Title: Vestal Virgin—suspense in ancient Rome
Author : Suzanne Tyrpak (Foreward: Blake Crouch)
Genre: Suspense/Romantic Suspense
Format: print & ebook
Links to buy:
Kindle UK http://www.amazon.co.uk/Vestal-Virgin/dp/B004G093HQ/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1301199117&sr=1-1
Tell us the story behind the story. What inspired you to write this novel?
About seven years ago (before my divorce, when I had some expendable income) I traveled to Rome with a group of writers. I fell in love with Italy, Rome in particular. A travel book I read contained a short blurb about vestal virgins; it mentioned they were sworn to thirty years of chastity and, if that vow were broken, they would be entombed alive. That got me going! Plus, on a tour of the Coliseum, a guide pointed out the seats designated to the vestal virgins--the six priestess of Vesta were educated, and therefore powerful, at a time when most women weren't even taught to read.
I traveled to Rome twice, and on my second trip I hired a scholar who specialized in the year I'm writing about, A.D. 63-64, to give me a tour of the Forum. One of the most useful books I found was History of the Vestal Virgins of Rome, published in 1934 by T. Cato Worsfold. I also wrote to Colleen McCullough, and she was kind enough to write back. She gave me the name of an out-of-print book that I've used a lot, Festivals and Ceremonies of the Roman Republic, by H.H. Scullard. I have shelves of books about Roman history and Paul of Tarsus. Very little has been written about vestal virgins--but that gave me quite a bit of leeway. After all, I'm writing fiction!
Tell us about the book cover. How does it represent your book? How did you choose the artwork?
Jeroen ten Berge http://jeroentenberge.com/ designed the cover. He brought in the mosaic motif prevalent in ancient Rome, beautifully. I love the purity of the white background and the drama of the viper coming out of the flame.
XIV before the Kalends of January
Year IX, reign of Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus
I find my mood blacker than these winter nights. The dark of the year is dedicated to Vesta, goddess of the hearth, but tonight her fire offers me no light. I see no way out of this obscurity—
Elissa touched the vial of mandragora she hid within her stola.
Tonight, as you know, a new vestal virgin will be chosen by lottery at Nero’s Saturnalia feast. Some place their bets on Faustina Equita, daughter of a wealthy corn merchant; others favor Claudia Avisia. Astrologers have studied the position of the stars, haruspices have interpreted the splayed entrails of twenty bullocks, but you and I know, Nero will decide the outcome.
She gazed through the open ceiling of her father’s atrium. A single star floated in a sea of night. Pigeons cooed in the rafters and the house creaked as water carried heat beneath the floorboards. She shifted in her chair, unable to get comfortable.
Across from her, Flavia reclined on a couch, her slender legs propped on cushions, her tumbled hair gilded by the oil-lamp’s glow.
“What are you writing?” Flavia asked.
“Nothing.” Elissa ripped the papyrus in half and fed it to the brazier’s flames. She wandered aimlessly around the room and returned to her chair.
“Do you think Pater will get better?” Flavia asked.
“I don’t know.”
Their father had suffered another bout of apoplexy. Weakness of the heart, according to Doctor Karpos. Elissa had spent the afternoon tending him. Only at her mother’s insistence had she left the stuffy bedchamber. Constantina, ever dutiful, would sit vigil by her husband’s side throughout the night. Consequently, Elissa had been appointed to represent her family and escort Flavia to the Saturnalia banquet.
“We should go,” she said. “Get this over with.”
“I don’t want to arrive early. I intend to make an entrance.”
Spurius shuffled across the room and set a bowl of apples on a small table that stood between the sisters. “A Saturnalia gift from Gallus Justinus. He hopes your parents will accept, and—” The old slave’s shaggy eyebrows lowered, and his gaze fixed on Flavia. “He offers his apologies.”
“Thank you, Spurius,” Elissa said, cutting short his impending lecture.
“It’s others should apologize.” Spurius left the atrium, his gait decidedly more sprightly.
No doubt he was headed to the kitchen for a helping of food and gossip. The servants would huddle over fish stewed with onions, discussing moral values, whispering about Flavia’s impropriety, ruminating on the fate of the House of Rubrius. Later, woes forgotten, they’d go out to celebrate.
Extending her foot, Flavia pushed away the bowl of apples with her toes. “According to Nero,” she said, “apples harm the vocal cords.”
“By all means, let’s give him several.”
The vial of mandragora felt cold against Elissa’s breast.
If only she could be a child again curled in her father’s lap, secure within the safety of his arms. If only she could play a game of hide and seek with Marcus or help her mother to spin flax. If only she could live a different life. How pleasant it would be to gather in the evening with her family for a meal, discuss the day’s events with her husband, weave bedtime stories for the children.
