About James Callan

Writer of mystery & suspense novels, with occasional books on the craft of writing.

The Cairo Puzzle

Today’s guest is Laurence O’Bryan.  He’s an Irish writer who has achieved some notoriety with his “puzzle” novels.  Today, he talks about his fifth in the series, The Cairo Puzzle. 

I visited the Great Pyramid of Giza in February, 2017. The passages inside were very different to what I had imagined. They were smaller and narrower. But the Grand Gallery, shown above, is a stunning space, which we still don’t understand.

It’s located in the center of the pyramid and leads to the King’s Chamber, the location of a number of scenes in The Cairo Puzzle. See its location below.

The interior of the Great Pyramid. CP Smyth, 1877.

What interested me most was the possibility that the Grand Gallery was a scared space used for the recitation of hymns by the ancient Egyptian priesthood. The space echoes wonderfully. It would have been a powerful place in which to recite hymns.

If this was the case, the Cannibal Hymn is likely to have been recited there.

Appearing first in the Pyramid of Unas at the end of the Fifth Dynasty, the Cannibal Hymn preserves an early royal butchery ritual in which the deceased king slaughters, cooks and eats the gods and others, incorporating into himself their powers.

The style of the Cannibal Hymn is characteristic of the recitational poetry of pharaonic Egypt. This will give you a taste of what the Cannibal Hymn was about:

A god who lives on his fathers,

who feeds on his mothers…

Unas is the bull of heaven

Who rages in his heart,

Who lives on the being of every god,

Who eats their entrails

When they come, their bodies full of magic

From the Isle of Flame…

The cannibal hymn also reappeared in the Coffin Texts as Spell 573.

Which got me thinking. Where did the early Christian fathers get the idea of Christ’s body and blood being given out to all those who attend Mass? Isn’t there an echo of our cannibalistic past in this central Christian ritual?

Christ himself is believed to have spent his missing years in Egypt. If so, that may have been where he learned his magic, turning water into wine and raising the dead. Egypt was the home of ancient magic and a place of great medical knowledge. Roman Emperors wanted their physicians to be Egyptian.

Galen, one of the most influential physician in history, who helped the Empire deal with the Antonine plague studied at the great medical school in Alexandra. Hippocrates (the “father of medicine”), studied at the temple of Amenhotep, and acknowledged the contribution of ancient Egyptian medicine to Greek medicine.

That Christ learned how to heal the sick in Egypt is a perfectly reasonable proposition. That his followers adapted the ideas of the Egyptian priesthood, including the mythic symbolism of eating a part of a god to have something of that god transferred to you, is also very reasonable.

Whether the ancient Egyptians priests were also cannibals is open for debate.

The question is, how does this all relate to The Cairo Puzzle? Well, here’s the thing, the Great Pyramid still holds secrets. The parts that we know inside represent only a small part of what the ancients described as being inside the great pyramid.

Historical commentators, such as Manetho and Plutarch, claimed that a Hall of Records, under the area of the pyramids at Giza, housed written records of the founders of Egypt. And records of ancient cities that came before, and of how the larger pyramids were constructed.

If the Hall of Records contains such records, it will also contain more details of the uses of the Cannibal Hymn.

As the Cairo Puzzle opens, Isabel Ryan travels to the city in search of Sean, her husband, who went missing, presumed dead, at the end of The Nuremberg Puzzle. The first place she looks for him is in a hospital.

To find out more stay tuned. The Cairo Puzzle will be released in July, 2017.

 

 

Make Flawed Characters Likable

Today’s guest is Kristin Neva, an author and blogger who writes small-town fiction set on Upper Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula.

Kristin’s first book, Heavy, co-authored with her husband, Todd, journeys through the first year after Todd’s ALS diagnosis as the Nevas struggle to find meaning, hold on to faith, and discover joy in the midst of pain.

She will give a copy of her book Copper Country, A Copper Island Novel, to someone who comments, so please sign up.

3 Ways to Make Deeply Flawed Characters Likable

If you’ve ever interviewed for a job, you may have been asked about your greatest strengths and weaknesses. It’s a trick question. They’re looking for chinks in your armor.

