A philanthropist, animal rescuer, cat shows’ judge, historian, journalist, researcher, and an author who works in the insurance business, Diana Wilder is the creator of fabulous historical books “THE CITY OF REFUGE”, “PHARAOH’S SON”, “A KILLING AMONG THE DEAD”, and “THE SAFEGUARD”. This weekend, she has kindly agreed to grace my Read & Tell with her visit.
Hello Diana, thank you for stopping by. Would you be so kind to give readers a one-sentence synopsis of “The City of Refuge”?
A routine inspection of the ruined city becomes a quest for vengeance, understanding and healing.
How real are your characters? Who did you base Lord Nebamun and Khonsu on?
Lord Nebamun and Khonsu came fully into being during the course of the story—who they were, what they were trying to do. Their types were people of different classes, each with its own particular characteristics. Khonsu is what we would call a middle-class working man. His family has served the governors of his province as messengers for years, and he has risen to command their armies. Lord Nebamun, on the other hand, is a man without a past who seems to be a wealthy aristocrat, born to privilege and trained to warfare, as the sons of such families were.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I had read of the city of Akhet-Aten (sometimes called ‘Amarna’ now). The pharaoh Akhenaten (Nefertiti’s husband) had commanded that it be built for him, clean, new, in a site never used before. It was beautiful. But when he fell from power it was abandoned and ruined. I had a picture in my mind of a group of people who had traveled to that ruined city for a reason and were camped by the river Nile waiting for supplies. I wondered why they were there, what were they expecting, who were they? My thoughts solidified into the story.
How long did it take you to write the book?
From start to finish, it took me about six years. But is any story ever really finished? The danger with being a writer is that the temptation is always there to tweak wording, to adjust descriptions.
True, that’s the danger. As an assessor I’d say the challenge is to assemble this danger into a compact final product, but I have seen the extensive work you put into The City of Refuge and the result is awesome! How did you come up with this title, by the way?
The ancients understood justice and vengeance, and they understood degrees of wrongdoing. If a person was murdered, it was the duty of a kinsman—usually the eldest son—to exact vengeance on the murderer. It is a recognized theme throughout ancient literature. But what if the death was an accident? Was there a way to escape the avenger? In biblical times Cities of Refuge were set up to allow guiltless (accidental) killers to take refuge and escape death. Vengeance plays a large part in the plot of The City of Refuge. WAS Akhet-Aten a city of refuge? That question is answered during the course of the story.
From your writing I can read that you have a very kind heart, deep wisdom, and you have huge tolerance to those who are different. I have many favorite lines in The City of Refuge. What is your favorite paragraph?
Something Lord Nebamun says: “But you must know that Horus does not challenge Set because he is assured of victory, but because it’s the right thing to do. He fights because it is wrong to hold back for fear of the cost. If he knew at this moment that he might fall through treachery, he would face set nevertheless for the sake of Honor and of justice.”
What’s your opinion about today’s historical fiction? What makes your books stand out from the others?
There are a great many truly fine historical novels available to read nowadays, and it’s a privilege to have my work among them. History is about people, and people are enjoyable, interesting and amusing. I remember once being told that the best way to learn a period of history was to read good novels set in that period—and to understand that different writers would interpret the facts differently. How are mine different? Well… They are different because I wrote them, and it is I who am telling the story. They have my own philosophy and understanding. Otherwise, they are part of a good group.
Who is your favourite Egyptian personage? Why?
History is about people, and people are very amusing. Aside from Ramesses the Great—who was the only Egyptian king with a nickname, and was known as ‘Good King Ramesses’—I like the little brat of a child in Alexandria who sent a letter to his parents scolding them for traveling without him and threatening to hold his breath until he died. I laugh whenever I think of it, speaking as one who was a counselor at a children’s summer camp. I think I knew that boy.
You did thorough research for your material. Why Egypt? Why not ancient Greek/Viking/Chinese/etc.?
The story was set in Egypt and arose out of Egypt. I have other stories set in other places and times… Paris in 1830, Imperial Rome, the Middle Ages, the American Civil War.
When did you first know you just had to write?
I was nine-years old, and my teacher had been talking about writing poetry. I thought it was a good idea, so I wrote a poem. Being a nine-year-old girl, I was horse-mad, so I wrote about a horse. The praise I got from my very kind famille made me decide that I LIKED writing. I was hooked.
Who would you say have been the most influential authors in your life? What is it that really strikes you about their work?
