Where do you find inspiration?
I’m drawn to anything that pulls different cultures together and contrasts our shared human values and beliefs with our differences. So in my work, I’m trying to expose not only the many ways ancient life would surprise modern kids—like boys wearing make-up and kids being bald–but also excavate how shocking many things we take for granted would be to people of the past. Jagger’s smartphone amazes the ancient Egyptians in my story, but so does Aria’s bubblegum. I wanted to create a series that would, above all, be fun to read but could also explore some of these themes.
The main inspiration for my debut novel was my son, who is biracial like my main character and wanted to read a book about a kid who looked like him in ancient Egypt, where he’d blend in. Diversity in general inspires me. All of my work is marked by diversity—my debut features biracial main characters and this clash of old and new cultures, but all my projects, in various stages of development, also incorporate diverse characters and ideas. Although Jagger is very different than my son in many ways, there are similarities too. For example, they’re both over protective of their little sisters. Aria Jones was inspired by my daughter and they absolutely share a similar attitude.
When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?
In high school, I played the role of bad girl but I surreptitiously spent many weekend nights in my basement with a good book, usually sci-fi. I can’t recall when I first thought about pursuing writing as a career, but I’d written several (very bad) novels by the time I turned twenty-five and when I started graduate school, in my early thirties, I was nursing the dream of writing historical fiction for a living. When I first got divorced, and my kids were with their dad every other weekend, I wanted to spend my free time doing something that energized me. I started my debut novel then and many drafts later, voila – progress.
How much research do you do for a book set in a real historical universe?
The first draft of my debut novel had a chapter that read like a grad school thesis on how Egyptian temples work. There isn’t a middle school kid in America who would have enjoyed that read. My challenge has been to let the story guide me and support the story and characters with just the right amount of historical knowledge that’s lodged in my head. I love creating clashes between the ancient and the modern and revealing some of the less well known, but incredibly fascinating, bits of Egyptian history, but above all I want the characters to be relatable and the story to be compelling. So storytelling takes a front seat for me, while research and history plays a supporting role.
What do you read for fun and what authors inspire you?
I’m drawn to YA and MG. (People come to my house and ask my kids about all their books—they have to admit they’re mine!) There aren’t enough YA dystopian novels in the world for me, although I’m told they’re out of fashion. If I could claim authorship of a single series, it would probably be Neal Shusterman’s Unwind dystology. But I also love historical fiction. Margaret George’s first person narratives are among my most cherished books. Recently, Madeline Miller’s work has inspired me: Circe is an exceptional example of modern storytelling meeting ancient History.
What do you want kids to take away from your work?
Above all, I want readers to enjoy the journey and connect with my characters. But I definitely hope they inadvertently pick-up some ancient history while they’re at it. I love pyramids and mummies as much as the next Egyptologist, but I really wanted to share some of my favorite, less well-known, tidbits about ancient Egypt. For example, there’s a scene late in the book when Jagger and Aria are sneaking through a temple and she crunches something under her feet. Jagger, the history buff, explains that regular ancient Egyptians, who didn’t have access to the most prestigious sections of the large temples, would sometimes pray at small shrines of gods and goddesses set up behind the temples. People sometimes dedicated clay ears to the gods so the gods would listen better. Aria scoffs, but it’s a fascinating, rarely mentioned, bit of history I wanted to weave in.
What are you working on now?
I love writing and I’m a pretty speedy writer. Editing has been more of a challenge for me. I’ve learned that I’m much more adept at editing one work if my head has been deeply ensconced in another—fresh eyes are a must for editing. So right now, I’m editing book two and writing a second draft of book three for my debut series. I’m also polishing a historical fiction YA manuscript about the only daughter of Egypt’s most successful female pharaoh, and I’m playing with a new middle grade idea that I’m not ready to cop to yet, even though I’m harboring great hopes for it.