Of Very Big Trips, Layovers and Refrigerators

by Janis Patterson

Well, we are back from our Very Big Trip, and a Very Big Trip it was, too. Two and a half weeks cruising the Nile from Cairo to Luxor. Our ship was modest but still luxurious and only for our group, the staff eager to please, the food 4 star delicious, the accommodations more than comfortable. We were met at the airport in Cairo and when the tour ended in Luxor flown back to Cairo on a chartered plane to begin our trips home. Our ‘shore excursions’ were spectacular; even though this is my seventh (and The Husband’s eighth) trip to Egypt, we saw things we had never seen before, such as the ruins of the Hawara Pyramid of King Amenemhat III (currently scholastic frontrunner to be the Pharaoh of Joseph) and the gloriously painted images of the foreign dignitaries in the tombs of Beni Hassan. We were accorded the rare (and almost never granted) privilege of going down into the Sphynx precinct where we could stand between the paws (almost twice as tall as I) and touch the Dream Stela of Thutmosis III. This was The Husband’s and my second time in this carefully guarded area, as before we were married my darling friend Zahi Hawass had given us permission to explore. And of course we saw the must-sees of Karnak Temple, Deir el-Bahri, Amarna, Abydos and the Ramesseum. And more.

If you would like to know more about our incredible trip, you can go to my website (www.JanisPattersonMysteries.com) and subscribe to my newsletter, where I will write about it in more detail. Originally I intended to do just one newsletter about it, but it looks like it might become two, because my personal Trip Diary is now topping 40K words and even a truncated version will be most healthily-sized!

However… lest you think life is perfect, my life had problems. About ten days before our departure, our aged HVAC went out, for five days leaving us with no AC during the early September heat of Texas. Worse, my hot tub (a necessity for my arthritis-ridden body to exercise) died. Our similarly-aged refrigerator died. Even our landline phone needed work! We soldiered on, though – the HVAC was replaced, my wonderful hot tub man had it fixed, filled and ready for me to use when we returned, the phone was taken care of, and we had decided to leave the fridge problem for when we got back.

Then two days before departure Lufthansa cancelled our DFW/Frankfurt flight and switched us to United (meh – not my favorite airline) for DFW/Houston/Frankfurt. Well, okay… except the DFW/HOU flight was ONE AND A HALF HOURS LATE taking off, giving us just 26 minutes to get all the way across the Houston airport. We managed, though – barely – and made the HOU/FRA flight with four minutes to spare. Once we finally arrived in Cairo everything was fine.

Our return flight was not cancelled or rearranged (thankfully) but because of the screwy flight schedules we had a 14 hour layover in Frankfurt. For years and years I have insisted that Frankfurt airport is one of the seven circles of hell, and this trip just underscored my belief. Rather than book into the airport hotel, we decided to save the $250+ it would cost (saving it for our next trip in 18 months or so) and just find a comfortable customer lounge to wait in. Except we came in after midnight and landed in one of the most remote and unused terminals. The train connecting the terminals had stopped running, there were no food or drink kiosks and no customer lounges… just a small customs station which would take us out of the security area and miles of brightly lit marble halls. Oh, the AC was on full blast and it was both chilly and raining outside.

A kindly driver of one of the little electric trams in the terminal was off duty, but he volunteered to take us to an area several floors up where passengers and short-layover crews could sleep. Good on them if they could sleep there, because I barely managed a short nap. This was a hallway, a plain open hallway, with about 20-30 army-style cots. No pillows, no blankets, no nothing but a bunch of very uncomfortable cots. And no people. After the tram driver left we saw no one until after 6 am except a Japanese couple who appeared to be in the same fix we were. There was a restroom, though, some 50 yards and two hallways away. It was sort of like being in one of the grimmer Twilight Zone episodes.

Now it’s a funny story to tell. Then it was pure uncomfortable, teeth-chattering misery.

So how does this all relate to writing? It’s obvious – when you really really really want something in life (writing or anything else) you do whatever you have to do, endure whatever you have to endure in order to get it. This trip to Egypt was important to us, and whatever the gods flung at us we handled because that was the way to get what we wanted. And it was worth it. If you want to write, you must write, no matter what life throws at you. Only you can decide if your writing is a hobby you dabble in when the conditions are perfect or if it is a career where you forge on through in spite of everything. Your choice.

By the way, The Husband bought me a refurbed MacBookAir (which I promptly named Maxine) to take on this trip mainly so I could keep a comprehensive trip diary to share with my readers. I wasn’t going to write a book; I was going to take a rest, as I don’t have any contracts starting until January. I don’t have to tell you what happened, do I? And I’m already 8K words into a new story about a murder on a Nile cruise ship…

A final word about our dead refrigerator. The day after we returned we went shopping, not illogically expecting to have a new refrigerator within a couple of days. My kitchen is very bright and light, so of course I wanted a white refrigerator. We were shocked to find that all the off-the-floor ones with the features we wanted (French door, bottom freezer, ice and water in the door) are available only in stainless steel or rarely in black. Well, that’s fine for those who don’t mind looking like they live in a laboratory or a morgue, but I wanted white. Finally after a day of searching we found a place that agreed to special order a white one for us. White – a special order! (And at a cost roughly twice that of my first car!) Who would have thunk it? As you’ve probably guessed, I will do what is necessary to get what I really want, so we’ll have our new refrigerator in three weeks.

The next three weeks are going to be interesting.

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!