Peek-A-Book: The Secret of the Sacred Scarab

If your powecobra-smallrs of deduction are good, then you probably have a good idea what today’s Peek-a-Book is all about! Author Fiona Ingram’s first book, The Secret of the Sacred Scarab, takes place in Egypt, and the adventure is packed with fascinating bits about that ancient part of the world. When I was a kid, I thought the pharaohs and pyramids were exciting and even a little scary. What a perfect backdrop for a mystery!

Fiona Ingram was a bookworm kind of kid who loved to make up stories and act them out! Perhaps that’s what led her to study Drama at the University of Natal in South Africa. It’s a sure bet that her theater background helped her develop a great ear for dialogue. Fiona also enjoyed a career in freelance journalism, but her journey to writing a children’s book was a new adventure that’s taken its own unexpected turns. Her book, The Secret of the Sacred Scarab, has won several awards, including a Finalist in the Children’s Fiction section of the USA National Best Books 2009 Awards. She also went from writing one book to making plans for an entire series! I asked Fiona a few questions about writing a series, and researching projects like The Secret of the Sacred Scarab.

Your characters travel from one exciting destination to another, picking up clues and meeting up with bad guys! What’s involved in research for a writer who chooses an exotic locale like Egypt?

Going to Egypt, or whatever the exotic locale you have chosen. This may sound difficult, but in fact travel is fun and easy, and if the locale is really exotic (and the locals don’t speak English) go on a tour where you’ll be looked after. Tour guides are brilliant at making sure you don’t miss out on all the amazing things their country has to offer. They also have many snippets of information you might not find in the actual guide books, such as old legends and customs. At the same time, you’ll have to put in the extra research later to make sure you get your facts right. The actual visit should be for you to ‘taste’ the atmosphere, the ambiance, and the very different environment—sights, sounds, food, language, traditions, weather … it all counts. Although I was inspired by my trip to Egypt, I absolutely had to do lots of homework when I started writing the book to get my facts straight. I have a few more really interesting and exotic locations lined up for the next few books—I can’t wait to pack!

Your protagonists are two young boys, which makes this a great read for guys! Can you give some insight into how you developed these characters?

I used the real characters of my two nephews as the basis for my fictional characters. Their responses and reactions to the events of our trip also gave me a deeper insight into where my fictional characters would eventually go. They are both very different: the older boy is bold, practical, and something of a ‘know it all.’ He’s great to lead any expedition into Darkest Wherever. The younger boy is more spiritual and imaginative, and made the perfect template for Adam, the hero who turns out to be the bearer of the sacred scarab. In my opinion, it helps to use real life examples (or maybe just aspects of them) when creating characters. It helps to convey a better sense of authenticity.

The Secret of the Sacred Scarab is the first book in a series. Did you know from the outset that you wanted to do a series? Do you think a writer should make that decision from the beginning?

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When I began writing the story I hadn’t developed the back history or mythology behind the series because I’d only thought about writing one story. At the same time I really liked my two young heroes and I had toyed with creating different adventures for them to pursue once The Secret of the Sacred Scarab was finished. But apparently the book had other ideas! About halfway through the project, the adventure suddenly took a quantum leap forward. Because the entire book is based on real facts (check it all … the Shemsu-Hor, the Neteru, and all the gods!), I found myself delving deeper into ancient mythology and seeing the fascinating threads that connect most of the ancient world and various mythologies. Once I’d created the mythology behind the Stone of Fire (again based on a real legend), ideas literally began to pop out of my head. By the time the two-thirds mark was reached, I’d already planned more books to develop my ever-growing theme. The adventure was too big, too all-encompassing to end with the first book. I am not sure if a writer can make that decision alone. Just as the characters come alive during the writing process, I think the story itself will dictate how far it can go. Let your imagination fly while you write and (amazingly) things will take shape.

What should a writer consider when developing a series?

I think the writer should consider the strength of the story. My Chronicles of the Stone series incorporates Seven Stones of Power, which means Justin and Adam have seven ancient artifacts to find, thus seven strongly linked adventures that all lead to a grand final conclusion. The books need each other to make sense of the adventures. That’s one kind of series. On the other hand, a writer can develop a strong cast of characters who share a good theme—let’s say, kid detectives. The kid detectives could solve different mysteries, not necessarily related, but with the strong thread of the characters’ shared experiences as the backbone of the series.

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You can find out more about The Secret of the Sacred Scarab at Fiona Ingram’s website (www.fionaingram.com) or visit the book site.  Or ask Fiona! She’s happy to tackle your questions, so drop back by Finders and Keepers to find the answers to your writing mysteries!

PEEK-A-BOOK: Through Endangered Eyes

Rachel Dillon is a gifted artist and author who’s kicking off the inaugural feature PEEK-A-BOOK here at Finders & Keepers! When her picture book, Through Endangered Eyes, came in the mail, I sat down right then and there to read it.

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Here’s what I loved (and what you’re going to love, too!), and your PEEK into this wonderful book!

zebra-spread_page_12Rachel uses a unique artistic technique to capture the beauty of the animals.

zebra-spread_page_2Each endangered animal is accompanied by a short, lyrical poem, just the right size for little ones to learn something new!

At the back of the book, Rachel gives even more information. It’s not every book that can save the world, or at least a few animals therein. But Rachel’s Through Endangered Eyes gives little ones a chance to see how every animal, from the smallest to the largest,  impacts our planet and how very important it is for everyone, from the smallest to the largest, to protect our endangered friends!

And since we’re all about finding stuff here at Finders & Keepers, I asked Rachel what feelings she found during the journey of her book. Here, in her own words, is what Rachel had to say about her experience:

Surprised – It was very surprising how easy the book of poetry and paintings came into my head. I really didn’t sit down and say, “I’m going to write a children’s book,” it just simply happened. It is hard to explain, other than saying the book has been inside me for a long time. I am just glad a publisher took a chance and published my book.

Inspired – After my daughter was born, I felt a desperation to do more than my marketing job. I wanted to make a difference in the world, no matter how small. I put together all that I love in my book: writing, painting, teaching kids and helping animals.

Impressed – When my daughter was two she stepped on an ant – on purpose. I scolded her and told her that the ant had a purpose on Earth and she didn’t have a right to end its life. Yes, maybe a bit harsh for a two year old, but the message got across to her. Two years later, my son was two and my daughter was four. My son stepped on an ant – on purpose. My daughter looked at her brother in horror and started to cry, “Don’t step on ants! They have a purpose on our Earth!” My heart was filled with joy at how passionate my daughter had become about animals, and I felt a glimmer of hope for the world!

Touched – When my book was finally delivered, after six years of hard work, my daughter took it to her teacher as a gift. She clutched the book to her chest all the way to her classroom. When she handed the book to her teacher she said, “This is my mom’s book. She wrote it and painted it.” I think what touched me the most was the pride she had in her face and voice. That moment made the emotional journey of getting published, all worthwhile.

Words to keep in any writer’s heart. And now, though I dearly love Rachel’s book, I’m giving you a chance to win Through Endangered Eyes. Because this is a book that should be shared with little ones and my little ones are all grown up (though my all-grown-up son LOVED this book…I guess you never really outgrow wonderful picture books!)

So, leave a comment here anytime before May 1st. Tell me what your favorite animal is, and I’ll randomly draw a winner (okay, I’m just going to say that Sally the crazy dog will probably draw the winner. That’s always an adventure!). I’ll even mail you the book. And who knows? Maybe Rachel will include your favorite in her next picture book. Because this is an artist and author that I think may write more books we’ll want to PEEK into!