Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Dawn Empress by Faith L Justice

Today I’m delighted to welcome Faith L Justice to the blog with a post about the way she researched in order to write Dawn Empress.

Q. How Far Could a Roman Army March in a Day and Did They Wear Socks with Their Sandals?

A: 37 miles and “Yes”—Details in the post!

My mission is to tell interesting stories about little-known, but important women, while entertaining the reader. Because I write biographical historical fiction, historical accuracy is extremely important to me. For every novel, I must answer hundreds of questions like those posed in the title, so I do a tremendous amount of research beyond the facts of births, deaths, wars, etc. The sights, smells, sounds, and descriptions of clothes, food, housing, and transportation helps the reader experience a kind of time travel as they immerse themselves in a past culture. Personally, I find research the most fun part of writing my books. I get to learn new stuff, visit interesting places, and share my passions with readers. 

I ran across the empresses who are the subjects of my three-book series The Theodosian Women when I researched my first novel set in the early fifth century. Pulcheria (Dawn Empress) took over the Eastern Roman court at the tender age of fifteen and ruled as regent for her under-age brother Theodosius II. Placidia (Twilight Empress) ruled over the fading Western Empire for her under-age son Valentinian III. Athenais (work in progress), a pagan philosopher/poet married the “Most Christian Emperor” Theodosius II. These women fascinated me. I wanted to tell their stories, but I had a lot of research work to do.

This was hampered by the times. The fifth century experienced great turmoil as barbarians invaded the Roman Empire sacking cities, disrupting education and culture, and destroying records. This left only fragments of primary sources for future historians to ponder. Archaeology filled in some of the blanks, but there was lots of room for my imagination. My print resources consisted of translated copies of primary sources, general histories by well-respected historians, and a couple of obscure biographies. I still remember the unmitigated joy I felt when I found a used copy of Galla Placidia Augusta: A Biographical Essay by Stewart Irvin Oost and plunked down my money. I wrote Pulcheria’s story later when Kenneth G. Holum’s Theodosian Empresses: Women and Imperial Dominion in Late Antiquity was generally available. I’ve provided research bibliographies for each of my novels on my website but here’s a visual sample of my research book shelves. 

My first drafts are usually “white room” versions concentrating on the plot derived from the histories. I spend my second draft answering pesky questions about food, clothing, health, religion, architecture, art, technology, trade, and natural disasters—anything that adds color and context to my character’s lives. These details mostly come from specialized books and academic articles. The Handbook to Life in Ancient Rome (part of the Oxford Facts on File series) is a good place to start, but I couldn’t write with confidence without the academic articles I find at JSTOR (free with a library card) and Academia.edu.

Research has changed enormously in the past twenty-five years, making it much easier for the casual scholar. For my first two novels, I had to haunt the research branch of the New York Public Library looking up academic articles in dusty indices. About half of the journals seemed to be missing when I searched for them in the stacks. Now with a library card and a computer, anyone can access thousands of academic journals and presentations. I have over 300 titles in my miscellaneous research file alone.

The coolest new tool I’ve found is an interactive website called Orbis the Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World. Created and maintained by Stanford University, Orbis provides travel data in the Roman Empire. I fill in the details and it tells me how long it would take an army to march from Constantinople to Aquileia in January: 26.5 days, covering 1588 km (987 miles) at 60 km (37 miles) per day. Do I have a post rider carrying an important message from Rome to Toulouse in October? How about a trader moving exotic animals from Alexandria to Rome during the summer? No more looking up obscure modes of transportation, determining distance on Google Maps, and hand calculating. Magic!

My all-time favorite research technique is the site visit. I have a dozen books on Constantinople and Ravenna with gorgeous pictures and incredible diagrams, but nothing beats walking the famed walls that lasted a thousand years, feeling the weather change when a storm blows in across the Black Sea, or seeing surviving frescoes and mosaics in fifth century buildings. I took the picture of this stunning mosaic in the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia in Ravenna, Italy. 

I also do hands-on history by volunteering at archaeological digs. While working on Hadrian’s Wall in the UK, I got to visit the Vindolanda Roman Fort and see rare correspondence of a young Roman soldier asking his mother to send him knitted socks for the winter, among many other everyday artifacts, such as a doll, grocery lists, and a birthday party invitation written by the wife of the commander. In Tuscany, I helped uncover and preserve a mosaic of Medusa (pictured below) at a dig of a first century Roman villa. All this fuels a sense of awe and respect for these ordinary people who are long gone, but still very human in their needs, which I hope comes through in my writing. 

Museums come in a close second for favorite personal research. We have world-class ones here in New York. I studied 5C Roman clothing, coins, art, and jewelry at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, giving me a motherlode of detail to enrich my stories. If this pandemic we’re living through has any upside, it’s that museums around the world have made their collections available online. We can now virtually visit special exhibitions, search collections, and order previously inaccessible images and books. But I’m looking forward to going back in person.

So that’s my research process—lots of reading and note taking, punctuated with museum trips, site visits, and archaeology digs (a.k.a. vacations). After living vicariously in the fifth century for twenty-five years, I have an extensive personal library, but I want to give a hearty shout out to all the research librarians who helped me over the years. For accuracy, I trust “Ask A Librarian” over a chat room on the internet any day. Support your local libraries. They are national treasures!

