Monday, April 7, 2014

Guest Author Veronica Scott: Researching Ancient Egypt

Today I have the pleasure of welcoming Veronica Scott to the blog. Veronica writes both Science Fiction (Escape from Zulaire, Wreck of the Nebula Dream) and Paranormal Romance. I'm a big fan of her Egyptian Gods series so I was very interested to learn more about how she goes about researching ancient Egypt. Take it away Veronica...

Thanks for inviting me to be your guest today!

I’ve combined my love of paranormal romance with my fascination for all things ancient Egyptian and wrapped the package up in mythology for my Gods of Egypt connected series. While this is lots of fun, it also gives me excuses to lose myself in research, which pretty much all authors enjoy. No matter what you’re researching, you can spend hours on the internet and it’s guaranteed you’ll end up going down many a side path. You find one shiny, intriguing nugget of information that compels you to learn more. And that’s not even talking about pinterest and tumblr!

I also maintain a large library of actual books, most of which I list on my blog under the topic of overall historical accuracy. At some point I realized I probably owned a lot of the books I’d need if I was pursuing a degree in Egyptology. Thankfully I’m reading for pleasure and there won’t be a test – other than the pass/fail decision whether Readers enjoy what I eventually produce.

So how do I pursue this research? I don’t write strictly historical novels because I wanted to have the Egyptian pantheon of gods and goddesses take direct action in the events. So right there, we’re outside the boundaries of what’s acceptable for historically accurate. I don’t want my novels to be “wallpaper historicals” either though, where I just toss in a few cool looking Egyptian words and make reference to the pyramids and I’m done. I want the Reader to be in ancient Egypt, even if it’s the paranormal version. And there are some plot conveniences I want for me, like actual coins and people not getting married at a very young age, so I do some deliberate anachronisms.

Let’s take my latest novel MAGIC OF THE NILE. Since it’s a sequel to PRIESTESS OF THE NILE, I’d already done the research into the Crocodile God Sobek, hero of the first book and major player in the second. But for this book, since we spend time at the temple Tyema runs, I researched how Sobek’s temples were organized 4000 years ago, a lot more details about crocodiles, how processions were conducted, which deities were important in the capital city of Thebes, the hierarchy of an Egyptian temple’s priesthood, what Pharaoh would wear for different activities, what foods would be served on a big feast day…

I needed my hero Sahure to be very dashing, so he’s a charioteer, which was about as dashing as you could get in 1500 BCE. That led to research on chariots, including a wonderful NOVA special, called “Building Pharaoh’s Chariot.” (Available on dvd.) Watching a team of British researchers attempt to reconstruct the chariot of ancient times, with the help of Egyptian craftsmen, basically by studying tomb paintings and the few actual surviving chariots, was amazing.  But where does Sahure need to be in his gleaming, horse-drawn vehicle?

Well, turns out there was a chain of fortifications along various Egyptian borders, including at the Southern Oasis of Kharga, located on a major caravan route. I’d already researched caravans pretty heavily for a sequence in DANCER OF THE NILE. That’s one nice thing about writing a series – I can build on the tidbits I’ve learned before.  Also, research suggests plot points and vice versa. Since I’m a seat-of-the-pants writer, this approach works for me! Now I know all about Kharga, including the topography and weather.

At one point, Sahure needs to tell Tyema about a battle he’s fought in beside Pharaoh. I drew a suitable tale to adapt from translations of  4000 year old eyewitness accounts of actual warfare and gave my character the right ‘memories’ to share with the heroine. So I also needed to be able to talk about his weapons and tactics. Back to researching bows and arrows of the time…

Were the native people of the Southern Oasis descended from the goddess Sekhmet? They certainly thought so, which sent me off to ponder all the cool facets of her powers and background.  Sekhmet became a major player in certain events that take place in my book. In many cases there are alternate versions of the myths surrounding an Egyptian deity so I’m free to choose the aspects that work for my story and to extrapolate other ideas for my plot.

A lot of the research I do never shows up directly in the novels, so if by now you’ve been thinking that my books must be pretty dry, dusty tomes, possibly akin to the textbooks, let me reassure you. I have to be able to put myself in the headspace of ancient Egypt, so I can create characters who are believable residents of that time and place, even while they’re having these amazing adventures. I don’t have to show off all my research (except maybe in blog posts LOL). If it doesn’t serve the plot, it doesn’t go in the book, but the knowledge might influence the story’s direction.

It’s trickier than you might think though and I know I don’t always succeed. Let me give you an example from the first draft of DANCER OF THE NILE: “The chariot bounced over iron hard ruts…” The problem? The Egyptians didn’t have iron at this point in time! So I changed it to “bronze hard”…but to a modern reader that’s an unfamiliar phrase and it took me completely out of the flow when I read it. Eventually the line became: “The chariot jounced over deep, hard ruts…” Sigh. But on with the adventure!

About the Book

After a childhood spent scorned and ignored by her family because of her crippled foot, Tyema was magically healed by Sobek the Crocodile God, then installed as the High Priestess of his temple. But Tyema is still haunted by her memories, scarred by the abuse she endured. Despite Sobek’s protection, as an adult she’s become a near recluse inside the temple grounds…
Until Captain Sahure arrives in her remote town, sent from Thebes on an urgent mission for Pharaoh, requiring High Priestess Tyema’s help. From that moment on, her quiet, safe life is upended in ways she never could have expected.
But after a whirlwind romance with Sahure, the two part as Pharaoh orders him to undertake another assignment on Egypt’s dangerous frontier, far from Tyema’s remote town.
Heart-broken, Tyema is ready to return to her life of loneliness, official duties and, now, regret. But the Crocodile God has other plans for his priestess: she must uncover the sorcerer who threatens Pharaoh’s life with black magic. Soon enough, Tyema finds herself thrown into the chaos of Pharoah’s court, neck deep in intrigue and danger. Just when she thinks she can’t take the pressures of a very public court life and her secret investigation for the Crocodile God any longer, Sahure re-enters the scene.

But is her former love there to help or to hinder? Can they resolve their differences and work together to find the dark sorcerer who threatens Pharaoh and Egypt and find their future together? 

About the Author

Best Selling Science Fiction & Paranormal Romance author and “SciFi Encounters” columnist for the USA Today Happily Ever After blog,  Veronica Scott grew up in a house with a library as its heart. Dad loved science fiction, Mom loved ancient history and Veronica thought there needed to be more romance in everything. When she ran out of books to read, she started writing her own stories.


  1. Thanks for having me as your guest today! Always fun to talk about ancient Egypt :-)

  2. Thanks for coming! I love hearing about other people's writing process, especially when it comes to historical paranormal/fantasy which is a particular favorite of mine. Hope you don't mind I linked to your research book list. Do you have a favorite?

  3. "Dancing for Hathor, Women In Ancient Egypt" by Carolyn Graves Brown, was excellent!

  4. Veronica, this is fascinating stuff -- I'm off to abuse my local branch's interlibrary loan service now. And charioteers strike me as very dashing indeed!

  5. Thanks Karalynn! I thought it was a pretty great specialty for Sahure to have LOL.