Collaborative Writing: An Irreverent Look Behind The Curtain

As I wrote A YEAR OF RAVENS with my six co-authors Ruth Downie, Stephanie Dray, Eliza Knight, Vicky Alvear Shecter, Simon Turney, and Russell Whitfield, we were often asked about the collaborative process. How exactly does one go about writing a book-in-seven-parts? Well, it involves a lot of emails, a lot of Skype sessions, a lot of back-and-forth Facebook chats–and we undertake it with a great deal of seriousness, as you see from this collection of direct quotes as we moved through the stages of collaboration this year.

As We Outline Our Stories

Simon: I have an eight-page outline, anyone want to have a look?
Kate: My entire outline is eleven words.
Stephanie: I want to talk over-arching themes. What are we trying to say with this book? What’s our overall message?
Vicky: Why are we talking overarching themes before we even know what happens?!
Ruth: My heroine’s name–Ria or Narina? Oh well, I’ll decide by the time I’m done.
Eliza: Really?! I can’t move forward at all until my heroine has a name.
Russell: Hey guys, my story’s already finished!
All of us: (outwardly) Wow, youre so motivated! (Inwardly) Bastard.

As We Research

Ruth: This poem I’m reading on Celtic wooing practices, `The Wooing of Etain . . .’ Not a lot of wooing in it. Sparky bunch.
Stephanie: Russ, you walked Hadrian’s Wall in full Roman armor–does chain-mail really go thunk-scratch as you walk?
Russell: It’s actually more wunk-thunk-kitch, wunk-thunk-kitch.

As We Research Some More

Stephanie: My Roman procurator’s villa is in Narbo. But I might need to change the color of the grapes in his vineyard. Maybe we can’t be sure of the climate in that specific place for whatever variety of grape existed before modern variations 2000 years ago.
Kate: Don’t mention the color of the grapes. Just say they’re ripe. Nobody cares what color the grapes are.
Stephanie: I’m putting in the color of the grapes! You can’t stop me. I’ve gone rogue.
Kate: Is that the mulish streak of an author thinking “I looked it up. I researched it. It’s going in the book or time is wasted?”
Stephanie: Absolutely! I don’t even drink wine. I don’t know the difference between a Syrah and a Chardonnay. You think I researched grape regions in France for my health? No, Madam. I did not.

As We Write

Stephanie: The f*cking king still isn’t burned.
Ruth: So many Iron Age names are completely unusable. Corotica, Auumpus, Aessicunia . . .
Russell: My hero can’t keep his willy in his subligares.
Vicky: All right, break for lunch, then back to the slaughter.
Eliza: My muse today is a bitchy bitch who bitches.
Simon: I’ve managed to put two tines of a fork into my hand.
Kate: I love you guys.

As We Procrastinate

Kate: Hey, look at this! `Buzzfeed quiz to find your Celtic name!’ I got `Floraidh, the Gentle Petal.’ Jesus. What are you guys getting?
Simon: `Muireann, born of the sea. For a man who has to travel 50 miles to the ocean, I find that amusing.
Russell: `Aidan the Fiery Rider. The ancient Celts would have seen you as the bringer of light.’ And I’m a complete slacker . . .
Vicky: I got Muireann too. And I live 250 miles from a beach.

As We Finish Our Rough Drafts

Stephanie: Slept for ten hours straight after writing 22,000 words in 4 days.
Eliza: Pulled four all-nighters and is now drinking wine straight from a jar.
Vicky: Cross-eyed from maneuvering her mind around the mental contortions needed to plausibly excuse a massacre.
Ruth: Mightily glad I finished my story when I did, because seconds later a huge spider ran across the desk. I’ll be decamping to the kitchen until it’s died of old age. Or possibly until I have.
Simon: MIA. Apparently fled all the way to Wales to get away from the non-stop barrage of Boudica emails.
Kate: Killed approximately 80,000 fictional Celts and has used every synonym in the book for “slaughter.”
Russell: Smiling like a cat in the cream because he finished his story first and didn’t skate across the deadline over-caffeinated, under-slept, and hooked up via IV to the nearest alcoholic beverage like his co-authors.

As We Edit Each Other

Stephanie: Kate, don’t have your hero kick the severed head. Soooo disrespectful.
Eliza: Two stories to edit AND another book out this week . . .
Vicky: Wait, you guys feel sorry for my story’s homicidal maniac?
Simon: ______ ______ _____! (Editing while on holiday, bumping down a Welsh country road in the passenger seat of a Vauxhall Zafira, going 25 mph behind a horse caravan).
Ruth: Well, my heroine’s unconscious through all of THAT story, so that saves me writing her any dialogue . . .
Kate: Russ, editing your foul-mouthed optio is having a deleterious effect on my vocabulary. I just told my cranky old plug-in coffeemaker to `Hurry up, you dozy f***ing cow.
Russell: You’re welcome, luv.

As We Fact Check

Stephanie: Eliza, stop looking up etymological roots! You can’t FIND a word that’s old enough! That’s the beauty of writing in the ancient world; you don’t have to do this!
Eliza: I. Can’t. Stop.
Ruth: I’ve spent the day only leaving the computer to hunt out books I haven’t used in years. I must go remind Husband that I’m still alive.
Kate: Russ, you say Gaulish, but should we go with Gallic?
Russ: Gaulish. Gallic brings to mind berets, stripy shirts, Gauloise cigs and accordion music.

