Monday, February 14, 2011

Burning Rome twice in one Emperor....

February is Snowdown celebration in Durango. For some reason, always the most bone-chilling weekend of the winter. Locals line Main Street downtown, stomping, waiting for the single firework above the train station, which marks the beginning of the parade when the first evening stars peep over Smelter Mountain. Crowding close, straining the man-barriers, people eagerly look south to see what they really came to see...the balloon gondolas. Resting on flatbed trailers, they come up the street with burners alight, trying with all their might to send their tongues of flame over the three and four story buildings on either side of the street.

The crowd Oohs and Aahs, and raise their hands to the warmth.
Suzanne Tyrpak plays a fiddle on a crowded corner.....

Only the fiddle is fiction in that paragraph. Suzanne might not have been there this year, the whole town has been sick, for nearly a month. I'd heard she'd been traveling and might have been tired. She travels a lot, which I envy. Her job for an airline at the county airport gives her that wonderful freedom. I don't blame her for hopping over the mountains at every chance. Once, she hopped over the pond, to the Med.    Italy.      Rome.

There was a flame-lit night in that city's past. Remember that?

How cool is that tie-in? Yeah, I'm feeling pretty smart.

Suzanne met me for coffee a few weeks back, to swap books, say hello finally, talk about what we love. Her book is new enough, I couldn't beg a copy. 'Vestal Virgin'. She posted me so I could get the file, and I jumped right in. Something had been admitted in that meeting, and I wanted the truth of it, to see what result had come of it.

Vestal Virgin was edited to the bone after she completed her first draft. It's her method; authors have those, you know. I was aghast. Cutting one of my MS would draw blood from me.

What happened to those words? Were there holes in the text? The book is about Rome, at the time of the burning. Would this novel have scorch marks, and voids in it from her handiwork, like the burned corners of the Turin Shroud? Could I read this and see the perforations?

No. Suzanne is an accomplished author, and I'm a dork. An editor once told me; anything can be edited. Done by an expert, it works. Ms. Tyrpak knew which threads to pull out, where to reshape. Here is my review of the result.

To the bone.... (her words)
What a bone! There is a feast of Ancient Rome within those pages; a banquet awaits anyone who loves the harshness of the stunning place. But, I would love to read the original draft. Send that Suzanne, instead of a print. :)  I'm that kind of reader. You can't give me too much of a beloved subject.

Now, let's talk about her other book; Dating My Vibrator: and other true fiction.
(I blush fire-engine red. So glad you can't see me right now. I bet you could sell that for $42.95, and it would still fly.)

So, what do I mean by burning Rome twice?
Hehe.  There were two fires smoldering there. Suzanne brings sparks from both into her text. Nero ruled, tyrannated, corruptivated... abused the citizens, at the time that Christianity was taking hold. It was creeping into place, doing what it does, replacing the voids within the downtrodden souls it touched. Rome, her citizens, was seething with a passion for something different. Rome had endured too much, from without and within, and was a tinderbox in too many hidden places. When those sparks ignited... Rome disappeared into smoke, and The Way began to bloom.

I keep seeing Donna Reed in that book cover.....

'Vestal Virgin' is Suzanne's debut book. She's approached self-publishing the way lions approached the early Christians - she's devouring it. She has some impressive admirers. Check out her thoughts on the e-book revolution in this publication:   Here is a link to her websiteAs a gift to her readers, and any new ones meeting her for the first time here, Suzanne has agreed to give an e-book copy of 'Vestal Virgin' to anyone who comments below, and also goes to her blog to sign up and follow! The winner(s) will be selected at the end of the feature this week, and will be given a Smashwords code by email.

Ready Suzanne?

I’ve been shy about reading ‘Dating my…’  Am I a prude?
The stories are basically PG. Most of the stories are set in Durango—so you might enjoy it just for the setting. I’ve read a couple of the stories at the library, and no one called the police or threw me out so I think you’re safe reading the collection.

How many times a year do you hop a plane out of Durango?
I work for an airline so I travel a lot. Sometimes more than I want, because I often go to training up in Denver. Mostly, I travel in the slow seasons—never on holidays. I just got back from New York, where my family lives. While I was there I did research for my next novel; I visited the Roman and Greek wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. At the end of this month I’ll be going to the Seattle area, meeting up with another writer friend who recently moved there, Shannon Richardson. I try to get away about every other month.

