Moses Mondays: The Great American Novel

I was nineteen, working in the Steak ‘N Shake drive-in in Daytona Beach, and chatting with a customer and his girlfriend. He asked me what I wanted to do with my life. “I want to write the great American novel,” I blithly replied. Now thirty-eight years later I would be happy to finish one novel. It’s not like I haven’t been working on one. I’ve started several and since 1991 I have been trying to write the first in a series of books on the life of Moses. The plan has gone back and forth between three and five books and I have plotted, researched, written, hit walls, quit, restarted, languished, and hopefully now, I am on the road to completing the first book.

I have been told that my mistake was biting off such a big, complex, multi-dimensional topic for my first real book. I am told that I should have started with something much shorter (each volume in this set is projected to be between 400-700 pages). Well, that is how I started out. Initially I began a much smaller book about a young, barely teenage boy from a small town on the edge of the mountains who wanted to be a detective. My hero, young Daniel Moore, was an avid reader of Sherlock Holmes, hoping one day to emulate his hero. He even had a good friend who was a doctor, one of three who practiced in their small town, twenty miles west of the state university. In my telling, the story is actually written by the doctor, just as Watson wrote the adventures of Holmes. Let me give you the first few paragraphs of my initial effort, The Case of the Missing Correspondent, by way of example.

My name is Charles Owen. I have been a physician for forty years, so most people just call me Doctor Owen or Doc Owen. Despite having a succesful family practice, a part of me has always wanted to be a writer. I used to write poetry to my wife over the years, but recently I have been given the opportunity to write the kind of stories that have always interested me, mysteries. The opportunity came unexpectedly, as the best things often do, as a chance to chronicle the escapades of a young boy who has been having the most remarkable adventures. Let me explain.

I have known Daniel Moore from his first breath, having delivered him at Thornhurst Emergency Hospital. It was a difficult breech birth, feet first to the laymen, so we were all happy when he let out a lusty cry. Everyone could see from the start the boy had spunk. As his family’s physician, I watched him grow up through the normal childhood misadventures and illnesses and over the years I developed a special fondness this inquisitive, intelligent boy. When it snowed, Daniel was the one who shoveled my walk and driveway. In the summer he cut and edged my grass. From the start he was hard working and industrious as well as smart.

A few years before Daniel and I got involved in earnest, my life had taken a turn for the worse. Situations beyond my control had forced me to retire from being a day to day physician. One of them was that my wife had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, so I decided to quit my practice early and spend her remaining time enjoying what life had left for us. We never had children so that simplified things somewhat. She died five months ago.

Not that I was lonely, mind you, but when Daniel seriously entered my life I was grateful. It all began as a result of a problem he needed solving; he needed to know if it was possbile to get any usable information from a piece of chewing gum he had found. He want to know as much as he could about the person out of whose mouth it had come.

Since my house was only three blocks from his, it wasn’t unusual for me to see him regularly, even beyond the normal times of his yard work, but this occasion was different. The question about gum began an extended collaboration between this young budding detective and an old, slightly shopworn family doctor.

It began early one Monday morning. I had been weeding in the garden before the heat took control of the day, when I heard a cough. I look up and there was Daniel with a big grin on his face.

I don’t remember why, but Daniel and Doc Owen slipped into the bin of misplased efforts and I got enthralled with Moses. I started reading everything I could find. It was 1991, before the Internet, but I did have several college libraries I could access and I enjoyed research. I was even able to get two Ph.D. Egyptologists to help me. One, David Lorton, will be in the credits when I finish. My goal, then and now, was to write a real story, honest to the Egyptians as well as the Hebrews. I didn’t want any straw men; I wanted gritty reality and I wanted accuracy. I also wanted to go to Egypt to get the sand and heat in my nostrils, but alas, that was not to be.

The first book of of projected set will cover the first twenty or so years of Moses’s life. (Note: Yes you add an ‘s to Moses since even though it ends in s it is singular). The first story will take Moses, Ramses, and the other significant characters through the aftermath of the Battle of Qadesh, c. 1285 B.C., one of the defining moments of this period of Egyptian history. With that as the background I would like to give you the first chapter.

Update (6/05/2005): Someone recently accessed this page from a Google search so I thought I should point out that everything has changed. The first book now covers the first day, the day Moses is put into the Nile and found by the siter of Pharaoh. Yes, it only covers one day and should round out to be about 250 pages when I am done. I am close, but not quite yet. Yes I have used most of the stuff that I posted here, though edited to fit the new circumstances. I posted fourteen chapters here and never got out of day one so I just gave in and decided to make the first book of The Lawgiver Chronicles: Beginnings only deal with Moses’ first day. Hopefully you will be intrested in reading it, especially since you only have to deal one day of Egyptian history and one day of things to keep straight and remember. Read on and enjoy.

See also Chapter 2: Adrift

Destiny’s Passage
Copyright 1993-2004 by William G. Meisheid

Section One: Storm Clouds on the Horizon

EXODUS 1:7-8 “But the Israelites were fruitful and multiplied greatly and became exceedingly numerous, so that the land was filled with them. Then a new king, who did not know Joseph, came to power in Egypt.”

