Authoress Michelle Novak shares the inspiration that moved her to write Ancient.
My newest novel (I’ll be releasing the cover and title soon), is a romantic odyssey that takes place in ancient days. I’ve been enjoying the research more than I can say. Research is truly one of my greatest joys and I’m having a blast learning what life was like while the ancient Egyptians were building their pyramids…
I hadn’t a clue that this would happen, but the novel inexplicably began to saturate some Biblical stories into the weave. It just felt right. Now, I’m certainly no Biblical scholar, but I have read the Bible through several times (completely through…even every verse of ‘who begat who’ which I thought would go on forever and ever)…
In any case, my mind is now buzzing with both the ancient past, and a sprinkling of Bible passages that have left me both awed and haunted…
Consider for a moment, angels. There’s a verse that has made my eyes grow wide with wonder every time I think of it, for some years past. I think with the holidays in full swing, and all the goodwill that it is about, this verse is quite applicable to the current season…
[KJV: Hebrews 13:1-2] Let Brotherly Love Continue. Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
Think about that for a second…
A few years back, I participated in a Sunday morning Bible study that spoke on this verse particularly. The main question posed, was whether it was safe to entertain strangers in these times? Just being charitable to a stranger in public on the street, can sometimes feel dangerous. I understand these feelings, though I absolutely believe that Biblical times and our current times are equally scary in their ways. For instance…
Let us pretend for a moment that it is long, long ago. A wayfarer knocks on your door in the middle of the night, a stranger calling out in need. You quickly light an oil lamp, your family scurries behind you in confusion and trepidation as you consider what to do. Could you admit entrance to a stranger into your humble dwelling, to eat amongst your loved ones, to partake of your meager staples with those ever looming threats of plunder or worse, that were so frequent? Man, you had to be pretty brave (or be housing a brood of burly sons with fast and sharp daggers)!
I haven’t the answer to ‘entertaining strangers’, whether now or then, except that I believe we must all remain charitable, while doing our best to remain safe.
But let us consider that part about angels. While writing this week, I deeply pondered these words from Hebrews. I find them both fascinating and terrifying. Could you imagine such a powerful creature of God sitting before you in a soup kitchen, while you helped to prepare and serve a meal for them? They all the while, appearing as a downtrodden, regular person?!
My brain just broke…
My first thought is that I’m quite humbled by God’s reminder to be charitable, for I don’t consider myself charitable enough. Further, would I fail such a test if God sent an angel in disguise before my path? This verse challenges my bravery, my willingness to give, and my personal judgements about my fellow man. Humbled, humbled, humbled am I…
Second, the angels in the Bible aren’t quite like those cute chubby cherubs or prettily robed ladies in white that might come to mind. If I’d later discovered that the man asking for a dollar on the street had been an angel in disguise, I’d certainly fall to my knees in trembles, cry my eyes out, and potentially go mute for a month. Angels are mighty creatures that serve God, and I have to admit that I’d be mighty terrified to have been in the midst of one…just saying…
Now it is not exactly comparable (particularly owing to the spiritual component of angels), but it might feel a little like the reaction you’d experience if aliens landed on earth tomorrow, and one approached you in your backyard. My guess would be that anyone would be quite terrified. Encountering a being not of this earth would likely challenge your ability to remain standing…
But all of this to say (and whether or not you yourself believe in angels or aliens), this verse inspired my writing and excited my thoughts. How would my ancient characters react to the presence of an angel? How can I be more charitable today? What if I have been in the presence of an angel before, and didn’t even know it!? Just a little fun for thought! Every time I spy an angel topper at the height of a Christmas tree this season, I’ll be cautiously glancing around me for secret angels in my midst…
Stay charitable folks! Happy holidays, love yourself, love your neighbors, stay inspired!
It’s fun to be wrong, at least when it comes to research. It allows you to be surprised, delighted and to learn new things!
Having always loved history, costuming and even participating in Renaissance re-enactment, there were ‘facts’ that I’ve never questioned. Learned people told me so, and I’d read so, so it must be true! Well that isn’t always the case. Take the flea fur…
Oh heavens, look at those pearls! I digress. (If you love pearls as much as I do, don’t forget about Inspired by Venice‘s pearl earrings giveaway!)
Above is Isabella de’Medici (Italian), from 1558. At her side, you can see a special accessory. It is a zibellino or flea fur, adorned with gems.
And here is Bianca Ponzoni Anguissola (Italian), 1557. She too has a flea fur, gilded, a head of gold, gems for eyes.
And here, a flea fur at the collar of this woman (England, mid-1500’s).
