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Mary and I have garnered a few compliments for our descriptions of sixth century Constantinople. Readers seem to feel we capture the atmosphere of the ancient city that our detective calls home.

Of course neither the co-authors nor any living readers have glimpsed Constantinople. Mary and I have never even visited Istanbul which sits many levels of rubble and ruin above the dark and fetid alleys John wandered down all too often, particularly for a Lord Chamberlain.

My depiction of Constantinople is based on the hayseed's-eye view of New York City I had while going to law school. Presumably readers match their own impressions of modern big cities to our words.

Presumably, I say, because I don't think writers can conjure up in readers' minds anything the readers have never seen. However alien the landscape the words seek to call forth, what readers see in their minds has to be cobbled together from bits and pieces of real experience, just as the writer's words are.

Writers and readers are collaborators, assembling intricate mosaics from whatever small fragments of memories and perceptions they can find in common.

No wonder reading can be such a powerful and personal experience.

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