New Roles for Libyan women

Libyan women have been a visible and vital part of the revolution.

Libyan women have demonstrated bold and courageous acts during the revolution.  Will they go the way of Rosie the Riveter once peace is restored?  In Egypt, women were on the front lines of the revolution but NOT A SINGLE female is on the committee to rewrite the Egyptian constitution.  Will this document represent women’s rights?  Probably not.

Historically, once a revolution or war effort has used female talent, intelligence, energy, and drive, it sends those very women back into traditional roles, denying their evolution as active members of civic life.  What a shame it would be if the Arab Spring repeats that mistake.  I am hoping that the brave women of Tripoli are neither silenced not sent back into the kitchens. ... Read more.

The Writing Process: Peter Ackroyd gives permission

“Well, I think it’s male, a great age, unpredictable, it’s diseased, it’s impatient, it’s energetic… that’s it.”

This is how one of my living literary heroes Peter Ackroyd describes London.  I’ve just taken an hour-long walk under that city’s ominous gray skies, heavy with the answer to London’s daily mystery: will it rain?  And like the cantankerous old man Ackroyd says London is, it would not give an answer.

Also known for not giving answers is Peter Ackroyd himself, who has written many books set in this city, as well as the massive and brilliant London, a Biography.  Now he has taken on a three-part history of the city from its inception to the present. ... Read more.

Chasing Vlad1: The Case of the Missing Sheep

Believe it or not, people often ask me, “Karen, was Vlad the Impaler really a vampire?”   I finally decided to make a trip to Romania and Transylvania to investigate.  The next few posts will be about that journey. 

We’d set out for the Carpathian Mountains in Transylvania from Bucharest in the morning, encountering a tempestuous rainstorm so severe as to be deafening, lashing the vehicle and obscuring our sight.  In the brutal rain teaming from a blackened, ominous sky, it became easy to imagine why Bram Stoker set his novel Dracula in this countryside. ... Read more.

Egypt: Then and Now

I have been having conversations with Egyptian friends and scholars, readers who are revisiting my novel Kleopatra, and book clubs that are reading it for the first time. It’s just amazing how history is repeating itself two thousand years later. “Egyptians have never been passive,” says an Egyptian friend. “We have attracted despots and dictators throughout our history but we have always rebelled against them.”

In Kleopatra, the unruly populace stages multiple demonstrations against King Ptolemy XII, Kleopatra’s father, who has overtaxed them in order to help the Romans finance their wars of conquest. The king had reason to be afraid; the Egyptians had been so aggravated with his predecessor that they slit his throat. The riots escalated, and Ptolemy XII was forced to go to Rome to demand support for his continuance on the throne. In my book – and in the minds of some scholars, owing to epigraphic evidence- the young Kleopatra accompanied her father to Rome, forever changing her attitude toward governance. ... Read more.

A Roundtable Discussion of Gender and the Art of Historical Fiction with Margaret George, C. W. Gortner, and Karen Essex

At the HNS Conference, C. W. Gortner and I caught the great Margaret George red-handed in the bookstore buying our books. We were so thrilled that we had to have the incident preserved for posterity!

KE: At the Historical Novel Society Conference this summer, Margaret George, C. W. (Christopher) Gortner and I answered questions about gender and the art—and marketing—of historical fiction. Margaret’s novel, The Autobiography of Henry VIII: With Notes by His Fool, Will Somers (1998), is now a beloved classic, and it was written in the voice of a man, about another man, but by a female author (I sound like I’m pitching Victor/Victoria!). Christopher’s new novel, The Last Queen, has received much acclaim, and it is written in the voice Juana “la Loca.” I have written in the male voice, and I feel that two of the most authentic and inspired character portraits I have ever written were Julius Caesar and the eunuch Meleager, both from my Kleopatra series. ... Read more.