A very busy couple of weeks has stalled my recaps of October’s Virtual Fantasy Con, but at last I’ve eeked out the time to post my my interview with Mary Woldering, who stopped by my booth on Monday, October 16. Mary is the author of the Children of Stone series, a historical fantasy set in Ancient Egypt. Mary brought photos of her inspirations to the booth along with an excerpt from Book One in the Series, Voices in Crystal. After our conversation, Mary’s books rose high on my TBR list!
AMJ: You sent me some pictures of gorgeous Egyptian art. What makes these pieces special to you?
MW: I like this art in particular because it shows women in the era in which Children of Stone takes place. This statue depicts Queen Hetepheres and her daughter. Some people believe she is actually the person portrayed by the Great Sphinx…not some king. Most sphinxes were women portraying Sekhmet.
AMJ: The sphinxes’ faces always looked more feminine than masculine to me. What about the acrobat? (See headline image.)
MW: She is a dancing girl. I used this image in the dance sequences in Going Forth by Day (Book 2).
AMJ: Is dance an important element in your work?
MW: Yes. Dances were always part of ceremony and religion as well as entertainment. Goddess Hathor presided over dances, drink, and parties. The dances were very athletic. That the woman has a shawl around her hips is not usual. Normally they danced with a belt only. Also, the dances were not viewed as sexual. The Ancient Egyptians took sexual behavior as a given so the audiences looked for acrobatic skill. I also like the way the painting shows her color and hair texture as not Caucasian (a common misconception due to Hollywood).
AMJ: I’ve taken a few belly dancing classes, and it’s such a beautiful and difficult art form, and it’s also not truly intended to be sexy. Instead it’s meant to show a woman’s strength (and it takes a lot of core strength to do it properly). It’s too bad our Western culture has recast it as Charo’s cutchycutchycoo.
MW: Very true. Although it was meant to increase fertility and give women the strength to endure regular childbirth without falling apart.
AMJ: What inspired you to write about Ancient Egypt?
MW: Mostly I just knew that was where part of the story took place. All of my stories come from lucid dreams or are inspired by songs and art. At first I thought I would write the story and set it in Ancient Crete on Santorini before it blew up, but something kept telling me “Go earlier. Go to Egypt. Tell that story first.
AMJ: I’ve had lucid dreams that became stories. “Coward of Maldon” began as a lucid dream where a man meets a wolf at night in a forest, and then I turned it into a story about the infamous coward Godric from the Battle of Maldon. When you have lucid dreams, are you an observer or a character in the dream, and how much do you control the action? Usually when I have one of these dreams, I just relax and enjoy the action.
MW: That’s what I do. One of the reasons I began to take notes on my dreams and actually experiment with past life regression (but who knows what they really were) was that some of these “dreams” were like me looking at a movie, but about 70% of them were ME in some fantastic setting – usually in the past. You asked about Egypt earlier. I saw myself moving around in that story and later based one of my female characters on the woman I saw myself portraying. It was really like a “Wizard of Oz” type dream. Saw myself and some of my friends. LOL.
AMJ: What else are you working on?
MW: [There are] Greek stories being re-told in part on Mark McQuillen & Mara Reitsma’s Facebook page, The Black Rose. They’re stories of a later era with my same characters (because they are immortal). The titles are “Healings” and “Mirrors of the Mind.”
AMJ: Oh, I love the idea of the same characters turning up in different eras. Do you ever plan to bring them into contemporary times?
MW: There’s already mention of it by two of the characters in the “Healings” story. They visit the 1970s. “Miss Hattie and the Hoppers” is another spinoff short story with the same two (time traveling this time, and steampunk too). It takes place in post Civil War East Tennessee. I don’t dwell on any political issues of the time, but racism plays a small part there. In my story “Ana’s Dream of Flying” for the Dreamtime Dragons Anthology, I tell a story a friend in college related to me about her own childhood, then throw in a twist or two. Then I mention a poem I co-wrote with a character in 2012, in his voice. Part of it is on the back of Children of Stone Book 3, Opener of the Sky.
AMJ: Congratulations on Ana’s Dream being selected for the anthology. I love Ana’s voice in that story.
MW: Thanks! It is available mid November.
Here’s an excerpt from Voices in Crystal, in which Houra, the half-sister of the hero Marai, remembers her girlhood as she and her clan plan to emigrate to Kemet for a better life. She wants Marai to come with them, but he is reluctant to leave. Her conversation is with her husband Sheb.
Houra remembered better days when her entire world had been tents around that tentative pond. Her father named it for himself: Wadi Ahu. In those days, Marai had been a too-tall and lanky version of all the other dark-haired youths living there. He was the youngest of many direct brothers and sisters, but older than the five children by her own mother. She was the youngest of those children. Sheb was the son of Ebach, one of Ahu’s younger brothers.
The small clan did not increase well. Houra remembered the death of Marai’s wife in a birthing so agonizing and bloody that, it frightened the other women. A fever in one of the visiting caravans brought more death. Children withered and wasted away. Women miscarried. Ahu fell victim to that round of illness. Two years ago, Marai and his remaining relatives began to fight. One by one they left, each blaming the “curse of the goddess” or the evil his madness brought to the camp for their departure.
Houra noticed her husband’s snoring stop and his breathing grow still. He was pretending to sleep.
“Have you heard the way he sings to his beloved, lately? It’s been different. It’s as if he knows we’ll be leaving soon.” She inclined her head to the door. “I think I can talk him into coming with us, after all. I just need to go to him in the morning when he comes to take out the sheep.” Houra drew close to her husband to rouse him. He noticed she was still speaking and pulled her close to his chest.
“He’d better be singing a farewell song to his goddess, tonight.” he muttered, scratching his head. “Sometimes I wish she’d come get him like he wants. It would solve a lot of things.”