As We Fact Check Some More

Kate: So, state funeral in the morning and then the pillaging starts . . . you think it could be done by 3pm or so?
Ruth: You know, I’m not sure how long pillaging takes. It’s not something I’ve ever given a great deal of thought to.
Kate: If the funeral is done by morning we have just enough time to kick off the pillaging. If that’s done by mid-afternoon, we can schedule the flogging . . . I sound like a demented event planner trying to rent a hall.

As We Make Continuity Changes

Kate: The blond slave girl mentioned in Story #3 cannot suddenly become a brunette in Story #5; the queen in Story #1 cannot possibly make it all the way north by Story #2 unless we involve a TARDIS; and that Druid cannot die in Story #4 by drowning AND in Story #7 by evisceration.
Stephanie: We need to decide on `Mona’ or `Ynys Mon,’ or the history police will crucify us.
Ruth: Crikey, don’t the history police have anything better to do?
Several voices in unison: No.

As We Work On Promo

Vicky: Ok, everyone pitch in on this Q&A.
Stephanie: Talks overarching theme.
Ruth: Talks archaeological evidence.
Simon: Talks character development.
Russ: Makes hilarious rude jokes.

As We Celebrate Book�s Launch

Ruth: Really, this was wonderful. It’s been like a crash course in writing combined with group therapy, only funnier.
The rest of us in unison: AWWW . . .

(Then the Yanks wonder: Do the Brits hug?)
(As the Brits wonder: Five hour time difference . . . too early for the Yanks to pour celebratory drinks?)


Today marks the release of the second collaborative novel I have ever had the pleasure of taking part in! Last year, five other authors and I collaborated to write a novel-in-six-parts about the fall of Pompeii; it was titled “A Day of Fire: a novel of Pompeii”. This time around my co-authors and I (most of the same bunch, plus some delightful new faces) tackled the Boudica rebellion against Rome. The result? “A Year of Ravens: a novel of Boudica.”

Our sophomore collaborative proved to be a bigger, darker, far more complex book than “A Day of Fire.” What can I say, we wanted to up our game! And in the process, we had about as much fun as is legally possible to have while still calling it work. Approximately three million emails passed between the seven of us as we wrote, mostly hilarious – I adore every one of my co-authors and would work with them again in a heartbeat. We’re all very proud of “A Year of Ravens,” and we hope you enjoy it too!

Buy your copy here!

Amazon US (print and Kindle) | Amazon UK (print and Kindle) | Apple | Nook | Kobo

This Weekend’s Reading: Nova Roma Box Set!

Just a few short days till A YEAR OF RAVENS comes out. I’m always on tenterhooks before a release, and in dire need of distraction. Thank the gods Alison Morton’s box set of her terrific Nova Roma trilogy has been released! I know what I’m reading this weekend while I chew my nails off waiting for my own release . . .


Suppose a part of Ancient Rome survived?

In Alison Morton’s alternate thriller world, her 21st century Praetorian heroines survive kidnapping, betrayal and a vicious nemesis while using their Roman toughness and determination to save their beloved country. Unfortunately, their love lives don’t run so smoothly…

Alison has written four thrillers against this background – INCEPTIO, PERFIDITAS, SUCCESSIO and AURELIA. She’s working on the fifth, INSURRECTIO, out in spring 2016.

But this month, the Roma Nova box set is out and contains the first three books – nearly a 1,000 pages of action adventure and alternative historical thrills in three books which have 140 five star reviews on Amazon between them.

Amazon (worldwide)




INCEPTIO – the beginning: New Yorker Karen Brown is thrown into a new life in mysterious Roma Nova and fights to stay alive with a killer hunting her.

“Breathtaking action, suspense, political intrigue.” — Russell Whitfield

“Grips like a vice. Excellent pace, great dialogue and concept.” — Adrian Magson

PERFIDITAS – betrayal: Six years on, where betrayal and rebellion are in the air, threatening to topple Roma Nova and ruin Carina’s life.

“Sassy, intriguing, page-turning–Roma Nova is a fascinating, exotic world.” — Simon Scarrow
SUCCESSIO – the next generation: A mistake from the past threatens to destroy Roma Nova’s next generation.

“I thoroughly enjoyed this classy thriller, the third in Morton’s epic series set in Roma Nova.” — Caroline Sanderson in The Bookseller

Historical Novel Society indie Editor’s Choice Autumn 2014

The box set is released on November 10 at a special price of $5.99 on Amazon, iBooks, Kobo and B&N Nook


About Alison

Even before she pulled on her first set of fatigues, Alison Morton was fascinated by the idea of women soldiers. Brought up by a feminist mother and an ex-military father, it never occurred to her that women couldn’t serve their country in the armed forces. Everybody in her family had done time in uniform and in theatre–regular and reserve–all over the globe. She even wrote her history masters’ dissertation on women military!

