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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

Your Valentine's Day Date: Modern Man or Medieval Man?

February 13, 2012

Tags: valentine's day

Once again, February 14th approacheth and with it The Choice: wangle a romantic evening with your spouse/significant other/person you're kinda-sorta dating, or curl up with a bag of Baby Ruth bars and your favorite fictional knight-in-shining-armor. Last year on this blog I took that topic and ran with it: how does Valentine's Day with a knight in shining armor actually stack up against Valentine's Day with your typical 21st century dude? I know which side of the question I came down on, but this year I want to ask you: Modern Man, or Medieval Man? To help you decide, here are the criteria from last year's blog post . . .


The Meet And Greet
You meet Modern Man through Match.com, laying eyes on him for the first time after a lot of text-messaging. You meet Medieval Man through an arranged marriage, laying eyes on him for the first time at the altar. Your parents have at least had the chance to vet Medieval Man already for financial stability, healthy bloodlines, and future job prospects - Match.com leaves you no defense against a guy who described himself as "tall red-haired financier," but who turns out in person to be a 5’2 bank teller with Ronald McDonald hair. On the other hand, weddings are stressful enough without scanning the line of groomsmen on your way down the aisle, and trying to figure out which one is your future husband.


The Clothes
Modern Man shows up for the big Valentine’s Day date in a suit; Medieval Man shows up in a suit of armor. This one comes down to personal preference: do you drool more over George Clooney in "Ocean's Eleven," or Viggo Mortensen in "Lord of the Rings"?


You can probably guess which camp I fall into.


The Personal Hygiene
Medieval Man bathes once a week if he’s fastidious, and has never heard of dental floss. Modern Man has deodorant, toothpaste, electric razor, and breath mints . . . but he also waxes his back, self-tans, wears four different products in his hair, and talks knowledgeably about the difficulty of finding a shade of plum to flatter "Summer" skin tones.


The Job
Modern Man works nine-to-five at an office compiling Excel spreadsheets and filling out TPS reports. Medieval Man spends his days building up serious muscle as he hulks ninety pounds of armor and a fifteen-foot lance around on regional wars. On the other hand, Modern Man at least comes home at nights whereas Medieval Man might head off on Crusade and not come home for years.


How many IT guys would rather do this than work in a cubicle? Thought so.


The Politics
An old Obama ’08 “Yes We Can!” bumper sticker for Modern Man; a solid pro-church, pro-torture, pro-witch-burning stance for Medieval Man. Ladies who practice Wicca, consider carefully.

The Ride
Modern Man picks you up for the big V-Day date in a nice shiny car with leather seats. Medieval Man gallops up on a horse with a flowing tabard.


Gotta go, my ride's here


The Romantic Getaway
Modern Man takes you to a three-star restaurant with candles and waiters. Medieval Man takes you to a castle in Castile with torches and troubadours. The Castilian view will definitely be better, but please bear in mind that castles don't have flush toilets.


The Food
On a date with Modern Man, you will get a pasta dinner with wine, and something chocolatey for dessert. Medieval Man will go hunting and proudly present you with a dead boar. Overseeing the skinning, butchering, spit-roasting, and serving of the boar will be entirely up to you. And chocolate hasn’t been discovered yet.


The Conversation
Modern Man will bore you to death with the details of his golf handicap, his fantasy football league, or his latest score in World of Warcraft. Medieval Man will talk all night about his warhorse’s shoeing requirements, his last blow-by-blow tourney victory, and how to clean the rust off chain mail. Do we have a tie?


"So I shank on the drive, and then I only get a birdie, but on the next hole . . ."

"So I was thinking of going with an ash hilt nailed to the tang, but now I'm thinking oak offers a better grip when blood soaks in . . ."


The Gifts
A modern Valentine’s Day date with Modern Man will probably net you a bouquet of flowers, a box of chocolates, and maybe a little velvet box containing tasteful diamond studs. Medieval Man will toss you a lapful of diamond necklaces and emerald rings: loot from all the plundering he did during the Hundred Years War. Just don't ask to see the sales slip.


The Check
Medieval Man digs into his wallet without a word of protest when the check comes – it’s the least he can do, since you have no vote and no job. Modern Man might throw down a Black Card, ask you to go dutch, or cover the check but get offended later if you don’t offer nudity in repayment.


