“The hero returned to his house.” Wait—what did Byzantine houses look like?



domus model

Model of a Roman city domus.

Writing historical fiction is like driving in a city you’ve never been to before: you have to keep stopping your progress to find out where you are and check that you’re going in the right direction. And you never know when you’ll get detoured.

I’m making good progress with my next historical fantasy, The Triumph of the Sky. I plan on writing seven major parts. (It’s predecessor, The Bones of the Earth, comprises three parts. I feel like numerology should be a part of fantasy stories.)

Set in the seventh century CE, the action moves from Constantinople, capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, to ancient Cappadocia to the Carpathian foothills and deep into ancient Anatolia.

While I have done a lot of historical research before starting to write, as I write I often stumble upon a tiny question that requires hours of research on the Internet as well as in books. These are usually about things we take for granted today, such as “What kind of clothes did people in Constantinople wear?” or “What were their houses like.”

I found some answers pretty quickly, such as “what kind of shoes or boots did Slavic peasants wear?” It turns out there are a lot of Web pages devoted to ancient clothing.

Then there was another that took a little more time. In an early scene in the book, the hero, Javor, returns home after a long journey. But what did wealthy homes look like in Constantinople in 603 CE? It turns out there is quite a lot of interesting information, and even pictures.

Javor in The Triumph of the Sky is a very wealthy man. (To find out how he got his riches, you’ll have to read The Bones of the Earth.) So it makes sense then that he lived in a Roman-style domus, the dominant style for wealthy homes in the Roman Empire. Remember that the term “Byzantine Empire” is a 19th-century invention. The people of the time thought of themselves as Roman, and Latin was the official language of Constantinople at the time—although most people in the city spoke Greek.

A domus was a single-storey structure, looking from the top like two rectangles, open to the sky in the middle. They were often fronted by small shops that opened onto the street. In my imagination, Javor leases those out to vendors of various things: food, household items and so on.

Entering the main door brings you to the atrium, a formal reception hall open to the sky. A basin in the centre collects rainwater, and drains it into a cistern below the house. It’s tiled and decorated with chairs and hangings to show off the owner’s wealth. In a corner was a shrine, and in the seventh century, this would include a Christian icon.

Rooms open on both sides, such as bedrooms. Bedrooms in ancient Roman cities like Constantinople were small, usually just big enough to hold a bed.

The dining room opened off the atrium, too. While in ancient Rome, rich people reclined on couches to eat, according to the research I have done this practice was fading out by the time of my story.

atrium

The atrium of a Roman Domus. The roof was open to the sky, and the basin, called the impluvium, collected rainwater and fed it to the cistern below the house. Source: Realm of History

Continuing through the atrium, the next, roofed room was the tablinum, the owner’s study. From it, the head of the household could view most of the house at once.

At the back of the house is another rectangle, the peristylium. This is a large garden with a peristyle roof—rows of columns that go around the perimeter to hold up the roof, which is open to the sky in the middle, like in the atrium. Rooms opening off the perimeter include the culina or kitchen, bathrooms and store-rooms.

Peristylum garden

While this is a villa, not a city domus, it gives you a good idea of what the peristylum was all about. Image: Dave & Margie Hill / Kleerup, CC BY-SA 2.0.

The Romans spread this style of home across the Empire, including to their second capital, Constantinople. Over the many centuries of the Roman and Eastern Roman/Byzantine Empire, construction techniques, architecture and technology evolved quite a lot. But at the same time, older elements would continue alongside newer styles.

I hope you have a mental image of the style of house. The next question to answer: did seventh-century Cosmopolites eat meals while lying on a couch, like the wealthy of first-century Rome?

Cover reveal: The new Torn Roots!



It’s here! The new cover for the new, revised and expanded Torn Roots.

Once again, David C. Cassidy has hit it out of the ballpark. This is based on a photograph taken in Maui, the setting of Torn Roots.

Pre-order now on Amazon.

Torn Roots is based on a book previously published in an Amazon program that has since been cancelled. But this version retains a reader favourite, FBI Special Agent Vanessa Storm. It also adds some new characters, new chapters and new details.

What it’s about

Vanessa Storm thought her first week on the job as an FBI Special Agent in beautiful Hawaii would be about settling in. But she’s immediately sent to Hana on Maui’s rain-soaked shore to find a kidnapped woman.

Throw in arson, strident environmentalists bent on stirring up strife between local rights activists and foreign property developers, a chill local police lieutenant, a taciturn geologist, and top it all off with a rogue, unpredictable Homeland Security agent.

The case becomes a labyrinth twisting through the jungles on Maui’s volcano. Vanessa knows this case will explode into an international incident and lives will be lost if she doesn’t find answers fast.

