“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?

Book launch: The Search for Starlight by Elyse Salpeter



My author friend Elyse Salpeter has just released the fifth volume in her Kelsey Porter mystery series that combines Buddhist spirituality with vigilante justice.

With The Search for Starlight, Elyse Salpeter culminates the journey of a young woman who has come full circle in her quest to find the murderers of her parents.

She just needed to complete a simple errand… how hard could that be?

As soon as Kelsey embarks on the Emperor and Empress’s request to locate a mysterious object and return it to them, her entire world is plunged into chaos.

Someone is following her, someone else has broken into her home, and now she believes the people she trusted most have all been lying to her.

As Kelsey unravels the truth, she learns that her journey to this moment has never been entirely her own. Until now.

Readers will love this novel, which holds the answers to all your questions that have arisen throughout the series.

Find it on Amazon.

About the series

When Kelsey was just ten years old, she witnessed her parents’ murders. Since then, she’s dedicated her life to finding the killers and bringing them to justice. Her journey took her on a spiritual quest around the globe that thrust her deep into Buddhist spiritual mysteries. She discovered things about herself, her parents and her very place in the universe.”

Elyse Salpeter is keeping Book #1, The Hunt for Xanadu, at 99 cents for the rest of October. 

From the reviewers

“The Hunt for Xanadu by Elyse Salpeter is a remarkable novel, a fascinating and fantastical journey in time and space, and one of the most gripping novels I’ve read in a long time. It flies along at the pace of a thriller, with plenty of murder and mayhem along the way. But behind the thrill-ride is a spiritual story, an archetypal tale of mystery and darkness,riddled with fascinating and esoteric concepts in Tibetan Buddhism. Vivid characters, a truly appealing protagonist, unexpected twists, and crisp writing complete this unforgettable book. I can’t wait to read the next one in the series!”

—Douglas Preston, #1 bestselling author and co-creator, with Lincoln Child, of the Pendergast series

Elyse Salpeter

is an author who loves mixing “the real with the fantastic” in her books. She likes nothing better than taking different scenarios and creating worlds where things just aren’t what they appear to be.

Her five-book thriller series, The Hunt for Xanadu, The Quest of the Empty Tomb, The Call of Mount Sumeru, The Haunting of Cragg Hill House and The Search for Starlight are about a brilliant and fearless young woman named Kelsey Porter, whose life is steeped in Buddhist spiritual mysteries and who is constantly discovering the world around her is not what she believed it to be.

Elyse’s Dark Fantasy Series, The World of Karov and The Ruby Amulet takes us to other realms filled with magic and evil as a dark presence is seeping through the dimensions.

Her Young Adult novels, Flying to the Light and Flying to the Fire, are about a young deaf boy who is pursued by people for answers because he knows what happens to you when you die.

Elyse also dabbles in horror. Her horror novel, The Mannequins, is about a film crew that enters an abandoned mansion and disappears. Her horror collection, Ricket Row, is filled with creepy tales, guaranteed to keep you up at night.

When she’s not writing, Elyse is cooking, gardening, running around with her twins and eating shock food in her Gastronaut Club.

Visit her:

And follow Elyse on Instagram and Twitter @ElyseSalpeter.



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.

Cover reveal: Driving Tempo



Announcing the third novel in the House of Archer rock star romance series

By Raine Thomas

Fantasy and romance novelist Raine Thomas has returned to her series about the rock band reality-TV show, following up Imperfect Harmony and Unsteady Rhythm.

Driving Tempo: House of Arch #3 pre-release cover

What is Driving Tempo about?

A rock band. A reality show. A life swerving out of control.

The House of Archer cameras continue to roll, and Lily and Archer feel the pressure to perform. As the show’s stars and media’s newest darlings, their love life is bright in the public’s eye. But what should be the best time of their lives has Lily feeling like she’s an inch away from a head-on collision.

Between the never-ending cameras and a relationship moving forward at top speed, she barely recognizes her life anymore. All she wants is to pursue her writing career and plan her future with the man she loves. With complicated road blocks popping up at every turn, neither seems possible.

Time to call in reinforcements.

Recruiting the help of her sister, Rosemary, seems like the answer to Lily’s problems…until things between Rosemary and The Void’s spoken-for sound specialist, Sage Strickland, start to heat up. Now there’s one more teetering band relationship for Lily to balance in the media along with her own. One misstep could not only destroy The Void’s recent success but end the only career she has.

Once Lily, Archer, and the band transition from touring back to everyday life in L.A., they’ll have to learn how to navigate the twists and turns of their newfound fame. After all, the summer tour may be coming to an end, but the drama is just beginning.

Driving Tempo, House of Archer Book 3, the new adult contemporary rocker romance launches May 22.

Learn more on Goodreads. And watch Amazon for the launch.

About the author

BestSelling author Raine ThomasRaine Thomas is the award-winning author of bestselling Young Adult and New Adult fiction. Known for character-driven stories that inspire the imagination, Raine has signed with multiple award-winning producer Chase Chenowith of Back Fence Productions to bring her popular Daughters of Saraqael trilogy to the big screen. She’s a proud indie author who is living the dream. When she isn’t writing or glued to e-mail or social networking sites, Raine can usually be found vacationing with her husband and daughter on one of Florida’s beautiful beaches or crossing the border to visit with her Canadian friends and relatives.

Raine loves to hear from readers! You can connect with her at:

 

Independent book review: Still Life with Memories series



By Uvi Poznansky

I have recently discovered the books of Uvi Poznansky, and she has written a remarkable series of books. Together, they tell one unified story, but from multiple points of view. The author does a remarkable job of capturing each individual voice

Still Life with Memories is about Lenny and Natasha Kaminsky, and about the way Natasha’s illness affects the whole family over a long time.