The Trouble
On the way home, your date’s convertible/horse breaks down. A group of Hell’s Angels/French mercenaries start hassling you. Modern Man whips out his cell phone and hopes he has 911 on speed-dial. Medieval Man whips out his broadsword and hopes they give him a good fight before the heads start to roll and the survivors flee for their lives.


When these guys show up, who do you want at your back? The guy with the phone, or the guy with the sword?


The Sex
Valentine’s Day sex . . . probably the most subjective category here. Has Modern Man relied on locker rooms or stolen Cosmos for his sex advice? Does Medieval Man take the priests seriously when they tell him no sex on Fridays, feast days and religious holidays, and no woman-on-top sex of any kind? Maybe the deciding issue should be birth control: Modern Man may not want to wear condoms, but at least he can't use the excuse that they haven’t been invented yet. The only thing to save you from having a yearly kid with Medieval Man is a nice long Crusade.


The Day After
Will he commit on February 15th? Medieval Man: Yep. You met him at your wedding, remember? Modern Man: much more doubtful. But if he does, and things go wrong, at least you can divorce him. Medieval Man, not so much – though with the Black Plague and all those French mercenaries running around, odds are much better you’ll end up a widow.


For myself, I come down on the side of the knights in shining armor . . . with just a few small tweaks in the areas of personal hygiene and birth control. But what about you - Modern Man, or Medieval Man? Let's poll the results!

And whether you will be spending this Valentine's Day with John of Gaunt from Anya Seton's "Katherine" or with your very own 21st century knight in shining armor – Happy Valentine’s Day.



On the Rack!

February 7, 2012

Tags: q&a, on fiction writing

Back to On Fiction Writing today, having volunteered to subject myself to the ruthless Q&A they affectionately call "The Rack." No tepid questions here; "How did you get your ideas?" was replaced by such beauties as "Which literary character would you like to sleep with?" My answer:

"Bernard Cornwell's Uhtred from the Saxon Stories. A strapping Viking warrior with a dry sense of humor and a soft side revealed only to his girls. Actually, I'd nail pretty much any of Cornwell's heroes – Richard Sharpe, Derfel Cadarn, Thomas of Hookton. I have a weakness for unapologetically alpha-dog men who live hard, laugh a lot, love their women, and kill their enemies."

I suspect the Spanish Inquisition's rack was far less enjoyable than this! For the rest of the interview/torture session, read here!

Twilight Took Talent

February 5, 2012

Tags: twilight, stephenie meyer, james patterson, j.k. rowling, stephen king, jackie collins

I'm over at "On Fiction Writing" today with a guest post that I suspect may get me egged: an argument that Stephenie Meyer has talent. A snippet:

"Yes, Twi-haters, Stephenie Meyer has talent. So does Jackie Collins. So does James Patterson, and Harold Robbins, and all those writers who pump out terrible sex-and-shopping paperbacks with Fabio and a wind machine on the cover. Having talent is very different, you see, from being a good writer. Stephen King, a fellow who has certainly been accused of publishing dreck in his day, once defined writing talent thus (paraphrased): `If you write a book, if someone buys that book and pays you for it with a check that doesn't bounce, and if you cash that check and use it to pay the light bill, then you have talent.'”

For the rest, click here! And stick around to look at the rest of what On Fiction Writing has to offer: a terrific website run by the zaniest group of writers on the planet, who can help you do everything from drafting a query letter to thrashing out your plot problems to ranting about pet peeves in bestsellers.

The Inevitable Top Ten List, 2012 Edition

February 1, 2012

Tags: top ten list, madame tussaud, michelle moran, queen without a crown, fiona buckley, the painted veil, somerset maugham, the queen's vow, c.w. gortner, fear, michael grant, the edwardians, vita sackville-west, the iliad, homer, the golden lily, richelle mead, the sister queens, sophie perinot, four sisters all queens, sherry jones

It's February 1st, so here you go: the other half of that mandated pair of yearly blog posts that starts with 10 Best Books I Read Last Year, and ends with 10 Hotly Anticipated Reads of This Year. It's going to be a good year for reading! Here, in no particular order, are the ten books that top my list for 2012, some of which have been around for a long time, others of which will be released at some point over the next eleven months.

