Yesterday was my birthday and I learned something new. I usually love learning something new. Yesterday’s lesson—not so much. Have you heard of 4DX? Neither had I. Until yesterday.

But let me set this up. I have a few modest birthday traditions. I try not to work on my birthday. I like to dress up, get my hair done or try new makeup, and go out to a movie or Broadway show. I always enjoy a lovely dinner at a fancy restaurant. Since I left the corporate treadmill to write novels, it’s even more fun to skip the ponytail and sweatpants, dress up a little and get out in the world.

I’ve also noticed that Monday birthdays are usually disastrous. I hate Monday birthdays. My thirtieth was a Monday and everything went wrong. I ended up passed out on the bed wearing tights, a hat and a tie and no memory of how I got there. 2016 is a leap year and my birthday should have been on a Monday, but skipped to Tuesday. I thought I was safe.

imagesWe chose a lovely restaurant, but had to have an early reservation. I decided to see a movie “Captain America: Civil War” alone, because my husband had bronchitis and isn’t a fan of superhero movies. His loss. The 2:30 show in 3D at a complex 10 minutes from the restaurant was perfect. Everything was falling into place.

I should have known.

Before leaving the house for the movie, I primped and coiffed. Best midi-dress with pearls and moderately high-heeled boots? Check. Favorite black jacket with stunning bronze dragon broach and replica Roman coin bracelet? Check. Hair carefully fluffed, curled, and sprayed? Check. I packed my purse with the essentials: wallet, Metrocard, e-reader, key; grabbed an umbrella and set out for the subway.

I arrived at the cinema with plenty of time and went to a self-serve kiosk for a ticket. I tapped the screen for the 2:30 show of “Captain America: Civil War” and it told me the ticket price: $28.50.

What the…?

New York movie prices are high and 3D costs a premium, but I didn’t expect to pay more $16. I checked to make sure I hadn’t ordered two tickets. Nope. One ticket. IMAX? Nope. Something called 4DX. Never heard of it.

I dithered. It was my birthday. I wanted to see the movie and I didn’t have any alternatives for the several hours before our dinner reservation. I went to the next screen. “Pick a seat from the seating chart.”

What the…?

I had been to this complex many times and they had never had assigned seating. Another reason for the unreasonable price? I looked at the chart. Only four other seats had been claimed. Did alarm bells ring? Nope. It was Tuesday afternoon. I expected a low turnout, but only five people? I chose a seat, swiped my credit card, retrieved my ticket and receipt, and went up the escalator.

Popcorn in hand, I entered a smallish theater filled with large padded seats. Yay! I loved theaters with roomy padded seats that reclined with foot rests; a heavenly way to watch a show. I found my assigned seat in the middle of a row, a perfect distance from the screen and settled in.

What the…?

The seats didn’t recline. Then why all the cabling under the seats? Still clueless, I watched the endless parade of commercials and promos. Then something different came on.

“Where are you? You’re in the movie with 4DX!”

A car chase. My seat heaves, tilts, and bucks as the car screeches through streets. Popcorn flies all over my dress. Luckily it wasn’t buttered. I clutch my pearls.

Shots fired. Lights strobe and puffs of air blow my hair straight up and back. I try to pat it back in place and thank my lucky stars, I’m not epileptic.

The car hits a fire hydrant. Mist blasts into the air and drips on me. My beautiful hair! It’s melting….melting. Do I open my umbrella?

So this 4DX. When the promo is over, there are nervous giggles from the other viewers. Did they all know what was going to happen? Was I the only naïf?

The movie starts. I put on my 3-D glasses. It opens with a calm scene that lasts about three minutes, then all hell breaks loose. My seat bucks like a mechanical bull. When Captain America gets hit, my seat punches me in the kidneys. When Black Widow goes down an elevator, the seat shudders and vibrates, landing with a thud. When Hawkeye looses his deadly arrows, my hair flies in all directions. When Iron Man visits a rainy prison, I have to wipe the moisture off my glasses and hope my hair spray holds.

