Today’s the day! It is Rome’s 2,774th birthday, and in honor of the Eternal City, today is the day that the new e-book editions of From Unseen Fire and Give Way to Night are released into the wild!
You can acquire them from your favorite purveyor of digital fiction* at the hot-hot price of just $2.99 each.
*The Kindle version may be slow to appear, because AMZ chooses to be difficult if you upload through a third party rather than through them, but it will be there soon if it isn’t at the moment you see this!
Why am I calling them “newly revised and improved”? Well, it’s mostly a joke. Early modern books would put that on the cover to sell second editions of their quartos. Sometimes the revisions really were substantial, as when Q1 Hamlet became the version most people know today. Sometimes… enh, not so much.
What’s the case for the Aven Cycle? Well, From Unseen Fire most definitely is amended, augmented, and, I think, improved! I trimmed over 6,000 words from the final draft! And… you won’t miss most of them. A lot of that was tightening verb forms — getting rid of extraneous “had/were/was” constructions — and trimming clutter. Amazing how much of that bloat there can be in a manuscript!
I would remiss not to mention the software that helped me do all of that, AutoCrit. It is genuinely such a helpful tool to help a writer think about choosing the best, strongest words. I’m really loving it, and I’m looking forward to using it on my books in the future!
I also did trim a few full paragraphs out of From Unseen Fire. Not many, but there were a couple of places where I bounced into the head of a character who I once thought might’ve had potential to grow, but who never ended up developing into a full POV, or where I foreshadowed something that will never come to fruition. It happens! And one of the advantages afforded to me by these strange circumstances is the chance to go back and tweak, which many authors never get a chance to do.
So, like I said, it’s probably not anything you’ll even notice if you read the first edition of From Unseen Fire and decide to revisit the story in the new e-book edition, but I hope it will make for a more satisfying experience, even if subconsciously. Give Way to Night, I pretty much left alone, as it was a tighter book to begin with. I learned a lot between 2011 and 2018, as it turns out!
I would really love for these new editions to have a solid re-launch, so if you have $2.99 to spare, or even $5.98!, I would be thrilled and delighted if you bought a copy.
Thanks to everyone who’s been so supportive as I’ve careened my way through these rough waters!
Back in November, I had the great joy of getting to “visit” (via video chat) a creative writing class at Clover Hill High School in Chesterfield County, VA — just south of where I grew up and currently live! They were participating in NaNoWriMo, and their teacher asked if I’d come speak as someone who had done Nano for a lot of years and was now living the writerly life. I was delighted to oblige.
Their questions were fantastic and thoughtful, and I really enjoyed chatting with them! With their teacher’s permission, I wanted to share some of those astute questions and my answers more publicly:
Did you start writing for fun or was this something you always wanted?
I’ve always been a storyteller, but when I was 11, I decided I wanted to be a novelist. Since then, there’s really been no stopping me. I don’t see writing for fun and writing professionally as mutually exclusive, though! I love the things I write professionally, but I also still write occasional fanfiction purely for my own pleasure.
Was there a particular teacher or friend or another person you knew personally that influenced you to become a writer?
I had several teachers who did a lot to boost my confidence. Bear O’Bryan, to whom From Unseen Fire is dedicated, was my creative writing teacher in high school. He was the first one to tell me that I could really, really do this. Actually, what he said was, “We’ll be studying you someday,” which I think is over-optimistic when it comes to literature classes’ general engagement with fantasy books, but! it was incredibly affirming to hear.
Do your parents support your writing? And if so, does that make things easier or harder on you?
This is an incredibly astute question from someone whom I am guessing has parents a lot like mine! Yes, my parents are incredibly supportive. They are my biggest fans and loudest cheerleaders. I am so, so grateful that for 24 years, they have believed in me and in my ability to do this. But it can be a weird sort of stressful, too! They love me so much that they can’t always understand why the rest of the world hasn’t caught on. I have to temper their expectations sometimes, which is hard when I also want to make them proud!
How do you get over writer’s block?
First, by not believing in it.
