Around The World: Traveling To Pompeii With T.L. Higley

Inspirational author T.L, Higley's new historical romance, Pompeii, is a Top Pick! RT Reviewer Lindy J. Swanson praises the story saying, "Higley’s meticulous research enhances readers’ understanding of the daring lives of the first Christians." Today we interview the author about her writing process and find out why Pompeii was the perfect setting for this tale that delves into the rise of early Christianity.

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What first drew you to Pompeii as a setting for your book?

I’ve always loved ancient ruins and exotic locales. And what’s more fascinating than a lost city, frozen in time two millennia ago and then unearthed, exactly as it was at that moment? When archaeologists began digging out the ruins, they found an amazing amount of the city intact — from beautiful wall frescoes and mosaic floors, to shops, theaters, bakeries and even restaurants. They even found bowls of walnuts set out on a table, and loaves of bread cooling on a counter! Much of what we know of Roman life and culture comes from the discoveries of this buried city. I loved the idea of bringing it to life again, getting a glimpse of the people who lived and loved there.

If you had to personify the setting, how would you describe it?

Mt. Vesuvius is churning and simmering through the course of this story, like an angry, abusive parent about to explode. In the meantime, the seaside resort city frolics and plays without a care, a child unaware of the wrath that is about to pour down. It’s only a matter of time before the two collide.

What kind of research did you conduct about Pompeii for the story? Are there any personal stories about the country that you would like to share? 

I was fortunate to be able to travel to Italy for research, spend some time wandering in and around the city of Pompeii, and even climb Mt. Vesuvius and look down into the still-steaming crater. It was a fantastic trip, and interested readers can check out my Travel Journal and photos on my website. The most striking thing about the city is how real everything feels, as if people were living there and conducting business just recently. It feels familiar, as if there are not two thousand years separating us from these people. As we stood looking at the plaster casts made when archaeologists discovered cavities in the hardened rock where bodies had decayed, even the expressions of terror and horror were captured on their faces, and they could have been anyone we knew. It was almost like a photograph of these ancient people as they died, and was very moving. The entire trip to Italy was filled with adventures, and I’d love to go back!

Author T.L. Higley in the Pompeii Forum with Mt. Vesuvius in the background

While everyone has heard about Pompeii and Mt. Vesuvius' eruption, most readers will probably not be experts. Can you share some details that you learned about this setting that others may not know?

You may not know that the city was not buried instantly by lava. The first eruption took place at about 1:00 in the afternoon, and sent a column of ash, rock, and super-heated debris shooting into the air for hours. It spread over the mountain like an umbrella, and citizens across the Bay of Naples (like the historian Pliny the Elder and his nephew, Pliny the Younger who later wrote about what he saw), watched in amazement all afternoon as ash began to fall on Pompeii. Later that day, the force of the eruption stopped for awhile, and the fantastic column of debris collapsed, sending the first surge of molten rock down the mountain, toward the city. The volcano continued to cycle through eruptions for the next twelve hours, all the while raining ash and pumice down on the city.  Many of the people escaped as the debris started piling up.  By the time the final surge wiped out the city the next morning, about nine feet of ash had already fallen, collapsing many of the roofs and suffocating people with fumes. Archaeologists estimate that about two thousand people died that day.

What would you like readers to take away after reading your book about Pompeii and the people that lived there?

I would hope that readers would have a clear glimpse of Roman life in the city, and of the competing forces of greed, corruption and righteousness that existed there. I always love to give readers a bit of history along with a good story, to help them better understand ancient times. But I would also desire that they’d be inspired by the message of the story, and the hope that is given.

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Want to learn more about this powerful tale of ancient love and region? You can pick up your own copy of Pompeii in stores now!