1.“Madame Tussaud” by Michelle Moran.
This one came out last year, and I heard such great things about it that I didn't dare pick it up. I've got deadlines to meet, and the last thing I needed was a spicy, decadent read about the French Revolution including a heroine who passes her day making wax death masks. But I can't wait to plunge into Michelle's new French world, having spent so much time in her versions of ancient Egypt and Rome.

2.“Queen Without A Crown” by Fiona Buckley
Finally, a new Ursula Blanchard mystery! I've read and enjoyed all of Buckley's novels about the resourceful Ursula, lady-in-waiting and sometime spy for Elizabeth I. What sets this series of mysteries apart is the authenticity of the opinions expressed by the 16th century characters. Ursula is no striding 21st century miss, but a real woman of her time who struggles to balance her duties to Queen, country, husband, daughter, conscience, and God. “Queen Without A Crown” will apparently throw Ursula into the thick of yet another Mary Stuart plot against the Queen – here's hoping she takes some time off from intrigue and finally, finally gives in to all this passion she's been repressing, for at least four books, for her sweet and steady manservant.

3.“The Painted Veil” by Somerset Maugham
“Moon and Sixpence” and “The Razor's Edge” are two of my favorite reads ever, so how is it I have not read “The Painted Veil” yet? I have no idea, but I'm determined to follow Maugham's idealistic hero and his frivolous erring wife on their journey to China this year, come what may.

4.“The Queen's Vow” by C.W. Gortner
There aren't too many books I would agree to give a blurb too before I had even read them. But if C.W. Gortner told me his next book was titled “How I Spent My Summer Vacation,” I'd know two things: a) it would involve queens, intrigue, sex, betrayal, and the machinations of power, and b) I would not be able to put it down. His forthcoming tome on Isabella of Castile, I predict with confidence, will be no different.

5.“Fear” by Michael Grant
Here's one YA dystopia series that is a lot of fun: think X-Men crossed with Stephen King's “Under the Dome.” But Grant's teenage heroes and anti-heroes, increasingly isolated in their bubble away from adults, are forced to grapple with weighty adult issues like self-government, war, cannibalism, racism, starvation, and religious mania as well as the more usual YA themes of romance and growing pains. The result is addictive story-telling, and thank the gods, the next installment is coming out the same day as my third book. Instead of obsessively checking and re-checking my Amazon rankings, I'll be head-down in the FAYZ with Michael Grant & Co.

6.“The Edwardians” by Vita Sackville-West
I'm in serious “Downton Abbey” withdrawal, and my Anglophile mother assures me that “The Edwardians” will be just the ticket: a big multi-generational English family drama that obviously served as the model for all these “Upstairs, Downstairs” spinoffs. High tea, huge hats, saucy parlormaids and crusty dowagers – I'm there.

7.“The Iliad” by Homer
Yet another classic I haven't for some unfathomable reason gotten around to reading yet. I can quote the entire plot of the Iliad and even some direct passages, but I've yet to plow through the whole thing start to finish. Hector, tamer of horses, here I come.

8.“The Golden Lily” by Richelle Mead
My guilty pleasure read. I'm not really a fan of YA vampire fiction, but I gobble up Mead's work. Maybe it's the humor, maybe it's the politics, maybe it's her intelligent and fiery heroines who buck the trend by not being Mary Sues. But I can't wait for this one.

9.and 10. “The Sister Queens” by Sophie Perinot, and “Four Sisters, All Queens” by Sherry Jones
I'm listing these two together, not only because I know the authors, but because their books about the same historical figures are being released just a few months apart. The four daughters of the Count of Provence were all beauties who managed to bag kings for husbands: Sophie's “Sister Queens” focuses on the sibling rivalry and friendship between the eldest two, respectively queens of France and England, and Sherry's “Four Sisters, All Queens” brings in the younger two as well with their kingdoms of Germany and Sicily. I can't wait to see the two contrasting takes on a very interesting family. Not to mention sister drama that isn't about the Boleyn family.

So there's my reading list for 2012, or at least the start of it. What are you looking forward to reading this year?