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December 3, 2008

Research with Monica Burns

My special guest today is author, Monica Burns. If you enjoy historicals and haven’t had a chance to read either Mirage or Dangerous, I suggest you grab a copy from Samhain Publishing today. I enjoyed both books very much and can’t wait for Monica’s next release. BTW, both Mirage and Dangerous are EPPIE finalists, which doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. Over to Monica now who is talking about research and a little about Egypt.

I love everything Egypt. It’s drawn me to it since I was a kid. One of these days. I hope to gather up the courage to visit this fascinating country. You see, I have a great fear of snakes, which is the main reason why I’ve not made a serious effort to tour this wonderfully sensual and exotic land. But just because I can’t go there in person, doesn’t mean I have to stay at home in my head. I have written two books now with Egyptian themes. Dangerous and Mirage. In both of these books are Egyptian cults, mysticism, and ancient artifacts are used in the plot. In Dangerous, my book is set in Victorian England at a time when spiritualism and all things Egyptian were at their height.

I did a lot of research for both of my books, even down to buying an Arabic dictionary, which was incredibly difficult for me to comprehend, not to mention generating transliterations for Arabic words. Other research I did took me deep into the desert where actual archeological excavations were happening so I could get a feel for what archeologists actually do during the day. While I didn’t add specific minutia into my books, the multiple details of my research did find its way into the story line. I spread those details throughout the books to help create an atmosphere and a sense of Egypt.

Dangerous, which is set for a January print release and is available for pre-order, takes place in a gothic Keep in Victorian England during a time of Egyptian mania. It has a ghost who wants to save a sibling, a psychic heroine, a hero who believes he’ll eventually go mad, and a villain who already is insane. One might wonder how I could pull all of my Egyptian research into the mix.

Research isn’t so much about loading readers down with facts as it is about adding in a pinch of salt, sugar or spice to the characters and the setting. Drawing on my knowledge of Egypt, I made all my characters well-versed in the ancient culture, its people and religions. Through their eyes, I was able to show small things about cataloging and archeology through small snippets like this one…

Heat ricocheted across her skin as his arm bumped lightly against hers. Swallowing hard, she watched him pick up a small mirror that a noblewoman had used thousands of years ago.

“Amazing, isn’t it?” he murmured. “A small piece of history that’s more than two thousand years old.”

The note of awe in his voice drew her to his side, and she pointed to the indentations on the handle. “I’m certain there were jewels of some sort on the handle here.”

“I think you’re right.” He nodded as he peered more closely at the handle.
The magic of her work took hold of her, and her fingers covered his as she made him turn the mirror over. Instantly, her body hummed with exhilaration. Startled by the sensation, she jerked her hand off his to point toward the inscription on the metal.

“The markings…were…they were hard to make out, but I believe this was a wedding gift to a woman from her husband.”

He didn’t speak for a moment, but simply stared at the artifact he held. Laying the mirror down, he sent her an indecipherable look.

I also had fun with the imagery when I was working on my love scenes. Lucien, the hero, is fascinated not just with Egypt, but the heroine as well as you can see from this brief excerpt.

Clearing his throat, he watched the woman stiffen and whirl around to face him. When she turned, his groin tightened further. Good God, the woman was Isis in her most potent form. The gold silk of her enticing costume caressed every luscious curve of her body, revealing nothing, yet filling his head with all manner of arousing images.

Other than the silk knots holding her dress in place, her shoulders were bare. The soft silk of her bodice plunged downward in a vee accentuating the tops of her soft breasts, and he liked the way the gown flared out over her hips and fluttered around her long legs. Hers was a body for the most erotic of pleasures.

Voluptuous and tempting, her full breasts looked as though they’d fit into his palm quite nicely. What color were her nipples? The notion of parting her bodice to discover the answer sent blood surging through his veins until he was rock hard. Harder than he’d been in months. He wanted to see his hand caressing her breasts—watch her face as she responded to his touch. If he were to dip his fingers into her sweet core, would it be warm and sticky like the honey that flowed so sweetly for the pharaohs centuries ago?

But it wasn’t just the interactions between the hero and heroine that allowed me to throw my research into the mix. I got to delve into my knowledge of Egyptian religious cults and twist them to my own ends. In Dangerous, my villain is insane, and he believes that worshiping the ancient Egyptian god of chaos, Seth, is the way to fame and fortune. During one of her visions, Constance, my heroine, has a psychic encounter with the villain.

As with her last vision, there was no sound, and she stared at the two men dressed in ancient Egyptian priest robes. In the firelight, she saw Standish accept a familiar blade from the man whose face remained a mystery. With her mind she tried to make the stranger turn to face her, but she sensed a powerful evil in the man.

