And if you're busy on Saturday, stop by Barnes & Noble at the FSK Mall on Friday, May 17, 2013 from 4:00 PM - 7:00 PM. I'll be there for a signing with lots of other wonderful authors and friends!
Ave Historia: An irreverent look at historical fiction today: books trends, historical tidbits, and random tangents
May 15, 2013
And if you're busy on Saturday, stop by Barnes & Noble at the FSK Mall on Friday, May 17, 2013 from 4:00 PM - 7:00 PM. I'll be there for a signing with lots of other wonderful authors and friends!
May 10, 2013
6:10 a.m. There are some people who manage to travel chic, but I am not one of them. Forget chic Louis Vuitton carry-ons or even matching Samsonites; I'm hauling a tattered faux-Coach tote from my college days, a neon floral gym bag circa 1987, and a massive black and yellow sports bag that could hold every hockey stick the Boston Bruins own. Given the fact that said black-and-yellow bag is missing both wheels, I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn it was used to bash a goalie's head in during the last Bruins-Maple Leafs scrum.
8:23 a.m. My deep ingrained displeasure at having to rise at What The **** O'Clock is off-set by the fact that my pal and fellow author-of-the-ancient-world Stephanie Dray has agreed to fly out to RT with me in adjoining airplane seats. Stephanie is a marvelous traveling companion; even with a massive tote over one arm and a boarding pass clutched in hand she has the air of one being borne along on her journeys by slave-borne barge.
10:48 a.m. Get two authors together on an airplane with nothing to do but talk shop, and the facts start to fly—after an hour's breathless natter over the airline peanuts about the building of Monticello, the guerilla tactics of Tacfarinas, and the common poisons and antidotes used in Imperial Rome, the man in the seat ahead finally turns around and fixes us with a certain wary interest. “Just what is it that you ladies do?” After assuaging his fears that we are not in fact planning real murders, only fictional ones, we manage to brainstorm and plot a book each. If we're this productive on the return journey, we'll probably have sample chapters and a full outline prepped for our respective agents.
1:05 p.m. The hotel is massive, connected to the world outside with glass walkways, and the conference is already in full swing. I barely have a chance to dump my bags before I'm subsumed into a mass of new friends. Over quick burgers at the hotel pub, I commiserate with Jeannie Lin, who writes T'ang dynasty romance. “Concubinage is underestimated as a happily-ever-after,” she says thoughtfully. Where else in the world would you hear that and not be fazed?
3:47 p.m. I'm late for my very first workshop: “How To Work With Your Publisher on Publicity and Marketing.” Sourcebooks puts on a marvelous talk, but everything is overshadowed by meeting yet two more new friends, fellow HF authors Christy English and Donna Russo Morin. We've bonded through Facebook and have been dying to meet face to face—and Christy turns out to be a southern-born charmer with a curtain of brunette hair and a beaming oft-repeated exclamation of “You're so sweet!” while Donna is a vibrant Italian hugger-and-kisser in leopard pumps. I'm somewhat proud of my own ability to walk in 4-inch heels but Donna has me beat by a Florentine mile: the woman wasn't just born in stilettos; I think she was born with spike-heeled feet like Angelina Jolie in “Beowulf.”
5 p.m. “Using Theme To Strengthen Your Brand.” Stephanie's speaking at this one, and I haul Donna and Christy along for the fun. It's one of the best talks of the conference: Stephanie is joined by Norah-Roberts-To-Be Laura Kaye, and Queen-of-the-Highland-Warriors Eliza Knight for a thought-provoking talk on theme that produces its share of “Eureka!” moments in the audience. “Everything I write has the same theme!” Christy exclaims midway through. “How did I not realize that?” I'm stuck on what my overall theme could possibly be; Stephanie offers a suggestion of “Karma's a bitch.” I think she may be onto something there.
6:31 p.m. Dinner at an Italian restaurant with Donna, Christy, and Stephanie. Prosecco flows. Secrets are exchanged. Also much swearing over recent trends in historical book covers.
8:37 p.m. E.L. James is supposedly here, but under an assumed name. Resolve to keep my eyes peeled.
9:14 p.m. Christopher Gortner and I meet up and fall on each other with happy cries of joy—we hit it off at the San Diego HNS conference, but haven't met face-to-face since. Not only is he the best dinner companion on earth—he's got more one-liners than Rupert Everett in an Oscar Wilde play—but we're both writing Borgia books. We trade plot details happily: his “Borgia's Daughter” focuses on Lucrezia, and my “Serpent and the Pearl” takes a wider angle on the Borgia Pope's mistress Giulia Farnese, so we've managed to cover the same era without stepping on each other's hems. Excellent.
10:02 p.m. Do I really want to go to the Ellora's Cave Disco-Themed Cocktail Party bash? Is Christopher giving me an imperious stare? Looks like I'm going to the Ellora's Cave Disco-Themed Cocktail Party.
10:36 p.m. Oh dear God. Six male dancers get up for a bump-and-grind routine to “Stayin' Alive,” wearing unbuttoned sequin shirts and white spandex bell-bottoms so tight that, in the words of Robin Williams, you can tell what religion the men are. Brain bleach, brain bleach!
