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Good Historical Fiction

A Passion for reading and learning about the past: Priestess of Pompeii by Sandra Hurt and a few further observations

Since I was in grade school, I’ve loved historical novels. I was initiated into the fascination by chance at the Broadway Branch Library at 42nd and College Avenue, still there now in a new and modern form some many decades later. It was an old house at the time, and I would ride my bike as a sixth-grader the mile and a half to browse the shelves. Tiring of Doctor Dolittle and Mary Poppins, I came across a section of novels in the adult section about English history by an author called Nora Lofts. The House at Old Vine romantically reconstructed life in the late Medieval period, about which I knew nothing, with a heroine seeking meaning in her amazingly Spartan life, which had few necessities let alone the simple comforts I had. Her feelings for her difficult husband, her love of her children and her hopes for their future in a time of warring aristocrats, touched me. I read every book she ever wrote, I think, in the next few years and eagerly waited for a new one.

And so I have picked up on everything Ken Follett and other lions of the genre of historical fiction have offered. And—written five historical novels myself, The Movers, Lords of the Rivers, The Dream Divided, All the Bright Sons of Morning and Charmed Circle. These are about Indiana history, which has its own bright, emotionally charged, and inspirational moments.

We at Hawthorne represent a new historical novel set in Caesar’s Pompeii—Priestess of Pompeii: The Initiate’s Journey. It’s an imagined life of a real woman who had a villa in Pompeii, one which has been named the Mystery Villa, which has been excavated.

The sequel is underway for author Sandra Hurt, who researched the book for some thirty years, visiting classical sites, the British Museum and sacred caves , consulting scholars around Europe and America.

As the author and I have spoken about writing styles appropriate in this day and age for historical novels, I am put in mind the characteristics which drew me irresistibly to Nora Lofts, recognized as a master of the craft now. Those of us who read this are not really expecting contemporary novel conventions. Though we may read these, most of us aren’t wanting to explore a different era through multiple points of view and narrators, stream of consciousness, quick jumps in time, mysterious and shadowy characters we don’t understand, passages in another language with minimal translations or gobs of intense description of minute parts of nature down to the last drop of dew.

Instead, we value direct narrative with lots of good scenic background, some explanation of the times (which is frowned on in the modern novels, being viewed as “information dumping,” ), simple but progressive and excellent delineation of characters and subtle insights into what the lessons of historical times are. This is what I found all those years ago in the series of novels by Nora Lofts and what many of us who love historical fiction still seek today in these books.

Nancy Baxter’s novels set in Indiana 1803-1900 may be obtained on Amazon. Sandy Hurt’s Priestess of Pompeii can be bought by clicking back to the website.

Posted in Writing Fiction |

Indiana Libraries Recognized in the Hawthorne Small Library Recognition 2021

Twenty-five libraries in Indiana were named as lively small-town libraries in the 2021 Hawthorne recognition program. Selections were made by editors and authors at Hawthorne on the basis of open library policies during the pandemic, programming offerings, and their communication with individual communities.

Sandra Hurt

News releases were sent to each library’s local newspaper announcing the selection and describing the program initiative connected with the selections: International Women’s Day is March 8. The book donated as a result of the recognition is a novel about a woman’s struggle for recognition and self-fulfillment: Sandra Hurt’s Priestess of Pompeii: The Initiate’s Journey Book I.

“It’s our hope that the library may use this day to discuss women’s drive for self-fulfillment,” Sandy Hurt the author says.” We’ve enclosed author questions for book clubs or posting in the libraries. My heroine, Rufilla Istacidii, was a real person living in the time of Julius Caesar. It was a world of men’s achievement in politics, warfare, and business. Rufilla became a priestess in the city of Pompeii and her villa has been excavated in modern days. Nothing more is known of her, so I have researched for 20 years to find out, and write about, what her life might have been as a talented woman seeking to fulfill her unusual destiny outside the home.”

Those libraries selected are those at Dunkirk; Flora; Sellersburg; Bristol; Batesville; Knightstown; Crothersville; Kendallville; Rising Sun; Paoli; Poseyville and Winnamac. Also Milan; Knox; Libertyville; Salem; Cherubusco; Franklin County; Monon, Wiinchester; Crawfordsville; Fortville and Hagerstown.

Knightstown Public Library, Knightstown, IN

The New Castle Courier Times had this to say about the selections as it announced the Knightstown Library recognition: “Twenty-five small-town libraries in Indiana will be recognized with the book donation and program to coordinate with the United Nations Celebration. The last program-enhancing award featured a 2018 book with Civil War local focuses.”

Posted in Book Awards |

Hawthorne Publishing Announces Outstanding Small Indiana Libraries Awards

Twenty-five outstanding small Indiana libraries will be honored by Hawthorne Publishing with recognition and a programming award starting January 18. The Carmel publishing company has a special focus on Indiana’s smaller libraries and has recognized them with book awards and publicity. The last award was in 2017 to twenty-five small libraries.

This year twenty-five different small libraries are again spotlighted. Hawthorne researches the libraries online and authors who have visited these branches or town libraries look for lively reading activities, town civic and in-library representation, and staff innovation and programming.

“It is in these small buildings, often still Carnegie libraries, that small-town life often centers,” says Nancy Baxter, Senior Editor at the Carmel Company. “They provide access to new trends and thoughts through their flow of new books, education of the community through programs both live and now virtual, children’s activities featuring hundreds or thousands of books and reading circles, and book clubs which meet to discuss ideas and many other innovative activities.

