Writing The First Pharaoh fulfilled a lifelong dream of mine. As a child, my father would take me at least once a year to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. For some reason I was fascinated by the Egyptian wing, although we’d also spend some time at the Medieval knights display.
Segue now a whole bunch of years into the future. I had been a science teacher, earned a doctorate in ecology from the University of Maine and then landed a faculty position at the University of Delaware. Suddenly, I was asked to interview Anwar Sadat for a publication and to consult to the Egyptian government on ecological affairs. Off I went on the first of many trips to Egypt.
5 out of 5 stars
Dazzling Historical Fiction. This is superb writing - not only skillful but passionate. Highly recommended. Grady Harp (Amazon HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER)
As luck would have it, Sadat was assassinated just ten days before my first visit. I went anyway, arrived at midnight and on my first morning awoke up to a bright sun rising over the Nile River, with the Pyramids of Giza in the distance. It was a humbling and emotional experience. I immediately thought of my father, who had died a few years before.
Over the next few weeks, as I toured the various historical sites, one thing began to nag at me. Yes, there were hundreds of books written about nearly every Pharaoh and period of dynastic history, but none seemed to answer the very question that was bugging me: How did this all start? Who were the people who had the vision to begin what became one of the most incredible civilizations on Earth, lasting more than 3,000 years?
That’s what led me to research and write The First Dynasty Series. And what I found still amazes me.
Throughout antiquity Egypt was a land of hundreds of tiny villages, with constantly warring tribes, loosely divided between Upper and Lower Egypt. Then, in the space of a few extraordinary decades, the impossible happened. An incredible man, King Narmer (also known as Menes), united Upper and Lower Egypt.
In The First Pharaoh I tell the story of King Narmer (Pharaoh was a term used later in Dynastic history) and his epic journey, seen through his eyes and those of his Chief Scribe and shaman, Anhotek. The First Pharaoh gives us an understanding of the culture Narmer lived in and shaped, the battles he fought to unite his people, the woman he loved and nearly lost, the enemies even in his own court who plotted against him, and his many successes and painful failures. Above all, we see how Narmer’s loving relationship with Anhotek defined his personal vision for his country and its people.
Written on a huge tapestry, The First Pharaoh allows us to share Narmer’s far-reaching visions for Egypt’s future that were so compelling and that ultimately proved so enduring. The First Pharaoh tells what I hope is the inspiring story of the mythic journey of the visionary hero, through obstacles and triumphs, wars and peace, love and hate, to launch one of the greatest civilizations ever to appear on earth.
In my FAQ section I answer questions about the actual writing process. Like with most historical fiction, though, the writing is actually the culmination of what is usually years of research. And that’s the way to was with The First Pharaoh.
Frankly, my own library on ancient Egypt is far larger than most public libraries. I easily spent thousands of dollars on primary research materials. I read, and I read, and every source opened up new leads that had me reading still more. I took notes; hundreds of pages. I wrote down more than a hundred questions that I needed to answer.
By then I had also amassed a group of experts that I wrote to for answers. More than a dozen archaeologists, Egyptologists, physicians and others were kind enough to respond to my inquiries with helpful information. I ended up visiting the site of Narmer’s town, known as Nekhen in my novel, and now called Hierakonpolis. My hostess, the Egyptologist Dr. Renee Friedman, was helpful in explaining life in the ancient town.
I also visited Dr. Gunther Dryer of the German Archaelogical Institute, meeting with him in both Cairo and Berlin. Dreyer was the Egyptologist who actually discovered King Narmer’s tomb and various wine and oil labels that proved the Battle for Unification to be a historical fact.
Most helpful of all was Dr. Toby Wilkinson of Christ’s College, England. Wilkinson is a noted Egyptologist who has written several wonderful books about the early dynastic period. I corresponded and met with Wilkinson at Christ’s College, as beautiful a setting as any academic institution can be.
All in all, the research component took about five years, albeit while I was involved in other life pursuits. But the final year was devoted almost exclusively to research.
The writing itself took about 11 months, which averaged about two chapters every month.
Although I write from an outline, I frequently find myself immersed in a scene and observing my characters as they interact with each other. At those times, I’m simply writing what I see them doing, which is both strange and wonderfully exciting.
For me, writing is an intense process and I often find it hard to leave my characters in the computer. As an example, my wife and I were out to dinner as I wrote the Battle for Unification chapter. Emotionally, the scene was very exhausting to me, as I had put my protagonist, King Narmer, in extreme danger. Toward the end of dinner my wife commented that I seemed “far away.”
“Honey,” I said. “I left Narmer in the middle of a battle. I’ve got to get back and see what happens to him!” We left the restaurant immediately. That’s why I maintain that the most important thing for a writer is an understanding spouse.
I hope that you enjoy The First Pharaoh and the sequel, The Dagger of Isis (and stay tuned for the third book in The First Dynasty Series). I look forward to your comments.