Suddenly, she knew he was aware of her presence. How was that possible? Never in her visions had someone sensed her. The stranger lifted his hand and admonished her with a wag of his finger. Then with breathtaking speed, his hand closed in a fist before he opened it and threw a ball of light directly at her. For the first time in her life, she realized her visions were not places of safety.

Using my research to add atmosphere and enhance the reading experience is an important part of my writing. I like to show respect to the culture I’ve selected to set my story in, and I want to give an authentic feel to the book. No matter what subgenre a writer delves into, there’s always some form of research involved. So tell me what you think makes for a well researched book? Do you have particular eras that interest you, but you’ve just not figured out how to draw on that knowledge? Got a question about how to research?

Monica Burns



  1. Fedora

    Hi, Monica and Shelley! As a reader, I do appreciate well researched books because I think it comes through whether or not I personally know the difference. When the author knows her stuff, the characters and setting are richer and realer (is that a word?)

  2. Monica Burns

    Hi Fedora,

    I think you hit the nail on the head. Setting is basically a character itself. It’s what holds and caresses the main and secondary characters and hold them in their world.

    So yep, richer and more real is definitely what happens because you feel like you’re in the world the author has built. Thanks for commenting.

  3. Deidre

    To me, a well researched book is one that you can truly imagine yourself in. For example, if a writer wroter about a certain place that can actually be visited and the reader has personally been there and can envision those sights in their mind, the writer is doing a good job.


  4. Monica Burns

    I heartily agree. I like to feel I’m in the world the author creates. JR Ward’s BBD books are like that. I’m in their world. Another great book where I’m drawn is Katherine Neville’s Eight. LOVED that book and the flip flopping from past to present each chapter. Dan Brown does a good job of it too.

    I think one of the highest compliments I got for my book Mirage, was from Kerin at Two Lips Reviews. Her family is from Turkey and she stated that Mirage made her homesick. For an author it doesn’t get any better than that. :-) Thanks for posting Deidre

  5. Shelley Munro

    There’s nothing worse than reading a book where a fact is wrong. It doesn’t matter if it’s a historical or a contemporary. To me it’s part of the writer’s job to do the best they can and get things right.

    I imagine the Arabic dictionary was difficult to decipher. :grin:

    When I’m reading, I enjoy the little facts rather than the dry and dusty type. Things like what they ate for dinner or maybe what the characters are wearing or reading in the paper.

  6. Alice Audrey

    I’ve never really concerned myself with the research behind what ever I’m ready, so long as it sounds authentic enough. It certainly sounds like you’ve done yours.

  7. Monica Burns

    Shelley, you mention food, and I’m all over that! I think food of a certain period can really emphasize a lot in terms of setting AND in certain situations, sexual tension. And YES, that Arabic dictionary was/is tough to decipher. LOL

    Alice, Part of getting research right is so that it does exactly what you described. Making it sound authentic take good research. I work hard to accomplish that, but only readers can testify as to their satisfaction with the end result. :grin:

  8. Darby Lohrding

    Oh I love the write up on of “Dangerous”!
    I too nave love the mystery of Egypt since I was a little girl. Wouldn’t that be fun to go on a trip that consisted of people who had never been to Egypt before yet have been drawn to it since they were a child!!! I love the cat statues! Going to check out that pre-order link.
    Thanks for sharing!!
    darbyscloset at yahoo dot com

  9. Monica Burns

    Hi Darby, love meeting anyone who has a love of all things Egypt. Bastet is the goddess who the cats represent.

    A trip to Egypt would be awesome with folks who have such a passion.

    Thanks for posting and especially for checking out the pre-order link!


  10. Sandra Cox

    Hi Monica, Have you read the Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters?

    Hi Shel:)

  11. Monica Burns

    Sandra, I have been wanting to read Peters’ books so much, but time just hasn’t been in the cards for me. But I see she has a new one out, and I’m thinking that as a reward for finishing my Berkley book, maybe I’ll treat myself! I’ve been told by someone who’s read my work that I would love the Peabody series.

    Have you read them? What’s your experience?

  12. Paz

    I love Egypt and I love historicals. I look forward to reading your stories.


  13. Monica Burns

    Thanks, Paz. There’s something magical and mysterious about Egypt isn’t there. I hope you check out my books, and then be sure to let me know what you think of them.

  14. Shelley Munro

    I haven’t read any of the Amelia Peabody mysteries either. They’re books that I keep meaning to pick up. I wondered if it would matter if I picked up a recent one or whether it’s better to read them in order?

    Barbara Erskine is another author that has written some great Egyptian-set books. They’re a little tense and creepy in places – not a romance.

  15. Monica Burns

    Oh NOOOO!!!! Another author to try. :lol:
    I’m not a romance only gal, I love books of all kinds…okay maybe not Dr. Phil or other self-help books. But I love a well-written bio or mystery. Stephen King is a fav of mine. Although I don’t think he’ll ever be able to top The Stand!