Alison joined a special communications regiment and left as a captain, having done all sorts of interesting and exciting things no civilian would ever know or see. Or that she can talk about, even now.

But something else fuels her writing. Fascinated by the mosaics at Ampurias (Spain), at their creation by the complex, power and value-driven Roman civilization, she started wondering what a modern Roman society would be like if run by strong women. Now, she lives in France with her husband and writes Roman-themed alternate history thrillers with tough heroines.

Connect with Alison:

Nova Roma blog

Facebook Author Page



A Year of Ravens: Pre-Order and Cover Reveal!

It’s here: the cover AND the Pre-Order info for the Boudica project! We are all super excited how it turned out, and we hope you will be, too!

Title: A Year of Ravens: a novel of Boudica’s rebellion
Authors: Ruth Downie, Stephanie Dray, E. Knight, Kate Quinn, Vicky Alvear Shecter, SJA Turney, and Russell Whitfield, with an introduction by Ben Kane.
Genre: Historical Fiction
Release Date: November 17, 2015

Pre-Order here!

Amazon US | Amazon UK | Apple | Nook | Kobo

Prefer paperback? No problem – hard copies aren’t available for pre-order, but “A Year of Ravens” WILL release in paperback as well, on November 4th!!!


Britannia: land of mist and magic clinging to the western edge of the Roman Empire. A red-haired queen named Boudica led her people in a desperate rebellion against the might of Rome, an epic struggle destined to consume heroes and cowards, young and old, Roman and Briton . . . and these are their stories.

A calculating queen foresees the fires of rebellion in a king’s death.

A neglected slave girl seizes her own courage as Boudica calls for war.

An idealistic tribune finds manhood in a brutal baptism of blood and slaughter.

A death-haunted Druid challenges the gods themselves to ensure victory for his people.

A conflicted young warrior finds himself torn between loyalties to tribe and to Rome.

An old champion struggles for everlasting glory in the final battle against the legions.

A pair of fiery princesses fight to salvage the pieces of their mother’s dream as the ravens circle.

A novel in seven parts, overlapping stories of warriors and peacemakers, queens and slaves, Romans and Britons who cross paths during Boudica’s epic rebellion. But who will survive to see the dawn of a new Britannia, and who will fall to feed the ravens?

Cover Reveal: America’s First Daughter, by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie!

Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie are both wonderful friends of mine, and I’ve been hearing about their epic joint project since its conception! The cover has come out at last . . . and it’s a beauty. Speaking as a beta reader who read every page of “America’s First Daughter” when it was still in rough draft form, I can say that the story behind this cover is every bit as epic. Congratulations, Stephanie and Laura!

Tasty Book Tours is Pleased to Present…

Stephanie Dray & Laura Kamoie
Releasing March 1st, 2016
William Morrow
Historical Fiction 
In a compelling, richly
researched novel that draws from thousands of letters and original sources,
bestselling authors Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie tell the fascinating,
untold story of Thomas Jefferson’s eldest daughter, Martha “Patsy” Jefferson
Randolph—a woman who kept the secrets of our most enigmatic founding father and
shaped an American legacy.
From her earliest days, Martha “Patsy” Jefferson
knows that though her father loves his family dearly, his devotion to his
country runs deeper still. As Thomas Jefferson’s oldest daughter, she becomes
his helpmate in the wake of her mother’s death, traveling with him when he
becomes American minister to France. And it is in Paris, at the glittering
court and among the first tumultuous days of revolution, that she learns of her
father’s liaison with Sally Hemings, a slave girl her own age.
Patsy too has fallen in love—with her father’s
protégé, William Short, a staunch abolitionist intent on a career in Europe.
Heartbroken at having to decide between being William’s wife or a devoted
daughter, she returns to Virginia with her father and marries a man of his
choosing, raising eleven children of her own.
Yet as family secrets come to light during her
father’s presidency, Patsy must again decide how much she will sacrifice to
protect his reputation, in the process defining not just Jefferson’s political
legacy, but that of the nation he founded.

Pre-Order Now
Amazon | B&N | iTunes | Kobo

a Rafflecopter giveaway

LAURA CROGHAN KAMOIE is a historian specializing in colonial
and revolutionary America, Virginia history, and the history of slavery. She
holds a M.A. and Ph.D. in American history from The College of William and Mary
and has published two historical monographs, including Irons in the Fire: The
Business History of the Tayloe Family and the Virginia Gentry, 1700-1865
(University Press of Virginia, 2007). Laura is an Associate Professor of
History at the U.S. Naval Academy. In her fourteen years of college teaching,
she has taught numerous graduate and undergraduate courses on colonial America,
revolutionary America, African-American Slavery, as well as seminars on Thomas

As LAURA KAYE, she is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling
author of over a dozen titles in contemporary and paranormal romance. Her books
have won numerous industry awards, including the EPIC eBook Award, the Golden
Leaf award, the PRISM award, and the HOLT Medallion Award of Merit. She is a
frequent panelist at national writing conferences and a frequent instructor of
craft and social media workshops. Laura lives just outside the nation’s capital
with her husband and two young daughters.