10:41 p.m. “Stayin' Alive” gives way to something else from “Saturday Night Fever,” as the gyrating continues. “Clearly the only thing to do,” Christopher counsels between fits of laughter, “is to take pictures and send to your husband with the caption `Missing you, honey!'” Two flutes of Prosecco later, this seems like an excellent idea.
12:09 a.m. Slide into bed with a sore stomach from laughing so much. Am wakened an hour later by a text from the hubby: a pic of him and the Navy cadre from his division, all dressed in drag and holding skirts up to show hairy legs. “Missing you, too.” Well played, sir.
8:30 a.m. I notice that the only event scheduled before eleven is the breakfast for inspirational romance authors. I think inspirational clean-living sort are going to be the ONLY ones at this conference up that early.
2 p.m. Lobby Posse reunion! At the Historical Novel Society in San Diego, the stars aligned to throw six or seven women together in the lobby for shop-talk and insta-bonding. I was lucky enough to be one of those ladies (along with Sophie Perinot, Michelle Moran, Teralyn Pilgrim, DeAnn Smith, and Marci Jefferson) and we've none of us lost touch since. This is a rare opportunity to catch up with DeAnn, a KC native, and bless her, she was even able to set up a quick interview for me on KCTV. As Christy English would say, “You're so sweet!” I even manage to sound reasonably coherent. Thanks again, DeAnn!
(I'm in the video on the lower left)
2:45 p.m. Christopher and his agent present a sensational panel on self-marketing. Twitter; blog ads; Goodreads; Facebook; nothing is overlooked. I take copious notes. Let it be known: C.W. Gortner is not only the king of insightful fictional portraits of historical bad girls; he is the king of marketing.
4 p.m. I'm signed up for the e-book Expo signing. As one of my Goodreads blog followers once wondered, exactly how does one sign an e-book? I'm not exactly sure, and I'm not sure anyone else is either. But I sit here gamely, and hey, somebody does ask me to sign their Kindle.
6:10 p.m. Fast dinner with the new posse. More swearing about covers, more dark secrets—and we plan to invade the 30th anniversary RT Formal Ball this evening en masse. We all try to persuade Donna to unearth her Three Musketeers costume, the one with the tabard and the thigh boots.
8:42 p.m. An evening of mad primping, followed by a dash to the ball. I'm going va-va-voom with something strapless, scarlet, and very Liz Taylor. Christopher has fabulous Italian leather shoes, Stephanie sports a 20's feathered headdress and a long Audrey Hepburn cigarette holder, and Donna may have decided against wearing her Musketeer tabard, but she flashes an Angelina “leg” pose when we stop for pix. We are one fabulous bunch, if I do say so myself.
9:39 p.m. Why is it that so many parties decide that the moment of greatest merriment among the guests is EXACTLY the time to stop for a 90 minute speech? Jay Gatsby would not approve. Fortunately, we're all at a table in the back where we continue to drink champagne, eat chocolate, and dish. We argue about whether Plantagenet history is more of a minefield for the fans or the writers, and whether anyone reads American-set HF anymore at all. Christopher withstands all my blandishments, blackmails, and bribery for a hint on his next project, damn him.
10:46 p.m. Trail upstairs at last to watch TV in my pj's and pearls. Donna has raved about the show “Vikings,” in particular its hero - ”eyes like blue lasers!” - so I give it a try. Donna's right about the lasers; Travis Fimmel is one tasty Viking, even with his hair strapped into a tight ponytail braid that could easily make him look like a really muscular prep-school girl.
Travis Fimmel: my RT date
11:59 p.m. When you get a midnight text imploring you to head out for an emergency group bitch session on the Worst Publisher Ever, as well as the real story on whether E.L. James is at the conference or not—you pack up and go. This part stays in the Cone of Silence.
Noon I take a long morning to prep for my one speaking gig: a panel with Donna, Christy, and Christopher titled “The Hottest Sex In History.” Are those butterflies? Why yes, they are.
1:15 p.m. Piteous pic sent from the spouse: him and the dog, both looking sad. Aww, my boys are missing me.
3:45 p.m. “The Hottest Sex in History” is scheduled opposite a vampire meet-and-greet, so attendance is light, but we ham it up and have a great time. “What's the raciest tidbit you've ever found in your research?” asks Christopher's agent Jennifer Weltz, who is moderating. I relate a bit of real-life banter where a medieval courtier teased a lady when she asserted that women like herself did not have hair upon their bodies like men did, even in intimate places: “Certainly not; grass would never grow on such a well-beaten path.” Ouch.
5:13 p.m. Third time back at that Italian restaurant. The waiters know us all by name by now; they have Donna's prosecco ready to go, and the waiter is writing “chicken marsala” before I can form the words.
7:42 p.m. Ok, the real story on E.L. James? She came to the conference under an assumed name to support a writer friend, but blew her cover almost immediately by standing up at a panel in which her books were mentioned, and getting huffy with the moderator because she didn't like what they were saying. I don't know about you, but if I could buy an island in the Caymans with my last royalty check, I wouldn't be getting huffy about anything.
9:51 p.m. Have resolved that I am going to make this an early night: pj's, hotel room, maybe a little more “Vikings.” So naturally I'm up till 1:15 a.m talking shop with Christopher and Stephanie, who are meeting for the first time and hitting it off famously. Screw it; I'll sleep later.
