Author Interview – Faith L. Justice

Tell us about your latest book.

At it’s heart, Dawn Empress is a love story. A sister’s love for her brother, a saint’s love for her church, and an empress’ love of power. Aelia Pulcheria Augusta was a 5th century Roman Empress, sister to Theodosius II, and is a saint in both the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches. She led a remarkable life as a political prodigy and as a woman in a time when women—even imperial women—had little control over their lives. Her accomplishments in, taking control of the Eastern Roman Empire at the tender age of fifteen, acting as Regent for her under-age brother, and profoundly influencing the doctrine of the early Christian Church rank up there with later powerful female rulers such as Elizabeth I of England. It wasn’t all smooth sailing, but in the end, Pulcheria set the stage for the dawning of the Byzantine Empire.

What inspired you to become a writer?

I’ve always been a voracious reader. In my 30’s, a run of uninspired, repetitive fantasy novels sent me to the keyboard screaming, “I can write better than that!” Of course, I couldn’t—then. I had come to fiction writing after years of non-fiction, academic and business writing in my various jobs. I had to learn a whole new way of telling stories. Most of my early work is short science fiction/fantasy/dark fiction. That got me started, but—in spite of a couple of minor awards—I realized my heart wasn’t really in that genre. I liked reading it but not writing it.

What kept me writing was switching to historical fiction. I fell in love with a 5th century woman named Hypatia, the Lady Philosopher of Alexandria who was also a mathematician and astronomer. I wanted to tell her story in an entertaining way that allowed the reader to learn a little something about history. In doing the research for my first novel (Selene of Alexandria, in which Hypatia is a major character), I discovered the Theodosian women and their remarkable contributions to history. I hit the treasure trove with their stories and have plenty of material to keep me writing for years.

What was the biggest challenge in writing/releasing the book? Did you manage to overcome the challenge, and if so, how?

Making my protagonist Pulcheria at least relatable, if not likeable, for the modern reader, posed my biggest writing challenge. The primary sources by church historians praised her for allowing the destruction of synagogues and purging her brother’s government of pagans. As a modern secular person, I found these actions repugnant, but typical of the times. I had found it easy to like and sympathize with Placidia, my protagonist from Twilight Empress. So I was surprised with myself when I admired Pulcheria’s accomplishments, especially her dedication to making the lives of ordinary people better, but didn’t like her much. I couldn’t connect with her. As a writer, I had to overcome my own biases, before I could write about Pulcheria in a sympathetic and honest way.

I decided to focus on the possible motivations that turned Pulcheria toward the church, fueled her fierce protectiveness towards her brother, and drove her lust for power. Little is known of her childhood, but it must have been lonely and frightening after being orphaned so young. Pulcheria was obviously a prodigy. She knew her histories and it wasn’t promising for underaged rulers. With no adult champions, she had to grow up quick and take control. Her childhood fear and

insecurity gave me the hook I needed to create the character of a complicated, remarkable woman, who faced enormous odds with intelligence and skill. In the end, I understood and sympathized with her plight. I hope that came through in the story, but the readers will have to let me know for sure.

If you could spend a day in the setting of your novel, would you likely enjoy it or hate it?

I could probably tolerate 24 hours in the 5th century Constantinople court for the novelty, but would hate to live in it for any significant length of time. The overt piety of the times coupled with the formality of the court are the opposite of what I enjoy. That bias shows in my writing when I have Theodosius complain about the court ritual and Pulcheria anxious to get out of her itchy formal regalia.

Can you tell us a little bit about your typical writing day?

Writing is my job, so I treat it like one. I get up, feed the cats and myself, and am at my writing computer no later than 10 am. I write (new words only—no rewriting!) until 1 pm. Not all new writing is on novels. I have short stories, reviews, blog posts, free-lance articles, etc. I’m trying to up my time on novel writing, however, because I have so projects. I also fiercely protect these three hours—no phones, no internet, no family. I take a full hour lunch break and usually watch the monologues from a couple late night comedy shows. Afternoons are for miscellaneous publishing projects: rewriting, proofing, marketing, interior layout, and research. I try to knock off by six. Sometimes I write on the weekends if I’m on a roll, but with nice weather, I spend more weekends gardening than in my office.

