Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Out of the Ashes by Lori Dillon: Character Interview, Excerpt

Out of the Ashes
formerly titled Ashes in the Wind

Theirs was a love destined to be — torn apart by the wrath of Vesuvius

Pompeii, AD 79
David and Sera are soul mates destined to be together, if only their bumbling guardian angels could do their job right...
First united in Pompeii as a privileged merchant's daughter and a slave gladiator, their young love is cut short when Vesuvius unexpectedly erupts. After several botched attempts, their angels get one final chance to bring the couple together and personally escort them back to war-torn Italy, nearly two thousand years later.
WWII, 1943
Sera is now an archeologist excavating the ruins of Pompeii. David is an American soldier masquerading as an Italian, sent to spy on the Germans camped near the ruins. With the help of their earth-bound angels, they soon find each other again as they excavate the ruins.
But will deception, the horrors of war, and the forgotten tragedy of their past lives, prevent them from unearthing the love of a lifetime?

David wedged his way between broken columns and waist-high pottery to take a closer look at a statue of a young child lying on its side. He reached out and ran his hand down the child’s leg, its surface bumpy and rough to the touch. Definitely not the smooth marble work of art he had come to expect from the ancient Greeks and Romans.

“I hope whoever carved this didn’t quit his day job, because he sucked as a sculptor.”

“That isn’t a statue.”

He glanced up at Sera. A sad smile tugged at her mouth, but there was no joy in her expression.

Setting down the backpacks, she walked over and delicately touched the top of the figure’s tiny head.

“It’s a plaster cast of a young boy who died in the eruption.”

He snatched his hand back.

“You mean this was a real person? A kid?”

Sera nodded. “Flesh and blood.”

He looked at the body cast again, now seeing the delicate features clearly for the first time. The boy appeared to be sleeping peacefully, without a care in the world.

“But, how… ?”

She stroked the child’s head, running the back of her hand down the boy’s cheek much like a mother would caress her own son.

“When Vesuvius erupted, small stones and ash fell from the sky for several hours. During that time, most of the people of Pompeii had time to escape, but many stayed behind thinking they could wait it out and the danger would pass.”

“That was stupid.”

She shrugged. “Not to them. At the time, Pompeii was still rebuilding from a major earthquake that occurred ten years earlier. Most of the people fled the city then, too, only to have to return with all their belongings. Much of what they didn’t take with them had been damaged or looted by thieves. I’m sure they thought this time would be much the same.”

He shook his head at the idiocy of it.

“I find it hard to believe they couldn’t tell the difference between an earthquake and a volcano eruption.”

“They couldn’t see the volcano. In fact, they couldn’t see much at all. The first phase of the eruption blocked out the sun, turning day into night. Even with their lamps and torches, they could only see maybe a foot or two in front of themselves because of all the soot and ash in the air. The ones who decided to stay sought shelter where they could.”

“Bad choice.”

“Unfortunately for them, it was.” He watched her draw in a deep breath as if she couldn’t get enough air into her lungs. “The pumice rained down for hours, piling up twelve feet high. Some were crushed when the weight built up and the roofs collapsed on top of them.”

“Ouch.” David glanced up at the flimsy wooden roof over his head, now looking more insubstantial than ever. It wouldn’t hold back twelve inches of dust, much less twelve feet of ash and lava rock.

“Others were trapped inside their hiding places as the volcanic debris blocked up the doors and windows, and they couldn’t get out.”

“So they were buried alive?”

“Basically. Eventually poisonous gases seeped in through cracks and crevices and killed them.” He found himself holding his breath. Was that the faint odor of sulfur he smelled? “We usually find their skeletons huddled in the corners of buildings or in the cellars.”

“What a horrible way to go.”

“There are worse ways. Once the rain of ash and pumice stopped, those who weren’t trapped or crushed thought it was safe to leave and tried to escape the city then.”

“Do I really want to know what happened to them?”

Sera’s eyes took on a distant look, as if she were in another place, another time, and no longer aware that he was there.

“The mountain’s sudden silence was deceiving. Vesuvius wasn’t done yet. Up until then, she’d only been warming up. As the last of the citizens of Pompeii tried to flee the city, Vesuvius erupted with a vengeance, sending a pyroclastic flow racing down the mountainside.”

“A pyro-what?”

She continued on, as if she hadn’t heard him. “The hot air and toxic gases hit them first, dropping the people in their tracks, blistering their skin and scorching their lungs, suffocating every living thing in their path.”

He tugged at the collar of his shirt, finding it hard to breathe himself as she told the tragic story.

“A shower of ash came next, covering everything in sight. Rain followed, turning the ash into mud that later hardened like a layer of cement over the victims’ bodies.”

David could almost feel the hot, wet ash on his skin, weighing down his clothes and clogging his throat.

“As the centuries passed, the flesh decayed, leaving hollow cavities in the ground where the bodies had been. When we find one of these cavities, we pour a plaster compound into it. Once it hardens, we chip the volcanic layer away and are left with a perfect cast of the person at the exact moment of their death.”

He looked at the child, a boy who couldn’t have been more than three or four. He had hardly begun to live before the volcano had taken his life.

“Poor little guy.”

She continued to stroke the plaster face of the child, oddly comforting a small boy who had been dead for nearly two thousand years.

