The Story Behind the Story: When Camels Fly by NLB Horton
Mr. Darcy, did you just step on the hem of my laced-draped, heavily embellished, Duchesse satin skirt?
Until then, I write contemporary suspense with a thread of romance, and wear dull-colored clothing to get filthy. I live with a heavy artillery soundtrack while hoping nothing explodes nearby. Reapply sun block and lip balm.
And as threatening as that sounds, I’m in far greater danger if my octogenarian mother discovers I stood thirty miles from Damascus in March. She can be fierce.
My research for When Camels Fly started in 2007, during an archaeological survey of Israel and Jordan as part of my Master’s degree. This academic pursuit followed decades of interest in archaeology and the Ancient Near East, and was my reward after a long and demanding career.
For a month, I climbed through digs, over tels (mounds of layered civilization), and around sites, learning about stratigraphy and radiocarbon dating while experiencing deodorant breakdown in 118-degree heat. I caressed artifacts from Babylon, Mesopotamia, and every obscure tribe mentioned in the Old Testament. Studied languages from Ugaritic to Sumerian, plus a few I don’t remember.
Mr. Darcy, do be a dear and bring me a cup of the champagne punch.
I rode multiple camels, which I adore, and a few donkeys, which I deplore. Tried to dodge areas marked by vivid yellow signs stating “Danger: Mines!” in three languages. (One was all I needed.) Stared up from a dig pit at the underbelly of an IDF (Israeli Defense Force) bomber buzzing a site in northern Israel. Dangled from metal pegs and brackets, above two men with semi-automatic weapons strapped to their backs, while descending (without a harness) the thirteen-hundred-foot rock face of Mount Arbel.
Seven years later, facing the pending release of When Camels Fly, I returned to the Middle East. I needed more photographs for marketing, and to ensure manuscript settings were up-to-date. In seven years, much has changed. And little has.
I was pulled over at the southern border crossing between the West Bank and Israel, on my way to the Monastery of the Temptation. My traveling companion had forgotten his passport, which he needed to cross the border, and I suspected I was going to have to leave him there to chat with the livestock in the adjoining field. My Israeli driver was nervous, and the heavily armed guards to which we were directed looked grim. I leaned out the window toward them, trying to look calm, innocent, and brave. A young woman handed me a white rose as a Mothers’ Day gift from Palestinian students at the nearby university, and waved us on.
When I returned to my hotel on the shores of the Dead Sea that evening, I sat in a white plastic chair in the shallow end of the world’s largest Epsom-salt pool, my feet reviving after a steep climb to the monastery. I held my white rose and smiled at my fears.
Mr. Darcy, thank you so much for the lovely nosegay of violets.
Scaffolding still stands in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. One day I hope to see the mosaics on the upper walls in all their gilded glory. But I watched my footing to dodge holes that expose ancient mosaics six feet below the chapel wooden floors.
I trotted into the Old City of Jerusalem, past the Jaffa Gate, down King David Street, hanging a left, then a right, to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Of course I was lost because I am always lost there. But it really doesn’t matter because the Old City is two hundred and twenty acres that loop back on themselves, and I end up at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher every time.
I passed the Christian shop selling religious items, its smoking incense wafting through the gates of the Mosque of Omar. I tried not to breath as I wandered — by mistake — through the butcher section of the Muslim Quarter, ignoring heads of goats and legs of meat with the hoof still attached. I followed my nose to the bakery where I always buy date cookies.
Then I edged my way through the tunnels under the Western Wall, past the cistern. I knew if a terrorist attack occurred above me, I would never again see the light of day under the boulders, some as large as a city bus.
Darcy, would you like to take a turn around the Wilderness? I hear it’s lovely this time of year.
Sipping mint tea on a terrace overlooking the Western Wall. Consuming more hummus and warm pita than my matronly hips can becomingly tolerate. Watching the bar mitzvah band brandishing a ram’s horn (shofar), flutes, and Middle Eastern drums (darbukot). Would I trade these exotic elements for a satin gown and chamber music? As elegant as other genres sound, my heart, soul, and mind are firmly anchored to contemporary suspense with a thread of romance.
Mr. Darcy, have you ever ridden a camel?
After an award-winning detour through journalism and marketing and a graduate degree from Dallas Theological Seminary, NLB Horton returned to writing fiction. She has surveyed Israeli archaeological digs accompanied by artillery rounds from Syria and machine gun fire from Lebanon. Explored Machu Picchu after training with an Incan shaman. And consumed afternoon tea across five continents.
A mother of two adult children, she lives atop one of the Rocky Mountains with her husband of almost thirty years; one cat (which her youngest can’t take to university); and whatever wildlife wanders through the back meadow. She’s passionate about her faith, archaeology, women’s issues, and the environment. She’s also a world-class fly fisherman, a competent wing-shooter, and a dirt-encrusted gardener once the snow melts.
When Camels Fly is her first novel. Her second, The Brothers’ Keepers, will be available November 2014. She plans three more in the series.
There's nothing we love more at Shelf Pleasure than a ..
Author and Shelf Pleasure contributor Karen A. Chase on how ..
One of author Mary Miley’s favorite things about being a ..
Author and police psychologist Ellen Kirschman, Ph.D., weighs the pitfalls ..
Little known fact about Shelf Pleasure's Kristen: she's obsessed with ..
Although Debbie De Louise has been a librarian and avid ..