21 May 2015

Excerpt Thursday: UP THE HILL TO HOME by Jennifer Bort Yacovissi

This week, we're pleased to welcome author JENNIFER BORT YACOVISSI with her latest release, UP THE HILL TO HOME. Join us again on Sunday for an author interview, with more details about the story behind the story. One lucky visitor will get a free copy of Up The Hill To Home. Be sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's post or Sunday's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb.

History conspires to make us who we are.

Every town, every city, is built by everyday people, and Washington, D.C. is no exception. Anonymous, hard-working women and men form the backbone of the place their families call home: strong women like Mary Miller, who held her family together during the Civil War; Emma Beck, an inventor, career woman, and devoted mother; and Lillie Voith, whose dream of a large family was fulfilled by a tribe of nine children. They are matched by equally strong men, like Charley Beck, whose humor and wisdom served equally as glue and lubricant.

These are my ancestors, and Up the Hill to Home tells their story over most of a century, as their faith and love, home and family, and strength of character contributed to building the nation’s capital, their hometown.

Praise for Up The Hill To Home

"The author creates believable characters . . . yet history itself is the novel's best feature. The author has done her homework, infusing her work with convincing details of 19th- and early-20th-century city life . . . a good book." --Kirkus Reviews

"Beautifully and lovingly written, this sweet story is well researched . . . a Perfect 10” --Romance Reviews Today

"Yacovissi has planned her book carefully, and the result is nothing short of remarkable." --Curled up with a Good Book

" . . . a strong, serene, uplifting debut novel . . . satisfies the heart but also pleases the mind." -- Bryan Crockett, Ph.D., author of Love's Alchemy: A John Donne Mystery

" . . . quietly compelling . . . This is the book you will carry around with you . . . " -- Rafael Alvarez, author of Tales from the Holy Land

**An Excerpt from Up The Hill To Home**

Lillie stands at the top of the cellar stairs feeling for the light switch, which is just out of convenient arm’s reach. When Charley Beck makes the conversion from gaslight to electric—what, almost ten years ago now?—the work crew includes one tall gangly fellow who installs the box in a spot that’s just right for him and his rangy relatives. In this more compactly built household, folks have stumbled on the steps more than once trying to find that switch.
Lillie remembers herself as a little girl being wary of the cellar. Dank, with low ceilings, it holds more dark corners than she can keep an eye on during errands to bring up canned peaches or green beans. She can clearly picture herself creeping down the steps, scanning for signs of movement, even then knowing that whatever is down there will hold still, until she is fully in the trap, before springing it closed. Pausing near the bottom step, she would take a deep breath, and then dash for the shelves, grabbing what she’d been sent for and scrambling back up the steps, propelling herself with a little shriek into the kitchen, triumphant once again in her escape. Charley would look from behind his paper and say, “Back again so soon?” and Emma, accepting the jar of peaches, would tell her, “Darling, you shouldn’t scare yourself like that. It’s just the cellar,” and then Charley again, “Yep, we haven’t lost a child down there in years,” and Mary or Emma or both would scold him for teasing her. Maybe, Lillie thinks now, her young self enjoyed manufacturing that fleeting sense of danger, knowing that the rest of her world was so dependably safe.
This morning she is thinking of her childhood, of all of their collective childhoods and lifetimes, arranged and safeguarded in the trunk that again sits open next to the parlor secretary. She’s taking advantage of the empty house and the few moments to herself, over hot tea and soda crackers, to dip in among the letters and photographs, diaries, and other treasures. Any keepsake she retrieves, words or image, she already knows by heart, and part of the sweetness is enjoying the layers of memories each item has itself accreted over the years.
There are only a few minutes to sit, though, and when the tea is drained, it’s time to start the day in earnest. Her nausea is keeping her home while the rest of the family attends Mass; she’s had to clench her teeth and breathe hard as she marshals the children into readiness. But the housework never gets done just by wishing, so she takes the teacup and crackers into the kitchen and then steps out onto the spring porch for the washing machine.
In its off hours, the Easy Wash stays out of the way tucked into its own designated corner of the porch, near the big canning stove. When it’s laundry time, though, the washer needs to be wrangled from the porch into the kitchen, a tricky maneuver that requires both muscle and coordination. The spring porch is an addition onto the back of the house, and it encloses the original concrete steps that lead from the back door. There never was a railing, but there’s a gentle slope meant to shed rainwater. With just enough space between the back of the house and the top of the steps to roll the washing machine, it’s crucial not to miss that corner with the outside wheel, or the Easy Wash takes a header down the steps and just as likely takes the hapless pilot with it. Lillie gets enough momentum up to carry the washer across the threshold into the kitchen. She rolls it into place next to the sink and is just about to connect the hose to the faucet when she thinks to double check the water temperature. She opens the hot side and waits a moment, then another. Cold. A disappointed groan deflates her shoulders; in the rush to get everyone off to church, no one got the task to run down and turn on the water heater. Her hopes of getting at least one load of laundry done before breakfast evaporate. Now she rolls the Easy Wash back out to its corner of the porch, this time needing to check it from picking up too much speed on the downslope. There’s nothing for it but to fit in an extra load or two between breakfast and dinner. In a household of thirteen, staying ahead of the laundry pile—washing, wringing, hauling, hanging, plucking, ironing, folding, putting away—is a nearly continuous activity.
Which is why Lillie is looking for the light switch, so she can make the trip into the cellar and belatedly turn on the water heater in time to have post-breakfast hot water. But her mind, wayward this morning, marches past laundry and breakfast and right back to the trunk in the parlor.
Over the course of nine pregnancies, Lillie develops her own little rituals in preparing for a new baby’s arrival into the family. One of the first things she does is to have Ferd go up into the attic and bring down her memory box. In fact, she sometimes breaks the happy news to him by smiling and simply saying, “It’s time to get the box again.” For his part, Ferd responds with some combination of a smile or laugh, a kiss, and a sweeping, feet-off-the-floor embrace before he heads to the attic. How funny to think that little more than a month ago she catches her reflection in the parlor mirror and stops for a moment, Tommy heavy on her hip, Bernie and Dorothy combatively playing keep-away on either side of her. As she fingers a streak of gray in her hair, she says to no one in particular, “Look at how old I’m getting! It’s sad to think that soon I won’t be able to have any more babies.” And here she is, already starting through the box once again.