9:15 a.m. Wake up looking like I spent the night under a collapsed building. Shriek at reflection in mirror; reach for concealer. It's the giant book fair this morning: three hours of signing and selling. Knowing me I will walk out with an armload of new books, even though I'm the one who's supposed to be selling them.
10 a.m. Is that Mary Jo Putney sitting right next to me? Why, yes it is. She could not be nicer; signing for her legions of fans, she steers them gently my direction—and in between the fans, we gab. “I like a book hero with real problems,” she says, and points to two of her latest. “This one's an alcoholic and this one's nearly feral from solitary confinement.” I point at two of mine. “This one's an inarticulate killing machine, and, well, this one's just kind of a jerk.” We trade books: her feral ex-prisoner for my inarticulate killing machine.
2:13 p.m. And yes, I am walking out with a stack of books. Text the husband: “Need another bookshelf.” Get a text back: “Running out of walls.”
2:17 p.m. Meet a darling teenage girl in the line who has brought a suitcase full of books to be signed by all her favorite authors, and is mourning the fact that three hours wasn't enough to get to them all. I ask who she missed; she takes a gander at my name tag and says, “Well, for one, you!” I end up signing for her in the checkout line.
3:45 p.m. Eliza Knight, a friend from the local Maryland writers group. She looks cheerful but a trifle haggard—as well she might, considering she is the mother of three who can turn out six books a year. “I don't know how she does it” doesn't even begin to cover this woman's work ethic. She ends up dragging me, and Donna as well, to a Hunky Highlanders panel where we listen to Scottish ghost stories while sipping Scotch whiskey and sampling haggis. Not bad (the haggis).
9pm Harlequin Dance Party! Donna can not only walk around all day in those fabulous leopard-skin stilettos of hers; she can dance all night in them. She has all the cover models salivating. When I'm too tired to dance, I flop down with Christy and we talk Princess Alais of France, one of Christy's book heroines and historical co-star in the epic Katharine Hepburn movie “Lion in Winter.” Was Alais seduced by Henry II, or vice versa? Christy thinks Alais went for him. “He's charming! He's handsome! He was the king! And,” Christy adds, “we know he didn't wear riding gloves. Who could resist a king who has working-man calluses?” Good point.
12:09 a.m. And it's another late night for me! Laura Kaye dishes details on the Cinema Craptastique event; where an epically bad movie is picked for viewing with hilarious voiceover. Stephanie volunteers a howler of a horror movie called “Bad Sheep” for next year's event, and Christopher contributes a campy old vampire flick. Who knew he could do such a dead-on parody of Marlene Dietrich? “Are you hungry, daaaaahlings?”
3:55 The conference is done; Stephanie and I fly out in the evening. But we squeeze in one last farewell coffee with Christopher, and an epic barbecue lunch with Lobby Posse pal DeAnn. I'm 90% convinced this is the same barbecue joint where Kevin Spacey plots world domination in “House of Cards.” And how can Kevin Spacey make such an ominous prop out of a bottle of barbecue sauce?
6:15 Stephanie and I board our plane over-caffeinated and exhausted, finely tuned to a state somewhere between Zen and stoned. I say something vague about our flight connection in Atlanta and she stares at me for a moment. “Was that English?” Me: (thinking seriously): “Possibly not. In my sleep I speak French, and currently I'm three-quarters asleep.” (True story about the French.)
10:55 p.m. Both Zen and exhaustion are replaced with fury as airline screw-ups causes us to miss our connecting flight. Neither of us will be arriving home until at least one-thirty in the morning. It's not wise to upset historical fiction authors. Know this, you apathetic, chinless, pimpled cretins in the Customer Service Department of AirTran, and know it well: you will all turn up in Stephanie's and my next books, and you will be crucified along the Appian Way.
1:47 a.m. And I'm home. The hubby is asleep. The dog is asleep. The conference is over.
There you have it, in a nutshell: the 2013 Romantic Times Convention. I anticipated the fun panels, the useful discussions, the industry tips—but what gets me every time about these writer conventions is the strange and wonderful zaniness of the people who write for a living. We work alone, curled up on our couches or at our desks, engaged in the solitary process of stringing one word after another. Put us all together in one room for a change—people who all give the same knowing nods when somebody exclaims, “Don't you just hate it when you get a historically inaccurate dress on your cover?”-- and we party like nobody's business. A few more days of this, and Kansas City might have been burning like Rome.
Next year's RT is already set for New Orleans. I confidently predict shenanigans, madness—and fun.
April 30, 2013
I'm headed out for the Romantic Times Book Convention in Kansas City tomorrow morning at No-One-Should-Be-Awake-This-Early-O'Clock. This is my first time at RT, and I'm already round-eyed at some of the shenanigans I've heard rumored. (Faery masks? Bare-chested cover models? Sign me up!)
It's a big convention, but if you're in Kansas City this week, you'll be able to find me. On Friday May 3 at 3:45 I'm speaking with C.W. Gortner, Christy English, Donna Russo Morin, and Jennifer Weltz on "The Hottest Sex In History." I'll also be signing books, first at the Expo for e-releases on Thursday May 2 from 4-6pm, and the regular paper books at the Giant Book Fair on Saturday May 4 from 11-2pm (and you're free to bring your own books from home). Even if you're not coming to the conference, the Expo and the Book Fair are open to the public - so if you're in the area, get your ticket at the door and drop by to say hello.