    I don’t know about the order of the Peabody series. She does have a website. I went there earlier today. There might be something there.

  16. Julie Robinson

    Thanks Shelley for having Monica.
    I too have always been attracted to the Arab world (must be why I dated a Middle Eastern for 5 years). I also love the spiritualist part of the Victorian period, which is seeing a revival in the Western Mysteries. I have presently been reading Blavatsky and others when I get a chance. And, of course, there’s you and Indy—why’d it have to be snakes??—(I’ve got all the available Indiana Jones CD’s.) Dangerous sounds like a TERRRRRific read.


  17. Julie Robinson

    P.S. Happy Birthday Year Shelley!

  18. Shelley Munro

    Thanks very much, Julie! And yes, Dangerous is a wonderful read. Go and snap up a copy. You won’t regret it. :grin:

  19. Caffey

    Hi Shelley and Monica!!! Huge congrats on the EPPIE finalist for your two books!! I’ve been enjoying your historicals and hope to get DANGEROUS soon, so glad the print is soon since all yours have been keepers and I have them in print :)

    I love gothic romances and haven’t seen as many as when I was a teenager reading Victoria Holt’s books that were then, set more at contemporary times, that I remembered (I do believe she wrote under another name in historicals but I didn’t discover that until getting on the internet and haven’t read them). So its a treat to know that you have written one, set in historical along with the paranormal elements of a ghost!

    I become familiar with alot of historical through the romance books I read. When I come upon information or themes within the book, I do love to look up more about them. Such as when I read a regency, I recently was looking up about the various ways of transportation that they used then. I do enjoy from reading an authors book and going to their site or blog to find out more of what they found when researching for their books. I do some day would love to visit Scotland as I love reading those settings as well (but alas, I hate to fly so its going to be a long trip by boat to get there :roll: )

    Loved reading your post Monica and great to say hi!

  20. Monica Burns

    Hi Julie, I’m terrified of snakes and in Mirage I had to face up to that fear. As the print release comes up this June, I’ll probably blog somewhere as to how I dealt with that fear.

    Isn’t exploring different cultures an awesome way to gain enlightenment? I love learning new things about other cultures and people because I think understanding each other helps eliminate the fear that drives so much of the hatred in the world.

  21. Monica Burns

    Hi Caffey,

    Thank you for your lovely post. You’ve been following me a long time, and I really appreciate all your kind words you’ve had for me since my first book was released.

    You gave me a great idea for my website, a page that discusses the research I did for a specific book. Oy! One more item to add to my To Do list. LOL thanks for giving me the idea. See, authors truly do live in a What If world. LOL

    Thanks for popping in to say hello.

  22. Julie Robinson

    I’ll be interested in reading about how you overcame your fear of snakes. If there’s one thing I don’t like it’s snakes!!! I saw that show, “Sssss” when I was a teen and it terrified me. I have handled my nephew’s snakes before, but the minute they start slithering over me, bobbing their heads up in that sensuous weave or touching their tongues on my skin to feel where they were going, he has to take them off of me. I’ve told my sister, she’s a braver person than I am. My son could NOT have snakes. Garden snakes meet the end of my shovel.

    Book Research is an excellent idea for a topic on your site, whether it’s historical or not!

  23. Monica Burns


    I think you were responding to me, Monica. :lol:

    I wouldn’t say I’ve completely overcome my fear, but I’ve learned to handle it better. That snake scene in Indy 1 terrified me, and I still can’t look at it without cringing, but that’s better than when I had to pull my feet up off the theater floor and huddled in my seat.

    But in Mirage, I said I wasn’t going to include any snakes, but the heroine had other ideas, and no matter how hard I tried to take the reptile out of the story, the character refused to budge. So I had to leave it in. I’ll definitely have to blog the whole story, funny and scary.

  24. Monica Burns

    BTW, Thank you Shelley for having me blog. It was super nice of you to do so, and I’m thrilled that you enjoyed Dangerous and Mirage. Thanks everyone. I’ll be monitoring the post so if you stumble in here late, I will respond.

    Thank you again Shelley, it was an honor and pleasure to blog here.

  25. Shelley Munro

    Caffey – I think she writes under a couple of different names. One is Jean Plaidy (the books are based on fact) and I want to say the other name is Catherine Parr but I’d have to check. I still remember reading Shadow of the Lynx (set in Australia) when I was a teenager. It was an excellent book.

    Julie – we don’t have snakes in NZ. Thankfully. Hubby and I saw a snake during our visit to the US this year. It slithered across the path in front of us. We were excited and took photos. :grin:

    Monica – you’re very welcome!

  26. Julie Robinson

    Sorry, Monica. I did mean you!

    Shelley, you are too funny—taking pictures!