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Sunday, March 01, 2009

Author Chat: An Interview with Michelle Moran (With A Giveaway!)

Okay, so now you know how much I enjoyed Michelle Moran's first novel, Nefertiti. I can't wait to read its sequel, The Heretic Queen. In addition to being a fabulous writer, Michelle's also a fascinating person. Don't believe me? Read on ...

Me: Hi Michelle! Welcome to Bloggin' 'bout Books. Have you always had an interest in history and her famous heroines? If so, what sparked your interest? If not, when did this interest develop?

MM: I would say that my journey into the world of history actually began with the PBS television program Reading Rainbow. I was eight years old when the program featured a children’s book about dinosaurs. On the screen, a group of school children were huddled around a dinosaur bone, dressed in khakis and safari hats. They were squatting over a gigantic femur and tenderly cleaning off the dirt with their brushes. “That’s what I want to do,” I announced, and when my mother signed me up for a children’s course in paleontology at the Natural History Museum, I knew I wanted to join a dig someday.

Twelve years later I found myself sitting in Anthropology 101, and when the professor mentioned that she was looking for volunteers who would like to join a dig in Israel, I practically trampled the other students in my haste. Visions of artifacts danced in my head. After all, it was Israel, and who knew what we might find? For the three weeks before the orientation meeting, I agonized over what I should bring. Shorts, of course, and heavy boots. But what about brushes? Were there special brushes that archaeologists used, or would the ones from Home Depot be okay? I finally settled on brushes from Home Depot, and when it came time for packing, I lovingly placed them in protective wrap and imagined all the priceless artifacts they’d soon be dusting.

When I landed in Israel, I unpacked my brushes and laced up my boots. I didn’t own a fedora, but I already felt like Josh Bernstein and I was ready to Dig Up Some Truth. As we arrived at the dig site, our team leader walked to the back of his van. I watched enthusiastically as he unloaded twenty pickaxes. When he began passing them out to the volunteers, however, I became concerned. They’ve mistaken me for someone else, I panicked, someone who’s signed up to dig ditches instead of brushing delicate femurs. “What is this?” I asked when it was my turn for a pickax. “One of your tools,” our team leader replied. “There’s a shovel as well. You’ll be digging six feet by ten.” When he saw the shock on my face, he frowned. “You knew that, didn’t you?”

For weeks we dug ditches, shoveling dirt into wheelbarrows and hauling the barrels of dirt down a hill. Over that summer I think I lost ten pounds, and I know that I gained some serious muscle. Plus, I never did get to use my brushes. Only seasoned archaeologists were allowed to do the delicate work. But when our team discovered an Egyptian scarab that proved the ancient Israelites had once traded with Egyptians, I began to wonder who had owned that scarab, and what had possessed them to undertake the long journey north from their homeland to the fledgling country of Israel.

On my flight back to America I stopped in Berlin, and with a newfound appreciation for Egyptology, I visited the museum where Nefertiti’s limestone bust was being housed. The graceful curve of Nefertiti’s neck, her arched brows, and the faintest hint of a smile were captivating to me. Who was this woman with her self-possessed gaze and stunning features? I wanted to know more about Nefertiti’s story, but when I began the research into her life, it proved incredibly difficult. She’d been a woman who’d inspired powerful emotions when she lived over three thousand years ago, and those who had despised her had attempted to erase her name from history. Yet even in the face of such ancient vengeance, some clues remained.

As a young girl Nefertiti had married a Pharaoh who was determined to erase the gods of Egypt and replace them with a sun-god he called Aten. It seemed that Nefertiti’s family allowed her to marry this impetuous king in the hopes that she would tame his wild ambitions. What happened instead, however, was that Nefertiti joined him in building his own capital of Amarna where they ruled together as god and goddess. But the alluring Nefertiti had a sister who seemed to keep her grounded, and in an image of her found in Amarna, the sister is standing off to one side, her arms down while everyone else is enthusiastically praising the royal couple. From this image, and a wealth of other evidence, I tried to recreate the epic life of an Egyptian queen whose husband was to become known as the Heretic King.