About the Author

Learn more about Jennifer Bort Yacovissi

Twitter: @jbyacovissi


17 May 2015

Author Interview & Book Giveaway: Vincent B. "Chip" Lococo on A SONG FOR BELLAFORTUNA

This week, we're pleased to welcome author VINCENT LOCOCO with his latest release, A SONG FOR BELLAFORTUNA. One lucky visitor will get a free copy of A Song for Bellafortuna. Be sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb.

A Song for Bellafortuna is an inspirational Italian Historical Fiction novel concerning a young man’s desire to free his Sicilian village from the domination of one family’s long reign. For years, the beautiful, yet secluded, hilltop village of Bellafortuna, Sicily, was a great producer of wine and olive oil. The entire village prospered. However, after the arrival of the Vasaio family, production dwindles and the villagers soon find themselves in crushing debt to the Vasaios. Only one family in the village remains outside the control of the Vasaios, but the reason haunts Antonio Sanguinetti every day of his life. Antonio is determined to erase this legacy by offering financial and emotional support to his fellow villagers. He introduces them to the choral song from Verdi’s opera, Nabucco, which becomes the rallying cry for the villagers and offers them hope for a better life.

When Antonio’s only son, Giuseppe, discovers his family’s past, he becomes determined to take on the Vasaios and remove them from power. Led by the young Giuseppe, a plan is hatched that could result in either complete freedom for the villagers, or if it fails, forever solidifying the Vasaios’ control.

Find out what happens in A Song for Bellafortuna, a sweeping epic historical fiction tale of love, drama, sacrifice, and redemption, set among the beautiful landscape of Sicily.

 NAMED A SHORT LIST FINALIST IN THE WILLIAM FAULKNER-WILLIAM WISDOM WRITING COMPETITION

LISTED BY AMAZON AS A HOT NEW RELEASE IN ITALIAN HISTORICAL FICTION 
ADVANCE PRAISE FOR A SONG FOR BELLAFORTUNA

The novel has been called lyrical, intelligent, majestic, magical, powerful and compelling. Here are some advance reviews.

“Vincent B. LoCoco writes a heartwarming piece of historical fiction . . . He captured the essence of the Sicilian culture, especially regarding the value of ancestry and music . . . A Song For Bellafortuna is a beautiful tale of antiquity."
– Readers Favorite 5 Star Review

"The book was a joy to read. It is a wonderful story, told in a magical way.”
-Cavaliere Ufficiale Aldo Mancusi, President of the Enrico Caruso Museum of America in New York

"An inspiring story of an Italian village threatened by commerce and saved by opera."
-John Biguenet, author of The Torturer’s Apprentice and Oyster

**Q&A with Vincent B. "Chip" Lococo**

We are joined today by New Orleans writer, Vincent B. “Chip” LoCoco. Welcome. I have a few questions today that I think our readers would love to know about you and your work. Here we go.

Please give us the title and genre of your book and a 30-word or less tagline:

The title of my new book is A Song for Bellafortuna. A Song for Bellafortuna is an inspirational Italian Historical Fiction novel concerning a young man’s desire to free his Sicilian village from the domination of one family’s long reign. For years, the beautiful, yet secluded, hilltop village of Bellafortuna, Sicily, was a great producer of wine and olive oil. The entire village prospered. However, after the arrival of the Vasaio family, production dwindles and the villagers soon find themselves in crushing debt to the Vasaios. Only young Giuseppe Sanguinetti has the courage to face the Vasaios and try to remove them from power.

Tell us a little bit about your cover art. Who designed it? Why did you go with that particular image/artwork?

Bellafortuna is a fictional village located in the hills of Sicily. I always knew I wanted a cover that screamed Sicily. Ana Grigoriu of Stuttgart Germany designed the cover. She was wonderful to work with on this project. She came by way of a recommendation and I could not have been more pleased. The villagers produce wine so not only did it have to be a village but it also needed vineyards. She captured the entire feel with the photo she picked.

Who is your favorite character from your book and why?

