As we do on Fridays, when we schedule an interview, we take a break from the Regency Personality series. It shall of course return. As early as tomorrow.
Today we are fortunate to have with us us J F Ridgley who writes Historical Fiction during Ancient Roman.
1)What moved you to become an author?
Actually, my eighth grade students. I shared stories of King Arthur and the characters they had never heard and said, “Ms Ridgley, you should write a book about that.” So I did and, bingo, once the stories began to fly out of my fingertips and onto the computer, I was captivated. Oh, I’ve written stories in my head all my life, but to see that story come to life on a page was unbelievable. Now, I consider myself as the first reader and nothing else happens until I write the next line. I can’t stop. I want to know what happens next.
2) Tell us about your current novel.
My latest book is Threatened Loyalties set in Herculaneum, the summer Vesuvius erupts. August 24 AD 79. It deals with the dirty underbelly of Rome’s politics and slavery vs love. While young Marcus Galerius Alexius has been gone, his betrothed, whom he nicknamed Medusa while they grew up together, has turned in to a beautiful swan. Now he will do anything to regain her affections. However, Messalina isn’t making this easy. Messi draws Alexius into a love affair between the most powerful citizen of Herculaneum’s daughter who has fallen in love with a slave and is now pregnant. This unveils an even more sinister plot that lurks the streets of this rich city, threatens the emperor, and even the future of the Empire. Alexius risks everything to save Rome. Then Vesuvius erupts and changes everything.
3) How did the story begin to develop in your mind?
In my research, I discovered a picture of a slave girl’s body protecting a patrician’s baby in the boathouses where many people were boiled alive during the eruption of Vesuvius. She fascinated me. Why was this slave girl protecting this patrician’s child? Then I discovered a centurion’s body who was found face down and buried by the volcanic vomit. Then there was a man who was found face down in a back cell of a temple who was locked in with a chair shoved beneath the outside handle of the door.
Who were these people? What was it like living in this city of the rich who vacationed there? What was it like when what they thought was a mountain blows up before their eyes–that same volcanic eruption that was TOTALLY different in Pompeii? I had no choice. I had to bring all these people and this eruption to life. And did, in Threatened Loyalties.
4) What did you find most challenging about this book?
What challenged me most were these people who walked the streets of this city and this fascinating and horrifying eruption. What helped me understand what they faced was visiting Herculaneum and walking the actual streets, visiting the real homes of my characters, and actually seeing the skeleton of the man trapped in the temple. It all became so real. This really happened!
Then there is the challenge of understanding the Roman legal system, the politics, the expectations put on the children of Romans. You think DC politics are bad. That is nothing compared to Ancient Rome.
5) How did you choose your publishing method?
I don’t think I chose my path to publishing. I think God chose it for me. I started writing what seems a thousand years ago and endured the trail of rejections with traditional publishers. And I can’t disagree that my work need—what shall I say—a little work. However, as my stories evolved, the opportunity of self-publishing emerged and I knew it was the right path for me. I love the challenge of working together with Cathy Helms of Avalon Graphic.org, the best cover designer out there in my book as well as working edits with Cindy Vallar.com who I value beyond measure. I love the entire process.
6) Tell us a little about yourself?
I’ve been learning this craft of writing for fifteen years and I don’t see it stopping. I love bringing the ancient world to life. What got me here, as I said, was the legend of King Arthur. However, you quickly learn that Arthur was not a king but a Celtic chief. Then I discovered easily enough that you don’t deal with the Celts without running smack into a Roman’s shield or gladius. When this happened, I was hooked. I never want to leave this world where these two conflict somehow be it ‘Celt vs Roman’ or ‘Patrician vs plebeian’ or ‘dominus vs domina’. I don’t care. I love it. Outside of that, God has blessed me with a wonderful husband, two fantastic kids, and a beautiful granddaughter and so much more.
7) What is your next work, and beyond that, what do you want to work on.
My next book coming out this year is The Revolt, which is the first book in my Red Fury series on Julius Agricola. It is a story of a fathers’ love for one son. That isn’t a typo. Two fathers. One son. Revolt starts with Julius being present during the entire revolt by Boudica in her attempt to run the Romans out of Britannia. Were both daughters were raped? Don’t be so sure.
After that, I want to get back to Pompeii’s Plague that takes you back to Pompeii right before Vesuvius erupts. If you think that breaking through a glass ceiling is hard for a woman today, imagine trying to break through Rome’s concrete ceiling as Faustina must do to keep her father’s estates.
8) In the current work, is there an excerpt to share? Your favorite scene, a part of your life that you put into the work and think it came out exceptionally well that you would like to share.
This is the scene in Threatened Loyalties where the hero Marcus Galerius Alexius finally realizes what he has gotten into. He has risked everything: his family’s name, his father’s reputation, Messalina’s life and her family’s reputation and even his own life. What the hell has he done and should he continue on with this cover-up.
“Come with us, you filthy fool.”
Guards jerked Alexius’s hands forward and clamped the iron cuffs around his wrists. Another shoved from behind, making him stumble outside his house and onto the stone street filled with onlookers.
“Didn’t your father tell you, you idiot fool, that helping a slave escape made you a slave?” someone barked.
Another laughed. “And you thought you would get elected you, you filthy piece of shit.”
“I didn’t. I didn’t.”
A soldier’s laughter rang in his ears. “Not what I heard. Throw the cur in the wagon.”
Crowds threw garbage at him as the donkey pulled the wagon through the torch lit streets of Rome.
