Faith L. Justice is my Author of the Month for November. This Historical Fiction writer has penned 5 novels and a collection of short stories that if you haven’t read yet, you must! So, without further ado, let’s get to know Justice.
How has your upbringing inspired how you write your books?
I grew up reading historical fiction—much more exciting that the history texts in school. I think a lot of people feel the same way. We can immerse ourselves in a different world with exotic settings, but still see the humanity that binds us, through stories, across time—and learn a little something about history.
As I grew older, I read more straight history and noticed something depressing: nearly all the subjects were men and their accomplishments (usually in battle)! When I started digging, I found all sorts of fascinating women—scientists, generals, pirates, mathematicians, empresses, courtesans, spies, adventurers—too many to write about in one lifetime. I wanted to share their stories with a general audience, so historical fiction was the right fit. It allows me to tell women’s stories—specific and general—from all classes and situations.
What book would you say defines your childhood and which book would you say defines you now?
I from a farm country with a large family, so The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder captures the rural and family dynamic I grew up with. Although we had a few bad snowstorms and our house did catch on fire once, we never experienced the frontier hardships that family had to deal with. However, the sense of community is still the same.
What book defines me now is much harder. I’d like to say Sex in the City by Candace Bushnell because I’ve lived in New York for over thirty years, but you know the old saying, “You can take the girl out of the country, but you can’t the country out of the girl.” I’m afraid I live a very staid life. James Thurber’s short story “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” is a better fit. I spend my time daydreaming and telling stories—although I’m rarely the hero!
Do you have a favorite season, time of day, etc you like to write in?
Writing is my job, so I treat it like one. I get up, feed the cats and myself, and am at my writing computer by 10 am. I write until 1 pm—sometimes longer if I’m on a roll. Not all writing is on novels. I have short stories, reviews, blog posts, free-lance articles, etc. I’m trying to up my novel writing time, however, because I have so many ideas. I also fiercely protect these three hours—no phones, no internet, no family. Sometimes I write on the weekends if I’m on a deadline or the muse strikes me.
Afternoons are for miscellaneous publishing projects: rewriting, proofing, marketing, interior layout, and research. I try to knock off by six. During nice weather, I spend time digging in the dirt—my garden or volunteer archaeology projects. I just got back from a dig in Tuscany, Italy where we worked on a Roman villa that was occupied from the first through the fifth centuries. We uncovered some lovely mosaics!
What is the funniest typo you’ve ever written?
Oh my! I’ve forgotten so many. The most recent I can remember was a blog post where I talked about “navel battles”—belly button wars! Glad I caught it before I posted it.
Your latest book and first installment in The Theodosian Women series has become a firm favorite with me. Now, I’m excited I get to interview you on it!
Which historical character in your book would you have loved to have gone back in time and interview for the book?
That one is easy: Placidia. There is so little in the primary sources, I’d love to see what I got right and what I got wrong. Another interesting choice would be her daughter Honoria. There’s a lot of controversy about her life and historians don’t agree on much.
I’m a strong believer in ‘the truth is stranger than fiction’, what is the strangest thing you have had to research for the Twilight Empress?
Doing the research is the most fun part of writing historical fiction for me. I can really go down the research rabbit hole. One of my favorite historical tidbits that I included in the novel was Emperor Honorius’ fondness for his pet chickens. When a messenger told him, “Rome is gone!” (after the Goths took the city in 410), Honorius—referring to one of his favorite roosters named Rome—said something like, “But I fed him from my hand just a few minutes ago!”
Placidia married twice; Ataulf, King of the Visigoths and Constantius III, Roman Emperor, between the two who would be your love?
You’re asking me to choose between the Bad Boy and the Sensitive Guy? Actually, they were quite similar: both were successful and respected generals/leaders, smart and politically astute. Both seemed to have married for love—unusual for the times. My head says go with the more powerful Constantius, but my heart flutters for Ataulf the better horseman!
Placidia keeps going never letting herself truly breakdown though out all of the disasters she goes through. Why do you think she never broke down?
I think she did break down a couple of times. When her first child died, she went into a deep depression and it took loving friends and St. John’s wort (an herbal anti-depressant) to help her out of it. She has a couple more depressive episodes at key moments in her life. What I tried to portray in her character was a bed-rock sense of duty. She was raised to rule and felt it was her duty to give her life to the Roman Empire even at the expense of her own happiness or the happiness of those she loved.
As a reader, reading the chapter where Placidia’s stepchildren are viciously murdered after her first husband’s death was heart-wrenching. How did you feel when writing it?
That was hard, even though the deaths took place off-screen and we only see the aftermath. I’m a mother. Writing anything where a child is hurt or suffering makes me cry while writing it and when reading it later. I tear up just writing about writing it! I try to channel those raw feelings and describe them for the reader because that is what normal people feel and I want my characters to reflect real feelings.
