A bulletin on the doings and undoings of
also look for:
|The Amelia Peabody Books||
|By Elizabeth Peters
In chronological order:
HE SHALL THUNDER IN THE SKY
The Falcon at the Portal
Street of the Five Moons
Borrower of the Night
Silhouette in Scarlet
Summer of the Dragon
The Camelot Caper
My favorite author's question of all time - because it's so simple to answer... "Is your hair really like that, or do you get it done?"
Thanks to those of you who wrote to tell me you liked THUNDER, and to all who helped put the book on several best-seller lists--even with Harry Potter occupying most of the slots. Since I'm just wild about Harry I don't mind at all giving way to him.
I am working on the next Amelia but I can't tell you much about it except the title: LORD OF THE SILENT. The plot is, shall we say, in flux. It always is, up till the last minute. However, that should reassure those of you who feared that THUNDER would be the last of the series. I'm not entirely sure where the Emersons and I are going but we'll be going together for some time to come.
I frequently hear from nice friendly folks who write long, chatty letters filled with questions. I always try to respond with a note of thanks and an answer to specific questions: ie, those that require only a line or two. This newsletter is the substitute for the long, friendly responses I don't have time to write. (Neither does Kristen--I work the poor woman to death as it is.) From time to time I use these pages to answer a commonly asked question that can't be dealt with on a postcard--such as the following.
The question was "What real life people inspired the characters in the Amelia books?" This is in the same category as "Where do you get your ideas?" There is no simple answer.
In a sense, Emerson was "inspired" by William Flinders Petrie, whose methodology was far advanced for his time and whose opinions of other archaeologists were low. Amelia's first name was taken from Amelia B. Edwards, as was the name of her dahabeeyah and the title "Sitt Hakim." Her taste for adventure resembles those of other intrepid lady Victorian travellers. Certain of Ramses's boyish tricks resulted from my familiarity with the habits of small boys; his erudition was matched by that of several Victorian youths.
You can see how far these ideas took me, I'm sure. Not very far. In order to flesh out the characters I had to add innumerable personality traits, eccentricities and distinctive habits. Some of these were dictated by the plot. Some I introduced because I thought they were funny. Amelia's dogmatism coming head on against Emerson's violent temper produced a certain degree of what editors call "sexual tension," as well as a number of comic scenes. Many of Ramses's characteristics were the result of my peculiar sense of humor--his verbosity, his attempts to emulate and out-shine his parents, his hair-raising escapades.
Nefret's origins are unaccountable even to me. I knew that eventually I would have to find a wife for Ramses--he was only ten, but he kept getting older, and even at an early age he had demonstrated a precocious interest in the opposite sex. (I put that in because it amused me to see Ramses's curiosity embarrassing his proper Victorian father and mother.) His potential bride would have to be someone special to hold her own with that strong-minded family. I suspect, though, that like the Lost Oasis plot itself, Nefret owes a great deal to H. Rider Haggard. She's the sort of girl who might turn up in any lost civilization. I made her blond and blue-eyed because Ramses and his parents were brunettes. It's as simple as that.
(continued next column ->)
AMELIA TOUR 2000-01
The Amelia Peabody Expedition, which we mentioned in the last newsletter, is filling up rapidly. If you are still interested and haven't yet inquired about it, don't delay any longer as the tour is almost full. Don't write us, contact:
PHONE (toll free): 1-888-932-2230
Passport pictures are good likenesses, and it is time we faced it.
--Katharine Brush, This Is On Me
(continued from previous column)
All these seemingly random traits had to be consistent, and used as the basis for more complex character development. Amelia's assertiveness conceals a certain amount of insecurity, which accounts for her unreasonable jealousy of other women and to some extent her early resentment of Ramses--he was a rival for Emerson's affection and he knew more about Egyptology than she did! Under his ferocious exterior Emerson is even more sentimental than his wife; being a Victorian male, he finds it difficult to express such feelings. Ramses is perhaps the most complex character of all, but the discerning reader will note that every characteristic he displays as a young man is foreshadowed in the earlier books.
So, from an initial core--physical appearance, eccentricity, whatever--the writer builds, wrapping coil around coil like a ball of yarn, hoping they will all stay put and not unwind into a meaningless mess. To me the initial "inspiration" isn't nearly as interesting as the subsequent process. I've never quite figured out how it works myself. Why, for instance, did I describe Ramses as looking like an Egyptian, when both his parents are typically English? Darned if I know. It wasn't even that funny. I would like to claim I anticipated certain activities in which he would be engaged fifteen years later. I didn't, but that's part of the process too--making use of the facts that have been established to develop the characters and forward the plots.
I hope that makes sense. As I said, there is no simple answer.
A letter is a risky thing; the writer gambles on the reader's frame of mind.
-- Margaret Deland, The Iron Woman
Lea Stirling: Being named Lea, I was pleased to find a character named Lia in the recent Peabody books. However, are you aware that "lia" in Arabic means "sheep fat"? At least it does in Tunisia and Libya, and I think Iraq as well. I couldn't speak for Egypt, however. I am all too aware of this unfortunate meaning for my name since I've been doing archaeology in Tunisia for the last ten years. I was curious to see whether Lia would run into similar situations, where polite people just prefer to address her as Lilia or Leila, or where little children instantaneously learn her name. After all, it's so fun to shout "Sheepfat" or "Lardass" - if you think about sheep anatomy - at someone who will even answer to those names! My students always derive endless amusement from this as well and think up skits, drawings, photographs, etc. to capture this great moment.
