Thursday, July 5, 2012

A Killing Among the Dead by Diana Wilder: Interview & excerpt

Wenatef opens his eyes to darkness and intense silence. The air is heavy with myrrh: he is in a burial chamber. Pain lances through his left side as he tries to raise himself, bringing the taste of blood to his lips. His life ebbs as he remembers how the nightmare began.. One of his men came screaming of destruction and mutilation in the tomb of Egypt's greatest king. Wenatef set out to stop the sacrilege only to find that the very people he is sworn to protect were blocking him.

He dreams of judgment before the gods and awakens to find new strength and even more questions. Whose blood is pooled on the floor beneath him and caked on his side when he seems, now, to be unhurt?

Wenatef lets his enemies think they have killed him and sets out to uncover who is robbing and defiling the dead. Each new discovery brings him closer to the heart of a far-flung scandal of greed and betrayal that reaches a climax in a final confrontation in the great Temple of Karnak beneath the gaze of the gods. (from the author's website)

A KILLING AMONG THE DEAD is a historical mystery set during ancient Egypt's declining years. It is a tale of betrayal, revenge and redemption, and one man's discovery that no matter how alone we seem in our struggle against evil, the Great Ones are never far away.

In this scene the hero, Wenatef, has surprised robbers despoiling a queen's tomb.  He has killed the criminals and is now going into the tomb through the robbers' tunnel to inspect the damage...

Wenatef came through the tunnel into warm light and a vision of the gods and goddesses welcoming a queen to their midst. Wenatef paused, filled with a sense of strangeness: he had been in this tomb before, in his dream. He looked around at the wall paintings once again.
The queen was the fairest woman he had seen, alive or in a painting. She was slim and young, with a gently smiling mouth and a wealth of hair that fell to her waist from the fillet of her crown. She clasped hands with Horus, bowed to Hathor, presented offerings to Osiris, sat at a senet board with one playing piece poised, as though she were awaiting another player. She seemed to be smiling at him, and for one dizzy moment Wenatef almost felt that he could step into the painting, take the seat opposite her, and play senet with her.
The smile seemed to deepen...
He wrenched his thoughts away. This was folly. He was alone in a tomb that might yet harbor enemies. But he smiled at the queen, and she seemed to smile back at him before he turned away.
No one was hiding in the disordered antechamber, though a twist of rag floated in a bowl of oil, giving a fitful, stinking light. Wenatef passed through the tunnel leading into the burial chamber and frowned at the sarcophagus that lay opened and splintered, just as he had seen. He stirred an untidy swath of ashes and bones with his foot. A ruined, blackened skull lay at one end. It was all that remained of the mummy. He could still see the queen's smile within his mind.
Had he heard a sound? He froze, lifting his head and looking from side to side, his eyes narrowed. He decided that he had been mistaken and went back to the opening.
The queen still smiled at him; her name was effaced, and he did not know who she was. He blew out the lighted wick as he passed into the night that was turning toward morning. It was time to return to his tomb and sleep.
** ** **
He had not seen the man cringing in terror behind the sarcophagus, hidden by a jumble of linen wrappings, scarcely daring to breathe. This man, a poor peasant lured by the tale of riches available to anyone for the digging, had come downriver seeking Khaemwase, an outlaw from Koptos with a reputation for knowing of such things. He had told Khaemwase's lieutenants a sad tale of failed crops and a starving family. He had been put to work.
The thought of robbing the dead had frightened him at first, for he was a superstitious man. He had also been filled with horror and fear by one of the leaders who had shown delight in smashing the faces of the dead, in dismembering them, and, in the case of the queen whose tomb they were plundering, burning the corpses and scattering the ashes, destroying any hope of Heaven for the unfortunate dead. Surely a terrible fate awaited such evil!
But he was desperate and there was no way to live besides doing what he was doing, and the sight of so much wealth when he and his family were trying to scrape along from one meal to the next had eased his fear. Until that night.
He had heard the cries outside, but when the others went charging out into the blackness, he had hidden, hysterically mouthing prayers to the gods of his village. They had hidden him, he was convinced of it. He had cowered, staring wide eyed at the heavenly being of wrath that had silently entered the tomb.
It was Montu himself, god of war from the Land of the West, come to earth to wreak vengeance upon the despoilers of the dead! His flesh seemed made of bronze with the breath and pulse of life itself underlying the skin. He glistened in the dim light of the tomb, and the dark chamber was filled with an awful radiance that flashed and glittered like the reflection of rippling waters cast by the sun upon a wall, turning all that was not part of that brilliance and radiance into blackest shadow.
He had been tall and mighty, his shoulders spanning and surpassing the width of the burial chamber, and it was as though the tomb walls themselves were merely shadows, cobwebs that circled his shoulders but could not confine him. The god carried a great bow; an arrow like a bolt of lightning was fitted to the string, and the god's gaze swung back and forth across the chamber, swift as a striking snake, slow as the journey of the sun across the sky. The peasant caught a glimpse of the terrible eyes. They were as deep and as blinding as the sun itself, and the peasant had felt himself seared and laid bare by the glance.
He had drawn a quick, awed breath, and the god had heard him. He had despaired, then, feeling the god's gaze pass over him, narrow and then sweep across him once more. And then the god had turned and moved away, sparing him. His feet had made no sound upon the floor, but the very walls of the tomb had seemed to shake with his passing. He had departed in silence, casting the tomb into darkness.
The peasant stirred, whimpering a little with gratitude. He would never, never rob another tomb, not though his family starved! The gods had been generous to him, and he would not test their generosity any further. He would take with him nothing that he had stolen, would tell all who asked him that only fools robbed the Great Ones, and fools met the fates they deserved.
He was disoriented; it was some time before he found the doorway leading to the antechamber, and he had to crawl on his hands and knees. Once in the antechamber he found the tunnel easily by the faint glow of moonlight at its end. He passed through the tunnel and came out into the night.
He paused, breathing the cool, pure air after the reek of the tomb, troubled by a sense of past disaster and the ominous smell about him, but feeling once again the beauty of simply being alive. He thanked his gods for delivering him, and then looked down.
A body sprawled at his feet, and the moon flashed from a dark puddle beneath the contorted limbs. Other bodies lay here and there. All his companions. Now he understood the cause of the scent, for it was the smell of a slaughterhouse.
He drew a long, , shaking breath and then ran. He would tell Khaemwase about the archer god and warn him not to meddle in the affairs of the dead. Khaemwase would be angry, of course, but if the peasant did not tell him that he planned to desert, then he would have no reason to kill him, would he?
No, the peasant decided, he was not a fool. He would leave while Khaemwase was looking the other way...

