In this episode I talk about my research trip to Egypt but first I delve deep into my life story to explain how it is I came to be writing a novel set in ancient Egypt in the first place. I’ve been researching Egypt for various projects since college, and the roots go even deeper than that. I talk about it all, including how The Patriarchy shapes what we understand about the past and how I’m looking to change that.
The autumn is upon us, and it’s time to celebrate the harvest and wave goodbye to summer ~sniff~. I try to mark the quarter days (equinoxes and solstices) with something special. And there is stuff to celebrate! Those of you who backed the Sunspot Jungle Kickstarter should be getting your hardback copies of the book very soon! The paperback and eBook editions will be out on December 1 (and are already up for pre-order!).
I have a story in volume 1, a reprint of my Pyramids and Punk tale The Copper Scarab. When I was writing it I had this vision of how I wanted the last section of the story to go. I knew the sphinx at Giza would be involved, but needed some other element to make it all click. I went poking through all my research files and found an article I’d saved talking about the connection between the sphinx and the eastern horizon and the timing of the inundation of the Nile (which is a plot point in the story) and everything fell right together into this passage below.
This is from the last section of the story but does not include the end. It’s minorly spoilery, but I doubt the reading of it would be “ruined” for you if you read this.
Excerpt: The Copper Scarab
In the darkness before dawn on the equinox, Khemetans who came from across the delta and White Fortress region gathered around the base of the Great Lioness. Their voices quiet, reverent; their bodies newly wet with water from the still anemic Nile. They sat with eyes trained on the eastern horizon. Like the giant stone Lion of the Horizon, their faces would greet the dawn directly on the day marking the beginning of the harvest season. Most of them tried not to think about how poor that harvest would be this year, just as last year, and possibly all the years to come. Instead, they waited for the life-giving rays of the sun to warm their skin and remind them of the first eternal truth: Everything changes, but the dawn always comes.
Half a shade after the sun disk pushed fully over the horizon, the Lioness seemed, impossibly, to shudder. Sounds emerged from under the ground that ricocheted around the still quiet crowd–vibrations that didn’t make sense.
They had begun to murmur when the copper scarab emerged from the sand between the stone paws, hissing and clicking and gleaming in the sunlight. The people’s silence held for one breath, two, before everyone reacted at once. Amatashteret watched from a short distance as some scrambled away in fear, some fell to their knees in shock or in reverence, and some ran to get a closer look. The engineers surrounded the scarab, lifting the copper wings to the right position and ensuring the steam pressure stayed at the right level. Once they gave the ready signal, she and the other chariot riders rolled past the machine, heading into the desert and upriver toward the capital.
Clockwork Cairo, the anthology where my first Pyramids and Punk story “The Copper Scarab” was published, hasn’t gotten many reviews. The few it has garnered are pretty positive on up to glowing, which makes me happy. Still, I was really glad when the person behind the Steampunk Dollhouse podcast (her nom de plume is Bluestocking and I am here for this) said they were going to devote an entire episode to the book.
You can listen to Episode 12 “Walk Like a Windup Egyptian” over on the Steampunk Dollhouse website or subscribe to the podcast. If you don’t want to hear a discussion about recent sexual harassment allegations in the steampunk community, you can skip to the 40 minute mark, which is where they start going through the book. Bluestocking devotes a few minutes to each story. If you haven’t read the book yet you’ll get a good sense of everything. Since my story is last she talks about it at the end. And hooo let me tell you all the blushing was going on once I got there.
Bluestocking loved the story and spoke highly of what I was trying to do with it. I haven’t been sure how steampunk fans were going to react to my milieu (I’m using many French words today), so it was a happy surprise to find that she enjoyed the story in part because it’s not “Anglo at all” as she put it. She also compared me favorably to Ken Liu and therefore is now my favorite person.
If you haven’t bought the anthology yet but do like steampunk, have a listen. It may inspire you to grab a copy.
Things have been a bit whirlwindy in my life and thus I did not post here when I hit my initial funding goal for my trip to Egypt. BUT I DID, I DID, I AM GOING TO EGYPT! This all happened fast. One day I hit $3,000 and started preparing for the Gods of Egypt hatewatch and then BOOM, shortly after I was over $5,000. I have some amazing friends and family.
