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

A Renaissance Thanksgiving Feast

November 26, 2013

Tags: the serpent and the pearl, thanksgiving, little white apron, taking on magazines, inn at the crossroads, heather webb, outlander kitchen, island vittles, long past remembered

Happy Turkey Day! Guests are about to descend on us all like locusts devouring everything in their path, and I'm sure we're all starting to sweat about the oyster dressing and the pumpkin pie and the turkey, my God, it will never be done in time. Me no exception. What I'd love to have for Thanksgiving is the services of my last book heroine, a pro chef who could whip out a Thanksgiving dinner for thirty without even breaking a sweat. Even if they didn't have Thanksgiving in Renaissance Italy.

Still, a Renaissance Thanksgiving Day feast from Carmelina's talented hands would be quite a spread. And if you're bored with the usual turkey-and-mashed potatoes fare, why not throw yourself a Renaissance-themed dinner instead? Here you are, complete with recipes straight from The Serpent and the Pearl!

The Appetizers
Most of my recipes for this book were culled direct from real-life Renaissance chef extraordinaire, Bartolomeo Scappi—and il maestro had very specific directions when it came to the pre-dinner spread:

The side-board should be furnished with these things: with jellies, visciola cherries, morello cherries, quince and quince pastes, Neapolitan and Roman mostaccioli, several shapes of marzipan creations . . . always rolled wafers and small ciambelle of raw dates, pistacios, pinenuts, and Milanese almonds, dried figs of various sorts, several sorts of olives and small capers, compote of fennel and other fruits . . . caravella pears, papal pears, acciole pears, riccardo pears, rough pears, bergamot pears, Florentine pears, and other sorts of pear . . .

Clearly seven kinds of pear aren't enough to fill up your guests, because he goes on to list the types of cheeses (March, Florengine, Romagnola, Roman, Ligurian, Majorcan, fresh and dry, ewe's milk, mozzarella) and salamis (salsiccioni, mortadelle, prosciutto, sowbelli, salt ox tongues, buffalo tongues, pork tongues, semi-salted cow meat, salted steer meat, salt pork belly, and pork jowl) you should stock up on as well. By the time a typical Renaissance side-board was set up, your guests would be full and waddling home without even touching the meal.

For your Thanksgiving, keep it simple and stick to a classic tray of cheeses, meats, fruits, and nuts. Come to think of it, Scappi is probably where we got the idea in the first place.

The Soup
Try the asparagus soup in beef broth which Carmelina serves to a visiting archbishop. Heather Webb (of upcoming debut novel on Empress Josephine) made a wonderful creamy modern version for a blog hop.

The Salad
Renaissance salads couldn't be simpler: a big dish of lettuce sprinkled with bright blue borage flowers, like the one Carmelina muses serving to the College of Cardinals. (Borage gives you courage, according to legend—just what scheming cardinals and family get-togethers alike both need). Dress this lovely simple salad with a plain vinaigrette.

Elaborate entrees are par for the course in Renaissance cuisine, where meals were set to impress as much as nourish. If you're feeling ambitious (and have a good butcher on hand like d'Artagnan's or Savenor's) try this gorgeous shoulder of boar with dates, prunes, and cherries, as cooked by food blogger Deana of Long Past Remembered in my last blog hop. Or if you want to stick with something fowl for Thanksgiving, go with a capon or big free-range chicken instead of the usual turkey. Just cook two if you've got a crowd coming, and then you can cook both the Capon in Coriander and White Wine recipe which is Carmelina's favorite (replicated here by Lori of Little White Apron) and the Capon with Lime version Carmelina plans for Cardinal Borgia (replicated by Sara at Cupcake Muffin, and it's delicious).

The Sides
A cheese and onion tourte like the one Carmelina made her first five minutes in the Borgia kitchens will fill the bill nicely, and Theresa of Outlander Kitchen and Island Vittles made a beauty! Round things out with a dish that makes an appearance in the forthcoming “The Lion and the Rose”—baked macaroni layered with provatura cheese and butter. Kitchen apprentice Bartolomeo offers to make it for Carmelina when she's feeling blue “because pasta with a great deal of butter and cheese cures all.” Amen—so dust off your mom's tried-and-true mac n' cheese recipe.

The Desserts
They loved their sweets in the Renaissance, and they weren't afraid to get fancy! Marzipan, molded sugar subtleties, cakes and tarts of all kinds . . . but keep things simple at the end of a heavy meal with these light and autumnal desserts: the peaches in grappa Giulia Farnese eats at her wedding feast, the spicy baked apples she comfort-eats the next morning to get over a disappointing wedding night (another recipe from Lori), and the milk-snow (a sort of glorified, stiffened medieval whipped cream reproduced gloriously at Inn at the Crossroads) she takes to bed with a much more satisfying lover later down the line.

