October 1st, 2013
Bob Hope and Bing Crosby never made a movie entitled, The Road to Taos, although they performed admirably in Morocco, Bali, Singapore, Zanzibar, Rio, and Hong Kong. All on a back lot at Universal Studios. Not likely that they ever attempted the Road to Needles, which is where we drove this morning.
But a few words about last evening at the delightful Skylight Bookstore on Vermont Street in LA. A small crowd, so without friends and relatives, I have to wonder if it is worth it. As we drive through the desert, images of book talks float like mirages, and singular occurrences surface.
…on the Mendocino-Sonoma coast, The Cairo Codex outsells The Zealot, and every other book. Ok, loyal friends are great.
…at Book Passage in Marin, a woman from India tells me she intends to recommend The Cairo Codex to her book club on her arrival back home in India.
…at the Capitola, CA, Bookstore, a woman who lived in Cairo for four years invites us to her house to see a painting by a friend of the inside of St. Sergius Church in Old Cairo—the very church where the Codex was found!
…at Skylight books in LA, a woman from the Midwest who married an Egyptian, has a film agent son named Ramses, and asks, “Can you write a screenplay?”
If serendipity is the magic that catapults a novel onto the public stage, perhaps book talks are worth it. What do you think?
September 30th, 2013
As my book tour for my new novel, The Cairo Codex, began in Seattle on August 21st, I began a rapid course in the process and rewards of the undertaking. This post will continue tomorrow with The Road to Taos. In the meantime, here is what I’ve learned so far.
Before undertaking the expense and time for a book tour, ask yourself:
-Is it a good investment of monies? If you have a host for lodging, perhaps. The jury is still out here for me—will let you know as we go along.
-Can you accumulate an assortment of loyal friends and relatives as the basis of a crowd? This is essential.
-Does the bookstore in question advertise well? (Barnes and Noble advertises only inside the store.) Book Passage in Corte Madera, has an active on-line magazine. Books Inc., Opera Square, in San Francisco advertises in the San Francisco Chronicle.
-Can you rely on “the kindness of strangers,” as proposed by Blanche in Streetcar Named Desire, to supplement loyal friends? After all, your loyal gathering would probably have bought your novel anyway.
-Are you leaving signed books behind that will be well displayed?
-Will you create a sincere relationship with your host who will then promote your work?
I’m speaking at Skylight Books in Los Angeles at 7:30 tonight, so I’ll have more to report tomorrow.
September 25th, 2013
August 28th, 2013
The Cairo Codex
This page-turner will keep you on the edge of your seat!
Dr. Justine Jenner, an anthropologist and daughter of an Egyptian mother and an American archeologist father is sent to Cairo to work on a UNESCO Community Schools for Girls program.
Before she can even begin her assignment, she is nearly buried in the crypt of St. Sergius Church when an earthquake hits. She is rescued but shaken and doesn’t realize until later that – in collecting her things in the subsequent blackout – she has inadvertently grasped an ancient codex (the stage between scrolls and books). The crypt is believed to have been the cave home of the Holy Family during their stay in Egypt to escape Herod’s armies. When carbon dating is performed on the codex and a team of scholars examines it, they determine it to be the diary of the Virgin Mary.
The book moves back and forth between Justine’s time and that of Mary as we read her diary. The contents of the codex are so startling to both Christian and Muslim faiths that their disclosure might trigger violent reactions. The Muslim Brotherhood is further provoked to action as it prepares to take over the political reins of the country.
This discovery will challenge accepted belief in history and religion. It will also raise questions of just how much knowledge the world deserves – or is prepared – to receive.
The Cairo Codex is the first in what will be The Justine Trilogy.
-review by Arab Vistas Today
August 26th, 2013
I was passionate to write the powerful story now contained in the newly released novel, The Cairo Codex…a riveting story of the finding of the diary of the Virgin Mary and igniting fierce conflict in Egypt. Revealing the dark edge of the Muslim Brotherhood. The story would almost write itself—right? But none of the 30 plus agents I approached were as convinced as I was. I needed to convince myself that it was the writing and the story that were important. So I let go of the search for an agent and self-published with Authorhouse. I had written and published 2 of the 3 books in the trilogy when a small miracle occurred. A close friend of mine met a publisher in Switzerland and he asked her to read one of the novels he had just published in his publishing house. It was Breath of God by Jeffery Small. She did, and said: “I have a friend who has written a novel with some similar themes.” He read my first novel and offered me a contract for the trilogy. And–he asked that I rewrite the novel in more of a suspense genre. So, I rewrote the novel, changing some of the characters, leaving out others, shifting chapters, creating new chapters, redistributing clues, and on and on. At first I thought: start over!! rewrite my novel!! However, it gave me a chance to improve the book and the writing. I’m glad I did it, for it is now a very good book.
Now, I realize that mine is not the typical story of “small town girl makes good.” In most classic cases, a self-published book sells thousands and that is why it is picked up by a mainline publisher. However, as I’ve learned, there may be other ways. What do you think? Do you have a different story?