It’s like the Fae. If you name it, you give it power. If I’m having trouble focusing on writing, it usually means one of two things is going on: there’s something wrong with the story or there’s something wrong with me. If there’s something wrong with me — if I’m having a high anxiety day or a depressive fit, or if there’s something external with family or friends or work putting pressure on me, then I need to give myself room for that. Some days, the juice is just plain not there, and I can’t force it. If there’s something wrong with the story, then I need to figure out what that is. What pieces aren’t fitting together? What character is being railroaded into an action that isn’t right for them? Where am I going through contortions trying to justify a plot element?
So the better question is: How do I generate new words when I’m struggling and it isn’t a moment when I need to grant myself grace? When I need to buckle down but am having trouble doing so? There are a few things I try:
Change the scene: Sometimes I just need to jump to a new place in the narrative in order to reinvigorate my attention span.
Change the POV: Sometimes I’m trying to write a scene from the wrong character’s perspective — or I might have put them into a situation that’s wrong for them, an action that goes against the grain of their character.
Sprinting: This works particularly well during NaNo seasons, when there are word sprints on Twitter, but I can force myself to do it on my own using a good timing app.
How do you generate new ideas for writing?
Too few ideas has never been my problem. Too many is. I have to figure out what ideas are workable. That’s where the heavy lifting of being a writer comes in.
Where do I find inspiration? History and art. History is full of so many interesting stories, but what I really love is social history, how people have lived their lives throughout time. Art reflects that through a lot of lenses, cultural and aesthetic and political. I love looking at paintings and statues to see how artists represent themselves and the past, figuring out whether they’re presenting something realistic or idealized.
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
How much do you write in a day?
Utterly depends on the day and the kind of work I’m doing. During NaNoWriMo, the goal is 1667, and I usually do a pretty good job with that. Some days, I can go way past that, when I get into a really good flow. Other times, I might struggle to hit 200 in a day.
Editing is a different kind of work where the word count isn’t what’s important. I might be restructuring scenes, I might be condensing bloated scenes or plotlines, I might be staring at the screen trying to figure out what mystical ingredient I’m still missing that makes this perfect. That’s all work, too.
It’s important to remember, too, that “more words” does not always equal “better words”. A 2500 word day is not superior to a 200 word day if those 2500 words are self-indulgent padding or a pointless digression that I’ll end up cutting later on. The challenge is always finding the right words. I track my progress each day for the sake of accountability, to make sure I’m at my desk and focusing, but that can’t be the only measure I validate myself by.
Do you ever feel tired of writing?
I don’t think “tired of” is the right phrasing. I get frustrated with it, when I can’t figure out the solution to a plot problem. I get aggravated when the pieces aren’t coming together as well or as quickly as I’d like. And there’s a lot in the publishing realm that’s mentally and emotionally challenging in a whole different way, separate from the writing work itself.
There are times when I’m simply not in the right headspace to write. I have to acknowledge that and give myself room for it. When anxiety and depression are eating me, or when I have 80 papers to grade in a short span of time, or when, for instance, armed maniacs storm the Capitol and try to dismantle our republic, I have to give myself permission to have “off” days!
What’s the process for publishing a book and what’s necessary in order to get it ready for publication?
So, a caveat: This will look different for everyone. No one’s path is exactly the same as anyone else’s. I’ll also be talking about traditional publishing, which is different from the process for a hybrid author or a self-publishing author.
Write the book. Edit it. Get some beta readers — people who will read the book carefully and give you thoughtful commentary on it. (There are helpful guides online if you’re not sure what to ask them!) Edit it some more based on their feedback.
Query an agent. There’s a lot of advice out there on how to do this; broadly you want to make sure you’re choosing agents who are right for you and your book (ie, don’t query someone who doesn’t represent your genre) and you want to follow whatever guidelines are on their website. They may request either a partial or a full manuscript if they want to see more.
If you get signed, they may or may not take the book out “on sub” immediately. “On sub” means that your agent is submitting your book to editors at publishing houses. My agent, Connor, is an editorial agent; we did months’ worth of edits on From Unseen Fire before he took it out — and then we did some more when the first round of submissions didn’t land us a deal.
When an editor likes your book, they may still have to justify that to a board for approval. If the board says no, there’s still no deal. This happened to me; it happens to lots of authors. I mention it because it’s a part of the process that not many people talk about publicly, but it can be so nerve-wracking to wait for that news. I wish there were more resources preparing authors for being on sub the way there are so many resources for querying.
