Thank you, Jessi, for allowing me to guest-post on your wonderful blog. I love historical fiction for many reasons, the main one being that I get to lose myself in another world and another time. I wanted to create that sense of actually being in Egypt and Rome in my young adult novel, Cleopatra’s Moon. So I steeped myself in the sensory experiences of those worlds by asking:
What did things smell like?
The Temple of Isis in Egypt smelled of sharp, smoky incense, lotus oil, and roses, the favorite flower of the goddess. The streets of Rome smelled of sausages cooking on small outdoor braziers, of scorching hair and flesh as the dead burned on pyres right outside the city, or of the heavy sweetness of blooming narcissus and iris flowers at the public gardens.
What did you hear?
In Egypt’s temples, you heard the drone of chanting priests and priestesses, the tinny jangling of sacred sistrums (like small, all metal- tambourines), and sacred prayers recited in the “Old Tongue.”
In Rome, you heard the cries of the baker, sausage maker, and wine seller hawking their wares in the accents of their native lands, Britannia, Germania, or Persia. Or, if you walked by the arena, you heard the roar of the crowds as the gladiatorial games began.
What did things feel like?
In Cleopatra’s palace, you could run your fingertips over the cool smoothness of yellow-streaked Numidian marble or slip into a dress of linen woven so finely the fabric moved like water.
In Rome, you could sink up to your chin in the thermae, the hot baths, as scented steam swirled around you. Then you could hop into the frigidarium, the cold-water baths, for a bracing wake-me-up.
What did you see? On Cleopatra’s rooftop palace garden, you saw potted palms and papyrus stalks rustling in the breezes in front of a sparking turquoise Mediterranean sea, set off by the brilliant white marble of the giant Lighthouse of Alexandria.
In Rome, you saw men wrapped in togas, arguing politics as they walked to the Forum; chickens roaming in muddy, crowded lanes; and slaves of all nationalities rushing to satisfy the needs of their increasingly wealthy Roman masters.
How did things taste?
In Egypt, flamingo-tongues roasted in vine leaves were smoky and sweet while beer brewed in the ancient ways was heavy and bitter. In Rome, tiny dormice roasted in honey were popped into the mouth whole for a light, sweet snack while garum—salty, fish sauce—was poured over almost everything, including meats, soft cheese and vegetables.
When I read historical fiction, I want to be transported into another world. So, in writing Cleopatra’s Moon, I did my best to create that experience for readers as well.
Thank you again, Jessi, for having me here!
My pleasure, Vicky! :)
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