Torn Roots is wonderfully rich with plot and setting, but it was Mr. Bury’s command of the story’s pacing that impressed me most.”—Eden Baylee, author of Stranger at Sunset

“I made the mistake of picking up this book and could not stop reading.”—Frederick Lee Brooke, author of Doing Max Vinyl

“Made me feel like I was there in person!”—Sue Devers

“I have never been to Hawaii but reading the detailed descriptions of its beauty in this book has made me feel like I’ve actually been there.”—Joy A. Lorton

Torn Roots will be published on September 29, and it’s now available for pre-order on Amazon.



With the cancellation of the Kindle Worlds program, many authors are working hard to revise and republish their Kindle World novellas and stories themselves. 

I’m one of them, and I’m making good progress on my new four-book Hawaiian Storm series. This weekend, enjoy this taste of the first: the new Torn Roots.

Chapter 5: Chase

Wednesday, 5:30 p.m.

“They’re after me.”

Sam rubbed his eyes and looked again. No, I’m not dreaming. “Rowan?”

The tall woman pushed past him and shut the door. “Geez, will you ever clue in. What do you think it means when someone says ‘They’re after me’? Think they want to stand on your doorstep?”

“Who’s after you?”

“I didn’t see their ID, but obviously, the government or the corporation. What difference does it make?”

“What are you talking about?”

Instead of answering, she went into Sam’s kitchen, where his dinner, just prepared, sat on the table. She picked up his big glass of ice water and drained it in one long drink. “So thirsty. I’ve been running all day. Do you have any wine?”

“Not since you left, no. Do you want a beer?”

Rowan made a face, but when Sam handed her a bottle from the refrigerator, she cracked the cap and downed half the bottle in three fast swallows. Then, still standing, she picked up Sam’s fork and began eating the vegetables on his plate.

“Hungry?” Sam asked.

“I haven’t eaten all day. I’ve been running for hours. It makes a girl hungry. You got anything else to eat? What am I saying, of course you do. You’re a foodie.” She looked in the fridge and pulled out a plastic container. “What’s in here?”

“Leftover kalua pig from last week. It’s still good, but maybe a little dry.”

Sam smiled as he anticipated pushing Rowan’s buttons. “Pigs are an invasive species and a bit of a problem here. I killed, butchered and cooked that one myself. Go ahead, eat it up. I’ve got plenty more in the freezer.”

“You know I don’t eat meat.” She practically threw the container back into the refrigerator and brought out a head of lettuce and a mango. She put the mango on a cutting board on the counter, rummaged in a drawer until she found a knife, cut the mango in two and then cut a slice. She popped it into her mouth. “Oh, that’s good. Fresh, fresh mango,” she said, chewing. Juice ran down her chin and onto her shirt. “Damn. Do you have a clean shirt I could borrow? My clothes are soaked with sweat.”

“They might be kind of big for you. But hang on a sec.” He went to his bedroom and returned with a folded forest service shirt.

Rowan had already dropped her t-shirt shirt and shorts onto the floor. Unabashedly bare-breasted, she reached for the shirt. “Thanks, dude.”

“No worries.” Sam reluctantly pulled his eyes from Rowan’s nipples. “So, why—”

“Hey, you got a spare pair of shorts? Mine are dirty,” She gestured vaguely toward the clothes on Sam’s floor. “And torn. And I lost the button a couple of weeks ago, anyway.”

Sam sighed and went back to the bedroom for a pair of gym shorts. “Okay, tell me—”

“This place is nice,” she interrupted, looking around Sam’s home, still topless. “Hardwood floors, open concept. I even like the rattan sofa. Very Hawaiian.” Tugging the shirt down, she stepped closer to the bookshelf that covered nearly a whole wall. “Lots of geology and scicence books. No poetry, though.” She paused her inspection to tie the shorts as tight as she could.

“What are you doing here, Rowan? I mean, it’s nice to see you again, but …”

“What were you doing at the marina construction site this morning?” she interrupted again as she pulled Sam’s forest service shirt on. She did up only three buttons on the shirt and rolled up the sleeves.

“I came to complain about their workers joy-riding in the national park yesterday. They started a forest fire. What are you even doing on Maui? I thought you went home months ago.”

Rowan shrugged and took another bite of mango. “There’s important work to do here, protecting the environment for the Hawaiian people.”

“I thought your group was out of money. You told me they couldn’t pay your rent anymore, and that’s why you had to go back to Vancouver. Plus, you said you wanted to go back to university.”

“We got a donation.”