When an editor makes an offer, your agent will negotiate the contract. Connor got me a 3-book deal off of one manuscript and managed to hold onto audio and other rights so that we could sell those separately.
Then the editor has at it. You’ll generally have several rounds of editing, starting with developmental edits, which covers the big structural stuff — plotlines, character arcs, pacing, etc. There may be a lot or a little to work on there! From Unseen Fire still needed heavy lifting when it got acquired; Give Way to Night was already tighter by the time my editor saw it. Then, line edits, which addresses your word choice, sentence flow, the detailed stuff. Copy edits check for errors and consistency. Then, finally, proofreading makes sure the print copy is going to look exactly the way you want it to! (In theory; the occasional typo will still get through even if many eyes have been on it!)
Somewhere in there, you start talking about cover art, jacket copy, getting blurbs, and it’s all quite terrifying, because that’s when it starts to hit you that this is real and really happening and actual people are going to read it.
How long did it take you to write From Unseen Fire? How about Give Way to Night?
The drafting of FUF began in November 2011 (it was a Nano project!), and I finished it in June of the following year. Not every month was a heavy writing month — I feel like March and April I really slacked off because they were such busy months where I was working then. And then it took the rest of that year to edit into a shape that was ready for querying. Edits happened with both Connor and the DAW team, so it was almost six and a half years from initial drafting to on-the-shelf.
GWtN took longer to draft, even though the overall process was shorter. Some of that material was stuff that had been excised from FUF, so you’d think I’d have a head start — but so much of FUF changed during various rounds of editing that not much was useable as-is. I had to do a lot of alteration of that material to make it fit the new arcs. Then, I was also trying to write it during what was a very difficult year for me personally — and as a result, it took a long time to write what was not a very good book on the first try. The revision took about another six months, and that was much better, much stronger. I learned a lot through that whole process, with the result that I think Give Way to Night is an even better book than From Unseen Fire.
What’s the difference between writing the first book and then the second one?
Expectations. The first book, I wrote with a lot of hope, but with no one’s voice in my head but me. The second book, suddenly there are all these other voices. I was trying to make so many people happy — not just me, not even just my editor, but everyone who had read From Unseen Fire. I wanted to improve the things they thought were weak and give them more of what they thought were strong.
The problem, of course, is that not all readers agreed! I got really self-conscious about the things that readers criticized, but it was almost harder when there was, say, a character that some readers loved and others thought was pointless and boring. What do I do with that??The answer: Ignore it.
This is part of what took Give Way to Night so long to draft on the first go. I hadn’t yet learned how to tune out all that extra noise. I had to recommit myself to telling the story I wanted to tell.
I also learned my lesson about reading reviews. I don’t do it anymore. I have someone I trust look at them for me occasionally and send me the best comments.
Is it scary putting writing out there in the world and waiting for people to respond to it?
Yes. Horrifying. That in-between place when it’s done and dusted but no one’s read it yet is an absolute nightmare, because at that point, it’s out of my control. All I can do is hope I wrote a strong book.
Worldbuilding is a really big task and can be as detailed as an author wants. Where do you typically start when building a world (setting, character, theme, etc.)?
I tend to begin with an aesthetic. I have a sense of what the world looks like. That’s typically influenced by history. For the Aven Cycle, it’s late Republic Rome. For other projects I currently have on the back burner, it’s late-medieval Byzantium and early modern London. Then I start putting together characters to move around inside that world. I may still be designing the world at the same time! But I sort of build the dollhouse and the dolls simultaneously. One informs the other so much that it’s difficult to pull apart.
Is it difficult to keep track of character development from one novel to another?
No. Not for me, at least. Other authors’ mileage may certainly vary. I know who my characters are. If I have one particular strength as a writer, I think that’s it. So I have a strong sense of who they are at any given point in time, how they respond to pressure points, how they developed as they grew older, what they’ll grow into in the future, all of that. I can manipulate the world around them and easily see how they’ll react.