You may have answered with a weakness that can only benefit your potential employer — “Sometimes I’m so dedicated to my work that I forget to eat lunch and I get really hungry.”

It’s a non-weakness.

If our characters are too perfect, our readers will write them off as unrealistic. Readers want flawed characters.

Some flaws are endearing. In a romance, we cheer for the nice guy who likes the girl but tries too hard. We laugh at the absent-minded professor and the clumsy detective.

But when we write about deep themes, we may want our characters to have deep flaws, even at the risk of making them less likable. A sarcastic waitress. A judgmental woman.

Flaws may be part of the character arc or necessary for the conflict, but the protagonist must still be likable.

Here are three ways to make deeply flawed characters likable:

  • Have her save a cat

In the 1978 Christopher Reeves movie, Superman literally saves a cat stuck in a tree in one of the opening scenes.

In my most recent novel, Copper Country, my main character has a sharp edge to her tongue. To make Aimee more likable, I inserted a intellectually disabled young man into an early scene with Aimee working at a diner so she could demonstrate her kind heart.

“I got three dollars and fifty-seven cents.” Mikey strewed crumpled bills and loose change on the counter.

“That’ll buy you whatever you want.” It didn’t matter how much he had, because Aimee always covered the rest from her tips.

  • Make the character recognize and regret her flaw.

In my first novel, Snow Country, Beth is interested in Danny, but she recoils when he tells her about his sexual past.

One of my beta-readers didn’t like my main character because she was judgmental, but that was one of the main conflicts driving the book. So I had Beth recognize and regret her flaw.

“I’ll go now.” He stood.

“Don’t go.” She held his forearm and pulled him back down to the chair. “I’m sorry I was judgmental. I don’t want to be like that.”

Her judgmental-ism continued to be an issue in the story, but her being self-aware of the flaw makes it more palatable.

  • Show potential for change.

Readers will tolerate a flawed central character if they see potential for change.

In my first novel, my main character Beth is not only judgmental, but also lacks confidence. Beth had just been jilted a few weeks before her wedding, and she is understandably upset. She is 25 years old, and she’d like to move on with her life, but her mother is super controlling.

My beta-readers were not really rooting for her, but they couldn’t quite put their finger on why not.

I learned that readers do not like weak characters. They’ll root for underdogs only when they show courage. But the central character arc of my first book was Beth developing sisu, which is the word Finnish-Americans use for resilience in the face of adversity.

Ultimately, I rewrote the opening scene in which her fiancé dumps her during their burrito lunch, giving her a little more spunk than she had in earlier drafts.

“We can still be friends.” He wiped his desk with a napkin.

Well, I like my friends so that’s not going to work, she thought. “Let me help you clean that up.” She swept both burritos into the garbage can.

“Hey, I was going to eat that.”

“I was going to marry you.” She plunked the can down next to him. “Go ahead. Eat it.” She twisted the engagement ring off her finger and was about to throw it at him, but then thought better of it. She stuffed it in her pocket and left.

Those are just three ideas to make flawed characters more likable. I’d love to read other ideas from you.

Comment below and we’ll enter your name in a drawing to win a copy of Kristin’s new novel, Copper Country.

Learn more about Kristin and explore Copper Island at KristinNeva.com

 

The Last Frontier

Today’s guest is Deborah Dee Harper, a writer from TennesseeHarper (2) who graduated from Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild where Misstep was a finalist in the 2009 Operation First Novel competition.  Recently, she moved to Eagle River, Alaska.  Read her post here and I’m sure you’ll want to grab one of her books.

Moving to the Last Frontier

My oldest daughter, her five-year-old daughter, and I recently made the 4,061 mile move from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, to Eagle River, Alaska, which was viewed as ridiculous by most of our family members (and probably a few of the neighbors). Can’t say as I blame them. Yes, it was a drastic move, but also one we did not take lightly. We’d lived on Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage (ten miles south of Eagle River) from 2008 through 2012, so we were familiar with the vicinity, the weather, geography, and cost of living of the Last Frontier (not to be confused with William Shatner’s Final Frontier). It wasn’t unplanned by any stretch of the imagination. We thought long and hard about it, and in the end, decided to take the plunge.

