Dirt Piles and Pyramids

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.  The Western Side of King Khufu's Pyramid

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. 

The Western Side of King Khafre's Pyramid

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.

King Menkaure's Pyramid as seen from the back of King Khafre's Pyramid

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.

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