That is such a hard question to answer. Of course, Giuseppe Sanguinetti is the protagonist, and the character I thought most about during the course of writing. However, his father, Antonio, is the one character who I really would say is my favorite. Without giving too much away, let’s just say his love for his son in unending, and he could not stand to see his son fail.

How can we contact you or find out more about your books?

The best way to contact me is by way of my website. www.vincentlococo.com. There you can sign up to get updates, news, blog entries, giveaways and keep up with my other novel, Tempesta’s Dream – A Story of Love, Friendship and Opera about an aspiring opera singer growing up in Milan.

Who are some of your favorite authors that you feel were influential in your work? What impact have they had on your writing?

I am always asked this question, and my answer never changes. J.R.R. Tolkien was the one. He inspired me to love to read, to love the concept of “a story”, to get lost in a created world, and to love great storytelling. All of those things had an impact on my writing. When I think of an author, I think of him.

Any writing rituals?

After two novels, I have become known as an Italian Historical Fiction writer. That does seem appropriate as before I was even given that moniker, my writing ritual always involved earplugs in my ear usually listening to the great opera arias sung by the world greatest singers, di Stefano, Pavarotti, Domingo, Gigli, Callas, Tebaldi, etc. If that does not put you into an Italian romantic vein, then nothing will.

Do you meet your readers at book signings, conventions, or similar events?

I do and I really enjoy meeting them. I have also been asked to give talks about my novel. I will admit I can’t stand just standing in front of an audience and reading from my novel. My books are released as Audiobooks with professional narration. Bob Neufeld, my reader, does a much better job reading my book then I ever could. So instead, I now discuss the book in the broader text of Italy and music, which is a vital component of my novels. Of course, I have musical selections played and the audience has a wonderful time learning about different locals and listening to the wonderful music. Throw in a bottle of Chianti, and it’s as if you have been transported to Italy.

Well, it’s been a pleasure. Thanks for having me. Ciao.
  
About the Author

Award winning and bestselling author, Vincent B. "Chip" LoCoco, lives in New Orleans. His first novel, Tempesta's Dream - A Story of Love, Friendship and Opera, became an Amazon bestselling novel and was awarded the 2014 Pinnacle Achievement Award in Historical Fiction. Amazon also has named his book as a Top Rated Novel in Italian Historical Fiction. His most recent novel, A Song for Bellafortuna, was shortlisted in the William Faulkner - William Wisdom Competition. He is an estate planning attorney in New Orleans, where he lives with his wife and two children. Visit him at www.vincentlococo.com.
  

15 May 2015

New & Noteworthy: May 15


• Blythe Gifford’s WHISPERS AT COURT will be released by Harlequin Historical/HarperCollins on May 19 in print in the U.S. The electronic edition will follow on June 1 and the print in the U.K. on June 5. 
WHISPERS AT COURT, the second Royal Wedding story. Lady Cecily scorns the French hostages held at court. Treated as honored guests, the men play at love games and Cecily fears her mistress, the princess, could be disgraced. War-weary chevalier Marc de Marcel wants only to return home. Uncertain whether his ransom will ever be paid, he makes an unlikely alliance with enticing, fire-and-ice Cecily. He'll help her keep the princess safe from ruin if she'll help him escape. A pact which could lead them into a scandal all their own… RT BookReviews gives it 4-Stars, saying “Gifford creates memorable characters and stories with such passion and authenticity that they capture the hearts of fans worldwide." 
• Can you set fire to a gunpowder trail using a flintlock musket? Watch this trailer to find out! It's all part of the celebration surrounding the new serialization of Piers Alexander's novel THE BITTER TRADE by The Pigeonhole books, available in audio and print. Learn more about the serial at SoundcloudPigeonhole, and piersalexander.com.

• Upon her return from a research trip to Spain that was full of castles and medieval legacies, Jessica Knauss got the great news that Bagwyn Books will publish her epic novel SEVEN NOBLE NIGHTS in late 2016. Read her latest blog post and see what it's like to have years of effort pay off. Congratulations Jessica!

14 May 2015

Excerpt Thursday: A SONG FOR BELLAFORTUNA by Vincent B. "Chip" Lococo

This week, we're pleased to welcome author VINCENT LOCOCO with his latest release, A SONG FOR BELLAFORTUNA. Join us again on Sunday for an author interview, with more details about the story behind the story. One lucky visitor will get a free copy of A Song for Bellafortuna. Be sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's post or Sunday's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb.


A Song for Bellafortuna is an inspirational Italian Historical Fiction novel concerning a young man’s desire to free his Sicilian village from the domination of one family’s long reign. For years, the beautiful, yet secluded, hilltop village of Bellafortuna, Sicily, was a great producer of wine and olive oil. The entire village prospered. However, after the arrival of the Vasaio family, production dwindles and the villagers soon find themselves in crushing debt to the Vasaios. Only one family in the village remains outside the control of the Vasaios, but the reason haunts Antonio Sanguinetti every day of his life. Antonio is determined to erase this legacy by offering financial and emotional support to his fellow villagers. He introduces them to the choral song from Verdi’s opera, Nabucco, which becomes the rallying cry for the villagers and offers them hope for a better life.

When Antonio’s only son, Giuseppe, discovers his family’s past, he becomes determined to take on the Vasaios and remove them from power. Led by the young Giuseppe, a plan is hatched that could result in either complete freedom for the villagers, or if it fails, forever solidifying the Vasaios’ control.

