Author Judy Ridgley tagged me in a "Meet my Main Character" blog-hop chain. So come on along and I'll tag others who might want to play.
1.What is name of your character? Is he/she
fictional or a historic person?
There are two main
characters in Curses and Smoke: A Novel
of Pompeii, and their voices alternate. However, today I’m just going to
focus on Tages or Tag, a medical slave in a gladiatorial school because…well,
just look at the pic of how I imagine him. Tag falls in love
with Lucia, the
daughter of the man who owns him (and she with him), which, as you can imagine,
is a bit of a problem. Both characters are fictional.
2.When and where is the story set?
The story is set in the
weeks before the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in Pompeii in 79 CE.
3. What should we know about
Tag’s ancestors came from
noble Etruscan stock but his family was thrown into slavery when Rome took
Pompeii during the “Social Wars” generations before. He is bitterly resentful
of the Roman “occupation” of Pompeii (even at the time of the city’s
destruction, the Romans still called Pompeii their “colony”).
Although in his heart he is
a healer, Tag dreams of training to fight in the arena as a means to win his
4. What is the main
conflict—what messes up his life?
The main conflict is that he
falls in love with the daughter of the man who owns him. Any kind of
relationship between them would’ve been seen as a major taboo. In addition, his
father is beginning to lose his faculties and he is desperate to keep the
master from noticing because he is afraid his owner would throw the aged healer
out on the street once he lost his usefulness.
5. What is his personal goal?
Tag’s personal goal is to
earn his freedom. The quickest way to do that, he thinks, is to train like a
gladiator. If he wins enough bouts, he could be freed—or die trying. When he
and Lucia get together, his goal changes and he dreams of running away with
her, even though he knows he would be crucified for touching her.
6.What is the book’s title and when will it
The title is Curses and Smoke: A Novel of Pompeii. It
is published by Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic and releases May 27.
Pre-order Curses and Smoke: A Novel of Pompeii at:
About the book: A kid-friendly, humorous, and fact-filled biography of the "original teen queen." VOYA (Voice of Youth Advocates) placed it on its "Honor List" for nonfiction. Booklist said of the book: “Shecter's solid research is evident in her
account of events as well as the back matter, which includes informative notes,
a time line, a glossary, bibliographies of primary and secondary sources, and
source notes for the illustrations.” Kirkus described the book as "a lively, informative, and aggressively informal portrait of Egypt's last and most famous pharaoh."
VOYA Honor List for Nonfiction
Cleopatra’s Killer Rep
the last queen of Egypt an evil, gorgeous woman, dripping with jewels? A
power-hungry tempress trying to rule the world? A pharaoh with a small snake
about none of the above.
you’ve read about Queen Cleopatra VII should have come with a warning: details may have been “Photoshopped” and
manipulated beyond recognition. The Queen of the Nile had more mud flung at
her than you can dig up on the banks of that great river. From Shakespeare to
Hollywood, what you’ve seen and read about her wasn’t always completely true.
made her into a hot starlet because nobody wanted to see an ugly queen.
Historians turned her into a power-hungry witch because that made her story
more interesting. And her Roman conqueror, Octavian, made her into a weapon of
mass destruction in heelsso he could
stomp all over Mark Antony.
we ever know the “real” Cleopatra? Without her personal letters and journals,
probably not. But for the first time, modern scholars and historians are
looking at events from the queen’s point of view. What they are finding is that
Queen Cleopatra VII , the last pharaoh of Egypt, was in fact a brilliant,
complex, powerful ruler. For twenty years, she kept the world’s greatest superpower
from taking over her country—a good trick when you realize it was during the
time when Rome swallowed up countries faster than most teens use up text
did she do it?
answer may shock and surprise you—and may even make you laugh. Either way,
you’ll get a more balanced look at Cleopatra the queen, the ruler, and mother
of four. So, on your knees, commoner. The last great queen of Egypt is about to
take the stage!
A Bookish Nerd?
ruled all of Egypt, had Romans trembling in their togas, and made kings weak at
the knees. Yet the glamour queen of the ancient world started out as … a
Yup, the girl whom Shakespeare likened to Venus—the
goddess of love—cared more about books than boys. At first, anyway. As a kid, Cleopatra
spent most of her time hitting the scrolls at the famous Great Library of
Young Cleopatra had a good reason for being so
serious—several reasons, actually: her ambitious brothers and sisters. Life
with them was like living with a nest of squirming, hissing reality-show
stars—you never knew when one might strike. Would her older sister push
Cleopatra down the palace steps to get her out of the way? Would her younger
brothers and sister poison her afternoon snack? Or maybe, “accidentally on
purpose,” hold her head under the water a little too long while they played in
the palace pool?