Sam didn’t know which of the hundred questions swirling in his head he should ask next, but then he heard a clattering, chopping roar accompanied by rapid clicking. A sudden wind blew dust and stones against the windows and walls of his house. “What’s going on?”

Outside the window, a small, black helicopter settled onto his front lawn.

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Coming soon: the first Hawaiian Storm, Torn Roots



With the end of the Kindle Worlds program, I am revising all seven of my Kindle World titles. First up is the first KW title, Torn Roots: A Hawaiian Storm, featuring FBI Special Agent Vanessa Storm in Hawaii. Get a taste of what’s coming up.

Chapter 1: Special Agent

Thursday, 4:55 a.m.

Vanessa groped in empty space. The phone rang again.

New apartment. The phone is on the right side of the bed.

She rolled over and found the handset. I should be used to this apartment by now. It’s been a month.

She lifted the handset to her ear. “Storm here,” she said to a dial tone.

The phone rang again. Cell phone. Damn. That means it’s work.

She pushed the covers off and bounded to the bureau where her cell phone sat, plugged into the charger. She hoped she could answer before it rang again and sent the caller to voice-mail.

Success, she thought as she touched the screen. “Storm here.”

“Good morning, Special Agent Storm. Al King here. Early enough for you?”

God, there’s nothing more annoying than a cheerful morning person. She squinted at the clock radio: 4:55 a.m. Vanessa sipped water from the glass she always kept on the night stand and hoped her voice did not sound frog-like. “It’s early, Mr. King, but not too early. How can I help you?”

“Ha!” King laughed. “You put on a good show, Special Agent Storm. ‘A’ for effort. Sorry to wake you, but we have an emerging and sensitive case for you on Maui. A chopper is waiting for you. Be at the heliport in forty minutes, and bring your Bureau laptop. I’ll bring a full dossier. You can read it on the flight.”

“All right.” What kind of case was so important to get her out of bed before five in the morning, yet warranted only Hawaii’s most junior FBI agent? “Can you tell me about it?” she asked as she opened her closet and pulled out her travel case.

“Arson and homicide, in a town called Hana. Have you heard of it?” King answered.

“I’ve heard of the ‘highway to Hana.’ Is that it?” She pulled out her navy-blue silk jacket, a pair of dark-blue pants and a light blue blouse, laying them smoothly on the bed.

“That’s one way to get there. It’s great if you like a two-lane highway usually blocked by falling rocks and daily rain. Tourists love to drive it, but I’ll be a minah bird’s auntie if I can figure out why. Maybe you’ll like it, you being from the east coast and all. Anyway, flying time by chopper is under an hour from Honolulu. See you at the heliport at oh-five-twenty.”

“Yes, sir,” she replied, but King had already hung up.

Ohe'o Gulch, Maui

Maui’s shore. Photo copyright by Scott Bury

She turned on her tablet computer to look up Hana, Hawaii: a speck of a town in the rain forest. Population: 2,400. A hotel, a few holiday rental properties, two little stores. Few restaurants. From Google Maps, the police station there looked like a one-room schoolhouse.

As the newest FBI agent in Hawaii, Vanessa knew she would get the least interesting cases until she proved herself. And the least convenient locations.

She washed and dressed efficiently. She indulged in restoring her expensive hairdo after a broken night’s sleep, knowing it would soon be destroyed. Then she turned to packing.

She put two pairs of dark blue pants, a spare silk jacket and three blouses into her travel garment bag, stuffed underwear and socks into the pockets and strapped her shoulder holster on. She checked the safety and held her Walther PPK for a comforting moment in her hand. Not just for British movie spies: lighter and easier to conceal than the Bureau-standard Sig Sauer. She put it in the holster and pulled her jacket on, made sure she had spare ammo clips and left.

The dashboard clock flared to life as she started the engine of her car: 5:14. Less than twenty minutes to get ready. Not bad for a chick. Even an FBI chick.

Then she drove into the predawn darkness of Honolulu, bound for the FBI’s heliport at the Kalaeloa Airport. When she flashed her badge at the sentry, the gate opened wide and she drove onto the wide tarmac. Orange and yellow sky threw the peaks of the Ko’olau Range into silhouette.

Sitting in the middle of the H-marked circle was a black helicopter, its blades already rotating slowly. And to one side was one of the Bureau’s iconic black Ford Expeditions. As she beeped her car locked, the SUV’s passenger door opened and a figure emerged.

Special Agent in Charge Al King was a large, heavyset man dressed, as all FBI officers, in a conservative navy suit. He had a round face, prominent nose and a full mouth, but his most noticeable features were his piercing blue eyes. The down-draft from the helicopter whipped up the thin hair on top of his head. Damn. That’s going to seriously destroy my hairdo. The hairdo I just spent eighty bucks on in Honolulu.