“He is the stench of a low-life latrine.”
“And we almost voted for the filthy leech.”
“Yeah, you filthy leech, you deserve to be a slave.”
“I didn’t. I didn’t.”
The wagon jolted toward the Circus Maximus where a man screamed. “Alexius! He helped me! He knew all about it!”
Alexius knew that voice, but he could not place it. His mind searched helplessly for answers.
The gates opened, allowing the donkey onto the sandy track. Black shadows of the guards lined the way to three lashing posts buried at the nearest end of the spina. The stands were filled with senators cheering, laughing, and pointing at him.
“He is the one. He helped me! He helped me!”
The voice. It came from the lacerated man hanging from one of the lashing poles.
“No. No. I didn’t. I didn’t.”
His father’s shredded body hung limp on second lashing post where three senators waited. Sulla. Pomponius. Balbus.
The three turned, and in one voice, announced, “You are a liar, Marcus Galerius Alexius. The Senate and the people of Rome have found you guilty.”
Balbus pointed a barbed whip toward the remaining empty post. “Tie my new slave, so I may show him, I am his dominus now.”
Alexius burst from his bed and raced to the bedroom window. He threw it open to the cool night air that did little to soothe his mind as the nightmare replayed all too clearly. He saw Balbus, the whip, Pomponius’s jowls bouncing with laughter, and Sulla’s clever smile oozing across the man’s face.
And his father’s torn, mutilated body.
Somewhere in his mind, he heard his own voice. I didn’t. I didn’t.
However, he did know.
Alexius grabbed the pitcher from the nearby table and attempted to pour water into the small glass. His hand shook most of it out. He splashed some over his face and fell back against the wall. Tears choked through him at the image of his father, suffering for what he was responsible for doing.
9) Who do you think influenced your writing, this work?
Colleen McCullough and her Grass Crown series encouraged me to venture into Rome’s captivating world. Steven Saylor, Steven Pressfield… as well as the many members of organizations as Historical Novel Society and Romance Writers of America who have helped me understand this craft. I have to also mention Dr Murochick, professor of geology at the University of Missouri-Kansas City who explained so many things about volcanos as well as telling me about the buried centurion found in Herculaneum.
and who do you think you write like?
I really don’t think a writer can write like another even if we are telling the same story. Each voice is different. Each perspective unique. That’s the fun of this craft.
10) Who do you read?
The list is way too long because I have been a reader all my life. However, I love any well-written story during any period that starts with action that never stops as well as falling in love with new characters and having them become lifelong friends.
What are the things that a reader can identify with that you have grounded yourself in. The women of Rome.—these dominas were the strong women who influenced the world nearly as much as the men did. They were the first women-libists. They were like the American pioneer woman…basic farmwomen who supported their husbands, tried to please them, but defied them when the society ‘got it all wrong.’ When Rome took on the Greek ideal, that demanded wives cover themselves totally and submit to their father’s then husband’s will. The Roman domina managed to change that over time. They brought fashion to the Roman Empire that included modern France, when it was simply known as Gaul, where fashion still dictates from. They were the model of the Victorian world. They brought the simple wisdoms of practicality as ‘everything in moderation.” Okay, I simply love these women as other women of all cultures.
Another thing… throughout history mankind has not been very nice to each other. Many think Romans and their legions were the worst. This is wrong. Romans brought Pax Romana or Roman Peace too many societies that warred each spring, all summer and stopped in fall. War was constant until Rome came. Then came taxes and government control. And Rome shows us the dangers of that in our world even today.
11) When writing, what is your routine?
My ideal routine is to get up in the morning and do what needs to be done in a normal life and at noon, I become a writer and start writing/editing. That worked ‘once upon a time.’ Now, with publishing and marketing added to the mix of editing and writing….it’s turning into a full time job. This remains a big challenge to this long-time housewife and mother.
12) Do you think of yourself as an artist, or as a craftsman, a blend of both?
I see an artist as a pantser–writing by the seat of your pants–and a craftsman as a plotter–plot out the story and then write it. I’m a blend of both. I discover the story, find the fact to the story, then write the story as it comes to me. Invariably the plot goes off in another direction and I have to follow it. That is the joy of writing for me. I never know what’s going to happen. You know the old saying from Shakespeare…’Best laid plans of mice and men often go astray.” But that’s the fun of writing.
13) Where should we look for your work.
Messalina Claudia wants nothing to do with her parents’ arranged marriage with Marcus Galerius Alexius, but her need to find her missing friend requires his help. Their perilous pursuit uncovers the political underbelly of the first citizens in the ancient Roman city of Herculaneum.
In order to regain Messalina’s loyalties, Alexius must risk everything– his family’s reputation, future as a Roman senator, and even his life beneath the shadows of a very restless volcano…Vesuvius, where Vulcan’s wrath simmers.
Amid pirates, godfathers, and forbidden love, vows of revenge are made in the unforgiving world of ancient Rome. Aelia Sabina, a patrician’s daughter, and Martino Lucianus Drusus- a simple plebe rise like phoenixes from the ashes of their lives. Aelia’s abusive husband vows to finally destroy this plebe in Rome’s court where patricians rule and plebeians grovel. But will Lucianus grovel? Don’t count on it.
For the Family
Viciria actually lived. In Herculaneum…before this city was buried by Vesuvius in A.D. 79. She was Marcus Nonius Balbus’s mother. But she is known in my novel as The Witch. At title well earned for sure. But why? What can can change such a gentle woman?
This short story is based on the novel Threatened Loyalties.