See, Cleopatra’s family was not what you would exactly
call … um, loving. Yet while most of her family members cared only for their
own personal power, Cleopatra longed to bring back the glory days of her
beloved country, which was easier said than done.
Corrupt rulers and a long history of border disputes had
weakened the once powerful kingdom. By the time Cleopatra came along, Egypt was
sliding down the tubes faster than a greased-up preschooler on a Slip ’n Slide.
Turning to the Big Bad Wolf
Egypt declined, Pharaoh Ptolemy XII took his eleven-year-old daughter,
Cleopatra VII, on a trip to Rome—not to sightsee but to save his skin. Raging
mobs had run him off his throne and out of Alexandria. See, over the years,
Daddy Pharaoh had paid Roman generals big bucks in return for soldiers to scare
off his enemies. Only he had so many enemies, he had to “buy” more Roman
protection than he could afford. And guess who footed the bill—Egyptian
citizens, who had to pay extra taxes. When Cleopatra’s dad taxed his people to
the breaking point to pay for more Roman henchmen, they chased him out of
Alexandria faster than a band of crazed shoppers at a half-off sale.
although the pharaoh may have been out, he wasn’t down. Not without a fight, anyway. So he put his
kingdom into even deeper debt—this time to a private Roman loan shark—to pay
Roman armies for help in invading his own country. Yes, that’s right, he invaded his own country. It worked.
The Roman military put him back in charge. But as a result, his people hated
him more than ever.
“Who You Calling ‘Fatty’?”
rulers want nicknames that reflect their power or glory, like Alexander the
Great or William the Conqueror.
dad? He ended up with a nickname that probably made her cringe. The people
called him Auletes—“the Piper”—because Ptolemy (tall-oh-mee) XII liked to play the flute. They didn’t call him the
Piper in a nice way, either. Guys who played wind instruments in the ancient
world weren’t exactly considered macho.
it was better than her grandfather’s nickname. They called him Chick-pea.
Before that, the Egyptians called Cleopatra’s great-grandfather—Ptolemy
VIII—Fatty, or Physcon, because of his huge size. He needed several servants to
hold him up to waddle around the palace!
she thought about these nicknames, Cleopatra likely had a bigger issue with the
way her father groveled at the feet of rich Romans.
her dad, she knew the Egyptians needed Rome to survive. But unlike him, she was
determined to find a way to become Rome’s partner, instead of its slave.
Daddy’s Girl … NOT!
While “the Piper” and Cleopatra trolled for money in
Rome, his oldest daughter, Berenice, snatched the throne and named herself
queen. Okay, we know Cleopatra was smart, but could her sister have been any
about it: most usurpers (people who steal thrones) usually have the king killed before they name themselves top dog.
Yet for some reason, Berenice didn’t. That’s why some scholars wonder if maybe
somebody else shoved her on the throne while Daddy was on the road. Or whether
she thought Daddy would be assassinated in Rome. Or even thought that angry
mobs in Egypt would tear him apart once they heard how much they would owe in
taxes to pay the Roman loan shark.
[Tax Photo? Need new one plus caption…]
way, it was a dumb move, because as soon as Daddy regained control of the
throne, Berenice parted with more than her crown. She parted with her life,
too. The Piper had her pipes cut—she was executed for treason. Turns out that
Daddy the Flute Player could turn into Daddy the Destroyer without pausing for
took careful note of that move, too.
How We Know What We Know
[Photo 5/Plutarch. Caption:
Most of what we know about Cleopatra comes from the Romanized Greek
historian, Plutarch, who wrote about Mark Antony nearly hundred years after
needed to make Mark Antony—and therefore Cleopatra—look bad because he did not
want to anger the often touchy Roman Emperor(s) of his time.
if Lex Luthor wrote Superman’s bio or Darth Vader dished on Princess Leia. You
might find yourself a little skeptical about their claims, right? You might
even find yourself doubting—if not laughing outright at—all of the insults and
that’s exactly what happened to Cleopatra. Rome won, so Romans told their
version of her story. The Romans dissed and dismissed her worse than a fashion
critic at the Oscars.
Today’s scholars are not so quick to
accept everything the Romans wrote about Cleopatra. They look for proof—or at
least some evidence—that might either back up or dispute the Romans’ version of
events. More importantly, they do what the Romans found unthinkable: they give
her the respect of seeing things from her point of view.
It’s about time the great queen received the equal—if not
royal—treatment she always deserved.
