Crocodile Gods in Pimptastic Hats
Today I’m pleased to welcome Veronica Scott, a fellow author whose book Priestess of the Nile releases today from your pals and mine at Carina Press. While Veronica and I write wholly different genres, I found her to be fascinating, and I know you will, too. Check it out:
Shawn: Thanks for joining me today! We’ll get to the whole writing bit in a second, but first, I have to know — how did you end up winning the NASA Exceptional Service Medal?
Veronica: Well, I’m definitely not an astronaut or rocket scientist! My day job revolves around the business aspects of flight projects and I was honored to be granted the award in connection with some significant process improvements. Might not sound glamorous but the spacecraft don’t go up on time if the underlying business infrastructure misses deadlines. The ideal window for a Mars launch comes only once every two years, for example. If you’re late, you wait. There is an actual medal – my kids were very proud. I was beyond thrilled. It was so exciting to be able to contribute to the nation’s space program as a nonscientist. (Don’t have much of a knack for math & science, but for business – oh yes!)
S: You, like me, seem to like a lot of military fiction and military history (oh, yeah — I stalked the hell out of your Goodreads page). So what made you choose Egyptian history as a backdrop for Priestess of the Nile?
V: I’ve always been fascinated with Ancient Egypt and the idea of such a complex, rich civilization existing for thousands of years. I was lucky enough to have a very up close visit with the King Tut artifacts on one of their world tours a number of years ago, through my employer at the time. The sense of how different their approach to daily life was, being focused on the afterlife, was compelling. Yet contrasting with that emphasis on the next life were all the beautiful, whimsical, practical household items – chairs with lion’s feet, jars designed like birds, game boards…and don’t even get me started on the phenomenal jewelry! And then when I gazed into the eyes of King Tut’s golden mask, I felt as if I was in the presence of the living man. Oh yes, I’m hooked on Egypt!
S: Research is one of my favorite things to do for a book, even one I’m completely making up in a time period that won’t happen for another hundred years or so. What was the research like for the Tales of the Nile series? What sources did you find particularly useful?
V: The internet is always a fantastic place for starting any research project. Of course since I love doing research, I have to be careful not to follow too many of the enticing links or I never actually write! One thing leads to another and then another, each snippet of knowledge more fascinating than the last. I have quite a personal library of fat reference books too. Egypt: Treaures of the Great Pharaohs by T.G.H James is full of beautiful illustrations that inspire my muse. Of course I have the Egyptian Book of the Dead in my library, which is also particularly helpful.
But since I decided early on that I was creating my own paranormal version of Ancient Egypt, not trying to write meticulous historical fiction, I do take liberties, use anachronisms (like the coin Sobek offers Merys at one point), and wander off from reality. This would have to be an alternate universe Egypt if the gods and goddesses are walking around, taking part in the events!
S: I’m always curious what makes a person get into writing — apart from the gold-encrusted limousines that ferry us authors around everywhere (great perk, that). How did you get started writing?
V: I started when I was seven because there were never enough books and movies about the things I really enjoyed. So I wrote my own. And illustrated too, which luckily for the world I gave up after the first attempt! (Shudders at the memory – not an artist!) Certainly nowadays there is a wealth of terrific books available in the genres I enjoy, but I’m firmly entrenched in telling my own stories too after so many years of doing it.
S: Priestess of the Nile seems to be your debut novel. Tell us a little bit about it, and the process you went through to get eyes on it over at (your pal and mine) Carina Press.
V: Yes, this is my debut novella and I was ecstatic to have Carina Press publish it! I’ll talk about the Crocodile God himself a bit more in the next answer, but basically I felt really drawn to writing his story so one long weekend I set aside my other WIP and indulged. The story flowed for me, which is always fun! My beta readers and Critique Partner thought the novella was unusual in a good way and I was able to strengthen it with their suggestions and insights. At the time Carina Press had a note on the website about being interested in Egyptian romances so I sent it off with my fingers crossed and went back to working on other things.
Jump ahead in time about eight weeks, one afternoon the phone rang and it was the amazing Angela James, Executive Editor at Carina, calling to say they liked Priestess of the Nile and wanted to publish the novella! I’ve been walking on air ever since. Being published by Carina has been a fantastic experience, everyone there is so supportive and helpful. And patient!
S: OK, I’m a bit of a fan of Egyptian History myself. Not an expert, of course, as I’ll prove in this question, because I don’t remember hearing of Sobek the Crocodile God, who plays a huge part in your book. What drew you to include him as a character (besides, of course, his fabulous taste in headwear).