Writing the novel took years of research. I wanted to be sure that when I wrote Nefertiti I was extremely accurate, down to the color of the palace tiles and shape of the women’s beads. At the same time, however, I wanted to be careful not to weigh the story down in too much detail. There needed to be the same sense of urgency, danger, and passion as filled Nefertiti’s world.

Me: I know that you travel a lot. Do you pick up ideas for stories from every place you visit or are some (like Egypt) just more inspiring to you?

MM: I pick up ideas in every place I visit. Most of those ideas will never be used, but every country has its own wealth of history which is inspiring.

Me: What's your best (funniest, most interesting, scariest, etc.) travel story?

MM: Oh gosh. This would have to go in the scariest category. Last summer when my husband and I were in Switzerland, we were navigating via GPS and came to a fork in the highway. The GPS instructed us to go left, and since there were no signs indicating we should do otherwise, we traveled left. Unfortunately, this was a freeway off-ramp we were traveling up, and as a large garbage truck came barreling down on our tiny two-person Smart Car, we swerved and avoided becoming road kill by a terrifying few seconds. You read those stories in the paper and think, "Now who would be fool enough to blindly follow instructions from a navigator?" But I can tell you, there are times when things come together - and not for the best. Between the lack of signage, the GPS, and our unfamiliarity with the roads, we very nearly snuffed it. Score 1 for my husband's quick reflexes. Score 0 for listening to electronic devices.

Me: One thing that impresses me about your books is the rich detail. How much research do you do before (or while) you write a book?

MM: I begin by purchasing what feels like every book ever written on the subject I'm interested in. Sometimes that means our mail carrier will be delivering sixty books to my house in one week. It takes me several months to go through them, and when I feel like I have a pretty strong outline of my subject's life, I make a storyboard and begin to look for holes. Whatever holes I find, I try to patch with an event that wouldn't seem too far-fetched. If I run into trouble with a setting or a scene, I have friends in the archaeological world who can advise me on whether or not something I want to include is realistic.

Which means that all of the major events and characters in NEFERTITI are based on fact. Even the description of Nefertiti’s palace and the images she had painted beneath her throne are historically accurate. Archaeologists today are extremely lucky that so much of Nefertiti’s life is well preserved. But it wasn’t always this way. After Nefertiti’s reign, her enemies tried to destroy her memory by demolishing her city. The historical character of Horemheb, in particular, wanted to be sure that nothing of hers remained, so he broke her images down piece by piece and used them to fill the columns of his own buildings. Fast forward three thousand years, however, and as Horemheb’s columns began to deteriorate, all that was left were the perfectly preserved (although broken) images of Nefertiti and her life. The irony!

But although most of this novel is based in fact, some liberties were taken with personalities, names and minor historical events. For instance, no one can be certain how Mutnodjmet felt about her sister’s vision of an Egypt without the Amun Priests, but in an image of her found in Amarna she is standing off to one side, her arms down while everyone else is enthusiastically embracing the new god Aten. In a period where art attempted to portray reality for the first time, I found this significant. And while Nefertiti did have six daughters with Akhenaten, she never, so far as we know, produced twins.

Me: You write about famous women. If you could ask one question of each of your heroines - Nefertiti, Nefertari, Mutny, and Cleopatra - what would those questions be?

MM: Oh gosh.... To Nefertiti, I'd ask what inspired her to demolish Egypt's ancient religion for one of her own. To Nefertari, I would ask how she managed to become Ramesses's most beloved wife (she had tough competition!). For for Cleopatra, I'd want to know whether it was suicide by choice, or enforced suicide because Augustus was going to kill her anyway (to me, the latter is much more likely).

Me: Your new book about Cleopatra will be available in September. What about her captured your interest?

