One Angry Egyptian Princess

Late tonight and into tomorrow morning will mark one hundred and ten years since the tragic sinking of the “unsinkable” RMS Titanic that resulted in the deaths of more than 1,500 people in the frigid waters of the North Atlantic. The terrible accident was a difficult lesson in the critical value of good safety procedures, plentiful life boats, and respect for vengeful deceased Egyptian princesses.

Titanic leaving Southampton. Anonymous Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Or at least one particularly angry deceased Egyptian princess who might not have been a princess at all, whose name may or may not have been Amen-Ra, and whose mummy curse has been blamed for numerous deaths, countless sicknesses, the loss of an appendage or two, and as many as three sinking ships.

Amen-Ra, or whatever her real name was, has been busy in her afterlife which was presumably fairly peaceful for millennia. Then in the late nineteenth century three mummy-obsessed Englishmen engaged in a bit of good old fashioned grave robbing in the vicinity of Thebes.

Cover of 1909 Pearson’s Magazine featuring the story of the Unlucky Mummy, before she sank the Titanic (British Museum ref AE 22542). Pearson’s Magazine, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Englishmen cast lots to determine who would keep the linen-wrapped treasure and that was that. Soon after the discovery, their Egyptian guide was seen wandering disoriented into the desert and was never heard from again. The two who had not won possession of the mummy soon died, and the lucky winner, Thomas Murray, lost an arm in a hunting accident before boarding a ship back to England with his newly acquired princess.

That’s when the real trouble began. Everywhere the mummy went, tragedy occurred, until finally Murray decided to unload her on the British Museum, where rumors of her malicious intentions soon spread. She was dubbed the “Unlucky Mummy” by those unfortunate enough to incur her wrath and live to tell the press about her.

One member of that press was investigative journalist W. T. Stead, famous for shining lights on the need for important social changes in England, and in this blogger’s humble opinion, kicking off the slide down a slippery slope away from journalistic integrity we’ve been experiencing ever since. He also had something of an obsession with spiritualism and loved the tale of the unlucky mummy.

In fact, there is no evidence that the mummy of Amen-Ra, whose brightly painted coffin lid is still displayed in the British Museum, ever left her final resting place in Egypt, let alone traveled on the Titanic after a relieved British Museum pawned her off on a wealthy American. There is a pretty good chance Stead and his buddy Murray made up the story in the first place.

Curse or not, I personally enjoy a good mummy tale.

There’s also no record of a mummy aboard the Titanic, but W. T. Stead did travel on the doomed ship and went down with her to the ocean floor just one day after regaling other passengers with a dinnertime tale of the Unlucky Mummy and all the chaos she had caused.

The story was later recalled by survivors of the Titanic tragedy. From those recollections, it wasn’t a big leap to the assumption that the mummy of Amen-Ra had been an unwilling passenger on the unsinkable ship, nor that she made it onto a lifeboat and survived to sink two more vessels, including the Lusitania of World War I fame.

I’m pretty sure there’s a lesson to learn in there somewhere, something about it being easier to blame the supernatural for tragedy than it is to address its causes or consider what decisions might have prevented it. Or maybe the lesson is that journalists should be careful when wielding their power for stories because one never knows when one might go down with the ship. Or just maybe there’s a really powerful curse emanating from an angry Egyptian mummy causing havoc all over the world because she’d like her coffin lid back.

If I could, I’d probably give it to her. It might at least be worth a try.

Blurb’s the Word

In July of 1855, American essayist, poet, and all-around deep thinker Ralph Waldo Emerson picked up a book that some young upstart found the courage to send him unsolicited. The book, a somewhat pretentious collection of poetry self-published by an unidentified author, was called Leaves of Grass. Miraculously, the presumably quite busy Emerson opened the book.

He loved it. He searched the publication information and discovered the name of the copyright holder. Then he sat down to write to Walt Whitman. The letter is encouraging and poetic and Whitman had to be pretty psyched to receive it because up until then the reviews of his book hadn’t been especially kind.

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Emerson’s response to Leaves of Grass. I’m a little surprised Whitman could even read it. By Ralph Waldo Emerson, from the Library of Congress, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Next Whitman did what any author would probably do. He sent the letter to a contact at the New York Tribune. When he later printed a second edition of Leaves of Grass, he included the letter as an appendix. Just to make sure no one could miss it, Whitman also placed the tiny excerpt, “‘I greet you at the beginning of a great career’—R. W. Emerson” right on the spine.

This was probably the first example of the now ubiquitous book blurb. Just about every book you pick up off the shelf at your friendly neighborhood bookstore has at least one on the cover. There’s often even a page or two of them in the front of the books of established or well-connected authors.

They also grace the top of every description on Amazon, where you’ll find them listed along with the label: “#1 Amazon Bestseller in Lesbian Clown Self-help Literature.”

And that’s how you know the author is much better at playing the Amazon marketing game than I am. I’m hopeless. Also probably not writing in the correct category to achieve such a claim to fame.

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Now that’s a book blurb. Damn it.

But I do have a blurb on my cover and atop my book description. A few years ago I attended a writers conference in Arkansas and was lucky enough to get to talk with keynote speak and New York Times bestselling history writer Jeff Guinn. If you haven’t read his books, you should check them out. They’re well-researched, accessible, and fascinating—everything a great history book should be.

It was with trepidation that this upstart approached Mr. Guinn to ask for his opinion on her book. Fortunately, like Emerson, he was incredibly gracious and despite a busy schedule (filming for an upcoming documentary on Jonestown for Sundance TV), he agreed to take a look. About a week after I sent him the manuscript, the Jeff Guinn sent me this:

“Quality fiction and real history make a great match, and Sarah Angleton’s Gentleman of Misfortune offers the best of both. This is an engaging story with surprises on every page.”

—Jeff Guinn, New York Times bestselling author of The Last Gunfight and Manson

And that’s when I fainted.

freakgifOkay, I didn’t really faint, but my response was definitely a little undignified. Next I did what any author probably would. I sent the blurb off to my cover artist. And if I’d had any connections to major news outlets, I’d have probably sent it to them, too.

I know not everyone loves blurbs. Some in the publishing industry complain they’ve become so common they’re basically meaningless. Some readers ignore them. I don’t think a blurb alone would ever make me decide to read a book, but personally I like them. Knowing that someone whose work I have enjoyed or respected thought enough of a book to allow their name to be associated with it is something I find compelling.

I’m so grateful to Mr. Guinn and to the handful of other authors who offered lovely words about Gentleman of Misfortune. Each of them also has produced great works that I hope readers of my book will look up if they’re unfamiliar with them. I’m grateful to be even a small part of a generous industry full of Emersons willing to help out their emerging fellows.

So, what about you? Do book blurbs make any difference to you?

Commas and Em Dashes

Good Thursday morning to you all! This post isn’t really a post. It’s really just an explanation of why I am not posting this week…Because I’m editing!

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This is not my novel. This is a picture from Pixabay. No sneak peeks! Unless perhaps you are the kind of person who likes to review books. If that’s the case, we should talk.

Or rather, I’m carefully following 98.9% of the advice offered by a much more talented editor than me, one who doesn’t fling commas around willy-nilly, use inappropriate ellipses, and who knows her way around an em dash. I cringe to think what she would do with that last sentence.

So, what am I editing? Thank you for asking. I’m editing a book. To be precise, I’m editing my book, a (an? you can see why I need help) historical novel that will be published in early September, when it will immediately climb to the bestseller lists because of its prodigious use of em dashes. Also mummies. Did I mention it has mummies? And murder. Maybe a little bit of mayhem, too. And even a hint of romance.

Have a great week!