Friday, February 21, 2014

The Surprising Sexual Reason Pompeii's Lead is a Slave

I was deep into writing my young adult novel set in Pompeii, Curses and Smoke(Scholastic, May 2014), when my editor sent me a message that would've made any writer's blood turn to ice.
"Turns out there's a movie being made about Pompeii," she wrote. "And it too features a male slave as the love interest."
After dropping several f-bombs that nearly made my dog's ears bleed, I wondered if I should change my story. "No, no!" my editor said. "Yours is different enough." Which was true.

But it got me thinking. Why did the writer of the Pompeii movie make the same character choice I made for my novel? Why have a male slave as the focus of the "forbidden" love story? Why not the inverse -- a guy in love with a female slave? 

The answer has to do with the reality of ancient Rome's sexual "rules." ...
Read the rest on Huffington Post.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

My Review of Pompeii


Several weeks ago, thanks to VaniaStoyanova, I caught a sneak preview of Pompeii, which opens in theaters, February 21. Interestingly, the experience of attending the early screening was almost more entertaining than the film itself.

In the lobby, we were directed to a table manned by several tough-guys dressed in black suits. It looked like a convention of mobsters. No hellos, no “nuthin’.” Just, “Hand over your phones.”
            
B and I looked at each other then back at the goodfellas. “Seriously?” I asked.
            
“Yeah,” Tony Soprano said, holding out a zip-lock sandwich bag. “Put ‘em in here. No one goes inta the theater with their phones.” We were given a little red raffle ticket for reclaiming them later.

Strangely enough, none of us complained. We also didn’t worry about anyone stealing them because these guys looked like they had uzzies stashed under the table. No one was going to be fool enough to mess with “dem dudes.”

Another black suited mobster stepped up and “wanded” each of us like an overly-caffeinated airport security officer convinced we were wearing invisible vest-bombs. “What are you looking for?” I asked.

Luca Brasi just grunted.

When the large theater filled up, a team of goodfellas came up to the front to make an announcement. They warned us against trying to record the movie in any way, shape or form. In fact, one guy with no neck growled that they would all be wearing NIGHT VISION GOOGLES and roaming the aisles looking for illegal filming, so, “Don’t even try!”

“Dayummm,” I whispered. “Do you think those lumps in their jackets are guns?"

“Nah,” B said. “More like tazers.”

It’s important to point out that I am predisposed to like the movie because…because it’s about ancient Rome! I’d support any effort to bring the wonder of the ancient world to life. Plus, I have a novel about Pompeii coming out in a matter of months! The movie gets a decent number of stars for merely existing.

Still, it wasn’t half-bad! Seriously, I expected worse. I expected to groan, and roll my eyes so much that I’d end up with a headache. Sure there was the random anachronism and misrepresentation, but nothing big enough to make me hate the movie.

Plus, one can never underestimate the considerable seductive power of staring at really pretty people in “exotic” settings to distract us from some of the sillier set-ups (i.e., no the eruption did not occur during a gladiatorial combat; no bodies were found in the stadium).  

Kit Harrington in the lead as a Celtic gladiator did better than I thought he would do. Based on the trailers, I worried that his abs would have more emotional range than his acting. His abs did distract, though, from the odd moment of blankness of expression that I presumed he hoped would somehow show “deep, smoldering feelings of the sexy variety.”

Emily Browning as the upper-class love interest, Cassia, was also fine though occasionally she “put on” her camera face. That’s the one beautiful actresses often present for their requisite close-up—the slightly-opened mouth and wide-eyed blankness that allows us to drink in their beauty without acknowledging that they might have any kind of inner life of consequence.  


I liked Milo’s (Harrington’s) backstory and wished we could’ve seen more of Cassia’s. But we went into this knowing this movie was going to be more about CGI-special effects than it was going to be about character development.

Some of the gladiator scenes were laughable and downright cheesy. And pretty as he was, Harrington was a bit hard to believe as a gladiatorial champion. Fellow fighter-slave Atticus, played by Adewale Akkinnuove-Agbaje, had the gravitas and force of personality to pull it off. Indeed, he just about stole every scene he appeared in, making Milo seem even less believable as a serious contender.

As for the volcano scenes, all I can about say about them is that they are about what you’d expect—interesting to look at but not necessarily surprising, moving or awe-inspiring. There’s no evidence, either, that a tsunami occurred during the eruption (despite Pliny’s mention of the waters receding), so it felt a bit as if the director was throwing every possible form of death and destruction at us in a desperate attempt to keep our interest. Fire, lava, smoke, explosions, floods, ash storms, fiery flying boulders, collapsing buildings, giant sinkholes, tsunamis that crumbled entire coastlines…did I miss anything?

In the end, I enjoyed it and so, it seemed, did everyone around me.

I was already well into writing my novel when I learned about the making of Pompeii. For me, it was interesting to analyze the creative choices that we both made—and the many ways, thankfully, that we went in different directions. Still, it’s a movie about Pompeii, which was enough to pull me into the theater. That and Kit Harrington’s abs, I suspect, will be the draw for most.


My novel, Curses and Smoke: A Novel of Pompeii (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic), releases May 27. You can pre-order your copy at your local independent bookstore, Amazon, or B&N.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

How Did I NOT Know This About the Name, Cleopatra?