Find out what happens in A Song for Bellafortuna, a sweeping epic historical fiction tale of love, drama, sacrifice, and redemption, set among the beautiful landscape of Sicily.

 NAMED A SHORT LIST FINALIST IN THE WILLIAM FAULKNER-WILLIAM WISDOM WRITING COMPETITION

LISTED BY AMAZON AS A HOT NEW RELEASE IN ITALIAN HISTORICAL FICTION 
ADVANCE PRAISE FOR A SONG FOR BELLAFORTUNA

The novel has been called lyrical, intelligent, majestic, magical, powerful and compelling. Here are some advance reviews.

“Vincent B. LoCoco writes a heartwarming piece of historical fiction . . . He captured the essence of the Sicilian culture, especially regarding the value of ancestry and music . . . A Song For Bellafortuna is a beautiful tale of antiquity."
– Readers Favorite 5 Star Review

"The book was a joy to read. It is a wonderful story, told in a magical way.”
-Cavaliere Ufficiale Aldo Mancusi, President of the Enrico Caruso Museum of America in New York

"An inspiring story of an Italian village threatened by commerce and saved by opera."
-John Biguenet, author of The Torturer’s Apprentice and Oyster

**An Excerpt from A Song for Bellafortuna**

Chapter 22
The Meeting
  
Vittelio stood up from behind his desk and walked over to the fireplace. Leaning against the mantle, he lit a cigar he had pulled from a gold box that was sitting above the fireplace.  As he did so, he looked up at the picture of Alessandro. He then turned back to Giuseppe and said, “You are just like the rest of the villagers. Do you not realize what my family has meant to this village? Do you, of all people, not realize what my family has meant to your family? Without us, the Sanguinetti wine store would be selling vinegar. We have given your family a life here in the village. Yet, your grandfather turned his back on us. He walked back into the open arms of his fellow villagers and disrespected us. Now, your father walks around this village, stirring trouble with his concerts. Who does he think he is? Why does he think he is so important? Pretending that the Sanguinetti family knows Enrico Caruso. Playing Caruso records all day long. Selling his wine in a store that we deserve the credit for its success. Your father is nothing.”

Santo looked mortified at his father’s words. Giuseppe had heard enough. He stood up from his chair and replied, “It is you who are nothing, you, Signor. You are probably correct. Without your family, the wine store would not be as successful as it is. However, if it were not for my grandfather coming to his senses and walking away from your family, then his soul would not have been saved. He rectified his life. He tried to make it up to his fellow villagers. They accepted him back. You say my father is a nothing. At least when he dies, people will show their love for him at his funeral.”

Vittelio’s eyes flashed with anger as he said, “You little bastard! How dare you speak to me that way!”

Santo stood up from his seat and put his hands out in front of him and shook them, while he said, “Aspetta, Papa. I was the one who asked Giuseppe here. I arranged this meeting. I thought you wanted to hear their proposal. I thought you would be receptive to the idea. This is my doing. Do not take it out on Giuseppe.” One could feel the tension in the room subside as the gentle voice of Santo echoed off the walls.

Vittelio walked back to his chair. “Mi scusi. Sedete, Giuseppe.”

Aspetto,” Giuseppe said antagonistically. Santo stood next to him.

“Fine. Let us speak to each other as friends. You come to me with a proposal. I have listened. Because of the lack of respect for my family by the villagers, I have given you the reasons why the proposal is preposterous. Yet, I know my son disagrees with me and thinks I should give in. He thinks the time has come to change. Because of him I will agree with this proposal with a condition.”

Giuseppe, surprised, asked, “What is that?”

“I will let you know my reasons up front for this condition. You had the gall to come here and approach me with this ridiculous proposal. The reason you could do this is because of your feeling that somehow I cannot touch your family and that I have no control over you. There was once a family who lived here who felt the same way with my ancestors.”

Vittelio turned toward the window and looked at the statue of Enzo Boccale. He turned back to Giuseppe, saying, “They were wrong.”

“What are you saying, Signor Vasaio?”

“It’s time your family gets put in its place. I will agree to the proposal but it will be wholly conditioned on one thing and only one thing. If you can pull it off, you will be a hero in the village. Fail, and you and your father will be the reason why the proposal failed.”

“What is the condition?”

Vittelio said, “As I’m sure you are aware, since you and your father supposedly know him so well, Enrico Caruso is coming to Palermo the last weekend in July to receive an honor. Every July 28th, the Festival Boccale is held out in the Piazza in Bellafortuna in remembrance of Enzo Boccale. Every year, there is a concert. If you can get Enrico Caruso to come sing one aria on the concert stage, I will agree to the proposal.”

Santo said, “Papa, that’s not realistic. You’re just trying to embarrass them.”

As Santo continued to speak on Giuseppe’s behalf, young Sanguinetti stood with his head bowed. His mind was racing. He thought back to the night he met Caruso in Milan so many years ago and the words Caruso had told him: “If you ever need me, please feel free to call me.” Maybe, just maybe, Giuseppe could pull it off. He could write to Caruso and get him to come; after all, the great tenor would be in nearby Palermo. He would just have to start writing letters to him early. During the summer, Caruso always returned to Italy. He could write to him in the early part of the summer in Italy and ask him to come to Bellafortuna while in Palermo. He could even write to him now in New York and let Caruso know about it early on. He would remind Caruso of that meeting many years ago. What did Giuseppe have to lose? His fellow villagers would be no worse off if he failed. Vittelio didn’t understand these people. They wouldn’t blame Giuseppe. They would thank him for trying.

