She spoke the language of the dead


In just four days my second book, Vestal, will be available for purchase on Amazon (in both print and digital form, of course). I should probably be devoting all of my time to marketing efforts. But I’ve got a job, a new house, freelance work, a writing class that I’m taking Monday nights at the Hugo House, and I’m elbow deep in revisions for my third schwellenbach-ebook-coverbook, The Wheel Diver. In short, “Sorry you’re the middle child, Vestal. I just don’t have time to throw you a party right now.”

But, I do believe in this book. And not just because I wrote it. (Maybe just because I wrote it; it’s difficult to separate my maternal feelings about my work from my assessment, so you’ll just have to read it and decide for yourself.)

I have been celebrating by plastering countdown quotes from the book all over social media. I’ve never been much for quotes without the benefit of a broader context. I care about the world, the protagonist, her motivations. So here’s a quick summary, query-style:

“Rhea Artuso never expected to make it to 18. She never bothered to fall in love or apply for college. Now that she’s graduated from high school, her parents seem to think the best method of dealing with their ambitionless firstborn is to ship her to Rome for the summer.

Rhea’s last memory of Rome is of being buried alive by an angry mob at the age of 17. In the mob’s defense, she did violate her oath of chastity. And she may have allowed the eternal flame to extinguish. She tells herself she would like nothing better than to forgive and forget—which might not be the entire truth because that would mean forgetting Nesreen, the gladiator she fell in love with—but she also knows that violating a sacred oath is the sort of crime you don’t just pay for once.

Unbeknownst to Rhea, someone already knows her secret. Fortunately, that someone also happens to know how to pressure Rhea into accepting her parents’ offer. What kind of little sister would Emeline be if she couldn’t nag Rhea into returning to a city where she was publicly executed 2,000 years earlier?”





So there you have it. A first-person young adult novel with a lesbian protagonist who also happens to be a vestal virgin—emphasis on the “vestal,” not so much on the “virgin”—grappling with reincarnation, guilt, a bratty younger sister, tourists at the Coliseum, and a desire to live that surprises even her.

I refuse to speculate regarding my expectations for Vestal. If I’ve learned one thing from my four years as an independent author, and eleven as a professional writer, it’s that I know less than I’d like. However much I learn and however long I do this, I suspect that will always be the case. But I know I’m getting better. I know this is what I was born to do. And now I know a helluva lot more about vestal virgins and ancient Rome than I ever expected.


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