Deborah Jackson

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Death of Bookstores

Ebooks may breathe life into starving authors and failing publishers, but they will mean the death of brick and mortar bookstores. I must admit I'm feeling conflicted.

What is clear, with J. K Rowling bowing to the pressure of a paperless society, is that this is the dawn of a new age. It will be sad to see the bookstores go. I've spent many a day browsing and filling my shelves with the latest releases, chatting with bookstore owners and listening to their recommendations for an excellent read. But even I rarely visit the retail outlets anymore.

Everything is done online, from banking to mail to shopping, for the most part.

What will this mean for authors? A chance to reach out to readers without the middle man. An opportunity to make somewhat of a living from the countless hours they spend doing research and agonizing over every sentence they write. Authors generally get 10% royalties for their year-long exertion (or sometimes longer), which means peanuts unless they sell thousands or hundreds of thousands of books. Most authors don't. So in the advent of the ebook, authors can make up to 50% royalties. Definitely sounds like more of a fair split, especially since the job of publishers, distributors and bookstore owners to promote an author's work has mostly fallen on the author's shoulders as well nowadays.

I don't want to see the bookstores go. I think, especially for children, they are a place to indulge in the love of reading, explore all the fabulous new titles and simply hang and enjoy the atmosphere of book-lined shelves. I know many bookstore owners work very hard and have trouble making ends meet as much as the struggling author. They support and promote the less well-known authors in their area, and I would hate to see them suffer. There are others, especially the bookstore chains, who could care less about the author, unless they're a big name from a big publisher who has purchased display space for their titles.

So you see, I'm conflicted. I see an opportunity arising for authors and perhaps some publishers, if they keep up with our advancing technology. But I don't see any hope for the brick and mortar bookstore. It's sad to write an epitaph.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

How Characters Develop a Life of Their Own

Isn't it strange how characters sometimes begin one way and evolve into something quite different. Take my antagonist, Nadine, for example. She began as the cardboard villain, evil, selfish, with no apparent redeeming qualities whatsoever, but suddenly she took on a life of her own, quite different from Lemony Snicket's Count Olaf. I mean, she actually has a conscience. Not the typical conscience you or I have. She has no problem abducting children and throwing them into time machines. But she draws the line at murder, although being sufficiently threatening with a gun doesn't seem to bother her at all.

But Nadine has developed motives that are perhaps even superior to Matt's time meddling attempts at seeking justice. I'm not going to give them away, since you haven't read the third book yet, but it may surprise you. It certainly surprises Matt, not that he can ever forgive her for all the nasty things she has done to him over the years, particularly since he discovered the time machine.

Hence we have comments like: "Let's not get carried away," when Sarah suggests saving Nadine along with his father on their little Mars excursion even though he'd be leaving her in an unbreathable atmosphere, in freezing cold temperatures and hurricane-force winds, where the atmosphere is so thin her blood might boil, as Sarah points out. Or "Wouldn't mind if Nadine is, though," when Sarah says she hopes Dr. Barnes isn't eaten by a T-Rex. Or one of my favourites: Sarah is screaming in abject terror through a radio communicator after discovering ...(read about it in Mars Maze) and Matt asks, "Is it Nadine?"

No, he will never love Nadine. But he may come to understand her a little better, just as I've come to understand her a little better because she's become more like a regular person, with both positive and negative qualities, albeit the negative sometimes outweigh the positive. You may ponder, as I did, and Matt does in Time Meddlers on the Nile, "Could his father (Dr. Barnes) be the evil scientist and Nadine the 007 hero? Doesn't seem possible, but then, people can surprise you. It works that way with characters too.

Maybe she'll become so heroic and real that she'll walk right off the page one day and rescue you. Or maybe she'll trap you in an alternate universe. She does that to me all the time. But whatever she does, it's best to go with the flow. Once a character is living and breathing, you simply can't restrict them to predicable patterns. They're uncontrollable, and maybe it's better that way.

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Friday, June 10, 2011

And so . . . the Speculation of King Tut's Demise Continues

How did the young king die? Head injury, an infected broken leg, malaria, sickle-cell anemia? Still nothing has been resolved. But a recent twitter that married microbiology with historical/archaeological investigations added a new twist.

Microbes found in the tomb, dried, dead, unidentifiable, suggest that the king was buried in a hurry. Dr. Getty examined brown spots, "which had seeped into the paint and plaster at a molecular level." But try as he might, after analysis, he was unable to match the spots to living specimens of bacteria or fungi. They're dead, like Tut. So the only thing they might mean is that they died long ago and were likely introduced at the time of his death, suggesting that the paint had not dried before the tomb was sealed.