MM: The inspiration to write Cleopatra’s Daughter came during my first visit to Augustus’s villa. For two thousand years, the Roman Emperor’s home lay atop the Palatine Hill, its frescoed halls and tiled walls slowly deteriorating. At one time, its vibrantly painted dining room had hosted magnificent feasts, one of which would have been the celebration of the emperor’s triumph over Marc Antony and Cleopatra in Egypt. As the heir to Caesar, Augustus was determined to rule the western world without interference. Once known as Octavian, he changed his name to Augustus, and with the help of his general Agrippa and his architect Vitruvius, he turned a city of clay into a city of marble.

I had known all of this on that day in March when the villa was opened for the first time in more than a century. What I hadn’t known, however, was just how unbelievable that trip into the world of ancient Rome would be. After three million dollars in restoration, Italian archaeologists had been able to recreate not just the intimate library and studies Augustus had used, but the mosaiced floors he had walked on and the vividly painted ceilings he had walked beneath with Ovid, Seneca, Cicero, Horace, and even Julius Caesar himself. As we were quickly escorted through the frescoed rooms, we stopped in the ancient triclinium – the dining room which had once seen so many famous faces smiling, laughing, crying for mercy. With a little imagination, it was easy to see the tables and couches which had once adorned the chamber, and there was the undeniable feeling of standing in the presence of the ancients. It was the kind of feeling you only got in Grecian temples or Egyptian tombs.

Immediately, I wanted to know more. Exactly who had eaten in that room, staring at the yellow and ochre walls? Which women had entertained the emperor with their stories of what had been happening in Rome while he was gone? I went to my books, and what I found sent me back to the villa the next day. I told my husband to get a good look at the triclinium again, and this time, to imagine Cleopatra’s children sitting to the right of Augustus. I could almost see eleven year old Selene with her twin brother Alexander, the pair fearful as they wondered what would become of them with their parents gone and Egypt overtaken. I could imagine their reactions when they were told they would be raised in Octavia’s villa, the woman their father (Marc Antony) had left for their mother (Cleopatra). As I surveyed the dining room one last time, I knew I had to tell young Selene’s story. From her childhood in Alexandria to her queenship in Mauretania, it was a story no other historical fiction author had ever told. I would pick up where Colleen McCullough had left off in Antony and Cleopatra, and where Margaret George had left off in Memoirs of Cleopatra. Now, of all of the books I have written, it is by far my favorite, replete with one of the greatest (and shockingly true) love stories of all time.

Me: What are you working on now?

MM: Actually, I'm still editing Cleopatra's Daughter. The process ends about six months before a novel's debut, so I have about a month more of tweaking...

Me: I ask this of every author I interview, because I find the answers so fascinating: What is your writing process? Do you have a daily writing routine or do you write only when inspiration strikes? Do you outline your books or just let the ideas flow? Is there anything you HAVE to have by your side when you write?

MM: I wake up, check email for half an hour, attend to my blog for twenty minutes, spend another half hour surfing other people’s blogs, and then at about 10am I get down to business. I open a diet coke (my mother says that when I’m fifty and have no teeth I’ll know why), check my outline for the day, and begin to write. Writing sessions are punctuated by visits to my hotmail account more frequently than I’d like to admit. But I don’t stop until I get my 2000 words, even if that’s at nine o’clock at night.

Me: Thanks so much, Michelle!


Michelle is generously offering 1 copy of Nefertiti and 2 hardcover copies of The Heretic Queen. All you have to do is answer one little question: Who do you think is the most fascinating woman in history? Leave your comment on this post along with a valid email address (if you don't have a blog). If you blog about this giveaway, I'll even give you an extra entry. How's that for an awesome giveaway? Contest ends March 14. You may enter once to win Nefertiti and once to win The Heretic Queen.


Book and author images are from Michelle's official website.


  1. Susan, I'm so glad you are offering a giveaway for a Michelle Moran book. I've been anxious to read one of her novels, since I first heard about them. I consider Eleanor of Aquitaine one of the most fascinating women in history - wife to two kings, mother of 2 kings. Wow.
    Thanks again for the giveaway.

  2. Thanks for the author chat! That was very interesting to learn about Michelle and what drives her writing.

    I have to admit that I don't know much about the timeframe, mainly because I haven't read much about it. Michelle's book, Nefertiti, would be a great introduction into that world.

