Title: Sword of the Gladiatrix
Author Name: Faith L. Justice
Publication Date & Length: April 27th, 2015 — 260 pages
From the far edges of the Empire, two women come to battle on the hot sands of the arena in Nero’s Rome. They seek to replace lost friendship, love, and family in each other’s arms; but the Roman arena offers only two futures: the Gate of Life for the victors or the Gate of Death for the losers.
- Can you describe in detail what your writing environment is like?
Writers have to learn to write wherever they are. When I first started I had a demanding executive job and an infant. My favorite writing space was airport lobbies and hotel rooms. At home, in an apartment in Manhattan, I wrote on top of my husband’s clutter (we shared the computer) and daughter’s toys. When I left the corporate rat race to write full time, I wanted “a room of my own,” so we moved to a wonderful rambling Victorian in Flatbush Brooklyn. My office is in the southeast corner, so I get light all day. I have two walls of bookcases filled with my research books, a lovely cherry wood desk with pictures of my family and cats perched in odd places, a messy pile of correspondence waiting for Friday, a box of my newest book Sword of the Gladiatrix is open on the daybed. The walls are lavender (supposed to inspire creativity) and posters of my covers adorn the walls. I have a variety of incense available and classical music playing in the back ground. BUT when I write original fiction, I move to the living room couch and type on my ancient laptop. Go figure!
- Is there one of your characters that you relate to (from any of your works)? Why?
I started writing because I wanted to tell the story of Hypatia, the Lady Philosopher of Alexandria, a mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher in the late fourth and early fifth century. I ran across her story at an art exhibit (The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago). She fascinated me because she was a woman of power in time when women were powerless and she was brutally murdered by a mob. I researched her life and times for several years and found dozens of overlooked women who led armies, wrote books, ruled empires, and changed history; but her story drew me first. I did eventually tell her story in the novel Selene of Alexandria (Selene is a fictional student of Hypatia’s) and collected my blog posts and other writing about her in Hypatia: Her Life and Times. As a feminist, amateur scientist, and former academic, Hypatia called to me in myriad ways. I’ll always thank her for setting on the path to historical fiction writing.
- If you couldn’t be an author, what would you do instead?
Definitely a librarian! I’ve had a varied career: lifeguard, paralegal, systems analyst, HR executive, and college professor. I think if I had become a librarian first, I might have stayed there. I grew up helping the Bookmobile Ladies in elementary school and working in the high school library. I have two library cards: New York City and Brooklyn. I love, love, love, the research librarians who have been such a help in my writing career. Libraries and librarians are a vital part of any neighborhood.
- Is there anything that you learned during the writing process that you wish you had known before hand?
I read somewhere that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master a skill (playing an instrument, learning a sport, etc.) and writing a million words to master the craft of writing. I passed that one million mark some time ago, but I personally believe, you always keep learning. Each book offers its own particular challenges. I suppose I could wish that I had all the answers to those challenges beforehand, but where’s the fun in that? Now the publishing process! I wish someone could give me a mind meld and dump all that information into my brain.
- Is there anything that you wish you could change about your book now that it is out?
I’m very pleased with the final product. I love the cover and the story. I wish I could dump a bunch more research into the story, but that would be just showing off and probably bore the readers. There’s a reason for the advice skilled writers give to beginners: “Kill your babies.” You have to ruthlessly cut anything or anyone that doesn’t enhance your story, move the plot, or develop a character. Literary writers may be able to get away with lengthy descriptions and meandering plots, but genre writers can’t.
- How do you come up with new ideas for your story?
Sword of the Gladiatrix was inspired by an artifact I saw in the British Museum: a first century stone carving found in Turkey showing two women with swords and shields in a fighting stance. Experts theorized they were female gladiators. I wanted to tell the story of how these two women came to face off. Where did they come from? How were they trained? How did they feel about their lives and the necessity of killing? My other books are fact-based historicals, so I had good outlines of events and some insight into personality. This was my first foray into mostly fictional characters, but Afra and Cinnia have to be of their time, place, and cultures. They exist in real history and have to react to historical events: Rome’s expedition to Kush, Boudica’s rebellion, an earthquake in Pompeii.
- What’s next for you as a writer?
I’ll have another fact-based novel out by the end of the year. Twilight Empress is about Galla Placidia, a remarkable woman who ruled the Roman Empire in its waning days. I’ve also got a first draft of a companion novel called Dawn Empress to rewrite. New stories include a sequel to Sword of the Gladiatrix (about a third done), a sequel to Selene of Alexandria (got an outline), and a couple of short stories to complete a collection. So many books, so little time!
- Where do you live? Do you think this influences how or what you write?
I live in Brooklyn, New York which has a rich history and marvelous literary tradition, but I don’t believe that influences me. I have no urge to write anything set in Brooklyn or New York. But I do appreciate the first rate library system and world class museums that are available to me. I like to travel for site visits and participate in archaeology digs, but eventually have to come home. The museums offer me the opportunity to see artifacts and art from my story’s time and place and renew my creative juices.
- What is your favorite genre outside of the one you write in? Why?
Popular science, especially neuroscience, evolution, or anything to do with archaeology. I’ve always been curious about how the world works and how people contribute to that and—of course—why my brain works like it does.
- Do you have any vices? Shoes, coffee, shopping…etc?
My absolutely worst vice is watching TV. I truly believe it rots the brain, yet nearly every evening I plop my butt on the couch and watch like a slack-jawed zombie. Several of my favorite shows are over for the season and I’ve vowed to eliminate most of them from my DVR next year. (But not, Sherlock, Orphan Black, Grey’s Anatomy, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Star Talk, The Simpsons…sigh.)
A slave wraps my lower legs with felted wool and straps a gilded greave to my left shin, because I fight as myrmilla. He smells of sour sweat, as do I. I’ve already fought once today, tested fate, and won. The gold sand that Nero favors in the arena still crusts my hair and rasps the skin under my sweat-soaked breast band. I will go again before the ravenous crowds to satisfy their bloodlust. For what? An emperor’s whim? The crowd’s passing fancy? A sacrifice to their gods?
I swallow the bitter gall that surges into my mouth.
Across the room, another slave straps armor on Cinnia, my beloved. She looks at me with pride in her eyes and a brief smile on her lips. We said our goodbyes last night, clasped breast to breast, thigh to thigh, a stolen moment before being sent to our lonely cells. My heart beats an irregular rhythm.
My love. Light to my dark. Fire to my ice.
Cinnia is goddess-given to me; from a land of mists and forests, so different from my country of desert and blistering sun. Without her, I would be dead. Without me, so would she. We have suffered, struggled, lived, and loved. Now we go out upon the sands of the great arena to die. One by her lover’s hands, the other by her own.
It is not the life or death I chose for myself, but it is the one the gods gave me.
FAITH L. JUSTICE writes award-winning novels, short stories, and articles in Brooklyn, New York. Her work has appeared in Salon.com, Writer’s Digest, The Copperfield Review, the Circles in the Hair anthology, and many more. She is a frequent contributor to Strange Horizons, Associate Editor for Space and Time Magazine, and 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.