With Santo still speaking, Giuseppe, realizing he had much to gain and little to lose, picked his head up and said, “Signor Vittelio, Caruso will come. You have a deal.”

Santo said, “Giuseppe, you…”

Giuseppe cut him off, “Santo. It’s fine. He will come and the village will find glory once again.”


  
About the Author

Award winning and bestselling author, Vincent B. "Chip" LoCoco, lives in New Orleans. His first novel, Tempesta's Dream - A Story of Love, Friendship and Opera, became an Amazon bestselling novel and was awarded the 2014 Pinnacle Achievement Award in Historical Fiction. Amazon also has named his book as a Top Rated Novel in Italian Historical Fiction. His most recent novel, A Song for Bellafortuna, was shortlisted in the William Faulkner - William Wisdom Competition. He is an estate planning attorney in New Orleans, where he lives with his wife and two children. Visit him at www.vincentlococo.com.
  

11 May 2015

Turkey, History & Remembrance—& the Hittite Law of Adultery

Much of the world recently marked the 100th anniversary of the forced removal, loss of property and eventual slaughter of almost all Armenians in Turkey. The Turkish government objects to the use of the word genocide when referring to this tragedy.
Ottoman Empire population census document 1893-1897
Turkish textbooks and politicians use phrases like “the fog of war” to explain how a million and a half Armenians lost their lives (also they downplay the numbers). They subsume the plans perpetrated against Armenians in particular under the suffering WWI caused for so many in Turkey and thus hide the Armenian plight from memory. It’s good and proper to sympathize with the universal suffering that occurred, but that does not require selective amnesia. Historians, including a couple well-regarded Turkish historians, have culled the primary source materials and conducted interviews on this subject. These historians do not agree with the official Turkish government version. So we’ll see how things go over time with this issue of lost history in Turkey.

Meanwhile, I’m struck by the irony. The last few decades in Turkey have seen extensive—even extraordinary—efforts to use archaeology to uncover history that was for millennia quite literally buried in the sands of time. In the process, the empire I find utterly fascinating has come to light in ever greater detail: the Hittites. So in honor of Turkey’s laudable efforts to reclaim its Bronze Age history (1600-1100 BCE), even if it is still confused about its modern history, I bring you one interesting detail that we now understand about an empire that rivaled Egypt, the Assyrians, the Babylonians and the Mycenaeans.

Hittite Cuneiform Tablet
Fortunately the Hittites were a literate culture and we have found and translated many of their records and literary pieces. These libraries of clay tablets were written in the Near Eastern cuneiform script although Hittite is an Indo-European language related to Greek. From all the hard work of archaeologists, scholars and translators, I bring you two Hittite laws regarding rape and adultery, translated by Harry Hoffner, Jr. Notice what these laws say about women, men, fairness, and other intriguing issues.

Law 197
If a man seizes a woman in the mountain(s) (and rapes her), it is the man’s offence, and he shall be put to death, but if he seizes her in (her) house, it is the woman’s offence: the woman shall be put to death. If the (woman’s) husband (lit. the man) finds them (in the act) and kills them, he has committed no offence.

Law 198
If [the husband] brings them [his wife and accused lover] to the palace gate (i.e. the royal court) and says: “let my wife not be put to death” and spares his wife, he must also spare the lover. Then he may veil her (i.e. his wife). But if he says, “Let both of them be put to death” and they ‘roll the wheel’ the king may have them killed or spare them.

I enjoyed this precise window into the human mind and values in about 1300 BCE.

First, I notice that if a man rapes a woman, the penalty is extreme and this speaks of value placed on a woman. Hittite law avoids the death penalty, so it’s pretty dramatic here and may not have been the actual course of action.

We are struggling in modern society with date rape and defining when to prosecute. I wouldn’t want to adopt the Hittite measure of rape, but I am intrigued to find the traces of a similar struggle. If you are “at home” you invited it, by Hittite standards—this presumes the family’s ability to protect its women in the usual course of events, I suspect. Far from home, where a woman is vulnerable, it is indisputably rape.

Gates of Hattusa, the King's Court
As has often been the case in history, a man can, with impunity, kill his wife and her lover if he catches them in the act. But notice he cannot kill only the man. And if he turns it over to the authorities (the King’s court held at the gates of the city), he must accept the same punishment for both wife and her accused lover. And if he accepts her back, he must publicly restore her respect and reputation by veiling her—that is restoring her as his bride.

We would love to know exactly what “roll the wheel” meant, but we don’t. In the Hittite murder mystery I’m working on, the relevant historical records that I used as background contain this same tantalizing phrase. It refers to a divination of some sort. Hittites loved divination. They put great effort toward discerning the will of the gods. Murder, divination and applied tidbits from this system of laws—all present and accounted for in my fiction!

