Effortless Diversity : a book review

Some books can justifiably be defined as masterpieces. These are literary works that stand the test of time; The Classics, and all the other fine novels and texts we can read over and over again without tiring. All of us have books like that. I, for one, have always loved losing myself in words, in the geography of my imagination.

My husband, however, is not like that. If he reads a text-heavy book, it is probably nonfiction. However, a true Frenchman, he has long been an admirer of graphic novels. In the American context, these have until recently often been dismissed as (or rather, lumped in) with comic books. Superheroes and stuff. No offense if that’s your thing; too much spandex for my taste.

One book we can both agree on, now, is Saga. This is fast becoming one of my favorite series ever. It is, essentially, a space opera. Think SciFi/Romance. Yet of the deepest, most engaging kind. Yes, sexy aliens are getting naked and busy on a regular basis (That’s fun! And hey, graphic novel, so you get the artsy eye candy to go with…), but there’s so much more to it. Themes of diversity; clash of cultures; discrimination and stereotyping; the meaning of family; even the uniting power of literature; are woven throughout the main story. Adventure can be found aplenty, but for me, Saga is an inspiring example of effortless diversity. (Much like the delightful online cartoon I previously mentioned, Fated.)

15704307With my recent musing on how to address white privilege in writing, reading the recently-released sixth book of Saga was a welcome reminder that there is lots of great literature out there already fighting the good fight. In Saga, aliens come in all shapes, sizes, ages and colors. They live together, fuck together, fight each other, and generally are no better or worse than most “humans;” except way more badass. The blend makes this fantastic world excitingly familiar. Reading Saga, I can totally imagine how an inter-galactic, multi-species society might be. And you know what? All of a sudden, small differences are erased by the bigger picture. That picture happens to be an endless (and pointless) civil war, but hey, conflict has to come from somewhere.

Saga is the real deal. If you want some seriously good science fiction – and enjoy beautiful art, snappy dialogue, an un-put-downable story, thoughtful sexiness, and effortless diversity to boot – then you need to buy a copy right now. I’ll just be counting the months until the next book comes out…

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Aren’t we artisans?

For a long time, I distributed my writing for free. It was the usual routine: I wrote a story for fun (and because it got me hot), gave it a cursory once-over, then plastered it on Literotica or — and I fully admit to this — WAY back in the day, on Fanfiction.net. (Yeah. Legolas was my guy in those heady days of the early 2000’s…) Anyway, at that time I considered myself an amateur. And I was; an amateur, of course, is someone who does something for the love of it, and nothing more.

I ceased to consider myself an amateur when I began investing more concentrated time (and money, too) in perfecting my work. I connected with beta readers, hired a proofreader, designed book covers, wrote and polished blurbs, edited, revised, and rewrote until I was sick of my own work. All of this was through a desire to make my writing the best it can possibly be. And in the process, I realized it had value. Real value: the worth of my time and effort.

So now, I consider myself an artisan. This is not the same thing as a professional. Professionals make their income from their work, whatever it is. Probably they have invested a large chunk of their life into their career, specializing in a profession, taking workshops and focused trainings, putting their nose to the grindstone and climbing the ladder. I do that, too, in my professional life. This is something I separate from my art, however.

Get it? Profession = professional; Art = artisan. So, unless you happen to be signed with a big publishing company, who pays you regularly and buys your work in advance, you, too, are an artisan. (There are professional artists, of course. My grandparents were; they struggled their whole lives with it. Hence, my preference for keeping art and work apart!)

Think about cheese – one of my favorite things! You can buy tasty cheese from professionals. Say, Tillamook. No matter where you are, you can get a nice brick of cheddar, knowing it has been made in a large, reputable plant, wherein they have been producing quality cheese for generations. Tillamook is a professional cheese-making business. They make TONS of cheese and maintain a level of quality we expect from professionals

Now imagine you’re at the local farmers market. Cheese can be found here, too, but this time it’s artisan cheese. You might find a small-batch herbed chevre, or fresh mozzarella. It’s all been lovingly made by hand, the product of individuals or small groups working in quite a different system than the big companies. Oftentimes artisanal cheese is delicious, far richer and more tempting than the grocery store variety. Other times, alas, it is less than amazing. In any case, it is likely to surprise you.