    I'm going to answer with the first woman that popped in my head - Eleanor Roosevelt.

    I have added this giveaway to my sidebar.

  3. This is a hard question to answer, I could eaily list the most fascinating men in history but women are harder to pin down. I think that is just how history works. But I've always been pretty interested in Mary the mother of Jesus. I can't imagine what her story would be like!
    I'd love to win either book, but do I need to leave to comments? One for each? Hopefully this one will be enough to get entered for both. Thanks for the giveaway.

  4. Thank you for taking the time to interview me! And wow - great question... and with so many possible answers...!

  5. My favorite woman in history? Wow, that's a toughy, obviously. I just read Eliza R. Snow's journals and was fascinated that she accomplished so much--she was obviously a strong, highly-motivated woman. :) So I'll go with her for now.

  6. I'm going to go for more recent history, but I'd say Laura Ingalls Wilder. She was so strong growing up as a pioneer and wrote many other things besides the Little House on the Prairie series.

    By the way, that was an excellent review with Michelle!

  7. I really really think Emma Smith was a remarkable woman. She had to have so much faith to keep going like she did. I love reading about her, and she just seemed so strong in everything she did.:)
    Thanks for the giveaway!;)

  8. I think Susan Jensen is the most fascinating woman in history. Followed by Eve.

  9. For my second entry I am going to say the wife of Noah. How did she deal with all that craziness?

  10. I would have to say I've always been fascinated by Joan of Arc. She was willing to go into battle for what she believed in. I like to think of her as having a ferocious spirit. Thanks for the opportunity to be entered in the drawing! Indigo

  11. I think one of the most fascinating women in history would have to be Mary. Hands down.

  12. For my second entry I'm going to say Queen Esther. She was one tough cookie.

  13. I posted about your giveaway on my blog!

  14. I've always been intrigued with Cleopatra. Though there are several historical women that disquised themselves as men in order to accomplish what was driving them. I expect we really don't know how many were never found out. Anyway, that was a very interesting author chat. Thanks for offering the drawing

  15. Hello! great site! I check it often!
    Personally, the most interesting woman in history was Marie Antoinette. Talk about ONE innocent woman taking the blame for an entire country's mistakes!


  16. For my second post...Another woman of history that I find absolutely fascinating is Athenais, Madame de Montespan. Was she guilty of participating in the Affair of the Poisons or not? The world may never know...

    Again, thank you for the opportunity to win one of these two book! I am VERY Hopeful :)


  17. Is it open worldwide? Anyway always loves a good question :)

    Ever since I read about Emma who was twice queen of England in the 11th century, I have been fascinated by her.

  18. And a second woman is Boudicca, her i haven't read as much about but I would sure like to.

  19. Your interview was very interesting, and I think I will read her books even if I don't win them. Dolly Madison was an interesting woman, especially since she was the first "real" First Lady.

  20. fabulous interview followed by a fabulous giveaway thanks

  21. Oh I'd love to win one of these books! She and I sound so much alike, thanks for the great interview! I find Elizabeth I fascinating. utgal2004[at]yahoo[dot]com

  22. For the second book, I think Eleanor Roosevelt is fascinating. utgal2004[at]yahoo[dot]com

  23. I've always thought that Annie Oakley was. She was ahead of her time and excelled where most woman didn't dare to go. She embodies the romance of the Old Wild West days.

  24. I'd have to say Cleopatra was a fascinating woman of her time.

    msboatgal at aol dot com

  25. I agree with many of the other comments about fascinating women in history, but because I recently read The Hiding Place I would pick Corrie and Betsie Ten Boom who both had fascinating abilities to make something good out of horrific situations.

    I heard about your blog from Laurel, who is my visiting teacher. Thanks for the great information on books!


  26. This interview is great! I think my answer would change day to day but right now I think Queen Victoria is a fascinating character. The extent of her kingdom was so wide reaching and the influence she wielded...makes me wonder what type of person she was behind the crown.