Now — Keeping track of eye color, ages, things like that, yes, that can be rough, especially for the tertiary and functionary characters that I spend less time with. I have spreadsheets for that and I still screw it up.
How do you write about characters or worlds that you haven’t experienced yourself?
A lot of research. Never-ending research, really, because it’s not just research about one historical period or place; it’s research about people and how we live. I try to expose myself to new ideas and to stories outside of my own life experience, so that I get a broader view of what moves and shakes people. I read a lot, fiction and nonfiction. I listen to a lot of podcasts. I never want to stop learning.
Thanks again to the students of Clover Hill for such wonderful questions! I hope my answers were in some way helpful.
Did you know? My supporters on Patreon get early access to posts like this, as well as weekly microfiction, explorations of rhetoric, behind-the-page shop talk, sneak peeks, and much more! Join for just $3/month to get access to the full feed!
I am beyond delighted to announce that From Unseen Fire has won this year’s Webster Award, bestowed by RavenCon in recognition of “outstanding achievement in genre writing by a Virginia author”! Thank you to everyone who has supported this book and shared the love!
And if you haven’t read From Unseen Fire yet — you’re in luck! My publisher is currently running a sweepstakes!
Click through here to enter! There’s plenty of time to get caught up on the world of Aven before Give Way to Night comes out on December 29th. And if you have already read From Unseen Fire? Enter the sweepstakes and maybe you’ll win a copy to give to a friend! ;D
In case you haven’t heard, the USPS is in trouble. This is bad for everyone. The USPS is the only service willing to deliver to rural areas without charging exorbitant rates. Private services like UPS and FedEx frequently rely on USPS to handle their actual deliveries. Mail carriers are vital parts of the community. The postal service is literally in the Constitution, that’s how important it is. But we’ve got a maniac in charge of the government who has somehow reasoned that cruise ships are more essential to our society’s functioning than mail and who has threatened to veto — yes, veto — any pandemic spending bill that gives money to keep the postal service viable.
The USPS operates entirely off of sales. It doesn’t get public funding, which is absolutely wild to me. (That change happened in the 1980s; thanks, Reagan). So if you had “citizenry has to step up to save the post office” on your 2020 bingo card, time to mark that one off. Buying stamps is a super-easy way to help them keep revenue up. You can even get them online and they’ll be dropped off in your mailbox!
As it happens, I realized I’ve got a huge stack of From Unseen Fire promo postcards which were intended for spring and summer cons. So I’m going to do my part to help the USPS by buying a big ol’ roll of postcard stamps and sending these puppies out!
Want one? Just let me know where to find you! I’m going to attempt to embed a form below, but in the event that doesn’t work (I’ve heard that Google Forms often have trouble with mobile embedding, particularly), here’s the direct link.
This roll has 100 stamps on it, so I’ll guarantee a postcard to the first 100 people. Past that, we’ll see about getting a second roll. 😉
Go listen. Listen to the episode I’m in, then go back and listen to the other eleven, then listen to the one I’m on again, then keep listening to new episodes as they come out.
The podcast as a whole discusses the process of worldbuilding for fantasy novels. So far they’ve covered basics like geography and deep-dives into things like fiber arts. I’m in the episode “The Play’s the Thing”, focusing on the arts and popular entertainment. A natural fit for a Shakespeare scholar, really, and I do spend a lot of time in the episode nattering on about early modern theatrical culture. We talk about the socioeconomic conditions surrounding art, how technology affects art, and the role that art and entertainment play in society and politics. Honestly, I could’ve gone on for another six hours. Recording the podcast was an absolute blast, and I hope you’ll enjoy listening to it.
While I mention a few things to do with ancient Rome in the episode, I thought I’d expand a little bit here and talk about some of the pop culture that shows up in From Unseen Fire, and some of the things I’m building into Books Two and Three as well.
A lot of the arts and entertainment in the Aven Cycle show up at the patrician dinner parties. Socioeconomics, after all! The people with lots of disposable income are the ones who can burn a lot of cash amusing themselves.