Lots of people say artisan is better, for this reason. Others prefer the consistency of professional products. Neither is right or wrong; they’re just two different ways of producing, buying, and enjoying cheese.

Keep that in mind when buying indie books. Self-published authors are artisans; we don’t work for any big company or publisher. There’s no safety net. We just quietly producing our work — our art — in the hopes that customers (that means you, gentle reader!) might prefer to buy a small, artisanal product rather than a predictable grocery store bestseller. Just know that, whichever you choose, there’s an artist behind it. But when you pay that artist directly, more of the benefit stays with them.

So buy from artisans! Shop at your local potter, beekeeper, couturier, farmer, bakery, woodworker, candlemaker, art gallery. Support us Indie authors, too. We may not sell at the farmers’ market, but we are artists and craftsmen, just the same.

Guided by The Cards

I’m usually a person who values the traditional writing process (as described here – it’s an invaluable tool!), but these days I’m trying something different. Instead of outlining my story from beginning to end – leaving space for plenty of fun in the middle, of course – I’m letting myself be guided by the cards. Tarot cards, to be exact. Specifically the 22 cards of the Major Arcana.

Tarot has fascinated me for years. The deck I use is one I made myself, back in the days when I had way more free time. It’s not fine art, but each card is meaningful, and speaks to me on a deeply personal level. I don’t consider myself an expert, or even a regular reader, but from time to time I find peace and guidance in doing a quick Celtic Cross for myself. It’s soothing to let the subconscious take control for a while, remove all thought and decision from the process, and just allow the Universe to speak. Some people (like my husband, no doubt), concrete thinkers and evidence-based decision-makers, might scoff at the idea, but I can say that there is energy in the cards. A kind of a tingling, a sense of being drawn towards one card over another. You can feel it, and be guided by it. It’s your subconscious speaking. The hard part is forcing you rational mind, bogged down by over-analysis, to listen.

Inspired by this, I had the idea many years ago to write a romance based on the Major Arcana. These 22 cards are a journey – some people call it The Fool’s Journey. Essentially, the cards are stepping stones through a person’s development from ignorance (childishness, innocence) into maturity (awareness, empathy, understanding). At first I thought I would write the story in order – this website does a good job summarizing it.  Then I thought “Wait a minute… if I just write the story in the traditional order, I’m really just doing the classic writer’s process! That’s not much of a challenge. And anyway, you’re supposed to let the Tarot guide…” That’s when I began to change my thinking. At that point I decided to start and end with the same cards – The Fool to The World – but let the middle be totally random, depending on which card I pick at the beginning of each chapter. My experimental erotic romance, currently published on WattPad, is the result.

Major Arcana: sex, love, and Tarot , is just that. (Hey, you can’t say I don’t deliver on a title!) The challenge for me has been to keep the idea of the story in my head – yes, I already know some of what will happen before I draw a card – yet allow the Tarot to guide each chapter. So far, I’ve been pleased with how it has worked out. Sometimes there were surprises (for example, I didn’t expect The Devil to pop up so soon!), and some of the cards have stymied me briefly (Judgment, for example, was really sticky for a bit), but it’s amazing to see how it is all coming together.

Who knows? Maybe my subconscious had it right all along! Wouldn’t be the first time. 🙂

If you’re curious – and I hope you are! – check out Major Arcana on Wattpad. I do love comments and critiques!

maor arcana

 

A well-needed makeover… Ancient Greece style! (+giveaways!)