The movie is two and a half hours. Most of it action.

4DX. Yay! I’m in the movie being beaten, shot at, and rained on. Whoever thought that would be fun should be strapped to a 4DX seat and forced to watch all the Furious movies.

So what did I get for $28.50 besides wet hair, whiplash, and blood in my urine? A cracking good birthday story.

4DX coming to a theater near you. Check it out! Or not.

Oh, and I think I liked the movie, but will have to watch it again without all the distractions to make sure.



gladiator mosaicIt’s a sunny day in Pompeii on April 8th in this first year of the reign of Imperator Titus Caesar Vespasianus Augustus (AD 79). The crowds surge toward the amphitheater for the games given by D. Lucretius Stater Valens, a lifelong priest to the cult of the deified Nero Caesar Augustus. The placards pasted on the walls in the forum promise, “ten pairs of gladiators owned by his son D. Lucretius Valens and wild animal hunts, as permitted by law. The seats will be shaded with awnings.” Pompeii’s is the oldest stone amphitheater in the empire. For one hundred-fifty years it has proudly hosted games and religious festivals, but it’s looking dated next to the modern Flavian Amphitheater which will open next year in Rome. The frescoes of gladiatorial combat and beast hunts decorating the walls surrounding the sand are fading, but the patrons come for the blood sports, not the art.

The spectators pass into the open spaces surrounding the arena where merchants and food vendors hawk their wares. The scent of fresh bread, roasted meats, and sour wine waft through the crowd to mingle with the odor of sweat and hair pomade. People look at their wooden tickets and enter the appropriate gate to spread throughout the amphitheater: the front rows reserved for the leading citizens; the middle for the lesser knights and merchants; and the top for the poor, slaves, and women. Some resent the class divisions at the arena. At the chariot races in the hippodrome, it’s open seating (except for the emperor, of course!) and women mix with the men. Continue Reading »

Busting Gladiator Myths

Before I researched my newest novel, Sword of the Gladiatrix, I got most of my ideas and impressions of gladiators from the media: Russel Crowe in Gladiator and (for those of us of a certain age) Kirk Douglas in Spartacus. More recently Starz had a fantastic (in more ways than one) show that ran for three seasons titled Spartacus: War of the Damned. All of these shows perpetuate some myths that I hope to bust wide open in this post. They also got a couple of things right, which I’ll point out.

Myth #1: All gladiators were men.


Bronze statue of a gladiatrix

Most were, but not all. Here I’ll give Gladiator a weak thumbs up—they had women in chariots fighting against a group of men in a re-enactment of a classic battle in an arena scene, but other than that, women gladiators don’t show up in most visual media. It’s left to us lowly writers to correct the balance. If you look closely, women in the arena show up in art, literature, and law. Sword of the Gladiatrix was inspired by a particular stone carving of two female gladiators in the British Museum. More recently, archaeologists have uncovered a bronze statue of a gladiatrix holding a sica—a curved sword. Tacitus, Suetonius, Dio, Martial, and Juvenal all write about female gladiators—usually (except for Martial) with some element of dismay or sarcasm. An organizer in Ostia brags on his tombstone that he was the first person to put women in the arena as fighters. My favorite evidence is in the law: The first Roman Emperor Augustus forbade recruiting noble and free women as gladiators. Nearly two hundred years later, Emperor Septimus Severus banned single combat by women in the arena. If women weren’t being recruited and fighting, why have a ban? Human nature being what it is, these prohibitions probably made the fights all the more popular because they were illegal. I’m sure female gladiatorial contests continued for some time. Continue Reading »

Glad I ebook cover 2500x1652Yes, really! Whenever I pitched Sword of the Gladiatrix as my “lesbian gladiator novel,” I encountered raised eyebrows and skeptical snorts. The first question everyone asked: “Were there really lesbian gladiators?” My answer: “Of course!” We know there were female gladiators fighting in arenas for several centuries. Some had to be lesbian.