You can find many, many portraits of nobles and their flea furs. Of course, people have been wearing furs for forever. But this particular way of wearing them (perhaps for looks, and displaying their riches) is noticed starting in the mid-late 1400’s.
I had always read, and been told, that the flea fur also had a practical purpose. It was to attract biting fleas from off of bodies. Even nobles crawled with fleas, money meant nothing when these creatures infested bedding, infrequently washed clothing, pets, etc. Nobles were said to place these furs on their person, so that the fleas would gather on the fur and then they could shake them, or beat them out.
Makes sense, only, it isn’t true. It was first surmised that this was the purpose for the pelts in the 1890’s, though no evidence has shown that the flea fur was anything but an accessory.
Another noble lady holding her fur, Italy 1515. It’s fascinating how easily fiction becomes fact, this particular one developing in the late 19th century, and still a misdirected belief today. It reminds me to be careful to not take what people write or say, to be truth (even though in this case, I want to believe it!). Flea furs, held in the hand, hanging from the waist, laying over the shoulder, pinned to the breast, were just a vain display.
Oh well. I can still imagine this noble lady, frustrated with fleas, running outside to fling her flea fur about. Fiction perhaps, but amusing!
This is beautiful Sophie, the daughter of one of my dearest friends and to whom A Festival Day In Bristol is dedicated. When I opened the email with this photo, my heart was so full of gladness. Such a pretty smile, such an adorable costume, such a precious girl!
I’m again reminded why I write.
Sophie hasn’t had the chance to read her special book yet, but finished Princess Liliana and the Dragon, and in her mother’s words, she loved it.
Thank you to every reader, of my books and Inspired by Venice. I not only hope that you enjoy my adventures, but that they will bring you smiles, surprises and moments of joy when you do. Every word is written for you!
I love looking things up! I got that from my grandma who I always noted taking an interest in a variety of unique facts, stories and articles when I was little. She was inquisitive and I caught that bug. Each time I didn’t know how to spell a word and I asked her how, she’d tell me to go look it up.
Nowadays, we are so spoiled with so much information at the tips of our fingers. So anytime I get curious, I look it up. Here are some interesting things that I recently learned. You shouldn’t go another day without knowing…
Snakes don’t blink because they don’t have eyelids. Instead, they have a protective film over their eyes. That’s why they are so mesmerizing when they look at you, because they aren’t blinking. For all you know, this guy might be sleeping. Snakes sneeze and its really cute. Bless you!
If folklore is true, the reason your hair is tangled when you wake up in the morning is because elves and/or fairies have been dancing on your head while you slept. Elflocks or fairy-locks depending on the culprit. And I thought it was because I don’t like brushing my hair!
These are cocoa pods that are filled with the cocoa beans that make chocolate. When you open the pod, the beans are nesting in a pulp and the beans are purple. They only turn brown after exposure to air and roasting! There are about 40 beans in a pod. It takes 400-500 beans to make a single pound of chocolate…that’s crazy. I have a new respect for that chocolate bar in the fridge.
I always thought that any bee that stung me wouldn’t live very long as I believed that bees die after using up their one stinger. Actually, it is only honey bees. Their stinger is barbed and when they try to pull it out, it damages their bodies and the stinger is left behind with you. Hornets and wasps however, do not have barbs on their stingers. Their stingers do not fall out after they get you…they can sting you as many times as they want with no peril to their health. Ouch!
Bubonic (and pneumonic) plague is passed around from a bacteria in fleas. In medieval Europe, fleas carried on rats, who infested areas where people lived, caused millions of deaths over the centuries. It is a horrific disease. In the United States, prairie dogs carry the bubonic plague. Whether you pick up one that has the plague or a flea from one gets onto you or your dog (even cat), you are at risk. The plague of the Middle Ages is still alive and well in our desert regions. Aye!
Hippo ‘sweat’ is blood red. It’s true. Technically it isn’t sweat, its a natural skin secretion that comes out clear and then turns red and looks like actual blood. Eventually it turns brown. It doesn’t wash off their bodies in the water, but sticks to their skin. The liquid is a natural sunblock! And, it is antibacterial, keeping hippos healthy in their swampy, muddy, buggy environments. Historically, people thought hippos were sweating real blood. Nope, it’s just hippo sunblock!
Penguins and polar bears have never met. Polar bears only live in the north (Arctic) while penguins only live in the south (Antarctic). I had no idea! I feel silly. Penguins don’t tend to be afraid of people in their natural environment because they don’t have any land predators (like polar bears). They’ll walk right up to you and say hello!
