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A.D. 62: Pompeii Rebecca East

Rebecca Brown's Interview with
Rebecca East
Author of
A.D. 62: Pompeii

Rebecca The Editor :
The setting of your book (which I thoroughly enjoyed!) is Pompeii, just before Mount Vesuvius blew. Have you seen Pompeii & what was it like?

Rebecca East :
Most parts of Pompeii are just the skeleton of a city: streets & walls & doorways. It's crowded with tourists & stray dogs, & choked with weeds & dust. Unfortunately, the ruins are gradually being destroyed by exposure to the weather, & souvenir takers, & the wear & tear of more than two million pairs of feet a year.

And yet there are places that are absolutely magic: you enter a courtyard & see a mural of Venus, & a few shrubs & plants, & from that you can picture what it must have looked like when people lived there. I found it helpful to bring along books such as the “Then & Now” picture books, that pair a photograph of the ruins as they look today with an overlay painting that reconstructs what was once there.

I've visited three times, & I haven't seen everything yet; many of the houses are locked & off limits to visitors; all you can do is peer through the gates. In some respects, a visit to Ostia is more rewarding; that's the old port of Rome. Ostia is less popular with tourists & some of the buildings are in better condition. The material that made Pompeii truly wonderful as an archaeological find--the artifacts of everyday life such as dishes, jewelry, tools--was mostly taken to museums.

Rebecca The Editor :
When did your story appear to you & how long did it take you to write it?

Rebecca East :
Like many people, I've always wanted to write a novel; but I never had a story to tell before. Several things came together. My husband was teasing me; I spoke of wishing to go back in time to see Pompeii in its heyday, & he said “A little woman like you wouldn't last a day in the ancient world.” That got me started thinking: what would it take to survive? I also overheard a woman in the book shop at the gate to the Pompeii excavation; they sell many scholarly books about archaeology, but not much to answer the question she asked: “What did they do in those houses?” My first visit inspired me to start collecting books about the ancient world, & the details about daily life fascinated me; & I wanted to weave that information into the story.

The story didn't appear to me all at once: I started with the beginning (a female time traveler stranded in Pompeii) & the end (which I won't reveal here), & then tried to imagine the events that would lead from one to the other. Often I was stuck. I would be out taking a walk, or digging in the garden, & suddenly I would see a scene (such as the one in which Miranda's hair is cut off). Then I ran back to the word processor to write it out in detail. Then I needed to decide where each scene belonged in the sequence of events. I did a lot of rewriting & rearranging. Most of the writing was complete after about a year & a half of nights, weekends & holidays. I have no idea how many hours went into the project: certainly a great many!

Rebecca The Editor :
In this time travel adventure, modern Miranda wishes she were a heroine. What qualities does a woman from the present have to have to be a heroine in the past?

Rebecca East :
She needs the courage to face the unknown & to ask more of herself than she previously thought she could do; & willingness to learn from her mistakes. Gradually, Miranda became less self-centered & more concerned with the welfare of others. These are the same qualities it takes to be a heroine in any time period, I think.

Rebecca The Editor :
What do you think is the one reality modern women would have the most trouble with living in that day & age?

Rebecca East :
Slavery was something people took for granted in the ancient world. Many slaves had miserable lives of overwork, beating, malnutrition, & misery. But, as Miranda realizes in her musings: we haven't entirely gotten rid of those evils in the modern world, either.

Rebecca The Editor :
Yes, 9-5ers are slaves to the paycheck, & whole countries are riddled with violence & malnutrition just so some elite can live in luxury. What do you think is the one thing from that long-ago time we could do well to remember?

Rebecca East :
The Romans wrote, & built, with posterity in mind; they wanted the things that they created to last forever. & in fact, there is a Roman aqueduct near Segovia that still provides some of that city's water; there are Roman roads still in use; & we still read the words of Cicero, Catullus, & many other writers from that period. By contrast, much of what we modern people build is intended to wear out quickly: our roads & houses have design life times of 30 to 50 years. We are a throw-away society, & quite wasteful.

I think we might do well to think about the future more than we do; & to act, & build, & write, in the hope of leaving something of value for the people who come after us.

Rebecca The Editor :
In England, where I came up, there are still Roman aqueduct bridges & portions of Roman roads to see. What would you like readers take away from your story?

Rebecca East :
I'd like readers to come away with a sense that the stories we believe in can become self fulfilling prophecies. Miranda tells the story of Dick Whittington's cat early on; it's a story about a servant who works hard & eventually finds success & love. She doesn't realize it at the time, but that story foreshadows her own life. Of course, having a dream is just the beginning; things don't happen by themselves; we have to do things to make our dreams come true. But having a vision of where we want to go & what we want to be can help us to make things happen.

Rebecca The Editor :
Are you at work on another book?

Rebecca East :
Yes, I have several stories in mind. One set of stories follows Marcus & Miranda through the events of the next several years: the great fire in Rome, the year of four emperors, & the eruption of Vesuvius. I have ideas for other stories that are straight historical fiction (without time travel).

Writing fiction was hard work, of course, as any writer will tell you. But it was also enormous fun. As I write the story unfolds for me & it's often a surprise to see what develops. I can hardly wait to see what happens next!

Rebecca The Editor :
Oh good, a sequel! I look forward to it anticipation! Thanks Rebecca for a great Interview!

Readers, do catch my review of Rebecca East's A.D. 62: Pompeii. If you're anything like me, you've always wondered what living in the past might be like. Buy yourself a copy & enjoy this mature & thoughtful historical adventure.

Amazon's price is: Paperback - $16.95
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Rebecca The Editor
(Published 06/15/03)
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