Selected Works

Historical Fiction
Six authors bring to life overlapping stories of patricians and slaves, warriors and politicians, villains and heroes who cross each others' path during Pompeii's fiery end.
Caught in the deadly world of the Renaissance's most notorious family, three outsiders must decide if they will flee the dangerous dream of power.
The Borgia family begins its legendary rise, chronicled by an innocent girl who finds herself drawn into their dangerous web.
The lives of an ambitious soldier, a patrician heiress and a future emperor fatefully intersect.
The Year of Four Emperors - and four very different women struggling to survive
A brilliant and paranoid Emperor, a wary and passionate slave girl – who will survive?

Ave Historia: An irreverent look at historical fiction today: books trends, historical tidbits, and random tangents

I Hated Your Book

August 29, 2011

Tags: daughters of rome, i hated your book

Okay, folks, it's time for what I feel is going to be a yearly tradition: the “I hated your book” blog. Last year I wrote a blog post listing my top ten favorite negative comments that had come in for my first book Mistress of Rome, and I had a blast doing it. Judging from the 500 views and 20+ comments, a lot of you had a blast reading it. So here we go for Round 2: I've written a second book, out for nearly five months now, and plenty of people had mean things to say about it (or me).

Which is fine, really. Mistress of Rome got panned a few times, and so did Daughters of Rome, and that's okay. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, after all, and I knew going into this line of work that I wasn't going to please 100% of my readers. Everyone gets negative reviews – you can go on Amazon, and the Bible has negative reviews. Even God does not get a break on this one. The last thing I will ever do is be unprofessional and argue with a reader about their opinion, whether in person or on the web. And I have learned valuable things from some negative reviews – a Latin scholar, for example, who tactfully pointed out that my hero's made-up name was actually a common adverb in Latin. Believe me, that detail got carefully worked into my next book, and I'm grateful for the correction.

But I have gotten some negative reviews of Daughters of Rome that are so bizarre or so flat-out filled with loathing that I have been left scratching my head in wonder. Here are a few memorable gems from readers who have contacted me with negative feedback. I have rephrased some for anonymity but all are true in essence:

1. There is a depraved amount of sex in this book. From beginning to end, I was just appalled!!!
So appalled that you finished the book anyway?

2. Not enough sex in this book! I was so disappointed that there wasn't an orgy!
Probably not as disappointed as Reader #1.

3. I hated your last book. I don't know why I bought this one.
Well, don't look at me; I certainly don't know either.

4. It's too confusing to have four heroines named Cornelia.
Okay, valid. Historically it's true that Roman women in the same family got the same name . . . but judging from the number of readers who thought it was confusing in Daughters of Rome, the four-identical-names thing might not have been the best idea for a novel. At least my four girls are all immediately separated out with different nicknames, so it's not too confusing after the first chapter.

5. It's distressing to see an author's racist prejudices make their way into mainstream fiction. (Condensed from 11-page 6-point-font email)
Not really sure what ethnic group I pissed off in Daughters of Rome. First-century Gauls, maybe? Far as I know, they're all dead . . .

6. Palid bodiss ripper with dull heroin and unreelistic senario.
I believe that's “Palid Pallid bodiss ripper bodice-ripper with dull heroin heroine and unreelistic unrealistic senario scenario.” C-minus – I know you can do better. Please see me after class to discuss use of spell-checker.

7. Your first book was so much better than this one.
See next comment.

8. Your first book was so much worse than this one.
See previous comment.

9. This book is wrong and inaccurate – no Christians! Not a book a good modern-day Christian should ever read.
Oh dear, I think you'd better sit down. I know it's a shock, but – deep breath, now – not everyone in the ancient world was Christian. There, there, don't cry.

10. Yr buk sux. U suk 2.
Thank you for taking time off from your World of Warcraft schedule to get in touch with me. I think I hear your mother calling upstairs; she wants you to vacuum the basement.

As you can see, my approach with negative reviews is to keep my sense of humor. Plenty more bad reviews will come my way, so I might as well learn to laugh about it – nasty readers and all, this job is still far preferable to working in a cubicle with Excel spreadsheets and an “Office Space” coffee mug. For those readers who didn't like my book but wrote thoughtful, well-reasoned reviews why – thank-you; constructive well-written criticism is always useful. And for those many people who liked Daughters of Rome and wrote such nice reviews about it (on Amazon, on Goodreads, in their blogs, or just in a nice email to me), thank you for the praise. All of you really made my day – and I hope I can make yours when I read, enjoy, and review your books too.

Daughters of Rome: The Movie

August 24, 2011

Tags: daughters of rome, movie

Here's a question I get quite a lot from readers: will your books ever be made into movies?

The answer, I'm sorry to say, is no. So far, at least, and probably for the forseeable future. Historical movies or TV shows cost an arm and a leg to make: the costumes, the sets, the CGI, the on-site locations. My latest book “Daughters of Rome” has several chariot racing scenes a la Ben Hur; I shudder to think what the bill would be for all those chariots, horses, and thousands of screaming costumed extras. Unless I turn into George R.R. Martin, I don't imagine HBO will be burning up my phone line anytime soon with offers to turn “Daughters of Rome” into a multi-season star-studded no-expenses-spared miniseries.

But a girl can dream. I had a lot of fun last year casting “Mistress of Rome” as an imaginary movie with the cast of actors I'd have picked if I'd had unlimited control and budget (which no author ever gets). Now that I'm between deadlines, I think I'll indulge myself and do the same for my second book. Coming soon to a theatre near you: “Daughters of Rome,” the Oscar-winning blockbuster directed by Ridley Scott!