Chapter 1: Disturbing Dreams

Princess Asati tossed fitfully on her bed as a cold sweat spread over her body, causing her gown to cling unpleasantly to her skin. Usually her sleep was peaceful and dreamless, like a gentle lover, caressing her in the darkness. But tonight potent visions disturbed her normally tranquil stillness. One disquieting sight after another buffeted her sleep as she vainly attempted to find some relief from the turmoil.

One powerful apparition thwarted all her efforts to gain the restful blackness. Even awake she could see its disturbing images framed in the darkness: She was on the edge of a vast sea. The sun, just cresting the distant horizon, fanned luminous rays from the center of its fierce brightness. A breeze rippled the surface of the water, carrying with it undercurrents of anticipation and premonition. Asati’s hair stood up along the nape of her neck as it brushed past her. Then, a short distance in front of her, the surface of the water began ominously to boil and foam.

Asati tried to flee, but she was unable to move; her legs were anchored in the wet sand. Helplessly imprisoned, she could not turn away from the turbulence but had to face it and wait for what came next. Slowly, out of the middle of the ferment arose a baby, an exquisitely formed male child with strong, noble features.

As she stood transfixed by the unearthly sight, he began to approach her, floating easily over the face of the water. He stretched his tiny arms toward her and softly called to her, “Momma.” The word flew across the water into the deepest yearnings of her heart. Even so, she pulled back from his advance, for floating in the water below was a coarse blanket, the type used by the Hebrews. This child was not Egyptian.

As she held back, clouds began to darken the sky and powerful bolts of lightning arched between the thunderheads and the churning sea below. Despite the gathering squall the child waited, as if unafraid, on the edge of the water, small arms outstretched, repeating the haunting, “Momma…Momma…Momma.”

Asati’s heart raced in her chest, spurred by the word’s reflection back and forth across the cavern in the center of her being. She could not shut out the sound. It seemed to find its way into every part of her, its biting taunt echoing in the emptiness.

For five long years, despite the continuous offerings and potions of the priests and her own plea-filled prayers, her womb had remained barren. She had begun to think of her name as a curse. In naming her Asati, her father had dedicated her to Satis, the goddess of the first cataract, the protectress of the Nile and symbol of fertility and love. But instead of blessing her with an abundance of children, the goddess had allowed her field to remain fallow.

At court, whispers, floating behind veiled lips, suggested that an ill omen had overshadowed her. Asati’s husband, once drawn by her beauty and grace into an endless stream of passion, now, sought less the pleasure of her bed than the diversions of his concubines.

Lying there in the aftermath of her dream, Asati understood with an almost unnerving clarity, that the gnawing ache that had settled into her womb, the desire for a child, had become a ravenous beast, a jackal eating away at the core of her existence, consuming her piece by piece. She curled up and hugged her knees to her chest, giving what little protection she could to her fragile center.

Frightened by this sense of inward dissolution, she offered a crying prayer to the gods. She asked that this dream, despite its ominous implications, could be a sign that her prayers would be answered and her emptiness filled. That the baby might be a Hebrew was pushed aside for the moment. Her mind instead grasped at the idea of a child, a son for the prince, a nephew for her brother, the Pharaoh.

Asati let go of herself and slowly began moving her legs, stretching the stiffness and lethargy from her beleaguered center. She had made a decision. She would bathe early, a special, sacred bath. Then she would inquire of the priests about this night vision.

Though only a faint light was visible through the high window, a vague urgency caused her to pull the cord for her chief maidservant. She closed her mind to the fear that stirred in its depths, that this small hope might be only a mist in the night. She left her bed just as the door opened and Nari entered.

“You called, my princess?”

“Yes, Nari. I will bathe early this morning, in the Nile.” Debating whether to confide in her servant about the night’s concerns, Asati paused, and then said simply, “I had an omen during the night. I want to present an offering to Hapy and receive the anointing of the sacred waters before I investigate its meaning with the priests. Prepare what is needed.”

Nari, seeing the delicate hope in her mistress’ words, replied, “We shall be ready before Ra’s barge passes the horizon, my princess.”

Turning from the retreating servant, Asati went to the alcove that held the altar and statue of Satis. The sacred lamp was kept burning in extravagant sacrifice to her patron. It illuminated a figure wearing a horned white crown, the sower of the seed of life, and protectress of the yearly inundation.

“Oh Mistress of Heaven, did you send these visions?”

There was no answer. The blank eyes and fixed mouth of the goddess showed Asati no response, no concern. An old doubt, one that had grown stronger in the last year, edged its way into her thoughts: Had the gods abandoned her? Or were the gods dead, only a memory kept alive by the ministrations of the priests?

With cold determination, she quenched that thought. She dared not lose what hope the night had offered. As she knelt on the hard tiled floor, she offered her morning prayers with much more fervor than she had felt in some time

I welcome any comments, criticisms, or other input. I will be writing more about Moses and previewing additional chapters each monday until the book is finished.

4 thoughts on “Moses Mondays: The Great American Novel

  1. Excellent, I’ve been excited about this book for a long time. Please keep it coming and get it finished!

  2. It is my intention to both keep it coming and get it finished. Feedback on weakpoints in the story or confusing arugments or passages will help.

    I want it to pass the “beach” test–a book that is clear enough to be read at the beach. I know that is a tough task for such a serious and Homerific subject, but hey, who said I wanted it to be easy.

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