Joining us this week for some #authorlove is BR Myers, creator of the Nefertari Hughes Mystery Series. Her second book, DIADEM OF DEATH (I love saying that out loud), recently came out and today we’re talking research! As someone whose first historical adventure novel (also set in Ancient Egypt) is going out on submission very soon (keep your fingers crossed), I am all too familiar with the amount of time and energy solid fact-finding takes. Ms. Myers’s research focused on Cleopatra, one of the most compelling female figures from history. Below she chats about her experiences in writing her second novel.
BR Myers: The first book in the Nefertari Hughes Mystery series, Asp of Ascension, was originally a short story of less than a thousand words, but after prompts from readers on Wattpad, I decided I could take the story further and turn it into a novel. After all, Cleopatra is one of the most iconic figures in history, known best for seducing two powerful men; Caesar and Mark Antony. Her death scene is one that even Hollywood couldn’t have staged better. How could I resist—the well of material at my fingertips was brimming to overflowing.
Practically salivating, I headed to the computer. I had an outline for the novel, but now I needed facts, hose tasty bits of history that would ground the fantasy aspects of the story. Part of the fun of writing a book based on ancient Egypt is the exploration. And by exploration I don’t mean relying on Wikipedia ;). I soon discovered I was about to embark on a journey of epic research proportions. If you Google Ancient Egypt and Cleopatra’ you will get over six hundred thousand results in less than a second. That is a lot of sticky notes, my friends.
After disappearing down the rabbit hole of the internet for hours at a time (Cleopatra is everywhere!) I weeded out the less reliable sites—love potions of the middle east anyone?— and dove into ancient Egypt with the trusted experts from National Geographic. It was then that I realized I would have to rewrite my entire novel. I had planned my plot on preconceived ideas about Cleopatra that were based on pop culture and ignored the most important facts of her life. It was a gruelling decision to change the story, but in the end the payoff was substantial.
So with my head down and into the wind, I left the house and ventured to library, determined to do Cleopatra’s legacy justice. I poured through the numerous hard cover books devoted to the subject. Those published by museums with their sumptuous photographs of artifacts were the most inspirational, and it was in those moments, bent over the library desk that I developed some of my favourite scenes, encouraged by the timeline of Cleopatra’s reign.
It was a grand coincidence that while I was writing Asp of Ascension a friend of mine was reading, Cleopatra, by Stacy Schiff. We would talk about my plot and she would intersperse several facts from Ms. Schiff’s book. I remember her telling me the mascara wand designed by Cleopatra was nearly the exact same as you would buy in Sephora today—nearly two thousand years later. That little nuance made it into the book. Research also dispelled a lot of myths for me and I was shocked to discover that there is only one tablet that bears her writing. After her death, all other works had her name obliterated as ordered by Octavian.
I discovered Cleopatra was so much more than the seductress Hollywood would like you to believe. In fact, she was a shrewd planner, meticulous with details who left nothing to chance. She made advancements in medicine, was a contributor to the arts, and invented products that are still in use today. Plus, she was a single mother with her first born from Caesar and twins fathered by Mark Antony who left her to marry Octavian’s sister … but, of course he returned to her and the rest as they say is history.
Check out the book trailer below!
Nefertari “Terry” Hughes is looking forward to spending the school break with her boyfriend, but when her archaeologist father announces he’s working on a project that will take him to Egypt, all hopes of having a romantic summer are buried.