Thursday, March 06, 2014

Interview with Ramona Wheeler, author of Three Princes, and Giveaway - March 6, 2014

Please welcome Ramona Wheeler to The Qwillery. Three Princes was published on February 4, 2014 by Tor. You can read the first chapter of Three Princes here.

TQ:  Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

Ramona:  I was seven years old. I read SPACECAT AND KITTENS by Norman Todd and knew that I wanted to write science fiction. The more SF I read, the more I wanted to write. I had a brief fling with wanting to be an astronaut, but that was really to learn more about science and outer space, and how to write about it. My school years were focused on creative writing, practicing the art, learning science. When I got to high school, The Cambridge School of Weston, in Massachusetts, I had the great good fortune to have superb teachers who not only encouraged me, they also focused my intentions. I learned two most important rules: understand the power of metaphors and write what you know. “Write what you know” means you have to do some living first, so I set out to do that. As the Good Captain said, “Get a life.” Twenty-five years on the road as crew for my husband’s rock and roll band gave me lots of material. (And no, you never heard of them.)

TQ:  Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Ramona:  Variations of both. I work on the plot, doing research, sketching scenes--and then the story’s momentum takes over and carries me along. I describe my muse as a “Literary Demon,” and once he wakes to the challenge and starts driving, I just try to type fast enough to keep up. Our working arrangement is improving with practice, and he has learned a great deal from the editors at Tor Books.

TQ:  What is the most challenging thing for you about writing? Where do you write?

Ramona:  The most challenging is the discipline needed to keep going, since there are constant interruptions to the momentum of the process. I have cats, and it’s right there in their contract that they must “continually strive to stop literature at its source.” Of course, some interruptions are themselves sources of inspiration and vision, like dealing with the death of loved ones or going through brain surgery for aneurisms.

I have a corner in the living room with my computer, peripherals and research books. Even though interruptions are a problem, I found that trying to write in solitude did not work for me, (tinnitus since childhood) and now the house is pretty much arranged around my writing-space. My animus-mentors watch over me: action figure/avatars of Captain Kirk, Spock, Barnabus Collins, and Doctor Who (fourth and eleventh), and figurines of Sakhmet, Opet and Annubis, which were gifts from close friends. My artwork is on the walls. I have journal books for each writing project so that I can work out ideas in pen on paper, since that stimulates the visual brain and encourages it to work with the verbal brain. There are several notebooks for the various aspects of the alternate world I am building, the Pharoman Empire. It is a messy desk; at least I do know where everything is.

TQ:  Who are some of your literary influences? Favorite authors?

Ramona:  THE VOYAGE OF THE SPACE BEAGLE by A.E.Van Vogt and Andre (Mary)Norton’s books captivated me when I was still quite young. Cordwainer Smith/Paul Linebarger is my favorite for literary magic, and Keith Laumer’s work, especially the RETIEF stories, taught me a sense of pacing in narrative, and inspired the idea to use “highway diplomacy” in my empire. Dashiell Hammett,(MALTESE FALCON, THE THIN MAN)was a powerful influence--minimalism, lean, crisp writing. I read a number of Thomas Mann novels in German in high school. German was my first language,(child of a German war-bride)although, that language is buried now in the dark since learning to read Egyptian hieroglyphs took over. I had read all the SF in the Columbia, South Carolina and the Fort Jackson libraries by the time I was 12, and I never met an SF book I didn’t enjoy. THE LORD OF THE RINGS, DUNE and STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND were given to me by friends in ninth grade, and I lived in those worlds for a long time. We had a weekly Tolkien seminar at CSW, my senior year, and we wrote letters to each other in Tengwar over the summers. More recently, I have greatly enjoyed the mysteries of Tony Hillerman. His deft handling of a totally different world-view in the midst of modern life taught me a lot about how do the same thing with an ancient Egyptian world-view. The clear comparisons between the DOCTOR WHO series and Egyptian mythology have fascinated me since I first met the T.A.R.D.I.S., and I enjoy the expansive genius of the resurrected series in the hands of Stephen Moffat and Russell Davies.

TQ:  Describe Three Princes in 140 characters or less.

Ramona:  A spy story in an alternate world based on ancient Egypt. The Incans are secretly preparing to go to the Moon. Egypt wants in on the tech.

TQ:  Tell us something about Three Princes that is not in the book description.

