Mystery Monday: Ask Me Anything
Join me on Facebook Live on Mondays for Ask Me Anything chats about writing and reading mysteries.
Great place for mystery lovers to get together.
New Year Roman Games: No Lanes. No Rules
STEPPING BACK IN HISTORY TO ANCIENT ROME WITH AUTHOR ZARA ALTAIR
Zara Altair writes traditional mysteries set in the time of Ostrogoth Rule in Italy in The Argolicus Mysteries. Learn more about her and her books at her website.
The New Year: A Time for Games In Ancient Rome
The latest Argolicus mystery, The Roman Heir, is set in Ostia just outside Rome in January 512 CE. The young heir thinks his greatest problem is getting his father to let him go to the new year Games hosted by the new Consul. His father is viciously murdered and the young man changes from teenager to adult.
The games were extravagant events that went on for days. They were entirely free to the public but cost politicians so much they often went deeply into debt. Chariot races were the main event held at the Circus Maximus, which could hold 250,000 spectators. Aside from the cost of horses, chariots, charioteers, and all of their attendant grooms, the games also provided entertainment with musicians, wild animal hunts, acrobats, and other acts all paid for by the politician.
Even though the Games were held in January, inclement weather like rain or snow did not stop the Games. Whatever the weather, people flocked to the Games for the annual holiday.
Charioteers were like famous sports personalities today, gaining popular support with the people. They belonged to Factions represented by colors. By the time of the story, there were two main Factions - the Greens and the Blues. Loyalty to Factions was strong, often passed down through generations. Enthusiasm and support for Factions was high-strung resulting in fistfights in pubs and street fights much like soccer team support today. The closest modern day example of the fervor is the Palio horserace in Siena, Italy, where faction loyalty consumes the city.
The charioteers wore Faction colored jackets over their tunics so they were easily identified by the spectators. Around their waist was an arrangement of leather straps that protected them from the reins of the four horses. The reins wrapped around the charioteer’s waist. He guided the horses around the dangerous turns at each end of the Circus Maximus by leaning his body.
The Passion of the Games
The passion of the games were a mammoth spectacle that began with a parade of the game’s sponsor with musicians, acrobats, mounted guards, etc. Faction members held traditional positions to spur the crowd to cheers with chants and loud noisemakers.
Crowds loved the chariot races as there were no lanes and no rules. With 24 races every day, the Games were filled with excitement, drawing people from outside the city to celebrate the holidays. Chariot races were filled with danger. Wheels fell off, and charioteers lost their balance on the lightweight wood and leather chariots and were dragged behind the running horses by the reins wrapped around their body.
A Teenager’s Freedom
Teenagers enjoyed the Games as a time of no-holds-barred excitement much like young people in Europe today flock to the running of the bulls at the Feast of San Fermín in Pamplona, Spain. They went not just for the event but for the freedom from usual social constraints. The Games offered an environment for young men and women to meet without the usual Roman parental guidance.
Philo, the Roman heir, gives up his dream of going to the Games as Argolicus searches for clues. The Games are background to the mystery. I hope you are tempted to add this story to your New Year’s reading.
Happy New Year!
Guest Post for Author Anastasia Pollack
The Writing Process with Jo Nesbø
Interview with Jo Nesbø by the Pacific Northwest Writers Association detailing his beginnings in childhood as a storyteller and his writing process.
My favorite quote is the one above: You don’t really know your characters until they start speaking.
Know your story. Know your characters. Then write.
Zara Altair writes mysteries set in ancient Italy.
First Author Interview
My first author interview. I am excited. Thanks so much to fellow author Katherine Hayton for inviting me to interview for her website.
Enjoy the interview. If you have any questions, get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org. I love talking with readers and other authors.
Zara Altair - The Used Virgin
Please tell us a bit about yourself
Zara Altair combines mystery with a bit of adventure in the Argolicus mysteries. The Used Virgin is the first in a series of mysteries based in southern Italy at the time of the Ostrogoth rule of Italy under Theoderic the Great. Italians (Romans) and Goths live under one king while the Roman Empire is ruled from Constantinople. At times the cultures clash, but Argolicus uses his wit, sometimes with help from his tutor Nikolaos, to provide justice in a province far from the King’s court.
