’s Young Adult novel Mara, Daughter of the Nile when I was in elementary school. I’d also enjoyed Andre Norton’s Shadow Hawk. And I had been to the King Tut exhibit in the late 1970’s and been totally enthralled by what a different world ancient Egypt was from ours. (My employer at the time was a sponsor and I got an hour in the exhibit prior to the general admission so I was privileged to see the items up close.)
So in 2011 I decided I could try my hand at a story set in ancient Egypt for Carina, but of course me being me, there had to be a mystical element involved. I was fascinated by the idea of a god and a human falling in love, because there really isn’t discussion of that in Egyptian mythology (not like the Greek god Zeus and his many escapades) and I thought it would be a fresh concept. I decided the main male character would be Sobek the Crocodile god. Sobek is always depicted in paintings and statues as either crocodile or half man/half crocodile. The key to the story hit me one day when I realized he was a shifter, to use our paranormal terminology. Obviously, he could shift all the way and take human form if he wanted to. The ancient Egyptians just never saw him do it!
Sobek goes through quite an emotional and personal growth arc in Priestess of the Nile, which is an immensely appealing challenge to a writer. At one time, he was unthinkably powerful, according to the Egyptian legends, but by 1500BC, he pretty much just tends to the Nile, keeping it flowing smoothly, flooding on schedule. Other gods have come along and are above him in power, like Isis and Osiris. As a writer, I found him and his backstory intriguing. He’s been around since the universe was created yet never felt true love and doesn’t relate to humans until he meets the right woman! Which puts his immortal heart in serious jeopardy of being shattered…
I had to ask myself what kind of woman would appeal to a Crocodile God in his human form and could send him falling into love for the first time ever. During my research I found out crocodiles are very sensitive to sound, so I knew Merys must have a beautiful singing voice. Hearing her sing would be what first attracts him, sight unseen, as well as the fact she knows the traditional songs he hasn’t heard in a long time. The opening scene in the book almost wrote itself after that. Descended from a long line of priestesses, Merys isn’t afraid of Sobek. She keeps the abandoned temple in some kind of order, which he appreciates, having been pushed aside by newer gods Then as he gets to know her, and what is important to her, he starts to understand the feelings of a human heart…
My wonderful editor at Carina at the time, Allison Dasho, encouraged me to make the supporting character of the younger sister Tyema more substantial. When it came time to write a sequel, Magic of the Nile, I was so glad Allison had suggested I do that because it was only natural to take the elements of Tyema’s early life I’d already established and build her character as an adult, now in charge of the rebuilt and re-energized temple. This also allows me to have Sobek appear in the book at several key times.
And there might be a glimpse or two of Merys…just saying, no spoilers from me.
Tyema was the victim of an enemy attack on her village when she was young. When I first started working on the book I felt it would be unrealistic for her to have reached adulthood with no aftereffects from the terrible ordeal, even though she grew up to take over the temple and runs its complex business affairs at the god’s direct command. She’s structured her life to be in control at all times, as much as possible, to avoid triggering or even revealing the symptoms of her malady. The coping plan works for her until Sahure, a handsome, noble warrior, is sent by Pharaoh on assignment to her remote province. Complications for Tyema – good and bad – spiral from there.
There were descriptions of anxiety symptoms noted as long ago as 1900 BCE, although the physicians of the time lumped together anxiety-related problems like difficulty breathing and chest pain with unrelated things like seizures and called it all hysteria. It took about 4000 years for the physical symptoms of an anxiety attack to become a recognized medical diagnosis of its own. “Generalized anxiety disorder” didn’t appear in medical handbooks until 1980 CE.
Although Tyema’s anxiety is only one aspect of the book’s plot, I knew from my own experiences over the years what kind of challenges anxiety can entail, and that’s with access to modern medicine, plus tons of books and self-help articles to read. The ancient Egyptians wouldn’t have understood an anxiety attack the way we do today, and they certainly had no idea how to effectively deal with it. “Cures” tended to be heavily based in magic and some fundamentally misguided theories of anatomy. Even Sobek, who takes care of the Nile and is a force of nature, doesn’t understand the struggles of his priestess. She knows I watch over her – why isn’t that enough? the god asks in the novel.
Well, folks, I’m here to tell you, it helps to have sympathetic people (or Crocodile Gods) around you, but unless you’ve had an anxiety attack yourself, I’m sure it’s difficult to fully understand what the sufferer is going through, or to grasp how little control an individual has over the escalating, overwhelming symptoms and feeling of impending personal doom. I’m not my character and she isn’t me, but I did draw on my experiences to some extent.
Magic of the Nile allowed me to do all kind of research and weave the strands of what I learned through the novel. From chariots to birthing bricks to what a parade featuring Pharaoh might look like and more, I love adding the details to the story to create the feeling of the time.
I also enjoyed writing the scenes with Tyema and Pharaoh and some very conceited high priests of Sobek in Thebes. She does run her own very prosperous temple, thank you very much and takes no guff.
I think I developed something of a crush on Sahure, the noble military officer with whom Tyema falls in love. He’s dashing and a bit hot headed at times, but was fun to write and he really comes through when he’s needed most. He has his own growth arc in the novel, as well as several encounters with the goddess Sekhmet.
I’ve written a total of eight stories set in ancient Egypt and am about to embark on the ninth, a sequel to Dancer of the Nile. I’ll always be grateful to Carina Press and Angela James for not only making me a published author but setting me on the path to write romances set in the ancient era I love so much.
Science fiction romance is my main genre but I relish ‘traveling’ to 1550 BCE Egypt on occasion to spin tales of adventure and love along the Nile.
I have a page on the blog where I discuss the general reading order although all the books do stand alone.
Note: Portions of this post may have appeared previously on other blogs.