Find Laura Here

DRAY is a bestselling and award-nominated author of historical women’s
fiction. Her series about Cleopatra’s daughter has been translated into six
different languages, was nominated for a RITA Award and won the Golden Leaf. As
STEPHANIE DRAVEN, she is a national bestselling author of paranormal romance,
contemporary romance, and American-set historical women’s fiction. She is a
frequent panelist and presenter at national writing conventions and lives near
the nation’s capital. Before she became a novelist, she was a lawyer, a game
designer, and a teacher. Now she uses the stories of women in history to
inspire the young women of today.

Find Stephanie Here

Q&A With Historical Fiction Addicts

I’m over on Historical Fiction Addicts today with Kelly-Lynne, doing a Q&A! Not only did she loooooove LADY OF THE ETERNAL CITY, but we had a great time chatting about such things as how to turn a bad guy into a good guy, why books are like babies, and what’s the thing I wish a seasoned author had told me when I was first starting out. (And the answer won’t be what you think!)

To read more, hop on over to Historical Fiction Addicts – and a big thanks to Kelly-Lynne for having me!

Surprise! The Next Project . . . Another Collaboration

Ever since publishing “A Day of Fire: a novel of Pompeii” last year with five other historical fiction authors, I and my writing mates have all been asked “Are you doing another novel together?” Today I can finally tell you: Yes. The H Team (historical fiction authors unite!) is riding again with a new project.

We have some changes to the lineup this time around. Ben Kane and Sophie Perinot both had to reluctantly back out due to crowded writing schedules and deadline conflicts (we’re gutted to lose them) but we’ve been joined by three new players, every bit as wonderfully quirky, hugely talented, and fun to work with as Ben and Sophie: Russell Whitfield of the Gladiatrix trilogy, S.J.A. Turney of the Marius’ Mules series, and Ruth Downie of the Medicus series have officially joined myself, Vicky Alvear Shecter, Stephanie Dray, and Eliza Knight on the upcoming collaborative novel.

And what historical event do we have in our cross-hairs this time around? Only the most bad-ass red-haired rebel queen who nearly brought Rome to her knees.

Britannia: land of mist and magic clinging to the western edge of the Roman Empire. A red-haired queen named Boudica led her people in a desperate rebellion against the might of Rome, an epic struggle destined to consume heroes and cowards, young and old, Roman and Celt . . . and these are their stories.

A calculating queen sees the sparks of revolt in a king’s death.

A neglected slave girl seizes her own courage as Boudica calls for war.

An idealistic tribune finds manhood in a brutal baptism of blood and slaughter.

A conflicted warrior hovers between loyalty to tribe and loyalty to Rome.

A death-haunted Druid challenges the gods themselves to ensure victory for his people.

An old champion struggles for everlasting glory in the final battle against the legions.

A fiery princess fights to salvage the pieces of her mother’s dream as the ravens circle.

A novel in seven parts, overlapping stories of warriors and peacemakers, queens and slaves, Romans and Celts who cross paths during Boudica’s epic rebellion. But who will survive to see the dawn of a new Britannia, and who will fall to feed the ravens?

2015 Historical Novel Society Conference: The Recap

As is now traditional: my recap of the 2015 Historical Novel Society Conference! With two HNS conferences under my belt before jetting off to Denver, I knew two things going in: 1) There would be much fun and very little sleep, and 2) What happens at the conference, stays at the conference.

Even with that last caveat, there was plenty of fun that’s printable. So here it is: HNS 2015 . . .


9:58am: Packing for the conference literally at the last minute, I realize I am sadly lacking when it comes to adult clothes. I live my life in yoga pants and Old Navy tank tops; there aren’t a lot of button-downs and responsible slacks in this closet. But I do have my ace in the hole: the infamous fire-engine-red patent leather stilettos that I dust off every conference because they give me a Joan-from-Mad-Men swagger and the lofty height of 5’7. The question is, can I pair them with yoga pants?

10:14am: Why, why, why do I not have a nice set of luggage by now? My suitcase is missing a wheel, and my carry-on is a battered black backpack in which I could comfortably pack Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson complete with his helicopter from “San Andreas.”

12:02pm: Checking in with Spirit Airlines behind a pair of obnoxious suburban families who keep whacking everyone else in line with their snuggies, their sulky toddlers, and their Ford Taurus sized strollers. Idly consider swapping out the babies in the strollers to see if any of the parents notice.

3:30pm: I made a vow to myself that I would finish Part II of the current top-secret WIP before I disembarked in Denver. I’m literally typing the last sentence as the plane taxies in. 65,000 words and half done! Now it’s time to party.

5:42pm: Run into David Blixt, Stephanie Dray, Eliza Knight, and Heather Webb the minute I step into the lobby. David immediately envelops me in a bear hug, expressing his general approval that I am alive after February’s house fire, and gives me another bear hug for good measure from his absent wife, legendary Shakespearean ginger Jan Blixt. I berate him for her absence, because I adore Jan and frankly I couldn’t care less if she has to work. David, you should have blackbagged her and slung her into the trunk of your car, Henry V rehearsals be hanged.