  27. Nice interview! I've posted this on Win a Book. Don't enter me in the contest.

  28. These sound like very cool books. I have always found past queens to be particularly interesting, from Nefertiti to Queen Victoria

  29. Hmmm, the most fascinating woman in history. Hard one because I'm kind of History Stupid, but I'd say Cleopatra. I don't quite know why. I notice someone said Esther and I'm studying her, right now. Yep, definitely agree that she was a fascinating character. There is so much in that little bitty chapter of the Bible.

    bookfoolery at yahoo dot com

    I love your photo of you and the baby -- haven't been here in a while, so does that mean you have a new little one?

  30. There are so many interesting women in history that my mind is just jumbling together now.

    Let me, for my first entry, say Hatshepsut. She was a Pharaoh! A true woman of power who could manage an civilization like Egypt. Amazing.


  31. I would have to say Empress Wu, the first and only female emperor of China during the 7th century Tang dynasty. I've always held such fascination for women monarchs in country's where such is forbidden or even unthinkable.

  32. For my second entry, I will say Cornelia Cornelius. She gave birth and supported her sons, the Gracchi. She was a true symbol of a Roman matron.

    (And I love that picture of the author with Augustus behind her... he's such an impressively wonderful man!)


  33. Blogged this contest:


  34. Great interview! I've read The Heretic Queen and absolutely loved it, I couldn't put it down! One interesting woman (out of many..) was Queen Elizabeth.. She's had so much to deal with by herself.
    Have a good one! (lpmccann (at)!)

  35. :) GREAT AUTHOR Interview. So informative and interesting!

    I sat for a minute and thought about the most interesting woman in my mind. Right now I am really interested Ann Boleyn. People either really love her and feel sorry for her end, or people hate her. She did so many things in her short life and went with dignity to her death.

    I've been reading a lot of books about her can you tell?

    Thanks for holding the contest!

  36. Personally speaking, I'd say that lady is Mother Teresa. To leave her home and family behind to care for the poor and the sick in Calcutta, takes untold courage. I've always been fascinated with this brave lady.

    Thanks for this great giveaway!
    callmeabookworm at gmail dot com

  37. There are a few historical women who catch my eye. I'm going to have to to with Hatshepsut this time though. I saw a musical about her life and now, anytime I see a book on her, I end up buying a copy.

  38. For me, Joan of Arc and any of the women from the Salem Witch Trials top the list of fascinating women. Also up there would be the wives of Henry VIII, especially Anne Boleyn. Thanks for the chance to win!

  39. No need to enter me, as I've read both books. Just wanted to say this was a fabulous interview. Isn't Michelle great? Can't wait for her next book!

    Diary of an Eccentric

  40. I have been reading about Ann Boleyn lately and find her very interesting.

    Please enter me for Heretic Queen. THanks!

  41. I think Elizabeth I is the most fascinating woman in history. asthenight at gmail dot com

  42. Would love to be entered in the contest!

    Favorite woman in history...because of the books I've just finished reading, I'd say Isabel de Clare, wife of William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke.

  43. I think Elizabeth I is rather fascinating. Though I'm sure Nefertiti is interesting in the hands of Ms. Moran. :-)

  44. I think a most fascinating woman is actually still with us... the current Queen Elizabeth. She's been through so much and seen her world change so dramatically.

    Thanks for the giveaway!

  45. Perhaps Queen Victoria b/c she ruled for so long during a historic time.
    Thanks for the giveaway!

  46. Amelia Earhart!
    Thanks so much
    darbyscloset at yahoo dot com

  47. My 2nd entry - one for each book....
    Annie Oakley!
    Thanks so much
    darbyscloset at yahoo dot com

  48. I have no idea who the most fascinating woman is. Some of the women I meet today who hold down jobs, raise kids, satisfy their husbands and still manage to hold an intelligent conversation, keep up with what's going on in the world, look good AND fix a meal are pretty darn fascinating.

