Tag Archives: historical novels for teens

Interview with the Amazing Historical YA Author Vicky Alvear Shecter on Pompeii, Writing, and Engaging Young Readers

Curses and Smoke Giveaway!!

Before we go any further, there is a giveaway attached to this interview with the wonderful Vicky Alvear Shecter! To enter to win one (1) paperback copy, open to US, UK, and Canadian residents. Click on the link HERE to go to the Rafflecopter to enter to win!

Now, enjoy the interview……..

Hi Vicky, so happy to talk to you today on Oh, for the Hook of a Book! I am fascinated by your writing, with a love of Egyptology, ancient civilizations, and two kids that are part-Egyptian, I love to get lost in their worlds. In fact as I write and work today, I’ve been watching the new Pompeii movie, and I just cried at the end. Did you get to see it yet?

Vicky:  Hi Erin, thank you for having me here. And yes, I got to see an early release of the Pompeii movie in theaters. Regarding the movie’s ending (spoiler alert!) historically there never has been a pair of entwined lovers found, so that was totally made up. In the real Pompeii, the body of one rich woman was found alongside the body of a gladiator in a barracks so everybody assumed that they were lovers. What they DON’T add is that inside that room, alongside the “couple,” were the bodies of more than a dozen others! So likely not a tryst but a hideout for a bunch of terrified people. Still, I think people are always looking for the romance in Pompeii. Understandably so given the tragic nature of its demise!

Erin: I bet you have been excited for Curses and Smoke: A Novel of Pompeii to be introduced to readers! What interesting things have you been up to this spring, in preparation of the book release or otherwise?

Awesome cover!

Awesome cover!

Vicky: I’ve been very excited by the release! I’m also excited by all the speaking engagements I’ve got coming up. I’m going to speaking at the American Classical Association conference in June and the Junior Classical League’s national convention in July. Plus, I have a number of book festivals set up for the fall so I hope to be introducing my book to new readers.

Erin: Wonderful! Suddenly, it’s hot in Ohio, I bet it’s even hotter where you are. Let’s skip the hot tea today, unless you really want it, and go for a chilling cocktail….a peach Bellini maybe, or if you don’t drink, a tea Bellini? I thought something peach would be fitting based on where you are from, plus it matches your beautiful book cover! If you have a craving for something other than those two selections though, please say the word!

Vicky: OMG, a peach Bellini cocktail sounds amazing! Yes, please! *tries not to lunge through screen and grab drink*

Erin: A girl after my own heart! I’ll pour and we’ll get started with questions! I know inquiring readers can’t wait to know!

Q: Curses and Smoke: A Novel of Pompeii sounds exciting, and though a Young Adult novel, can be read by anyone. The ancient civilizations are so captivating. What mesmerizes you most about the story of Pompeii?

A: I think that what mesmerizes me about Pompeii is the same thing that mesmerizes me about the ancient world in general—the sense that of shared humanity stepped in the wonder of “otherness.” But especially with Pompeii, you can never escape that sense of complete and utter tragedy. Children, pets—everyone who stayed in or near the city died a horrible, tragic death. Naturally, it pulls at our hearts.


Modern day Pompeii via Wikipedia

Q: Your novel is a romance, seeped with intrigue, danger, and drama, yet rated for teen readers. How much is historical fact versus imaginative plot?

A: Virtually the entire book is imaginative, though the characters are based on the types of people that lived and worked in Pompeii. One of the characters, though—the best friend of Lucia, the female protagonist—is based on the finding of the bones of a young, wealthy very pregnant female surrounded by her family. She and her family likely did not try to escape because of her condition. I was also moved by the plaster cast of dog that died still tied up in his yard. So, of course, I put a dog in the story and made sure to have my characters release him so that he could run to safety. That’s the fun of fiction—I could rewrite history and save the dog!

Q: How did you conduct your research? Was there enough readily available or did you uncover any tidbits you included?

A: There are many, many resources available to study Pompeii—books written by archaeologists, historians and scholars. I consumed a lot of them, as you can imagine. One tidbit that I discovered in my research was the existence of a strange and ancient god—Mephistis—the Samnite goddess of poisonous vapors. Her crumbling altar was found in the Temple of Venus complex, as I have it in the story. Mephistis predated the Roman takeover of Pompeii so OF COURSE I had to work her into the story. To me, it was just too rich to have this goddess who punished people by gassing them to death when it was really the superheated gasses of the pyroclastic flow that killed every living being in Pompeii. It was one of those cool little details that are so cool to discover.

