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Thursday, January 19th, 2017
Nicholas Noyes of the NY Times recently wrote a column by that name. He describes the fascinating of following in the footsteps of Oliver Twist–having seen the film as a 5-year-old. An American who grew up in London, he found new eyes as an adult by traveling Oliver’s journey.
My historical novels known as The Justine Trilogy are anchored in real places and times. Whether in Cairo (The Cairo Codex), Italy (The Italian Letters) or Taos (A Rapture of Ravens), each site is real–there for the picking, pleasures to be harvested. Delectable visits into living history. My posts entitled 72 Hours in Cairo (Parts 1-3) take you on that journey. Several posts on Italy and Taos tantalize you, I trust, to journey there.
What is your favorite historical novel? Have you planned that trip as yet? Add it to your bucket list.
Posted in A Rapture of Ravens, Book Tour, Egypt, Etruscans, Fiction, Florence, history, imagination, Italian Letters, Italy, Rome, Taos, The Justine Trilogy, Travel, trilogy, writing | No Comments » | Leave a Comment
Monday, June 27th, 2016
Imagine a major earthquake in Cairo, anthropologist Justine buried alive, an ancient diary tumbling from the walls of a crypt. These are the promises of a major motion picture based on The Cairo Codex. In The Italian Letters, another ancient crypt
reveals the origin of Italians and the genealogy of the Virgin Mary. In a Rapture of Ravens, an avalanche in Taos, New Mexico, unearths and unravels the migration patterns of the Anasazi. Travel full circle back to the the Egyptian revolution and the faith of Justine’s lover. A gold mine for today’s special effects, these historical novels are unclose and personal with the struggle of today as well…the Muslim Brotherhood, religious conflict, challenging the truths of modern civilization.
Leonardo DiCaprio and Reese Witherspoon–where are you?
Friday, June 5th, 2015
Returning to Taos is like returning to a home that never was…meaning that it has always seemed like home, but I didn’t grow up here. However, Morgan and I have spent many, many months here over the past five years—years bringing us into intimate contact with the balmy air that caresses our skin, the full moon rising over the Sangre de Cristo (isn’t there a full moon every night in Taos?), a scattered mosaic of clouds in a big sky over Sacred Mountain, the rich blend of cultures led by the Tiwa of the Taos Pueblo. More than a thousand years of history.
Much has happened in these five years: The D. H. Lawrence Ranch is now open—Kateri Tekakwitha is an authentic Saint—The World Heritage Taos Pueblo and Rancho de Taos Saint Francis Church continue to attract people from all over the world—The Egyptian Revolution took surprising, and not always pleasing, turns—the Taos economy is on the upturn. Tonight, the grandchildren of the original Art Colony founders describe 100 years of creative impulse here. Tomorrow, we hear the story of the 400 years of shared Native-Hispanic-Anglo history. Music is in the air everywhere you turn.
What perspective does time provide? Five years, 100 years, 400 years, a thousand years. A spiral of wisdom that is Taos.
The people of Taos have been so welcoming that the writing of A Rapture of Ravens: Awakening in Taos emerged with ease from the minds and hearts of these generous folk. Many of them will gather Friday, June 12th, at 6:30 at the Mabel Dodge Luhan estate for the “world release” party.
Monday, May 4th, 2015
Many know that Taos is a magical, historical, and stunning place. But why set the third novel in The Justine Trilogy there? After all, The Cairo Codex is set in Egypt; The Italian Letters in Italy.
Quite simply, D. H. Lawrence is buried in a little white chapel perched on the side of Lobo Mountain just outside of Taos. While he died of tuberculosis in the south of France in 1930, his wife Frieda’s lover brought his ashes back to Taos in 1936. Now, nearly 80 years later, the Ranch—owned by the University of New Mexico and closed for many years, has reopened.
When anthropologist Justine Jenner discovered letters from Lawrence in her great grandmother’s attic in Italy, she was compelled to follow him, to find out who he really was—and to find what he discovered about himself on the side of Lobo Mountain. In exploring the life of her great grandmother’s lover, Justine discovers herself as well.
One week from today, A Rapture of Ravens: Awakening in Taos will be released.
Wednesday, December 17th, 2014
The identity, personal diary, and genealogy of Mary of Nazareth and her son, Jesus, are expressed in the first two novels of the Justine Trilogy: the award-winning, The Cairo Codex and The Italian Letters (release, October, 2014). Perfect Christmas presents. The third in the trilogy, A Rapture of Ravens, will be released in June, 2015.