6:32pm: Get dressed for group dinner tonight, surrendering to a brief craven wish for a long-sleeved cocktail dress. I have a burn scar on my right forearm now, remnant of the Great Conflagration, and while it’s not too noticeable, I’m still horribly sensitive about it. But I refused to re-wardrobe myself in wrist-length sleeves for the the rest of my life, so I sling some pearls around my burned wrist and tell insecurity to go fuck itself.

7:01pm: My people, there you are! Donna Russo Morin in her spike-heels and Sophia Loren zest for life, her absolutely delicious English partner who worships the ground she walks on, Gillian Bagwell and Kris Waldherr, my Day of Fire mates Sophie Perinot and Vicky Alvear Shecter, Leslie Carroll and her silver fox husband . . . these are my tribe, and it’s delicious to be among them again. I rhapsodize to Vicky about her upcoming ancient Rome YA novel (I’m beta reading; it’s delicious) and tease Donna’s Englishman about his insistence on well-done steak (so English: “cook until gray.”)

10pm: The Lobby Posse reunites when Deann Smith and Marci Jefferson join the party! This is from the San Diego conference, when a group of us closed down the hotel lobby gabbing about everything under the sun. We’re missing Michelle Moran and Teralyn Pilgrim this time around, but it’s heaven to see the others.

11:08: Cocktails, yes, keep them coming. Christopher Gortner arrives, and the party dials up to an eleven. He’s just gotten a film option for The Last Queen; toasts are drunk as I speculate who could play Juana.

12am: Return to my room to discover I have locked myself out. Trail back down to lobby for new room key. Seven hours of sleep . . .


8:05am: Why are there so many decaf machines alongside the ordinary coffee? This is a writers conference; nobody drinks decaf! Decaf coffee is like a hooker that only wants to cuddle.

9am: David Blixt’s sword workshop! He opens up with stage-combat buddy Brandon with a fight from Macbeth, in which David loses his head to a scarily-real-looking axe stroke, and Brandon immediately becomes Brandon The Decapitator in my mind before everybody resurrects and gets to the nitty-gritty of sword history. Fascinating stuff–did you know that the dances of the time mimic the fight styles? Did you know that the loop on the back of a man’s shirt was originally there to keep his baldric from slipping down and trapping his sword arm during a fight? I didn’t.

11:19am: The hands-on stuff begins. I beeline straight for a crusader broadsword, while Eliza Knight channels her Highland romance side and heads for the claymore. Feel very proud that I successfully master a sort of cross-lunge move whose name I’ve forgotten–it’s the move Inigo Montoya uses to take down three enemies in the castle hallway during “The Princess Bride.” You know the one I mean.

12noon: Lunchtime. Return to my room for my phone, realize I have locked myself out. Trail back down to lobby for new room key.

1:31: The afternoon sword workshop, on rapier/dagger/short sword–Gillian Bagwell is my sparring partner. And for everyone’s information, the groove down the middle of the blade is NOT a blood channel; it has nothing to do with blood. It’s called a fuller, and it’s there strictly to lighten the blade. We have all been warned.

6pm: Cocktail reception, and the conference officially begins! I strap on The Shoes and race around shrieking greetings to people who, in some cases, I haven’t seen since the last conference. Favorite topics include the recent Outlander smash hit on Starz, the recent shake-up at Berkley/NAL, and are headless-lady covers really finally out? (Yes, thank God.)

7:41pm: C.C. Humphreys is our first speaker and guest of honor. He’s got one of those mellifluous stage-trained English voices you can eat with a spoon–I still remember him giving the Crispin’s Day speech at my first HNS conference in San Diego. His speech is bang on (I’m absolutely with him that we are storytellers first, not historians), and he closes with a joke about a Roman centurion ordering a martinus at a bar which makes us all groan.

9:37pm: Everyone adjourns to the bar to keep gabbing. Arm in arm with Stephanie Dray in a fabulous peacock necklace, I run into an old friend–the delightful Stephanie Cowell, and take a moment to bliss out about her wonderful Marrying Mozart which was my favorite re-read of the year–and then bump into a new friend, Stephanie Thornton of the kickass ancient queens–I got to beta-read her epic upcoming novel on the women of Alexander the Great, The Conqueror’s Wife. All these Stephanies; I love every one of them.

10:32pm: The Day of Fire authors all take a picture together–we are minus Ben Kane, but otherwise a full contingent. Happily gab with Alison Morton of the splendid Roma Nova series, who gave ADoF a great review, and wants to know if the gang is doing a reprise. More on that later.

11:11pm: End up down by the fire-pit outside the pool area with Christopher, Donna + Englishman, Heather, and Anne Easter Smith. We dish dirt happily under the stars. I get strict instructions not to get too near the firepit, because I’ve already nearly burned up once this year.

12:01am: Trail upstairs only to find I have locked myself out of my room. Trail back down to lobby, barefoot, red stilettos dangling from hand, for new room key. Six hours of sleep . . .


7:04am: Prepping for the day, I unleash my secret weapon–a flat-iron that heats to a temperature at which you could forge swords, and which is the only thing to reliably smooth my waist-length mass of curls. It has a steely blue glow like it’s being thrust out of a lake for incipient kings, so I dub it Excalibur. Excalibur beats my curls into submission and out I sally.