“In the confusion and chaos, he must have been separated from his parents. We found him curled up in the doorway of a villa, all alone, lying there just as you see him now.”

He glanced up from the cast in time to see a tiny tear fall, leaving a sad trail down the dirt on Sera’s cheek. Reaching across the plaster child, he caught it on the pad of his thumb, startling her back from wherever she had been.

She stared at him, obviously surprised by the gesture. When she began to pull away, he stopped her by cupping his hand against her damp cheek. A wealth of emotions shadowed her face—shock, embarrassment, sorrow. Then she closed her eyes and ever so slightly turned her face into his palm.

David didn’t know what to say. What could he say? The reality of the eruption seemed all too real to him now, as if he had just experienced the horror for himself. He sensed she felt the same way.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered when she finally did pull away, leaving his empty hand to hang in the air between them. “I don’t normally do this.”

He let his hand drop to his side, curling his fingers to capture the warmth left by her cheek. The air around them felt too intense. He needed to find a way to lighten things before it became downright awkward.

“What? You don’t give ignorant laborers personalized guided tours of the ruins every day?”

His attempt at humor seemed to work. She smiled, swiping at her cheek and smearing the wet tear trail into a muddy streak. He was suddenly struck by how beautiful she was in the fading light, smudged cheek and all.

“Well.” She cleared her throat, donning her normal reserve like a protective coat. “I guess that’s the end of your history lesson for the day. We should get going if we want to be out of here before it gets too dark.”

Disappointed that whatever spark had flashed between them had died, he nodded.

“Yeah. I guess so.”

They left the pottery shed in silence. After retrieving their bicycles outside the east entrance, they headed down the road toward the modern town of Pompei, built in the shadow of the sleeping giant, Vesuvius, just as the ancient town had been.

Sera confounded him. One minute she seemed made of stone, the next she cried over a child whose only trace of existence was now a plaster cast. He wondered if she ever felt that deeply for a living person, if she ever let her guard down. Or did she only put up the walls when she was with him?

But she had shown him a crack in that wall tonight, and as they went their separate ways, David found himself wondering if he might be able to knock it down, stone by stone.

Then he reminded himself that he didn’t plan on being there that long.

I was fortunate enough to snag this book for
review at Night Owl Reviews.  The review should
be posted within the next several weeks.

David Corbin
Past Life: slave gladiator
Current Life: WWII American spy

Hello David! It's great to see you here in 2012. I'm excited for the chance to talk with you like this because, I have to say, I read about you and Sera's adventures a few days ago and fell in love with you a little bit then, myself. lol  ... So, tell us, what was the scariest moment of your life?

Which life? Death by volcano was no picnic, let me tell ya. But watching Sabina (Sera) die in my arms and there was nothing I could do to save her, that was the worst. Of all the times I faced death in the arena, I was never so scared, or felt so helpless, as I did in that moment.

What is your favorite meal?

Anything that’s not army rations. Although, with the war going on, there’s not much good to be found in town either. But Maria Angelico makes zeppoles that are just this side of heaven. Man, that lady can make a pound cake out of sawdust.

What are you passionate about these days?

I’ve kinda gotten into this whole archeology thing. I never really knew what I wanted to do once I got out of the army. Now, my place is wherever Sera is. The ruins are her life, so from now on they will always be a part of mine.

What would you consider to be the best book you have ever read? 

The Great Gatsby.

Who should play you in a film? 

If we’re talking 1943, it would be Tyrone Power or Gregory Peck. I hear that Sinatra guy isn’t a bad actor, either. If the movie were made today, probably Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds, or Joshua Bowman. I hear the ladies think they’re pretty hot. *grins*

Is there a piece of advice that you have received that has really stuck with you? If so, what was it?

Don’t live near an active volcano. Did I follow that advice? No. As I said, the ruins are Sera’s life, so we live close by. But at the first rumble or belch of smoke from that damn mountain, Sera and I are outta there.

Thank you, David! It's been awesome finding out a little more about you. Say Hi to Sera for me!

In a previous life, Lori worked as a graphic designer for fourteen years for the power company, occasionally venturing into nuclear power plants for her job (yes, nuclear plants need graphic designers, too). In her current existence, she weaves tales of the past, the present, and some places only magic can take you.

Lori lives in Virginia with her engineering geek/hero husband, two kids who test her sanity on a daily basis, a dog named Hokie (named after the Virginia Tech Hokies, of course), and various other critters of the furred and finned variety.

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Sandy L. Rowland said...

I love your voice, very fun!
And the idea to mix the military and Pompeii's past intrigued me.
Of course, I adore a romance.
It looks like you've got a winner.

Best success to you and terrific interview.

Suz said...

Thanks for this amazing giveaway! This book looks great & I would love to win the paperback version!

Suz Reads (in Rafflecopter)

Carrie at In the Hammock Blog said...

sounds really good! i'd say paperback or smashwords :) Thanks!!

Sarah Elizabeth said...

Love the sound of this book and I would love a mobi copy :)

Kylie said...

Love the Character Interview! I'm a ePub reader.

Gale Nelson said...

a mobi I have a kindle. Thanks Gale

G said...

whatever works with a kindle

Joy said...

Print copy. Thanks.
magic5905 at embarqmail dot com

Courtney Wyant said...

Epub :)

Darling Nikki said...

Epub or Mobi would work just fine =)

Helen said...

epub or smashwords