Another Author of the Month at MyShelf.Com
Author of the Month
Karen Essex [August 2003]
Chosen by Beverly Rowe, MyShelf.Com
I have always been an avid reader of historical fiction, and when I saw the intriguing cover of Kleopatra, along with the unusual spelling of the great lady's name, I just had to read the book.
Kleopatra and Pharaoh, the two volume biographical novel about the great
queen and her life and times, my choice as Author of the Month just had
to be Karen Essex. I have become a dedicated fan of this exciting writer.
Her research is impeccable, and her writing is positively intoxicating.
She really brings Mark Antony, Julius Caesar and Octavian to life, and
Kleopatra emerges as the
I am looking forward to reading more of Karen Essex's work. She graciously granted me an interview; here are her thoughts on the world of writing.
Bev: Karen, please
give us a thumbnail biography and tell us about your background and life
Bev: Karen, please give us a thumbnail biography and tell us about your background and life before Kleopatra.
Karen: Was there life before Kleopatra? I don't remember it too well! Actually, I was a theater major in college, then drifted into film production, and awoke just shy of my 30th birthday in a panic because I'd forgotten to be a writer. Then, I worked as a journalist, published some short fiction, wrote a novel that didn't get published, and finally got the idea to write a book about Kleopatra that would give that great woman some dimension beyond the old seductress myth propagated by historians, poets, dramatists, and filmmakers. Little did I know that it would become such a project of passion and such a lengthy journey. But once I was hooked, I decided to do it with as much integrity as possible. So there went 10 years of my life!
Bev: Who are your favorite authors? Has any particular writer been an inspiration to your writing?
Karen: As far as novels, I am most drawn to thick, complicated novels where human desire intersects with history and politics and global events. The novels of Iris Murdoch, Naguib Mafouz, Lawrence Durrell, George Eliot, Marcel Proust, E. M. Forester, and A. S. Byatt, have greatly inspired and influenced me. And there are many, many others. I was a theater major as an undergraduate, and I think my writing is also informed by the great dramatists like Euripides, Sophocles, and Shakespeare, as well as opera, which I adore. I've been both praised for and "accused" of being a theatrical writer. I do believe that the most important thing a writer can do is read. Not just read, but read consciously, passionately, and analytically. If your body is what you eat, then your writing is surely what you read and have read.
Bev: Your book Bettie Page - The Life of a Pinup Legend, is out of print--and very expensive, if you can even find a copy of it. What are the plans for a reprint of this wonderful Biography?
Karen: Would you believe that the publisher went belly-up, thus taking the book out of print? We would love to find a new publisher for the book, but the New York publishing establishment doesn't seem to "get it," despite the book's success. I get so many e-mails asking for the book. I've been so busy with the Kleopatra books and my screenwriting work that I haven't put too much time into finding a new publisher. Perhaps when things calm down...
Bev: I was always intrigued by Kleopatra, and read everything I could get my hands on about her. I probably would not have picked up another book about her, but your version of the great queen's life, with the nontraditional spelling and the exciting cover, really caught my eye. Why did you spell her name Kleopatra instead of using the traditional "C" spelling?
Karen: Kleopatra is the original Greek spelling. It's how she would have spelled her name. Since I wanted to restore more of the historical Kleopatra--the ruler, the queen, the political player, the strategist, diplomat, mother, and spiritual descendant of Alexander the Great--I thought I should also restore the proper spelling of her name.
Bev: You did such a wonderful job of bringing Kleopatra, Julius Caesar, and Mark Antony to life for us. Tell us about your research for this biographical novel.
Karen: The research was a saga in itself. I enrolled in an interdisciplinary graduate program at Vanderbilt University so I could study with classics professors, historians, women's studies scholars, etc. Then, after years of academic research, I actually went to Egypt, Turkey, Greece, and Rome, and tried to walk in her footsteps. I studied not just the people and the histories, but the cultures of Egypt, Greece, what we now call the Middle East and Rome and how they evolved and interacted with one another. It took almost a decade.
Bev: What is the timeline for a movie release of Kleopatra? Is it unusual for the author of a book to write the screenplay?
Karen: I wish I had a concrete timeline to give you. The movie will be enormous in scope (re: expensive) so that all the right elements of stars and directors and locations will have to come together in a miraculous alignment for the studio to commit the money. Warner Bros. Continues to show enthusiasm for the project, so I continue to feel optimistic that the movie will get made. Everyone agrees that the time is right for a "new" Kleopatra to come to the screen. The way I always express it is, "it's not your mother's Kleopatra."
It is unusual for the novelist to also write the screenplay, but I had experience in that field and some good writing samples, so it wasn't far-fetched to let me adapt my own books.
Bev: As an Anne Rice fan, I was excited to learn that you have written the screenplay for a movie version of The Mummy or Ramses the Damned. Tell us about that.