A Gift for Gab
After the Piper snuffed his eldest daughter, he
retook the throne and went back to playing the flute. Egyptians seethed over
having to fork over even more of their hard-earned money in taxes to repay
Romans. But what could they do? The streets of Alexandria teemed with Roman
soldiers paid to keep the Piper piping and the people quiet.
[Photo 7/Homer. Caption:
Cleopatra, like all educated Greeks, would have learned to read using
Homer’s epic poems, The Iliad and The Odyssey.]
young Cleopatra chilled at the Great Library of Alexandria, studying science,
mathematics, philosophy, and languages. In fact, according to one ancient
source, she was the first ruler in nearly 250 years to learn and speak the
native Egyptian language!
Wait. What? How could Egyptian rulers not speak the native tongue?
Cleopatra’s family—the Ptolemy line of Pharaohs—wasn’t Egyptian. Cleopatra
actually descended from the Greeks. Nearly 250 years earlier, Alexander the
Great invaded Egypt and put it under his rule. When he died, his general and
self-claimed half brother Ptolemy took over as pharaoh. From then on, his Greek
descendants ruled Egypt and spoke only Greek. Even Cleopatra’s name was Greek.
It just happened to be the name of Alexander the Great’s little sister.
Our Cleo had a talent for languages. In addition to Greek
and Egyptian, she spoke numerous African dialects as well as Arabic,
Aramaic, Hebrew, Latin, and Persian. But her political smarts were
even more impressive. And she couldn’t wait to put them to good use.
About the Book: A young adult novel based on the real life of Cleopatra's only surviving child, her daughter, Cleopatra Selene. From her palace in Egypt, to the dirty streets of Rome, Cleopatra Selene is forced to fight to protect the tatters of her family after her parents--Cleopatra and Mark Antony lose their kingdom and their lives. Forced to build a new life in the home of her parent's enemy, Selene struggles to protect her brothers and reclaim her birthright as a powerful queen. Publisher's Weekly called Cleopatra's Moon, "fascinating" and said said "the novel's atmospheric setting and romantic intrigue are highly memorable." The LA Times called it "magical" and "impressive," while The Wall Street Journal called it "absorbing." The School Library Journal called it "a fantastic read." Other accolades include being named to Entertainment Weekly.com's "Must Read" List and The Atlantic.com's list for "Young Adult Historical Fiction Adults Should Read."
Crystal Kite Award Winner
Junior Library Guild Selection
In the Seventeenth Year of My Mother's
In My Seventh Year (34 BCE)
PART I: EGYPT
What caused the gods to fall upon my family like starved lions
in a Roman arena?
I suspect it began in my seventh year, on a day that I once
considered one of the happiest of my life. It was a dazzling, sun-drenched
summer morning in Alexandria-by-the-Sea. Outside the Royal Quarter, with the
Mediterranean sparkling behind us and rows of date palms swaying before us, my
mother and brothers and I sat alongside one another on individual thrones. We
waited for my father, the great Roman general Marcus Antonius, to finish
parading through the city and join us atop our grand ceremonial dais. The
ceremony today would celebrate his victory over Armenia, his eastern enemy. And
we --- his family and all of Alexandria --- would rejoice with him.
Even in the shade of
our royal canopy, sweat trickled down my neck and back. The ostrich-feather
fans the servants waved over us provided little relief. Strong breezes
occasionally gusted from the Royal Harbor, cooling us with the salty bite of
the sea. Despite the discomfort and the glare from the beaten silver platform
at our feet, I forced myself to keep still as Mother had instructed, my eyes
trained just above the horizon. Zosima, who had carefully painted my face, had
forbidden me from squinting in the bright light. I was not to ruin the heavy black kohl
around my eyes and eyebrows, and under no circumstances to cause the green
malachite painted on my lids to flake off. I was not even to turn my head. I
would follow all the rules perfectly, I swore to myself. I would make Mother
But excitement and curiosity burbled in my blood as I fought to
stay still, stealing side-glances whenever I could. I especially treasured my
glimpses of Mother, Queen Cleopatra VII. She sat on a golden throne, looking as
resplendent as one of the giant marble statues guarding the tombs of the Old
Ones. Diamonds twinkled in a jungle of black braids on her ceremonial wig. She
wore a diadem with three rearing snakes and a golden broad collar, shining with
lapis lazuli, carnelian, and emeralds, over her golden, form-fitting pleated
gown. In one hand, she held a golden ankh of life, while the other clasped the
striped crook and flail of her divine rulership. Her stillness radiated power,
like a lioness pausing before the pounce. It left me breathless with awe.
