Egypt Rising Book Signing

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Me standing behind an Egypt Rising poster

Me standing behind an Egypt Rising poster

You couldn’t ask for a nicer day, even for San Diego. Fifty people attended a book signing for Egypt Rising at our home. It was a double celebration because it also served as my birthday party.  My wife deserves all the credit for making this happen.

What surprised me was the popularity of the name, Olivia. Not only did attendees have daughters or granddaughters with that name, but Yahoo recently published a map of the US with the most popular names for both boys and girls listed by state. It turns out that Olivia is popular everywhere but the South. Then again, the South doesn’t seem to agree with the rest of the country on much.

Thanks to everyone for coming and making this event a success!

Why Some Books are Worth Reading Twice

I recently ran into a writer of romances who was very proud that she had written and published three books (an entire trilogy) in a single year. It reminded me of Truman Capote’s famous quote when someone pointed to the best seller status of Valley of the Dolls. Now there’s no question but that Capote was a literary snob who really knew how to say something snide. Still, his comment that Jackie Suzanne was not writing but only “typing” is pretty memorable.

It’s possible to write a book pretty quickly, particularly if it’s been simmering around in your head for an extended period of time. But remember, that’s a first draft. I think the real challenge in writing is tweaking the book once it’s written to make it even better and maybe even memorable. I’m not sure you could do that and still write and publish three books in a single year. It is possible certainly to write three books that read reasonably well and have interesting plots, but would that alone make you want to read the books again?

So, what makes a book memorable enough to make you want to read it a second time or even a third time? Why are there some books that I routinely look forward to re-reading year after year? Here are some things I look for in a book that make me want to re-read it to the point that I can almost quote entire sections?

PLOT: Clearly the plot has to be interesting enough to keep me reading. Ideally, there are interesting subplots that beautifully meld together so that the sum total is greater than the parts. I also enjoy enjoy discovering subtle foreshadowing elements in a plot that I can appreciate upon re-reading the book. As a novelist, I can appreciate how cleverly the writer plants these unobtrusive signposts that later ring all kinds of bells for any reader who remembers them. Stephen King is a master of plotting. I’ve re-read his 11/23/63 several times and see something new each time.

CHARACTERS: There are certain characters I think of as real people not only because I’ve read about them so many times, but also because they are fleshed out real people with flaws that make them even more likable. Sometimes it’s their distinctive voice and sense of humor. I really like the John Corey character Nelson DeMille created. I once worked in a police department and Corey reminds me of some people I met there. His sense of humor still makes me laugh even though I’ve read the same jokes each time I re-read the books in which Corey appears.

SETTINGS: It’s always fun to be thrust into a setting completely different from your real world setting. Whether that’s the imaginary world of Harry Potter or Dune or even the real but exotic Ethiopia that Nelson DeMille describes in his new book, The Quest, doesn’t matter. I tried to describe modern Cairo in Egypt Rising. That required me to rely on my memory of my trip there but also on several guidebooks I used to fill in gaps in my memory. It also required me to study maps of the city.

USE OF LANGUAGE: Some books scream “literary novel.” Nowadays some of those books seem overwritten. Still, there are some popular modern writers who offer books filled with rich language without making their novels seem stuffy or unreadable. Ann Patchett does a wonderful job describing the rainforest in State of Wonder. Each time I re-read that book, I catch something I missed the first time.

Finally, there’s something comforting in picking up a favorite book, one that you’ve read many times before. The fact that you know what’s coming doesn’t prevent you from enjoying the anticipation of what will happen. The thriller you read the first time worrying that a character you like might be killed is different now that you can enjoy the story because you KNOW that your favorite character will survive. When I re-read some of Michael Connelly’s mysteries, I can enjoy Harry Bosch without worrying something will happen to him. I can enjoy the way Connelly plants red herrings, possible suspects, while planting enough clues so you feel satisfied when he reveals the real killer. I re-read Faye Kellerman’s books often, and I find I appreciate them even more the second or third or fourth times. Since she has a couple who reappear in several of her books, I can enjoy retracing the development of the relationship between Rina and Peter.

As a reader, I look for books that I hope I’ll enjoy enough to want to re-read them. I write novels with the hope that they’ll become a reader’s good friend, someone the reader will want to visit again and again.