So as most of you fair readers know, my first – and, up till now, only – full-length erotic romance is An Amazon’s Equal. It’s been published, for sale, out there in the world for a while now, with my original cover art at the helm. As you also know, my first visionamazon cover jpg 2 for the cover was, alas, censored, due to artistic nudity. (Here’s a little reminder of how fabulous it was! Sigh… I did love that vision. But, art must bow to business sometimes, I suppose…)

Anyway, it became clear to me that An Amazon’s Equal needed a makeover. I still take pride in my art, both written and visual, so I knew I wanted to do the cover image by hand as usual. But it needed something more; it needed flair. (Also, clothes…)

That’s when I called on my friend The Book Khaleesi. She took my artwork and my vision, and put it all together into a fabulous new cover. Are you ready? Here it comes:

Amazons Equal ebook Cover

It looks amazing, right? Exactly as I’d hoped – but way better than my meager cover design skills could produce alone. So grateful for the fast, professional service! Now I can feel proud of my work, from the inside out.

Now I like celebrating milestones – like my first professionally-designed cover – and I decided to do it with a couple giveaways.

First: a fabulous Goodreads giveaway for six print editions of An Amazon’s Equal.  Now you know my feelings about paper; I love it. (Read more about my transition to eBook reading here! I still prefer to hold a real paperback in my hands, caress its pages, heft its weight, give it all my attention in a way Kindle will never replace… but I do like my eReader for the bus.)

Second: for the next three days – Yes! Count ’em! THREE! – you can grab a Kindle edition of An Amazon’s Equal for FREE on Amazon. That’s right, free April 10, 11, 12, for your immediate reading pleasure.

Please share the news with your friends, erotica-loving acquaintances, dirty-minded bosses, kinky grandmas, or whoever else needs a good dose of New Adult erotic romance in their life.

Enjoy!

Going Straight to the Heart of It: Fated (a comic for gamers and those who love them)

Okay, now I have to out myself as the complete and utter nerd I am: many years ago my friends and I played tabletop D&D. Yes, it was awesome. And wonderful. And hilarious. We ate a lot of Skittles; we laughed a ton. My friend was the DM (that means Dungeon Master, for you poor uninitiated ones), and she always came up with great campaigns for us. Our characters also did a surprising amount of shopping and seducing the local lads, in addition to killing monsters and such…. you know, like you do.

Anyway, life goes on, things change, I don’t D&D anymore. But it’s still a source of many fond memories, so when great blog gaming-themed posts come up, I’m all in. A friend of mine shared this comic, and since then I have read it many times. Friends, would you please drop whatever you are doing and check out: Fated, written by Jasmine Walls, illustrated by Amy Phillips.

So here’s what I love about Fated. First, it’s just so funny. We’ve all been there – you’re all ready to do an amazing move, win the battle or whatever, and then you role a 1. Epic fail. So the opposite of what you intended happens; it’s a real frustration. Also the source of unending hilarity. Basically this is what happens in Fated – you will laugh your pants off.

That’s not why I’m sharing this comic, though. It came to me earlier, when I was writing my post about diverse characters in erotica, that what I’m really looking for is effortless diversity. In the world, yes, but since that’s a tall order, at least in art. And Fated delivers that. Without making a big deal about it – without even saying it – the artists have managed to portray a group of people who clearly know and care about each other, with evidently different backgrounds and beliefs. They’re friends; they laugh, they joke, they tease – especially when unexpected gay romance takes the stage. For me, that’s effortless diversity.

That’s my goal. That’s the way I want the world to be – that’s what I’m working for.

And in the meantime I’m gonna go ahead and check out Fated again. It makes me smile every time!

Unite in the Dance

This morning I went to a spectacular belly dance event / brunch. Amateurs and professionals all performing to live music, glittering in their costumes, showing off all their favorite moves. As usual the dancers were a delight to watch; one was particularly hypnotic with her zills. For me, though, the best part of the event was the audience.

Belly dance has its origins in specific cultures of North Africa and the Middle East, but I believe it has truly become an international women’s dance. Women of all backgrounds, cultures, and body types have embraced it. Each dancer brings her personal take to the dance, elevating it from a cultural relic to a celebration of the feminine in all its diversity. You don’t have to look a certain way, think a certain way, or be from a certain place in order to belly dance; you just have to feel it in you.