Hello, Kansas City - here I come!
April 16, 2013
This is my first audio book, and even more exciting, "The Serpent and the Pearl" is getting the deluxe treatment: not just one reader but three. Two female readers who will provide the voices for my two heroines, and a male reader who will voice my hero.
Not just any male reader, either: my hero in "The Serpent and the Pearl" will be read by none other than Ronan Vibert, who is currently co-starring on Showtime's series "The Borgias." (He looks considerably more unshaven and villainous there, as Lucrezia Borgia's brutal first husband, than he does in the picture here!) You may also remember Ronan as Lepidus in HBO's "Rome," as Robespierre in "The Scarlet Pimpernel," as Mira Sorvino's dissipated English lord in "The Buccaneers," and from a thousand other BBC productions. I've already heard clips of his reading, and he's going to be marvelous as my cynical hero Leonello. (Looks not unlike him too, except for a leetle height difference.)
The ladies sound wonderful too, both of them young stage-trained British actresses with lots of Shakespeare in their background. The reader for Giulia Farnese has a husky alto drawl that would charm any Pope to his knees.
So come August 6, download the audio edition of "The Serpent and the Pearl" and listen to the fun!
March 25, 2013
Conrad was a firm friend to my grandparents—an odd buddy for a little girl, generationally, but kindred spirits are found in the most unlikely places. His life was one of those colorful Jack London strings of unlikely adventures (degree in Biochemistry, worked for NASA, degree in geology, worked for teamster's union, ran for Congress, lost due to over-honesty and tattoos). He was a lanky, raspy-voiced genius with eyes permanently crinkled in amusement at the foibles of mankind, and the hands of a concert pianist (often holding a cigarette; I'd have breathed in any amount of second-hand smoke to hear Conrad's witticisms). He had a massive, arrogant intellect and a biting tongue; he was interested in everything, and had no patience with hypocrites and fool. He valued intelligence, and he didn't care what package it came in. He was one of those rare adults who could talk to children without talking down to them—if he thought you were smart, he didn't care if you were eight. Smart was smart.
That was the trait that endeared Conrad to me. When you're in elementary school and your passion is the Tudors rather than My Little Pony, you don't have too many people your own age to talk to. The other kids call you a weirdo because instead of joining the kickball game, you march off with the kickball under your arm pretending to be Margaret Roper retrieving Sir Thomas More's head from the Tower of London. And adults aren't that disposed to listen to you, either. Sure, they think it's cute at first when a nine-year-old starts reeling off the key diplomacy points between Elizabeth I and Ambassador Mendoza, but after that? Sad to say, many adults get uncomfortable when a kid is knowledgeable. They think you're showing off, or they just wish you'd go away and bore somebody else.
My parents were better than that: they got me “Kings and Queens of England” paper dolls instead of Barbies, and they listened to me yatter on about Greek mythology and Tudor history all I wanted. (And I did yatter; I was a dreadful little pedant.) But a kid always has the suspicion that their parents are predisposed to listen—they indulge you because they love you. Conrad was different. He looked down at me through a haze of cigarette smoke, listening to me chatter about the Field of the Cloth of Gold, and then he corrected calmly, “No, I think you'll find in the Weir biography that that's wrong. I'll lend it to you.”
An adult who would listen to me—who would talk to me—who wouldn't condescend to me! I bee-lined for Conrad every chance I could get, and the result was a string of memorable conversations. When he and my grandparents took me to the Greek Festival, I missed the folk dancing because Conrad and I were debating the pros and cons of the First versus the Second Triumvirates of Rome. On a camping trip in the mountains, everybody else toasted marshmallows and sang Kum Ba Yah around the fire, but we were too busy dissecting the various marriages of Henry VIII. (Oh, the bemused stares!) My interest in history exploded, and Conrad fostered it. For my eleventh birthday he gave me a college-level treatise on Tudor economics—I still have it, worn to tatters. When I told him my latest passion was the Hundred Years War, he pulled his hardback copy of Barbara Tuchman's “A Distant Mirror” off the shelf at once and tossed it into my hands. We made an odd pair: a lanky middle-aged atheist covered in teamster tattoos, and a little blond girl who barely came up to his elbow, but our minds ran on the same track.
Conrad never bothered telling you he liked you—if he was talking to you at all, it was proof that he thought you were worth talking to. He never told you he was proud of you, either—he bragged you up to everybody else, instead. He never had to tell me that he thought of me as a kind of honorary grandchild, and that he was immensely proud when I ended up becoming a historical novelist. I knew he was proud. By encouraging my interest in history, talking with me instead of telling me I was weird or even worse, patting me on the head and telling me I was cute, he let me know it was ok to be a brain, to have arcane interests, to pursue those same interests into a career. Without that, I might never have ended up a historical novelist.
