Monday, December 28, 2009

ExcerpTuesday - Albert Bell



Today Albert Bell shares a bit of his story Blood of Caesar. Welcome Albert.




“This feels like a trap,” my friend Tacitus said, putting his hand on my arm.
He and I stopped beside the House of the Vestals and the dozen slaves accompanying us came to a halt.
“A trap? What are you talking about? We’re in the middle of Rome.” I looked around, fearing that I would see a gang of thugs emerging from the shadows. But surely not within sight of the Praetorians who guarded the steps leading up the Palatine Hill.
“There’s nobody else here.” Tacitus pointed to the foot of those steps, twenty paces or so ahead of us on the Nova Via. “Nobody else is going up to dinner. There’s something wrong.”
“Maybe we’re just early,” I said, glancing at the length of the shadows around us.
“Are you sure we’ve got the date right?” Tacitus asked.
I reached into the sinus of my toga and pulled out the invitation I had received that morning. The broken wax seal reading CAES DOM AUG GERM around the figure of a defeated barbarian still clung to the single sheet of papyrus. I unfolded it and read it over again:

G. Plinius Caecilius Secundus is invited to dine with Caesar Domitian in his house on the Palatine on the Ides of July at the tenth hour.

“That’s what mine says, too.” Tacitus held his invitation next to mine. The same scribe had written both. “But where are the other guests?”
Just as one frightened soldier spreads fear through the ranks, Tacitus was undermining my confidence. From our vantage point I couldn’t see much of the Forum, only the Lacus Juturnae and the temple of Castor and Pollux straight ahead of us. They lay almost deserted in the shadows cast by the late afternoon sun. By now most people had gone off to bathe and prepare for dinner. The prostitutes who plied their trade in the shadows of the temple showed no interest in the few unfortunate sycophants who’d failed to cadge an invitation to dinner somewhere.
“I don’t like the looks of this at all,” Tacitus said. “I tell you, it feels like a trap.”
“By the gods, man. We’ve been invited to dinner with the princeps. You act like the Cyclops is beckoning us into his cave to devour us. What do you think is going to happen?”
“I don’t know, and that’s precisely what worries me.”






Albert Bell

Albert Bell, a South Carolina native, has taught at Hope College, in Holland, MI, since 1978. His wife is a psychologist; they have four adult children and a grandson. In addition to a number of articles and stories, Bell has published a children's historical mystery, The Secret of the Lonely Grave (Ingalls Publ. Group, 2007), that connects contemporary children with the Underground Rail­road and the Civil War era in southern Kentucky. One reviewer called it “a fantastic book.” Another found that “the saddest part upon reading this story was the fact that it had to end.” The book won the 2008 Evelyn Thurman Young Readers Award, given by the Western Kentucky University Libraries and a silver medal from the Mom’s Choice Awards.

Bell is also the author of a mystery set in ancient Rome, All Roads Lead to Murder (Ingalls 2002), the first in a series featuring Pliny the Younger as the sleuth. The Midwest Book Review called it “one of the best antiquarian murder mysteries published to date.” Barbara D’Amato found it to be “a wonderful book.” The second in the series, The Blood of Caesar (due out in June 2008), prompted Clyde Linsley to say, “Bell weaves a fascinating, convoluted, but thoroughly convincing tale of intrigue and double-dealing . . . . His solution to his seemingly insoluble problem borders on genius.” A contemporary mystery, set in Grand Rapids and titled Death Goes Dutch, was published in March 2006. Midwest Book Review dubbed it “a gem.”

Bell has also published two non-fiction books. His Exploring the New Testament World has been called “a must-have New Testament companion.” His Perfect Game, Imperfect Lives: A Memoir Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Don Larsen’s Perfect Game, was published in October 2006. One reviewer called it “a book with perfect pitch.”




Albert Bell teaches at Hope College, in Holland, MI. His children's historical mystery, The Secret of the Lonely Grave (2007), connects contemporary children with the Underground Rail­road and the Civil War era. One reviewer found that “the saddest part upon reading this story was the fact that it had to end.” The book won the 2008 Evelyn Thurman Young Readers’ Award, given by the Western Kentucky University Libraries, and a silver medal from the Mom’s Choice Awards.