Q: I assume you write what you do so that the young generation interested in history will have some answers. What is something you’d like readers to take away knowing about Pompeii?

A: Good question! I think what I’d like for them to take away is an understanding of the city’s existence prior to the dominance of Rome, which is why I made Tag a descendant from the overthrown Etruscan class that once ruled in Pompeii.

Erin: I liked that part of it, actually! Really gave deeper insight and led to the societal issues you portrayed in your book as well.

Q: In your book, who is your personal favorite character and why? Who was the most challenging to construct?

A: Another tough one! I’d have to say Tag—the male protagonist—is my favorite character because I was able to place him as both observer and participant in a gladiatorial school. Plus, he’s a hot young Etruscan in love—what’s not to love?! 😉

Q: How does writing YA historical romance differ from writing adult versions? Is it harder to write young love or less challenging than writing of adult love? What do you feel you accomplished in your book in terms of romance?

A: Since I’ve not really written adult romance, I’m not sure I can say how it differs, outside the greater freedom of going into details about sex. In terms of romance, I hope that I accomplished capturing that thrilling, scary intensity that comes with first love—especially forbidden love.

Q: You’ve written numerous other novels as well, including the YA novel Cleopatra’s Moon, and some fabulous non-fiction titles that are great for middle readers. Can you talk a little about those? What inspired you to write them?

cleo moon

A: I’ve always been a fan of the ancient history world—it’s people and mythologies. I wrote Cleopatra’s Moon, because I was struck by a specific question when I learned about Selene—which was, “My god, what must it have been like to have Cleopatra as yoru MOTHER?” The story grew from there. I have an entirely different “voice” for my mythology books, which are considered nonfiction. I have the gods themselves describe their worlds with a great deal of humor and fun. Each genre captures the different types of fascination I have for ancient history—the young adult novels capture the sweeping romance and intrigue of the world, while the younger nonfiction captures the fascination and joy I experience when I learn something new.

Q: I saw that there are a number of teacher guides on your website that accompany your books! As a mom who loves to do things with my children, I think these are even great for parents for over the summer. Will there be one for Pompeii?

A: I certainly hope so! The publisher usually produces those. If Scholastic decides not to create one for the Pompeii book, then I will likely create one on my own.

Q: Have you thought of writing a children’s non-fiction for Pompeii? I noticed you have one coming out about THOR in 2105. My 10 year old daughter will be thrilled; she has a slight obsession with him for some reason! What other titles have you thought about?

A: Oh wow, I hadn’t thought about writing a nonfiction book on Pompeii for younger readers! It’s something to consider though, surprisingly, there are a fair amount of books on it for younger readers. I don’t have another title in the works after Thor Speaks!, which comes out next fall (2015). However, I think I’d like to focus on a goddess this time. We’ll see what my editor thinks!

Q: What do you think is so thrilling about ancient civilizations, both to children as well as adults? How about you, what do you find intriguing?

A: I think it’s that strange combination of sameness and otherness that I find so fascinating. I love seeing our humanity reflected in the art and writing of ancient peoples and am, at the same time, fascinated by just how differently they saw the world! Their view of the world made sense to them but it seems crazy to us. Still, if we dig under the surface, we find that they wanted the same things—love, family, community and a spiritual connection.

I am a docent at the Carlos Museum of Antiquities at Emory University and some of my favorite pieces are those where people’s humanity shows through. For example, we have a cuneiform tablet with some guy’s thumbprint on the corner, which moves me tremendously. Why? Because it’s like getting a tiny glimpse into his past. Most of the tablets are clean—why was this guy holding the tablet before it was dry? Did someone pull it out his grasp, which caused the imprint? It’s the story of a living, breathing human being that intrigues me. Similarly, I love a shard of plaster in our Egyptian gallery where an artist was practicing his sketches. What we often see is so “perfected,” we forget that there was likely some young kid grabbing shards wherever he could to practice his drawings so that he might one day be picked to depict the pharaoh…

Q: I’m also a writer and journalist, spending hours of time copy writing and so forth over the years. It IS fun, but nothing like getting into fiction writing or penning non-fiction history books for kids. What was it like to start publishing your fiction writing? How do you make time for it? What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

A: I got my nonfiction published years before my fiction sold. It was quite an adjustment to go from checking every fact to writing stories that “could’ve” been true, as we do in historical fiction. Luckily, my kids are older so I have more time. When they were younger, I had to be willing to write in short bursts. In terms of advice, I’d say, write what you are passionate about. My first book was a fun kid’s biography of Alexander the Great, whom I found endlessly fascinating. When I first told one person, he said, “Why would you write about him?” Clearly he was not a historical fan. At first, I shrunk back, thinking, “Right. No one would want to read about him.” But then I realized that I WAS passionate about Alexander and ancient history—and that was all that mattered. So by learning not to judge what I was passionate about, I gave myself permission to throw myself wholeheartedly into it!