Conrad died suddenly at the beginning of this year: nearly eighty, acerbic as ever. At his funeral, as per his request, the congregation toasted his memory with shots of brandy. I shall miss him always. I wouldn't put up a statue or a memorial for Conrad, even if I could—he'd hoot at the idea. Here's a better legacy: Find those bright kids out there, the ones who can babble bright-eyed about the properties of black holes, or confess that they read Yeats instead of US Weekly. Encourage those kids. Tell them to ignore their classmates who call them weird, and to ignore their teachers who think they're showing off. Just talk to them. Believe me, they'll remember it.
Don't rest in peace, Conrad. You'd find peace very boring. But I do hope you were wrong in your belief that there is no afterlife, because I'd love to sit next to you at another campfire, and have ourselves another long chat about the wives of Henry VIII.
March 12, 2013
The conclave of 1492 was the first to be held in the Sistine Chapel, a tradition that continued afterward to this day. The chapel hadn't yet been painted by Michelangelo—a certain Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere, who sat in several papal conclaves over the course of his career, might well have stared vengefully at the ceiling and thought to himself, “Ok, if I ever win one of these things, I'm putting some decent paintings in here.” Della Rovere was one of several cardinals who probably considered himself papabile, which roughly translates to “pope-able.” Papal conclaves were held in strictest secrecy, but you could generally tell who thought they had a shot at the papal throne by seeing which cardinals had their palaces cleaned out beforehand: Roman tradition during the Renaissance dictated that any new Pope promptly had his palace sacked by a celebratory mob (the reasoning being that the guy didn't need a private residence anymore, since he was moving into the Vatican). That's one tradition that has fallen away over the centuries, but it was highly appreciated by the bettors and bookies of the Renaissance, who touted the odds on the next pope according to which cardinals had all their best belongings carted away pre-Conclave, just in case things swung their way. Cardinal della Rovere had his hopes up for the conclave of 1492, and so did his arch-enemy, a certain affable Spanish cardinal named Rodrigo Borgia.
Modern conclaves have streamlined the voting process for efficiency: votes can be held up to four times per day, as opposed to the Renaissance when conclaves could last for weeks. (There was one conclave which supposedly lasted several years, and the cardinals were finally restricted to bread and water to hurry them along. When even that didn't work, the roof was removed from their voting room. A few showers of rain later, a pope was chosen with remarkable speed.)
But in 1492 as in today's conclave, a two-thirds majority was required. Also identical in process is the expulsion of outsiders, the ceremonial locking of the doors, and the oath of silence. Vegas has nothing on the Vatican: on pain of excommunication, what happens at the Conclave stays at the Conclave. Voting ballots are still hand-written (you don't want to put in computers to tabulate this vote; wouldn't it be embarrassing if Anonymous posted “Dude, I hacked the Vatican!” on Facebook?) and no cardinal can ever vote for himself. But both today and in 1492, fierce jockeying occurs behind the scenes as cardinals angle for Christendom's ultimate prize.
The conclave of 1492 was notorious for the bribery that went on among these supposed men of God. If you think the clergy today has a bad reputation, the cardinals of the Renaissance had them outdone by miles. There were only twenty-three present in the Sistine Chapel that summer day in 1492 (travel distances being what they were, cardinals didn't tend to make flying visits from France or England as they do today), and all twenty-three were known less as men of God than as princes of the church: worldly men who ate and drank like kings, made merry with women, slept in luxurious palaces, promoted their families, sponsored great art, and lived it up. The poster child for this system was Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, an unabashed sensualist who played proud papa to at least four notorious illegitimate children—and at the time of the conclave, was head over heels in love with a gorgeous eighteen-year-old blonde by the name of Giulia Farnese. In my version in The Serpent and the Pearl, Rodrigo is more distracted during the conclave than he should be, tabulating possible votes with one half of his mind as the other half wonders if he can make Giulia his mistress. Not a good time for a man of God to be distracted, but Rodrigo Borgia always made time for love.
When he wasn't dreamily doodling Giulia's profile on his ballot, Cardinal Borgia made other arrangements. Four mule-loads of silver and the office of Vice-Chancellor reportedly went to Cardinal Ascanio Sforza in return for his papal vote; fortified towns and bishoprics and revenues were handed out like party favors among the other cardinals in exchange for their support. Cardinal della Rovere must have been very tight-lipped indeed during the four votes that followed: with every cast of the ballots, his enemy's star rose. The first three sets of ballots were burned ceremoniously, releasing the black smoke above the Vatican roof that to this day symbolizes to the watching crowd outside that yet another vote has been unsuccessful. On the sixth day of the 1492 conclave, a hot summer day in early August, the crowd saw white smoke: a pope had been elected.
In Rodrigo Borgia's day, tradition had it that the newly elected pope demurred modestly when offered the papacy, then formally accepted before taking his oath and making his first public appearance. Supposedly Rodrigo Borgia was too excited for modesty, and just let out an exultant yell of “I AM POPE!” This tells you pretty much everything you need to know about Rodrigo Borgia.
After accepting his title, the new Pope goes at once to change into his papal vestments (several sizes are usually laid out, then as now, since no one knows what size man will be climbing into those vestments). He then goes out to give his first official blessing to the crowd outside, announced officially by his chosen papal name. The official announcement, unchanged through the centuries, is Habemus Papam, or “We have a pope.” The assembled crowd of 1492 heard the words “We have for Pope, Alexander VI, Rodrigo Borgia of Valencia.” To the surprise of no one who knew the man, he had chosen the name of a conqueror rather than a saint.