What really surprised people was the fact of female gladiators. They rarely appear in popular culture. Despite the popularity of Xena Warrior Princess and the myths of the Amazons, female gladiators don’t come to mind in the media-soaked imaginings of brutal, bloody, gladiatorial games. Women warriors? Maybe. Women gladiators? No. Yet they are there in grave markers, classical literature, laws, and art. All you have to do is look. Continue Reading »

I’m on Tour!

Sword 3-D

Join me for reviews, interesting guest posts, and quirky interviews at the following blogs (and there are giveaways!):

June 26-28 Historical Novel Society convention at Denver. See you there!

Glad I ebook cover 2500x1652Hot off the presses, I’m announcing a giveaway of my newest book, Sword of the Gladiatrix. The rules are simple: leave a comment below saying you’d like to be entered. No need to put your email address in the comment, it will be attached to your post in admin. If you’d like more than one chance, Tweet, share on Facebook, and/or post on your own blog and let me know in the comments. One additional entry for each share. The giveaway is open through midnight June 12, world wide. If the winner is in the US, you have a choice of print or ebook. If the  winner is outside the US, you have the choice of ebook format. I’ll use Raffle King to randomly pick the winner.

I’m excited about this one. I put out a couple of collections of short stories and a non-fiction book, but this is my first full-length novel since Selene of Alexandria. Good luck everyone! Details on the book below:

Sword of the Gladiatrix

Two women. Two swords. One victor.

An action-packed tale that exposes the brutal underside of Imperial Rome, Sword of the Gladiatrix brings to life unforgettable characters and exotic settings. From the far edges of the Empire, two women come to battle on the hot sands of the arena in Nero’s Rome: Afra, scout and beast master to the Queen of Kush; and Cinnia, warrior-bard and companion to Queen Boudica of the British Iceni. Enslaved, forced to fight for their lives and the Romans’ pleasure; they seek to replace lost friendship, love, and family in each other’s arms. But the Roman arena offers only two futures: the Gate of Life for the victors or the Gate of Death for the losers.

Author:  Faith L. Justice
ISBN:  978-0692386491
Length:  260 pp
Price:  $11.99 (Print-discounts vary) $3.99 (ebook)
Available at:

Amazon.com Worldwide (US, UK, Canada)
CreateSpace (print only)
iBooks (ebook only)
Kobo (ebook only)
Smashwords (ebooks–all formats)

Scholar with textsWe authors—especially of historical fiction—cannot get along without our research books. (We also like to visit the places we write about, explore museum exhibits, and participate in archaeology and reenactments, but this post will talk about research of the armchair variety.) We prefer primary sources: journals, diaries, letters, histories, account lists, and literature written in the period, describing the people and events we want to write about; but that’s not always possible. For cultures that didn’t have a written language (the Iron Age Celts), or it was indecipherable (Egyptian hieroglyphs until the discovery of the Rosetta stone), or it was destroyed (Mayan books burned by conquering Spaniards); we have to rely on secondary sources. Books, essays, and articles by academics and other professionals in their fields are the best we can do for written research in such cases. But we have to be careful even with those. Just as in evaluating primary sources we have to keep in mind the biases and knowledge of the writer, we have to do the same with secondary sources. Let’s face it, there’s a lot of dreck out there—particularly on the internet—and historical fiction authors usually like to get as close to the truth as possible.

In researching Sword of the Gladiatix (soon to be available), I collected several books, articles, and pamphlets on Boudica and Roman Britain, most of an academic nature, a few of the more “popular” variety. The two biographies of Boudica I review below are the best by far of both types. You can read either or both and get a well-researched, readable history of the Iceni Queen, her times, and her legacy in popular culture. Which to read depends on your needs and nature. Continue Reading »