Monday, August 20, 2007

Interview and Review: Nefertiti by Michelle Moran

I was really excited when this book first arrived because I do have a love for historical fiction. I had yet to find a historical fiction placed in Egypt that I could really get into. This is Michelle Moran's first book and I think she's done a great job. She has been successful at condensing complicated religious and political issues. I was at first worried that Nefertiti was too oversimplified and that the author was too careful. But writing a historical fiction based on Nefertiti and the tumultuous changes in religion is a tricky thing and I think that the author has played it safe in order to make sure that audience isn't lost. Moran has also successfully battled the urge to write a book about Nefertiti in which the Egyptian queen is portrayed only in a favorable light. We see, through the eyes of the timid sister Mutny, that Nefertiti was a jealous and vengeful monarch who cared only about her everlasting image.

In this new interview, posted at LoadedShelf few days ago, Michelle and I discuss what specifically drove her to write an ancient Egyptian historical fiction, the sequel to Nefertiti set to be released in 2008, and possible locales for future books.

Kelly Hewitt: I have to say first and foremost that I really enjoyed this book. It has some really great surprises and very rich characters.

Michelle Moran: Thank you. History has been very generous with its supply of unique characters- I merely tried to depict them as vividly as possible.

Kelly: What kind of knowledge did you have about Akhenaten, Nefertiti and the rest of the characters in your book before you began writing?

Michelle: Well, the novel writing process for me normally involves at least a year of reading and digging before I first put pen to paper. My trips to Egypt had also given me a pretty solid feel for the landscape and much of the archaeology. I make sure to have the plot and characterization laid out in some detail before I start to write. That way, with the pieces in place I can then focus exclusively on the storytelling. But every now and then an idea will suggest itself or a protagonist will surprise me, mid-story!

Kelly: The moment I finished the book I wanted to email you ask if you were going to write about these characters again. Do you think that you will continue
to follow this fascinating Egyptian royal family?

Michelle: Well, as it so happens, the sequel will be released by Crown during the summer of 2008. The family history of Nefertiti is not finished yet, not by any stretch of the imagination!

Kelly: The one thing that surprised me about your book, Nefertiti, was the fact that it is narrated by Nefertiti's sister Mutny rather than the queen herself. What kind of thought process went into that decision?

Michelle: I think one reason would be to give the story the balance and perspective of a more distant (and perhaps more trustworthy) narrator. Nefertiti was incredibly ambitious, and would likely have had no trouble lying or flattering her way into power. The historical Mutny, by contrast, didn’t seem to possess Nefertiti’s ambition, and so I felt that she made a much more credible narrator. With two such startlingly different sisters, however, there was bound to be conflict, and from that conflict comes what I
hope is an epic Egyptian tale.

Kelly: I have read that it was while working as an archaeologist that you decided you wanted to write a novel about Nefertiti. Was there something about the work involved that particularly inspired you?

Michelle: In one instance, our team discovered an Egyptian scarab- proving that 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 Altes museum where Nefertiti’s limestone bust was being housed. The graceful curve of Nefertiti’s neck, her arched brows, 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 from the months of research that followed sprung forth the outline of this novel.

Kelly: As readers we have gotten to learn about Egyptian history by way of your novel about Nefertiti. But you have traveled a lot in your life. Is there a particular area of the world or time period that you think that you'll write about in the future?

Michelle: Well, even after visiting 35-odd countries, one recurring feeling is that each has many tremendous stories still untold. The difficulty is in the choosing. Long term, I am drawn to the idea of a historical progression of linked stories, moving closer and closer to the present. My travel plans for the year include research trips to the Eastern Mediterranean (Greece, Turkey, Lebanon) which I view as a natural progression from my Egyptian series. That’s all I can say at this time, though, so watch this space!

Kelly: I am always interested in what books, music, movies fill the shelves of the authors I interview. What can what expect to find on your shelves?

Michelle: Having single-handedly kept Amazon in business for many years, I can honestly say that I’ll look at almost anything in historical fiction! Very few movies or music- it’s all novels, most recently Blood of Flowers, and The Last Duel. Add to that a pipeline of biographies and research fodder for the next few books: I try to plan 3-4 years ahead to give the stories time
to percolate!


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