On a final note, my sincere thanks to MJ Porter for hosting me on this blog tour. It’s always a privilege to meet new readers. If any of you have questions about my research process or my books, feel free to get in touch through my website or other social media. I love to hear from people. Stay safe out there!

© Faith L. Justice 2021

Thank you so much for sharing. A pleasure to have you on the blog. Note for UK readers, JSTOR offers some free articles, and others can be purchased with a subscription package:)

Here’s the blurb;

As Rome reels under barbarian assaults, a young girl must step up.

After the Emperor’s unexpected death, ambitious men eye the Eastern Roman throne occupied by seven-year-old Theodosius II. His older sister Pulcheria faces a stark choice: she must find allies and take control of the Eastern court or doom the imperial children to a life of obscurity—or worse. Beloved by the people and respected by the Church, Pulcheria forges her own path to power. Can her piety and steely will protect her brother from military assassins, heretic bishops, scheming eunuchs and—most insidious of all—a beautiful, intelligent bride? Or will she lose all in the trying?

Dawn Empress tells the little-known and remarkable story of Pulcheria Augusta, 5th century Empress of Eastern Rome. Her accomplishments rival those of Elizabeth I and Catherine the Great as she sets the stage for the dawn of the Byzantine Empire. Don’t miss this “gripping tale” (Kirkus Reviews); a “deftly written and impressively entertaining historical novel” (Midwest Book Reviews). Historical Novel Reviews calls Dawn Empress an “outstanding novel…highly recommended” and awarded it the coveted Editor’s Choice.

Ebook/Paperback

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Audiobook

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Nook AudiobookGoogle Play:  Kobo Audio

BingeBooksChirp: Scribd

Meet the Author

Faith L. Justice writes award-winning historical novels, short stories, and articles in Brooklyn, New York where she lives with her family and the requisite gaggle of cats. Her work has appeared in Salon.com, Writer’s Digest, The Copperfield Review, and many more publications. She is Chair of the New York City chapter of the Historical Novel Society, and Associate Editor for Space and Time Magazine. She co-founded a writer’s workshop many more years ago than she likes to admit. For fun, she digs in the dirt—her garden and various archaeological sites.

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Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the Dawn Empress blog tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club.

Holy Sister by Mark Lawrence – Book Review – released today in the UK 4th April 2019

Here’s the blurb;

“Nona Grey’s story reaches its shattering conclusion in the third instalment of Book of the Ancestor.

THEY CAME AGAINST HER AS A CHILD. NOW THEY FACE THE WOMAN.

The ice is advancing, the Corridor narrowing, and the empire is under siege from the Scithrowl in the east and the Durns in the west. Everywhere, the emperor’s armies are in retreat.

Nona faces the final challenges that must be overcome if she is to become a full sister in the order of her choice. But it seems unlikely that Nona and her friends will have time to earn a nun’s habit before war is on their doorstep.

Even a warrior like Nona cannot hope to turn the tide of war.
The shiphearts offer strength that she might use to protect those she loves, but it’s a power that corrupts. A final battle is coming in which she will be torn between friends, unable to save them all. A battle in which her own demons will try to unmake her.

A battle in which hearts will be broken, lovers lost, thrones burned.

HOLY SISTER completes the Book of the Ancestor trilogy that began with RED SISTER and GREY SISTER. A ground-breaking series, it has established Mark Lawrence as one of the most exciting new voices in modern speculative fiction.”

 

Holy Sister is a satisfying conclusion to the Book of the Ancestor Trilogy. For other authors, I would have found that acceptable, but for Mark Lawrence, I confess, I was a bit disappointed.
As with the ending of the previous two trilogies, especially Jalan’s, I’m left wishing there had just been ‘more’.
The concurrent storylines are not without excitement, indeed from about 50-80% the storyline is extremely exciting, but to get there I had to wade through the first 35% and I didn’t enjoy it as much as I’d hoped I would. Yes, a year has passed since I read the previous book, and I had forgotten much, but even so, and especially considering the ‘summation’ at the beginning, I feel I should have been able to grab the characters and events far more quickly. For readers who can just plough on through all 3 books one after another, I’m sure this won’t be a problem but I’m far too impatient to have actually waited for the end of the trilogy.
And the eventual ending, well. It was somewhat anti-climatic.
If this was merely a coming of age story, then I would say the job had been accomplished very well, but it was always more than that, and sadly, Book 3 doesn’t quite do justice to the characters.
I appreciate that there are many who love this book – I’ve been seeing 5-star reviews flying around for Holy Sister for about 6 months. It might just be that, for me, the book suffers from too much hype, and so I would like to apologise to the author if my comments seem too harsh. It’s truly not the author’s fault when something gets blown out of all proportion.
The majority of people will love this book – and I’m excited for Mark Lawrence because that means he’ll get to write more and more books, and share his wonderful ideas with a wider and wider audience.
I think we will get to return to the world of the Book of the Ancestor, and I look forward to that. Perhaps then all my unanswered questions will find answers. Although I doubt it. Mark Lawrence is a sly old fox for a good reason!
Thank you to the publisher for sending me an E-Arc. I confess, there may have been a squeal of delight.

Holy Sister is released in the UK today in hardback, ebook and audiobook and you can purchase it here (other retailers are also available). I give it a 4/5;