I sat up straighter, trying to emulate her, puffing up with
pride at the realization that only Mother and I were dressed as true rulers of
Egypt --- she as the Goddess Isis and I as the moon goddess, Nephthys. After
all, was I not named for the moon? My brother may have been called Alexandros
Helios, for the sun, but I was Cleopatra Selene, the moon. I wore a flowing
dress that reminded me of the liquid metal that the scientists at our Great
Library described as "living silver." A silver diadem of the moon sat
atop my own thickly braided ceremonial wig. Even my sandals flashed silver.
I had never seen my beloved city so packed. By the tens of
thousands, Alexandrians and Egyptians flooded the wide avenues and byways,
desperate to catch a glimpse of us or of Father on his parade route. The
richest of the noble Greek families sat on tiered benches in the square before
us, while tradesmen, merchants, and the poor spilled into the streets,
squirming and jostling for position. Some even shimmied up trees, climbed onto
the shoulders of the statues of my ancestors, and scrabbled to the tops of
pediments and roofs to get a better view of us. The roar of the crowd as my
father approached in his chariot sounded like waves crashing against the rocks
on Pharos Island, home of our Great Lighthouse. When Tata climbed onto the dais
to join us --- his golden armor gleaming, his face soaked with sweat but
shining with joy --- he looked like a god. The God of War!
In his deep bass,
Father began: "I stand before you as Imperatorto the greatest of all civilizations, made even
greater by the loyalty and fealty of its allies. Today, we remind the world
that it is far, far wiser to be Rome's Friend rather than her Enemy."
Our people roared in agreement.
"The foolish King
Aatavartes of Medea thought to test Rome's strength," he continued, the
crowd groaning at the king's stupidity. "He sought to ally with Rome and Egypt's enemy in a greedy bid
for power and riches. He thought to claim our weapons and weaken us. But he
could not, for Rome and Egypt are blessed by the gods, our victory proof of the
favor with which the Immortal Ones hold us . . ." I lost track of Tata's
speech then and started counting the golden beads on the fan slave's broad
collar. I had gotten up to forty-seven (after having to start over several
times) when Father's voice cut through my reverie.
"It is time," he announced, "to make my
Dispositions of War, to reward Egypt for her unceasing loyalty."
The crowd whooped and
stomped. I perked up. Tata was about to bestow his gifts to us, his family.
To me! My mind raced with
the possibilities. Was I to receive a new crown from his plunderings? A golden
chariot? Or perhaps an exotic beast, maybe even one that breathed fire? Tata
turned toward my two-year-old brother, Ptolemy Philadelphos, who sat beside me.
Ptolly looked just like our tata, with a head of shining dark curls,
mischievous brown eyes, and the barrel-chested body of a bull. The crowds had
swooned with adoration at the first sight of him swaggering in his tiny
military cloak and boots.
"To my youngest son, Ptolemy XVI Philadelphos," Father
bellowed as the crowd hushed in anticipation, "I grant the lands of Phoenicia,
Syria, and Cilicia."
The people roared. I
drew a breath, stunned. Father was giving us kingdoms? I forgot to keep my head facing forward and turned
to Ptolly. He scowled furiously, waggling his chubby legs in his toddler-sized
throne as the noise reverberated around us. Worried that he might begin to cry
or have a tantrum, I took his pudgy hand in mine and bent toward his ear.
"Look at Tata," I instructed. "He is talking to
Ptolly locked eyes with Father. When Tata grinned at him, Ptolly
grinned back, showing all his little milk teeth. Then he toddled toward Tata,
to the crowd's cooing delight. One of the guards intercepted him and escorted
the little general off the dais.
"To my daughter, Princess Cleopatra VIII Selene,"
Father called, and I felt the attention of thousands land on me like a physical
force --- an energy that made me sit up straighter and raise my chin, despite
my racing heart. "I confer Cyrenaica and Crete, where she will rule as
queen. May she rule with as much wisdom as her namesake."
I was queen! Queen of Cyrenaica and Crete! As the people
thundered their approval, Tata caught my eye and winked. Forgetting protocol
again, I grinned and inclined my head. This sent the crowds roaring even
louder, and I heard my name chanted over and over again. I marveled at the
power pulsating all around us --- power freely laid at our feet, ours for the
I wanted to jump up,
to hug my tata, to do anything but
continue sitting like a block of marble. But, of course, I would not disappoint
Mother. I held my breath, pretending to be as solemn and immobile as the giant
statues of the Great Ones.
Tata turned his attention to my twin, Alexandros.
"To my son, Alexandros Helios, I bestow the kingdom of
Armenia, where he will rule with his betrothed, Princess Iotape of Medea."
