Saturday, February 23, 2008

A Deaf Character, A missing Mummy, and Immortality. An Interview with Christine Harris, author of Mask of the Jackal

Mask of the Jackal by Christine Harris
Paperback novel for readers 9-12 years,
150 pages
ISBN 978-0-646-48531-7
Vendor: Christine Harris/Launch Press

Australian author Christine Harris just published a thriller, called Mask of the Jackal which features a deaf character named Jordy. In a letter to me, she explains that she was at a writer's festival giving a presentation when an organizer informed her that there was a deaf girl in the front row. The festival had provided interpreters for the adult sessions but had forgotten about the young people. Christine felt horrible because with 400 other kids in the audience, it was impossible for this young girl to enjoy the presentation. This situation prompted the author to learn Australian Sign Language. She took classes in South Australia for one year and that was part of her inspiration for including the deaf character in the story.

Christine explains that she likes to include a variety of people in her books. She included the character, Jordy who is "feisty, likeable, resourceful, and proudly independent". She emphasizes that the book isn't about deafness and that Jordy just happens to be deaf. "This is not an adventure about a deaf character. Rather, a deaf character happens to have an adventure."

Main character Morgan starts a school assignment in the basement of a museum that is filled with mummies and Ancient Egyptian artifacts. When he hears a strange "sigh”, he wishes that best friend Jordy was there with him. Morgan seeks out his aunt, Lu to investigate. Without giving too much away, by the end of the story, Morgan and Jordy are involved in a kidnapping, and mingle with crazy adults, a stolen mummy, and a search for immortality.

I have been fascinated with Egyptian rituals and gods since I was young. Aside from the book having a Deaf Character (one of my prerequisites for reading these days), the book included the contemporary story of Morgan and Jordy and an Ancient Egyptian tale about the character Rahotep. Because of the fonts and chapter layouts, you certainly won't confuse the two stories. And because the story is a thriller, I'm not going to give away any spoilers about how the two stories overlap (or if they do at all!)

*******Read my interview with Christine Harris below*********
I've been fascinated with Ancient Egyptian stories and artifacts since I was a kid.

CH: Me too. As a child, I adored the small but exotic Egyptian room in the Adelaide museum. And I confess to sneaking up late at night to watch movies like 'Curse of the Mummy' on our black and white television set (and getting in trouble for it too!).

SPW: The day I received your book in the mail, I was wearing my Eye of Horus pendant. (pictured right: Eye of Horus, Thoth- god of writing, my name in hieroglyphics... I've had these pendants since high school)

CH: OMG. That is amazing.
SPW: In the About Me section on your website (which was great...especially the picture of you dressed like an alien), you mention that your books tell quite a bit about you. I'm curious how you see yourself fit into Mask of the Jackal.

CH: I am Morgan. I am Jordy. When I write a story, I temporarily become each of the characters that I write about. How else could I see through their eyes? Once I know my characters, I sometimes let them chat in my head, then write down what they say. But that only happens once I have spent time thinking and dreaming about them. I believe first drafts actually happen in the mind. It's like letting coffee percolate.

SPW: In your letter, you mentioned what inspired Jordy's character. I'm curious how you were inspired to write about Ancient Egypt. Would you mind sharing your research process?

CH: I read every book I could lay my hands on. There is now a stack of them about Ancient Egypt. I looked up various aspects of Egyptian life on the Net and I spent hours at the museum, staring at the exhibits. It was funny - in a sad kind of way - that when I was sitting in the museum, looking at a wrapped mummified body and remembering how it was done, and thinking about the hopes for immortality of the person who lay there, a group of high school students came in with clipboards and a girl took one quick glance around the room without leaving the doorway and said, 'Nah, nothing interesting in here' and walked off.
One role of the writer, I believe, is to open up a window to other worlds so they can be shared and experienced in some way. If that girl had seen those mummies as real people, her viewpoint would have been different.

SPW: In the story, you mentioned the ushabti (pictured above) or little servants that the Ancient Egyptians had buried with them. I remember seeing them for the first time in The Boston Museum of Fine Arts. They were fascinating. I’m curious; Morgan and Jordy were such great characters. Do you plan to include them or any other deaf characters in future writing?

CH: Oh yeah. I can't let them go yet. 'The Mystery of the Shrunken Head' is at outline stage and it has the same two main characters. Morgan needs Jordy, and vice versa. Still with a heavy theme of archaeology, but this time with a blackmail attempt, a secret, lots of stunt work and shrunken heads from Ecuador.

SPW: Ooohh! That is exciting! I can’t wait. What do you hope young readers will gain from your books?

CH: I hope they become absorbed into another world for a time, experience what it is like being someone else, some place else. If readers feel what my characters feel, then I have been successful. But I really think that each reader takes something slightly different from what they read. We love books that fulfill some need or interest in ourselves.

SPW: I always ask for a little professional advice for my readers. What advice would you give to young people who are reading your books for the first time?

CH: Enjoy.
For more information about the author, visit her website: and to read an excerpt of the book, visit:

**Just a quick note for young people reading Mask of the Jackal. You will notice that some words are spelled differently than in the United States. For more information about spelling differences, visit Wikipedia **

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