After the blessing, preparations are always made to crown the new Pope in an official ceremony, but everyone has a few days to prepare first. The new Pope Alexander would have had time to go home, celebrate with his exultant sons Cesare and Juan and Joffre, and tell his daughter Lucrezia about the splendid marriage plans he arranged for her as part of the bribe to Cardinal Sforza. The new Pope would also have made time to kiss the golden-haired Giulia Farnese—whom, to the scandal of all Rome, he refused to give up after taking the papal throne. And the new Pope probably would have heard the scurrilous epigram that soon made its way through Rome after the election: “Alexander sells the Keys, the Altar, Christ Himself—he has a right to, for he bought them.” Rodrigo Borgia never minded trash-talking; he probably roared with laughter. Besides, it was true: the conclave of 1492 became famous as one of the worst examples of bribery and simony in conclave history. When Cardinal della Rovere finally became Pope Julius II two conclaves later, he passed stringent anti-bribery laws for future conclaves (in between bullying Michelangelo about that Sistine Chapel ceiling).
The papal conclave of 2013 is already famous: it's the first time since the Middle Ages, long before Rodrigo Borgia or any of his colleagues were born, that a conclave has been held on a pope's resignation rather than his death. Who knows if it will be famous for any other reasons? All we can do is wait and watch for that plume of white smoke.
February 28, 2013
1. "The Passage," by Justin Cronin
Since it's already late February, I've already read the first book on this year's to-read list. And what a stunner! Think Stephen King's “The Stand” crossed with the “Walking Dead” – a terrifying dystopian vision of the future when infected humans become bat-like “virals,” and humanity is reduced to a fading minority. The key to the dilemma seems to be Amy, a teenage girl who is somehow a century old, and who can somehow control the virals. But what exactly is the ageless and mysterious Amy? Expect this doorstopper of a book, and its equally brick-like sequel “The Twelve,” to devour a good month of your life, minimum.
2. "Light," by Michael Grant
Speaking of dystopian fantasies, I can't wait for the final installment of the “Gone” series. This isn't quite the end of the world, like “The Passage,” but possibly it's the end of the mysterious dome which isolated a group of teenagers from the rest of the adult population five books ago. This is YA, but it's not “Twilight” or even “The Hunger Games” – it's more like “Lord of the Flies,” and these kids are far too busy surviving to care about love triangles. I'm crossing my fingers that Grant will finish this hair-raising saga with his signature style – swaggering heroes you love and slimy villains you love to hate, all wrapped in a ball of non-stop action.
3. “War and Peace,” by Leo Tolstoy
I've read and adored Anna Karenina, but somehow never got around to Tolstoy's companion classic. Time to find out if the story of Natasha, Prince Andrei, et al fascinates me as it has so many others across the centuries.
4. “The Painted Girls,” by Cathy Marie Buchanon
I love ballet, I love French Impressionist art, and I love books about painters (“Girl With A Pearl Earring!” “The Swan Thieves!”) and dancers (“Russian Winter!” “A Company of Swans!”) So what could be more promising than this just-released tale of two sisters, one a former dancer entering the Parisian demi-monde, and the other Degas's inspiration for his famous “Little Dancer” sculpture? Highly anticipated.
5. "The Bronze Horseman," by Paullina Simons
One of those books with a large, persistent, and vocal group of fans. Over and over I've heard readers swoon about the star-crossed lovers! The pulse-pounding war drama! The Russian setting! Time to see what all the fuss is about. War-torn Russia is a fascinating setting in and of itself, so I'm anticipating good things from this one.
6. "The Fiery Heart," by Richelle Mead
First the Vampire Academy series, and now the Bloodlines series – Mead's fast and funny YA vampire books are my delicious guilty pleasure. These are written for teenage girls in the best sense of the word, because Mead's heroines are never palely loitering Mary Sues with not a thought in their pretty little heads outside their love lives. Her VA heroine was an ass-kicker in the Buffy style; the gal who stars in the Bloodlines series is more brains than brawn, but just as resourceful in a crisis. “The Fiery Heart” is fourth in the series, and November can't come soon enough.
7. "Daughters of the Nile," by Stephanie Dray
Talk about girl power – Cleopatra's daughter Selene has it in spades. This is the third and final installment in Dray's delicious romp through ancient Roman politics and Isis magic. I had the privilege of a sneak peek at the book's early draft (privileges of being friends with the author) and I know how much tweaking and polishing has been done since then, so I can't wait to read the final product. This I predict without Isis's help: Selene will be queenly and occasionally terrifying in her goal to rule her kingdom and found a dynasty; her husband Juba will be appealing and occasionally maddening in his efforts to win his queen's love; and Emperor Augustus will continue to raise the hairs on my neck every time he walks (slides, slithers) onto the page.
8. "The Tudor Conspiracy," by C.W. Gortner
Gortner takes a refreshing spin on oft-tread ground with his Tudor Spymaster series, sending his fictional hero Brendan on an exhilarating scramble through political snakepits rife with real historical figures like the young Princess Elizabeth. This second installment in the series has Brendon scheming to save Elizabeth from her vengeful sister Queen Mary. God knows how he'll do it, but I can't wait to find out.
