I was mowing my lawn one day when I found myself thinking about how I might be able to deduct a visit to see my sister on my taxes. At the moment, I was thinking more in terms of trying to get a paid author visit to the school where she teaches, the Cairo American College. But then an idea hit me. I could send my characters from SAVING THE GRIFFIN to Egypt. And they could meet some kind of creature. A sphinx? No. Too obvious. Besides, a sphinx was just a bit too close to a griffin. A scarab? Maybe. At least it wouldn’t be cute and cuddly like Grifonino. I didn’t want to write the same book. By the time I finished mowing our back hill, I knew that a scarab would be chasing Kate and Michael through the piles of sand at the base of the Great Pyramid of Giza.
I completed the first draft of THE MARK OF THE SCARAB (working title) a few days before leaving for Egypt. I wanted to have the whole project mapped out so that I’d know where I needed to go and what I needed to find out in order to complete the project. This required lots of research. I bought guide books. I read the blogs of tourists and ex-pats. I watched YouTube videos and studied pictures on Flicker. I interviewed my sister about her life in Maadi.
When we reached the Giza, I was prepared for the massive size of the pyramids. But I still gasped with delight at the sight of King Khafre’s pyramid framed by the buildings of Nazlet as-Samaan. My husband and I had arrived early with a driver and entered near the Pizza Hut. We shared the Sphinx with a French student and a few tourist guards with machine guns.
From there, we climbed up the plateau to the great pyramid of King Khufu. We went to the western side where I planned for my characters to meet the scarab after improperly walking along the bottom row of blocks. One look told me my first chapter would need a rewrite.
My characters wouldn’t have ventured past the yellow rope. Even worse, the whole area looked very well swept. I had seen any number of pictures with the dirt piles, but those pictures might have been old and didn’t reflect the current reality of things. I did notice a few piles of dirt and had my husband take pictures just in case.
After visiting a few tombs in the Western Cemetery, we walked over to the western side of King Khafre’s pyramid. Can you say paydirt? I’m pretty sure I did. The tumbled hunks of pink granite and piles of dirt were a perfect place for my scarab to be skulking around.
My husband and I were the only two tourists back there. I knew my characters would scramble up onto the bottom row of blocks for just a few moments while their mother, a chronic tourist with a weakness for clear days and ancient monuments, took a few photos of King Menkaure’s pyramid. And yes, that is the smallest of the three major pyramids at Giza in the picture below. If you look hard, you’ll see a dark spot close to halfway between the bases of these two pyramids. It’s a couple of horses.
When I returned home, I had my own photos for reference. While I can reel off dialogue by the page, I always struggle with description. With the pictures in front of me, I could build the scene on the page with the hopes that it would leap up into the mind of a future reader. I often work from photos when setting a scene in an unfamiliar place. If you’re a writer who struggles with description, you should try this, too.