Marcella: The trickiest part to cast, and also the meatiest. My heroine is a voluptuous frustrated schemer who writes histories, and eventually discovers that making history is even more fun than writing about it. For an actress who can play both charming and amoral, I'll go with Hayley Atwell. She did a lovely job in “Pillars of the Earth,” a pretty brunette with an unexpectedly flinty side.

Cornelia: Marcella's gentle older sister who goes from ambitious snob to grieving widow to passionate woman. There's no shortage of actresses who could play her. Natalie Portman? Rose Byrne? Shannyn Sossamon? I settled on Sophia Myles, a gentler sort of beauty with an unexpected quirk of humor.

Lollia: Cousin Lollia is the richest heiress in Rome, a red-haired party girl with a penchant for good gossip and good sex. After seeing “Easy A,” Emma Stone was a no-brainer. She has Lollia's husky voice and adorable giggle, and an underlying sweetness to give Lollia dignity as she matures into something more than just a party girl.

Diana: strangely, the only actress I can think of to play a seventeen-year-old blond beauty mad for horses and chariot racing is Summer Glau. The former Terminator from "The Sarah Connor Chronicles" is definitely neither seventeen or blond, but she has the beauty – and even more important, she has the quirky absent-minded charm necessary to make Diana's one-track obsessiveness and utter lack of tact charming instead of irritating.


Piso: Cornelia's husband is Imperial heir for just five days before a mob hacks him to pieces. Sean Maher would make the most out of this brief part; as Simon in “Firefly” he had the same straitlaced-but-sweet charm.

Drusus: the stalwart bodyguard who saves Cornelia's life was cast the moment I saw Rome Season 2, and laid eyes on Allen Leech. His Agrippa could be a clone of Drusus – stocky, brave, loyal, and passionate.

Domitian: Marcella's nineteen-year-old suitor gets another actor from HBO's Rome – Max Pirkis, whose hair-raising depiction of the young Augustus makes him a natural choice for the eerie intelligence and nascent creepiness of this young emperor-to-be.

Fabius: Lollia gets married three times in the course of the book (her husbands keep dying on her in political shuffles) but her third husband is the most important – an abusive kingmaking creep with a vicious streak. Let's go with Rufus Sewell, who (as we know from "A Knight's Tale") looks good in a breastplate and doesn't have to scream to scare the crap out of anybody.

Thrax: the handsome golden body slave who consoles Lollia between bad marriages. We need at least one tribute to “Spartacus: Blood and Sand,” so let's go with handsome golden gladiator Jai Courtney.

Llyn: the attractive and taciturn ex-rebel from Britain who scorns Romans and teaches Diana how to drive a chariot. This one was a no-brainer: David Wenham with the same haircut he had in “Lord of the Rings.”


Galba: in a book about the Year of Four Emperors, you can bet Emperor #1 won't last too long. Michael Hogan will chew the scenery for his fifteen minutes of screen time before the mob gets him, playing grumpy old cheapskate Emperor Galba.

Otho: Galba's successor couldn't have been more different; a metrosexual playboy with a witty tongue. Who better than Rupert Everett, the guy who stars in pretty much every Oscar Wilde movie ever made?

Vitellius: Another polar opposite for Emperor #3 – a fat sports fan who lived for chariot racing and obscenely huge banquets. Brad Leland played a loudmouth football fanatic in “Friday Night Lights,” and could do it perfectly here. And he's got the chops to bring out Vitellius's pathos and dignity as well as the bombast.

No need to cast the fourth emperor in the series, since he doesn't make a cameo in the book. But previous ruler Nero does in a creepy flashback, and in my mind he's Philip Seymour Hoffman. He'll nail Nero's fussy artistic pretensions and innate craziness in just five minutes of screentime.


Irritating Jessalyn Gilsig from “Glee” for the irritating sister-in-law who gets on everybody's nerves . . . wrinkled John Noble to play one of Lollia's more crochety and elderly husbands . . . and one final cameo, the star charioteer who drives for Diana's arch-rival racing team. Since I'm a Yankee-hating Red Sox fan, and Diana adores the Reds team and hates the Blues team, let's have the obnoxious-but-talented Blues charioteer be played by the obnoxious-but-talented Derek Jeter.

So, that's my fantasy cast for my mythical movie of “Daughters of Rome.” Of course, even if it did end up being made into a movie, I would not have any say in the casting or even the script. J.K. Rowling was able to put her foot down when some producer wanted to re-set Harry Potter in the United States, and George R.R. Martin was invited to help write the screenplay for HBO's “Game of Thrones” – but most of us writers have no power over what happens to our novels once they're sold for film. So if “Daughters of Rome” gets made into a soft-core porn direct-to-video flick about four sisters in nipple caps who practice incest, bondage, and threesomes, don't blame me.

In the meantime, if you've read “Daughters of Rome” and have your own casting ideas, I'm all ears.

Excuses, Excuses

August 3, 2011

I swear I have an excuse this time for inactivity on my blog: I'm in the process of moving. Starting today I begin a cross country trek from California to Maryland. I wish I could say I was crossing the country in interesting fashion: on the back of an Arabian stallion, perhaps, or riding some Orient Express-like train where all I'd have to do is smoke cigarettes through a long jade holder and solve the occasional murder. Hell, I'd settle for a 747, an aisle seat, and two of those $8 mini-bottles of chardonnay. But sadly I am making the cross-country drive by car, and thus will be somewhat absent this week from my blog.

See y'all in a few!