V: I had a black magic problem to solve for my pharaoh in a longer WIP, set in the same universe. Turns out protecting pharaoh from that type of threat is within Sobek’s duties so I wrote him into one scene and moved on. I couldn’t stop thinking about him. There were definitely interesting plot elements in his backstory – in some tales he actually created the universe from chaos. But then he was superseded by flashier newcomers, like Isis and Osiris. Subject to commands from the later arriving gods, Sobek still faithfully tended to his duties keeping the Nile navigable and flooding as it should. Did he resent his labors? Did he wish for more, for something or someone belonging to just him?
Sobek is always depicted by the Egyptians as either crocodile or half man/half crocodile, which was sure going to be a major problem for including him in any romantic involvement with humans. One day I just had the flash of insight – he was a shifter. Bingo, if the half man/half crocodile form was a partial shift, therefore he could shift all the way and take human form if he wanted to. (The informal rules for shifters in the paranormal romance world surely do come in handy, even with crocodiles!) The ancient Egyptians just never saw him do it! But since I now knew the truth, I could write his story. And most importantly for a paranormal romance writer, he could fall in love with the right human woman. It seemed a natural to me that he’d be attracted to a woman who did her best to maintain one of his abandoned temples.
S: Oh, no. We seem to have hit the end of society, and done so rather suddenly. I think it had something to do with the McRib going away again, but just as you were answering question #6, the whole of civilization broke down. The world is now an anarchist wasteland that inexplicably looks like the desert bit of Australia, as seen in the documentary The Road Warrior. What’s your plan to survive this new, mulleted world of anarchy? What items do you take with you? Who do you team up with?
V: If I’d had any advance warning, I would have headed back to the mountain in Alabama where some of my family lives – a good, solid community of people you know you can trust, strong survival skills already, an easily defended locale with food and water…obviously I think weapons are a necessity in the anarchic world, but also I’d want books, music and other creative aspects of civilization to survive into the future. I’ve always thought the novel Alas Babylon kind of “got it right”, as did the short lived TV series “Jericho”.
S: Both works I’ve gushed about on this blog before, actually. Now that we’ve dealt with the apocalypse, we can get back to writing. What’s your writing process look like? What kinds of things do you just need to have to kick out the old wordcount?
V: I’m very much a seat of the pants writer. I may do a short outline, jot some character notes, but then I plunge in and let the characters tell me what happens next. I usually have the beginning, the ending and a few big scenes in mind and the rest of the plot has to unfold as I go. I’m almost superstitious about my creative process, would be afraid to impose too much structure! I don’t set myself goals in terms of words per day, or pages or even the amount of time. When the creativity ebbs, I know I’m done. Could be a few minutes or a few hours! I just need a quiet corner and my laptop.
S: So, I almost choked on a Reuben wrap in Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. This may prompt you to tell a story. Not that I know. (So, really, what happened there? And how does one teach someone else to do the Heimlich while choking?)
V: It was the classic case you always hear about -– a piece of food lodged in my windpipe and I couldn’t breathe at all. I’m pretty calm in a crisis, knew I literally only had seconds, so I got up and took two steps to my friend, doing the hand at throat distress sign. Well meaning but at a loss, he tried to slap me on the back, which isn’t effective. I shook my head, turned around, so my back was to him, grabbed his hands and put them where they have to be, positioned to do the upward thrust into your gut, which pushes air inside your lungs against the obstruction. He caught on right away, did it twice with no result. I passed out at that point but he persevered and actually performed the Heimlich Maneuver a total of 14 times before the food (a piece of toast of all things!) flew out. And he’s a big, strong guy. The doctor told me later I was within 90 seconds of brain death at that point. But as soon as the flow of oxygen is restored, you regain consciousness. VERY frightening. Thank goodness for my friend’s quick understanding and refusal to give up. Approximately 4000 people a year die in this very fashion.
And I’ve never actually been taught to do the Heimlich either. I saw Dr. Heimlich demonstrate it once on the Today Show!
S: What advice do you give to all those folks out there trying to make it through their first novel?
V: You have to WRITE. Try to get something done every day and don’t second guess yourself, don’t edit as you go, don’t make excuses…just WRITE. Time enough to revise, improve, etc. after the all important first draft is done.
S: Anything else you’d like to add?
V: There’s a whole wonderful community of writers, editors, agents, publishers, bloggers, READERS out there! Just general advice I offer is to pick one or two forms of social media that you’re most naturally comfortable with – twitter is my absolute addiction – and start interacting.
Thanks for having me at the blog today, really enjoyed the questions!
You can pick up Priestess of the Nile here, for Kindle here, and for Nook here. Drop by and see Veronica at her web site, follow her on Twitter, or check out her Facebook page. Thanks so much to Veronica for dropping by and sharing with us!