August 11th, 2013
Day 3: Meet your driver—who is now your long lost brother—for a trip to the Camel Market in Birqash. Nearly 40 miles out of town, into the Delta, the views along the way are fascinating and the Camel Market is not to be missed. Traders from the Sudan in flowing robes hold hands until a deal can be struck. Brace yourself for the rather cruel treatment of these awkward creatures. Here also is one of the Community Schools for Girls that collapsed during the earthquake.
As you return, you will drive through Bulouc and Shoubra, two of the poorest areas of Cairo, arriving at “a secret garden,” Mataria, where the Holy Family rested on their way into Babylon (as Old Cairo was then known). A sacred child is buried under the ancient sycamore. Justine experiences the holy ground,
“…Inside the enclosure, natural spring water bubbled through an ancient stone fountain and down into the collection pool below. An elderly woman dressed in a green kaftan and white hijab held out her gnarled hand, catching and sipping the holy waters. Justine rested her exhausted body on a stone ledge facing the vista and ancient sycamore alongside, its tired, twisted branches held stable by hefty wooden props. Bare limbs with giant clusters of leaves were smothered at the top by the unrelenting smog. Jasmine and honeysuckle sprang boldly in irregular patches from the sacred ground…”
By early evening, you may need another rest and shower. Dress up for your last evening in Cairo (perhaps you should also pack before you go out). You can walk to the Taboula Restaurant at 1 Latin America Street in Garden City (2792-5261) near the American and Canadian Embassies, where the team that would unravel The Cairo Codex first met. The restaurant might have been a stage set for One Thousand and One Nights: carved Arabesque brass tables, lounging seats with red recessed lamps, ancient Oriental artifacts, cozy corners, and ornate pipes giving an air of timeless mystery. If you might be hosting four people, order a full mezza, tabullah, kofta, and labna. When you finish dining, it will be quite dark, and since the sidewalks are uneven and treacherous then, ask a staff member to call a taxi to take you to The Bar at the Four Seasons Hotel on the Corniche, where Justine’s romance with Amir began, a romance that blossoms through the entire Justine Trilogy. It’s an easy walk back to the Shepheard. Fall into bed for you have an early flight—and much to think about:
Were these stories about the Holy Family true? Could they be?
Why such tensions among the three religions of the book when they
all originate with Abraham?
What did I observe about the Egyptian people, their economy, and
Which of my original assumptions about Egypt have been overturned?
What stories will I tell back home?
Read before you go: The Cairo Codex by Linda Lambert (but, of course); Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell; Midaq Alley, a short story by Naguib Mafouz.
If you have more time: Alexandria (Metropole Hotel), Luxor and the Valley of the Kings (The Presidente Hotel), Aswan (Old Cataract Hotel) and Abu Simbel (return to Aswan for the night), a cruise down the Nile from Aswan to Luxor. Yes, north is “down” in this case.
August 9th, 2013
Day 2: On your second morning in Cairo, walk to Tahrir Square, the center of revolutionary foment (ignoring any “helpful” persons along the way, especially if they claim to be a doctor). Take the underground to the Mars Girgius Station in Old Cairo, stroll past the Roman fortress and into the Hanging Church suspended over the fort and dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Wind through the narrow pathways to Saint Sergius Church, the actual home of the Holy Family in 2 BCE where Justine discovered The Cairo Codex during a major earthquake. Don’t worry, earthquakes are infrequent in Egypt. Walk to the front and through the nave of 4th century St. Sergius, into the backroom to the left, and take the stairs down into the crypt where the Virgin Mary’s diary tumbled from the wall. Warning: it could be still flooded with ground water from the earthquake. The docent will explain.
Take the underground back to Tahrir Square and walk east into the heart of Cairo’s fashionable shopping area (carrying a map at all times during your trip), stopping to eat lunch at one of the sidewalk shawarma (towers of sizzling beef spinning on a metal stake over a fire) shops along the south side of Talaat Harb Street. As you approach Midan Talaat Harb Square and the looming statue of the founder of the National Bank, you’ll find Mr. Harb in his towering tarboosh. Groppi’s blue mosaic façade can be spied on the left corner. This historic bakery and teashop was once a gathering place for writers, adventurers, self-appointed celebrities and pashas. It is the setting for two crucial scenes in The Cairo Codex and is a great place for a relaxing cup of tea and a couple of desirable dainty chocolate frosted cookies before returning to the hotel. You may not be able to resist buying a pair of flamboyant shoes at one of the many shops along the way. Return by way of The American University of Cairo.
