Sword of the Gladiatrix by Faith L. Justice
Release Date: May, 2015
Publisher: Raggedy Moon Books
Cover Artist: Todd Engle
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My Interview with Faith L. Justice…
Today I’m very lucky to be interviewing Faith L. Justice, author of Sword of the Gladiatrix. Hi Faith, thank you for agreeing to this interview. Tell us a little about yourself, your background, and your current book.
Thanks so much for having me here at Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words. I’m a science geek and history junkie and have been all my life. I knocked around a bit and worked as a lifeguard, paralegal, systems analyst, human resources executive, and college professor before settling into full-time writing. I live in Brooklyn with my family and the required gaggle of cats. For fun, I like to dig in the dirt—my garden and various archaeological sites.
My current book is an action adventure, lesbian romance set during Nero’s reign. A departure for me. I usually write novels based on real historical women—ones who should be in the history books but aren’t. Sword of the Gladiatrix features two fictional characters from the far ends of the Roman Empire: Afra, scout and beast master to the Queen of Kush; and Cinnia, warrior-bard and companion to Queen Boudica of the British Iceni. Both try to replace lost friendship and love in each other’s arms, but fate intervenes. Before they complete their journeys, I toss in a pair of trained hunting cheetahs, a nasty snake dancing bitch, a natural disaster or two, a neurotic emperor, and several gladiator fights.
Whenever I pitched Sword of the Gladiatrix as my “lesbian gladiator novel,” I encountered raised eyebrows and skeptical snorts. The first question everyone asked: “Were there really lesbian gladiators?” My answer: “Of course!” We know there were females fighting in arenas for a couple of centuries, although far fewer than men. Some had to be lesbian. What really surprised people was the fact of female gladiators. They rarely appear in popular culture. Despite the popularity of Xena Warrior Princess and the myths of the Amazons, they don’t come to mind in the media-soaked imaginings of brutal, bloody, gladiatorial games. Women warriors? Maybe. Women gladiators? No. Yet they are there in classical literature, art, grave markers, and archaeology. All you have to do is look.
• Was there a basis for your story? A previous experience or something else?
I love museums (see science geek and history junkie above). I spend days wondering around and reading all the labels. When I visited the British Museum several years ago, I came across a stone carving, from the first or second century, found in Turkey. It showed two women named Achilla and Amazon fighting with swords and shields, their helmets on the ground. Female gladiators! At that time, I didn’t know they existed. I researched the topic and found that females (in small numbers) fought regularly over a two hundred year period
The image of those two women haunted me. They were real women who lived and died centuries ago. Who were they? Where did they come from? How did they feel about their lives? That’s when I decided to tell their story. Well, not their story precisely—no one knows their background or fates. So I created Afra and Cinnia to stand in for those two women carved on the stone.
• What skills do you think a writer needs?
Writing is a craft and can be taught. There are aisles full of good how-to books on writing in bookstores and libraries, but the one thing any writer—fiction or non-fiction—needs to master is storytelling. How do you develop your characters, plot, and setting in such a way that it draws the reader in and keeps them turning the pages. A good storyteller can get away without sparkling prose, but the opposite isn’t true.
Also persistence and a thick skin help. I’ve known several people over the years who (I felt) were wonderful writers with original voices and compelling stories, but they gave up after getting a couple of rejections. Write your story or novel to the best of your ability, put it out there, and move on to the next. All writing is practice and useful. Someone once said you need to write one million words before you get good. Rewriting the same sixty thousand over and over doesn’t count.
Oh, and either a deep understanding of English grammar or a crack copy editor. I loved your rant: Win a Celery Stalks At Midnight Can A Balled Bare Bear Bee Far Behind?: Vocabulary Goes Bad with Homonyms! I haven’t laughed so hard in ages. I recently caught a blooper in one of my draft blog posts where I talked about “navel battles”—belly button wars! Glad I caught it before I posted it, but if it made it into a book, shame on me and my editor.
• What for you is the perfect book hero?
I like complicated and flawed. If s/he is perfect, everything comes too easily, there’s no conflict or risk—boring! I’m also partial to the underdog and the odd one out like Tyrion from Game of Thrones. A hero has to make mistakes and overcome the consequences, not just overcome external obstacles; otherwise there is no growth or emotional throughline. They also have to learn from their mistakes. In my first book, Selene of Alexandria, my protagonist is an impulsive young woman who—like most young people—suffers from a feeling of invincibility. She learns her rashness has consequences—sometimes deadly—but also understands that her impulsiveness comes from a deep need to do good and make the world a better place. Some actions she regrets, others she doesn’t.
• Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
No so much the craft. My challenges go back to persistence: getting my butt in chair and fingers on keyboard. In today’s connected world, it is so easy to get distracted and fritter the day away on the internet. Working at home doesn’t help. Stuck on a scene? Oh, there’s laundry! Or cats to play with. Or…you name it. I schedule a minimum of three hours—preferably in the morning before I look at email/Facebook/Twitter—that is dedicated to new writing (not rewriting!) I take my ancient laptop to the couch in the parlor (no TV, no Wi-Fi) and sit staring. Sometimes the words flow and I’m “in the zone.” Other times it’s like pulling teeth, but I sit there until I write one word, then the next, then the next. Each word gets easier.
• Tell us about your favorite childhood book.
Mrs. Coverlet’s Magicians by Mary Nash (1962, Little, Brown & Co.). My parents signed me up for a book-of-the-month club and this was one. The story is simple: Three siblings on their own because their parents are on a trip, their housekeeper won a cooking contest, and their substitute babysitter is in bed under a voodoo spell that the youngest child Theodore (Toad) put on her. Malcom and Molly, the oldest two children, work hard to keep the house going and make it a nice Christmas for their younger brother, but things keep getting weirder and weirder. Chaos, hilarity, and an impossible snowstorm ensue.
It’s not great literature. The dialog sucks and the gender stereotypes are…1962, but I read this to my little sister every year at Christmas till she could read it herself. It wasn’t Christmas until we read Mrs. Coverlet’s Magicians. I found my old hardback copy with the battered dust jacket a few years ago and gave it to my sister. Best Christmas present ever! Sweet memories of a lovely time.
Thanks again for letting me visit your site. Many hours of great reading to you all!
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.
Pages or Words: 260 pages, 75,000 words
Categories: Fiction, Gay Fiction, Historical, Lesbian Romance, Action/Adventure
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.
About the author:
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.
Where to find the author:
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