The crowds whooped in honor of Father's decisive victory in the
region, but I refused to steal even a side-glance in my twin's direction.
The Interloper sat between us.
The black-eyed, silken-haired little princess was nothing more
than a royal hostage --- a guarantee that her father the king would stay loyal
to Tata. But I could find no warmth in my heart for her. The way Alexandros
acted around Iotape, it was as if Hermes himself had come down from Mount
Olympus and hand delivered her to him. Until she showed up, he and I had lived
as if we still shared a womb --- playing, sleeping, eating, and laughing
together. But now it was Iotape my twin sought out at first light and played
with until dusk, when Ra's sunboat descended into the Dark Lands. I would not
forgive her for taking him from me.
Still, our people continued to cheer at the announcement,
celebrating the return of a strong and vital Egypt. Armenia and Cyrenaica had
been under our dominion when our Macedonian-Greek ancestor Alexander the Great
and our dynasty's founder, his brother Ptolemy theFirst, took Egypt nearly
three hundred years ago. We Greeks had ruled ever since. And now, thanks to
Tata, we were stronger than we had been in centuries.
addition," Tata bellowed, "I bequeath to Alexandros Helios and his
betrothed rule over all the
lands of Parthia!"
I barely noticed the undercurrent of bewilderment that rippled
through the crowds, the whispers of, "How could the General give away
lands he has not yet conquered?" After all, my tata was the best general
in the world. Of course he would conquer Parthia!
Tata then turned his attention to my older half brother,
Caesarion, the only son of Mother's first husband, Julius Caesar. At thirteen,
Caesarion was slim and tall, and I thought he looked magnificent in the kilt
and pectoral of a pharaoh, combined with his father's bloodred Roman cloak.
"Ptolemy XV Philopator Philometor Caesar," Tata
called, "I name you the true heir and only son of Gaius Julius Caesar. And
I name you the king of Egypt!"
From the corner of my eye I spied Caesarion lifting his chin,
and my heart swelled with love and pride. My brother, the king! The king of
But again, murmurs of
unease snaked through the crowds, accompanied by whispers of a name I did not
then know:Octavianus. I
blinked, confused. Why should a Roman name be on our people's lips when
Caesarion was rightly being named their king? I tried to make sense of the
murmurs: "Isn't Octavianus Caesar's heir?" "Is Antonius
challenging him?" Some in the crowd even made the sign of protection
against evil. I stole a glance at Mother. She let out a breath that sounded
like a hiss. And although her face kept its expression of queenly impassivity,
I saw a flicker of concern settle on the tiny space between her brows. But it
may have only been a trick of the fierce Egyptian light, for when I looked
again, Mother's face appeared as majestic and untroubled as it always had.
Tata glanced at Mother, and his eyes crinkled before he turned
back to the crowds. "To my wife, Cleopatra VII Philopator, Queen of Egypt
and overlord of all the kingdoms bestowed today . . ." A rumble of cheers,
shouts, and joyous exultations interrupted him, almost as if our people were
thrilled to move on to what they knew and loved. The cheers swelled until I
felt them vibrating in my chest bones. Mother did not move as the entire city
chanted, "Isis! Isis! Hail Isis! Isis our queen!" When the wave of
noise crested, Tata began again. "Today," he boomed, "I name my
wife Queen of Kings, Ruler of the Two Lands, Overlord of our Children's
Territories, and Partner in managing Rome's interests in the East. I have a
vision of the future --- a vision of cooperation, not destruction. Borne up by
the loyalty of client kings and queens, Rome cannot be stopped."
He swept his arm toward the Lighthouse. "And like Pharos
that shines into the night, Egypt serves as a beacon to Rome's future. A future
of partnership. A future of immeasurable wealth. A future that no man or king
can rend asunder!"
The whoops of joy became deafening. Tata grinned and held both
arms up in exultation. He bid Mother stand next to him. The bright Egyptian
light seemed somehow concentrated on them --- I had never seen them look more
As the priests and priestesses chanted the final prayers, I
wanted to jump and cheer and laugh. It was my family's proudest moment! I drank
it all in --- the masses cheering; the white-robed Priests of Serapis chanting
over bowls of smoky incense; the long-haired Priestesses of Isis extending
their thin arms to the sky; the sweet fragrance of flowers as countless petals
swirled around us, floating through the air like tiny perfumed birds. It was
all so beautiful, almost magical. The Triumph of the Ptolemies! The greatest
moment of our lives. But the gods would not stand for us to have such happiness
for long. And so began the slow, excruciating process of our undoing.