It is now early evening of your second full day in Cairo. Employ your personal driver from the hotel to take you to the Great Pyramids and the Sprinx. Ask him to wait as you explore on foot (leaving a clean blouse or shirt and alternative shoes in the car). Change clothes and shoes, modestly, and ask the driver to take you to the elegant Mena House Oberoi, nearby, for Darjeeling tea in the lounge overlooking the pyramids and dinner in the exotic Moghul Room. This “Palace of the Pyramids” was built for Sheikh Isma’il Pasha as his hunting lodge. Winston Churchhill, Agatha Christie, Queen Mary, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle were frequent visitors. You may dismiss your driver as you enter the hotel since the staff will arrange for transport back to the Shepheard (he can take your dusty shoes and clothes back to the hotel to be left in your room).
Day 3 tomorrow!
August 6th, 2013
Day 1 in Cairo: You will wake up too early! Can’t help it. Dress comfortably and modestly and take a walk to watch the great city wake up. Linger at the river, observing white cranes fly low through the pale lavender mist. Breathe deeply. Walk—or run—north to the July 27 Bridge and cross over the Nile to the island of Zamalek, and enter the Cairo Tower grounds. Return, take a shower, go downstairs for breakfast. Connect with your driver and on the drive, learn his name, all about his family, his dreams for Egypt. He will be very proud. No need to start until 10, unless it is summer and you’ll want to get going before the sweltering heat blankets the city. On the docket for today: The Citadel, Mosque of Ahmad Ibn Ţūlūn (locals believe that it is here that Noah’s Ark came to rest after the Deluge), City of the Dead and, in the afternoon, the cool Egyptian Museum. Walk back to the hotel (about six blocks)—take another shower and nap and board your felucca for a sail on Nile at sunset. Next, ask the hotel to hail a taxi for Khan El Khalili Bazaar, which is magical at night. As you step from the taxi, peer across the street to the Al Azhar, the world’s most ancient university, and the dwelling place of the Islamic Imam. Have dinner at the Khan El Khalili Restaurant in the center of the bazaar. Buy jewelry to your heart’s content. Merchants will be playfully aggressive, but just gaze into their eyes and say “mish mumpkin” (“not possible” in Arabic).
Day 2: On your second morning in Cairo,…tomorrow
August 5th, 2013
As of this moment, the U.S. State Department is advising against traveling into Egypt—unless you want to start with Sharm el-Sheikh on the glorious Sinai Peninsula, travel westward to Saint Catherine’s Monastery and climb Mount Sinai where Moses received the tablets from God. By that time, the mainland of Egypt (the Sinai is actually in Asia, cut off by the Suez Canal) will be safe. Egypt always swings back toward safety and gracious hospitality.
If not now, then soon you will want to make the trip of a lifetime leading through the haunts in The Cairo Codex: the scenes where anthropologist Justine Jenner made the world’s most profound discovery, was enchanted and romanced, kidnapped and terrified, stunned and surprised. Travel with a friend, a lover, for you’ll want long conversations and romantic evenings. Now come with me into this land of mystery….
The new airport in northeast Cairo is quite accommodating. If you didn’t obtain a visa before you go, you can buy one at the airport. Taxis are no longer allowed to park inside the airport, so secure a car or limousine at an official-looking desk to take you the forty minutes or so to the Shepheard Hotel. Make reservations through Booking.com (ask for a two-level room facing the Nile.)
When you have checked in at your hotel, if it is still light outside, cross the street and walk along the Corniche bordering the Nile. Take a whiff of roasting corn, purchase a garland of jasmine from a young girl, observe the Cairenes strolling the riverfront. Note the felucca boats swaying in the water below. Reserve one for the following evening. Return to your room for the sunset (first night only), order a bottle of Grand Marquis cabernet from room service, and have dinner in the Caravan Restaurant downstairs. Arrange with the hotel for a car and English-speaking driver the next morning and get a good night’s sleep, for your 72 hours starts in the morning. Day 1 posting tomorrow.
July 30th, 2013
This well written debut novel by Professor Emeritus Lambert who once served as a State Department Envoy to Egypt is both meaningful and entertaining. Meaningful in that she walks us inside modern Cairo-it’s 2007 in the story-with its many communities in the Old and fast-growing new city, the growing factionalism affecting the secularists, moderate Muslims, the Copts, Jews, scholars, tourists, etc. Her tone is sympathetic, her view well rounded, she’s an informed tour guide. How shall I be a modern Egyptian woman, thinks Justine, conscious of her dual heritage. The backstory begins in 2CE in the family of elderly carpenter Joseph and his family who’ve been living in a cave in that part of Cairo called Babylon for several years, refugees from Israel (Palestine). The bridge is the small, battered, diary kept by Joseph’s wife and found by accident when Justine is trapped in a cave under the ancient church of St. Sergius during an earthquake and aftershock. There’s a death in the modern day as several agendas clash once the discovery of the book and its contents become known. So not Dan Brown, in fact more Bruce Feiler, part women’s fiction, part a meditation on three major religions and more (Tao figures in). The prose flows so comfortably it’s easy to gloss over the serious issues and read this for fun. Fans of Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody books will lap this up, too.
-Poisoned Pen Bookstore, Scottsdale, Arizona