My source for the translation and interpretation of these Hittite laws is:
The Laws of the Hittites A Critical Edition, Harry Hoffner Jr. Brill 1997
Documenta et Monumenta Orientis Antiqui (DMOA) Studies in Near Eastern Archaeology and Civilisation Volume XXIII

_________________________________________________________

Judith Starkston writes historical fiction and mysteries set in Troy and the Hittite Empire. She is a classicist (B.A. University of California, Santa Cruz, M.A. Cornell University) who taught high school English, Latin and humanities. She and her husband have two grown children and live in Arizona with their golden retriever Socrates. Her debut novel is Hand of Fire.
Find an excerpt, book reviews, historical background, as well as on-going information about the historical fiction community on www.JudithStarkston.com
Follow Judith Starkston on FB and Twitter   


10 May 2015

Author Interview & Book Giveaway: Alison Morton on AURELIA

This week, we're pleased to welcome author Alison Morton with the fourth in her Roma Nova series, AURELIA. One lucky visitor will get a free copy of Aurelia. Be sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb.

Suppose a tiny part of the Roman Empire has survived into the 20th century? And suppose it had changed to a more than egalitarian society, in fact, one ruled by women?

It’s the late 1960s in Roma Nova. Aurelia Mitela, a member of a leading family is alone – her partner gone, her child sickly and her mother dead. More than that, she’s forced to give up her beloved career as a Praetorian officer and live as a civilian.

But her country needs her unique skills. Somebody is smuggling silver – Roma Nova’s lifeblood – on an industrial scale. Sent to Berlin to investigate, she encounters the mysterious and attractive Miklós, a known smuggler who knows too much and Caius Tellus, a Roma Novan she has despised and feared since childhood.

Barely escaping a trap set by a gang boss intent on terminating her, she discovers that her old enemy is at the heart of all her troubles and pursues him back home to Roma Nova...

**Q&A with Alison Morton**

Welcome back, Alison. Now, you’re here to tell us about your latest alternate history thriller, AURELIA. We saw the blurb and an exciting extract on Thursday, but today I’d like to dig a little deeper into the background…

This time you’re setting your story in the late 1960s. What attracted you to this period?

Well, in a way, it was a natural choice. I wanted to tell the story of Aurelia Mitela, the grandmother of Carina, the heroine of the first three books, INCEPTIO, PERFIDITAS and SUCCESSIO. As I wrote Aurelia in those books, I became more and more intrigued by her. What had she done as a young Praetorian officer? And what part had she played in the Great Rebellion twenty-three years before we met her in? How was that connected with Conrad, Carina’s love-interest, whose family was ruined as a consequence of the rebellion? To write the younger Aurelia in her mid to late twenties, I needed to go back to the 1960s.

Was it easy writing in a period that some readers can still remember?
I’ll let you into a secret – I can just about remember a few things myself! However, there is a huge trap with ‘young’ history; you think you know when things were invented or in use, but you don’t really. You can only recall the things directly relevant to you at that time. For instance, I can remember every aspect of my school uniform which I wore every day – beret, cotton shirt, gymslip, striped tie – but I had to look up when central locking (power door locks) was invented! (They were introduced on the luxury Scripps-Booth in 1914, but were not common on most high-end cars until Packard reintroduced them in the US in 1956.)

How do you keep the Roman theme relevant?

Roma Nova is a strong society based on Roman values so the characters have a moral and social framework probably more robust and demanding than our own. This value system has been the guide to their survival throughout the centuries so I keep this to the forefront. Writing about Saturnalia customs, funerals, weaponry, senators, the forum and imperatrix flavours the stories as do Latin terms, e.g. for money or cops, and Roman-style names for the characters. And like any people, they refer back to their past when making a point about the present.

AURELIA is both a thriller and historical fiction. How do you keep a balance between the two?

Aurelia, the eponymous heroine, is an officer in the Praetorian Guard, so we know she’s tough.  She’s faced with pressures from family, her duty and a manipulative and skilled antagonist focused on obtaining power by any means. This is not an unknown scenario in a Roman setting! The thriller is the backbone of AURELIA, but the tension and conflict is interwoven with, and indeed dependent on, the historical vision Roma Novans have of themselves.

What so you think makes a good story for a reader?

As a reader, I like a story which grips emotionally and with characters who resonate with me. I like an unusual setting, whether in time, place or both, plus plenty of twists and turns and an electrifying denouement. But that’s just me. I’ve learnt that my readers vary enormously; around 40% are male and 60% female, the youngest reported age is 16 and the oldest 87!  Conjuring up my ‘ideal reader’ is quite hard! But I’ve noticed that people want clarity, snappy dialogue, plenty of interaction, enough description to set the story, but not so much it weighs the action down. And they are all intrigued by the Roman-ness and the slightly more than egalitarian nature of Roma Novan society. Some readers want to book a long holiday there and even emigrate to Roma Nova permanently!

Writers who take the dare of high concept stories must deliver and, for me as a writer, this is a powerful motivator to work hard to produce a truly entertaining result.

What are the larger issues behind AURELIA?  

Depression – although not named in the book – threatens Aurelia. She accepts her duty to her family when her mother is incapacitated, but when forced to give up her beloved career as a soldier, she is resentful and frustrated. Bored and guilty, she works herself into the ground, and becomes quite ill at one stage.  She also wonders if she is becoming paranoid about the threat from one of the other characters and whether this is colouring her judgement. However, as we know, Roma Novan heroines are nothing if not resourceful.

