Friday, February 23, 2018

Egyptian Enigma - An Interview & Review

I'm so pleased to welcome L.J.M. Owen to Cozy Up With Kathy today. L.J. writes the Dr. Pimms Intermillennial Sleuth Mystery series. EGYPTIAN ENIGMA is the third book in the series and will be released in March.

Kathy: In each of your books you tell the story of an ancient woman along with Dr Pimms’ narrative. How do you choose these historical females?

LJMO: One of my goals in writing the series is to highlight forgotten women from history, so I start each novel by researching the women from that book’s featured ancient civilisation. It’s been amazing to discover fascinating, extraordinary women in every society I’ve explored; they may not have made it into mainstream history textbooks, but they are there in the literature. I now trust that no matter which civilisation I research, I'm going to be spoilt for choice as to who I write about.

In OLMEC OBITUARY I introduce readers to the ancient Olmec culture of the Mexican basin through the eyes of Ix, a player of the demanding and violent Great Ballgame. I based her character on a 3,000-year-old figurine of a woman who played that game.

MAYAN MENDACITY explores the society of the ancient Mayans of Guatemala, including their political system, female rulers and practice of human sacrifice. The main character in the historical story, Lady Six Sky, was a well-documented figure in seventh century Mayan history. This novel also touches on the dangerous path faced by many librarians-including female librarians-in the Mayan Empire.

The third book in the series, EGYPTIAN ENIGMA, is a celebration of the mostly forgotten period of Egyptian history when women could participate fully in the realms of academia, business, the military and government. Women’s legal and social status in ancient Egypt far outstripped that of many women today.

The central historical character in EGYPTIAN ENIGMA is Tausret, the final Pharaoh of the Nineteenth Dynasty. During my research, I discovered at least ten recorded female Pharaohs over the course of ancient Egyptian history, most of whom have been ignored by modern historians. As I investigated Tausret’s life I could see how fraught it must have been, that the threat of death must have been ever-present. In the end, I chose to write about her because I could see her so clearly.

Kathy: Your mouth-watering descriptions of food add a wonderful cultural element to your mysteries and you're kind enough to share several recipes in each book. Do you like to cook? What's your favourite type of dish to make?

LJMO: I *love* to cook. And eat.

My favourite foodie thing to do is wander outside to the garden or go to a crop swap, gather as many local ingredients as possible, and make something up. I love taking freshly harvested fruit, berries, vegetables and herbs, eggs from my chickens and milk from just up the road, and turning them into a colourful stir-fry, a frittata, a berry smoothie or a blackberry clafoutis.

I have shelves and shelves of recipe books in my dining room. I flick through them while eating for inspiration when I’m cooking, as well as inspiration for the Dr Pimms series.

Kathy: In EGYPTIAN ENIGMA Dr. Pimms finally gets to return to Egypt. I admit being somewhat enthralled with Egyptology. What makes Egyptian archaeology so fascinating to the world in general?

LJMO: People like hidden things. It’s enticing, the idea that there are entire cities sitting beneath the sand, just waiting to be revealed. Pyramids and the sphinx and temples and tombs…and when they are excavated, so many hold caches of glorious artefacts.

I’d like to think there’s an unconscious pull there, too, between an ancient culture where women were essentially equal under the law and our own, which is steeped in centuries of violent misogyny and repression of women. Perhaps a sense that females were generally held in higher regard than they are across the planet now is attractive, to women in particular.

Kathy: What first drew you to mysteries?

LJMO: I find them comforting. Mysteries seek to find an answer, a solution. Most mystery novels see the protagonist reach a conclusion. For me, in our ever-changing, uncertain world, that’s appealing.

Kathy: Do you write in any other genres?

LJMO: I began as an academic writer, then shifted to writing about women in science through my mystery series.

I’m intending to branch into historical steampunk soon, followed by dystopian political fiction later on. Though the latter will be almost entirely memoir, it’s probably going to be considered the most fanciful of my work.

Kathy: Tell us about your series.

LJMO: The Dr Pimms, Intermillennial Sleuth series is the story of an archaeologist-librarian-Dr Elizabeth Pimms-who solves ancient mysteries from across the globe using 21st century techniques. The archaeology, ancient history, forensic science and library services described in the books are based on significant academic research.

A significant focus of the series is forgotten women’s history. The third book in the series, EGYPTIAN ENIGMA, is being released in March 2018 to coincide with Women’s History Month.

Kathy: Do you have a favourite character? If so, who and why?

LJMO: Although they don’t have a speaking role, the characters closest to my heart would be two of Elizabeth’s cats: Billy, her phrenic library companion, and Thoth, ‘her’ cat among the family’s feline foursome. Billy is based on my own Billy, who I lost some years ago, while Thoth is based on my deeply missed Ella, who passed away just before I began writing EGYPTIAN ENIGMA.

It’s hard for me to say who my favourite character is among the humans; I think it might give too much away.

Kathy: Did you have a specific inspiration for your series?

