By Stephanie Dray
When we think of ancient Rome, we tend to think about the magnificent architecture. The roads, the innovative warfare, and the spectacular contributions the Romans made in art and governmental theory. But underneath all of that, of course, was the seedier side of the ancient world--the details of which were preserved for us forever on that day in 79 AD when Mount Vesuvius erupted and buried the city of Pompeii in ash, trapping a whole city in time for us to discover thousands of years later.
And what was first discovered, of course, was how deeply sex and sexuality ran through the culture. Early archaeologists were so scandalized, in fact, by the myriad phalluses, sensual artwork, and clear references to sex work that they reburied what they found.
In writing A Day of Fire with my fabulous co-authors, we wanted to be true of the Vegas-like nature of a Roman resort town like Pompeii, which is why none of us shied away from the predominance of brothels or sexual themes. But I very specifically wanted to write about the lives of two ancient sex-workers--not just as background color, but as protagonists in my story.
There were a few reasons for this. While sex work was entirely normalized and legal in the Roman world, the people involved in the trade were classified as infamia and treated shabbily. They enjoyed fewer rights and were subject to systematic abuse. In the ancient world--as in current times--women who traded sex for money were essentially dehumanized.
I wanted to put a human face on this. I wanted to show people whose culture defined them by their profession, but who had their own hopes and dreams, loves and losses, strengths and frailties. And a certain bit of graffiti in Pompeii caught my eye, describing two tavern whores--Capella and Prima--of very different physical types.
I began to wonder who these women were, beyond what was written about their price and unique skill sets upon the wall. Who were they to each other, I asked myself, and did they survive the eruption in Pompeii?
And their story really started to take shape in my mind once we started collaborating. My heroines appear briefly in the fast-paced soldier-and-gladiator tale Ben Kane wrote at the book’s center. Then I realized that Vicky Alvear Shecter’s hero-with-growing-pains would be in love with Prima, my hooker-with-a-heart-of-mud. Prima then appears again to cause trouble for the charming senator in Kate Quinn’s story. Meanwhile, her sister Capella serves as a friend in Sophie Perinot’s tale and a visionary in E. Knight’s. And I fell more deeply for them with each story.
Their plight became even more interesting while I was researching. I wanted to know what prostitutes wore. (Brightly colored clothing, often togas to delineate themselves from other women.) What they were called. (They had different names for different sorts of specialties and types of prostitutes.) Where they worked. (They could rent beds at the brothels, use cubicles off the street, or even ply their trade in the necropolis.)
The details were fascinating. But none more than a note about Emperor Vespasian’s ruling on prostitution in Thomas A. J. McGinn’s work on Prostitution, Sexuality and the Law in Ancient Rome. Allegedly, slaves sold with the express condition that they not be used in prostitution would be freed if they were so used. What might that law mean for two girls who had been used illegally in prostitution? And how would their struggle impact everyone around them?
Ultimately, I think I wrote the least salacious story about prostitutes in the history of stories about prostitutes and I’m so very proud of it. The characters moved me and will stay with me for a long time--I’m very honored to have been able to shine a light on a part of Roman life that is often overlooked. And I’m even more honored to have had to chance to creatively collaborate with such fantastic authors to produce something so special for readers.
Thank you so much for this insightful post, Stephanie! Knowing that the various characters find themselves hopping over into other stories makes me even more excited to read the book!
Please join historical novelists Vicky Alvear Shecter, Sophie Perinot, Ben Kane, Kate Quinn, E. Knight, and Stephanie Dray as they tour the blogosphere for A Day of Fire: A Novel of Pompeii, from October 27-December 5 with HF Virtual Book Tours!
In honor of the Blog Tour the authors have included a very special giveaway of a beautiful one-of-a-kind Roman style Necklace (18″) and Earring set inspired by jewelry from the ancient world. Handcrafted of real carnelian, the most popular semi-precious gemstone of the ancient world, it was designed to commemorate the release of “A Day of Fire.” Wear it yourself and imagine you are in Pompeii (not on the day of disaster of course), or, with the holidays approaching, it would make a great gift for a fan of ancient roman historical fiction.
Publication Date: November 4, 2014 Knight Media, LLC
Genre: Historical Fiction
A boy loses his innocence in Pompeii’s flourishing streets.
An heiress dreads her wedding day, not knowing it will be swallowed by fire.
An ex-legionary stakes his entire future on a gladiator bout destined never to be finished.
A crippled senator welcomes death, until a tomboy on horseback comes to his rescue.
A young mother faces an impossible choice for her unborn child as the ash falls.
A priestess and a whore seek resurrection and redemption as the town is buried.
Six authors bring to life overlapping stories of patricians and slaves, warriors and politicians, villains and heroes who cross each others’ path during Pompeii’s fiery end. But who will escape, and who will be buried for eternity?