To Drink
A hot posset with red wine and spices, of course! Chelsea from “Inn At The Crossroads” has a lovely recipe. And to go with, how about some sugared Renaissance biscotti from Christiane at “Taking On Magazines”?

Happy eating, and happy Thanksgiving!

DON'T Write What You Know!

November 16, 2013

Tags: the serpent and the pearl, writing advice

“Write what you know” is probably some of the worst advice for writers ever. Even authors of modern-day fiction have their problems with that old chestnut. Tom Clancy may have set all his books in the same 20th century America in which he lived, but he didn't write about writers, he wrote about spec-war operatives, even if he'd never been one. And historical novelists do a special kind of hair-tearing when we hear “Write what you know” because we really don't know what we write about. No amount of research will make me know what it's like to watch slaves die in the Colosseum, and Margaret George will never know what it's like to be Helen of Troy either, and that didn't stop either of us from writing about it anyway.

I sometimes like to think “Write WHO you know” instead. As long as I can remember, I've indulged in an idle game called “When Should They Have Been Born?” Any serious fan of historical fiction harbors the conviction from time to time that we were really born in the wrong century. So whenever I was bored to tears in class, or weekly meetings, or family gatherings (which was most of the time), I'd go around the room deciding what century everybody really belonged in, according to their personality. And boy, did the book ideas start flowing.

My acerbic librarian mother who prefers dogs, books, and herbs to the company of people? A Benedictine nun in medieval England, brewing up herbal tinctures and illuminating manuscripts and breaking her vow of silence to coo at the dog she isn't supposed to keep in her monastic cell. A great character for a Middle Ages novel.

My husband, a Navy sailor who'd have made a great Viking raider, swinging a sword over one shoulder and taking his longship out to the edge of the known world and never, ever getting seasick. A made-to-order hero for an epic battles-and-blood Norse tale.

My long-deceased feminist grandmother with her paisley scarves and her wry wit: a born reformer who should have been a 1912 suffragette. She'd be chaining herself to the railing of Number 10 Downing Street and going on hunger strike at Holloway Prison; a dowager in a fabulous hat and a “Votes For Women” banner who could have mentored Lady Sybil from “Downton Abbey.”

My much-tattooed kickboxing instructor has a streak of benign sadism that could definitely have belonged to a Roman centurion . . . my other grandmother is one of those Depression-era Steinbeck matriarchs in black and white who keeps her family together through disaster after disaster . . . my jazz musician father could have doubled for a handsome court musician under Empress Maria Theresa . . . how many book ideas have I gotten, just from looking around at a family gathering or a gym class?

Now, I may not end up writing all those books. I don't really see myself writing a blood-and-battle Viking epic, largely because Bernard Cornwell with his Saxon Stories (among many others) has already covered it so well. But sometimes you do get a solid book idea out of a real person. Case in point, my husband's grandmother: a fiery Sicilian whose cooking could make angels weep, and who would absolutely smack you on the head with a wooden spoon and threaten excommunication if you committed the crime of breaking the pasta into the pot instead of folding it. I had a “eureka” moment and transplanted her personality more or less intact to Renaissance Italy. My husband's grandma ended up personal chef to the Borgia Pope in my last book—and she may be in her nineties now in the 21st century, but she's absolutely tickled to think that in some alternate life she got to cook for a Pope, defraud a convent, and have a one-night stand with Cesare Borgia.

Don't write what you know—write who you know. Look around you at the next boring board meeting or family gathering. What century do these people really belong in? Maybe you'll find the hero of your next historical novel.

A Sneak Peek!

November 9, 2013

Tags: the lion and the rose, mistress of rome, lady of the eternal city

The Lion and the Rose will be released in less than two months on January 7—and I've included a New Year's treat. Tucked in the back will be a teaser chapter from the forthcoming sequel to Empress of the Seven Hills. Not just any chapter, either. Lots of readers have asked me the following questions: “Will Vix ever go home to Britannia?” and “Will we ever see Arius and Thea from Mistress of Rome?”

Yes, and yes. That's the scene tucked into the back of The Lion and the Rose. And for you now, a snippet from Vix's eyes when he goes home for the first time in nearly twenty years:

My feet were soundless on the grass as I approached the garden, but the man whipped about before I got a step further, one gnarled hand dropping his trowel and drawing the dagger at his waist instead. He was up in a crouch and ready to face me in an eyeblink, and his shoulders were bent and his hair entirely gray, but that crisp secutor stance could have graced any arena in Rome. And had.

“You haven’t gotten slow with age,” I told my father. “But you still can’t garden worth a tribune’s arse.”

The rest of the scene awaits you at the back of The Lion and the Rose. Hope you enjoy!