LJMO: As I say at the beginning of each Dr Pimms book, like many bookworms, the best parts of my childhood were spent in the story worlds created by others. A bad day saw me escape under the covers with a torch and an orange to faraway lands where mysteries were solved, hard work was rewarded, and bad guys got their comeuppance. As an adult I decided to create another place for us all to run away to.

As I’m a trained archaeologist, a qualified librarian and I have a PhD in palaeogenetics, I thought: archaeological mystery series, with a librarian protagonist – naturally! So I set about creating a series for the reader who likes to curl in an armchair, tea in hand, fireplace crackling, and immerse themselves in in a world of archaeological wonders, forensic science and really good food.

Kathy: What made you decide to publish your work?

LJMO: Like many aspiring authors, I spent years crafting my first novel. Then, in late 2014, the first draft of OLMEC OBITUARY was done. Publishing had always been the plan, but I found myself facing an absurdly unexamined question: how do I publish it?

There were two options—learn to self-publish or throw my hat into the traditional publishers’ ring. I calculated the likelihood of a traditional publisher plucking my fledgling work from their annual slush pile of 5,000 submissions. Self-publishing it was.

I initiated a Kickstarter project to fund a small print run. Unexpectedly, just five days into the crowdfunding campaign, I was contacted by a commissioning editor from a traditional publishing house, who asked to see the manuscript. They’ve published the series ever since.

Kathy: If you could have a dinner party and invite 4 authors, living or dead, in any genre, who would you invite?

LJMO: It would have to be:

· Enheduanna, Akkadian/Sumerian poet (c.2260 BCE), often claimed to be the world's first named author

· Hypatia of Alexandria (c.400 CE), greatest philosopher of her time

· Empress Xu of the Ming Dynasty (c. 1400 CE), known for writing highly politicised texts on women considered to be virtuous

· Christine de Pizan, Italian-French author (c. 1400 CE), who penned Le Livre de la Cité des Dames (THE BOOK OF THE CITY OF LADIES)

I think we could have a fascinating conversation about the status of women across time and place; with the help of some babelfish, of course

Kathy: What are you currently reading?

LJMO: I recently finished JUST A QUEEN, the second in a trilogy on Elizabeth I by Jane Caro.

I’m now re-reading THE WOMAN WHO WOULD BE KING: HATSHEPUT"S RISE TO POWER IN ANCIENT EGYPT by Kara Cooney, ahead of interviewing her for International Women’s Day.

Kathy:  Will you share any of your hobbies or interests with us?

LJMO: Over the years they’ve been quite eclectic. I always intend to go back to them, but somehow…

There’s been Raqs sharqi (Egyptian dance), weight lifting, Arabic drumming and the hammered dulcimer. For a while I also studied languages and became vaguely proficient in French, Chinese, Spanish and Welsh.

At the moment it’s yoga. I’d like to pick up the dancing and drumming again, as they were the most fun so far.

Kathy: Name 4 items you always have in your fridge or pantry.

LJMO: A SodaStream for making bubbly water, buckwheat crisps, Earl Grey tea and coconut oil.

Kathy: Do you have plans for future books either in your current series or a new series?

LJMO: Dr Pimms was a planned series of nine books from the beginning, so there’s lots more to come! In Book 4 we’re off to the Mongolia of Genghiz Khan’s daughters and granddaughters.

Kathy: What's your favourite thing about being an author?

LJMO: Without a doubt: fan mail!



The Third Dr. Pimms Intermillennial Sleuth Mystery

Despite the theft of her journal and having to curtail evening outings due to harassment by the local men, Dr. Elizabeth Pimms enjoys a marvelous vacation in Egypt with Henry, her friend from New York. While the entire trip rekindles her love of Egyptology, it is a visit to the Golden Tomb which leads Elizabeth and her friends to a new adventure. With modern day technology and good old fashioned research they plan to discover just who is buried in the Golden Tomb.

Every time I finish a Dr. Pimms mystery I feel smarter. I learn so much, about past civilizations and modern archaeological techniques, combined with strategy and deductive reasoning, my intelligence surely must be increasing!

L.J.M. Owen skillfully weaves a modern day mystery with a historical story, probing interpersonal relations and gender. The third Dr. Pimms Intermillennial Sleuth Mystery looks at patriarchy in its various forms. Wherever there are strong women wielding power, there are men looking to diminish it. Degradation, belittling, discrimination, and harassment are just some of the things women are forced to deal with. Sadly, the women in the modern day story have things worse than Pharaoh Tausret in this regard!

EGYPTIAN ENIGMA gives a fascinating look at ancient Egypt including its politics, religion, and daily life of the ruling classes. The modern day portion of the book provides more insight into the Pimms family, including the tragic death of Elizabeth's father, and just as we think we're to be given more answers, readers are left with a stunning ending that raises even more questions. My jaw dropped to the ground and I can only hope to have it closed by the time I'm able to read the next Dr. Pimms Intermillennial Sleuth Mystery.


Keep up with L.J.M. Owen using these links:

To purchase (with a discount and free shipping planet-wide):

For more information on Egyptian Enigma and the Dr Pimms, Intermillennial Sleuth series:

To keep up with the latest on the series:

And to chat to L.J. on Twitter:   @Bleuddyn_Coll

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