Tags: Christmas, codex, Egypt, history, Jesus, trilogy, Virgin Mary, writing
Posted in Books Inc., Egypt, Family, Fiction, genealogy, history, imagination, Italian Letters, trilogy, writing | No Comments » | Leave a Comment
Tuesday, October 7th, 2014
John Berendt is a truly unique writer. In Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil he engaged a true story and characters into a richly texturized novel of grace and elegance. Memoir authors have borrowed this approach in recent years—to their detriment when the fiction is excessive—and to their glory when it worked.
As I began to write The Italian Letters (just released), I turned to Berendt’s second such novel, A City of Fallen Angels, set in Venice for insights into the Italian culture and legal systems. I, in turn, invoked some of his approaches, particularly the use of true incidents and characters, into my novels (the Justine Trilogy). Berendt—and earlier Truman Capote (In Cold Blood)—offered gifts heretofore undiscovered. For me, these writing strategies created a format to bring together my background in history, non-fiction, and fiction. Thanks, John.
Thursday, October 2nd, 2014
The Italian Letters lies in the sensuous curvature of ancient, 20th and 21st century Italy. The sequel to The Cairo Codex follows the adventures of anthropologist Justine Jenner after she is expelled from Egypt in the wake of discovering the diary of the Virgin Mary. Exiled into Tuscany, Justine finds herself embroiled in three interwoven stories of discovery: the long-lost letters of D. H. Lawrence to her great grandmother, Isabella; an ancient tomb revealed the origin and migration of an ancient people pre-dating Rome; and the genealogy of the Virgin Mary and Jesus. While shaken by the frank revelations in Lawrence’s letters and the intimate relationship between the primeval Etruscan’s and Jesus’ mother, Justine must confront her own sexuality and yearning for personal freedom. The second in a trilogy, The Italian Letters is riveted with literary, religious, and archeological history and international politics, each narrative magnifying and altering the meaning of the others.
The Italian Letters is the suspense edition of Etruscan Evenings.
Friday, September 19th, 2014
At your local bookstore or Amazon.
Release date: October 14, 2014.
The Italian Letters is the second in the Justine Trilogy.
Thursday, August 21st, 2014
Chapter 1-3 of The Italian Letters are attached to The Cairo Codex e-book now on sale
from Amazon. Here is Chapter 4:
The Italian Letters
“Unrequited love is the only possible way to give yourself
to another without being held in indentured servitude.”
-Bauvard, Some Inspiration for the Overenthusiastic
Her head still spinning from the museum visit, Justine parked her Spider in front of Chez Anna and checked in. She climbed the stairs to her room, threw open the shutters, and gazed out on the valley below, the sea beyond. Her mind floated back to the carved mirror in the ceiling of the tomb, the married couple in a warm, respectful relationship on the sarcophagus lid in the museum. Riveting images of men and women together . . . what did she know now?
The iron four-poster bed, covered with a white quilted coverlet, coaxed her to take off her shoes and dirt-encrusted khakis and relax with her latest purchase—D.H. Lawrence’s Virgin and the Gypsy, a quick read that the author had written for his stepdaughter, Barbara. She was again surprised by Lawrence’s ability to write with such sensuality without explicitly describing sexual consummation (until Lady Chatterley, that is):
. . . And through his body, wrapped round her strange and lithe and powerful, like tentacles, rippled with shuddering as an electric current, still the rigid tension of the muscles that held her clenched steadied them both, and gradually the sickening violence of the shuddering, caused by shock, abated, in his body first, then in hers, and the warmth revived between them. And as it roused, their tortured semi-conscious minds became unconscious, they passed away into sleep.
An hour later, Justine was awakened by a cool air drifting in from the sea. Stretching and shivering, she took a warm shower and dressed in a white silk blouse and clean khaki slacks. She was ready for dinner with her father.
It was a short walk back down a narrow street, hugged by fourteenth-century stone houses, to the fish restaurant Morgan had suggested. The theatrical owner and chef came from Napoli, and therefore was immediately held suspect by locals. The Ristorante Vladimiro ai Bastioni boasted the best Napolitano seafood outside of Rome . . . and Napoli, of course. Two diners at the table in the intimate room. One was her apprehensive father.
