My first book, “In the Blood of the Greeks” takes places in a small Greek town called Larissa – an ancient city dating back 5,000 years. It is situated in Thessaly – The Germans favoured the city during World War II because of it’s location and the rail line that was vital for their war effort.
For many fans of Xena Warrior Princess (which starred Lucy Lawless (Xena) and Renee O’Connor (Gabrielle) from 1995 – 2001) Thessaly was Xena’s stomping ground. It didn’t occur to me when I started to write “In The Blood of the Greeks” that I was writing about Xena’s birthplace. It was only later when a Xena fan approached me at a Convention and asked me if I had based the story there because of Xena that this happened.
The answer to that is no. I was born in Larissa and it was the stories of the war with the Germans that my grandfather told me about that influenced which city “In The Blood of the Greeks” was going to be based in. It just happened to be where Xena’s story began.
Larissa is one of the oldest settlements in Greece with artifacts uncovered dating at least the Neolithic period (6000 BC). The name means “stronghold” in ancient Greek. It was also the head of the Thessalian League during the Hellenistic and Roman era. Today, it’s a modern city and is Thessaly’s capital.
A little history of this ancient city:
In the region of Thessaly, a capital city lies surrounded by lush valleys, and some of the most imposing mountains in Greece. Larissa, with a population of approximately 130,000 residents, is a city where ancient history and long tradition in agriculture meet the modern way of living. To the north and east, Kamvoúnia mountains, Títaros, Olympus (with the highest mountain peak in Greece reaching 2,917m.), Óssa (or Kissavos) and Mavrovoúni form a natural enclave. Here the micro-climatic conditions create an ideal wild life habitat. The soil of the area is also exceptionally fertile: cotton, grains, watermelon, melon, tobacco, vegetables, wine and tsipouro are only some of this land’s agricultural products. Larissa is also the centre of the economic activity in Thessaly with an ongoing development in industry, as well as the service sector.
It is a principal agricultural centre and a national transportation hub, linked by road and rail with the port of Volos, the city of Thessaloniki and Athens. Larissa, within its municipality, The urban area of the city, although mostly contained within the Larissa municipality, also includes the communities of Giannouli, Platykampos, Nikaia, Terpsithea and several other suburban settlements, bringing the wider urban area population of the city to about 220,000 inhabitants.
Today, Larissa is a major commercial and industrial centre in Greece. Legend has it that Achilles was born here, and that Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine, died here.
According to Greek mythology it is said that the city was founded by Acrisius, who was killed accidentally by his grandson, Perseus. There lived Peleus, the hero beloved by the gods, and his son Achilles.
In mythology, the nymph Larissa was a daughter of the primordial man Pelasgus.
The city of Larissa is mentioned in Book II of Iliad by Homer:
Hippothous led the tribes of Pelasgian spearsmen, who dwelt in fertile Larissa- Hippothous,and Pylaeus of the race of Mars, two sons of the Pelasgian Lethus, son of Teutamus. 
In this paragraph, Homer shows that the Pelasgians, Trojan allies, used to live in the city of Larissa. It is contradictory because Larissa was also the birthplace of Achilles, the sworn enemy of Trojans.
THE JEWS IN GREECE
One of the main plot lines for “In the Blood of the Greeks” was Eva and Zoe working together to get new identity papers for Jews and others to escape Larissa and Greece.
What happened to the Jews in Greece?
The following is from “Jewish Virtual Library” on Greece
A total of at least 54,533 Greek Jews were sent to Auschwitz, despite the protests of many Greek leaders. Most of these Jews were murdered, though many were also involved in various acts of resistance. In September 1944, the Germans evacuated the Greek mainland. In May 1945, they gave up the last of the Greek islands under their control. In total, the Germans confiscated 280 million drachmas ($1.5 million) in cash from Greek Jews, plus property. Between 60,000 and 65,000 Greek Jews died in the Holocaust, though there were a number of Jewish communities that at least partially survived the war. In 1945, the total Jewish population in Greece was 10,000.
In December 2012, police in northern Greece recovered 668 fragments of marble headstones and other parts of Jewish graves that were destroyed during the Nazi occupation of Greece in World War II. After a 70-year search for the remains of graves smashed when Thessaloniki’s main Jewish cemetery was destroyed, the fragments were found buried in a plot of land in the center of the city. According to the head of Thessaloniki’s Jewish community, David Saltiel, most of the gravestones found dated from the mid-1800s up until World War II.
In March 2013, Greek Jews gathered to commemorate thet 70th anniversary of the first roundup and deportation of Greek Jews to Nazi extermination camps during the Holocaust. A few hundred people came together at the city’s Eleftherias (Freedom) Square, the very spot where the occupying Nazi forces rounded up the first group of Greek Jews on March 15, 1943.
What about in Larissa itself?
LARISSA (Ottoman Turk. Yenishehir), city in Thessaly, N.W. of Athens, Greece. From the 16th century Larissa had a small Sephardi community. The local Jews were mainly engaged in commerce, notably the sale of clothes, and also in money changing. With the conquest of the Peleponnese by the Venetians in 1687 and the influx of refugees from Patras, the Larissa community increased. There were numerous ḥakhamim in the community. At the end of the 16th century, the most noted was the posek Joseph ben Ezra. In the 16th and 17th centuries there were two kehalim, the older Romaniot Kahal Eẓ Ḥayyim and a smaller, more recent Sephardi kahal. During the 18thcentury the Larissa philanthropist Isaac Shalom maintained a yeshivah in *Salonika. At its peak, in 1851–52, the community numbered 2,000 families. A short-lived *Alliance Israélite Universelle school operated between 1868 and 1874. In 1881, the Jewish community welcomed Greek sovereignty in a public ceremony. The community suffered a blood libel in 1893. When Larissa was temporarily occupied by the Turks in the 1897 Greek-Turkish War, local elements agitated against the Jews with accusations of collusion with the former Turkish sovereign. When the Turkish military commander gave the local Jews a chance to return to *Turkey, the local rabbi refused and affirmed Jewish loyalty to Greece.
The merchant Isaac Cohen moved to *Jerusalem at the end of the 19th century and established a large general store on Jaffa Road. His close contacts with the Greek-Orthodox Church enabled the Jewish National Fund to purchase land for the Israel Museum as well as in the Reḥaviah neighborhood of Jerusalem and for kibbutz Bet ha-Aravah on the Dead Sea. In 1900, two local Zionist movements were established: Mevaẓeret Zion and Ohavei Zion. In 1923 there were 200 Jewish families in the town, although formerly there had been more. In 1940 there were 1,175 Jews in the town; 950 fled from the Nazis to the mountains when encouraged by local rabbi Isaac Casuto to do so. Following a Nazi decree, the 150 Jews who remained in the town, and another 75 who returned, were registered with the municipality and deported. In 1948 the Jewish population numbered 626, and in 1958, 452. According to the 1967 census, there were 441 Jews living in the city. A Holocaust memorial was set up in the mid-1990s and was desecrated several times at the end of the 1990s and the beginning of the 21st century. Today there are only some 15 Jewish pupils in the Jewish school, and most students are gentile. The community was enriched when the native Rabbi Eli Shabetai moved back to the community.