She glanced at the curtain leading to her father’s bedchamber. “I’d better check on Pater.”
“He’s asleep,” Flavia said. “The physician prescribed a potion.” Sitting up, she stretched her arms. She bent over the table, examining the bowl of apples, touching each of them before choosing the brightest scarlet apple in the bowl. Falling back onto the couch, she took a noisy bite.
“You just said apples harm the voice.”
Flavia shrugged. “Lot’s of things are bad for me, but I still like them.”
Elissa shot her a disapproving look. “It’s not too late to change your mind.”
“I have other plans.” Flavia crunched the apple.
“Nero murdered your brother. Burned him alive.”
“I’ll make sure he gets his punishment.”
“I have my ways.” Flavia took another bite, severing the apple’s core.
Sitting straighter in her chair, Elissa studied her sister. When had she become so cold? “How do you think Marcus would feel,” she said, “if he saw what you are doing? If he knew you planned to bed the man who murdered him?”
“Marcus is dead. His opinion doesn’t matter.”
“He died to save your life.”
“To save my life?”
“Nero threatened to have you tortured. When Marcus heard that threat, he donned the poisoned robe.”
Flavia stopped chewing. “Even if that’s true, it doesn’t change my plans.”
“Of course not. You care only for yourself, your position in society.”
“And you don’t? You’re a vestal virgin. Educated, allowed to own property. You have freedom other women dream about. Would you give up your freedom to marry Egnatius?” Flavia spat a seed onto the floor. “I know what men are, and I know how to use them.”
“You think you can control Nero?”
“I know what he wants.”
“You have no idea.”
Flavia pursed her carmine lips, the color of a prostitute’s. “He’s a man, Elissa. He might select me as a vestal, but I won’t remain a virgin. And I’ll see he pays a high price for the honor.”
“Fool!” Elissa slapped the apple from Flavia’s hand, and the fruit bounced across the tiles. “You think you’ll outmaneuver Nero?”
“I intend to try.”
“Don’t go to the feast. I’ll make your excuses, explain Pater has fallen ill. A vestal’s parents must be of good health—”
“How can you be so selfish? Marry Egnatius and you may live to be a mother. Marry Egnatius and our parents may survive to become grandparents. Stupid girl!”
“You’re the fool, Elissa. Pining away for Gallus Justinus. Do you think he’ll wait another twenty years for you? You think he’ll want to couple with a hag of forty?” She smiled. “I wonder what it would be like to bed him.”
Elissa clenched her jaw, controlling the urge to slap her sister.
“He’s well built, I grant you,” Flavia said. “No wonder women find him attractive. Have you noticed his bulge? I’m trying to imagine how large his member gets. You know they swell, don’t you, Elissa? Grow hard and big, long as a cucumber.”
“A cucumber?” Elissa couldn’t help but ask.
“And point straight up, like a spear. I’ll bet Justinus’s phallus is bigger than a bull’s, bigger than an elephant’s, bigger than—”
Flavia surveyed the bowl of apples and chose a yellow one. “I think you’re
“Have you never wondered what it would be like to slide your naked body against a man’s, to feel him deep inside of you—”
“Quiet.” Elissa glanced toward their father’s chamber. She ran her hand over her forehead and noticed she felt feverish. How many nights had she lain awake, imagining?
“Catch.” Flavia tossed her the apple.
“Has Nero taken your virginity?”
“Not yet.” Flavia started up the stairs, then turned back to Elissa. “Perhaps tonight. I’m going to get ready now.”
If Flavia hadn’t run, Elissa would have tackled her.
Sinking back into her chair, she examined the apple. Yellow with a rosy blush.
Where can readers find out more about you and your work?
Suzanne Tyrpak ran away from New York a long time ago to live in Colorado. Her debut novel is Vestal Virgin, suspense set in ancient Rome, available as a trade paperback and in all eformats. Her collection of nine short stories Dating My Vibrator (and other true fiction) is available on Kindle, Nook and Smashwords. J.A. Konrath calls it, “Pure comedic brilliance.” Her short story Downhill was first published in Arts Perspective Magazine. Rock Bottom is published in the Mota 9: Addiction anthology, available on Kindle. Her short story Ghost Plane was published by CrimeSpree Magazine. Venus Faded appears in the anthology Pronto! Writings from Rome (Triple Tree Publishing, 2002) along with notable authors including: Dorothy Allison, Elizabeth Engstrom, Terry Brooks and John Saul. Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers awarded her first prize in the Colorado Gold Writing Contest, and Maui Writers awarded her third prize in the Rupert Hughes writing competition.
My Amazon Author page: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B003ZTP0J4
My Blog, “Who’s Imagining All This” http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B003ZTP0J4
My Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Suzanne-Tyrpak/144232238928903