Have you ever worked in the café at the airport? The local joke, you know, everyone out there works at least once in the café…
There’s a cafe at the airport? No Joel, I don’t work at the cafe, but I often play piano out in the parking lot.

A three foot snowstorm doesn’t close that airport, does it. Have you ever been trapped out there?
Sometimes I work extremely long hours due to snow and rebooking. 4:30am till 9pm and later. It’s a tough job, but I enjoy it. And the airport is a great place to study people. I see people at their best, and sometimes at their worst. I check you in, and check you out.

You discovered your desire to write Vestal Virgin while on a trip to Rome. How long were you there?
My first visit to Rome was a dream-come-true—I traveled with a group of writers including Terry Brooks, Elizabeth Engstrom, John Saul, and Dorothy Allison for about a week. We hung out at cafes, wrote, wandered around the city and beyond. It was incredible. I got the idea for Vestal Virgin when I read a short blurb in a travel guide. There were only six vestals at any given time, and they were the most powerful women in the empire—sworn to thirty years of chastity at age seven, if they broke that vow they could be entombed alive. I thought: there’s a story!

The book took you back again, to complete research didn’t it?
Yes, I went to Rome a second time with a friend from Durango. We spent about ten days traveling through Rome, Florence and Venice. While we were in Rome, I hired a private tour-guide, a scholar who focused on A.D. 63-64, the time of the great fire—the year I write about. He showed us around the Forum Romanum, and gave me all kinds of interesting details I hadn’t found in books.

Some of the locations you visited that second time – those were not normal stops for tourists were they?
Most people don’t get the kind of details I got from the scholar tour-guide. For example, we walked around the site of the Domus Transitoria (Nero’s palace that burnt to the ground), and he knew the entire layout. I walked from one area of Rome to another, so I could get an idea of how long it would take to get around by foot. For example, I walked the route Elissa, my main character, walks from the Forum to what once was The Circus Maximus.

You’ve traveled to writer’s conferences, too? Where?
I attended the Maui Writers’ Conference and Retreat where I studied with New York Times bestselling writers including Elizabeth George, Terry Brooks, John Saul, Karen Fowler and Dorothy Allison. I’ve also attended Thrillerfest in Phoenix and New York City, World Fantasy Convention (don’t remember where), the Historical Writers’ Conference in Salt Lake, and one year Blake Crouch (Desert Places, Locked Doors), Shannon Richardson (Deadly Deceptions) and I attended Left Coast Crime together. We flew standby on my flight benefits to San Antonio. That’s where I first met Joe Konrath—the King of Kindle.

Are they ever going to finish that damned construction on Florida Road?
I believe construction is scheduled to be finished early in the next millennium. They’re currently building an overpass leading directly to the Rec Center, which will allow travelers to bypass Florida Road  - the toll will be $5.00, but I think locals get a discount.

Dating my Vibrator (and other true fiction) is an honest discussion about your life after divorce? Was that a difficult step to take, to write your own self onto those pages?
It’s not a discussion—honest or dishonest. It’s fiction, a collection of nine short stories. Yes, I used my experience as a jumping off point, but I do that with everything I write. Because some of the stories closely reflect my own experience, writing the stories saved me hundreds of dollars that I might have spent on therapy.

How many times have you ridden the train up to Silverton?

Do you bike?  Know 60 people who do?
Yes. Know in the biblical sense? That question is waaaay too personal!

How many bears have you seen near your place?
Last summer I had a group of friends over for dinner, and a bear cub showed up at the dumpster. We all ran out to see it—even the kids—before we figured out that might not be a great idea.

They say you are a local in Durango if you’ve ever spent a dime on Main Street. How long have you been here?
Where do you get these sayings Joel? I moved here from New York, Christmas of 1982. Threw my belongings into a VW hatchback and drove across country by myself. It was an adventure. I’m generally up for an adventure.

Is a new book in the works yet?
Several novels and another collection of short stories. I plan to bring out another historical suspense novel this coming December, Agathon’s Daughter. It’s set in Classic Greece. Here’s a description:

Agathon’s Daughter:
Born a bastard and a slave, Hestia has a gift—the power to read people’s hearts. This gift brings her notoriety and takes her on journey through the upper echelons of Athens. Sold to Lycurgus, a prominent statesman with sadistic tendencies, she becomes his consort. As Hestia’s wealth and fame increase, so does her despair. Determined to escape her cruel master, she faces enemies at every turn, but the fiercest enemy she faces is herself. To gain freedom, she must unravel the mystery of her past and confront the demons in her own heart. 