Our reasons were many and varied. We love the wild, pristine, natural setting of Alaska. We look forward to watching bears, moose, eagles, foxes, wolves, beavers, and porcupines cross our paths (some of those more dangerous ones would be from the safety of our car), and love the magnificence of the scenery up here. The mountains, ocean, waterfalls, rivers, glaciers, lakes, streams, and unending forests are awe-inspiring. Yes, there are towns and cities like any other state, and to be honest, it’s getting harder every day to distinguish Anchorage (which, in my opinion, was once about fifty years behind the rest of the U.S. when it came to shopping, restaurants, etc.) from any city of the same size in the lower 48. But once you leave those towns and cities, you enter a wild paradise of natural wonders.

One of the reasons I was open to moving here was that it no longer matters where in the world a writer lives. The internet has made writing from anywhere possible. In the pre-internet years (remember those?), a writer’s proximity to the publishing meccas of the country was important. Snail mail made submitting an arduous process of writing, editing, finalizing, compiling the submissions packet, targeting your publishers, putting it in the mail, and then … waiting. And waiting. It could take a month, six months, a year. And even after waiting all that time, there was absolutely no guarantee 1.) they even got it, 2.) the person to whom it was addressed hadn’t left or died, 3.) it hadn’t been inadvertently tossed away, or 4.) it would be an acceptance. The internet and relatively instant submission process has certainly made a difference in that regard. But just as importantly, now that most of the civilized world is connected in one way or another to the internet, a writer can work from anywhere as long as he/she can reach that internet connection.

That’s important to me and to other writers who want to write from places that inspire them. Alaska does that for me. Whether or not we choose to stay in Alaska for a year, ten years, or longer, it’s important to me to know I can live where I want and still do what I enjoy—writing humorous and inspirational books.

If you’ve had any “adventurous” moves, tell us about them in a comment.  Thanks.

What’s in Your Retirement?

Retirement Can Change Your Life – Or Someone Else’s Life.

Retirement. That word means different things to different people. And it means different things to an individual at different times of his or her life.

Some see it as an opportunity to travel, to go places time has not permitted in the past. Others see it as a time to kick back and do nothing, watch more TV, read more books, get in a daily siesta, join a coffee klatch with other retirees, or have no schedule at all.

How many retirees use the additional free time to improve their golf game, or develop a better bridge game. Others use the new-found time to work with charitable organization.

But some choose to use their skills to train or otherwise help people in need.

Sylvia had begun sewing as a child, making her own doll clothes. She continued as an adult, making her husband’s suits, ties and shirts. After awhile, Sylvia Remple began teaching sewing and eventually opened a clothing manufacturing business. It grew quickly and before long she had three hundred employees. In 1982, her company, Sun Ice, outfitted the first team of Canadians to conquer Mount Everest. Two years later, her company was awarded the contract to outfit many Canadian teams for the Winter Olympics in Los Angles. Following that success, Sun Ice became the Official Clothing Supplier to the Winter Olympics hosted by Canada

In 2001, Sylvia Remple sold the business. Retirement. What to do now?

About the same time, she became aware of the poverty in Sierra Leone and in particular, the desperate circumstances for some women. She came up with an idea.

Sylvia and daughters Tammy and Angela formed Sewing Seeds International – SSI. Its mandate was to create self sustaining sewing schools in impoverished areas, empowering women, bringing hope for a better future.

The first project was in Sierra Leone. SSI secured backing from some companies, purchased sewing machines and materials. In Sierra Lione, they found a place to hold classes, then advertised for women who wanted to learn a skill that would help them toward a better future.

The classes were intense. Sylvia also realized that to keep attendance and attention at a high level, the school must provide care for the many young children of the students. So, day care was provided, including meals.

At the end of the three week classes, the machines were left in the classrooms and the women were encouraged to continue working on their sewing skills.

A few months later, these same women were given another three-week school, introducing them to more advanced skills. Again, the machines were left for the students to practice and make clothes for their children and themselves.

A third course was offered. Now, the students were capable of using patterns and making items for sale. But most important for the Sewing Seeds mandate, the best students were trained so they could teach classes to other women.