King’s full mouth spread into a smile as Vanessa approached. “You’re early! I like that.” Vanessa shook his proffered hand. “I hope you got enough sleep last night.”

“I’ll live,” she said, then decided to soften the taciturn response with a smile. “How are you?”

King waved off her concern. “Don’t worry about me, Vanessa. I’m just glad I have a case for you personally on your second day in our humble field office. Plus, you get to take a helicopter ride to the Valley Isle of Maui.” His smile got even wider.

“Great.” I hate flying in helicopters. Couldn’t they have arranged a small island-hopping airplane? I can already feel the draft messing up my hair.

King’s smile faded. “Really, though, there are two reasons I’m assigning this case to you. It requires a delicate touch. The arson in question, and the possible homicide, took place on a construction site owned by foreign investors. Chinese, to be specific. There’s some tension between them and the locals, as well. Environmental protection with a dash of Hawaiian sovereigntists. From what I’ve read and heard about you, I think you have the required diplomacy to investigate without sparking an international crisis.”

“Thank you, sir. I appreciate the confidence.”

King started to get back into the SUV, but Vanessa put her hand on the door frame. “If you don’t mind my asking, what was the second reason you gave me this assignment?”

King’s smile returned. “You’re the only one in the detachment without too much on your plate already.” The door smiled.

That’s what I thought.

Farewell, Kindle Worlds



This is the Farewell Tour for my Kindle World novels and novellas, and for the many other talented and skillful writers who have contributed to them.

In another three days, Amazon says, they will disappear from the virtual shelves in the U.S. (They were never available on the Amazon sites outside the U.S.A.)

In other words, this is your last chance to get these books onto your Kindle.

I have published books in three different Kindle Worlds: Lei Crime, Sydney Rye and JET.

The Lei Crime Kindle World

Lei Crime Kindle World books featuring FBI Special Agent Vanessa Storm

I am honoured to say that Toby herself invited me to be one of the initial contributors to the Lei Crime Kindle World, based on her Lei Crime series. My four books all feature FBI Special Agent Vanessa Storm, as well as some characters created by Toby Neal.

Some of the other Lei Crime Kindle World authors included Shawn McGuire, Janet Oakley, Ron Logan, Mary Doyle, Corinne O’Flynn, Donna McNicol, Mary Doyle, Meg Amor, Julie Gilbert, Kim Hornsby, Eden Baylee, Lynda Filler, Kayla Dawn Thomas and Lucas Kana, to name a few. Many of them ended up as characters in my books.

Jet Kindle World

Russell Blake’s Jet series was the next Kindle World I was invited to contribute to. I joined authors like Kim Cano, Steve Konkoly, Linda Filler—and Toby Neal and Emily Kimelman.

Notice something there? Toby Neal, with a number of successful series of her own and her own Kindle World, wrote a Jet book, Nightbird. Emily Kimelman, who wrote Warrior Dog  for the Lei Crime Kindle World, also wrote It Takes Two for the Jet Kindle World. In fact, a number of authors wrote in several Kindle Worlds, including Lynda Filler and Malcolm Aylward.

 

Jet: Stealth - a JET Kindle World novella featuring Van and LeBrunI wrote just one book for it, but Jet: Stealth was the debut of my characters Van Freeman and Earl LeBrun, who would go on to the third Kindle World to invite me to join:

Sydney Rye Kindle World

The Sydney Rye Kindle WorldEmily Kimelman invited me to join the launch of the World based on her compelling characters, Sydney Rye and her giant dog, Blue. My first book was The Wife Line, where Van and LeBrun help Sydney and Blue in their detective mode—or more accurately, poke their noses into a sensitive case.

Last year, I added a second novella to the Sydney Rye Kindle World, The Three-Way.The Three-Way: A Sydney Rye Kindle World thriller featuring Van and LeBrun

Julie Gilbert, who has written at least six novellas featuring Marcella Scott, one of the characters from the Lei Crime series, also wrote Fatal Interest featuring Sydney Rye and Blue.

And in the spirit of closing the circle, Toby Neal brought Lei herself to meet Sydney in Rough Road.

New horizons beckon

I had a lot of fun writing these books. I learned a lot about writing in different genres, and I met some wonderful writers and readers.

Now, the Kindle Worlds are coming to an end. But not necessarily the stories that so many readers loved. I’m not the only author of Kindle Worlds titles who’s going to make some changes to the stories and publish them as independent books. I am working on revised and expanded versions of the stories in my Kindle World books (in between writing stints on The Triumph of the Sky), and some new covers, as well.

