JeanneGassmanby Jeanne Gassman

One of the joys of writing historical fiction is the research, and I had the remarkable pleasure of working with a wonderful historical expert, Sean Burrus, who advised me on everything in BLOOD OF A STONE from cultural traditions to food to magic spells to the wildlife that populated the fictional world of my novel. Sean is a brilliant man fluent in five or six languages, and he has been on several archaeological digs in the Middle East. I think Sean had as much fun answering my questions as I had asking them. I wanted to begin BLOOD OF A STONE with a threat of imminent danger to set the tone for what was to come. Originally, I had a scene with a black widow spider hovering over my character’s head while he scavenged his Roman master’s garbage for something to eat. However, when Sean reviewed BLOOD OFA STONE for historical accuracy, he informed me that the black widow was not present in Israel until about 300 years ago. Oops. Sean suggested I use a different critter, something equally venomous –– a scorpion called the Death Stalker.

Sean had encountered them many times during his archeological digs. Now, I live in Arizona, so I’m quite familiar with scorpions. Nasty creatures. Frankly, they give me the creeps whenever I see them, but the Death Stalker scorpion (don’t you love the name?) was absolutely perfect for my needs. I’ve inserted a link with a picture of the Death Stalker, but if you’re squeamish about such things, it’s probably best not to click on the link! {WARNING: DO NOT VIEW IF YOU HATE INSECTS AND BUGS!} Sean and I also had great discussions about camels. It seems that camels were not common in ancient Palestine, despite the many Christmas scenes you see depicting them. Since my main character, Demetrios, and his business partner, Elazar, operate a caravan using two camels, I decided to draw attention to their novelty in the region. The camels gave Demetrios and Elazar an advantage over their competitors who relied on donkeys to transport goods. Camels are the long-distance champions of the desert. They can carry four hundred pounds on their backs and journey for days without water. They even have a third transparent eyelid that serves as sort of a “windshield wiper” to keep their eyes clean from grit and dirt during a sandstorm.

But camels can be moody and temperamental, too. When riled, they’ve been known to spit on their handlers or even bite or kick them! The world is an unsafe place in BLOOD OF A STONE, and nature is not always kind. A snake called a Palestinian Viper attacks travelers on the Jerusalem Road. Although this viper can be placid during the heat of the day, it is aggressive at night. Considered to be one of the most dangerous snakes in Palestine, the viper rubs its scales together to make a hissing sound when it is about to strike. This snake is quite beautiful in a deadly way. Here is a picture of the Palestinian Viper, but if you don’t like snakes, take a pass on clicking on the link! {WARNING! DO NOT VIEW IF YOU HATE SNAKES!}  Blood of a Stone, Gassman

Birds play important roles in BLOOD OF A STONE as well. Galilee is famous for its vast bird migrations that cross from Africa to Europe, and I worked with Sean to include many of these birds in various scenes in the novel. Black-headed gulls follow the fishermen on the Sea of Galilee. The sorceress Endorah gives Demetrios the feather of a black-and-white crane, telling him it’s the perfect tool to measure out the drops of her sleeping potion. Demetrios is awakened by an eagle owl chasing its prey across the roof where Demetrios is sleeping. When Judas meets with a conspirator in Jericho, he announces his arrival by mimicking the cry of a rock partridge. This is a fascinating video about the many migratory birds that pass over the Sea of Galilee:
I am so grateful to Sean for guiding me through the wild and wonderful diversity of critters and varmints that inhabit BLOOD OF A STONE. These nonhuman characters have added a three-dimensional texture to the novel’s setting.

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