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Insights from Hawthorne Publishing

An interview with Sandra Hurt, author of our Priestess of Pompeii: The Initiate’s Journey.

Sandy’s book was released last fall and is featured in the “Winds of Change” division of Hawthorne Publishing. It is the result of twenty-five years of Sandy’s intensive research into learning about ancient Pompeii and the writing of a story of an historical figure there, a priestess who occupied the Villa of the Mysteries.

Q. You’re at work on the second book in this historical novel series. How was the first book received?

Sandy: I was surprised and overwhelmed at the initial deluge of orders from Amazon. We hadn’t been able because of Covid to have the opening at Eiteljorg Museum in Downtown Indianapolis where we’d planned to celebrate the book. But publicity, news, got around and there were many initial orders.

Q. What kind of publicity? Have there been reviews?

Sandy: I was pleased with the review in Italian media, the April “Primo Magazine” as one example. The reviewer said “Priestess of Pompeii is that rare novel, both entertaining and educational. A Page turner to be relished.” I should show a little modesty—you can see others on the webpage “Sandra Hurt author of Priestess of Pompeii.”

Q. So now you are several chapters into Volume II, the continuing story of Ariana Estacidia, a strong but vulnerable woman with a disability (epilepsy ) who aspires to, and becomes, a revered priestess of Dionysius.

Sandy: I thought the book would be one volume—then realized that the full story must be told in two books.

Q. What’s different about writing the sequel?

Sandy:  It’s in some ways easier. I know the full story, the steps she must take along the way, the outcome. But there are other things to worry about: giving the Book I reader memory jogs about characters and happenings,  and bringing the new reader up to date, feeding pieces of information he/she needs to know from Book I.  I always think “the muse is already ahead of me.” And telling the story becomes relentless. I was in bed the other night and a new plot line began to come to me. Eventually I had to get up and write it out, put it into the book.

Q. How did the real happenings in Pompeii in Julius Caesar’s time, that’s before the famous eruption of Mount Vesuvius, affect you, or complicate the writing?

Sandy:  It happened a lot. I always had to see if Ariana was doing something, eating some food, she couldn’t have eaten at that time. For instance, I wanted her to read the poet Vergil, to put that into the narrative, but he was too young for this time-period. He wouldn’t have had his career flourishing yet.

Q. And of course it is too early in this book for the infamous volcanic destruction of this major city of Roman life and commerce.

Sandy: Yes, Ariana would have been gone by the time the eruption occurred, 44 A.D.

But there are small references in the book to the looming Mount Vesuvius beyond the city for Pompeii lore enthusiasts, and to the earthquakes which shake the ground in Ariana’s time.

Q. Faulkner had a clothesline strung in his dining room, on which he placed little pieces of paper which were his consecutive chapters, noting the plots in each chapter. How are you structuring the outline of the book into progressive chapters in the sequel?

Sandy: Really the situation I’d set up in the first book, which is an initiate’s journey, determine the plot’s progress. Research showed the development of young girls and boys and households, the structure of the male business society which dominated Rome and Pompeii at the time and to which the Estacidia family belonged, so those were wayposts for my chapters and story.

Q. The story is well known of the conceiving of the story of this book: visiting Pompeii you went off the tour route and discovered the Villa of the Mysteries, excavated decades ago. You saw on the wall a mosaic of a beautiful woman, a priestess, who seemed to call to you and take you back in time. You determined to recreate her life, about which nothing was known except her name. But how then, after research, put all of the many hundreds of possible steps in this woman’s life into a readable book, with chapters moving a story ahead?

Sandy: There was so much information. I couldn’t quite structure what I’d learned and imagined about Ariana’s probable life into a straight-forward story. Finally a friend sat me down and said, “Tell me about her life.” Make it simple. Then I could structure a story.

Q. We have read the poignant story in Book I of the death of Ariana’s betrothed, the young man she dearly loved, Titus. How did that narrative event come to you, and how important was it for the plot?

Sandy:  He drowns—a terribly upsetting incident in the young woman’s life.  It changes everything for her. Now instead of being the wife and head of a wealthy Roman’s household and mother of children, she is freed to follow her destiny, an unusual one in Roman society. Titus’s death deepened her life. She is a voracious learner and now must improve her education, expand her potential if she wishes to be a priestess. It is a key event in this story.

Q. When do you expect to complete Book II?

I’m progressing, taking the book through peer input at the Indiana Writers Center as I did for Book I, but basically being guided now by my own insights and what the characters are doing and telling me. It’s a two-year process.

You can buy Priestess of Pompeii by clicking back to our website.