It seems that all we can do with Tut is speculate. Archaeology, pathology, and now historical microbiology, provide us with clues, but we may never know what really happened. But isn't that fodder for stories? Lovely, spine-tingling mysteries?

Tuthmosis III most likely died from a parasitic infection. I wrote a story about him, which I haven't released yet, and I used that information to create some authenticity. Then I intertwined it with mythology, to make it more intriguing. After all, what is so fascinating about a king, one of Egypt's greatest warriors, dying in such a mundane fashion?

King Tut is fascinating because his body still exists after 3000 years, his treasure was the greatest ever found, and the tale of the discovery of his tomb is equally spellbinding. But of the boy-king and his accomplishments, there is nothing much to tell. He changed the religion from the worship of Aten, begun by Akhenaten, his father, back to the original worship of Egypt's pantheon of gods. He ordered some monuments constructed and ran some military campaigns, or rather, his advisers did. But in all honesty this king secured a place in history not because of what he accomplished, but because of what he left behind.

Friday, June 03, 2011

All Things Egyptian

I'm often asked, where did your interest in history begin? It certainly didn't develop as a child, not in the typical fashion anyway, taking history classes at school. But I've always been fascinated with all things Egyptian.

That said, I quickly dispensed with history in high school, where I had a choice between history and geography. Yet the allure remained, the urge to explore other cultures, other times, other worlds—particularly the Egyptian one, which usually wasn't covered much in junior grades, and not to any great extent before one could specialize in ancient cultures or archaeology in college or university.

Who piqued my interest the most? I believe it was Wilbur Smith.

Have you ever read the Wilbur Smith series of novels about ancient Egypt? Do you recall the slave Taita, first introduced in River God, or Lostris and Tanus, the two lovers whose union is doomed from the start but who will eventually bring Egypt back to its former glory.

The river lay heavily upon the desert, bright as a spill of molten metal from a furnace. The sky smoked with heat-haze and the sun beat down upon it all with the strokes of a coppersmith's hammer. In the mirage the gaunt hills flanking the Nile seemed to tremble to the blows.

Our boat sped close in beside the papyrus beds; near enough for the creaking of the water buckets of the shadoof, on their long, counter-balanced arms, to carry from the fields across the water. The sound harmonized with the singing of the girl in the bows.

Lostris was fourteen years of age.

The voice of Taita lingers long after you've read the story, a story so richly imagined, Egypt seeps off the pages and envelops you.

His second book, The Seventh Scroll, jumps to modern day Egypt, and the search for Tanus's tomb, the secret location buried in clues left by the wily slave Taita. It becomes a treasure hunt, that will send the main characters, Royan and Nicholas, up the Blue Nile and deep into treacherous canyons inlaid with booby traps. Of course, it's also a race between Royan, the lover of all things Egyptian, and other sinister characters.

Could I resist the third book? Warlock travels back in time to ancient Egypt, where Taita, as an old man following the death of Queen Lostris, must help the prince Nefer rescue the kingdom. Taita has studied the occult and now wields extraordinary powers. And the last epic novel, The Quest, where Taita must travel up the White Nile to discover the source of a calamity: the Nile has dried up along Egypt's fertile plains and caused a drought. The final two installments are not as arresting as the first two, but they are still overflowing with detail and imagination, adventure and battles, they continue to prod your memory long after you've read the final page.

These books not only made me fall in love with Egypt, but also with Africa. The Blue Nile, the White Nile, the very depths of Africa, even though I'd never set foot on the continent. I could picture the thorny acacia tree, the waving date palm, the hippos peering with bulbous eyes from the midst of the river, the ever present, ever dangerous Nile crocodile. I still read about all things African, and especially all things Egyptian.

No doubt this is the reason I wrote Time Meddlers on the Nile, which is really about all things Nubian, dressed up in the Egyptian culture they borrowed, or another little Egyptian novel, one of the first I wrote and have never released. Not sure if I will.

I may ask some feedback on it someday, if anyone is interested. To see if the story is compelling enough for Egyptian enthusiasts.

Since River God, I also read Nile, by Laurie Devine, a modern day story of star-crossed lovers, and The Scroll of Saqqara by Pauline Gedge, another intriguing novel of ancient Egypt and magic—a scroll that can raise the dead. I've explored books by Judith Tarr, set during Egypt's transition to Macedonian/Greek rule and then Roman. I've devoured everything I could find to do with Egypt, but I can't remember most of these tales. It was Wilbur's books that captured me and it will always be Wilbur's books that I keep near at hand, both on my shelf and in my memory.

Which books captured you? Are you an Egyptian fanatic, like me? And can you suggest any books about Egypt that are simply too inviting to set down?