Dancers are mentioned both at the Vitelliae dinner party early in the book and at the Autroniae Saturnalia revels towards the end. Dance was a spectator sport for most Romans by the end of the Republic. Earlier in their history it may have had religious purpose and been something citizens even of high status would have engaged in, but as the centuries went on, it became considered more vulgar. Country peasants might have danced for pleasure, but for Romans in the city, dancing was something to watch, not do. The dancers would have mostly been slaves or perhaps freedmen and women of very low social status, on a level with actors.
What sort of entertainment did the Romans (and, thus, my Aventans) actually engage in? Wordplay tops the list. Riddles were a common form of game at parties, as Marcia Tullia shows us during the hunting getaway at her country estate:
“Let’s have a game, instead. I heard an excellent riddle at Appia’s last party. Dear, would you be so kind as to share it?”
The Romans loved puzzles and paradoxes akin to the Two-Door Riddle made famous by Labyrinth. They also played with visual puzzles like rebuses, and even carved riddles on some tombs and funerary monuments. Thinking of them trading these things at parties and in taverns, I’m reminded of learning the Green Glass Door riddle as a Girl Scout; we played it for a ridiculously long time. (And if you don’t know that riddle, oh please allow someone to tell it to you in-person rather than googling it). We humans are clever monkeys, and we like things which test our wits.
Poetry for the Romans came in many forms — some of them regarded as high art, others as common vulgarities. Nor did the poets necessarily limit themselves to one side of that spectrum or the other. As I mention on the podcast, my favorite Latin poet, Catullus, certainly did both. One of my favorite scenes is the doggerel poetry game that Autronius Felix plays with Urbanus, a character who is designed as sort of a mix between Catullus and Ovid:
They then move on to skewering particular targets — political opponents of the Popularists. That’s also true-to-history. A ton of Latin poetry has either overt or implicit political purpose, and it’s often pretty crude. When we see Urbanus again a bit later, though, he’s reciting a more highly-regarded form of verse — which, I must confess, I pretty much straight-up stole out of Ovid’s Fasti.
But though we see a lot of artistry at the fancy dinner parties, entertainment is not limited to the upper crust of society. Music could be played and enjoyed by anyone. A musical education was part of patrician upbringing, though certain instruments like the pipe were considered improper for the highborn. Plenty of murals show highborn ladies, particularly, with lyres and similar instruments. Nero didn’t fiddle while Rome burned as popular legend would have it — because, for one thing, the fiddle hadn’t been invented yet, and also because he was nowhere near Rome at the time — but he was known to play the cithara, an instrument more like a lute.
Music served many functions in Roman life. It was used during religious rituals and during funerals, during festivals and in theatrical productions, but it also infused daily life. It’s from the ancients that we get the idea of shepherds playing upon pipes. In From Unseen Fire, as Latona walks with Sempronius through the markets after the Cantrinalia, she hears the flautists and other musicians hired by merchants to draw attention to their stalls. That’s historically-based — ancient merchants didn’t have commercials or mannequins to get the word or draw the eye, but they were plenty creative. Some would even have trained animals at their stalls — juggling monkeys and the like.
Music also played a role in war: horns and drums were used by the legions to keep time while marching and to give orders during battle.
Plays were also popular entertainment, though of a very different stripe from the early modern theatre that I spend a lot of time discussing on the podcast. The Romans had both tragedy and comedy, though no tragedies survive from the Republic era and few from the Imperial era. Seneca’s are the best well-known, while Plautus and Terence are the most famous of the comedic authors. Roman comedy tended to be quite bawdy and relied heavily on stock characters similar to those which would eventually develop in commedia dell’arte. Although playwrights could be well-regarded and plays themselves were entertainment for all classes, actors were of extremely low-status, on a level with criminals and sex workers.
In From Unseen Fire, as part of conversation at one dinner party, Old Crispinia asks Latona:
“Now, tell me what you thought of that play where I saw you last week. Damned frivolous piece of tripe, if you ask me—”
In the earlier draft, I actually named the playwright (Practus), but when my editor asked me to trim down on the total tonnage of the names I inserted into the manuscript, that was one it was easy to lose. I’m imagining Practus as a Plautus analog.