I’ve loved a lot of books—Tolkien‘s magnificent trilogy, Elizabeth Goudge‘s work—books that brought history alive for me. I have to admit that one book really caught my imagination for a rather odd reason. It is Richard Adams‘ book WATERSHIP DOWN, a splendid tale of hardship, treachery, revenge, heroism—it has characters that could have fought at Troy, leaders who match for the most admired leaders of history. Love, suffering, mysticism—it is all there. I was transfixed… And I kept forgetting that it was about rabbits. Rabbits, by golly! Amazing!
And you put all those elements in your own beautiful writing. What story would you like to share about the joy, challenge, or hardship of writing?
It is something you have to experience yourself. It is hard work, and you have to be honest about it and do your best. Often it is thankless. But then—someone contacts you, writes you—however it happens – and tells you that what you wrote touched them to the heart, gave them an insight into something that troubled them, expressed something they had always loved. And that makes all the hard work, all the sneers (people do sneer at writers from time to time), all of it well worth the effort. You sit back and smile.
Who gives you the most encouragement? Why is that important to you?
I have friends who are honest with me (honesty is necessary everywhere) and they encourage me, even if they aren’t crazy about what I write about. They can understand what I am saying. Encouragement is hard to find, especially in the early years. I wish I had joined a writing group.
You’ve produced commendable covers. Tell us about your graphic design.
Well… I like art, I come from an artistic family, and I really wish I was an artist. It’s enjoyable, engrossing (infuriating at times) and I haven’t yet struck anyone blind with my endeavors. What more can I ask?
Do you see writing as a career or distraction? Why?
es. No, don’t hit me! It’s something I have to do. It’s part of me, a way I express myself, a gift to others. I can’t stop doing it. By the same token, it intrudes at the most inopportune times. Sitting at dinner and someone says something, and I crow with delight, whip out my notepad and start jotting, ignoring the friends and family sitting around me and rolling their eyes.
Hahaha! I’m sure they are used to it and love you nonetheless 🙂 What are you working on right now? Tell us your latest news.
I’m trying to finish a sequel to The City of Refuge. MOURNINGTIDE takes place eighteen years later and has many of the characters from City. It follows one man—Seti, one of three major characters in City—as he deals with the death of a son through a needless mistake. He is a man of power and influence, and he needs to go away from his own world to a place where he can be private and deal with the loss of a child, however he may have grown up.
That promises to be interesting—I remember the brave, young Seti. And we may have something in common in our WIPs.
If you could pick a time to exist in the past, would you pick Egypt and what period would that be? Why?
If I were to pick Egypt, I would want to live in what they called the ‘Middle Kingdom‘, several centuries before the time of The City of Refuge. It was a time of peace and stability, with a strong government and people that were not encumbered by the notion of being a superpower. That was a very stable society, ruled by the rhythms of a great river, prosperous, content (as much as people can be). Food was plentiful, people smiled.
I see. The Middle Kingdom was the period which started with Prophet Joseph being the treasurer and adviser to the King of Egypt, and they helped the refugees from their famine-struck neighboring countries. Right?
I would like to live in a more simple time, where everything is not done for us, where we can use our imaginations and spend the day handling our own concerns. If you think about it today everything is done for us, food is packaged for us, and unless we watch carefully, we miss a chance to do the small things that make life interesting and enjoyable. So… when did they have a chance to do that? Let’s say prior to the Industrial Revolution.
That’s the ease of living in a modern country. I suppose you are right. I had lived in a few simpler countries. One was my grandparents’ village in Sumatra, where I spent my 7th grade. There you first had to build a single-use stove using the grain’ husk before you could cook, but the flames made the food taste better. And the hard work didn’t make people unhappy; I watched my grandma’s workers working the fields and singing poems. That was how they “talked”—they bantered by singing instant, clever poems; clearly enjoying life. I don’t know whether they still do that, now that they have electricity and modern machinery.
How much do you have in common with your protag, Diana?
Khonsu is observant, affectionate, tends to stand his ground on important subjects, and has a good imagination. He solves problems and he can ‘get inside the head’ of someone he is trying to understand. I’m observant and affectionate, certainly. And I try to be understanding. I don’t think he’s ideal by any means, but he has in him qualities that I admire (though he’s a bit of a worrier…)
You are such a compassionate animal rescuer. Tell us about this. And tell us about cat shows. What would you say to FB-ers who say cats should be banned from FB.
Who can resist anything that needs to be rescued and loved? We have so much to share, let’s share it! And cat shows—in the US—have classes for all sorts of cats, from the tiniest purebred to the three-legged family pet rescued from a pound. They’re all beautiful, and I enjoy watching them all and letting people know that their pets are absolutely special! (I have dogs, too…)
I’ve seen cats and dogs on Facebook. Some of them speak far more sensibly than their owners. I might say that Facebook would do better to ban idiots from their pages. The problem is that under some applications, all of us being human, that would depopulate Facebook. Oh, my!