 

 

Setting a Novel in a Foreign Locale

It’s very tempting for writers to describe their own cities and neighborhoods in their novels. It doesn’t require any research, and there is little chance of making the kinds of mistakes that critics love to point out. There’s no worry that some critic will thumb his nose at the novel because “only an ignoramus would be unaware that the river runs west and not east across the city.”

The problem, of course, is that setting all your novels in the same locale gets boring, both for the writer and for the reader. Even Faye Kellerman, the author of several best sellers set in Los Angeles, decided to write a novel set in Europe. Of course, the price a writer such as Kellerman faces is that some readers have certain expectations when they come to one of her novels. There’s a comfort level that comes with what the reader is used to reading. Michael Connelly, the well-respected mystery novelist, tries to balance reader expectations with his own desire to explore new territory by having Detective Harry Bosch take occasional trips. One Connelly novel takes place mostly in Hong Kong with a slice of the action back in Los Angeles.

For that reason, I had some misgivings when I decided to set Egypt Rising in modern Cairo. Since I don’t speak Arabic, my main character is an American teenager who happens to live in Cairo with her archeologist father. I only had to worry about Arabic words for food and clothes since Olivia Hunter only uses street Arabic when necessary. My trusty Egyptian Arabic dictionary (yes, there is an Egyptian version of Arabic) as well as a few good guidebooks provided me with all the Arabic phrases I needed to make the book feel authentic and to show that Olivia was accustomed to conversing in Arabic.

Any foreign city is a challenge to describe for an American writer. Small details really do count for authenticity. I still remember reading one of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels and noting Fleming’s description of how his spy turned on a water faucet in Turkey and watched as it spat out an insect. In my case, I focused on some of the unique cultural aspects of Egypt. As an example, I described a bowab, a man responsible for handling the day-to-day needs of apartment dwellers. I also described specific Egyptian delicacies that Olivia was likely to enjoy. When it came to the city itself, I used several guidebooks as well as maps to describe modern Cairo and its unique neighborhoods. One area of the city, for example, is occupied by people who bring home garbage and sort through the mounds of garbage in search of anything valuable. Very poor people (it’s all relative in Cairo) are squatters in the many mausoleums found in another Cairo neighborhood. Olivia has a horrifying experience as she tries to find her way through that area.

My wife and I were fortunate enough to visit Cairo during one of her vacations. I still have vivid memories of the city. One fascinating detail I noted at the time and later incorporated in the novel is that Egyptians are taxed when a building is completed; as a result, many buildings are in a constant state of construction. I never have seen so many buildings that were occupied while clearly unfinished.

One major plot element in Egypt Rising has to do with the Egyptian revolution of 2011 that took place during the time known as the “Arab Spring.” I relied on several first-hand reports, many by Egyptian reporters, to get a sense of the chain of events that resulted in the ouster of President Mubarak.  I also did quite a bit of research on the Muslim Brotherhood as well as other groups of Islamic fundamentalists. I read reports of how some of these groups attacked Western women.

A city and its people can’t be plucked out of the air without writing about its history. Michael Connelly does a fantastic job in his novels of describing historic Los Angeles buildings and events. I wanted to give my readers a sense of Egypt’s history. I have always loved Egyptian history, so doing some additional research wasn’t a tough task.  Olivia’s father, an archeologist and lover of all things Egyptian, was a natural vehicle for adding historical elements to the novel. In addition, I described Olivia as a girl who very much wants to become an Egyptologist like her father. Her knowledge of all things Egyptian, including hieroglyphics, helps her save herself as well as others when she travels under the Sphinx. I also researched several Egyptian cults over the centuries, and I incorporated that element into the plot.

Of course history can only take a writer so far. I’ve always loved the theory that refugees of Atlantis influenced the early Egyptians, so I incorporated that paranormal element into the novel along with Edgar Cayce’s descriptions of a “Hall of Records” that supposedly is buried under the Sphinx.

I hope readers enjoy Egypt Rising and find my description of Cairo adds to their feeling that they really are visiting that city. As far as the paranormal elements of the novel, they help answer a question that long has stumped historians who focus on ancient Egypt.

Discussion Guide for Egypt Rising

DISCUSSION GUIDE FOR EGYPT RISING

The Setting

1. Egypt Rising is set in modern Cairo circa 2011. It is a city of very distinct neighborhoods. What very distinct neighborhoods are mentioned in the novel?