9:15am: I’m going to miss Stephanie Dray and Christopher Gortner’s panel on “The Gender Divide,” dammit. My own panel is at the same time: “Trends In Historical Fiction” with Eliza Knight, blogger Meg Wessell, and my agent Kevan Lyon. We have a blast, and our audience is packed to standing room. Analyzing trends in publishing is like trying to analyze patterns in a goldfish bowl, but we all agree that 20th century topics are hot right now, so are love-in-a-time-of-war stories, and so are dual narratives that twine a contemporary with a historical timeline.

10:30am: I am dragged off with Heather Webb and the “Day of Fire” ladies to what turns out to be the best laugh riot of the entire conference: “What Really Happens During A Historical Romance Cover Shoot?” Kim Killion of the Killion Group walks us through it with the help of Jesse, her amiable 6’8 cover model who has a set of eight-pack abs on which you could grate cheese. We giggle helplessly as Kim explains how the models start fully dressed for the Inspirational/Sweet Romance covers (the female model gets a dictionary shoved in her hand for a western shoot and is told “Here’s a Bible; think of Jesus”) and once the clothes start coming off, the Sexy/Edgy/Erotica covers get shot. Jesse strips down cheerfully to a kilt and boots, gets sprayed with Pam (grapeseed oil for the holistic-living models!), and is a very good sport about all the authors laughing hysterically as he goes through his paces and smolders on cue.

10:59am: Oh dear Lord, this just got funnier. Jesse and his female counterpart demonstrate various clinch poses. “Cover his nipple, for the nipple haters on Amazon!” Kim calls to the female model, who obediently shifts her hand on Jesse’s Pammed-up chest. “See that space between them? That’s where I photoshop in the castle, or the flying hair. Or maybe I cut his head off.” Heather Webb and I can barely stand, we’re laughing so hard. For the record, Heather has an absolutely filthy laugh that promises all kinds of wickedness; her Empress Josephine would approve. We all line up for pics later with the amiable Jesse. I text mine at once to the Overseas Gladiator.

12:15pm: Lunch, and keynote speaker Karen Cushman, author of Catherine, Called Birdy. She has a particularly lovely phrase that catches me: Words are a net to catch the wind.

1pm: I sit down with the “Day of Fire” ladies, all of us armed with notepads, and discussion continues for over an hour. Let’s just say something’s a-brewing.

2:15pm: Coffee with my agent, the fabulous Kevan Lyon of Marsal-Lyon Literary Agency. We discuss my WIP, all 65,000 words of it, and she’s in full cheerleader mode. Tremendously relieving, because this project has had me scared at times–it’s so different from anything I’ve ever done, it feels like I’m striking out into the open ocean on a cardboard raft.

5:01pm: Change for the book signing and dinner, wielding Excalibur on the frizzies popping up around my hairline. On my way to the signing, I stop for a moment of mutual shoe admiration with Donna (in leopard spikes), Christopher (in Prada loafers), and me in my 5-inch stilettos. Who cares if my toes curl up and drop off? I love being 5’7.

6:38pm: The Day of Fire crew all sits together, so those buying our Pompeii tale can go down the line if they want it signed. We gab happily with bloggers and readers galore: Stephanie Moore Hopkins, Erin of the fabulous Flashlight Commentary, Jenny Q, Darlene Williams . . . I love these ladies, and I owe them for many, many fabulous reviews. Most of all Amy Phillips Bruno of Passages to the Past, for whom I would happily donate a kidney after she saved my bacon and ran my Lady of the Eternal City blog tour for me less than three weeks after the Great Conflagration.

6:59pm: Book signing done–and it was fun, but a mess. Half the books weren’t ordered properly, and some authors had no books at all in store for the readers to buy. Leslie Carroll lets her Bronx show about that, and she’s absolutely right.

7:36pm: Dinnertime! Diana Gabaldon is guest speaker, and she wisely gives us exactly what we want: ALL the dirt on the new Outlander show, the television process, and of course Sam Heughan.

8:12pm: The HNS Indie Prize is announced. A Day of Fire is one of the four finalists but none of us think we have a shot of–wait, we won second place?! Go careening onstage with Vicky, Stephanie, Sophie, and Eliza, congratulating Anna Belfrage on her well-deserved first place win, and taking more pictures. Later, Stephanie’s white knight husband photo-shops Ben Kane into the picture with the rest of the Pompeii crew. The Overseas Gladiator does one better and photo-shops in Tony Stark from Ironman.

9:12pm: The Costume Pageant, narrated hilariously by Gillian Bagwell Joan, Lady Rivers. Stephanie Dray fan-girls all over a George Washington, a Viking housewife brings down the house detailing all the bits of her costume that have been stolen by her husband on a raid, and Carmen Miranda makes an appearance with a fruit-tastic headdress.

