Thursday, September 2, 2010

Just the Facts, Ma'am...

Fiction or Nonfiction? What's the difference?

I picked up James Patterson's book The Murder of King Tut at the library the other day. Just in case you didn't know it, James Patterson (according to his website) is the best selling author in the world right now. In the past three years, he has reportedly sold more books than any other author, an estimated 170 million copies worldwide.

Now, James Patterson books aren't usually my thing--thrillers and mysteries that you buy at an airport book stall--but the cover of this book promised something special. "A Nonfiction Thriller," it proclaimed.

The Author's Note in the front of the book continued to promulgate what the cover had promised, that this was a work of nonfiction. Patterson asserts that his motto for this book was "Don't fake anything." He says he lost himself in books and online research while co-author Marty Dugard visited actual historical sites in London and Egypt.

We then combined our notes and began writing. One astounding fact about Egyptian history is that so much of it is still unknown. So when we came to a gap, we went back to the research for answers. Then we put forth our theory as to what happened. We constructed conversations and motives and rich scenes of palace life--all grounded in long hours of research.
Now, to me, this sounds exactly like what a historical fiction writer does. We research extensively, and then based on that research, endow our characters with words, thoughts, and descriptions. We fill in the gaps with plausible theories and construct motives for documented actions.

But Patterson, for some reason, does not want his book to fall into the genre of historical fiction. He claims it is history. "It's nothing new for histories to be speculative," he says, "but there's a difference between guessing and basing a theory on cold hard facts. We chose the facts."

I finished the Author's Note wondering if Patterson could perform what he had promised. Would he base this book on cold hard facts and live up to the name of nonfiction?

Chapter 12 - Thebes, 1347 BC

An even greater roar echoed through Thebes as the pharaoh's horses picked up speed.
High atop the reviewing stand, Nefertiti watched...Akhenaten...and tried to appear calm.
Meanwhile, two deep-set eyes leered at her. They belonged to her husband's royal scribe, a powerfully built man in his late thirties named Aye.
The populace was mesmerized by the horse-faced pharaoh galloping his favorite chariot, but Aye could have cared less. He was tantalized by the nervous young queen--and then aroused when she slipped her index finger into her mouth to bite her painted nail before remembering that thousands might witness her insecurity.
The royal scribe licked his lips. He could have almost any woman in Egypt, but she was the one he wanted. Aye studied her graceful neck and the rest of her, down to the gentle sway of her hips. She was much smarter than the pharaoh, who was a freak undeserving of her, Aye thought. Having served under his father, Aye knew how a pharaoh should look and behave--and Amenhotep was no such man.
But if not Amenhotep, then who should reign? Aye wondered.
He answered his own question: me.
Fiction or nonfiction? You be the judge.

1 comment:

  1. One 0f the first historical fiction series i worked my way through, was the Christian Jaques Ramesses .I read the entire series.lol
    I have read alot of the history of Egypt for no other reason then interest.I think i've watched alot of the tv shows too.
    I love the Brenden Fraser Mummy movies the ones in Egypt not the recent one.

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