Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Featured Author Michelle Moran - Q&A Part I

We're delighted to have as our Featured Author, Michelle Moran, bestselling author of Nefertiti. Now she's back with her second novel, The Heretic Queen. All this week, we'll be featuring Michelle and her wonderful writing. She shares with us some insights into the life of a busy writer in part one of her Q&A.



Please tell readers about yourself and your background.
Well, I was born in the San Fernando Valley, CA. I received an undergraduate degree from Pomona College and my Masters from the Claremont Graduate University. I’ve been submitting to publishers from the time I was twelve, and now, I’m a full-time writer.

Besides writing, what are your other hobbies and interests?
When I’m not reading, I’m traveling. I travel at least four months out of the year, usually to France, but often anywhere that takes my fancy. My last trip was with the Archaeological Institute of America, and it was a cruise that retraced the journey of Odysseus from Homer’s The Odyssey.

What inspired your interest in writing and in historical figures?
My travels to archaeological sites around the world have been enormously influential in my writing career. In fact, my inspiration to write on the Egyptian queen Nefertiti happened while I was on an archaeological dig in Israel. During my sophomore year in college, I found myself sitting in Anthropology 101, and when the professor mentioned that she was looking for volunteers who would like to join a dig in Israel, I was one of the first students to sign up. When I got to Israel, however, all of my archaeological dreams were dashed (probably because they centered around Indiana Jones). There were no fedora wearing men, no cities carved into rock, and certainly no Ark of the Covenant. I was very disappointed. Not only would a fedora have seemed out of place, but I couldn't’ even use the tiny brushes I had packed. Apparently, archaeology is more about digging big ditches with pickaxes rather than dusting off artifacts. And it had never occurred to me until then that in order to get to those artifacts, one had to dig deep into the earth. Volunteering on an archaeological dig was hot, it was sweaty, it was incredibly dirty, and when I look back on the experience through the rose-tinged glasses of time, I think, Wow, was it fantastic! Especially when our team discovered an Egyptian scarab that proved the ancient Israelites had once traded with the Egyptians. Looking at that scarab in the dirt, I began to wonder who had owned it, and what had possessed them to undertake the long journey from their homeland to the fledgling country of Israel.

On my flight back to America I stopped in Berlin, and with a newfound appreciation for Egyptology, I visited the museum where Nefertiti’s limestone bust was being housed. The graceful curve of Nefertiti’s neck, her high cheekbones, and the faintest hint of a smile were captivating to me. Who was this woman with her self-possessed gaze and stunning features? I wanted to know more about Nefertiti’s story, and thus began my forays into writing historical fiction set in ancient Egypt.

The Heretic Queen is your most recent release. Please tell us about the story.
The winds of change are blowing through Thebes. A devastating palace fire has killed the Eighteenth Dynasty’s royal family—all with the exception of Nefertari, the niece of the reviled former queen, Nefertiti. The girl’s deceased family has been branded as heretical, and no one in Egypt will speak their names. A relic of a previous reign, Nefertari is pushed aside, an unimportant princess left to run wild in the palace. But this changes when she is taken under the wing of the Pharaoh’s aunt, then brought to the Temple of Hathor, where she is educated in a manner befitting a future queen.

Soon Nefertari catches the eye of the Crown Prince, and despite her family’s history, they fall in love and wish to marry. Yet all of Egypt opposes this union between the rising star of a new dynasty and the fading star of an old, heretical one. While political adversity sets the country on edge, Nefertari becomes the wife of Ramesses the Great. Destined to be the most powerful Pharaoh in Egypt, he is also the man who must confront the most famous exodus in history.

The Heretic Queen is also your second novel, a follow-up to last year’s bestselling Nefertiti. What challenges did you find in writing your second work?
I’d say the biggest challenge was making sure the characters in The Heretic Queen were significantly different from Nefertiti. Because both novels are about royal women in ancient Egypt attempting to become queen, there was a real danger in rewriting the same book. I was fortunate, however, that Nefertari’s life was vastly different from Nefertiti’s. Nefertari was extremely well-educated, had a wild streak in her, and was even willing to accompany her husband into war. This stands in marked contrast to Nefertiti, whose primary concern was the building of her eternal city of Amarna.

How long did it take you to research and write The Heretic Queen?
Writers are often encouraged to write a book a year, and so I had a full twelve months to write The Heretic Queen. However, the research that went into it was a product of many years of learning.

How far have you traveled to ensure accuracy of the settings and characters you’ve described?
Egypt! Several times, in fact.

Do you have a favorite character from your stories?
Oh gosh, I’m not sure! I feel close to all of my characters, but if I absolutely had to pick one… I’d probably choose Selene, Cleopatra’s daughter who narrates my third book.

***We'll have part two of Michelle's Q&A during the week, an excerpt of the novel The Heretic Queen, and a chance for you to win a copy, as well as last year's bestseller, Nefertiti. Stay tuned. ***