10:10pm: David Blixt comes to waltz me randomly around the dinner tables before heading off to emcee the sex scene readings. Last time I was up to read (Cesare Borgia pinned my heroine to a table, lucky girl) and I’m happy just to watch this time around, parked next to C.C. Humphreys who has terrific sotto-voce comments throughout. Stephanie Dray’s romance alter-ego puts in a guest appearance, reading a sultry movie-palace threesome from her 20s erotica collection It Stings So Sweet that has us all reaching for our fans. Judith Starkston reads from her wonderful Trojan War epic Hand of Fire, warning us drolly not to enact this scene at home because only if you are banging a demi-god like Achilles can you have sex being held entirely in the air. And giggles split the room at a Holmes/Watson case that takes an unexpectedly X-rated turn . . . let me just say I will never look at lemon curd the same way again.

10:37pm: More drinks. The HNS Chesapeake Bay chapter (those of us in attendance) assemble for a picture around our new chapter head/Queen, Meg Wessell. We all pledge oaths of fealty to Queen Megan, First Of Her Name, and cheer wildly for several chapter-mates who got requests from agents at this conference to send their manuscript partials. Congrats, all!

11:16pm: I talk Game of Thrones plot twists with Deann, advertising tips with Christopher, Trojan War myth with Amalia Carosalla, and project advice with Stephanie Thornton (for the love of God, NO, do not write about that topic; we both know what it is, and we both know you hate the very idea, so don’t do it!) I feel absurdly pleased when C.C. Humphreys says I do an excellent British accent, and I’m in stitches when Alison Morton calls all the UK Roman-blood-and-battle authors “the bash-and-crash boys.” Things get sober as we talk declining sales in historical fiction and the current lack of interest in seemingly anything that isn’t 20th century . . . but we’re soon smiling again. Me especially, after Facebook friend Janet Butler Taylor gives me a 2013 World Champion Red Sox photo-mag. Bliss!

12:48pm: “One more martini” turns into “Closing out the bar.” I end up dancing with David around the tables again, this time a music-less swing beat. Pat Bracewell and I talk Vikings with Gillian Bagwell; internet trolls are vivisected with gusto over pretzel bites and beer-cheese; and I finally manage to buttonhole Libbie Hawker to tell her how I raced through her Egyptian epic House of Rejoicing in two days flat.

2am: Trail upstairs only to find I have locked myself out of my room. Trail back down to lobby, barefoot, black stilettos in hand, for new room key. Five hours of sleep . . .


7:44am: Wake up 45 minutes before my alarm–this weird mountain altitude has everybody’s sleep schedule out of whack. No time to wield Excalibur this morning; the hair goes in a ponytail. I feel like I’ve crawled out from under a bombed building, but the wonders of foundation and a red shirt leave me looking deceptively bright-eyed.

8:32am: Bacon and croissants with Marci, Sophie, Sam Thomas and–is that be Beatriz Williams?! Why, yes, it is. I manage not to stammer too embarrassingly when I tell her how much I adored her Secret Life of Violet Grant.

10:03am: After talking Nero for a while with the always delightful Margaret George, I head upstairs to get my luggage and check out. I have locked myself out of my room again. God DAMMIT.

10:15: Time for my Koffee Klatch. I signed up for this without the faintest notion what it was–readers signing up for a 45-minute gab session with any author they like. I kept wondering what I’d be expected to talk about, but it turns out great: I end up with a group of about eight, and we gabble excitedly about character development, where to sell ancient world fiction, and who our favorite Roman historical figures are. (Augustus and Livia, for me–world’s original power couple.)

11:50: Koffee Klatch ends 5 minutes early as my shuttle arrives ten minutes in advance. Pile on with my crammed suitcase, head spinning. Is the conference really over already?

12:34pm: My flight is late. Why is my flight always late?

3:40pm: Four hour layover in Chicago. I read Lauren Willig’s That Summer cover to cover in one sitting–Pre-Raphaelite art, a secret affair, and scandal galore; it’s wonderful.

10:17pm: My connecting flight is also late. Rot in hell, Spirit Airlines.

2am: The Overseas Gladiator is long asleep by the time I trail wearily through the door, but the Praetorian Dog greets me with sleepy rapture. By this point I am so far beyond exhausted I might as well be on another planet; sleep is impossible and coherent thought is a distant memory. Tuned somewhere between Zen and stoned, I drop my bags in the middle of the floor in a shower of hotel room keys, pour a double whiskey, and read David’s Master of Verona for the next three hours. He’s the only other conference member still awake, being midway through an overnight drive back to Chicago with his weapons arsenal, so when Brandon the Decapitator takes the wheel, David and I end up texting back and forth at 4am about the Palio races and Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew.”

5:12am: Oh, look, sunrise. I should probably go to bed.

There it is in a nutshell: HNS 2015. Apologies to anyone I’ve left out of my account, or if I’ve recounted something wrong–it’s all a big whirl in my memory, so who knows what fell through the sieve? And I may have exaggerated here and there for comedic effect. (I only locked myself out of my hotel room twice, I swear.)

But what I didn’t exaggerate is just how wonderful it is to join that group of like-minded history-mad nutcases known as the Historical Novel Society. HNS 2011 was my first conference, which I attended as a wide-eyed newbie, and HNS 2013 was my sophomore lap when the world of publishing was still pretty rosy. The last few years have seen some sobering changes: the demise of brick-and-mortar stores; the Amazon-Hachette feud, and everything else that can have you convinced that writing is a tougher gig than ever. And it is–but what hasn’t changed is the weird and wonderful world of writers, readers, and friends in this business, nowhere more apparent than at the HNS Conference. This is a lonely job; my writer friends save my sanity on a regular basis. And as I unpack my red stilettos and my 16 new books, I already can’t wait for HNS 2015.

