Friday, June 13, 2014

Blog Tour Guest Post: Three Things You Didn't Know About Pompeii by Vicky Alvear Shecter, Author of Curses and Smoke

Please join me in welcoming author Vicky Alvear Shecter to Let Them Read Books! Vicky is touring the blogosphere with her newest young adult historical, Curses and Smoke: A Novel of Pompeii. (I loved it, btw; click here to read my review.) I'm thrilled to have her here today with a guest post about the darker side of Pompeii, and choosing which historical details don't necessarily belong in a love story.

Read on if you dare, and enter to win your own copy of Curses and Smoke!

Three Things About Pompeii You May Not Have Known
By Vicky Alvear Shecter

Because Curses and Smoke: A Novel of Pompeii is essentially a love story, there were some interesting historical details I could not include because they were either unrelated to the characters or (worse) could potentially pull the reader out of the story. Still, I can share them with you here! J

1. Just because there were lots of…erm, “male members” on display everywhere, the city was
not overrun with brothels. The ancient Romans considered the engorged male member as apotropaic, which means they believed it warded off evil. That’s why you saw penises (penii?) everywhere—as wind chimes, statues, oil lamps and all manner of street carvings and statuary. Early excavators didn’t realize the meaning behind the phalluses and assumed they pointed the way toward “services rendered.” The fact that the baker had a phallus over his shop didn’t mean a man could get his own loaf raised, just that the baker was hoping evil would pass him by!

This phallus with a lion’s back-end and a phallus tail of its own
was supposed to ward off evil. Didn’t seem like it worked
too great for Pompeiians, unfortunately…

2. It was expected for men to use female slaves for sex. Slaves were considered “human property,” so consent was irrelevant. But this only applied to the men. Gods forgive them if a woman “got busy” with a male slave! The slave could be killed (crucified) for such an outrage and the woman terribly dishonored. A husband had the right to kill his wife for the “crime.” This is why I wanted to switch it up and have a female fall in love with a male slave. It made the stakes higher—death or love, love or death. What will they choose before the mountain chooses for them?

3. There seemed to a public defecation problem in Pompeii. While I allude to this in passing in the novel, I didn’t detail it because I didn’t want the reader to worry about whether my characters might “step in it” whenever they went out. Graffiti throughout the city, however, indicates that this was an issue. From one regular guy who posted “Secundus defecated here” three times on one wall to a formal notice from a government official that read, “Pooper, make sure you keep it in until you pass this spot!”—it seemed an ongoing problem, despite the availability of public latrines. But you can see why I avoided this detail—it’s just too gross!

Fortunately, there were plenty of other interesting details about ancient Pompeii that I could focus on, including a belief in a mysterious goddess of “poisonous vapors” forgotten within the Temple of Venus complex. The Romans had ignored this ancient Samnite goddess of poison gas—the irony being, of course, that it was a mixture of superheated mud and toxic gas that killed everyone and buried the city.

Curses and Smoke, in the end, is a love story. As such, there were ugly or weird details that I needed to avoid in order to not distract the reader from the central focus—the growing relationship between a pair of unlikely young lovers. Still, I snuck them in whenever I could because—for me anyway—that’s what makes historical fiction so fascinating. I hope readers enjoy discovering those small details of what life was really life in ancient Pompeii.

Fascinating! Thanks for sharing, Vicky!

This giveaway is closed and the winner has been selected.
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Wanna win your own copy of
Curses and Smoke?
Simply leave a comment on this post with your email address, and you're entered!

This giveaway is open to residents of the US, the UK, and Canada, and ends at 11:59pm Friday June 27, 2014. Winner will be selected at random. Thanks, and good luck!

Curses and Smoke is on a blog tour!

Vicky Alvear Shecter is the author of the young adult novel, CLEOPATRA’S MOON (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic, 2011), based on the life of Cleopatra’s only daughter. She is also the author of two award-winning biographies for kids on Alexander the Great and Cleopatra. She is a docent at the Michael C. Carlos Museum of Antiquities at Emory University in Atlanta. Connect with Vicky on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and her blog.


  1. This sounds such a fascinating read. Don't count me in for the giveaway though.

  2. A very interesting post. I love learning little bits of "trivia" within a fascinating novel. Thanks for the giveaway. I'm anxious to read this.

  3. I love Vicky's books because she's so adept at weaving those historical details into the story! Put my name in the drawing, please! (cathyhall55 at hotmail dot com.)

  4. This historical would be enjoyed greatly.thanks for this giveaway. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

  5. What wonderful details, thanks very much. I particularly like the windchimes, so much so that I'm saving that photo. Thanks for the chance to win a copy of Curses and Smoke. carlscott(at)prodigy(dot)net(dot)mx

    1. Those windchimes are something else, aren't they?

  6. Your post caught my interest. Thanks for this fascinating novel. elliotbencan(at)hotmail(dot)com

  7. This looks like a great book! Thanks for hosting the giveaway! westmetromommy(at)gmail(dot)com

  8. Great post and a wonderful sounding story. I have added it to my TBR list. Also looking forward to Vicky's new joint venture, A Day of Fire: Stories of Pompeii

    tmrtini at gmail dot (com)

  9. I knew about the slaves, but not about the phallus images being used to ward off evil. Great post! Can't wait to read this book. Raquel36m (at) gmail (dot) com

  10. I am a high school Latin teacher and I would love to read this book and review it and share with my students. I do an entire unit on Pompeii and we translate some of Pliny's letter about Vesuvius. I think this would be perfect for my students! Thanks so much!!!

    1. Oh yes! It's very clean. It would be perfect for your class.

  11. This looks like a great book. Thank you for the chance to win griperang at embarqmail dot com

  12. this sounds like a fascinating read!!!
    thank you for the giveaway!!

    cyn209 at juno dot com

  13. I love reading anything about Pompeii!It'd such a fascinating and tragic happening in ancient times and I would very much like to know more about it.

  14. This novel sounds really interesting. Thanks for the giveaway.

  15. It sounds like an unusual and interesting book, but one that has really caught my attention. I would love to read it. Thanks for having the giveaway.


  16. Interesting info about Pompeii! I'd love to visit this intriguing place and read this novel!
    alto1jr@ hotmail dot com

  17. Those were some interesting facts and the book sounds like a good one.
    mce1011 AT aol DOT com

  18. Not sure if the giveaway is still open (it says Friday, June 23rd, but Friday is June 27th). The cover is beautiful and I love the facts. Thanks for the giveaway! email: yelena(dot)casale(at)yahoo(dot)com

  19. What interesting facts about life in Pompeii! After reading your post, I want to visit even more! Pompeii is one place I have wanted to visit since childhood. Thank you for the giveaway.

  20. I am studying Pompeii and would love to read this book!! Please enter me into this draw. Thanks

  21. This HAS to be an awesome read! HAS TO!


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