Olympias, mom of Alexander and his sister, Cleo the unknown.
One of the earliest Cleopatras that I learned about was Alexander the Great's little sister

What, I wondered, was Cleopatra of Macedon like? What if she was even smarter and more wily than Alex? What kind of life did she lead? How did she feel about her older brother getting to conquer the world while she was traded off to marry her own mother's older brother when she was a young teen?(Hmmm, maybe there's a book in there somewhere....). 

Sadly, we'll never know anything about her because, well, she was a girl, which meant no one bothered to record her life.

When the Ptolemies took over Egypt, they connected their blood line to Alexander's for political legitimacy. So, many royal women were named after Alex's little sister. Our famous last queen of Egypt was the seventh Cleopatra in the Ptolemy line and her daughter, Selene, was the eighth.
Snow happens, even in Athens. Here in Atlanta, it's more of an apocalypse. 


So imagine my surprise when I discovered that there was an even "older" Cleopatra in Greek history. Khione, the goddess of snow, had a sister named...Cleopatra! I learned this only because snow is a big deal right now in the South. Here in Atlanta, the entire city is on lockdown because of ice and sleet. Which got me wondering what the ancients thought about snow. When I searched for ancient Greek snow gods, up popped Khione and her sister, Cleopatra.

Well, knock me over with an olive leaf. 

Cleopatra was the daughter of Boreas, the god of the north wind, and Oreithyia, a mountain nymph.  Some sources say she is a goddess of twilight, sometimes known as Alcyone.

Would knowing this little factoid have changed anything in my novel, Cleopatra's Moon, or my biography of the queen, Cleopatra Rules? No. I can't think of any way I could've worked that in without making it weird.

But still. Thanks to the snow and ice trapping me in my house, I learned something new about the name of two of my favorite queens in history. I'll try to remember that when I get cabin fever.




Thursday, February 6, 2014

I'm Getting a Sneak Peek at Pompeii!


Miracle worker and photographer Vania Stoyanova of VLC productions got me passes to the screening of POMPEII!

That's right, I'm getting a sneak preview. Tonight. Here's the thing, though. There are no reviews anywhere (even on Rotten Tomatoes), which does not bode well. If movie marketers are worried that the movie is a dud, they often keep reviewers away from it for as long as possible. With the movie coming out in only a matter of weeks, it's kind of odd that there has been not a peep about it. I'm sincerely hoping that it's not a dud because...ancient Rome! Gladiators! Pompeii! Volcanoes! Kit Harrington's abs! My novel!

Not like I'm excited or anything. Thank you Vania! You rock.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Pompeii Movie--Who's Planning to See it?

I have to see it, of course. I found out the movie was being made when I was deep into writing Curses and Smoke: A Novel of Pompeii. I'm very curious about the creative decisions they've made. 


I cannot wait. Anybody with me? It opens February 21st. Until then, there's this: 



And, of course, this:


Friday, January 31, 2014

New Cover for Pompeii Book!

Release date: May 27
At a Facebook party in celebration of  Stephanie Dray's latest novel, Daughters of the Nile, I posted the new cover for my upcoming novel, Curses and Smoke: A Novel of Pompeii. Only later did I realize that I had yet to formally announce the change here.

Oops.

So, ta-da!  It's striking and beautiful, isn't it? Plus, it connects visually with Cleopatra's Moon, which is awesome!

How lucky can one author be? 

My publisher decided to go with this cover over the one that is currently on the advanced reading copies (ARC). And while I will miss a special someone's biceps, they made the right call in terms of visual impact. I'm so psyched!

The book is being released in the U.K. in February to coincide with the Pompeii movie (Kit Harrington, aka John Snow!). The American version of the novel releases in May, just in time for some explosive (sorry) summer reading fun.
As much as I like Tag's biceps, this was too dark.


Keep watch for giveaways and promotions as we get closer to the release date.

Meanwhile, it's Friday and I usually post "Friday Funnies"--comics or visual jokes about the ancient world. Today, in honor of the new cover, I'm posting volcano jokes:

Q. What did the mother volcano say to the baby volcano?
A. "Don't erupt while I'm talking!"

Q. What did the volcano say its spouse? 
A. "I lava you."

Q. What did the lava say to the crater as it left?
A. "I pumice I'll be good!"

Groan. I know. Rest assured, there are no lame jokes in the novel. But I couldn't resist. It is Friday, after all!




Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A Peek Inside A Conservator's Lab

Attic horse pyxiz getting restored in the lab.
Last weekend, Dr. Renee Stein, conservator at the Carlos Museum gave a talk on the process of conserving and restoring ancient artifacts. The objective of the work, she pointed out, is to suggest the way a piece looked and was used thousands of years ago, without overwhelming it with modern overlays or "fixes."

The talk was for a program sponsored by the Georgia Chapter of the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE). It was fascinating to hear about the incredible attention to detail that is required to match paint colors, surfaces, linen and even glues as repairs are made. 
Vaccum tubes for removing dust and decay...

The best part of the event was a tour of the museum's lab. Several artifacts in the process of being repaired, restored or conserved where laid out on tables. I can't wait until these pieces are displayed in the galleries so I can have a before and after look.

The next ARCE event takes place on February 11, 7:30 pm, at Emory. Dr. Lawrence Berman, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, will give a lecture on A Complete Cosmos: The Tomb of an Egyptian Governor and Its Secrets.  Sounds like another great program!