Placidia treats her biological children differently from each other, if you could what advice would you give her?
I did give her advice…through other characters! Her niece Pulcheria saw the children’s faults and potential. She tried to help, but Placidia was blind to her own mistakes. From what little I could deduce from the history, I believe Placidia did indulge (and therefore stifle) her son and didn’t train her daughter in the more dangerous art of wielding imperial female power. I consider Placidia’s overprotectiveness of her children, her “tragic flaw.” Pulcheria offered to help, but was rebuffed.
In Placida’s position, how would you have handled Aetius?
That’s a tough one! I’m not sure what I would have done differently. Placidia struggled as a woman to preserve the imperial throne and its power for her minor son. I think she did a credible job of pitting Aetius’ ambition against that of other generals for quite some time. He was not alone in thinking a woman should not have the power that Placidia assumed as Augusta. He was a brilliant general and shrewd politician. Aetius would naturally look down on any female—no matter how talented—and assume he could do better. Nothing other than death or exile would deter him from trying to assume as much power as he could. And both death and exile would have been a disaster because Aetius was the glue that held the frontier together for decades. Without him, Western Rome would have fallen earlier.
Do you think Justa Grata Honoria meant the ring included in her plea letter to Attila to be a proposal of marriage?
Personally, no. I think she wanted to indicate the authenticity of the message. By inviting Attila to “rescue” her, she wanted to use him as she thought her mother had used the Goths throughout her life, as a threat against domestic opposition (in this case, Honoria’s brother Valentinian) or possibly as a last ditch escape from a hated marriage or possibly prison.
Do you think you will ever write Justa Grata Honoria’s story?
I’d like to! I also want to write about Placidia’s daughter-in-law Eudoxia and granddaughters Eudocia and Placidia the Younger who have fascinating stories of their own to tell later during the Vandal invasion and looting of Rome.
Would you call Placidia the ‘She-Wolf’ of Ancient Rome and if so are there any other strong women of her time you would add to the list?
Yes, Placidia was certainly fierce and I gave her the Roman Wolf as her standard when she returned to Ravenna. There were many strong (overlooked) women during that time. I’ve written about two Theodosian women (Placidia and her niece Pulcheria) and have a third novel started about Athenais, wife of Theodosius II. There are four generations of strong Theodosian women to explore—many more than I have time to write about. Outside of royalty, I’d recommend people look at the life of Hypatia, the Lady Philosopher of Alexandria. She was a renowned mathematician, astronomer, and civic leader. Her students held major offices in both the Church and government. It was while researching her life for my first book Selene of Alexandria—in which Hypatia is a major character—that I found Placidia and the rest of her impressive female relatives.
Have you visited the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia in Ravenna, Italy?
Yes, I spent days tramping around Ravenna, visiting its various museums and historical sites. The Mausoleum is a beautiful building. Remarkable that it has survived from the fifth century.
FUN FACT: As I mentioned in my author’s note, I used the Mausoleum’s interior as the model for Placidia’s actual tome in Rome. That tomb was torn down to build St. Peter’s. The Mausoleum in Ravenna was most likely a chapel built by her son Valentinian to honor St. Lawrence—considered the patron saint of the Theodosian line. The sarcophagi in the building supposedly used for Placidia, her husband, and her brother are all dated to different and later times. The building was probably rebranded as Placidia’s Mausoleum during Medieval or Renaissance times to attract tourists.
What are you currently working on?
So many projects, so little time! My second novel in the Theodosian Women series Dawn Empress about Placidia’s niece Pulcheria, is in final production and will be out in early 2020. I’m in the final editing phase of a prequel novella Twilight Princess about Placidia’s three years in Rome during the Goth sieges. That should also be out next year. The third novel in the series, Athenais’ story (wife of Theodosius II) is outlined and partially written. I’m celebrating the tenth anniversary of publishing my first book Selene of Alexandria with an audio edition and new cover and updated author note for the print and eBook. I’m trying to get back to a second book in my female gladiator series called Song of the Gladiatrix which is outlined and partially written, but I keep getting distracted with the Theodosians. I’m in the beta read phase with my second book in my middle-grade children’s series Adventurous Girls…oh my! It makes me tired just typing this.
Where can we buy your books and keep up to date with all your doing?
Thanks for hosting me on your blog, Zoe! To show my appreciation for your readers I’m giving away an eBook short story featuring one of my favorite fictional characters from Twilight Empress, please go to my website at FaithLJustice.com and sign up for “Angel of the Marshes.”
My books are available in print, eBook, and audio at all the usual online places or order from your local bookstore. People can connect with me online at my website or follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Happy reading, everyone!