There’s nothing better, for me, than to see women from diverse backgrounds coming together in dance. One of my dancer friends is Nigerian-American, bringing her West African flair to the stage. Another performer was Japanese-American; one came from Algeria, another from Ukraine, one of Mexican heritage, and of course some were good old-fashioned “American blend,” like me, the product of so many European ancestors we’ve lost track of where they came from originally. I sat by a charming older Chinese-American lady, and we chatted and bonded watching all those beautiful women dance. At the table next to me was a group of ladies (Somali, maybe) wearing headscarves. Later we all danced together on the open floor, along with the other giddy audience members.

Diversity, I think, means creating a space where we can all feel comfortable, where we all belong. As evidenced by the above paragraph, I come from a culture of jarringly specific labels, mostly in an attempt to be politically correct yet also open about people’s varied backgrounds. But better than pointing it out, rather celebrate it. Just love and appreciate this dance where we can come together, all of us, and share the stage.

Nipple necklaces: fabulous or faux pas?

So my husband and I spent last weekend in Vancouver, BC. It was gray, rainy, cold, and wonderful. While strolling in the adorable Gastown neighborhood, just after enjoying a  once-hourly serenade by the historic “steam clock,” we ended up outside a lingerie shop. The two mannequins in the window were wearing typical pretty bra-and-panty sets, one a particularly sexy scoop cup of the kind that exposes the nipples. And both mannequins sported jewelry I’d never seen before: nipple chains.

Okay, Canada. I’m game. Tell me more!

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One I saw in the shop window looked almost exactly like this.

These were not for pierced nipples, mind you, but kind of a necklace with wire loops that (I assume) are to be tightened around the nipple to hold it on. I thought they looked kinda sexy, if a bit impractical. (Wouldn’t it fall right off? I guess if you had the right nipples…) My husband sternly decried it as foolishness. Which makes me want to try it out, just to mess with him. That would make for one hell of an entrance. Hehehe!

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You can really see the wire loops here… I’m curious to know if they actually hold the stuff on!
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Another one was like this, a dangle with beads.

Needless to say, my interest was piqued. Further research reveals that indie artisans at the fabulous Etsy.com can hook you up with any number of nipple jewelry creations. If you like what you see, click on the pic and check it out! Or take a peek at these online shops:

WireWear

BoDivas

Nippleicious

Black Velvet

Bodacious Body Jewelry

Serenity in Chains

(There are a ton more artists and shops. Check Etsy out and see what else you can find!)

What do you think? Is nipple jewelry foolish, fun, seductive or laughable? Or all of those together? I’m thinking it would work for a fun boudoir photo shoot, at the very least! Also pretty sure they will be making an appearance in some of my future erotica. I can think of several interesting possibilities…

Untold Stories of the Bible: the Queen of Sheba

 

This is a bittersweet post for me. It’s been a great six weeks, researching and sharing sexy history with you. I’ve connected with new readers, pissed some people off, and inspired some great conversations. Over 500 people entered the giveaway for a print version since I opened it a month ago. And now it’s all coming to an end. This is the last planned Ancients post for a while. That’s not to say there will never be more! But for me, this is a last hurrah before I must return to the mundane modern world.

So let’s bring it all back to an early source of inspiration (and questions) for me: the Bible. In particular, the Song of Songs…

(Sources are listed at the end. Click on any image to link to its source page.)

 

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illustrated song of songs
A beautiful illustration from the Song of Songs, by artist Hans Erni.

In the Bible’s Old Testament there is an unusually erotic chapter, nestled in there between Ecclesiastes and Isaiah: the Song of Songs, also known as Song of Solomon.