“Good evening, Dad,” she said in a lighthearted tone. “I see you’ve started on our bottle of wine.”
The other man turned toward her. She gasped. “Oh . . . Amir! What a surprise! I didn’t know you were here.” Her voice sounded slightly accusatory.
Morgan looked puzzled.
Amir met Justine’s questioning stare. “Do you think I’m following you?”
Justine blushed. “It entered my mind.”
“Whoa! Hold on here!” Morgan nearly shouted. “If I’d thought there was something between you two, I’d never have hired Amir without talking with you, Justine.”
“There is nothing between us.” Justine’s voice was confident.
Amir looked wounded. He turned toward the mustard stucco walls, dotted with framed photos and commendations to the owner as a much younger man. “Quite an array of accomplishments,” he noted, and picked up his wine. “Your father’s offering me a job. Archaeologist on the new dig.”
Morgan glanced at each of his guests, one at a time. He squinted. “You do know that I’ve known this young man since he was a mere whippersnapper.”
“Of course, Dad. I was just caught off guard.”
“Now for the wine. A little celebration,” Morgan said. “Mastroberardino Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio Bianco, tears of the Christ. I thought it apropos. Made from the Coda di Volpe, tail of the fox, to be exact.” He poured them each a glass. “Did you get some rest?” he asked, cautious with his daughter.
“I couldn’t rest until I went to the museum. Remarkable!”
“How so?” asked Amir.
“I visited it on my first day in town,” Morgan interrupted. “Impressive structure, but not much of a museum. At least, it doesn’t live up to the reputation of the necropolis itself.” He sipped his wine, watching them closely over the rim of his glass.
“You asked why I found it remarkable, Amir,” she said, ignoring her father. “I found it not only informative but moving. Particularly the Sarcophagus of the Married Couple. There seemed to be such an equal, respectful relationship among Etruscan men and women.” Picking up her wine glass, she held it suspended in her right hand until she concluded her impassioned description, then she took her first sip.
Amir nodded, captivated by her passion.
“You read too much into things, honey,” said Morgan. A flicker of regret moved through his eyes.
“Perhaps you’re right.” Her comment surprised both of them. Morgan relaxed into a familiar grin. He didn’t anticipate what was coming.
“Women are gifted with intuitive powers denied to men. Perhaps men are just defective women.” She saluted the two men with her glass, winked, and suggested that they order.
Amir laughed wholly, a laugh that Justine loved, and looked around for the menu.
“So true, Justine. So true.” Morgan also laughed with unrestrained fullness. “We don’t order here. Giuseppe tells us what we want to eat.” He motioned to the owner, who walked toward the table, his majestic stride practiced for a more abundant audience. “What delightful dishes do you have for us tonight, my friend?” Morgan had become a regular patron, one who was treated with the reverence of family.
“Calamari Ripieni and Pescespado o Tonno Alla Stemperata, signore. Giuseppe’s best. Only for you.” He clustered his chubby fingers into a bud and pressed them to his pursed lips. His smile stretched from cheek to cheek.
“Squid and tuna?” Justine asked, turning toward her father.
“Tonight, no tuna. Swordfish, my lovely signorina. Calamari stuffed with pecorino and prosciutto,” Giuseppe said in his rich Genoan accent. “And who is this beauty with you tonight, signore?”
“Ah, forgive me. Meet my daughter, Justine.” Giuseppe bowed deeply and kissed Justine’s hand. His gallantry charmed her. “And, this young man is my colleague, Amir El Shabry.”
Amir smiled and bowed slightly.
“Everything sounds wonderful,” Justine assured him, flashing her most beguiling smile.
The chef came to stand next to Giuseppe. “My friend here prepares the swordfish with olives and raisins and capers. Delicious,” said her father. The rotund chef hurried back to his open kitchen.
Two hours later, compliments about the glorious seafood paid, the three of them exhausted from speculating about the work to come in Cerveteri, the evening was winding down. With the second bottle of wine, tensions had relaxed and the three had become playful, recalling the years Morgan had taken Lucrezia and Justine with him on dig assignments in Egypt. Amir had tagged along, fascinated by Justine’s buoyant crinoline skirts, at children’s parties at his family home in Cairo. Morgan’s partner and mentor, Amir’s grandfather, Ibrahim El Shabry, had brought the families together on festive occasions. Being Egyptian, Lucrezia had forever been the guide and the star of any occasion.
