Amelia Peabody -- wife of the "Father of Curses," mother of a presumed afreet and brandisher of the bumbershoot of doom -- has returned to wreak her particular havoc on the evildoers of England and Egypt. The Falcon at the Portal, the latest installment of Elizabeth Peters' bestselling mystery series, pits Amelia against a villain who targets love and livelihood as well as life and limb. And Peters' fans can't wait for the meticulously researched mayhem to begin.
Dickens' worshippers once shouted, "What happened to Little Nell?" to ships entering New York harbor. Today, Peter's devotees use the Internet to demand, "What's happening with Amelia and Emerson, and Nefret and Ramses?" Having fallen in love with Amelia and all her extended family years ago, the staff of Crescent Blues sought answers too.
Crescent Blues: Your readers eagerly await each installment in the adventures of Amelia, Emerson (the Father of Curses) and Ramses (the presumed afreet). How do you feel about returning to the scenes of their crimes? Do you still enjoy spending time in their company?
Elizabeth Peters: I wouldn't be writing about the Emersons if I didn't enjoy their company. Since the scene changes with each book (in time if not in space) and since they change too, as they mature, I never get bored with them or their ambiance.
Crescent Blues: In your latest novel, The Falcon at the Portal, David Todros, grandson of the Emersons' old friend Abdullah, falls under suspicion of selling forgeries to further the cause of Egyptian nationalism. What prompted you raise the issue of Egyptian nationalism at this point in the series? Was this something you'd always intended to bring up in connection with David?
Elizabeth Peters: When David first appeared he was designed to be Ramses' sidekick and friend. As he matured into a sensitive, highly intelligent young man, it was obvious to me that he would resent being patronized by non-Egyptians (except the Emersons) and would become involved with the nationalist movement. He's no dumb stooge; he has feelings and opinions of his own.
Crescent Blues: Issues of prejudice and individual rights are as much a part of the Amelia Peabody series as your trademark wit and peerless knowledge of Egyptian archaeology. Were the Amelia books intended as a bully pulpit, or did these themes result from serendipitous accidents of character and plot?
Elizabeth Peters: I would hate to consider the Amelia books a bully pulpit. Their primary purpose is entertainment. But a good historical novel must reflect the social attitudes and conventions of the period; these cannot but affect the plot and add conflict and suspense.
Crescent Blues: How much are you in control of your characters, and how much are they in control of you? Are your series characters more or less "demanding" in this regard?
Elizabeth Peters: I'm the boss. However, if characters are properly drawn to begin with, they have firm personality traits that cannot be changed to suit my convenience of that of the plot. Plot must develop from character, especially in a series. What I can do is set up a situation that will bring out certain specific characteristics.
Crescent Blues: As a writer, what has surprised you most about the development of the Amelia Peabody series?
Elizabeth Peters: I'm never surprised at anything. I am pleased that readers have become so passionately involved with my characters that they write to me expressing affection and concern and worry, as if the Emerson clan were real people. NO, I am not going to tell anyone YET whether Ramses and Nefret "get together."
Crescent Blues: Ramses has always been a favorite of mine. What inspired you to afflict the Emersons with such a delightfully devious offspring?
Elizabeth Peters: When I got Amelia pregnant at the end of Crocodile on the Sandbank I had to figure out what sort of child she and Emerson would produce. Ramses simply had to have the characteristics I gave him. He was a typical Victorian child in some ways, a normal little boy in others, and in still other ways, the eccentric son of two eccentrics.
Initial reader reaction to Ramses was either detestation or affection; I thought he was funny and rather pathetic, and so did most of my readers. As he grew up, he became -- somewhat to my surprise -- a hero in the classic Edwardian style. Given his parentage and his upbringing, this was inevitable. He's as handsome as his father, as stubborn as his mother, as intelligent as both, and extremely insecure about a lot of things. Pigheadedly romantic? No, I wouldn't use that phrase.
Crescent Blues: Most of the Amelia Peabody series has been written in Amelia's voice. However, recent books, most notably The Ape Who Guards the Balance, include other points of view. Can readers expect to see more of this in The Falcon at the Portal? Can you envision a book about the Emersons which is not told from Amelia's point of view?
Elizabeth Peters: The four books beginning with Seeing a Large Cat focus on the younger members of the Emerson clan. Manuscript H gives their viewpoint. I had to do this because as they became young adults they began living lives of their own, and doing things they would never admit to Amelia and Emerson. This will continue through He Shall Thunder in the Sky, which I'm writing at this moment. I love switching viewpoints. I've done it for years, you know.
Crescent Blues: How difficult is it to move from one point of view -- or series -- to another? How do your preparations for writing a Vicky Bliss book, for example, differ from your preparations for writing a book about the Emersons -- beyond the nature of the research, that is? Do you find inspiration in different kinds of music or books?
Elizabeth Peters: Obviously the type of research affects the sort of preparation I do for each book. Beyond that, there's no real difference; I put myself in the mind of the character and go on from there. I get ideas everywhere -- from people, from books. Some kinds of music get me in the mood; at the moment I'm collecting sentimental World War I ballads as background for He Shall Thunder in the Sky.
Crescent Blues: Speaking of series, can readers look forward to more Vicky Bliss or Jacqueline Kirby adventures anytime soon?
Elizabeth Peters: There will be another Vicky Bliss, but I don't know when. I have a number of projects in mind, including an Amelia Companion. My readers do offer suggestions, and I always read them with interest, but if I produced all the books the dear things request I'd be writing with both hands and never sleeping.
Crescent Blues: What do you read when you want to take a break from your own writing? Do you find yourself seeking out new writers or returning again and again to old favorites?
Elizabeth Peters: I read all the time. Sometimes old favorites, sometimes new writers, but mostly the former.
Crescent Blues: How far into the 20th century do you plan to take the adventures of the Emersons and their offspring?
Elizabeth Peters: I don't know how far I will take the Emersons, and that's the simple truth.
Crescent Blues: Do you plan to connect the family with any of your other series characters? And if so, can you give us a hint about which ones?
Elizabeth Peters: I have hinted at a connection between the Emersons and John Tregarth, Vicky Bliss's significant other, but I'm not going to give that one away yet.
Jean Marie Ward
To find out more about Elizabeth Peters and her other identities (Barbara Michaels and Egyptologist Barbara Mertz.) check out Another Shirt Ruined, the Amelia Peabody Page and Avon Books Twilight Imprint.