If your novel were to be turned in to a TV series/film, who would play your main character?

Tilda Swinton. She has the face, bones, and acting chops to freeze Roman generals in their place and bend stiff-necked nobles to her will.

What future projects do you have planned?

I have a prequel novella to Twilight Empress and my second middle-school Adventurous Girls book almost completed. Both need a polish and final edit. I’ve started on the third Theodosian Women novel which is Athenais’ story. I hope to have a first draft by the end of the year and published within the next two years. I also have a sequel to my gladiatrix novel Song of the Gladiatrix started and outlined, but I don’t think I’ll get back to it until next year. When I get the next two novels out, I think I’ll do a series of novellas about some of the next generation Theodosians, but a lot happens in three years, so we’ll see. So many stories, so little time!

Do you have any advice for aspiring novelists?

Natural “talent” is nice, but writing is a craft and can be taught. There are aisles full of good how-to books on writing in bookstores and libraries, but the one thing any writer—fiction or non-fiction—needs to master is storytelling. How do you develop your characters, plot, and setting in such a way that it draws the reader in and keeps them turning the pages. A good

storyteller can get away without sparkling prose, but the opposite isn’t true. If you don’t like learning from books, take classes or join a critique group.

Also persistence and a thick skin help. I’ve known several people over the years who (I felt) were wonderful writers with original voices and compelling stories, but they gave up after getting a couple of rejections. Write your story or novel to the best of your ability, put it out there and keep putting it out after every rejection, and move on to the next. All writing is practice and useful. Someone once said you need to write one million words before you get good. Rewriting the same sixty thousand over and over doesn’t count.

If writing is important to you, show it. Create a writing schedule and stick to it, even if it’s fifteen minutes on the subway, or one page a day before you go to bed. (365 pages will net you a book in one year.) If you are fortunate enough to write full-time, then treat it as the profession it is. Whether you feel creative or not, put butt in chair and fingers on keyboard. Set realistic goals and go for it.

On a final note, I want to say “Thank You!” for hosting me on this tour and allowing me to speak to your readers. It’s been a pleasure.

Dawn Empress: A Novel of Imperial Rome (The Theodosian Women, Book Two) By Faith L. Justice

Audiobook narrated by Kathleen Li

As Rome reels under barbarian assaults, a young girl must step up.

After the Emperor’s unexpected death, ambitious men eye the Eastern Roman throne occupied by seven-year-old Theodosius II. His older sister Pulcheria faces a stark choice: she must find allies and take control of the Eastern court or doom the imperial children to a life of obscurity—or worse. Beloved by the people and respected by the Church, Pulcheria forges her own path to power. Can her piety and steely will protect her brother from military assassins, heretic bishops, scheming eunuchs and—most insidious of all—a beautiful, intelligent bride? Or will she lose all in the trying?

Dawn Empress tells the little-known and remarkable story of Pulcheria Augusta, 5th century Empress of Eastern Rome. Her accomplishments rival those of Elizabeth I and Catherine the Great as she sets the stage for the dawn of the Byzantine Empire. Don’t miss this “gripping tale” (Kirkus Reviews); a “deftly written and impressively entertaining historical novel” (Midwest Book Reviews). Historical Novel Reviews calls Dawn Empress an “outstanding novel…highly recommended” and awarded it the coveted Editor’s Choice.


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FAITH L. JUSTICE writes award-winning historical novels, short stories, and articles in Brooklyn, New York where she lives with her family and the requisite gaggle of cats. Her work has appeared in, Writer’s Digest, The Copperfield Review, and many more publications. She is Chair of the New York City chapter of the Historical Novel Society, and Associate Editor for Space and Time Magazine. She co-founded a writer’s workshop many more years ago than she likes to admit. For fun, she digs in the dirt—her garden and various archaeological sites.






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