Domna Details: Turning History Into Fantasy

Many of you have been hearing me (reading me?) going on and on about my work in progress having started out as a historical novel and now (due to a bit of laziness on my part, I’ll admit) being turned into a fantasy novel set in my world of Osteria.

But what bit of history inspired this tome and why did I think it might make an interesting story? That’s what this (hopefully not too boring post) is all about.

But First…

If you haven’t already voted in my book cover survey, I would love it, appreciate it, worship the ground you walk on if you’d take a minute and toss a check mark into my one-question survey. Thanks!!!

Okay, onto a quick overview of fiction inspiration.

It Always Starts Like This

As with my original spark of an idea for The Trials of Hercules, my first encounter with the story of Julia Domna came from watching a PBS documentary. The show covered a dig that had been done in York, England, where a mass grave had been found. The bodies all showed signs of having been killed in a battle and evidence pointed to the battle having taken place sometime around the rule of the Roman Emperor Caracalla.

There was plenty of speculation about what ignited this fight, especially since York is pretty damn far from Rome. More evidence, more interviews, more research, blah blah blah, and eventually they decided these must have been the supporters of Caracalla’s brother and co-emperor Geta.

Little was known of Geta because after he was killed, his name had been cursed in the Roman tradition of damnatio memoriae, which basically meant all images of you and mentions of your name were to be destroyed. You gotta really piss someone off to get that level of the cold shoulder treatment.

This got my creative mind thinking. What had happened between these two brothers to take sibling rivalry to such an extreme? Historians make Caracalla out to be the bad guy, but what if Geta had done something to deserve the damnatio memoriae?

Cue the Research!

Looking into Caracalla’s history quickly led me to his mother Julia Domna who was the wife of the much older Emperor Septimius Severus. As with many women in ancient history, there’s not a gob of information on her, but what I found intrigued me. And had hunting down statues of her and Septimius on my last trip to Italy.

Julia Domna striking a pose in Ostia Antica.

Julia was one of the rare wives of Roman emperors who actually played a role in Septimius’s rule and even joined him on campaign. She encouraged learning and philosophy, and had a hand in the building of many public works (especially important since Septimius’s predecessor, Commodus had made a mess of things with his misrule).

Bah, Too Boring

There’s little but praise for Julia in most historical accounts. For women’s history, that’s great! For fiction, that’s just too boring. Where’s the strife? Where’s the hardship? And most importantly, how can I torment this person? (Sorry, we writers can be an evil bunch.)

I first started thinking of the age gap between her and her husband. I’d also learned they were betrothed while Septimius was married to his first wife and they only married upon her death. Well, that’s interesting. I decided to turn this betrothal into a forced marriage, and, well….Part One of the serialized novel will show you why this was such awful news for Julia.

Septimus Severus looking smug at the Capitoline Museum in Rome

Then there’s the kids. Why was there this sibling rivalry? Why did Caracalla attack Geta? Could he have been defending his mother? If so, what led them to the point that Geta might attack his own mother? I don’t want to give too much away, but I decided Geta should not be Julia’s own child, that he should be Septimius’s bastard she was forced to raise (I came up with this WAY before Game of Thrones was ever a thing, so no Jon Snow comparisons, please).

Besides tons of political scheming in the story, the situation of the arranged marriage I’d created lent itself to plenty of problems within the household. Even though Julia does her best to be loyal to Septimius, she has a past that she can’t escape, ends up the victim of some horrible rumors, and finds herself in a pretty complicated and very dangerous love triangle.

A noseless, much less smug Septimius at Ostia Antica.

But Wait, There’s Centaurs!

As I mentioned a while ago, there were some troublesome aspects of the research I couldn’t sort out and left me banging my head against a wall trying to write this as a historical novel. However, with the amount of Roman culture I already had in the manuscript, I realized I could fudge a little and set the novel in Osteria (my Greek-and-Roman-inspired world).

This has proved to be a challenge, but also provided a great deal of license with and inspiration for the story as a whole. Besides working all the settings into the locations across Osteria, I’ve changed most of the historical names, given Julia (now Sofia) a new divine lineage, built in new story lines, and, yes, thrown in some centaurs to the mix.

Centaurs!!!

Coming Soon!!!

Part One of Domna (there may be a survey regarding that title, so stayed tuned) won’t be out until January 2019, however, I plan to have all six parts up for pre-order sometime in September or October. There’ll also be something a little special I’ve never tried before coming to the blog next month.

What do you think? Ever get inspiration from unexpected sources? Ever get stuck on a project and then suddenly find your way out?

I’ll be back next week with…with what? Hmm, I think the voting for the book cover will be heading into round two and there may be that book title survey as well. Keep your opinionated fingers ready to vote!! And Saturday Finn is taking a tiny break, but another Beastie will be filling in with a tropical surprise!!!  

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11 thoughts on “Domna Details: Turning History Into Fantasy

  1. weekesgaehl says:

    OOOoooooohhhh I’m intrigued!!! Sounds like lots of room for some good stuff with the sibling rivalry. I’m just finishing up reading ‘East of Eden’ — if you want to brush up on a brilliant contemplation of brotherly love and hate!

    Like

  2. crawcraftsbeasties says:

    Oh, how cool! I think you’ve done the right thing by taking this story and setting it in the Osteria universe – researching a Roman woman and a guy who has been deliberately scrubbed out of the history books can’t be a party! Plus… Centaurs! Everything is better with centaurs.

    Like

    • TammiePainter says:

      Except for elevators. I imagine elevators would get pretty cramped with centaurs in there. The switch over from Ancient Rome to Osteria has presented its own challenges (still is), but overall I think it was a clever call, if I do say so myself ;))

      Like

      • crawcraftsbeasties says:

        But of course! I’m looking forward to getting my teeth into this new series! As for those centaurs, how DO they navigate between floors in tall buildings? I imagine stairs and escalators are no picnic for them either!

        Like

      • TammiePainter says:

        Maybe it’s like hospitals that have those big elevators to fit the gurneys. I’m sure the Center for Centaur Rights will soon be demanding all buildings have similar elevators to accommodate any equine visitors. When all cities have centaur-friendly establishments, we’ll know the equal rights battle has been won. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

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