The last set of awards was in 1917. The latest Hawthorne Civil War history book was donated by interested readers from clubs in Indiana who chose a personal favorite from a list of 50 libraries to honor their choices with the new Hawthorne book about Indiana’s home front during the war. News releases sent to newspapers in all the recognized communities reminded readers of that community’s Civil War participation and units specifically. Many of the small-town papers spotlighted the interest focus of the book and sent readers in to borrow it at the library to discover their local Civil War heritage.

This year Hawthorne’s recognition program focuses on a specific programming suggestion with its book donation and local publicity. The UN’s “International Women’s Day” Celebration 2021 is March 8. It centers on “Women in Leadership: Achieving an Equal Future in a Covid 19 World.” The new release from Hawthorne is Priestess of Pompeii: The Initiate’s Journey by Sandra Hurt. It is a novel depicting the struggle for recognition of an historically known priestess who lived in Pompeii in Julius Caesar’s time. Ten author questions about women’s growing leadership place and challenges as reflected in the book and today have been sent to the libraries along with the book.

“We hope that libraries may have discussion groups or feature activities on this worthwhile topic,” says Baxter. “Any participating library may also choose three of our Indiana books to add as our gift to their collection.”

NEXT WEEK: The twenty-five outstanding small libraries on the Hawthorne list.

Posted in Book Awards |

Hollywood Holiday Splendor: Doris Day’s Friends and a Glorious Holiday Tree

Mary Anne Barothy author of Day at a Time: An Indiana Girl’s Sentimental Journey to Doris Day’s Hollywood and Beyond

When I was Doris Day’s secretary back in the 1970s, Doris introduced me to a good friend of hers, Grace Emerson a numerologist. I had heard the term “numerology,” but had no idea of what it really was. According to Wikipedia, “Numerology is any belief in the divine or mystical relationship between a number and one or more coinciding events. It is also the study of the numerical value of the letters in words, names, and ideas. It is often associated with the paranormal, alongside astrology and similar divinatory arts.” A little different.

Doris encouraged me to go for a “reading” by Grace Emerson, which I did.  Doris was interested in knowing what Grace told me. At the time, I shared with Doris the ideas and thoughts Grace introduced me to as a part of her numerology beliefs. I admit this was all interesting and definitely “new” to me, but also somewhat confusing. I was happy to finally meet Grace and after that first reading, we struck up a friendship.  After all these years I really can’t remember what all Grace told me back then. As a good Catholic, that may have been just as well for me.

Harold Lloyd - A Pictorial History of the Silent Screen.jpgMy Father, Charles Barothy, passed away in May 1971. Later that summer my mother, Rose Barothy, came to spend some time with me in Los Angeles. I thought it would be good for her. This was while I was working for Doris when she was filming “The Doris Day Show” at CBS-TV in Studio City.  Grace was eager to meet my mother and wanted to help me show her around during her visit. Grace had been able to meet the daughter of the famous silent film star, Harold Lloyd. Gloria was now her client. Grace called Gloria to ask if she would take us on a tour of her dad’s awesome home. Grace said Gloria had extended the invitation many times, and I guess Grace was just waiting for a good time to take her up on this.  My mom’s visit was the perfect time for the tour.

The big day came, and Mom and I picked up Grace and we drove to meet Gloria at the incredible historic home of Harold Lloyd located at 1740 Green Acres Drive, Beverly Hills.  Also known as “Greenacres,” it was built in the 1920s by the silent film star, whom everybody remembered for his frightening role clinging to a clock tower in the film “Safety Last.” It remained Lloyd’s home until his death in 1971. The estate originally consisted of a 44-room mansion, golf course, outbuildings, and 900-foot (270 m) canoe run on 15 acres. It has been called “the most impressive movie star’s estate ever created.” After Lloyd died, the estate was subdivided into multiple lots, though the mansion remains and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.

The main attraction of the Greenacres holiday season was always its mighty Christmas tree…which, as befitting its silent comedy megastar owner who always thought big, was no ordinary tree. It was three trees lashed together. The enormous decoration was 20 feet tall and no less than 30 feet around, standing proudly at the end of the Lloyd family’s orangery. By the 1950s it held something in the neighborhood of $25,000 worth of ornaments collected from around the world–and was starting to be left up until March.  Believe me, some of those ornaments were nearly the size of basketballs!

Needless to say, thanks to Harold Lloyd’s daughter, Gloria, Grace, Mom and I were so lucky to get an up-close look at this historic mansion and the awesome Christmas tree.

Little did I realize that memories of that historic tour nearly 50 years ago would open up a new connection to Harold Lloyd. Somehow quite recently the Harold Lloyd Facebook page popped up on my Facebook page. I checked it out and was thrilled to see that giant Christmas tree which I remembered from our tour of the Lloyd mansion.  I decided to make a comment about having had the opportunity to tour the Lloyd home with Lloyd’s daughter, Gloria, and Grace Emerson.  Within a day, I had a comment from Suzanne Lloyd, Lloyd’s granddaughter.  She shared that she and her mom were great friends and admirers of Grace Emerson, our mutual friend. Needless to say, I responded to Suzanne and then sent her a copy of my book. Suzanne shared with me that she loved Doris Day, and shared Doris’s love of dogs, saying the Lloyds were dog crazy too!

It’s a small world. . . you just never know who you are destined to meet!  Thanks to Doris Day, I met Grace Emerson and Harold Lloyd’s daughter, and now am in touch with his granddaughter, Suzanne.  Fun memories touring the Harold Lloyd mansion. Oh, the good old days!

Posted in Cultural History, Doris Day |