August 24, AD 79: Vesuvius Destroys Pompeii!

The Arch of Tiberius in the ruins of Pompeii (ohoto from the Smithsonian Magazine)

August 24, 79 A.D. – Vesuvius, an active volcano in southern Italy, erupted and destroyed the cities of Pompeii, Stabiae and Herculaneum. Although we think of the destruction of the cities as a sudden, unexpected catastrophe, there was ample time for most residents (18,000 out of 20,000) to escape Pompeii. They could see the volcano erupting for several hours before the ash and lava engulfed the city itself. The 2,000 people who died were the ones who refused to leave, who insisted that they would be safe, that the danger was being exaggerated by others, that the city would escape unscathed. (Aren’t there always people like that, in every natural disaster, who refuse to leave when they have the chance and then endanger others who have to come and rescue them? I remember the folks who refused to leave flood-prone area during Hurricane Sandy.)

Mythology tells us that Hercules, in the performance of his 12 labors, passed through the area and found “a hill which anciently vomited out fire … now called Vesuvius.” It was inhabited by bandits, “the sons of the Earth,” who were giants. With the assistance of the gods, Hercules pacified the region and went on. Because of his exploits in the area, one of the cities took the name “Herculaneum;” tourists can visit its ruins today although they are not as famous as the ruins of Pompeii.

Because the city of Pompeii was totally overwhelmed and buried by ash, it was perfectly preserved until its re-discovery in 1599 and then popularization in 1748. The objects that lay beneath the city have been preserved for more than a millennium because of the long lack of air and moisture. These artefacts provide an extraordinarily detailed insight into the life of a city during the Pax Romana. During the excavation, plaster was used to fill in the voids in the ash layers that once held human bodies. This allowed archaeologists to see the exact position the person was in when he or she died.

Pompeii has been a tourist destination for over 250 years. I was lucky enough to spend a day there in the autumn of 2014 (or was it 2013?). It was amazing to see such a perfectly preserved city, just waiting to be re-inhabited. I’ll be happy to occupy a villa, if one becomes available!

#WerewolfWednesday

“Alexei” and I close-up at the Brooklyn Book Festival (September 2016)

I recently began a new feature on Facebook and Twitter by posting a brief, “fun fact” in honor of #WerewolfWednesday each week.

I got this idea during the International Thriller Writers conference I attended this July in midtown. (Over 700 authors from across North America and Canada were there but luckily I didn’t need to pay for airfare or hotel room; I only needed to ride the subway and buy a few extra lunches at a deli! The conference was a great experience — I learned a lot about writing, characterization, plotting, tension, etc. as well as practical things like what you can or cannot learn from an autopsy, how hostage negotiators work, how blood spatter can be examined, how the FBI forensics lab is organized. I met lots of thriller writers who work not only in supernatural thrillers but in many other subgenres as well. There were also lots of agents there and each agent I spoke with asked for sample pages of Earth to Earth, Ashes to Ashes–the novel I am currently working on.)

So far, #WerewolfWednesday has shared:

The elite did not believe werewolves existed. Church teaching insisted ALL werewolf claims were frauds.

Werewolf trials began in Switzerland during the 1600s and were finished by the late 1700s, just like witchcraft trials.

In Roman folktales, a man became a wolf after eating a child’s intestines but was restored to human form after 10 years.

Upcoming #WerewolfWednesday features will include werewolf folklore from the Satyricon, as well as from Slavic, French, Italian, and German sources.

If you haven’t “liked” or “followed” my Author Pages on Facebook or Twitter, click on the links above!

Map of Bones

In the wrong hands, the bones of the Magi could destroy the world!

During a crowded service at a cathedral in Germany, armed intruders in monks’ robes unleash a nightmare of blood and destruction. But the killers have not come for gold; they seek a more valuable prize: the bones of the Magi who once paid homage to a newborn savior . . . a treasure that could reshape the world.

With the Vatican in turmoil, Sigma Force under the command of Grayson Pierce leaps into action, pursuing a deadly mystery that weaves through sites of the Seven Wonders of the World and ends at the doorstep of an ancient, mystical, and terrifying secret order. For there are those with dark plans for the stolen sacred remains that will alter the future of humankind . . . when science and religion unite to unleash a horror not seen since the beginning of time.

Looking for a good book to read this summer? I highly recommend Map of Bones by James Rollins.

The book opens with an attack on the relics (bones) of the Magi in Cologne on July 23, the anniversary of the day the relics were brought to Cologne in 1164. The Three Kings were very popular and attracted a constant stream of pilgrims to Cologne. Construction of the present Cologne Cathedral was begun in 1248 to house these important relics. The cathedral took 632 years to complete and is now the largest Gothic church in northern Europe.

A mystery, “The Bishop and the Three Kings” by Andrew Greeley, is also about the theft of the shrine.

Read more about the shrine of the Magi in Cologne here.