Another conflict is that of being a mother of a vulnerable child who isn’t the usual tough Roma Novan. Aurelia doesn’t understand how her daughter can be so unseeing and innocent, but she knows she has to protect her against everyone and everything.

And lastly, individual ‘noble’ motivation resonates with even the most cynical reader, but in the Roma Novan society it’s expected as a matter of course. This harks back to collective survival as well as core Roman values. My heroine knows and accepts this, but heartache caused by impossible choices between personal wishes and duty nearly tears Aurelia apart.

And next?

We jump forward thirteen years into the 1980s and the rebellion that nearly destroyed Roma Nova. Familiar characters and new ones are at the front of the action including the parents of INCEPTIO heroine, Carina, when they first meet...


Thank you for joining me today and warm thanks to Unusual Historicals for inviting me to talk about AURELIA.

About the Author

Even before she pulled on her first set of combats, Alison Morton was fascinated by the idea of women soldiers. Brought up by a feminist mother and an ex-military father, it never occurred to her that women couldn’t serve their country in the armed forces. Everybody in her family had done time in uniform and in theatre – regular and reserve Army, RAF, WRNS, WRAF – all over the globe.

So busy in her day job, Alison joined the Territorial Army in a special communications regiment and left as a captain, having done all sorts of interesting and exciting things no civilian would ever know or see. Or that she can talk about, even now…

But something else fuels her writing… Fascinated by the mosaics at Ampurias (Spain), at their creation by the complex, power and value-driven Roman civilisation started her wondering what a modern Roman society would be like if run by strong women…

Now, she lives in France and writes Roman-themed alternate history thrillers with tough heroines.

Fact file:
Education: BA French, German & Economics, MA History
Memberships: International Thriller Writers, Historical Novel Society, Alliance of Independent Authors, Society of Authors
Represented by Annette Crossland of A for Authors Literary Agency for subsidiary and foreign rights.
  
INCEPTIO, the first in the Roma Nova series
– shortlisted for the 2013 International Rubery Book Award
– B.R.A.G. Medallion
– finalist in 2014 Writing Magazine Self-Published Book of the Year
PERFIDITAS, second in series
– B.R.A.G. Medallion
– finalist in 2014 Writing Magazine Self-Published Book of the Year
SUCCESSIO, third in series
– Historical Novel Society’s indie Editor’s Choice for Autumn 2014
– B.R.A.G. Medallion
– Editor’s choice, The Bookseller’s inaugural Indie Preview, December 2014

Links 

Connect with Alison on her Roma Nova blog: http://alison-morton.com/blog/
Twitter https://twitter.com/alison_morton @alison-morton
  
Buying links (multiple retailers/formats):

07 May 2015

Excerpt Thursday:AURELIA by Alison Morton

This week, we're pleased to welcome author Alison Morton with the fourth in her Roma Nova series, AURELIA. Join us again on Sunday for an author interview, with more details about the story behind the story. One lucky visitor will get a free copy of Aurelia. Be sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's post or Sunday's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb.

Suppose a tiny part of the Roman Empire has survived into the 20th century? And suppose it had changed to a more than egalitarian society, in fact, one ruled by women?

It’s the late 1960s in Roma Nova. Aurelia Mitela, a member of a leading family is alone – her partner gone, her child sickly and her mother dead. More than that, she’s forced to give up her beloved career as a Praetorian officer and live as a civilian.

But her country needs her unique skills. Somebody is smuggling silver – Roma Nova’s lifeblood – on an industrial scale. Sent to Berlin to investigate, she encounters the mysterious and attractive Miklós, a known smuggler who knows too much and Caius Tellus, a Roma Novan she has despised and feared since childhood.

Barely escaping a trap set by a gang boss intent on terminating her, she discovers that her old enemy is at the heart of all her troubles and pursues him back home to Roma Nova...
** An Excerpt from AURELIA**

