Need a fascinating—and sometimes scandalous—escape novel to read while sheltering in place?
How about one that also supports a local Texas writer who, due to the current lockdowns, has had all book events and tours postponed or cancelled?
Enter Austin-based historical fiction author Douglas A. Burton, who sat down with us to talk about his new book. “Far Away Bird” explores the somewhat scandalous life of Byzantine Empress Theodora. She’s our new favorite historic heroine.
Why Theodora? Who is she?
I didn’t intend to write about Theodora. My first attempt focused on Justinian, who is considered one of the greatest of the Byzantine emperors. But Theodora had certain things about her…
For one, she was an actress-prostitute who had gained some infamy in her youth. But then, as an empress, she influenced a wave of reforms that gave women expanded rights. Her legal accomplishments as an empress are more in line with a modern notion of feminism and yet her scandalous past gave male historians the perfect weapon to trash her reputation throughout history.
When was the Byzantine era, and where do we find the area on a modern map?
The Byzantine era is essentially the Medieval era. It was a dark age for Europe, but a golden age for Byzantium, lasting from 285 AD to 1453. The Byzantine empire is absolutely fascinating because it was a Roman empire divorced from Europe that didn’t even include the city of Rome. It was a multi-ethnic civilization that spoke mostly Greek, not Latin, and was Christian, not pagan.
Geographically, the Byzantine empire straddled three continents—Europe, Asia, and Africa—centered on the Balkans and the Middle East. Modern day countries include Greece, Romania,Turkey, Syria, Israel, Egypt and Libya.
Did you grow up in Austin?
I grew up in the Chicago suburbs and had a long stint in central Florida. In 2012, I moved to Austin and fell in love with this city. My two boys, Jacob and Lucas, were born here. I love the growth, the vibrance, and indie spirit of Austin and have zero plans to ever leave.
Do you have a favorite spot around Austin to write at?
I usually write in coffee houses. Before the coronavirus restrictions, my favorite place was Summer Moon over on Anderson Lane. They have a great little operation and amazing fire-roasted coffee. But I’ve also written at Monkey Nest on Burnet Road, Epoch Coffee on Anderson Lane and Illuminate Coffee Bar up in Anderson Mill.
Where can we find out more about your books?
On my website, check out the Heroine’s Labyrinth, which gives an overview of heroine-centric storytelling. There’s real power there, and a cool personality quiz!
The audiobook will be available on Audible and iTunes by the end of the month and there’s even a soundtrack! Yes, Luci Williams scored original music for “Far Away Bird” and it’s amazing.
Cover photo Crystal Burton
Leona Barr is a writer in Austin.