Gambling and board games were also popular with Romans of all classes. Gambling was technically illegal during the Republic and much of the Empire, but that was a law often honored more in the breach — and it was permitted during the Saturnalia, as when we see Aula dicing at the Autroniae’s party. The Romans also played non-gambling games with dice and markers; they had board games somewhat resembling checkers and chess, and in Aven Book 2 you’ll see (assuming it doesn’t change in edits) little Lucia playing tali, a game with knucklebones similar to the modern(-ish) game of jacks.
Now, you may have noticed that I’ve yet to discuss what’s probably the most famous form of ancient Roman entertainment: the games. Modern culture mostly focuses on the gladiatorial matches, but Roman games included many more exhibitions, including theatrical performances, staged animal hunts, and chariot races — which were the most popular part of the games in ancient times.
I’ve written a very large series of events for the Aven Cycle to take place at some games. Early on, they were in Book One, but as edits went on, they just didn’t fit there anymore. I briefly thought they might fit in Book Two, but, no, it looks like they’re going to be in Book Three. I do mention games in Book Two, though, and if all stays more or less as-is, you’ll get to see a little bit of Aventan tailgaiting!
We are just past 4 months since From Unseen Fire hit the shelves! We are also one month out from my 33rd birthday. So this seems like an awesome excuse to say…
I would like to have 50 Amazon reviews of From Unseen Fire by my birthday!
Totally doable, I think! I’m standing at 32 right now, and I am sure there are eighteen folk out there who’ve read the book but not yet dropped a review at Amazon.
Why do I want this? Amazon’s promotional algorithms kick in when a book hits 50 reviews, meaning that From Unseen Fire will start appearing in those “you may also enjoy” boxes when folk are looking at books by other fantasy authors. Judging by what’s currently on From Unseen Fire‘s page, that might mean Naomi Novik, Katherine Arden, R. F. Kuang, Holly Black, Rebecca Roanhorse, maybe even Jacqueline Carey or George R R Martin! It’ll also start appearing in those genre-focused targeted emails that Amazon customers get. It has the potential to really boost an author’s sales — Plus, it would just give me the warm fuzzies to know that I’d finally joined the 50-review club.
So, if you’ve read From Unseen Fire and haven’t yet left an Amazon review, please do so before September 20th! It would help make my birthday super-awesome. You do not have to have bought the book on Amazon in order to review it there, either — though you do have to have an “active account”, which means having spent money with them in the past year. I know plenty of folk have ethical problems with Amazon, and to be honest, I’m with you — but they are the devil authors must deal with in the modern publishing world. But by all means, purchase from your favorite local indie store before dropping that review on the Big A.
If you’ve already left a review — thanks! Now go encourage someone else to read it and leave a review. 😉 Or, go find something else you’ve read recently and leave it a review. Let’s spread the review love!
And that’s what I’ll be doing for the next month. For each of the next 30 days, I’m going to find a book I’ve read that I haven’t left an Amazon review for and remedy my laxity. At the end of the month, I’ll post a list of all 30 of those books for your perusal and TBR-padding enjoyment!
Trust me. I will not let you trip or lead you astray.
I know this path. I found it in the wilderness; I marked its stones and notched its trees.
Take my hand, and let me take you on a journey.
The road will wind and twist, and you may not be able to see around the curves. You may lose sight of the street we came from; you may not be sure what we walk towards. But take my hand, and look at the trees and the dappled sunlight. Hear the birdsong and the secrets whispered in the wind. Catch the scent of green life. Let your skin tingle. Step away from the world and out of yourself, or with yourself, or whatever you most need.
Take my hand, and take your time.
This is how it feels, putting a book out into the world. From Unseen Fire hits shelves today, and I’m asking readers to go along with me, and I know what sort of a journey I’m asking of them. It’s not the simplest, smoothest path. It requires some investment, and it begs some faith. By some measures, it’s a lot to ask.
My favorite books have always been those which ask this of a reader. The ones that lead me off the garden path and into the deeper woods. Books to savor, books to live in, books that release both their secrets and their hold on the reader’s heart more slowly.
American Gods. Kushiel’s Dart. The Name of the Wind. In the Night Garden. A Game of Thrones. Sandman. The Bear and the Nightingale. Daughter of the Forest. Watership Down. The Lord of the Rings.