As a girl sitting in church, reading through the Bible, this one immediately caught my eye. I spent many a Sunday morning reading it, wondering at the beautiful language, the poetry of love and longing, the sexual attraction that rose through the pages. You can read the full text here, but below are some snippets that stirred me during my churchgoing adolescence:

…Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth; for your love is better than wine…

…I am dark, but lovely, you daughters of Jerusalem, like Kedar’s tents, like Solomon’s curtains…

…As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under his shadow with great delight, his fruit was sweet to my taste. He brought me to the banquet hall. His banner over me is love.Strengthen me with raisins, refresh me with apples; For I am faint with love. His left hand is under my head. His right hand embraces me…

…How beautiful are your feet in sandals, prince’s daughter! Your rounded thighs are like jewels, the work of the hands of a skillful workman. Your body is like a round goblet, no mixed wine is wanting. Your waist is like a heap of wheat, set about with lilies. Your two breasts are like two fawns, that are twins of a roe. Your neck is like an ivory tower. Your eyes are like the pools in Heshbon by the gate of Bathrabbim. Your nose is like the tower of Lebanon which looks toward Damascus. Your head on you is like Carmel. The hair of your head like purple. The king is held captive in its tresses.

How beautiful and how pleasant you are, love, for delights! This, your stature, is like a palm tree, your breasts like its fruit. I said, “I will climb up into the palm tree. I will take hold of its fruit.” Let your breasts be like clusters of the vine, the smell of your breath like apples, Beloved, Your mouth like the best wine, that goes down smoothly for my beloved, gliding through the lips of those who are asleep…

[more of that version can be found here]

Also, check out this artist’s stunning illustrations of the Song of Songs!

Hot stuff, right? (Especially if you’re reading it during an otherwise staid Presbyterian church service.) Of course, I had the same thought you did: what the hell is it doing in the Bible?! According to many Church sources, it was decided that this erotic union between a man and a woman – so clearly depicted in the love poem – was an allegory for God’s love towards the Israelite people. Though I am not a theologian, I find this hard to buy. For me, it’s clearly all about a passionate young couple, dreaming of one another and their future together in the most poetic words they can.

Which begs the next question. Who wrote it? And who is it about?

meeting solomon
Solomon meeting the Queen of Sheba, by artist Giovanni De Min (1789 – 1859)

As usual, history is unclear. The song is generally attributed to the celebrated King Solomon – as famous for his skills as a lover as he was for serving God. And one of his most famous visitors was the enigmatic Queen of Sheba.

oldqueen
As imagined by medieval Europeans, from an illustrated manuscript in Prague.
warriorqueen
The Queen of Sheba on horseback, as depicted in an Ethiopian fresco.

Sheba itself is a mysterious land, so ancient that people are not even sure exactly where it was. Some scholars have suggested it’s in the Southern Arabian Peninsula, around modern-day Yemen. In Arabic legend she is named Bilquis; a name as lovely as the woman was reported to be. However, most believe that Sheba was an ancient name for the (also ancient, and fascinating) country of Ethiopia. There, she was known as Makeda, which is the name I chose for the queen in my story.

Legend has it that the Queen of Sheba heard of Solomon’s legendary wisdom and knowledge, so she went to Jerusalem with an astonishing retinue. There, she tested King Solomon with hard questions, all of which he answered to her satisfaction. And, after giving her “all that she desired,” the queen went home.

Ethiopian tradition completes the story, stating that the queen gave birth to a son – Menelik – on the way home to Sheba. When he had grown into a young man, Menelik went to visit his father on his own, and ended up making off with the Ark of the Covenant. According to legend, the Ark’s final resting place is in Ethiopia. In addition, the Kings of Ethiopia are considered, to this day, rulers by divine right of their direct descendance from the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon. Emperor Haille Selassie even enshrined the fact in the Ethiopian Constitution of 1955. This legend is also supported by the strength of the Jewish and, later, the Christian faith in Ethiopia. It is one of the oldest Christian lands on Earth, despite being surrounded by neighbors of different faiths. And the fascinating story of Ethiopian Jews is also one of the world’s many mysteries. Food for thought…

prettyqueen
The beautiful Queen of Sheba – a modern rendition.