9. "The Forsyte Saga," by John Galsworthy
Big multi-generational family epics, plus that same lush period of English history that spawned all my favorite Edith Wharton novels. Let the family drama, the big hats, the high teas, the looming social change, and the seething dialogue begin!
10. "Of Human Bondage," by Somerste Maugham
Yet another of the big classics I haven't gotten around to yet, though I adore Somerset Maugham and have read most of his other work. Plus, this is my mother's favorite book of all time. 'Nuff said; it's going on the list.
And on that note, happy reading!
February 13, 2013
Your Date: Man of Rome (Stephanie Dray's Juba, Robert Harris's Cicero, Margaret George's Caesar)
If your man of Rome is along the senatorial lines, your V-Day activities will involve a stroll through Mars Field (sedate pace; those togas are binding) and afterward an intimate little meal for two featuring sea urchins in almond milk, stuffed sow's udders, and jellied roses in pastry; air conditioning provided by silent slave girls waving fans. Your post-dinner present? A really fabulous necklace of silver and pearls from Britannia, much more affordable than those “Kiss Begins With Kay” diamond studs because Britannia's been recently stomped into submission, and all that slave labor in the silver mines means that fabulous silver jewelry comes cheap. If your man of Rome is more in the gladiatorial line, expect a more rough and tumble date: sour posca and the equivalent of a ball-park hot dog as the two of you hit the Circus Maximus and cheer his favorite team. Your gladiator may be on the track for a short life, so don't get mad if he doesn't call for another date – just enjoy those abs while you can.
Your Date: Knight In Shining Armor (Anya Seton's John of Gaunt, Sophie Perinot's Jean de Joinville)
Your knight in shining armor may sweep you off to a castle in France for a passionate idyll, as John of Gaunt did for his Katherine Swynford: private troubadours, a roaring fire, a four-poster bed, banks of jasmine, a pleasure garden with a sweeping view of the Pyrenees, and a cup of wine for two to share. Medieval men tend to be a little rough-spun in their ideas of fine cuisine, however, so don't be surprised if your knight's idea of a romantic dinner is to go hunting and then proudly present you with a dead boar. Boar-on-a-spit takes forever to cook, so get your knight out of that tabard and prepare to wile away at least eight hours until dinner's ready.
Those romantic Victorian artists who painted medieval fantasies like this tend to leave out the dead boar part.
Your Date: Scottish highlander (Jamie Fraser from “Outlander,” any hero from Eliza Knight's "Stolen Bride" series)
Och, the romance of a man in a kilt! There will be heather on this date, and there will be a picnic lunch overlooking some mist-shrouded loch. There will be the moment when your Highlander looks tenderly into your eyes as he slowly, sensuously, slices open the turgid stomach sac to release the steaming mass of haggis onto your plate. And knowing the weather patterns of the Scottish highlands, there will probably be rain. But he's got that plaid for a reason, so wrap yourself up in it and get cozy. And hope this date doesn't end all Braveheart with somebody getting hanged, drawn, and quartered.
On the bonny, bonny banks of Loch Lomond. Or anywhere else, with a Scots Highlander, or for that matter, Liam Neeson.
Renaissance Man (Elizabeth Loupas's Duke of Ferrara, Sara Poole's Cesare Borgia)
Glory be, a man whose dream date is an art gallery! Your Renaissance man truly is a man for all seasons – he'll take you to see those new Pinturicchio frescoes and talk knowledgeably about poetry, science, sculpture, warfare, and politics – and he'll do it in a variety of languages, too. Post-gallery, expect a summer cena under the arched loggias: grilled sea bass in a truffles-and-caviar sauce, a strawberry and elderflower crostata, and wine chilled in snow. You'll be serenaded by a choir of six sweet-voiced children who turn out (surprise!) to be your date's various illegitimate offspring. Just in case a marriage proposal follows dinner, you should know that Renaissance men (at least in Italy) will expect you to raise the mistress's kids as well as your own.
Cesare Borgia from the Showtime series . . . he can be my Valentine's Day date any day.
Your Date: Regency Man (Jane Austen's Mr. Darcy, Captain Wentworth, Mr. Knightly, Colonel Brandon . . .)
One thing you may be certain of: Regency Man will not present you with a dead boar on your date. No, your afternoon will involve a drive in his new barouche-landau so that the ton may admire your new spencer and his new cravat, followed by cards at Almack's (if he is racy) and then a ball (brush up on your minuet figures, as the waltz is still considered shocking). Regency Man may polish his boots with champagne like Beau Brummell, but don't be fooled by fancy dress – inquire closely as to his prospects. If he is a single gentleman in possession of a good fortune, not to mention a large estate in Darbyshire, then by all means, latch on. Or at least tip him in a lake so you can watch him wade out in his wet shirt.
And on that note, Happy Valentine's Day!
February 6, 2013
A while back, I posted my annual "I Hated Your Book" blog post - my top-ten list of the bad, the ugly, and the just plain weird reviews I received in 2012. I rephrase everything for anonymity, and I have fun posting the replies I wish I could shoot back in person. And today, since it's all in anonymous fun anyway, I've given my husband permission to make his own responses. Just this once . . .