  49. I love any historical novel, especially with a strong woman in the lead!
    My favorite historical character is Irena Sendler. I would LOVE to read something written about her. She's considered the "mother of the children of the Holocaust" because she saved the lives of so many children :)

  50. I love historical novels and there are a lot of fascinating people that I like to read about -- two of them would be Elizabeth the I and Queen Victoria -- but my list is really long :-)

  51. I'ld love to read Michelle Morans Neffertiti and the Heretic Queen as I have found Egypt a place of interest when it comes to history. The most fascinating woman I would enjoy learning more about, Boudica and what drove her to stand alone against the Roman army. She was a woman to be remembered.

    Thank you for the chance to win these two wonderful books.

  52. Abigail Adams was a pretty amazing woman to me.

  53. Please include me in your giveaway.

  54. I am an amateur Egyptologist, if there ever was one! I love Egyptian History and historical fiction set in Egypt. I would have to say that my favorite woman in history would be Mary Magdalene and how the Church has attempted to alter who she really was in the Bible. I am also fond of Cleopatra. Thank you so much.

  55. I'd really love to win one (or both!) of these books. For my first entry, I have to say Eleanor of Acquitaine. I can't read enough about her!

    geebee.reads AT gmail DOT com

  56. For my second entry, it would have to be Boadicea -- there isn't enough written about her.

    Thanks for the chance to win one of these books -- they sound great!

    geebee.reads AT gmail DOT com

  57. Oh cool. Great giveaway! I'd like to be entered if I may :). This is my entry for the first book. I'll leave another comment for the other with a link to my blog post about both :P.

  58. And for my second comment/entry: one heck of an interview!

    And I blogged about this giveaway here:


  59. i think queen elizabeth the first was the most interesting!

  60. For my first entry, I'm going to say that Queen Elizabeth I fascinates me.


  61. For my second entry, for the second book (I've been dying to read both of these), I'm going to go with Joan of Arc, for what I'm sure are obvious reasons.


  62. I also blogged this here:


  63. I love to read about Abigail Adams. She was such a strong woman.
    I would love to win Heretic Queen--I've already read and loved Nefertiti!

  64. Cleopatra was my first thought!

    I really enjoyed reading your post. I would love to win a copy of Nefertiti. Thank you!
    Carol M
    mittens0831 AT

  65. There are so many great women in history that I wish I knew better... I've been fascinated with Rebekah from the old testament, and I really want to read more about Abigail Adams. I'm totally intrigued by her!

    photofrenzy at cox dot net

  66. Queen Elizabeth the first (wife of Henry VIII) - without a doubt, I absolutely LOVE reading about her. Also, Mary Queen of Scots. These books sound incredible, and I really enjoyed reading your interview with Michelle Moran.

  67. That was a great author chat! I have been very excited to read her work.

    I think the most interesting woman in history is Eleanor of Aquitaine. After all, how many women can claim relations to 4 kings in their lifetime?


  68. Great giveaway! So many ladies to choose from--guess my first thought is Amelia Earhart who lived her life her own way as well as made her mark in a man's world.

  69. And for my second entry I'm going to agree with the people who said Abigail Adams.

  70. Who do you think is the most fascinating woman in history? I would say Ruth Peale, wife of Norman Vincent Peale. I read a book written by her and in it she talked about all the things she did for her husband so that he could stay focused on his writing. I really admired her.
    I would love to be entered in your draw for the book.
    wandanamgreb AT gmail DOT com

  71. WOW! What a question! Well, I think the most fascinating woman in history is Ruth Graham, the wife of Billy Graham. Ruth had to endure so much time alone while raising her children so Billy could go and preach the gospel. She showed a great deal of strength and faith...not to mention prayer in order to raise her family. I admire her very much.

    JodiMof3 at hotmail dot com

  72. Oh, there's so many. Hellen Keller is very interesting to read about.

    I blogged about it here:

  73. Both Nefertiti and Cleopatra are both fascinating. Others I would include Abigail Adams, Anne Frank, Helen Keller, Eve, Mary, my motheer and grandmother.

  74. For my first entry, I'm going to go with Susan B. Anthony.

  75. I don't have either book (I've been dying to read both of them) - so for my 2nd entry I have to say Harriet Tubman. Thanks for the giveaway!!


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