| |

Historical Mystery Research: Details Behind the Story


Gathering Research Bits

While The Roman Heir is in editing process, I’m scouring for ideas for the next several stories. Never forgetting setting, I’m looking at meadows and woods for The Vellum Scribe.

The Vellum Scribe 

A monkish scribe. A gored noble. A tantalizing daughter.
Argolicus unravels the threads.
When Argolicus’ pious uncle arrives to complete his illustrations of Dioscorides for a wealthy patroness, he wanders the fields of southern Italy looking for perfect plant specimens. He and the tutor Nikolaos discover a gored body left to rot in the fields.
Argolicus immediately recognizes the body of his wealthy neighbor. When he arrives at the family estate, not one person is grieving except for the daughter.

Although I went to Italy for initial research, I was in the north at Ravenna, the political center and king’s seat, at the time of the Argolicus Mysteries. Except for The Roman Heir, set in Ostia at the mouth of the Tiber, the mysteries are set in the far southern province of Bruttii. Cassiodorus mentions the area frequently in his letters, where I found the venal Governor Venantius in The Used Virgin shortchanging locals and creating arbitrary punishments.

Research When You Can’t Be There

For a sense of place when I’m unable to travel I cruise around Google Maps to find a particular location. Then once I know the location I look at related images and videos. For the Argolicus mysteries, I’m watching videos and collecting images of southern Italy, especially around the town of Squillace. Argolicus’ estate is in the hills above the town. Here’s a modern quick tour of the town.

​And a friendly tour of the
Ghetterello river which runs from the hills, down to Squillace from Massimo Castelli. This one’s in Italian but you can see the valley and surrounding hills.

​The waterfall in the Gheterello surrounded by boulders is the setting for an ambush in a future story.

Books for Details

For a sense of time, I turn or return to books. Currently, I’m rereading The Ostrogoths from the Migration Period to the Sixth Century ed. S.J.B. Bamish, Federico Marazzi. My son bought it for me as a birthday present a year ago. The book is one of my main sources for political goings on at the time of the Argolicus mysteries. Look at this. There are at least three good stories in just this one passage.

….at least one town, Squillace, is prey to violent troubles that suggest conflicts with the special aim of seizing the episcopal see. More than one bishop there has been killed, and visitors have to be appointed. A priest, Celestinus, is complicit in the murder of his bishop and kinsman at an unnamed town which may well be Squillace. Again, in an unnamed town which may perhaps be Squillace, the bishop is murdered by a creditor to whom he has made over Church property to settle his debt. The archdeacon Asellus allows the murderer to be killed in a riot before he could reveal if he had accomplices.

The Ostrogoths from the Migration Period to the Sixth Century ed. S.J.B. Bamish, Federico Marazzi p. 192

The Transformation Process

One absolutely essential quality a historical fiction author   needs is the ability to transform dry text like this (I Ieft out the various footnote references) into a story with interesting characters who interact within their political, cultural, and physical setting.

Imagination makes the story.

Zara Altair
 Zara Altair combines mystery with a bit of adventure in the Argolicus mysteries. Her Argolicus Mysteries are based in southern Italy at the time of the Ostrogoth rule of Italy under Theoderic the Great. Italians (Romans) and Ostrogoths live under one king while the Roman Empire is ruled from Constantinople. At times the cultures clash, but Argolicus uses his wit, sometimes with help from his tutor Nikolaos, to provide justice in a province far from the King’s court.


Similar Posts