The success of the school encouraged SSI to move into other countries. Classes have been given in Africa, Europe, South America, and Mexico.

Has it been successful?

Absolutely. All can make clothes for their families. Many of the women now make a decent living sewing for others. Several have formed companies to manufacture clothes. One graduate now has a company with eight other women working, all making a decent living. Graduates of another school formed a co-op which now has a contract to supply all the uniforms for a school system in a nearby larger town.

Because they are set up to be self-sustaining, these schools should bear fruit for years to come. The Canadian government has recognized SSI as a certified charitable organization. In many places around the world, SSI is recognized as a life-saver.

Is Sylvia bored in her retirement? Not even a little. Her compensation? Seeing impoverished women now able to be self-supporting, infused with hope for a brighter future. That’s better than a paycheck.

What is her retirement? To help others.

While going into extremely poor, perhaps desperate, areas may not seem like a fun thing to do in retirement, it must be extremely rewarding and give one a true sense of worth that a game of golf probably won’t.

Sylvia would tell you she has found the perfect retirement.

What do you see for yourself in retirement?  Leave a comment on your retirement.

 

An Inrewrview with Eula Moore

Today I’m interviewing Eula Moore, the grandmother of Crystal Moore, heroine of A Ton of Gold and A Silver Medallion. Hello, Eula. How are you today?

EULA: I’m upright, and I’m talking, so I guess I’m doing pretty good.

JIM: Tell me about The Park, since it seems to play a big part in Crystal’s adventures.

EULA: The Park, that’s where I live, is where Crystal grew up. Her parents were both killed in a freak auto accident when Crystal was a little tyke. So she came to live with us at The Park. It’s 320- acres in the piney woods of east Texas. Dan and I bought it when we was first married. That was might near sixty years ago. Couldn’t afford it. But you know kids. We got it and made it work. It’s a beautiful places with a great lake, good fishing, nice hills, and lots a trees. Very peaceful. We named it The Park right after we move on it. Anyways, Crystal roamed around The Park from the time she was seven until she went off to college at S.M.U. and then Stanford. Course, now she lives in Dallas. Too much traffic and noise there for me.

JIM: You mentioned Dan. That’s Crystal’s granddad?

EULA: Was. He went to meet his maker a dozen years ago. My first and only true love. And a great Dad and Granddad for Crystal.

JIM: That must have been about the time Crystal left for S.M.U..

EULA: Right. S.M.U. and then rode off to Californi. Entered some kind a Ph.D. program or other.

JIM: Did she earn her doctorate?

EULA: Nope. Something happened just before she was to finish. Don’t know what, and she never would say. Didn’t want to talk about it. Never did. But, she thought she was just a few months from ending and she ups and leaves and comes home. Moped around The Park for months. Finally got a job at that info retrieval company where she works now. That has perked her up. She getting back to her old self.

JIM: This past year, she went down to Mexico to rescue some young girls. What did you think about that? I mean, she doesn’t seem like the adventure-seeking type to me.

EULA: She ain’t. And I thought it was a dumb thing to do. Could a got herself killed. But she’s got a soft spot for things that can’t help themselves. So, off she went.

JIM: Didn’t you try to stop her?

EULA: She a grown woman. And she’s got a strong head and, except for that fool thing, a good head on her shoulders. I told her it was a dumb idea. But she thought those kids would never be free unless she did something.

JIM: And she did rescue the girls and reunite them with their mother.

EULA: Yes sir. She did. Course then she had two crooks trying to kill here. Good thing she had her old Nana to help her take care of them skunks.

JIM: I’d love to hear the details of how you two captured two assassins.

EULA: And I’d love to tell you. But not today. I got a game of Mexican Train waiting for me. Don’t want to keep my friends waiting. You come on back another day and I’ll tell you how I captured those two bums. Well, actually it was Crystal and me. But right now, I gotta go. Bye.

JIM: And folks, she just took off. I never had an interview end so abruptly. We’ll get back with her on another day. Knowing what I’m finding out about Eula, I’m sure it will be an interesting story. That’s all for today.