2. Chicago and New York have also been described as cities composed of very distinct neighborhoods. What similarities and differences do you see between Cairo’s neighborhoods and those of American cities?

Characters

Olivia Hunter

1. What is Olivia’s attitude towards the restrictions Aasuma is forced to accept?

2. Describe Olivia’s self-image at the beginning of the novel. How does it change?

3. What are some of the characteristics you associate with Olivia?

4. What are some examples of maturity that Olivia exhibits even early in the novel?

5. Describe the relationship Olivia has with her father.

6. Describe how Olivia’s view of Taylor changes. Does the change strike you as plausible?

7. What are some early signs of Olivia’s interest in Paul?

Taylor Thornton

1. What are some of Taylor’s praiseworthy traits?

2. Describe the relationship Taylor has with her father.

3. What explains Taylor’s animosity towards Olivia? Is it plausible?

4. How do you think Taylor would describe herself?

5. Does Taylor’s change in attitude towards Olivia seem plausible?

Aasuma Nur

1. How would you describe Aasuma? What praiseworthy traits does she have?

2. How would you describe her relationship with her brother?

3. Does the attitude the Western students have towards Egyptian students such as Assuma strike you as realistic?

4. What kind of prejudices do the non-Western students exhibit?

5. Does the friendship Aasuma has with Olivia strike you as plausible?

Matt Hunter

1. Was Matt justified in keeping the secret from Olivia?

2 How would you describe the relationship between Matt and Emily?

3 What are some of the strengths & weaknesses of Matt as a teacher?

4. Does Matt change during the course of the novel?

The Politics of Modern Egypt

1. How would you compare the Egyptian revolution of 2011 as described in Egypt Rising with the ongoing events surrounding the Army’s recent deposing of Mohammad Morsi?

2. Mr. Hargrove’s journal entries reflect those of an Israeli agent with an admitted bias, but how do they square with your understanding of the Egyptian revolution?

3. Egypt Rising describes how some students joined nationalist clubs supporting an Islamic form of government. Using Iran as an example, what kinds of restrictions could be found under such a form of government?

4. Olivia Hunter, a 15 year-old American girl who has never lived anywhere but Cairo narrates Egypt Rising. Do you find examples where her view of Egyptian politics might not be accurate?

5. Do the actions of the Egyptian Government in offering a tenured teaching position to Matt Hunter in exchange for the promise of silence from Olivia and her father seem realistic? Why would the Government be so anxious to kill the story of Olivia’s discoveries?

The Paranormal in Egypt Rising

1. Research the life of Edgar Cayce. Describe some of his “miracles.” Are there any rational explanations for his ability to cure patients?

2. What do you think about the theory that refugees from Atlantis helped accelerate the growth of Egyptian civilization?

3. Research some of the theories regarding the disappearance of the Ark of the Covenant. What do you think happened to it?

4. Edgar Cayce predicted that a Hall of Records would be discovered under the Sphinx. Visit the Edgar Cayce Association for Research and Enlightenment website (www.edgarcayce.org) and read more detailed accounts of the Hall of Records. Does such a library sound plausible?

5. Matt Hunter points to water damage to the Sphinx as evidence that it is much older than the pyramids. What possible explanations can you find for the origins of the Sphinx?

Edgar Cayce: The Sleeping Giant and the Origins of Egypt Rising

I’m amazed how many people have never heard of Edgar Cayce. story reads like something out of a science fiction novel, yet many reputable people including scientists have verified his amazing feats. Cayce grew up in Kentucky, never really received much education, yet he advised some of the most important people in the world.

Cayce would put himself into a dream-like state. While he snoozed, he would reveal amazing historical facts going back to the days of Atlantis. He also was able to cure people simply by laying his hands on them. Sound amazing? Many of his predictions have come true.

Cayce stands at the very center of my new novel, Egypt Rising. Cayce fans will recognize the prophet’s description of a Hall of Records hidden under the Sphinx. They also will recognize the laying of hands technique that the teen hero of the novel uses to save two people who are gravely wounded.

Cayce fans will not be surprised by the resistance of the Egyptian bureaucrats in the novel to any digging around the Sphinx and their ridiculing of scientists who believe in Cayce’s theories. One of Cayce’s revelations was that refugees from Atlantis fled to Egypt where they helped that fledgling civilization grow by using their advanced technology and knowledge that now remain hidden.