Q: a) I noticed that they teach so little any more in school to my children regarding history (at least in our school system, I won’t speak for all). I find that sad, because there is so much excitement to be had in learning it! Do you think there is a market for non-fiction children’s books as what you are publishing? Is writing, reading, and learning ancient cultures, mythology, etc. really not dead?

A: I think there will always be kids who want to know more about the ancient world and ancient mythologies, even if they’re not taught in the classroom (which is a crying shame, if you ask me!). Thankfully, authors such as Rick Riordan (the Percy Jackson series) and even JK Rowling (with all the classical references in the Harry Potter books) have made it cool to care about the classical world again.

 b) I’d love for more parents to buy and take the time to teach their kids the extras that the schools might not have time for any longer. What can be done to entice parents into taking on some of this? My kids are readers, but history reading is great for reluctant readers as well, don’t you think?

A: Oh, absolutely! I think when kids get that history is often wayyyyyy crazier and funnier than any made-up story, they’ll find the joy in it. That’s why, especially for my nonfiction books, I tend to focus on the funny and outrageous at first, because it draws younger readers in.

It’s the parent’s job to bring as much fascinating material to their children as possible. You never know what’s going to “snag” ‘em, so keep at it!

Q: What books do you like reading for your own pleasure? Who are some of your favorite authors?

A: I read a lot of everything—YA, nonfiction, historical fiction and contemporary fiction. My favorite authors include JK Rowling, Zora Neal Hurston, Marian Zimmer Bradley, Suzanne Collins, Steven Saylor, Ray Bradburry and countless others!

Q: What are your own favorite books of all time? What are your favorite books in the genre you write that you recommend to others?

A: My two favorite books of all time are Zora Neal Hurstong, Their Eyes were Watching God, and Bradley’s Mists of Avalon. Growing up, I was a huge fan of Mary Renault. In terms of modern writers, I love Kate Quinn, Stephanie Dray, and Stephanie Thornton and their HF novels set in the ancient world.

Erin: Me too, if you haven’t tried Tracey Higley, her Seven Wonders of the Ancient World fiction series is good also. It’s Christian fiction, the history is great.

Q: And for fun, what is your favorite dessert for writing marathons or getting through each week? Or maybe another fave food or snack?

A: Ice cream! Any flavor—as along as it’s chocolate.

Erin: Stephanie Thornton and you should never go to an ice cream store……they would run out of stock. *wink*

Q: Where can readers and writers connect with you?

A: They can find me at www.vickyalvearshecter.com, which is my website. My blog can be accessed from the main menu of my home site.

Erin: It was a pleasure to have you here today, Vicky! I look forward to spending hours reading and discussing your books with my own young readers this summer. As well, I’ll be following your progress on anything new. Best wishes on the release of Curses and Smoke (and I’m sure my daughter will be keeping her eye out for THOR)! Come back soon!

Vicky: Thank you so much, Erin, for having me here on your blog! It’s been an honor. Plus, you are clearly a journalist because you asked so many thorough and nuanced questions! It was a pleasure to be here!

Erin: Thanks for noticing Vicky, it was a joy!

Curses and Smoke: A Novel of Pompeii, Synopsis~

Publication Date: May 27, 2014
Arthur A. Levine Books
Formats: Hardcover, eBook

Genre: YA Historical

When your world blows apart, what will you hold onto?

TAG is a medical slave, doomed to spend his life healing his master’s injured gladiators. But his warrior’s heart yearns to fight in the gladiator ring himself and earn enough money to win his freedom.

LUCIA is the daughter of Tag’s owner, doomed by her father’s greed to marry a much older Roman man. But she loves studying the natural world around her home in Pompeii, and lately she’s been noticing some odd occurrences in the landscape: small lakes disappearing; a sulfurous smell in the air…

When the two childhood friends reconnect, each with their own longings, they fall passionately in love. But as they plot their escape from the city, a patrician fighter reveals his own plans for them — to Lucia’s father, who imprisons Tag as punishment. Then an earthquake shakes Pompeii, in the first sign of the chaos to come. Will they be able to find each other again before the volcano destroys their whole world?

Buy the Book~

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Vicky Alvear Shecter, Biography~

Vicky Alvear ShecterVicky 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.

Author Links~


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