First, FBI Special Agent Vanessa Storm will return in the Hawai`ian Storm series. Then you can see Van and LeBrun in their own series.

It’ll take a while, but I’m excited that, finally, these characters and stories will be available beyond the U.S., and in paperback as well as e-book formats.

I hope to be able to announce publication dates for my books in the next few months, along with announcements of other authors, as well. Stay tuned!

Don’t miss your chance to save: Book launch for Wildfire coming March 22



You can reserve your advance copy of Wildfire for just 99 cents—but only until midnight March 21.

It’s only 6 days till the first Wine Country Mystery goes live on e-book retailer sites.

That means there’s less than a week left to pre-order your copy for just 99 cents. As of launch day—Thursday, March 22—the price goes up to $2.99.

So do as your parents advised you: buy when it’s on sale. And it’s on sale RIGHT NOW.

Win a signed paperback

I’m giving away three signed paperbacks copies of Wildfire. Send a screen capture to contact@writtenword.ca showing your order to enter your name in a draw for one of them.

And email this blog or the links to your friends who love good mysteries so they can enter the draw, too.

What’s Wildfire about?

The sun sets through the smoke from wildfires in Sonoma County, California, October 9, 2017. Photo by the author.

Wildfires swept across California wine country in 2017, destroying thousands of homes and businesses, and killing dozens of people. Law school grad and single mother Tara Rezeck finds herself in the middle of the catastrophe. When she returns to her job at the most award-winning vineyard in Sonoma County, she finds her employer’s body in the ashes.

The question that challenges her brains and her legal training is: was it an accident? Or was his body burned to hide evidence of murder?

Join the launch party on Facebook March 22 from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. ET.

In the meantime, you can read the first two chapters for free on Wattpad.

A new writing year beckons



It’s January. A new year spreads before us like a blank page, waiting for anything we want to do . Ready for us to write our own story.
And I plan on writing that story—in fact, several stories.

For you, my wonderful readers, I am going to publish a whole whack o’ stuff for your reading pleasure.

What to look forward to

I promised, and I will deliver. The first book in the brand-new mystery series, Wildfire, will be out in March. This features a new lead character: Tara Rezeck (it means “risk”), law school grad and single mom, trying to make her life in California when wildfires break out. Her new boss is killed. Was it the fire, or was it something or someone else?

The third draft Wildfire is now with beta-readers. Then I will respond to their reactions, incorporate suggestions (or not), and send it to the editor. Then there’s more re-writing, and then I will send it to the proofreader.

In the meantime, I have a great designer dreaming up the cover. Hold onto your socks—David C. Cassidy is going to knock them off again.

A boxed set

While that project is in the very capable hands of beta-readers, editors and publishers, I’m going to do two things to the Eastern Front trilogy (Army of Worn Soles, Under the Nazi Heel and Walking Out of War).

First, I’ll be publishing all three volumes on all major e-tailers: Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes/iBooks and Barnes & Noble. So far, they’re only available on Amazon, but with this move, they’ll be available more broadly, and in different formats.

The second thing is that I will release the whole trilogy as a boxed set, so readers can buy the whole story as one bundle. Continue to follow this blog for updates on both projects.

Click on the cover image for a sample of the book.

Writing more fantasy

As I promised before, I am returning to the sequel to The Bones of the Earth, The Triumph of the Sky. After finishing parts 1 and 2, I took a break from it to write Wildfire. Now that that’s done, I can focus for a while, at least, on completing the next five parts.

Sales and promotions

Somehow, in between writing and publishing three titles last year, I developed a marketing and promotions plan. Now it’s the time to see how well it will work.

What that means to you, dear readers, is that you’ll have even more opportunities to get books from me, and other authors I know and whose writing I like, on sale or sometimes even free. There will be other prizes, too, that readers will love.

But to get them, you’ll have to do something, too.

Promotions will be emailed to you. To make sure you’re eligible, subscribe either to get Forewords, my advance information email newsletter (click the book cover under “Get your free book.” the first item in the right-hand sidebar, and you’ll be taken to another webpage) or to receive this blog in your email (scroll down a bit to the item in the sidebar, “Get your FREE bonus e-book,” and enter your name and email below the cover image).

I hate spam as much as you do, and I promise again never to release your information to anyone else.

Let’s stay in touch

Subscribe to Written Words and Forewords. Both will give you a free e-book, and you’ll also be eligible for future promotions, sales, giveaways, surveys and contests.

Yes, I said surveys. I want to hear from you—what you like, what you don’t like, what you wish writers would write and what you wish we’d stop doing.

I’m looking forward to hearing from you!