Books that take the reader on a journey. And now it’s my turn, to tempt you off the path and into the wilds, to duck beneath the hanging branches, to slip between the hedges, to beckon you along with me, to some unknown adventure.
Today is International Women’s Day, and a group of the Authors 18 are writing about what that means to them and how feminist ideals have influenced their work.
I wrote From Unseen Fire long before the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements caught fire, but my heroine, Latona, would be all about them.
Ancient Rome was far from the worst time in history to be a woman. You had legal rights. You could own property. You could run a business and make quite a bit of money doing it. Unlike the Greek women, you had freedom of movement outside the house. Raping you was a severe crime (as long as you were a free woman, that is) and punishable by the loss of a man’s hands or genitals. If you were of middling or above social class, you probably got some sort of an education, at least enough to be considered literate. You could hold religious office and earn great respect for it. You could wield phenomenal political power behind the scenes, as women like Cornelia, Fulvia, Livia, both Agrippinae, Plotina, Sabina, Julia Domna, and Helena can attest. And, since Rome had decent sanitation and health care, as well as a plant that was so effective as birth control it was eventually driven to extinction, you were somewhat less likely to die in childbirth than other women before modern times.
So, not the worst.
But not, like, ideal.
You had rights, but you still weren’t, y’know, a full citizen. You couldn’t vote. You couldn’t speak at the public rostrum (except in a few extreme circumstances). You still belonged to a man, usually your father or husband, but if they were both dead, then perhaps a brother or uncle. Only if they all died and the courts couldn’t find anyone to take you on might you be named a woman in suo jure, in charge of herself. You might wield power behind the scenes, but if you came too far out into the open, you were considered a monster of some kind, derided either as mannish or as a succubus. Beating you was frowned upon, but legal. If you were lower-class, your career options were limited; if you were upper-class, they were nonexistant. Wherever you were, unless you were a Vestal Virgin, you were expected to be fruitful and multiply. Rape still, of course, happened, and if you didn’t have more money and influence than the rapist, bringing the violator to court and getting justice could be challenging-to-impossible; if you were a slave, absolutely impossible. Social expectations hemmed in your behavior pretty much everywhere.
This is the world that Latona of the Vitelliae finds herself chafing against. Aven adds the component of magic, and Latona is incredibly gifted. She’s never been allowed to discover just how talented she is, though. Her parents were fearful for her, worrying that if she made her powers known, she would be a target for use and abuse by unscrupulous men. They’re also worried about her emotions; the Vitellians are known for their tempers, and Latona’s elements, Fire and Spirit, can so easily run out of control. They try first to hide her in a temple, but when her mentor dies, the new High Priestess, worried that Latona’s power and influence will outstrip her own, sends her back home. So her parents marry her to a wealthy but unimportant nobody, hoping it will keep her beneath notice. It doesn’t work. As readers will learn in the prologue (so this doesn’t really count as a spoiler), Latona is too fiercely devoted to her family to stand aside when they’re threatened. She uses her magic to protect them from a vicious Dictator — and while she keeps the magical manipulation secret, she draws the Dictator’s attention for her earthly attributes. She considers it a bargain she makes for her family’s lives; we would certainly call it rape. As though that weren’t enough trauma to be getting along with, her relationship with her husband, never more than dutiful, deteriorates after that, from cold and distant to outright emotionally abusive.
So this is where the beginning of From Unseen Fire finds her: wound so tightly she’s about to explode. She’s been gaslit into believing she’s dangerous, that she can’t control herself, that her emotions will cause chaos if expressed; she’s been told that claiming her power will only make her prey; she’s been abused and traumatized and has rationalized it all to herself as sacrifice; she has stood by while others were abused because she couldn’t save them without endangering herself and her sisters, though she hates herself for the inaction; she’s unhappy in her marriage and has been unable to conceive a child, and so she worries she’s a disappointment to her patron goddess Juno; she knows, deep down, that she is capable of so much more than the confines of her life have allowed, but at every turn, she gets nudged, coddled, bullied, or outright shoved back inside those suffocating parameters.
Her whole life, Latona has tried to make herself smaller, so that she’ll fit into the world around her.
She’s about to burst.
I think that’s a feeling a lot of women can relate to, no matter when or in what conditions they live.