Heart attacks overwhelmingly happen on Mondays. You can probably guess why; it’s the day most people return to work after relaxing over the weekend and they are stressed out. According to this article, it still goes for folks that are retired! Guess you can’t kick the memories of getting back to the grind on Monday mornings! Perhaps we should all be doing something on this list on Mondays to keep our heart happy!
Ugh, cockroaches give me the chills. Eck! This is a gross fact. Cockroaches can live without their heads, sometimes up to several weeks! Apparently, they don’t breath through their mouths. They eventually succumb because they can’t drink water without their heads. Gross.
According to this article, when you sneeze, it can blow out of your system at up to 500 miles per hour. That, is, nuts. Because of the intense force, holding in a sneeze can be extremely dangerous (pulled muscles, burst blood vessels in your head and neck, burst eardrums, broken ribs). So, do not hold in your sneeze because it can have serious health risks. However, do cover your sneeze. The particles can mist up to 10 feet, even further, making it easy to get others sick.
I could look it up all day, learning is never ending!
Do you know what I find fascinating about research? It’s that I often have expectations about what I’ll find, but that my assumptions are often wrong. This teaches me how little I really know about topics I was sure I was better familiar with and how it always pays to ‘look it up’!
I was very excited to write my soon to come children’s book The Fairy Woods. I thought as I looked into the lore of the world of faes, I’d be delighted with what I’d find and that there would be so much pleasant inspiration! The truth is, fairies are frightening and if I met one in a forest, I’d make a run for it.
If you knew this to be an enchanted forest, would you cross that bridge?
There are many kinds of fairies in the realm of the faes, not just those glittery winged little creatures. Let’s take for example a will-o’-the-wisp. Oh, I see one there to the upper left in the photo above.
Will-o’-the-wisps do something magical when people enter the forest. They glow and float through the woods so that you become entranced to follow it and discover what it is. And then? It leads you into the swamp (hope you can swim) or deep into the dark woods where you get too lost to find your way out. That isn’t very nice.
Then there are brownies who live in your house. They hide under floorboards or in holes in the wall and come out at night. They tidy your house, do some dishes, sweep a floor. So helpful, right? Well, they expect treats for their work, a little honey, some milk. If you anger a brownie, they turn into a boggart (sometimes considered poltergeists today). They threw things around the room and destroyed the house, and frightened families. I certainly wouldn’t want to upset the household brownie, but think about it…would you really want a helpful little elf living in your walls who came out at night and rearranged things in your home? No thanks!
Hobgoblins are much the same, secreting in your house and helping with your housework, but they play practical jokes whether or not you upset them, sometimes downright mean and dangerous ones! Very unpleasant.
I’m sure you’ve heard of changelings? They are fairy babies, that fairies bring to your house and exchange for your newborn. Changelings are apparently very creepy and don’t express human emotions, all the while you are wondering where your baby went. Oh no!
But this is just the tip of the iceberg! There are hideous fairies that jump out of the woods and stop your heart, ones that throw mud at people for a living, there are drowning fairies that will snatch you into the water and hold you under. And those cute winged sparkly fairies? Most aren’t considered evil, but they are very naughty and troublesome. It reminds me of the time I asked my mom if it wouldn’t be awesome to own a pet monkey…she described for me the mischievous, energetic, biting, screeching natures of monkeys and I changed my mind. That is now how I also envision those ‘cute’ fairies.
One fascinating thing to keep in mind is that in history, people believed many of these creatures existed. People actually left food out for brownies in their homes so as to keep them on their good side, and when things went wrong, fairies were to blame. When I think about that, it’s frightening. I’m really glad I wasn’t born believing a water sprite would grab my ankle at the stream, or that a boggart was running amuck in my house. How would I sleep at night?
In the days of yore, fairies were a way to explain the unexplainable. That funny noise, that mess, or something that went missing in the home. They were also an entity to blame during a tragedy, such as if someone got hurt or for the loss of a child.
So, as a writer working on a fairy book for kids, I’ve had to imagine nice fairies and haven’t gained the positive inspiration that I thought I would from the research. That’s ok, perhaps I’ll write an adult novel that includes some of the lore…do you believe in fairies? Bwa-ha-ha!
In my forthcoming book The Fairy Woods, little fairies take refuge in the nest of baby owls, or owlets. That sounds so cute, right? I wanted to know how baby owls sounded and came across this video. Owlets are still the cutest ever, but don’t tell your children that they sound like that, or that fairies actually aren’t so nice, we don’t want to frighten them!
Want to see real, live fairies that I caught on camera? Enjoy!
Fun Fact: Do you know what running amuck means? It means rushing about, mad with murderous frenzy. Oh my. The things you learn when you look stuff up!