I left my side-arm in the safe box in the vestibule and walked on past the marble and plaster imagines, the painted statues and busts of dead Mitelae from the gods knew how many hundreds of years. Only the under-steward was allowed to dust them; I’d never been allowed to touch them as a child.
My all-terrain boots made soft squelching sounds as I crossed the marble floor. This was the last private time I’d share with my mother and daughter for three weeks. A glance at my watch confirmed I had a precious hour.
Through the double doors, the atrium rose up for three storeys. Light from the late spring sun beat down through the central glass roof on to luxuriant green planting at the centre of the room like rays from an intense spotlight.
My mother disliked the vastness of the atrium and had partitioned a part of it off with tall bookcases, to make a cosier area, she said. Unfortunately, because of the almost complete square of tall units with only a body-width entrance at the far corner, and the way the shelving inside was arranged, you couldn’t see who was there until you were on top of them. I’d been trapped by some of her tea-drinking cronies more than once.
My mother, sitting on her favourite chintz sofa facing the entrance, looked up as I appeared in the gap. Two tiny creases on her forehead vanished when she stood and walked towards me with her arms extended. She greeted me with an over-bright smile.
‘Aurelia, darling.’
I bent and kissed her cheek in a formal salute then looked over her shoulder to where my daughter, Marina, was sitting on the sofa, her small figure almost drowned by the large flowers. She was twisting her hands together and glancing in as many different directions as she could.
‘Marina, whatever is the matter, sweetheart?’ I strode over and crouched down by her. She stretched one hand out to grab mine and with the other pointed at the chair in the far corner.
Caius Tellus.
Hades in Pluto.
‘Aurelia, how lovely to see you,’ he said in a warm urbane voice. Taller than his brother Quintus who nearly topped two metres, Caius was well built without being overweight. Sitting at his ease, one leg crossed over the other, he ran his eyes over my face and body. His hazel eyes shone and his smile was wide, showing a glimpse of over-white teeth through generous lips. Nothing in his tanned face with classic cheekbones would repel you on the surface. Others considered him very good-looking with almost film star glamour and charm. I knew better what kind of creature lay underneath.
Even as a kid he’d had a vicious streak; I’d never forget his hand clamping my neck, forcing my face down into the scullery drain, him saying he’d drown me in filth. I’d retched and retched at the smell of animal blood, the grease and dirty water. In the end, the cook had found us and hauled Caius off. I crouched there sweating and trembling; only horseplay, Caius said and laughed. The cook had given him a hard look, but the other servants were won over by Caius’s boyish smile. But when he’d stuck his hand up my skirt and tried to force me at Aquilia’s emancipation party, I’d kneed him in the groin so hard he couldn’t stand up for hours. I’d been in the military cadets for a year by then. But the others, woozy from wine and good spirits, gave him more sympathy as he writhed around on the terrace, playing to the audience.
After I joined the guard at eighteen, I hardly saw him except at formal Twelve Families events and even there, he’d smarm his way to the head of the food queue or make a beeline for the most vulnerable in the room, be it male or female. He was a taker in life, a callous one, and I loathed him with all my heart and soul.
I stood up, shielding Marina behind me. ‘Dear me,’ he said, ‘are you off playing soldiers again?’
I should have been given top marks for not slapping the smirk off his face.
‘Caius,’ I said, keeping my voice as cool as possible. ‘We’re having a private family lunch before I go on an extended operation, so I hope you’ll excuse us.’
My mother cast a pleading look at me. I closed my eyes for a second. She’d invited him to join us. How could she have?
I chewed my food slowly to try to reduce my tension. I was irritated Mama had chosen the breakfast room – a private family place – to eat in rather than the formal dining room. The servants flitted in and out with the food, and I said very little except to Marina, who pecked at her food.
‘Aurelia, you’re quieter than usual. I hope nothing’s wrong?’ my mother said too cheerfully.
Before I could answer, Caius intervened. ‘She does look a little pale. Don’t you worry, Felicia, that she takes too much on sometimes?’ He tilted his head sideways and pasted a concerned expression on to his face.
I speared a piece of pork and sawed through it like a barbarian, scraping the plate glaze below. I knew Caius was trying to make me rise to his bait, but I refused to play. At least my work as a Praetorian soldier was serving the state. He served himself with his gambling and whoring. He put in just enough hours at the charity committees he nominally sat on to appear to be contributing to Roma Novan life.
My mother smiled at him. ‘Yes, I do wonder. She was so exhausted after that last exercise abroad. You really understand, don’t you, Caius?’
He extended his hand and grasped hers and smiled. I was nearly sick. 



About the Author

Even before she pulled on her first set of combats, Alison Morton was fascinated by the idea of women soldiers. Brought up by a feminist mother and an ex-military father, it never occurred to her that women couldn’t serve their country in the armed forces. Everybody in her family had done time in uniform and in theatre – regular and reserve Army, RAF, WRNS, WRAF – all over the globe.

So busy in her day job, Alison joined the Territorial Army in a special communications regiment and left as a captain, having done all sorts of interesting and exciting things no civilian would ever know or see. Or that she can talk about, even now…

But something else fuels her writing… Fascinated by the mosaics at Ampurias (Spain), at their creation by the complex, power and value-driven Roman civilisation started her wondering what a modern Roman society would be like if run by strong women…

Now, she lives in France and writes Roman-themed alternate history thrillers with tough heroines.

Fact file:
Education: BA French, German & Economics, MA History
Memberships: International Thriller Writers, Historical Novel Society, Alliance of Independent Authors, Society of Authors
Represented by Annette Crossland of A for Authors Literary Agency for subsidiary and foreign rights.
  
INCEPTIO, the first in the Roma Nova series
– shortlisted for the 2013 International Rubery Book Award
– B.R.A.G. Medallion
– finalist in 2014 Writing Magazine Self-Published Book of the Year
PERFIDITAS, second in series
– B.R.A.G. Medallion
– finalist in 2014 Writing Magazine Self-Published Book of the Year
SUCCESSIO, third in series
– Historical Novel Society’s indie Editor’s Choice for Autumn 2014
– B.R.A.G. Medallion
– Editor’s choice, The Bookseller’s inaugural Indie Preview, December 2014

Links 

Connect with Alison on her Roma Nova blog: http://alison-morton.com/blog/
Twitter https://twitter.com/alison_morton @alison-morton
  
Buying links (multiple retailers/formats):