Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Egypt Novel: Murdering the Dead

This past Fall was so crazy that it took me 4 months (!) to do a first-pass clean-up of my ancient Egyptian novel, MURDERING THE DEAD. I drafted the book in the winter and spring of 2007! 18 months ago! It sat, waiting patiently for me while I revised THE HEALING SPELL, SECRET RITES OF THE GODDESS, IN A PARIS MINUTE, and wrote two screenplay treatments while conducting my nearly two year, nation-wide search for an agent. So it's not like I wasn't a teency bit busy, but still. I was so anxious to actually read the thing and see what I had.

After I painstakingly got through the massive 380 page thing, I sent it off in batches to my first critiquer, the fabulous Carolee Dean.

A few days later, when she got to the halfway point of the manuscript, Carolee emailed and said:

"I'm thoroughly enjoying your book! I think it is your best one yet. It's so intriguing and beautifully written."

What?!? Really?!?

I'd been dreading anyone reading it because I just knew that they would say it totally sucked - That it was BORING, SLOW, AND CONTRIVED.

But my BEST ONE YET? I'm psyched.

Here's a snippet of my main character, 17 year old Imarus, who is an apprentice mummifier:

Imarus tied a piece of leather through the hole punched into the wooden tag, then knotted the leather around the dead man's big toe. Kuni. 21 years old. Farmer.

Imarus performed a quick inspection of the corpse. For a simple farming man, the embalming contract would be quick and inexpensive. No carved alabaster canopic jars and only three linen layers of wrapping instead of the usual eight or ten, but that was preferable to leaving the man to dry out in the desert in a hand-dug hole.

Kuni’s chest had been badly trampled by his oxen. The hyenas that had launched the attack had probably come down in search of food. They often did at harvest time. The wild animals were probably rabid, too. One of the other corpses waiting in line for Imarus’ embalming knife had died of rabies. Another from lung disease, a fourth from a bar-room brawl; knifed in the seedy part of town where wine flowed more freely than the Nile’s banks during Isis' tears of Inundation. Heart attacks, chariot accidents, swamp fevers. Imarus saw it all.

He stared at the sun-browned face of Kuni, the young man’s dark hair a damp tangle of sweat. A fistful of grass and seeds was still clenched in his fist. Imarus felt a tug in his gut as he loosened the man’s grip. Tiny white flax seeds and crumbles of drying mud fell into Imarus’ palm. The dead man’s fingers involuntarily curled again.

The farmer’s chest was a mess. It was going to take some skill to fix the crushed ribs and remove the organs in the chest cavity where blood had pooled in a dark stain under the skin. Kuni had been a handsome man, sinewy muscles etched from hard work, only a few years older than Imarus himself. A life gone too soon. This could be me, Imarus thought, feeling a sudden shiver. The moment between life and death was so fleeting it was frightening. Imarus’ thoughts suddenly turned morbid. When would he die—and how?

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