While I have explored the idea of reincarnation in other novels, Egypt Rising focuses on Cayce’s theories regarding Egypt. I even managed to work in the fabled Emerald Tablets. For those of you who think Cacye was crazy, ask yourself how Egypt progressed so quickly and seemed to suddenly develop a sophisticated writing system. Ask yourself also why Egyptian pyramids became less sophisticated over time, as if the Egyptians lost some of their knowledge of sophisticated building techniques. Also, as the book suggests, ask yourself why the Sphinx, an object most scientists admit is far older than the pyramids, has water damage when the area hasn’t been underwater since BEFORE Egyptians appeared.

I’ve worked Cayce’s ideas into the novel, but it remains a novel and not a polemic. In other words, I want the book to be an enjoyable novel. Those of you who become interested in learning more about Cayce will find many books in your local libraries that document his life.

If you are a Cayce fan, consider reading Egypt Rising. Written as a young adult novel, adults should find enough material there to enjoy the experience as well.

Egypt Rising Coming Out Next Week!

The excitement is certainly building around here because Eternal Press will be publishing Egypt Rising next week. I’m very pleased with the editing job the book received. Editing is not my favorite part of the writing process. I’ve been through the book a dozen times, and yet the editor found a number of ways to make the book better.

I’m reminded of the time a number of years ago when I received a paper manuscript from my publisher with hundreds of yellow sticky notes with edit requests and comments. I had already moved on to my next writing project and writing deadline, so my wife and co-author was stuck with having to address all those sticky notes.

My wife swore never to write another book with me since then, and she’s kept her word. Still, the advance we received was enough for our family to take its first trip to Europe and visit London and Paris. The physical manual involved in addressing all those sticky notes by hand is still very much a fresh memory for my wife.

Microsoft Word has taken a lot of the drudgery out of writers responding to editors’ comments and edits; still, you do have to let go as a writer and realize that editors are just plain better when it comes to doing what they do. In this case, the result is a much better book.

Egypt Uprising Reflects My Novel, Egypt Rising

Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. I wrote my novel, Egypt Rising, several months ago. The novel covers the turbulent 2011 period in Egypt when citizens overthrew their government. It pointed to the political power of the Muslim Brotherhood and its very strong bias towards imposing an Islamic state.

Egypt Rising, available later this year from Eternal Press, Amazon, and your favorite bookstore, shows the impact of rising Islamic sentiment in Egypt on an American teenaged girl. Suddenly she has to worry about whether or not her appearance meets the approval of men whose religion encourages them to look at women as objects to be controlled by the men in their families.

The novel contrasts Olivia with her best friend, a teenaged Egyptian girl whose parents practices traditional but not radical Islamic practices while her brother has been seduced into supporting a very radical group loosely affiliated with a pan Arab Islamic movement.

Today’s news (see the link below) described how thousands of citizens gathered in Cairo’s major square to stage their demonstration that resulted in the country’s military acting. In Egypt Rising, I describe how every revolution in modern Egyptian times has been born that very same way in that very same place.

So, be sure to note even more similarities between fiction and reality when Egypt Rising is released. In the meantime, take a look at what is happening today in the streets of Cairo:

http://news.yahoo.com/egypt-army-ousts-morsi-decries-coup-201718347.html

 

Egypt Rising Moving Closer to Publication

Eternal Press has been working with me to move Egypt Rising through the publishing cycle. Right now it looks like the book might be out in early August. I just viewed a first draft of the cover. Awesome job by the artist, but it’s always a shock to see someone else’s idea of how a character looks.

The editing cycle will be very intense, but I’m looking forward to a book that teens will love. One aspect of the book that I hope will really ring true is the way characters change their views of each other. Another aspect of the book that I spent a good deal of time working on is the authentic description of the events of January and February 2011 that led to the overthrow of the Mubarak government.

Finally, I’ve spent a lot of time researching daily life in Cairo. My wife and I were lucky enough to visit the city. So, I hope readers get a flavor of the exotic nature of the city. I’m also interested in the reaction of fans of Edgar Cayce. I have spent years studying the various legends of Atlantis as well as Cacye’s view of the relationship between refugees from Atlantis and early Egypt. I’ve included some of the ancient secrets supposedly lost over time, including the laying of hands.

I’ll keep everyone up-to-date as the book moves closer to being born.