Describe what it’s like to be an author in three words.

Bringing stories alive.

What do you think makes a good story?

A good story involves the reader.  It draws you into it until you're following it, moving with the characters, participating in their struggles and triumphs.  It becomes real.  A good example for me was a book that had a prophet, a villain that nearly turned good, a courageous, self-sacrificing leader, an epic hero...  I was there every step of the way.  That was Douglas Adams' great book Watership Down.  I kept forgetting it was about rabbits.

Do you have any suggestions for beginning writers? If so, what are they?

You mean after telling them to PROOFREAD?  Well, most importantly: write.  Get into a routine: have a set time to sit down and write.  If you can't write, don't do anything else.  Just sit there.  If you feel blocked, write something, even if it's just a note to yourself about how you're having trouble writing.  If you have a dry spell, take out something you've written and edit it.  Make notes of something that happened.  But just write.  And don't get into a fuss about it.  Just as important: learn to take criticism.  You will have lots of people offering feedback.  Listen to them.  And, going along with that, develop a good feel for what is valuable or important to you and keep that in sight, because not everyone is going to like what you write.

How do you react to a bad review of your book?

(This ties in to the third point of my advice to beginning writers.)  No one likes a bad review.  I go into my room, close the door, and throw a fit in private.  I get all the angst, shock, hurt - whatever - out of my system.  Then I catch my breath, sit down, and reread the review.  Is there anything there that can't be explained away as personal taste?  Anything substantive like weak characterization?  Or an 'author's pet'?  Issues with wordiness?  If those things exist in the review, I think them over.  Is the reviewer maybe right?  Is there a weakness that I need to work on?  I may well decide that I'm satisfied with things as they are - but more often than not a bad review, if it is genuine, can point out a way in which I can improve.  One thing I never do is complain about a bad review publicly, and I certainly never contact the reviewer and argue with them.  In addition to being really bad form, it is stupid.

What are your hero and heroine of the story like?

A Killing Among the Dead is set during the time that Egypt has gone into decline.  Pharaoh's strength is failing, the old order is crumbling, and hardship is forcing the people to turn to desperate measures.  Wenatef, the hero, is an officer assigned to command a group of workers as they complete Pharaoh's tomb.  He is a battle-proven man, courageous and direct.  He has faced danger and hardship before - but the lies, innuendo and evasion that meets him as he tries to learn the truth  of a crime leave him nearly helpless.  Someone tells him "You can't fight them as you are. You'd have to go to the Land of the West and return with an army."  And that, it seems, is what he may have to do.

Is there one passage in your book that you feel gets to the heart of your book and would encourage people to read it?  If so, can you share it?

This scene, toward the end of A Killing Among the Dead, expresses it well.  The powerful villains have been caught, their widespread plot has been exposed and is being dealt with.  All that remains is one man, driven to madness by the chief villain.  Wenatef, confronts this man as he is despoiling a tomb and speaks with him: 

**   **   **

Unas seemed to writhe like a flame in a high wind for a moment. "It is too late for me!" he said at last. "I am lost - " 

Wenatef felt words coming to him in a cool, soothing flood, filling his mind with light, rising effortlessly to his lips. 

"Listen to me, Unas," he said. "You let yourself become apostate because of the lies of a man who sought your help in robbing tombs. You had no reason to believe such a one, and yet you did, and you did evil knowing it to be evil and rejoicing in the power it gave you. You have seen that you are mistaken. You have the chance to turn back. You can begin again as though nothing had ever gone wrong." 

