Katie Hamstead Teller is the author of Kiya: Hope of the Pharaoh as well as an upcoming book called Branded. After seeing her tweet about my 5 star review of her book, we struck up a conversation and I asked to interview her via email. Below is the interview in which we discuss research, depictions of Akhenaten and how she fell in love with ancient Egypt.
1. What was your research process like for Kiya? Were you always interested in ancient Egypt or did you stumble across her story and then do the research?
As a young girl I loved reading about Egypt, Rome and Greece, (the big three!) and in high school I elected to study Ancient History to further this interest. It was during this time I developed my curiosity for the Amarna period. So, in a sense, I’ve been reading and learning about it for years.
Time passed and I decided to write the story. This meant a lot of research, even as I wrote. I pulled books from the library, and journals from universities and wove together the theories which best suited the story I wanted to create, and I filled in the gaps with my own personal interpretations. I’d also studied Hebrew culture a few years ago, so my understanding of the twelve tribes was much strong than it was as a teen, and again I pulled books and university journals about early Israel and somehow, using the later period theory of Israel in Egypt where the exodus was during the reign of Ramses II, I meshed the two clashing cultures together.
2. Most of the books I read pegged Kiya as Nubian, although there is really no concrete evidence either way. What made you decide to make her a Hebrew?
It was at during my time in high school I first came up with Naomi. I remember watching a video about Kiya and the historians and archaeologists were throwing around all these different theories, and the one which stood out to me was that she could have been Tutankhamen’s mother. It’s also important to note I was studying the Old Testament outside of school which probably caused this melding of the two cultures in my brain and the question, “What if Kiya was a Hebrew and they conjured some elaborate story to hide her race?” Then, Naomi popped up in my mind. So, although she is believed to be a Mitanni princess, I thought this what if would create a more interesting dilemma and conflict, not to mention a more relatable heroine.
3. For me at least, your portrayal of Akhenaten was a lot more kind and compassionate than many portrayals are. What made you decide to portray such a compassionate, but still slightly unstable Akhenaten rather than the cruel, completely unstable despot?
I found while researching that most of the depictions of him were tender and gentle, and since Kiya is supposed to be his Greatly Beloved, I believed he would treat her with love. I found him to be a rather complex character, surrounded by all kinds of beliefs surrounding his reasoning for monotheism, his strange shape and so forth, that I felt he was probably a brilliant man, but rendered unstable by his inbreeding, and I wanted the tenderness in his depictions to flow through as part of who he was as a person to contrast with the cold, stern pharaohs that preceded him.
4. What is your writing process like in general? Do you outline your story before writing it or go back and fix plot holes and such?
Oh I’m a panster, big time. Writing Kiya was a break from my norm because I had to fit a mold, but the panstering got me from point A to B. Although, I always know how a story will end before I start it, so filling in the middle is just part of the journey for me.
5. Can you give us any hints about the sequel to Kiya: Hope of the Pharaoh?
Well, Kiya is a trilogy, and book 2 is called Kiya: Mother of a King. Book 2 is set in Thebes and Malachi begins to shine as a character. You also get to know her sisters, brother and father better. But she does come across some troubles from her own people because she was a wife of the pharaoh, while also trying to keep hidden from Nefertiti.
6. Are you working on any other writing projects at the moment?
I actually have another book signed with a different publisher which is in the works as well. It’s called Branded and is set in Western Sydney around where I grew up. It’s a romantic suspense about a terrorist infiltration that, after a mass slaughter, causes the populous to go into hiding. It follows a young woman named Ali who escapes execution after she is branded for death, and who is hunted by her capture.
I don’t have much writing going on right now with Kiya 2 in the pipeline and now Branded as well, but I do have several other manuscripts sitting on the back burners for when I have some time again.
7. What advice would you have for aspiring authors out there?
It’s tough. Rejections will mount, and you will get discouraged but keep trying. Find anyway to get your foot in the door. Join competitions, blog groups and so forth and find the support of those who are going through the same things as you. But most importantly, don’t compromise your voice. I was told by agents over and over “I couldn’t connect with your main character” but now the reviewers say she is so vibrant and the best part. It really is a case of it’s not you, it’s them. But you will find someone who will see the potential and they will be the person who will bring the passion you deserve.
8. Other than Kiya/Naomi, who was your favourite character in the novel? Why?
Horemheb. He wasn’t supposed to be the major character he is, and certainly wasn’t supposed to play much of a role until well into book 2. But while I researched him he seemed to grab me. He came alive like no other character as his brilliant and conniving mind seemed to burst out of history. The layers he potentially had just made me want to peel them back, and as the books progress you see all these sides to him.
9. What were some of the sources you consulted in the course of your research?
Aside from my own small collection of books, I searched university and museum websites like http://amarnaproject.com/, http://www.archaeology.org/, and http://www.ancientegypt.co.uk/ just to name a few, and the library.
10. Do you see yourself writing a novel set in ancient Egypt in the future?
Aside from the next two books, no. I have one story set in Athens which is a time travel, but aside from that I have no desire to touch on historicals again. I love Kiya, and I love the world around her, but people can be hyper critical of what they believe did or did not happen instead of just enjoying the story. I write to tell a story, to entertain people. I’m a fiction writer, plain and simple, and all I want to do is make people happy, not be nitpicked at for taking a chance.