Books, Book Clubs, and Surprises

by Janis Patterson

We all know that a writer’s work is far from glamorous. We work weird hours, usually in pajamas or sweats or grotty jeans. Deadlines make us crazy, ill-behaving characters even crazier. Sometimes people just don’t understand that the people in our heads can be more real than those live people beside us. However, sometimes something lovely and sparkly and so incredibly ego-boosting happens and we feel as pampered and admired as movie stars.

Earlier this week a friend welcomed me to speak at her book club about my Egyptian murder mystery A KILLING AT EL KAB. We had arranged the date several weeks before, and each member bought the book to read by the meeting time. The ladies bought snacks based on some of the meals described in the book. I figured since they were so invested in the story, I’d go above and beyond and bring in a little theatre. (Yes, I’m a long-time and admitted ham…)

I wore the beautiful silvery-blue galabeyah I had tailored in Egypt and several pieces of Egyptian jewelry, including my incredibly ornate Berber silver necklace. I took two other titles (THE EGYPTIAN FILE and THE JERUSALEM CONNECTION) to give away as door prizes. I took my big 17” laptop (the same one I hauled all over Egypt last year) to show a small collection of 50 or so pictures out of the 2,500 or so.

It was a most pleasurable evening! The ladies wanted to know about how the book came to be, and were suitably impressed that The Husband and I had been invited to stay at a dig house – which NEVER happens to civilians. They were overawed that our host, the Director of the Belgian Archaeological Mission to El Kab worked his way through three dense layers of Egyptian bureaucracy to get us official permission to come. Remember, the Egyptians invented bureaucracy – that’s why they had all those statues of scribes!

Several of the ladies were interested in the process of writing a book, as if there were any kind of single answer to that! I told them how I wrote – which in the best of times is a skimble-skamble kind of affair – all the while telling them every writer had their own way. I wish I were more organized; I wish I were more disciplined; however – if I haven’t become either by this time it’s probably not going to happen, so I just go on the best way I can. Then one of the ladies asked how I created my characters; specifically, why had I chosen to make Sandra, the protagonist, a fake psychic.

Okay, there comes a time when everyone must reveal their dirty little secrets. I told the ladies about several ways writers created characters – interviews, lists, etc. – and then confessed mine. As expected, they were startled as I told them I didn’t create characters. Oh, I had tried – I had made lists, decided what my characters’ grandmother’s maiden name was, what flavor of jell-o they liked, etc, until I had a nice long description of what the character was. A description that was never used, because the character became a dead thing, a creation without life that simply lay there flaccidly on the page.

What I do, I said, is nothing. My characters simply march in, demand to be written about, and let me get to know them as we go along. Once I had two characters – a major one and a minor one – who fought viciously through the whole book. In the last third, the major character was talking to another major character, and just happened to drop the little bit of news that he and the minor character were divorced.

Well, that startled me, right along with the entire rest of the book’s cast. And the ladies. Some of them – mostly the ones who were ex-schoolteachers – were appalled. I shrugged, said that was the way I was built, and that if the writer wasn’t surprised, the readers wouldn’t be surprised.

The ladies were certainly surprised, but I guess they’ll get over it. Maybe they already have – they’ve asked me to come back next year!

What a Difference a Year Makes

by Janis Patterson

Ta-da! It’s really real! Finally!

As you probably know, one year ago (almost to this exact day!) The Husband and I went to Egypt to research a novel. My dear friend Dr. Dirk Huyge had invited us to come spend a few days at the El Kab dig house, which is formally known as Bayt Clarke. The house, built in 1906 by an English Egyptologist named Somers Clarke, is reputed to be haunted by his ghost. Unfortunately, Mr. Clarke did not make an appearance – though it wouldn’t have been difficult for him, as his grave is in the courtyard – but the rest of the trip was magical, from our time at the dig house to the flat we rented on the West Bank in Luxor that overlooked the Gurneh hills.

The result is my new book A KILLING AT EL KAB. It’s a straight murder mystery, but with the extra benefit of the reader being able to see an archaeological dig from the inside. Dirk was kind enough to be my advisor, reading the book in chunks as I wrote it so to be sure that it was as accurate as possible.

El Kab eBOOK COVER

I started the book while we were still at the dig house. I remember sitting very early one morning pretty much in the dark (pre-dawn) at the eating table on a most uncomfortable chair with a huge French door overlooking the Nile in front of me. I was typing furiously as the story danced through my brain faster than my fingers could move. One of my best memories of that trip is one afternoon (when the entire crew worked indoors after a long morning out at the excavation) I was sitting typing and could hear two of the crew members walking very slowly behind me. In tones of awe and wonder one whispered to the other, “She’s writing a novel while we watch!”

The official release date for A KILLING AT EL KAB is the 20th of March, chosen months ago because we were at the dig house on that date. I had hoped to have everything ready to release by then. Isn’t it true that when you really care about something everything that can will go wrong? Oh, the electronic versions of the book are great – the print version is apparently cursed.

So I made an executive decision. I took the electronic version and put it up as a pre-order on Amazon while I am wrestling with the malign cybergremlins who are playing with the paperback. This is a new thing for me – I’ve never done a pre-order before. After hearing some tales from other writers about the intricacy of putting up a book on pre-order, all I can say either I am an astounding genius (not!) or Amazon has made the pre-order process very easy (more likely). Anyway, it is available.

I made another executive decision – during the pre-order period the price is only $2.99 – it will go up to the regular price of $4.99 on the official release day.

The Husband laughs at my ‘executive decisions’ as I am terrible at making decisions – seeing me trying to choose from a menu is painful, as are my deliberations on what to wear to almost any function.

Some things just are ‘right,’ though, and A KILLING AT EL KAB is one of them. I am a very proud book mommy!