Vail Valley resident Norma Horton combines her knowledge of archeology and theology — she has a graduate degree from Dallas Theological Seminary — with her passion for storytelling in her new novel, “When Camels Fly,” which was released this month. Horton, who goes by NLB Horton on the book flap, has surveyed Israeli archaeological digs accompanied by heavy artillery rounds from Syria and machine gun fire from Lebanon; explored Machu Picchu after training with an Incan shaman; cruised the Amazon and its tributaries; and consumed afternoon tea across five continents. In other words, she’s a pretty interesting character herself.
Horton visits The Bookworm of Edwards today to chat about her book, answer questions and show hundreds of photos from her travels to Israel and Jordan. There will also be “great Mediterranean food and Middle Eastern music,” she promised. She took the time to answer a few questions for the Vail Daily.
Vail Daily: In six sentences or less, tell me what your book “When Camels Fly” is about?
Norma Horton: It’s about the evolving relationships in a mature family of intelligent people with secrets. The trigger point of “When Camels Fly” is a gigantic water theft in the Middle East. The book opens with the kidnapped daughter (a hydrologist) of the protagonist (a middle-aged female archaeologist) overhearing her captors discuss her impending death. When the protagonist kills the man about to murder her daughter, the women’s world changes in the blink of an eye. And they’re propelled onto a dangerous path because they’re committed to doing the right thing.
VD: What was the initial inspiration for the story?
NH: I was standing on tel Dan, in far northern Israel, under heavy artillery fire from Syria, hearing machine gun fire in Lebanon and watching an IDF (Israeli Defense Force) camo-painted plane circle above us. My two teenage children were by my side. This was not one of my calmest maternal moments, and that experience shaped my protagonist.
Also, we owned a small ranch in Colorado for many years, and I rode out the Hayman Fire summer there, as well as the drought summers preceding that catastrophe. People downvalley from us would turn on their kitchen faucets and receive nothing but air. Water is dear to our family — as it should be to everyone.
Lastly, as part of my graduate degree from Dallas Theological Seminary, I participated in a one-month archaeological survey of Israel and Jordan after studying the Ancient Near East, archaeological methods and the geological history of the region. That exposure provided a framework for the manuscript. Fortunately, when I returned to Israel in March, I found that my observations were correct and the manuscript was accurate! And, unfortunately, I was still under heavy artillery fire while standing 36 miles from Damascus. I detect a dangerous trend!
VD: How did you come up with the title?
NH: I knew the working title wasn’t the right one. My daughter, my partner in crime in this venture, and I had beaten on that working title for several months, sharing pots of tea in my office as we tried to come up with a more powerful title. We were back at my parents’ home for Thanksgiving, enjoying glasses of champagne. While talking about drought and the Middle East, she made some comment about flying camels. I said, “That’s it! When Camels Fly!” The title stuck. I think we should always have champagne-fueld brainstorming sessions, although we might not remember them.
VD: How long did it take you to write this book?
NH: About six months. But I can honestly tell you it took another two years to create a professional document.
VD: Why did you self publish?
NH: The manuscript in full was requested by every one of America’s Big Six publishers. For an unpublished author, that’s huge. Four of them said exactly the same thing: “There’s something here.” But they all decided they didn’t know what to do with it.
Publishing these days is very formulaic, and publishers are seeking manuscripts that conform to things that already are successful for them. A middle-aged female protagonist with a Christian worldview, who kills someone in the second chapter, doesn’t fit any molds.
My literary agent and I finally decided if I was not under contract by the end of 2013, we’d use Amazon’s White Glove to publish the work. Of course, on Jan. 8, Simon & Schuster approached my agent again about the manuscript. I told her that she could pursue them, but I wasn’t slowing down on the self-publishing option. When they returned to her to decline (“There’s something here”), I was already finished with the cover design.
VD: Anything else we should know?
NH: We’re in cover design now for the second in the series, “The Brothers’ Keepers,” which releases November 2014 and is set in western Europe. As with this entire process, I’ve hired the very best professionals I could contract, and my cover team creates covers for James Patterson and J.K. Rowling. My publicist, who has offices in New York and London, is beginning her assault on the media, so I’m really excited about the coming months. I have no idea what I’m getting into. And I’m outlining the third manuscript, which will be set in Greece and Turkey.