This is what my dining table looks like these days. I’m beginning the third novel in the Eye of Isis series, and I’ve written enough of Tetisheri’s story now to revise her calendar. Calendars are very important in series–when did she do what, where, and to whom?
Writing a calendar for the Kate Shugak novels, set in the present day, is less fraught than writing a calendar set in Alexandria in the time of Cleopatra, because the record of events then is more ephemeral than Google News today. When was Cleopatra born, exactly? Nobody knows for sure. Who was her mother? Nobody knows that for sure, either. And so on.
And then there is the bias every biographer brings to any subject, and brother, is there bias in every Cleopatra biography from Horace on. Sexism always plays a role, too. The open book above is Caesar by Adrian Goldsworthy. I went directly to the Alexandrian War, where Goldsworthy spends two full pages of very dense text discussing Cleopatra’s appearance; i.e., was she beautiful or was she not? Seriously? It’s never about what a woman can do, it’s always about how she looks. (In fairness, he does make mention of her intelligence and abilities. Hip hip.)
But really what I’m looking for is dates. In the Isis novels I refer to Cleopatra going to Rome with her father, when Auletes was looking for help to get back his throne from being usurped by his other daughter Berenice, but it’s only historians speculating that she accompanied him. When he died and she in turn was run out of town by her sister and brother, Arsinoë IV and Ptolemy XIII, it’s only historians speculating she went to Syria. Speculation is great for fiction because the writer can invent their own facts. I have my own thoughts as to where Cleopatra went during that period, which will be revealed in due course in a future book.
So my Isis calendar looks like this, with the Isis novels in bold.
Take Vitruvius. Some sources say he was born in 80BC. Others say he could have been born anytime between 80BC and 70BC. Okay, fine, let’s split the difference–in the Eye of Isis novels he was born in 75BC. Does this matter? I don’t know yet. He appears for the first time in Disappearance of a Scribe, where it doesn’t really. If he shows up again? It might.
The calendar is a constant work in progress. For example, I notice I have yet to include Arsinoë IV and Ptolemy XIII’s brief reign. I haven’t included Arsinoë’s execution in 41 yet, either, which was the final act in that bloody internecine warfare that passed for an orderly succession in Ptolemaic Egypt.
Alert readers will notice that I am writing the Isis novels at a time when Cleopatra has 17 more years left in her reign. A lot can happen in 17 years, including a lot of investigations for the Eye of Isis.
Yes, since you asked. I’m having a lot of fun with this. See for yourself.
Author and founder of Storyknife.org.