Justine watched Amir closely as he picked at his dinner. Both Justine and her father knew that Egyptians tended to shy away from exotic cuisine. She had almost forgotten how handsome he was with his rumpled, curly black hair and piercing dark eyes. So sensual, so sexy.
“I’ll walk you back to Anna’s. That’s where you’re staying—right?” asked Amir.
“Thank you, Amir. Dad—you coming?”
“I’ll nurse my brandy.” Morgan pointed to the owner. “Giuseppe and I have some lies to exchange.”
“Why did you say there was nothing between us?” Amir asked as they turned the corner and started west down the narrow, darkened street. “We’ve been through a lot together. How about the kidnapping? Finding the Virgin Mary’s comb? My brother’s death?”
Justine shivered. He was right. They had been through a great deal together. Perhaps she didn’t want her father to know how intertwined they really were. They had desired one another, but refused to act on those feelings. Besides, she knew she wasn’t entirely over her affair with her betraying Egyptian lover, Nasser. Her father had been pressuring her on the details. “I know, you’re right, Amir. I’m sorry. But why didn’t you tell me you were coming? Going to be working with Dad? You have my e-mail.”
Amir took a deep breath. They had arrived in front of Anna’s. “I’d like to come up for a few minutes. At least try to resolve some misconceptions.”
Justine let the comment pass. She opened the outside door with her key and started up the stairs. Amir followed. The door to her room was unlocked. Inside, she turned to face him. “So, what’s the story here?”
“I assumed your father would tell you—and, frankly, as you said at dinner, I feared you’d think I was following you.”
“Were you?” she challenged.
“Justine, you know I’ve wanted to get back into the field for a long time . . . but there is some truth in your hunch. I did want to be nearer to you.” He stepped closer, moonlight catching the side of her face, her white blouse.
“So you relied upon my father to be the intermediary? To inform me of your intentions?” Her voice rose, eyes flashing. She reached over and turned on the table lamp. “I think you know I don’t like being treated like a little girl, especially when my father is concerned. Please don’t communicate with me through him.”
Amir looked confused, miserable, angry. “Why are you overreacting like this? I thought you’d be glad to see me!” He grabbed her by the shoulders. Their fiery eyes met, and held. Her body stiffened—then, breathing deeply, relaxed.
She let her head drop onto his chest. He softened his grip, wrapped his arms around her, holding her, and both began weeping, exhausted by the old desire that now seized them. They began breathing together, the near panting that marked longing. Finally, he raised her chin to meet his and kissed her tenderly, the embrace long, delicious, leading to hunger, then to demand. Shivering, she pushed him back, enveloping him with her eyes. He was handsome, sensual beyond belief. Slowly she began to unbutton her blouse.
He took her in his arms, spun her back toward the bed and let them both fall, press into her quilt. He kissed her with near desperation, born of unrequited obsession.
She held him tightly as they embraced, her legs wrapped around him now, and rolled on the bed. They slowed as they flourished in each other’s bodies, exploring with touch, caressing, finding the heat of buried passion. Shadows danced across the walls, then stilled. No words were spoken before they fell into a deep sleep.
Sunday, June 8th, 2014
That’s how Anthony Tommasini titled his excellent column on music and dissonance (NYT, June 1, 14). In reference to Milton’s use of “barbaric dissonance,” the author waded–no–jumped right into the many understandings of dissonance from politics, to music, to psychology. I had been the most familiar with cognitive dissonance as that state of internal tension arising from contradictions, confusions, that we must make right. Those eternal puzzles that cause our heads to spin. Problems that leap at us during the night and steal our sleep away.
Well, Tommasini’s discussion of the clashing, barbarous, discordant sounds in music are not unlike those tight-wire puzzles in novels. Such cases of dissonance indeed set “the senses on edge.” Here are a few cases that occur to me at the moment when the author:
1) dangles a subtle unknown before the reader with just a brush of puzzlement. What could this mean? Lead to?
2) two barbarous acts confront the reader, yet the narrator isn’t aware of the contradiction. You want to cry out–look, can’t you see!
3) a fine mesh of small descriptors about a character hints at impending transformation–or disaster! We don’t know which.
4) a directly-declared, barbaric crime (Sherlock-style), yet you know that there will be nothing direct or obvious about the resolution. Arthur Conan Doyle makes sure of that.
Next up: Norman Mailer’s hunt to find a narrator “more intelligent than he was.”