1.“Cringeworthy bodiceripping lovestory.”
Please locate said bodices for me. As Kate's husband and critique partner, I have seen every iteration of these books from their raw ideas to their finished forms, and I simply cannot live with myself if I, as the first and initial editor, missed a SINGLE BODICE. Help me, O Un-hyphenated Reader....you're my only hope.
2.“I bought your book at the same time as Stephanie Dray's “Song of the Nile.” Hers is slightly less boring than yours.”
Yeah, so Stephanie's a good friend to my wife and me, and normally I'd back her up to the hilt. But when it comes to my wife being compared to other women, Kate is always the most talented, most beautiful, classiest, *every awesome thing ever*. Sorry to ditch you on this one, Stephanie.
3.“I hated the way all the women in this book were accused of being sluts whenever they stepped outside the rules. I mean, I guess it was historically accurate, but it bothered me way too much to finish the book.”
So let me get this straight........you're irritated by historical accuracy in a historical novel that you very probably located in the "Historical Fiction" section of your bookstore or library? Hold on, I think I can help..........one sec........looking around...........OK! Here we go! THIS should be more your speed for right now.
4.“I heart the hero Vix! He's just so badass the way he stopped at nothing to get what he wanted. I didn't like the heroine at all, though; she was so self-centered the way she plowed through life just trying to get her own way.”
Um.....thanks? Kate based the hero on me, so I guess you tangentially complimented me there. On the other hand, your comment just convinced me that you're schizophrenic, so I'm not really sure how to take it. *slowly puts hands in the air and backs away very carefully*
5. “There was such foul language in this book, I just couldn't stand it.”
Yeah, because the hero of this book is a soldier – and as a military man myself, let me ______ reassure you that ________ military men do NOT _______ swear. Not in ____ ancient Rome, not ____ now, not in any ____ era. We ________ speak __________ forcefully and loudly, _____ yeah, but we do NOT use _______ language. Never ____ ever.
6.“Your Rome is like three blocks wide from the way all the central characters keep bumping into each other!”
Huh. Actually, that's pretty legit.
7. “This book is an insult to my Jewish heritage. So anti-Semitic; any Jew would be offended!”
What book did you read? My wife's works and “Mein Kampf” look NOTHING alike.
8.“Wasn't interested enough to finish the book. Four stars out of five!”
I just saw the opening credits for “The Hobbit!” Wonderful movie!
9. I didn't like this book as much as her other book “Empress of the Daughter's Mistress.”
Personally, my favorite part of the book was when Vix, Hermione, and The Doctor went back in time to reboot the universe, but King Arthur was confused by all the new people, so he called up George III on his communicator, who sent Aragon to take on The Borg with his lightsaber.
10.“This trash is an insult to intellectuals everywhere. I'm trying to decide whether to toss this book in the library's 2 cent bin, or burn it.”
Ok, funny hat off here..... I was preparing a scathing response about the idea of an intellectual wanting to burn books, complete with a staggering comparison to Nazi Germany. But then it occurred to me.......
You're an idiot, and here's why:
a) Kate's books aren't intellectual works. Granted, they're very well done, but they aren't designed to promote a philosophy or explain post-modern surrealism, or anything of the sort. They're great stories that are expertly told, not intellectual treatises. What you're doing is looking at a very fast car that's a lot of fun to drive, and bitching that it's not a nuclear submarine.
b) By definition, anyone who would consider burning a book is not an intellectual. Intellectuals recognize the value and worth in every work, regardless of personal taste, even if the only lesson learned is what not to do. The fact that you would even consider burning something out of spite, and try to remove that knowledge and information from the world, tells me that you're nothing but a small and petty mind.
And for the bonus crazy email my wife received in 2012 . . .
11.“Hi Kate, I saw your picture on the book jacket, and I like girls like you! You know, pretty, blond, puffy cheeks, loves history. We should talk!”
I have a broadsword.
January 6, 2013
But it occurs to me that it probably wouldn't hurt to make a separate list of New Year's Resolutions, strictly to deal with the writer's side of things. So, in no particular order, here are five writing resolutions for 2013.
1. No more long unbroken sentences. I've always been fond of long phrasing, but after reading a rough draft of my last book, critique partner extraordinaire/romance novelist Christi Barth penciled a little sage advice in the margins (passed on to her, I believe, from her own critique partner extraordinaire Joya Fields): “Commas are free. Food for thought.” I hear you, Christi.
2. Break at least one romantic cliché per book. I'm ahead of myself on this one: for the next book after “The Serpent and the Pearl,” I've got one romantic pairing where the girl is taller than her man, and a second romantic pairing in which the girl is older than her man. Excellent.
3. No more redheads. Somehow most of my heroes have been ending up with red or russet or chestnut hair. Black-haired men from now on.
4. Quit shrugging. The verb “to shrug” is my bete noir. I pretty much use “she shrugged” as a tag for just about everything. I always end up culling about fifty shrugs from the text of each new manuscript with Search-and-Replace, cursing all the while. This is the year I will stop !@(*ing shrugging. And so will all of my characters.
5. Stop writing cliffhangers. I swear, I don't mean to do it. I promise I'll stop. Please don't lynch me.
And on that note, Happy 2013!