Thursday, September 6, 2012

Athena's Son by Jeryl Schoenbeck: Interview and Excerpt


In 276 BC, Egyptians are terrified when a series of murders are linked to Anubis, god of the dead. The evidence is inexplicable. The victims' bodies have no wounds and the killer's tracks are enormous animal prints. Egyptians believe the jackal-headed god doesn't want the new lighthouse build. The pharaoh needs someone special to solve the crimes, someone with the skills and intellect to track down a vengeful god.

Twelve-year-old Archimedes is that person. He is blessed by Athena, goddess of wisdom and war, with extensive knowledge of science, mechanics, and medicine. He has to tread carefully when he applies the cold logic of Greek science in a sultry, mystical world of Egyptian culture. But when an ancient scroll puts him on the path of the killer, it also brings another god back from the dead. Now Archimedes is going to need Athena's war skills.


Chapter 5 excerpt, Athena’s Son

The pressure on Damokles was growing. He was one of the foremen in
charge of building Pharaoh Ptolemy’s lighthouse, and they were falling
behind the construction timetable.
Workers continued walking off the job as more dead men were found  and the murders were increasing to nearly one a week. Pharaoh Ptolemy
brought over hundreds of skilled Greeks like Damokles to make sure this type problem wouldn’t crop up.
Damokles’ expertise was not specifically construction, but rather making sure the men kept working and did not loaf or sneak in naps. Ten years as a platoon commander in the Macedonian army gave him the aptitude to get men to do what he wanted.
But he was finding that threatening laborers was different than commanding hoplite soldiers. Once in a while a hoplite might be put to
death to get the fear of the gods in the others.
Now, a god was already killing the laborers. There was no more fear to
hand out.
“These are not jackal tracks,” the hunter hired by Damokles told him.
The hunter, Shenti, was a tracker by trade. Rich merchants and nobles of Ptolemy’s court paid the hunter to track large game in Egypt. “At least, not a jackal of this world. They are too large.”
The hunter was on one knee and gently tracing the outline of a print
that lead to and from the latest victim. The dead man was one of the
more reliable workers, and now he was as cold as the stone he helped
He was found under the same circumstances as the previous ten. He was laid out on one of the massive stones used to build the base of the
lighthouse. His arms were crossed and there was the carefully placed
turquoise scarab amulet on his chest.
Great Zeus, Damokles thought, the gods don’t actually come down to kill simple workers. “Perhaps it is a rogue lion,” Damokles offered.
Shenti laughed dismissively. “No. Not a lion, or panther, or cheetah.
Cats have their claws retracted while they walk, or stalk. Dogs or
jackals cannot retract their claws and so the claws are evident in the
tracks they leave. Like these.” He pointed as he got up and looked around, as if sniffing for the predator.
“So they are dog tracks,” Damokles hoped to put an end to the rumors.
“No dog tracks I have ever seen,” Shenti said. “These are twice the
size of a dog. Besides, the throat would be torn out. That’s how dogs
attack. This poor soul has no wounds. Look at the depth of those tracks.
The weight of the…,” Shenti paused, thinking what to call it. “The
creature that made these tracks has to be about the weight of a man.”
Here it comes, Damokles thought.
“I have hunted and tracked every predator in Egypt since I was a boy,”
Shenti said. “I know how they hunt and I know how they kill. No animal or man killed this worker.” Damokles was about to interrupt, but Shenti did not give him the chance. “You may want to ignore what is happening, Greek, but your Egyptian workforce is not. Anubis is walking the earth and these are his tracks.”
Even Damokles had to admit the tracks were large and no mutilation was apparent on any of the 11 bodies that have been found. For a moment he wished he was back in the army, fighting an enemy he can see and dealing with men who bleed when they die. He would have to go to Pharaoh Ptolemy and report more bad news.

What was the inspiration for your book?

The idea was always in my head since I started teaching ancient
civilizations. I knew students could get bored reading just fact after
fact in a textbook. They were so dry. What I wanted to write was an
interesting story to capture and hold my students’ attention, but also
included information about ancient Greece and Egypt.

Why did you pick Archimedes as the protagonist?

Archimedes makes a perfect hero first, because he really was perhaps the
greatest scienctist in the ancient world, and second, because he did
travel to Alexandria, Egypt to study and Alexandria at the time is the
greatest and most vibrant city in the ancient world. So the book has a
great premise to start with.

What was the most difficult part of writing the book?

As any historical fiction writer can attest, it is the amount of
research that goes into writing a well-crafted but accurate story. A
fantasy book can just make up a magic wand to save the hero; or a
realistic fiction doesn’t have to explain to the reader what a car is.
Just making the food and setting accurate is a lot of work, not to
mention all the research on Alexander the Great.

Who is your favorite author?

Easily Charles Dickens. His twists and interesting characters kept me
glued to his stores. I tried to do some of the things he does with his
stories and Pollux, one of Archimedes’ antagonists, is modeled after
Dickens’ bad guys.


Jeryl Schoenbeck wrote his first book when he was 9, sending off a series of drawings and a story idea to Charles Schultz, the creator of Peanuts. Schultz personally wrote back and, although he had to reject the idea, encouraged the young author to keep writing. After earning his Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Jeryl worked in newspapers for a while and then went back to college to get his teaching degree, later earning his Master’s Degree in education.

As a middle school teacher of ancient civilizations, reading, and writing, he wanted his students to read a historical fiction book geared toward children about a real person from ancient Greece. He believed ancient civilizations could be more exciting than the text books make it sound. There were not many choices of books, so he took Schultz’s advice and wrote his own.

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Giveaway ends October 6th 11:59 PM Central Time.


Lizzy said...

I really enjoyed reading the excerpt. I wouldn't normally have picked this up since the cover looks like a non-fiction book.

Greek mythology books rock.

Goldenmane said...

This sounds like a great book. My aunt was a Latin teacher and I developed an interest in ancient history through her. One of my favorite books of all time is The Egyptian by Mika Waltari about an Egyptian physician.

dlhaley said...

This book sounds like a good read. Thanks for the chance to win.

skkorman said...

I would love to read this book—thanks for the opportunity to win a copy!

skkorman AT bellsouth DOT net

Karen Arrowood said...

I love books set in this time frame; this one seems so different that I sm intrigued. Thank you for the opportunity.

nrlymrtl said...

My young nephew's middle name is Archimedes. I called him Little Mede for the first year of his life until my husband pointed out that others might mistake him for an alcoholic honey-based drink.

Kaci Verdun said...

I've always been drawn to Greek Mythology, thanks for the giveaway!