Karen: I wrote the screenplay for James Cameron, who is terribly famous and terribly busy. I do hope that he will soon give it some attention. He has always loved the book, so once again, I continue to be optimistic that now that he's finished the enormous "Ghosts of the Abyss" movie, he will turn his attention to "The Mummy." It's a fantastic idea for a movie, and Jim's take on it was to get the story out of Edwardian times and make it contemporary. I had a ball writing scenes where Ramose the Great and--yes-- Kleopatra, who is a character in the Rice novel, prance around modern day New York City and Cairo, using the Internet, driving cars, watching television, etc. It was so much fun to write that I can't help but to think it would be great fun to see on the screen.
Bev: What are you working on now?
Karen: I'm researching a book on Alexander the Great. It won't be the sweeping biographical novel that the Kleopatra books are. It's my own special little take on his life, which I don't want to talk about just yet. I've just returned from Turkey and Northern Greece, where I visited his birthplace and some of the places he went along the Turkish coast.
Bev: What are your future writing plans?
Karen: I will continue to write historical novels as they occur to me. I also have an idea for a novel that will bridge the ancient world, which I so love, with contemporary Manhattan, which I also love. For me, these worlds are so connected. I can easily suspend my sense of linear time and understand the quantum physicists' idea that all time happens at once. We are so like the ancients! I think we contemporary Americans have much more in common with ancient Greeks and Romans than with our ancestors in medieval times. The idea of demonstrating that in a novel is very exciting to me. I will also continue to write screenplays. I love both forms and want to continue to work in both mediums.
Bev: As a writing instructor, what is your advice to beginners for cracking today's market.
Karen: My advice is to never worry over today's market. Write something real and authentic and exciting. Write something undeniably good. Work on your craft, write furiously with all your heart, and the market will come to you. Generally, people don't like hearing that piece of advice, but it's what I truly believe. I am a big believer in the "build it and they will come" philosophy of life. I always set my own intentions and then wait for (and expect) the right people to come along to facilitate my intentions. I never throw things out there to see if they will stick, or write to what I think is the market. The market changes all the time. No one can second guess it. I promise you that the publisher of, say, Cold Mountain, did not say, oh, here is our next best seller. They just published a good book and it took off. No one knows what will work or not work, what will strike a nerve with the public or not. It's death to a writer to try to write to a theoretical market.
Bev: Do you have any other thoughts you would like to share with us?
Karen: Thanks for having me as your featured author. Anyone who wants more information on the Kleopatra books can go to my website, www.karenessex.com.
The books are now appearing on university and high school reading lists, which just thrills me. I've created a page on my website called Kleopatra in the Classroom, which has resources for students and teachers who wish to use the book.
Bev: Karen, thank you so much for visiting
with us on MyShelf.com. I am really looking forward to your book on Alexander
the Great! I hope it doesn't take as long to write as Kleopatra!
1 of 2)
What young girl hasn't pretended to be Kleopatra, Queen of the Nile, in the wonderful games of childhood? Kleopatra has influenced women for centuries—not just for her exotic beauty, but for her intelligence, loyalty, statesmanship, and ambition. Essex's rendition of the legendary Egyptian monarch's story begins when she is only three years old and progresses throughout her lifetime. When Kleopatra's father, Ptolemy XII Auletes, is exiled to Rome, the young princess accompanies him, leaving behind her childhood in preparation for ruling Egypt. When she returns, she is named co-regent with her father, who dies shortly thereafter. Since a woman could not rule alone, she is forced to marry her half-brother in order to maintain control over Egypt. She eventually raises an army with her cousin and lover, Archimedes. Essex recounts Kleopatra's tragic relationships with her sisters and other family members. This volume ends with the young queen in exile, waiting for Julius Caesar.
Volume two chronicles her relationship with Caesar and the birth of Caesar's only son, then his betrayal by the Roman senate and Kleopatra's extreme danger at that point. There are the familiar historical characters, including Cicero, Cato, Marcus Brutus, and Octavian, Caesar's adopted son and the man who became the Emperor Agustus.
She joins Caesar, aligning Egypt with Rome, but when he's murdered, Kleopatra plans an association with the charismatic Antony, whom she sees as the next Emperor. Kleopatra loves both men, viewing Caesar as a mentor and Antony as a soul mate. She bore three children by Mark Antony. Yet the love she has for these men never warps her vision in her long term, self-promoting plan for Egypt, making Essex's Kleopatra much more than just a seductress, as she is often portrayed.
This two volume biographical novel is a stunning accomplishment. Essex's meticulous research is evident in every part of the story, yet it is as fresh as today's headlines and even though we know the final outcome, it is as exciting as the best suspense story.
read everything I could get my hands on about Kleopatra and her era, but
I have never read a version that kept me glued to the page like this one
by the very talented Karen Essex. I can't wait to read her version of
the life of Alexander the Great!
2003's Honorary List