The idea of a beautiful, intelligent, strong foreign queen, who takes all she wants from Solomon and then caravans home in style, is of course an appealing one for an erotica author. After a while, though, you get tired of writing about royalty; they get more than their share of the limelight. So I decided to focus instead on the unmentioned characters of Sheba’s magnificent entourage: the servants.

queenofshebmodern
She is also an empowering Black character of the Bible – one of many who go far too often unmentioned.

By placing Sheba in Ethiopia, I was able to draw on my experiences with the large Ethiopian-American community here in Seattle. I go out for Ethiopian food a lot. The spices, the tang of injira bread, the sensuality of eating with your hands, all brings to mind a country of rich history. And the women are beautiful, with their rich brown skin, dark eyes, curling black hair, and white traditional dresses. In designing the Sheban women, I thought of them and all the strength, beauty, and independence they portray.

In the end, this story emerged as one of the most romantic in the Ancients collection. A fitting tribute, I hope, to the eternal beauty of the Song of Songs; and the mystery of that fabulous, mysterious, ancient Queen of Sheba.Sheba cover SMASH

***

Sources:
http://www.usccb.org/bible/songofsongs/0
http://www.pbs.org/mythsandheroes/myths_four_sheba.html
http://www.ethiopiantreasures.co.uk/pages/aksum.htm
http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/cultures/sheba_01.shtml

A mystery from the grave

Sometimes stories emerge from the merest whisper of a thought. How many of us have built a whole story around the refrain of a song, a particular setting, a stranger glimpsed on the bus? How many of us have grabbed hold of a fragile, timid idea, and taken it for a ride? Or, rather, let it take us for a ride; since all authors know our stories tell themselves. We are merely the vessels through which they travel.

I know that, like a parent, I really shouldn’t have favorite stories. However, I feel special affection for this one. It bloomed from the desert, survived many years of writers’ block, abandonment, and revision, and emerged into a beautiful romance. Though I have no proof that they actually lived, the characters in this story resonate with me. I hope they truly existed as I imagine them, and that their lives had a happy ending.

(Sources are listed at the end. Click on any image to link to its source page.)

 

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The History

The Girl with the Golden Eye, unlike all my other “Ancients” stories, was inspired by an actual news article. I read it long ago, way back in college; probably stumbled upon it while avoiding my textbooks. (Here it is, exactly as I read it then, in the Digital Journal)

deadeye
The skeleton lying in her grave. See the eye tucked into its socket – not so golden now, but still striking.

To paraphrase the article: on the Iran/Afghan border, in 2007 or so, archaeologists discovered the tomb of an ancient woman. She was buried about 5,000 years ago. They guessed she was about 25-30 years old at the time of death; not bad for a woman of her time. However, a few details made her stand out from other graves of the period:

  • First, she was a strikingly tall woman. Nearly six feet! Women of our time rarely grow this tall, and generally people of the past were much shorter, men and women both. (This immediately got my writer’s brain churning, wondering how she would have felt to be so tall, unlike everyone else around her…)
  • Second, she was buried with an ornate hand mirror made of bronze. (Where did she get it? Why was it so important to be buried with her?)

    eye closeup
    A closeup of the design. Notice the lines coming out from the center, and the hole bored in the edge for a fastening string.
  • Third – and most interesting – in one eye socket she wore a golden ball. Carved with lines flowing from a circle, like a sun with rays of light, it was made of some kind of paste and painted gold. A hole was bored through it, permitting it to be attached with a string. Impressions in the eye socket also suggest that she actually wore it in life, not just in death. (At this point my mind was racing. An exceptionally tall women with a golden eye? The character just appeared fully grown, like that! But then I started thinking… what would her job have been? How did she use her eye? And how did she get it in the first place? So many wonderful historical questions – that will forever remain unanswered, except through imagination…)

According to the article, archaeologists assumed she must have been some kind of priestess or soothsayer, perhaps using her shining eyeball to see into the future. In any case, she would have been a shocking character, and surely unique in her community.

The Mystery

overview picHonestly, the rest is all mystery. My questions in italics weren’t answered, of course, and no amount of Google searching will make them appear. 5,000 years was a long freakin’ time ago; we’ll never know for sure, now, the truth of everything from way back then. We will just have to take this small, mysterious discovery and pack it away with all the other unanswered questions.