Bell is also the author of a mystery set in ancient Rome, All Roads Lead to Murder (2002). Barbara D’Amato found it to be “a wonderful book.” The second in the series, The Blood of Caesar (due out in June 2008), prompted Clyde Linsley to say it “. . . borders on genius.” A contemporary mystery, Death Goes Dutch, was published in March 2006. Midwest Book Review dubbed it “a gem.”

Bell has published two non-fiction books. His Exploring the New Testament World (1998) has been rated “a must-have New Testament companion.” His Perfect Game, Imperfect Lives: A Memoir Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Don Larsen’s Perfect Game (2006) has been called “a book with perfect pitch.”

12 comments:

Lynn said...

Hey Albert, It's Lynn popping over from lurking at Wicked Company. I really enjoyed the section. I was worried since I hadn't read any thing about roman history for quite a while I'd be lost. But you got me right into the story.

albert bell said...

Lynn,

Thanks. One of the hardest things to do in writing historical fiction is to make readers feel the reality of the time and place without dumping all the writer's research on them, and to make the story compelling on top of that. But it's a challenge that I enjoy.

Maris said...

Great writing, as usual, Albert. I need to get a copy of your book. Is it on Kindle?

Chris Redding said...

You have a fan club Albert!

albert bell said...

Maris is a fine writer herself. I worked in a group with her for a couple of years. My publisher says they're going to issue some of their books in electronic format after Jan. 1. Brave new world for me.

cde9821 said...

Albert,
I recently read Blood of Caesar and think it's your best novel yet!

How do you decide where to draw the line on how closely you stick with historical accuracy vs. making the book accessible for modern readers?

Paul Robinson said...

So, how long do we wait for the next Pliny novel? Your Pliny novels are worth it just for Tacitus alone.

albert bell said...

Thanks for the comments, folks. I am a historian, so I'm a stickler for historical accuracy, but I don't want to sacrifice the story just to teach a history lesson. In the ancient world especially we have such huge gaps in our knowledge that it's tempting to fill them in. With Pliny we have his letters and some inscriptions that give us a good sense of where he was at particular times, so I feel bound by what we know. We know that he and Tacitus were friends. Whether Tacitus was the sort of person I portray, I don't know. His history is often characterized as satiric. He did not like the whole idea of emperors. My editor is a Roman history buff herself, so she can catch any mistakes I might make. She is currently urging me to get the third novel done. I'm 30,000 words into. It's called The Corpus Conundrum, hopefully to be published in 2011. I've got a middle-grade mystery due out in April of 2010.

Donna Munro said...

Yeah, more Pliny, please!
All your books are swell, but you do a great job with bringing ancient Rome alive.

sbeckw said...

Mr. Bell: I'd like to ask how you chose the metaphors you use in dialogue, do you chose them for a general reading public or are they scholarly favorites of yours. Metaphors seem so transient, as if I said to a sixteen year old "Wow, that's like Willy Mays hitting back to back triples." he would need to understand baseball history and baseball regulations to understand the total reference. How do you help a modern audience understand your references?

albert bell said...

I consider myself metaphor-challenged. I've always preferred to read books/stories that rely on dialogue and action rather than descriptive scenes. I think it was Elmore Leonard who said he was successful because he left out the parts that people skip. Historical fiction does present a challenge in the use of metaphors (and similes) because Pliny would not make comparisons to things that we would use for comparisons. There's a passage in Ovid's Metamorphoses -- the death of Pyramus, I believe -- where Ovid compares the blood spurting out of his wound to water spurting out of a crack in a pipe. Probably not the first thing that would occur to us. I try to let characters describe things rather than construct metaphors as an author.

Maryann Miller said...

Enjoyed the excerpt very much. You did a great job of just letting the story start without the obligatory pause to inform the reader about the time and the place.