It was no easy thing, in the days before ubiquitous high-speed Internet connectivity, to research ancient Egypt from a small and insular southern town like Decatur, Alabama. It boasts one library, one bookstore, and no university or museum presence; I relied heavily on an outdated edition of Cambridge Ancient History, the inter-library loan program, and the Barnes and Noble forty miles away. I used my terrapin-speed dial up connection to copy and paste text files from sites like TourEgypt and Reshafim, to copy bibliographies, and to email Egyptologists in order to ask questions.
The most popular period in ancient Egyptian history is, without a doubt, the New Kingdom (c. 1570-1070 BCE). This is the era of Hatshepsut and the warrior-pharaoh Thutmose III, of the long-reigning Amenhotep III and his son, the heretic Akhenaton; of the fabulous-yet-unremarkable Tutankhamun, Aye, Horemheb, Seti, and Ramses the Great. Most fiction falls into this time period, or jumps forward a thousand years into the time of Queen Cleopatra. I wanted something different — an Egypt in flux. I wanted a time when a Phoenician mercenary would not be remarkable, when Greeks and Chaldeans and dozens of other nationalities might congregate in the cosmopolitan capital of Memphis. I wanted an Egypt more like the Hyborian Age than like something from a dry textbook. This, I found in the Late Period. The 26th dynasty was Egypt’s last chance to seize the glory of the Elder Days, and it ended in bloodshed and ruin.
There is sorcery in writing. Never let anyone tell you otherwise. Writers are like the
conjurors of old — the shamans and cave painters, the skalds and rhapsodes; their words
weave enchantments of the imagination, and in weaving the tapestry of Barca’s Egypt I
discovered a profound truth: all writing, regardless of genre, is Fantasy. The Egypt I
created for what would become Men of Bronze never truly existed. There is no “historical
accuracy” to it. It is a shared fantasy world built upon keywords and place-names that
come loaded with sometimes centuries-worth of baggage. The sorcery of historical fiction
is that it evokes the sensation that something is accurate — it rings true, so surely it
must be true — when, in fact, it is created from the same smoke and dreams as Howard’s
Hyborian Age or Tolkien’s Middle-earth. In deciding to eschew fantasy, I actually learned
to write fantasy.
I started Men of Bronze (the name comes via Herodotus’ excellent Histories) in December of
2000, as a form of catharsis amid the ruin of my life, building on a decade of false starts
and hastily-scribbled scenes; Barca grew, shedding his previous incarnations to become an
original character in his own right — though his Cimmerian DNA is still evident, if one
knows what to look for. I wrote THE END some two years later, in March of 2002. My first
novel, and the longest thing I’d written to date.
At the time, traditional commercial publication was the only route if one wanted to be respected as a writer. E-books were new and untried; self-publishing had yet to become a viable alternative, and it was still largely regarded as vanity publishing — the last redoubt of the desperate or the disillusioned. I edited based on the opinions of my friends, all fellow writers, and set about compiling a list of agents. I sent queries out in batches of five via snail mail for the first year (most agents hadn’t embraced email queries), tweaking the content of the letters or the synopsis based on the rejections garnered. I still have them. All seventy-eight of them. Then, in 2003 I got my break.
Rebecca Pratt of Pratt Literary, a small agency in PA, asked for the full manuscript, read it, and took me on as a client. I was in a restaurant in Huntsville, AL when I got the call. Not being demonstrative, I kept my celebration down to repeated fist-pumps, a low whoop, and a Chesire Cat grin. We edited the manuscript again, Rebecca and I, and she submitted it to the usual suspects.
On February 18, 2004, Rebecca sent me a note: ” I’ve got a hot prospect by the tail for MoB [Men of Bronze’s acronym], Medallion Press.” Rebecca submitted the manuscript, and on May 2, 2004, Pam Ficarella, who was then Medallion’s editor-in-chief, sent Rebecca this message: “I have been authorized to extend an offer to purchase Men of Bronze.”
People used to ask me how long it took to write the book. I knew what they meant, of course. Conventionally, it took two years to write and two to sell. But, in actuality, it took me most of my adult life to write Men of Bronze. It debuted on June 1, 2005, at Book Expo in NYC; it received a starred review in PW, and was generally well-received — even by Egyptologists, both armchair and working. At its heart, though, it remains for me my Conan novel and a tribute to the stubborn perseverance of a young man who was raised on fantasy and who dreamed of someday writing his own.