Except as an author I can’t stand for that! This character appeared, captured my attention, and demanded to be released. So I let her out.

Her story begins with a timid young girl, scarred by violence in an uncertain and dangerous time. Without a protector, or family, or friends to help her, she must grow into an independent woman. Like anyone in such a dismal situation, our ancient heroine must trudge through life alone… until she discovers the secret of her magic.

goldeneye cover SMASH
…a woman whose future sight is only opened through orgasm – leaving thought behind, opening the spirit to another level of truth…

Magic sight – future sight – released by her pleasure, in the moment where the brain gives way to the raptures of the body, and conscious thought cedes place to instinct. The third eye opens; the eye she no longer possesses, sees again. She is a seeress. A prophetess. A feared and powerful priestess. But she is no longer a woman; not for them.

Until a chance for love comes into her life. For her to grasp, or lose. Either way, she cannot escape her fate – nor he his.

artone
Another artist’s rendition. What a woman she must have been!

This is one of my favorite couples; I feel like they revealed themselves to me, rather than me creating them. I hope you will take the opportunity to get to know them through my story; and maybe find one of your own.

After all, with a mystery this ancient, only fiction can approach the truth.

***

Sources
http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/123458
http://www.sott.net/article/242244-5000-Year-Old-Golden-Eye-Found-on-Iran-Afghan-Border
http://www.crystalinks.com/persiangoldeneye.html
themarysue.tumblr.com/post/68888482967/kitsunecoffee-beecharts-fangirequeen

Nefertiti On My Mind

nefertiti front
The inimitable Queen Nefertiti.

Ah, Nefertiti. Her very name means beauty; “the beautiful one has come.” Thoughts of her conjure up visions of an opulent ancient civilization; a land of pharaohs, pyramids, gods and gold. Her mystery endures, as well as her famous bust – an unequivocal masterpiece of ancient art. However, Nefertiti was much more than just a pretty face… Here I will explore the extraordinary time in which she lived, and her role in it.

(Sources are listed at the end. Click on any image to link to its source page.)

 

***

Before I can introduce you to Nefertiti, I have to share some essential information about the time and place in which she lived. This famous queen can only be understood in context, and in her case the most influential element of that context was her husband: the controversial pharaoh Akhenaten.

worshipping the sun
Akhenaten, his queen, and children worshiping Aten, the sun god.

He is, by far, one of the most fascinating characters in ancient Egyptian history. Although raised, like all Egyptians, with an astonishing pantheon of gods, Akhenaten soon broke the mould. Unsatisfied with the idea of multiple gods – powerful Amun, the loving couple Isis and Osiris, royal Horus, kind-hearted Hathor, vicious Sekmet, playful Bes, and innumerable others – the pharaoh cast them all aside in favor of a single god: the sun disk, Aten. Akhenaten’s devotion to the sun god was all-encompassing, spurring him to leave tradition behind and institute a single God. He is often considered the first monotheist.

pharaoh
Akhenaten was portrayed as an odd-looking fellow. Many believe he had some physical deformities, hence the images of him with wide hips, belly pooch, narrow shoulders, long skull, and extremely thin face.

Akhenaten was also a religious zealot. He built a brand new capital city, which he christened Akhetaten, meaning “Horizon of Aten” (now known as Amhara), and moved the entire court there. Upon his death this city was all but abandoned.

His spiritual conviction stretched to names, as well. Nefertiti became known as Neferneferuaten-Nefertiti, a mouthful that means “beautiful are the beauties of Aten, for the beautiful one has come.” Akhenaten’s son Tutankhamen (yes, THAT King Tut!), was originally named Tutankhaten; the child-pharaoh’s name was forcibly changed to reflect reinstitution of the old gods after Akhenaten’s tumultuous reign. (Incidentally, Tuankhamon’s young wife, Ankhesenamun, was Nefertiti’s daughter…)

Which is enough context to launch into Nefertiti’s own story:

For all of the queen’s fame, her origins remain unknown. Egyptian pharaohs traditionally married their siblings – in order to keep the godly bloodline pure – but kings did have multiple wives, including foreign princesses sent to keep the peace. From what I have read, no evidence suggests that Nefertiti was her husband’s sister. This makes her even more remarkable, for it meant that somehow she rose to supreme power, even as a woman of unknown birth.

