“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.

Launch day—Torn Roots: Hawaiian Storm mystery 1



Torn Roots, the first Hawaiian Storm mystery, is now available on Amazon

What the critics are saying

“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

What it’s about

Torn Roots: Hawaiian Storm Mystery #1

Torn Roots, the first Hawaiian Storm mystery, is now available on Amazon.

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 still available at a special introductory price. Get it now before the price goes up!

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.

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:

 

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.