MPM: An interesting tidbit indeed! I doubt Lia would have your problems, since only her immediate family would venture to use her nickname. Students were a lot more respectful in my day!
KDW: Makes you wonder, though, about her extended family's first (concealed, of course) reaction!
Sally Fisher: Did you watch the live TV special "Opening the Tombs of the 10,000 Mummies"? What did you think of it? I enjoyed it. What would Emerson think of Dr. Zahi Hawass.
MPM: I did see "Opening the Tombs..." and thought it was pretty bad. Try the Discovery and History Channels for Egypt specials. I suspect Emerson's opinion of Zahi Hawass would be the same as mine. I prefer to say no more.
Sarah Morrison: I have a burning question that NO ONE seems able to answer. Here it is: WHAT HAPPENED BETWEEN ENID FRASER AND RAMSES IN SEEING A LARGE CAT???? The first 10 or so times I read the book, I didn't pick up on anything questionable, but on one of the Amelia e-lists someone pointed out that their relationship might not be all that it appears. My curiosity whetted, I re-read the book. Lo and behold, the innuendoes were there! For instance, when Amelia was devising the plan to trick Donald, she decides that Ramses is the person to help. Enid is very willing to have Ramses help her, but Ramses tries to dissuade Amelia, to no avail. When Amelia asked how the afternoon went David says he left early because, "...she would have felt uncomfortable-er-" Amelia finishes the sentence with "rehearsing". ...Amelia asks Ramses what happened that afternoon. Ramses tilts his head to one side, as if deciding what exactly to tell. Amelia asks him to confine himself to the facts. Ramses remarks that her hair is very thick and long, and reaches almost to her waist. When Amelia asks if the masquerade was Ramses' idea, Ramses replies, "We worked it out together, Mrs. Fraser and I." And last, but certainly not least, is Enid's letter to the Emersons. The part I will quote is not directed to anyone in particular, but Amelia assumes it to be to herself. I think otherwise. "We leave for Cairo tomorrow on our way back to England. I felt it best I should not see you again, for parting would be more painful than I could easily bear. Rest assured that when I call you "dearest" the word comes from my heart; you have done for me what no one else in the world could have done at this juncture of my life. I will never forget you." Could it be that Ramses, who had had a crush on her as a child, helped Enid through a mid-life crisis by a judicious application of-er-love?...Did what I think happen actually happen?
MPM Congratulations for catching the hints about Enid and Ramses. It really wasn't his fault, you know.
I think we should have contemplated MPM's silver Mainecoon rather more thoroughly before we named him. At the time it seemed a sensible choice. MPM already possessed a Nefret and a Ramses; why not extend the family? Nefret is a lovely little Siamese who hides a bit of claw behind that sweet apple face (just ask Dorothy, her calico Tabby victim); Ramses is an elegant, charming Balinese who has repeatedly demonstrated an extraordinary agility coupled with a loquacious yowl. It stood to reason that an "Emerson" would have been fearless with an aggressively active spirit, an indomitable will, and an amazing intelligence. Right? At the very least he should have had an impressive voice. Any voice? I suppose that's not entirely fair. If you get right upon him you may be able to discern his squeak. You might want to bend down to actually hear him. And turn up your hearing aid. Even if you don't have one. As for his spirit and will -- he spends most of his day in seclusion behind the copying machine so we haven't witnessed much of either. I guess his spirit and will are resting. How about his mind? Well, he emerges from behind the copying machine about two (he doesn't care to start his day prior to mid afternoon), saunters into the kitchen, and then, eyes ever-widening, notices MPM and I and slinks right back from whence he came. If we yell his name he stops abruptly, sits down, and begins to wash his paws. You can almost hear him say, "Yeah, right, I knew who you were all along. Ha, ha. Just kidding. Well, will you look at the time? Don't you think you ought to let me out?" If we succumb to his subsequent squeaks to be let out (assuming we have our hearing aids on high frequency detection), we can bank on quite an effort to entice him back in regardless of weather, time of day, other cats conspicuously marching in and out through the open door.... After all, we are a pair of total strangers who have laid siege to his house (what, yet again?), who clearly have designs on his pelt and the look of a pair of hungry jackals. We can't even lure him inside with treats since he picks at every food we have ever offered. Nothing, I repeat, nothing attracts his fancy - not chicken, nor ham, nor bacon, nor moist food, nor cat treats, nor butter.... Consequently, as lightning bounces off the driveway, we yell ourselves hoarse while he stays just out of reach (no, he isn't being coy - that's Ellery, the silver tabby) slightly in shock that aliens have (once again) invaded his household. I hate to lay pen to it, but "Emerson" or no "Emerson", he may not be very bright. Perhaps, with luck, he will grow into his namesake. Until then, I dub him...Ahmet the Louse.