And rise to power she did. Contemporary art depicts her standing at the pharaoh’s side as an equal, even smiting enemies. In addition, many scenes of domestic life show the queen and the pharaoh sitting affectionately together, playing with their daughters. (Altogether, they had six girls). Despite Akhenaten’s rather odd looks, Nefertiti’s care for him must have been real on some level, to have raised a large family together, shared the power and duty of royalty, and appeared as a loving couple in so many artistic renditions.

nef akh family scene
A charming family scene showing Nefertiti, Akhenaten, and three of their daughters. (Note Aten, the sun disk, shining down over them all)

The best-known artistic rendition of Nefertiti, though, shows her alone. In fact, the years of the capital at Akhetaten birthed a vibrant new style of ancient Egyptian art, known as the Amarna style. (Click here for an excellent Brittanica article on it; fascinating history.) The Amarna style was characterized by attention to detail, changes in representation of the human body, and casual depictions of people’s daily activities. Out of this same artistic movement came the exquisite bust of Nefertiti.

Having been a fan of ancient Egypt for many years, I’ve seen my share of its artwork. Much of it is stunning, but nothing compares to Nefertiti’s sculpted bust. The detail is so realistic, it appears as if she could turn her neck to look at you. Everything – from the facial features to the paint strokes – reveals the hand of mastery. The sculptor, Thutmose, truly created a work of art that was meant to endure the ages.

However, it remains unfinished: the left eye is inexplicably unpainted.

nefertiti no eye
A superbly beautiful woman, and a work of art…
nef profile
… yet the left eye remains unpainted.

In 2009 a CT scan revealed yet another layer of mystery. It turns out that, underneath the smooth and polished outer layer, Nefertiti’s bust hides an even more realistic face. It portrays her as an aging woman with wrinkles and a bump on her nose. Is this the true face of Queen Nefertiti? If so, it speaks even more to Thutmose’s artistic excellence… and also prompts the question of why it was covered up, then left incomplete.

The mystery of Nefertiti is compounded by the fact that she only exists in records for a short time, and then suddenly disappears from history. Some believe she changed her name, perhaps disguising herself as a man to co-rule as pharaoh. Others think she was murdered. Or exiled. Nefertiti’s star shone bright, but oh so briefly.

Until now her tomb has yet to be discovered, which I believe supports the exile theory. Still, archaeologists persist in claiming to have found her tomb. Thus far none have been confirmed; this recent National Geographic article has her lying in a hidden chamber in King Tut’s tomb. Personally I find that unlikely. Why would she be buried with her unremarkable son-in-law? The priests of Amun-Ra tried to erase her religious beliefs and story, but it seems like she would have turned up somewhere if she truly did stay in Egypt during that transitional time. That kind of thinking is for the experts, though. I am merely a curious reader, and author who likes to make it spicy! Just one of the many ways in which history obliges fiction writers, by providing a wealth of possibilities and no solid answers.

body of nefertiti
As seen in this torso from the Louvre Museum, Nefertiti was a mature woman, the mother of six daughters, a luscious queen. What sculptor wouldn’t be tempted?

In my story, Queen of Beauty, I have chosen to give Nefertiti a second chance at life – and love – in exile. If she was anything like how I imagine her, I sincerely hope the truth was something like my fiction.

Nefertiti cover SMASH

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Sources:
http://www.biography.com/people/nefertiti-9421166
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/11/151126-nefertiti-tomb-tut-egypt-archaeology/
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2009/03/090331-nefertiti-bust-picture.html
http://www.britannica.com/art/Amarna-style
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nefertiti
http://www.egyptian-museum-berlin.com/c53.php