Zara Altair lives in Beaverton, Oregon. She is a fiction author writing in the historical fiction genre. Her approach to writing is to present the puzzle and let Argolicus and Nikolaos find the solution encountering a bit of adventure and some humor in their search. Her stories are rich in historical detail based on years of research. Zara is working on a historical novel Felix Ravenna: A Mosaic set in the same time period with Argolicus as the main character. To get on the reader list for Argolicus fans go here http://goo.gl/m5aL3E (copy and paste to your browser).
Zara loves reader feedback. Be sure to leave a review. Write comments here on the Author Page. Zara replies to all comments.
What genre are your books?
Historical mystery. In Italy, giallo storico.
What draws you to this genre?
I’ve been reading in this genre since Nancy Drew for mystery and a gift subscription to monthly history books for kids.
Have you ever considered writing stories for other genres?
Yes. I’ve ghostwritten a number of steamy romance books and sometimes I write science fiction.
When did you first discover your passion for writing?
I’ve been telling stories since I was two when I sat on the back porch and told stories to Yoohoody, the owl who perched in the tree. I’ve been writing stories since I was seven.
What inspired your latest novel?
A phone conversation with my daughter. We were talking about how much we love the Italian day and she said, “Mommy, you should go to Ravenna.” Then she told me about Theoderic leading his people across the frozen Danube and eventually arriving in Ravenna. I thought, “I wonder what it was like then?”
I started researching and discovered a time of divided loyalties, intense theological differences, and a “barbarian” who lived like an emperor.
Do you have a teaser for The Used Virgin?
After Rome, before the Middle Ages, Italy belonged to the Ostrogoths. A young magistrate of mixed ancestry retires to find people are just as corrupt and venal in the provinces.
A corrupt Governor. A young girl. And old man.
A ruined reputation is worse than murder in Italy. Argolicus and his lifelong tutor, Nikolaos, discover evil, greed, and extreme extortion.
Argolicus unravels the threads.
What is your least favorite word?
Do you ever read your stories out loud?
Always. And in my writing group we read each other’s work. You can instantly hear the clunks or the stumbles over awkward phrasing.
What’s the first book you remember making an indelible impression on you?
Anna Karenina. I couldn’t stop. I read all night and finished just after dawn.
Do you have a favorite author?
In historical fiction, Robert Harris. My favorite is Pompeii. I love how his “Roman” is an engineer. And, the reader knows from the beginning that Vesuvius is going to erupt. From that moment on, it is a cliffhanger. Plus, for world builders, his alternative history, Fatherland, is a prime example of a character caught in the surrounding culture.
What are you currently working on?
Along with the next short story, The Peach Widow, I’m always at work on the novel Felix Ravenna: A Mosaic which takes place two years after the mystery series. Oh, and there’s that other contemporary mystery series that is percolating in my head with retired detective, Jake “Cozy” Cozzens.
If your book were made into a movie, who would you cast?
When I started, it was Tom Hardy as Argolicus for the smoldering undercurrent, but Argolicus is 32 at the time of the mysteries, so I needed a new actor. Argolicus Clive Standen. Nikolaos Dragos Bucur.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Write. Study story. Read in your genre. Start your author platform. It takes time. Have everything—author bio, book description, website, email autoresponder (emails written and sequenced), email opt-in—set up before you publish. Write. Edit. Keep writing. Connect with other writers. Plan you next book. Keep writing.
That’s all practical. Most importantly, believe in your story.
Is there anything you would like to add?
Katherine, thank you so much for the interview. Although writing is a solitary activity, sharing our individual stories is part of building a community.
Thank you, Zara. How can readers keep in touch?
Author Website, Author Blog, Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Goodreads,Amazon Author Page, THE USED VIRGIN
Thank you for reading.
Zara Altair, Author
The puzzle of politics, the mystery of murder in ancient Italy. After Rome, before the Middoe Ages, Italy belonged to the Ostrogoths.