Ramona:  The enemies of the Egyptian empire fail because of their lack of respect for women, failing to recognize the power and wisdom of the female personality. I appreciate the way that the artist, Raphael LaCoste, showed that concept so skillfully in the cover art.

Also, there is the contrast between a successful, benign monarchy and a successful, abusive one. The real-world Egypt never went through a colonizing phase. For the first millennium and more, the desert sand was the moat that protected the Nile. They went to war to keep trade lines open, to protect borders, recover stolen land and to prevent invasion. No one wanted to live away from the Nile. The pharaoh expected tribute and easy trade practices, but your business and your country were your own. In my Pharoman empire, Egypt rules the roads and the strips of land they stand on, as well as their foreign embassies, leaving everything else alone. Trade is the life’s blood of a living civilization--and education keeps it alive.

TQ:  What inspired you to write Three Princes?

Ramona:  The story concept and characters for THREE PRINCES evolved from my life-long appreciation of the TV series, “I Spy,” with Robert Culp and Bill Cosby. Robert Culp’s portrayal of special agent Kelly Robinson is my kind of man. (My husband’s band regularly performed the theme from “Secret Agent Man” just for me. “There is a man who lives a life of danger--to everyone he meets he stays a stranger!” etc.) The “Avengers,” with Emma Peele and John Steed, was my coming-of-age mythology; my friend and I dressed in black and played spy in downtown Columbia, in the office building where my mother worked. The warrior-behind-the-scenes, stylishly dressed while fighting secret battles, appeals to me. (however, I prefer Derek Flint to James Bond.)

I began with readings in psychology--Freud, Jung, etc.--in junior high, which led to Joseph Campbell, all of which led to the world of Egypt. I have since spent my life studying the ancient material, teaching myself to read hieroglyphics and using down-time on the road to translate texts, so I could hear the native voice. In 1982, I went to Boskone for the first time and met Hal Clement, the “Dean of Hard SF.” One of my smartest moves was when I joined his writers group, “Hal’s Pals.” His favorite book--he read it 18 times--was Terry Pratchet’s FEET OF CLAY, which I read as an instruction manual, trying to see it as he saw it. He was a good teacher.

I was writing science fiction in those days, and my first “Ray and Rokey” story appeared in Analog in 1998. I was also writing non-fiction about Egypt, with a Jungian perspective on the philosophy, religion and art, self-published on a successful web site started in 1994, Walk Like An Egyptian. The first print edition was in 2000. I realized that my appreciation for the supreme humanism of the Egyptian civilization was better applied to fiction than non-fiction, since my interpretation is quite different from the textbook versions. The philosophy I have found has more in common with Buddhism than the Greek or Roman mythologies to which it is most often compared.

My comfortable writing range is 25,000 to 45,000 words, but Hal encouraged me to aim for novel length. He taught me the rules for creating alternate worlds. When I introduced the Pharoman Empire concept to Hal’s Pals, he was pleased and said I should have Genghis Khan be a road engineer who falls in love with an Egyptian princess. (That’s the next novel, ROADS OF THE SUN.)

TQ:  Why did you choose to write Alternative History/Fantasy? Do you want to write in any other genres?

Ramona:  The decision to write Alternative History was a means of exploring Egyptian concepts of civilization without the inconvenient reality that it died with Caesar and was buried with Cleopatra. The process of writing in this genre has quite taken over my focus and is the passion of my work now. I have the outlines for several novels set in the Pharoman Empire, ranging throughout the last two millennia, and into the future as well. My eBook, ANCIENT FAITH-MODERN MIND, (Smashwords) is a handbook for the ancient Egyptian philosophy that governs my Pharoman empire.

Alternate history is actually new to me as a writer. I read a lot of it, yet I was a science fiction writer for most of my life. The five “Ray and Rokey” stories in Analog, and the Wildside novels and anthologies, are hard-SF interstellar tales about truckers with a starship.

TQ:  What sort of research did you do for Three Princes?

Ramona:  A lifetime of ancient Egyptian studies led to the creation of the Pharoman Empire, with the concept of Amun Rae as the god of civilization, taken from my non-fiction writing and applied to western history. I translated a lot of Caesar in Latin classes, and the role Caesar played in the final death of Egypt’s ancient civilization haunted me. What if Caesar had never gone back to Rome? What if he and Cleopatra had used the might of Rome to make the world Egyptian? How would he have done it? I read a lot about aqueducts and Roman roads, which are the primary impact points of the Pharoman empire on other cultures. My writers group gave me non-stop encouragement, and they asked a lot of really intelligent questions. Changing two-thousand years of western history is daunting--and fun. My anchor-points are natural disasters: civilization doesn’t change them, just the way we respond to them. Civilization solves problems.