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About the Authors
STEPHANIE DRAY is a multi-published, award-winning author of historical women’s fiction and fantasy set in the ancient world. Her critically acclaimed historical Nile series about Cleopatra’s daughter has been translated into more than six different languages, was nominated for a RITA Award and won the Golden Leaf. Her focus on Ptolemaic Egypt and Augustan Age Rome has given her a unique perspective on the consequences of Egypt’s ancient clash with Rome, both in terms of the still-extant tensions between East and West as well as the worldwide decline of female-oriented religion. Before she wrote novels, Stephanie was a lawyer, a game designer, and a teacher. Learn more at www.StephanieDray.com.
BEN KANE worked as a veterinarian for sixteen years, but his love of ancient history and historical fiction drew him to write fast-paced novels about Roman soldiers, generals and gladiators. Irish by nationality but UK-based, he is the author of seven books, the last five of which have been
Sunday Times top ten bestsellers. Ben’s books have been translated into ten languages. In 2013, Ben walked the length of Hadrian’s Wall with two other authors, for charity; he did so in full Roman military kit, including hobnailed boots. He repeated the madness in 2014, over 130 miles in Italy. Over $50,000 has been raised with these two efforts. Learn more at http://www.benkane.net.
E. KNIGHT is an award-winning, indie national best-selling author of historical fiction. Under the name, Eliza Knight she writes historical romance and time-travel. Her debut historical fiction novel, MY LADY VIPER, has received critical acclaim and was nominated for the Historical Novel Society 2015 Annual Indie Award. She regularly presents on writing panels and was named Romance Writer’s of America’s 2013 PRO Mentor of the Year. Eliza lives in Maryland atop a small mountain with a knight, three princesses and a very naughty puppy. For more information, visit Eliza at www.elizaknight.com.
SOPHIE PERINOT is the author of the acclaimed debut, The Sister Queens, which weaves the story of medieval sisters Marguerite and Eleanor of Provence who became queens of France and England respectively. Perinot has both a BA in History and a law degree. A long-time member of the Historical Novel Society, she has attended all of the group’s North American Conferences, serving as a panelist at the most recent. When she is not visiting corners of the past, Sophie lives in Great Falls, VA. Learn more at www.SophiePerinot.com.
KATE QUINN is the national bestselling author of the Empress of Rome novels, which have been variously translated into thirteen different languages. She first got hooked on Roman history while watching “I, Claudius” at the age of seven, and wrote her first book during her freshman year in college, retreating from a Boston winter into ancient Rome. She and her husband now live in Maryland with an imperious black dog named Caesar. Learn more at http://www.katequinnauthor.com.
VICKY ALVEAR SHECTER is the award-winning author of the young adult novel, Cleopatra’s Moon (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic, 2011), based on the life of Cleopatra’s only daughter. Shehttp://www.vickyalvearshecter.
is also the author of two biographies for kids on Alexander the Great and Cleopatra. The LA Times called Cleopatra’s Moon–set in Rome and Egypt–“magical” and “impressive.” Publisher’s Weekly said it was “fascinating” and “highly memorable.” Her young adult novel of Pompeii, Curses and Smoke (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic), released in June 2014. She has two other upcoming books for younger readers, Anubis Speaks! and Hades Speaks! Vicky is a docent at the Michael C. Carlos Museum of Antiquities at Emory University in Atlanta. Learn more at
To enter to win this beautiful one-of-a-kind Roman style Necklace (18″) and Earring set, hand-crafted with real carnelion, and inspired by jewelry of the ancient world, please complete the Rafflecopter giveaway form HERE.
Giveaway is open internationally.
Giveaway ends at 11:59pm on December 5th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
Winner will be chosen via Rafflecopter on December 6th and notified via email.
Winner have 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.
A Day of Fire Blog Tour Schedule
Monday, October 27
Review at The Maiden’s Court
Wednesday, October 29
Review at Ageless Pages Reviews
Spotlight at Passages to the Past
Thursday, October 30
Review at leeanna.me
Monday, November 3
Review at Bibliophilia, Please
Wednesday, November 5
Review at Peeking Between the Pages
Monday, November 10
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Wednesday, November 12
Review at With Her Nose Stuck in a Book
Thursday, November 13
Review at Book Lovers Paradise
Tuesday, November 18
Spotlight at Historical Fiction Connection
Wednesday, November 19
Review at Book Babe
Tuesday, November 25
Review at Reading the Past
Wednesday, November 26
Guest Post at Historical Tapestry
Friday, November 28
Review at The True Book Addict
Monday, December 1
Guest Post at From the TBR Pile
Thursday, December 4
Review at CelticLady’s Reviews
Friday, December 5
Review at Let Them Read Books