 

 

 

 

 

The 10-day Writing Challenge

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Today, Leeann Betts issues a challenge.  She writes contemporary suspense, while her real-life persona, Donna Schlachter, pens historical suspense. She has released five titles in her cozy mystery series, By the Numbers. In addition, Leeann has written a devotional for … Continue reading

A Greased Pig?

Many years ago, I was teaching in a private school. One year I was sponsor of what many of the faculty labeled as the most difficult of the senior classes. Actually, I found them to be a very energetic and imaginative group, perhaps less concerned with the rules than most, and certainly less studious. But they were interesting, fun and goodhearted. I never had a problem with any of this class.

So it was no great surprise when they proposed holding a greased pig chase as a fund raiser. I raised a number of objections, but they countered each with a reasonable answer. After seeking approval from administration, a date was set.

One boy in the class had an uncle who raised pigs, so that was taken care of. Posters were made. In fact, those in charge of publicity were very innovative . One day they were more animated than usual. The greased pig chase was being publicized on the local radio station most popular with high school kids.   However, only students from our school could participate in the chase.

Entries began immediately ,with an amazing number coming from the freshman class. Briefly, I wondered if there was any coercion, but dismissed that thought. In fact, the whole school was buzzing about the upcoming porker party.

The day before the event, I received a call from an animal rights group. They were concerned about the safety of the pig. I thought to dismiss that thought also. The pig was soon to be shipped off to the packing house which would be a much worse experience than being chased by screaming teenagers. But the animal advocate was very serious. I explained that the pig would not be harmed. Once caught and secured by one or more students, he would be quickly returned to his home on the range. The contestants were allowed no tools, no aids at all. They must catch the pig using only their hands, and maybe their feet. Instantly, the pig’s protector worried that someone might kick the pig. I assured her no kicking was allowed.

What were we going to put on the pig? Well, it was a “greased” pig contest. I guaranteed her it would be only natural products, quite possibly coming from the pig’s ancestors.

“This might be too tiring for the pig,” she continued. “I must insist you allow a rest period every five minutes.” I suggested every fifteen minutes and we ultimately compromised on ten minutes. I wondered how effective this would be. Would the pig understand a rest period?

The day finally arrived and Joe drove his truck in with a very sturdy cage in the back containing… The Pig. To many, it looked like a wild boar. It snorted and banged against the cage, and several of the small freshmen began to have doubts about chasing this wild animal. Some worried the razorback might chase them instead.

The class committee decided to use vegetable oil to grease the swine, assuring the pig would be very hard to hold. Ten minutes before start time, students lined up behind a rope marking the starting line, and Joe and two classmates poured corn oil on the shoat, who didn’t care for the attention. Hands would pop in and spread the oil and jerk back before the pig could bite.

Though close to eighty students had signed up, there were probably only fifty on the starting line. Possibly some had second thoughts after seeing this ferocious looking bovine. But there were probably another two  hundred and fifty spectators. On the count of three, the rope was dropped and the door to the cage thrown opened.

Porky just stood there.

After railing against the cage, it didn’t want to leave. Joe grabbed a pencil out of his shirt pocket, reached in the cage, and jabbed the pig in its hindquarters. The bore took off. And as the contestants started running and screaming, the pig kept running.

Two or three students got a hand on the porker, but the slippery oil let the swine escape. Several dove at the pig and got nothing but a handful of grass. However, twin brothers had devised a plan and simultaneously dove at the pig from opposite sides. As the greasy bovine slipped out of one twin’s hands, it put him in the brother’s arms.

In three minutes, the contest was over. The twins held the oil covered pig down for the required thirty seconds and were declared the winners.

This special class had once again deviated from the norm. During the week leading up to the event anticipation saturated the school and grabbed the attention of the entire student body and most of the faculty.

And though the contest was very short, everyone in attendance seemed to have a great time.

Except, perhaps, the pig.

 

James R. Callan

Callan is no longer teaching.  He writes mystery and suspense novels.  Thus far, none has featured a wild pig, with or without grease.  But he’s not ruling that out.

Writing Your Family Story

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Today’s guest blogger is Donna Schlachter.  She lives in Denver with husband Patrick, her first-line editor and biggest fan. She writes historical suspense under her own name, and contemporary suspense under her alter ego of Leeann Betts. She is a … Continue reading