Hahaha! Oh my indeed J Tell us also about your love for horses, sailing, and your other hobbies.
Can I tell you about my love for cooking Chocolate Stout Cakes? That is a real smile-spreader! …although if you love the feeling of speed, there is nothing that can compare with sailing close to the wind on a one-man sailboat. Perhaps one day I can do that in Sydney harbor!
Oh yum, I can smell heavenly chocolate… mmm we really must meet someday! A fireball? Cool!
You moved around a lot while growing up and have travelled a lot. How has this shaped you and influenced your writing?
I was very fortunate to have parents that enjoyed people and encouraged my family to see different sights, experience different cultures—and respect them—and realize that we all are fabulous in different ways. We would pile in the car on a Sunday and just drive around looking at the scenery, stopping to talk to people… Getting acquainted with our surroundings and enjoying what was unusual and beautiful about them. I thought everyone did that, but I learned that many people, camped on the doorstep of Heaven, prefer to look back where they came from and cry because they aren’t there.
Right, many of those who go out can’t wait to go back home to their Facebook or electronic gadgets; they are so chained to these they don’t know what else to do.
What is your other profession? When do you find the time to write?
I work in the insurance industry. I think we all know how difficult it is to find time in our busy lives to do the things we enjoy, that are important to us. The best of us find a way to find the joy in whatever we do. Practically speaking, I carry a notebook down and jot things as they come to me.
And loving it, I believe 🙂 Tell us a bit about who or/and what matters to you.
Being content in my own self is important. Knowing that others know how much they mean to me, knowing that I am important to others. It’s hard to express.
How has your published work influenced others and their attitude towards you?
I hope it has entertained people. I do believe most people think writers are either completely nutty or fabulously exotic. As a group we can be nutty, but then so can all humans.
You’re definitely of the fabulous variety, Diana!
What one thing is important for your readers to know about you? Why?
My readers need to know that the most important character in my books is the character that is reading it. That person is the reason the book was written—to entertain him or her, to tell him or her a story, to take him or her on an adventure, and meet others. They are why the books are here. They are the most important.
Any tips for us on reading and/or writing?
I’d say sit back, enjoy the story. But if a story does not appeal to you, if you dislike it—there is absolutely no reason to suffer through a bad story, even if a million other people like it. I knew someone who made it a point of pride to finish any book she started no matter how wretched. I honor her perseverance and courage. If I did that, they would have to put me in a straight-jacket.
What a considerate writer! Lovely to chat with you, Diana. Thanks again for visiting 🙂
One Sentence Synopses of each of Diana published works:
Pharaoh’s Son(a fast-paced romp set in Egypt of Ramesses the Great): Something great and terrible is stirring, hidden deep within the temple, something they must bring into the light before those who walk in darkness take it and turn it to evil.
A Killing Among the Dead(set in the dying days of Egypt): It is up to Wenatef to discover who is robbing the royal tombs and disfiguring the dead, how deep does the conspiracy run, and who among his friends can he really trust?
The Safeguard (set during the 1860’s in the American Civil War): A passel of wounded Yankees quartered in her house, a troop of freed slaves and the local Confederate militia combine to provide an unforgettable summer of courage, loss and love for Lavinia.
My review of The City of Refuge by Diana Wilder:
A richly detailed intriguing mystery.
The former glory of Pharaoh Akhenaten’s reign, the imperial city of Amarna has been abandoned after his death, and now lies in wreck on the edge of the Nile. To study the viability of reopening of the city’s stone quarries, the ruling pharaoh sends a delegation from the Memphis temple of Ptah, headed by its second-ranking priest, an enigmatic man without a past who is not afraid of ghosts, curses or the dead.
Police Commander Khonsu from the nearby city is assigned to guard this expedition, only to find himself entangled in a web of betrayal, murder and revenge from the city’s dark past.
Presented in a skillful flair of the English language, Diana Wilder peoples her story with real humans and uses practical philosophy as she visits the paths of righteousness and peril of these scrupulously developed believable characters.
From an author with a degree in Ancient History who has done extensive research for her writing, you can expect The City of Refuge will enrich readers’ knowledge with fascinating details from the past. But The City of Refuge is so much more than a well-written historical novel because Diana Wilder is, first of all, an observant human being with deep empathy for those around her. She brings the ancient world to you and makes it look and feel so real, as if you were together with her characters and could see what they wear, observe what they do, as well as understand their perspective. Diana shows us the human side of seasoned war generals that is touching, and keeps us in suspense until the end.