I chose my locations using Google Earth. My previous writing was always on designer-planets, and I found that writing a story based on planet Earth is both more difficult and easier. Having to use a known landscape is limiting, but once chosen, the landscape and dimensions are a given--presets, as it were. I knew exactly how far they had to run, and where each city in the Incan empire actually was, what the view was from there. The Palace in Memphis is on a real island in the Nile. I have laid the Pharoman capitol of Memphis over Google Earth images of Cairo, keeping to modern streets and neighborhoods as much as possible. Modern Cairo actually does sit on top of the original Memphis.

TQ:  Who was the easiest character to write and why?

Ramona:  The easiest character was Princess Runa, because she created herself. I was writing the scene on page 162, on board the Mixcomitl, and Prince Viracocha calls for hot cocoa. Runa pops out from behind the tapestry, and when I got to the description of her headpiece, “a white jade profile of a rabbit with bared fangs and a forked tongue,” she stood up and took over. I was surprised each time she appeared, and her part in the story got more interesting as I went along. That was fun. I also enjoyed discovering the Kitchen Kingdom of Mama Kusay, which Runa showed me.

TQ:  The hardest and why?

Ramona:  The hardest character to write was Viracocha’s psychotic older brother, Pachakuti. Villains are vital characters--a story stands or falls on the strength of the dark side of the force. Shadows make things real. Villains have to believe in their own truth, in their own justification, and we have to know they mean it.

Hal rarely used a living villain because he felt the universe’s inevitable power of destruction is the true villain in life. My villain is the confrontation between the individual barbarian and civilization: a barbarian believes that violence works, and new barbarians are born with every generation. Civilization solves problems.

TQ:  Who is your favorite good guy, bad guy or ethically ambiguous character?

Ramona:  The character who gets the opening and closing lines, High Priest of the Wheel of Darkness, Ihhuipapalotl, (which means “Feathery-winged Butterfly,”) was always a pleasure to encounter, and “ethically ambiguous” fits him. His devotion to the old Inca’s dream of sending a man to the Moon is the driving force of the story. It is his dream, too. There are few encounters with him, but each one turns the plot. He also has one of my favorite lines: “Let Egypt deal with the thunder--I have to deal with the lightning!”

TQ:  Give us one of your favorite lines from Three Princes.

Ramona:  Runa and Oken are discussing demons on page 203, and she asks what people in Egypt do about demons:

“We hire them,” Oken said. “We train them, and put them to work.”

TQ:  What's next?

Ramona:  Professor Tom Easton, retired book-reviewer for Analog, has invited me to contribute to the next anthology he is editing with Judith Klein-Dial and Rose Mambert, publisher of IMPOSSIBLE FUTURES. The anthology is DECO-PUNK, set in the era between the two world wars. Mine is “The Skull-maker of Zongolica.” Crystal skulls are turning up in museums around the world, and no one knows their source. Are they ancient? New? Old World or New World? Out of this world? A group of specialists from the DaVinci Research Center in Memphis is sent to find out, because the skulls are showing some remarkable magnetic properties. The anthology is set for release at the 2015 Boskone in Boston, MA.

I am also working on a number of novels set in the Pharoman empire, each in a different time and place:

THE ROADS OF THE SUN: The confrontation between the Pharoman empire and Genghis Khan, as experienced by a Viking prince from Novgorod and a Chinaman on his way to Memphis for an Egyptian education.

FLYING COLORS: A ship’s master is grounded in Marseille in 1857 because “water can make a decision,” and he sets out to walk across Europe in order to return to his childhood home in Wales.

HE STAMMERED.: “The highest technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Arthur C. Clarke.
Claudius, headmaster of the diplomatic guild in Memphis, sends his son and daughter out on their first ambassadorial mission, to establish an embassy across the Channel among the kingdoms of the Britons. The first problem they find there is convincing the Britons that they are not supernatural creatures and dangerous magicians, but just human beings like themselves. Knowledge is powerful magic. Once that is cleared up, the ambassadorial staff face serious challenges from power-hungry chieftains who want to own them.

