Have you ever wanted to wander the streets of Cairo, or see the mighty armies of the Crusades? Ever wondered why Alexander the Great was able to rip through Persia so easily, or wanted to read intrigue and mystery in the ancient world? Author Scott Oden takes us there in his books, Men of Bronze, Memnon and his latest, The Lion of Cairo.
Shiny Book Review – Thanks for joining us, Scott. So tell us: what possessed you to write about Cairo in The Lion of Cairo?
Scott Oden, Author – Glad to be here. There’s a line from Sir Richard Burton’s translation of the Arabian Nights that has always stuck with me:
“Whoso hath not seen Cairo hath not seen the world. Her dust is golden and her Nile a miracle holden; and her women are as Houris fair; puppets, beautiful pictures; her houses are palaces rare; her water is sweet and light, and her mud a commodity and a medicine beyond compare . . . Moreover temperate is her air, and with fragrance blent, which surpasseth aloes wood in scent; and how should it be otherwise, she being the Mother of the World?”
So says the father of the Jewish doctor in The Hunchback’s Tale. Until I started work on the Lion of Cairo, my body of knowledge regarding Egypt didn’t extend much beyond the fall of the Ptolemaic dynasty in 30 BCE. Indeed, besides the Arabian Nights, my library had but a single book that delved into the rise of Islamic Egypt—this book being Harold Lamb’s excellent The Crusades: the Flame of Islam (Garden City Publishing, 1931).
Oden – No, the research from Memnon didn’t really carry over, except in the most general sense. But, my first book — Men of Bronze — was also set in Egypt (albeit the Late Period, circa 525 BC) so I had quite a few text to draw upon. Part of the challenge to me was to make the ghost of ancient Egypt a tangible part of The Lion of Cairo. I wanted visual reminders of ancient glories — repurposed columns, bits of carving half-glimpsed, that sort of thing. The Lion of Cairo is as much a fantasy as it is an historical, so I felt compelled to assemble “Cairo as it should have been” . . . a kind of Arabian Nights hodge-podge of styles, drawn from such diverse times as the Mameluke era and the more recent Ottoman era.
SBR – Yes, I could feel the ghosts running through the streets of Cairo in The Lion of Cairo. It was a very vivid picture, imagining the smells, sights and sounds of Cairo during the times of the Crusades. Since you mentioned Men of Bronze (which is, I’ll add for the reader’s benefit, a bestseller and highly acclaimed novel which I recommend the voracious reader to pick up), I have to ask: Greeks and Persians, working together?
Oden – In answer, I give you Xenophon. The whole thrust of the Anabasis was a band of Greek mercenaries working for a disaffected Persian noble who came *this* close to taking the purple tiara for their paymaster. Also, Memnon and Mentor of Rhodes: Greek brothers who married into the Persian royal family and fought against the invading Macedonians during the time of Alexander. It happened so often the Greeks had a name for it: “Medizing” — the act of becoming an ally of the Medes (Persians). So, there’s plenty of precedent for Greeks and Persians to wind up on the same side, be it for pay or for family.
SBR – See, this is what happens when you watch too much 300 and don’t read enough. You get horrible misconceptions! So tell us, what have you been up to lately? Any new projects in the works?
Oden – Ah, 300 . . . a great movie from a great graphic novel, but about as historically accurate as The Lord of the Rings. For the truth of Thermopylae, in fiction form, one needs must read Steven Pressfield’s Gates of Fire. Probably the finest historical novel I’ve ever come across.
New projects? Well, I got a couple: I’m wrapping up a novel set around the sea battle of Artemisium, circa 480 BC; I’m hammering out the outline to the sequel of The Lion of Cairo, called The Damascene Blade; I’m writing a wicked cycle of short stories for the revitalized Heroes in Hell franchise — tales featuring Leonidas and his 300 Spartans . . . in Hades; I’m working up another outline and sample chapters for a novel that will hopefully turn those staples of fantasy armies everywhere, the Orcs, on their pointy ears. AND, I’m editing an anthology of Orcish short fiction featuring the work of Janet and Chris Morris, Ed Greenwood, and a veritable horde of talented wordsmiths! I still need a name for it, though . . .
SBR – Wow, sounds like you’re keeping busy. Glad to see you aren’t resting on your laurels. Any advice for struggling writers out there who are trying to get into the business?
Oden – Probably the best advice is to cultivate the two P’s: Patience and Persistence. This is an industry that fickle on its best days, and now it’s been thrown for a loop thanks to the e-book revolution.
Patience will help a writer weather not only the paradigm shifts, but also the day-to-day annoyances, like slow response times and glacial publishing schedules. Persistence is the true key: so long as you have an honest opinion of your writing (meaning you’re not comparing yourself to Tolkien or JK Rowling and counting your millions before you ever even finish a novel), you can be assured your work WILL find a home . . . it might take it a while, though. Persistence will get you through those endless bouts of rejection.
The only other advice I can give is to volunteer as a slush reader. Go online and offer yourself as an intern or an unpaid reader to a literary agency. No better primer for what NOT to do exists. It will give you a new perspective on your work, on the notion of literary competition, and on why agents and editors are oft-times slow to respond. Provided you don’t gouge your eyes out with a spork, first.
SBR – Good advice. Last question, Scott, then we’ll let you get back to your work. Star Trek or Star Wars?
Oden – Star Wars, man! What are their paltry phasers compared to the power of the Force?! Honestly, though, my answer would be C) None of the Above. My geekgasm of choice is for the work of Robert E. Howard… Conan of Cimmeria would tear Darth Vader a new one, then shove Jean-Luc Picard into that newly-minted orifice…
SBR – The Barbarian for the win! Thank you again, Scott, for taking the time out to sit down with us. We look forward to seeing your work in the near future.
Don’t forget to check out Scott Oden in the upcoming Lawyers in Hell anthology, due to be released July 15, 2011 from Perseid Publishing. Also, remember that Amazon has his books at a discount rate. Watch for this exciting new writer in the years to come!
Author Bio: Hailing from the hills of rural North Alabama, Scott Oden’s fascination with far-off places began when his oldest brother introduced him to the staggering and savage vistas of Robert E. Howard and Harold Lamb. Though Oden started writing his own tales at the age of fourteen, it would be many years before anything would come of it.
In the meantime, he had a brief and tempestuous fling with academia before retiring to the private sector, where he worked the usual roster of odd jobs-from delivering pizza to stacking paper in the bindery of a printing company to clerking at a video store. Nowadays, Oden writes full-time from his family home near Huntsville.
Oden is the author of Men of Bronze, Memnon, and The Lion of Cairo.