And, because I hit my initial funding, I am reaching for my first stretch goal: $6,000. This will give me enough extra money to stay in Cairo a few days after the tour ends and take a day trip to the Valley of the Kings so I can spend one full day at Hatshepsut’s mortuary temple taking pictures. I’m quite close to this second goal. Right now the fundraiser is at $5,666, so I need just $334 more.
How to encourage a few more donations? I still owe my supporters this hatewatch…
At 12PM Eastern today I will watch Gods of Egypt with Scott Woods and we will give you our impressions of this mess in real time on Twitter. We’re using the hashtag #WhitesOfEgypt. Keep an eye on that to follow along.
Can’t stop pushing the fundraiser now, because there’s a big deadline coming up.
I need to pay the tour company on March 1 to ensure I have a spot (tour is in May). That means I need to get to $3,500 in the fundraiser since I have about $1,000 of my own money saved. Once I pay for the tour I can concentrate on raising the other $1,500 for flights and other needs.
So, another $1,000 in 20 days. Let’s do this.
My first goal is to get to $3,000. When I do I will finally do the thing I’ve been threatening to do since this adventure started: watch The Gods of Egypt.
I got through Exodus: Gods and Kings without too much lasting psychological damage, so I feel I can handle this. I’ll have help, though.
Poet and provocateur Scott Woods has agreed to do a livetweet watch of the movie with me. If you’re not familiar with Scott’s work, you should at least read his review of GoE, which I pointed to way back when I first posted about this garbage fire of a movie. If you read his piece and watch my video about it, you’ll get an excellent sense of what our color commentary is going to look like. You’ll also understand why doing this is a huge sacrifice. Bless you, Scott.
After we watch the movie, we’re going to do a reaction video wherein he will try to hold back laughter as I scream from my fetal position under a table WHY! WHY GODS WHY!?
You know you want to see this.
And you can once we hit $3,000. To make that happen faster you can donate to the fundraiser and/or you can share stuff about it all over the Internet. Either one helps!
My month long residency at Surel’s Place is almost over, and on Thursday it was time for me to show off my work for the local Boise artist community. I read from three of my works set in AfroRetroFuturist Ancient Egypt — The Copper Scarab, the current novel in progress, and a short story in progress — all set in different times about 100 years apart. At the end I also took questions from the most excellent audience, who braved the cold to see me.
I livestreamed the event and trimmed the finished video so the boring parts are all gone.
Clockwork Cairo is officially out in the world! An anthology of steampunk stories on an Egyptian theme. It’s as if it was made for me. And I’m so grateful for Matt Bright’s patience in allowing me to submit a story at the last minute AND a little late. (Story of my life.)
I didn’t find out about the anthology until Matthew was almost done picking stories for it. And once I saw the theme, I knew I needed to be in it. I told him I’d write a story set in the world of my novel and then… spent a week not knowing what to write about. My ideas were only vague and, I felt, uninteresting.
Fortunately for me, I have smart and talented friends. Mary Robinette Kowal gave me her worksheet for creating short stories, and it starts with coming up with characters, who then have desires, whose desires collide with other characters’ desires, which makes for a story.
Beyond me thinking that my ideas for stories were too vague and/or uninteresting, I also got hung up where I often get hung up (so you’d think I’d recognize this as something not to get hung up on…), which is trying to adhere to the details of a sketched out idea instead of giving myself room to change and explore. In this case, the ideas I was trying to hold on to had to do with how the copper scarabs came into existence in my world.
Folks who are on the Sneak A Peek level and above know that as part of my work on this novel I’ve been writing scenes to flesh out my characters’ backgrounds. I’m basing the scenes on suggestions from author Stant Litore, who outlined his process in Jeff Vandermeer’s Wonderbook. He says that he needs to know the answer to these questions in order to know a character:
What moment defined the character’s relationship to their parents?
What moment defined the character’s greatest desire?
What moment defined the character’s greatest fear?
He often writes out the scenes that go with these questions. I started doing this myself and it’s been an amazing and wonderful part of my writing process. I learn so much about my characters even when I’m not writing a scene from their point of view.
Before I let a new character on the page, I try to write at least one of these scenes. If they’re a secondary character, then I take the first prompt and insert them instead of Parents. The next section of the novel gets deeper into the people of the High House, including one of Ziwat’s sisters, Zibqat. I’ve been writing her the past couple of weeks, and here’s what I wrote in answer to the prompt “What moment defined Ziwat’s relationship to her sister Zibqat?”