COLD AS SNOW: A love story set in southern Germany, that opens in 1315, the first year of the Little Ice Age in Europe. A young couple from the leading families of the Saar Valley have just agreed to marry, when they find a young woman nearly dead in the snow. She is a mad goose-girl, mentally and emotionally broken by losing her family and home to the relentless progress of Egyptian road-building. Caring for her creates the inevitable love-triangle, and her madness preys on the weaknesses of the lovers, but they invoke a very Egyptian solution.

A GOLDEN WOMAN: The story of how the Pharoman Empire established the first Egyptian Embassy in the frozen North Lands, joining forces with the Vikings. Set in the year 600 of our lord Julius Caesar.

A MAN OF STONE: The story of Den, the first Pharaoh, as told by the romanticists of the Pharoman empire’s 17th century. Captured by desert-dwelling slavers, Den finds himself in Hattusa, a city of stone, inspiring his future--the beginning of the magnificent, immortal legacy of Egypt’s massive architecture.

HE FLEW. SHE DANCED.: Set far, far into the future of the Pharoman empire, when we are immortal and can make humans from animals who want to be human. The jaded flesh of human-born-of-human is buried behind meters of cryo-protection, and everyone lives--and dies--in avatar-flesh. The last child actually to be born falls in love with a man who was born as a bird, and together they discover that the Solar System still has a few surprises left.

ANTHEM MAN: Set even further in the future, from the Pharoman Empire’s interstellar era. The planet Khom is a world without time, where the Day That Is Khom has lasted since the Beginning, the Sun never sets and night is unknown. Nobody sleeps, but everybody dreams. To go without Dream is fatal. Dantukher was born just as the first Sky Aliens drifted down from the sky, setting the course of his life as a “Dream Catcher,” a musician who plays for dreamers as they dream. He steals a musical instrument, a hybrid of a native bone-harp and alien technology. His obsession for this harp leads him across the Galaxy, through all the Known Worlds of Man. His love for an Earthling nearly destroys him, but not before he has left his mark on the civilizations of the stars.

KHOMIQOLQA: The prequel to ANTHEM MAN, the life story of the leader of Khom who was in power when the Sky Aliens first arrived with their offer to help save the planet. Khom’s atmosphere was dying and civilization there has been stagnant for a hundred thousand years. They cannot save themselves.

TQ:  Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Ramona:  Thank you for the opportunity. Your questions are good ones, and I will now ask them of myself about my other projects.

Three Princes

Three Princes
Tor Books, February 4, 2014
Hardcover and eBook, 352 pages

Lord Scott Oken, a prince of Albion, and Professor-Prince Mikel Mabruke live in a world where the sun never set on the Egyptian Empire. In the year 1877 of Our Lord Julius Caesar, Pharaoh Djoser-George governs a sprawling realm that spans Europe, Africa, and much of Asia. When the European terrorist Otto von Bismarck touches off an international conspiracy, Scott and Mik are charged with exposing the plot against the Empire.

Their adventure takes them from the sands of Memphis to a lush New World, home of the Incan Tawantinsuyu, a rival empire across the glittering Atlantic Ocean. Encompassing Quetzal airships, operas, blood sacrifice and high diplomacy, Ramona Wheeler's Three Princes is a richly imagined, cinematic vision of a modern Egyptian Empire.

About Ramona

Ramona Wheeler grew up an Army Brat, shuttling from library to library with every move. She has written extensively on ancient Egypt and comparative mythology and her “Ray and Rokey” stories appeared in Analog magazine from 1998 to 2004. She now resides in Massachusetts. Visit her online at

Twitter @Ramona332

The Giveaway

What:  One entrant will win a Hardcover copy of Three Princes by Ramona Wheeler.

How:  Log into and follow the directions in the Rafflecopter below.

Who and When:  The giveaway is open to all humans on the planet earth with a mailing address. Giveaway ends at 11:59PM US Eastern Time on March 16, 2014. Void where prohibited by law. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 years old or older to enter.

*Giveaway rules and duration are subject to change without any notice.*

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  1. The "140 character" description sounds really cool. Just added it to my goodreads tbr list.

  2. Really interesting QA. I love the sound of the book, very unique and intriguing concept.
    Definitely a book I want to read soon.

  3. Three Princes has the look of Egypt and India combined together. This is enough to make me curious on how can two culture entertwine.

  4. I love alternate history and this story sounds very intriguing. I'm looking forward to reading Three Princes.

  5. sounds fantastic! Thanks for sharing ;)

  6. Thanks for posting. Sounds great.