He saw Unas' mouth form words of incredulous denial. 

"I tell you it is all true," said Wenatef with the certainty of a prophet. If you'll only let yourself be turned, you will be turned and all will be well once more. I was sent here to offer you that chance. Will you take it?" 

Unas stared at Wenatef for the space of time it took to draw a deep, sobbing breath. His hand stretched out almost of its own accord, quivering, eager. Suddenly he wrenched his hand back, turned and bolted from the circle of red light into the darkness beyond. 

Wenatef listened to the uneven footsteps as they blundered up along the stairways and then faded into silence along the upper corridor. 

"You cannot run away from truth," he shouted after Unas. "Or from mercy! The only way to escape them is to reject them!" 

There was no response. He had expected none.

Tell us about your next release.

I am finishing the first polished draft of a story that that is part of my cycle set in Egypt just after the time of Tutankhamun, a sequel to The City of Refuge.  The king (Seti) has learned of his son's sudden death two months before while he was out of the country.  His son has been in his tomb for over a month.  Grieving and lost, he leaves his life as a king and spends the summer as an itinerant scribe in the small village of artists who construct the tombs in the Valley of the Kings.  They have come under attack by nomads, and the town is trying to set up a force to fight them.  Seti is a warrior-king; he volunteers to help with the group and is taken into the hearts of the town.  In that time he remembers that he is a man as well as a king.  This story came about, in part, as back-story for one of the characters in A Killing Among the Dead - Ramses, the young man who is Wenatef's second-in-command.

What is your favorite meal?

Curried shrimp over rice with topped with chopped bananas, peanuts, bacon and chutney.

Do you have a Website or Blog?
my website is; I blog at http://dianawilder.blogspot

I was born in Philadelphia and grew up all around the United States courtesy of the U. S Navy. Perhaps because of the Irish in me, I love to weave stories for my own enjoyment about the people I meet and the places I've seen during my travels. I graduated with a degree in ancient and medieval history and experience in journalism.

My love of storytelling developed into a love of writing. My first 'book' (a novel based on Kamehameha's Hawaii) was produced in Middle school. That was followed by a long (well, it seemed long...) story about French Canada before the British conquest.

I started writing novels in graduate school, and have produced three historical novels set in New Kingdom Egypt: The City of Refuge, Pharaoh's Son and A Killing Among the Dead. I have two others in that cycle under way, with one, 'Mourningtide', due to be released within six months.

The heartbreak and gallantry of the American Civil war has always caught my imagination. I served as a Docent in the Civil War Library and Museum in Philadelphia for some years. The Safeguard arose from my research into the Georgia theater of the war. I am currently working on another novel set in western Virginia during the American Civil War, tentatively titled Crowfut Gap. That one should be finished in a year.

I have written books set in Paris, in ancient Egypt, the American Civil War, various fantasy places.

I enjoy traveling, trying to knit, taking photographs and sailng (on a lake in a Sunfish). I sometimes attend cat shows as an exhibitor or as a Judge's clerk. I am currently working in graphic design, and cannot understand why any author would tolerate a boring book cover.

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One Print copy of A Killing Among the Dead
International Shipping OK
Ends August 4th 11:59 PM Central


koddabear said...

This looks like a great book. Thanks for the wonderful inteview with the author.

Jennifer Haile said...

I'd love to read this! I love anything set in Egypt!

Avie Serolf said...

Thanks so much for the giveaway..:D

Yasminselena said...

Totally agree with author about not lashing out at bad reviewers! It wouldn't have happened as much before the advent of social media. Just ignore them by having a strop you're only drawing attention to them. Have an off screen whinge to your mates instead. You're only human! As a writer you will never please everyone.

Dee B said...

Great interview. Advice to new writers contained some gems. Thanks for the giveaway.

Fairday Morrow said...

I love anything about Egypt and this book and interview made me very curious about this book. Thanks for the giveaway!

Anonymous said...

Yay! A giveaway!
(i rhyme.)

momma8385 said...

Enjoyed the review and interview.
Thank you for all the hard work you do to bring us wonderful giveaways to enter.
:)Jeanne B.T.

Karielle Stephanie said...

I can't wait to read A Killing Among the Dead! Thanks for the chance.

Goldenmane said...

A wonderful interview and a marvelous giveaway. Ancient Egypt is so fascinating and I find it amazing that we have as much real history and information about the culture as we do. When Egypt started building pyramids, Europe was still Neolithic.

Anonymous said...

I am crazy about anything involving Egypt so thanks so so so much for the chance to win this wonderful book!

Marjorie/cenya2 said...

A great storyline and thanks for the chance to win.

Veronika said...

The book sounds great! I can't wait to read it! the cover is so beautiful!

Suz Reads said...

This looks like such an interesting book and I love reading about Egypt! Thanks for this amazing giveaway - I would love to win!

Tanya Campbell said...

Haven't read this genre but would love to!

Maegan Morin said...

I love reading books about Eqypt! Thanks for the giveaway!