Online marketing is a struggle, at best, and we all have our favorite outlets, but you are partial to Kindle Boards aren’t you?
I think marketing online is fun—even addictive. I enjoy connecting with readers and writers via my blog, Facebook and Twitter. My fave hangout is Kindle Boards. It’s a friendly forum where readers and writers connect. I learn a lot there, exchange information and keep up on the latest epublishing news. I also hang out at a few Amazon forums in the US and UK.

Tell me what your typical writing day entails. Do they happen often enough?
At one point, before my divorce, I had time to write for hours every day. Now I write when I can. I like to have a chunk of time, so I can get lost in the story—but it doesn’t always work out that way. I write when I’m not working at the airport.

Highest peak you’ve visited?
The twin towers of the World Trade Center.

Explain what you meant by ‘cutting to the bone’ on Vestal Virgin. Why did you feel that was necessary?
I write, and then cut. I prefer economy in sentences. My first draft or two is usually over-written. I like to leave room in my writing for the reader’s imagination. For example, I stay away from detailed descriptions of a character’s appearance and allow my readers to create the images. Less is more.

Is traditional publishing your ultimate goal, or have you reached your desire already?
My ultimate goal is to support myself writing fiction. Thanks to epublishing, I think I can reach that goal in about three years. Traditional publishing was my dream for a long time—I’d love to work with a great editor and see my books in libraries and stores—but traditional publishing no longer guarantees those things. These days, with all the changes in the industry, I’m not sure if traditional publishing would be beneficial or a hindrance. 

How long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing seriously for about thirteen years, but I’ve always been a writer. In school, I used to entertain my friends with short stories, and I’ve always written (mostly bad) poetry. I’ve also written a few plays.

What is the perfect product, in your mind; an outstanding story, or something so unique that it simply stands out on its own?
A great story well told.

Have you ever boated/rafted down the Animas?
I did one of those tourist raft trips once. And I’ve cruised up the Nile. Researching a story—natch. Does that count as rafting?
Yes, it counts. Thank you bunches, Suzanne. Coffee is on me next time...


Durango is a river town. Our lovely little Animas. The Spanish named the river "Rio de las Animas Perdidas", "River of the Lost Souls". Named, truthfully, for the Native Americans who resisted Catholicism, the Animas is a river that kills; if you attempt it during the runoff, too high up from town. There are places where the current is so strong, lost kayakers are not found for days. There were currents in Rome, during the rein of Nero, and he was their cold source, emotionless as snowcapped peaks in May sunshine. Caught in his icy grip, even loving friends might die, friends who loved, but were not.
You thought you had heard that about him? Suzanne rafts you through those waters, but you will be chilled through. And, it's not even Nero's story...

Remember to stop by her blog, after leaving a comment below. We will notify the winners a day or two after her feature post.


  1. Joel, you put such flare into your posts. Has anyone ever told you that you should be a writer? :)

    Suzanne, I'm envious of your trip to Rome! I've long been fascinated by ancient history, particularly that of Rome. I need to read Vestal Virgin. Also, perhaps Dating My Vibrator. Virgins and Vibrators... is there a theme there? ;0

  2. Valerie Maarten said...

    Suzanne, loved your interview. I especially can identify wth your concept not to be too descriptive with your characters. I feel the same way.

    Sometimes less IS more. My idea of sexy or attractive can be a turn off for others, so I like my readers to insert their own *hunk or hunkette* into the story. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Fascinating...

    Just that.

    But, lots of that :-)

  4. Thanks for posting this Joel. And thanks for reading, everyone!

    LOL Darcia--yes, there probably is a theme!

    Nice to hear from you Valerie.

  5. Hi again, Joel. Just a reminder to your readers--post here and follow my blog and I'll give you A FREE COPY OF VESTAL VIRGIN. Easy!

  6. Great interview, Suzanne.

    I usually write less and have to add more at the end! But I agree you need to leave things to the reader's imagination.


You are more than welcome to leave a comment. We reserve the right to remove anything unseemly.