Natasha is a concert pianist and composer, hailed as a genius, and Lenny a soldier and intelligence operative.

They meet and fall in love, and Lenny says he cannot believe his luck when Natasha accepts his proposal of marriage. After the war, they return to the States and settle in Santa Monica, California. Natasha tries to re-start her music career, but shelves it when she becomes pregnant.

She becomes a piano teacher while Lenny pursues his own career, and Natasha’s enormous white piano fills up most of the living room in their small apartment.

But before many years pass, Lenny starts to notice something is wrong with Natasha. She has increasing memory lapses, which also affect her playing. Gradually, she loses the ability to play the piano. Lenny becomes despondent over the gaps Natasha’s memory and the damage it inflicts on their relationship. Lenny begins recording interviews with Natasha, then transcribing them in an effort to write a book about their life together.

Then he meets Anita, a teenaged girl who looks astonishingly like a young Natasha. Anita sets her sights on him as her best chance for a better life than her mother could give, and Lenny falls for her. Natasha, as fragile as she is, leaves Lenny, but seems to come back more than once.

 

But when Lenny makes Anita pregnant, the marriage is over. Not only does Natasha leave Lenny for good, so does their son, Ben, who is one year older than Anita.

The most remarkable thing about Poznansky’s series is that she tells it from different points of view.

Anita, who first appears in Lenny’s life as a teacher, is the narrator of book 1, My Own Voice. In Book 2, The White Piano, Ben, Lenny’s son is the PoV character. Lenny then takes over the narrating for the rest of the series, and we get to put the pieces together of Natasha’s real story.

Natasha is the most interesting character in the series. She’s a highly talented artist and, it turns out, was resourceful and effective during the war. The way that the author slowly reveals her story is sometimes anguishing, sometimes teasing, but always fascinating.

And the author perfectly captures each PoV character’s voice as she does this: the calculating other woman, the angry son, the guilt-ridden husband.

Still Life with Memories also reveals the ephemera quality of memory, through the differences in details that each character remembers about their interactions.

Battered by fate

Poznansky shows how each of us tries to be master of our own fate, but we are at the same time victims of an often cruel universe, dealing with things that we could never have seen coming. In book 4, Marriage Before Death, Lenny wonders how it is that some of the soldiers on the battlefield die, while other survive, and whether his time is up. And in other volumes, he tries to make a new life for himself and his family, but suffers setback after setback. When Anita finds him, he seems powerless to turn  her away, even though he tries.

Anita is more skilled or talented at surfing the maelstrom of life. She rises from an impoverished single-parent household, without much education, and catches a successful man—one who can give her things she could only dream of as a girl.

Ben recoils when he learns of his father’s affair with a girl younger than himself, drops out of school and leaves for Rome. When he returns, he also finds attracted drawn against his will to Anita, the woman who replaced his mother in many ways.

A couple of flaws

I find myself equally unable to resist Poznansky’s storytelling style. While she perfectly captures each character’s individuality, at the same time she writes in a style that seems at once fresh and old-fashioned. She has, I think, also captured a prewar literary voice that is refreshingly distinct from the mass-produced style you can find in today’s commercial bestsellers.

But the books are not quite perfect. There are a couple of flaws.

First, Lenny seems to be an incompetent intelligence operative. In Marriage Before Death, he wanders behind enemy lines with ease with little purpose or mission, and gets caught almost immediately.

Also, the timing seems a little off. If Lenny is in his 20s during the war—and it seems he is—then I’m having trouble working out the timing for when he meets Anita in Santa Monica. She describes Lenny as being in his 40s, so that would take us to the mid-sixties or at best early 70s. However, Anita plays a song from “the sixties” as if it were really old. Somehow, the timing just seems a little off there.

Overall

This is a wonderful series, a richly colourful portrait of the intersecting, overlapping and mutually supportive and destructive lives. It portrays the intricate relationships of family, of the ways we intentionally and unintentionally hurt the people we love, and how what we do to each other ultimately creates the people they, and we are. It’s not quite perfect, but then neither are we.

Well done, Ms. Poznansky

4*

Find Uvi Poznansky’s work on

Visit her website.

Get a taste of a California wine country mystery



Do you love California wine? Great food? Mysteries?

Indulge your tastes on Wattpad.

You can now read Chapter 1: An Open Door, on Wattpad.

Tara’s shoulder slammed into the passenger door as the big old pickup flew around a bend. She wanted to tell Roberto to slow down and speed up at the same time, so she clenched her jaws to prevent herself from biting her tongue as the truck bounced on the rough dirt road.

The air in the truck was thick with heat and smoke. Tara tasted ash in her throat. To the west on the left, Tara could see blue sky through the windshield above the scrub-covered, brown slopes. But on her side, east, grey clouds that faded to black at the horizon blocked the sky. A slope fell away beyond the road’s narrow shoulder, smoke obscuring the vineyards she knew grew there. Opening a window would only let in the smoke, and it was already hard to breathe.

Tara clutched the door handle as the truck fishtailed. She heard the crunch of tires on the narrow gravel shoulder. Roberto wrestled the wheel, bringing the truck back on course.

You’ll have to join this free story-sharing platform, but once you do, you’ll get to read a huge number of stories, poems and books from the widest imaginable range of authors.

Start with Wildfire, the first book in a projected new mystery series about a smart, independent single mother who becomes a legal investigator in California wine country. Then branch out and explore everything that Wattpad has to offer: mysteries, science fiction, fantasy, romance—there’s even something called “Creepypasta.”

Enjoy!