Q&A With Roma Nova Author Alison Morton!

Alison Morton was kind enough to host me for a Q&A on her blog when LADY OF THE ETERNAL CITY came out – now that Alison’s latest book in her ROMA NOVA series has been released, I’m delighted to welcome her to my blog today!

Even before she pulled on her first set of combats, Alison Morton was fascinated by the idea of women soldiers. Brought up by a feminist mother and an ex-military father, it never occurred to her that women couldn’t serve their country in the armed forces. Everybody in her family had done time in uniform and in theatre–regular and reserve Army, RAF, WRNS, WRAF–all over the globe.

So busy in her day job, Alison joined the Territorial Army in a special communications regiment and left as a captain, having done all sorts of interesting and exciting things no civilian would ever know or see. Or that she can talk about, even now.

But something else fuels her writing. Fascinated by the mosaics at Ampurias (Spain), at their creation by the complex, power and value-driven Roman civilisation started her wondering what a modern Roman society would be like if run by strong women.

Now, she lives in France and writes Roman-themed alternate history thrillers with tough heroines.

Delighted to have you on my blog, Alison! I know from past conversations that you and I are both huge fans of Robert Harris’s brilliant FATHERLAND (hair-raising thriller that leaps off the premise “What if Hitler won?”) What provided the spark for your “What if” moment, the “What if the Roman Empire survived?” question which drives your ROMA NOVA series?

Thank you for inviting me, Kate! Well, the start of Roma Nova goes back to my own ancient history. Picture an eleven-year-old girl, curly hair, sun hat fallen off her head because she is crouching down on a vast Roman mosaic, and too fascinated by the patterns to pay attention to her mother’s warnings about sunstroke. This was me in Ampurias, north-east Spain. I tipped my head up and asked my father–numismatist and senior Roman nut–who the people were who had made such floors. Who were the children who had played there? Who were the families? He explained about senators and soldiers, traders, merchants, slaves and scribes, how the Romans had come there, what they believed in, how powerful and ingenious they were. When I asked what the ladies and children did, he said they did what the men told them to do. “What would it be like if the women were in charge?” I piped up. He smiled, and said “What do you think it would be like?” And the seed of the idea grew.

I really enjoyed the cultural details from ancient Rome which made their way into your version of modern Rome: elite military forces that still carry the name Praetorian, the noble patrician families and the honored images of their ancestors, the Latin terminology and the references to the gods. But I’m a history geek who has already read a lot of these details in my own research–how did you go about making these historical touches accessible for a reader less familiar with Rome’s ancient history?

It’s a mixture of familiarity and strangeness. First and foremost, the story must be strong and connect with concerns that everybody can identify with: in AURELIA, it’s mother and daughter relationships; a woman balancing career, duty and love; good guys versus bad guys. These anchor the thread of the story for the reader.

The second is context. Readers don’t want to be hit over the head with a big lump of information, so I feed in detail or explanation via a character’s reaction to something or conversation, more often argument, with somebody. And putting a character in an environment they’re uncomfortable with lets them compare it with what is usual for them–a great opportunity to slip in some detail. As you yourself know, tiny touches of detail here and there can go a lot way!

As an example, on the first page, Aurelia walks by the imagines–statues and busts of ancestors–in the hallway in her house and the reader sees how significant and precious they are:
I left my side-arm in the safe box in the vestibule and walked on past the marble and plaster imagines, the painted statues and busts of dead Mitelae from the gods knew how many hundreds of years. Only the under-steward was allowed to dust them; I’d never been allowed to touch them as a child.

And later, Aurelia is asked to translate an incriminating note from Latin–another chance introduce a little more background about when that kind of note would be written.

And the Latin/German expressions and names? As with any historical fiction, the reader needs to feel the strangeness, to be a little off balance, to experience the unique flavour of the world and time they are entering; dropping in foreign language words is one of the most effective ways of doing this. However, no vital plot point should ever be obscured by these expressions. I’ll confess, I was a professional translator before I started writing novels and love playing with words in this way!

I loved the twist you gave on the role of ancient Roman women as guardians of the family hearth and family honor: allowing that role to expand so that the women of Roma Nova act as family heads and even Empresses in their own right. How did you envision that change overcoming the more traditional role of women in ancient Rome?

Ancient Roman attitudes to women were repressive to our eyes, but towards the later Imperial period women gained much more freedom to act, trade and own property and to run businesses of all types. Divorce was easy and step and adopted families were commonplace.

Apulius, the leader of Roma Nova’s founders in AD 395, had met Julia, the tough daughter of a Celtic princeling in Noricum. She left her native Virunum, travelled to Rome, found Apulius and married him the day of her arrival. She came from a society in which, although Romanised for several generations, women made decisions, fought in battles and managed inheritance and property. Their four daughters were amongst the first Roma Novan pioneers so necessarily had to act more decisively than they would have in a traditional urban Roman setting.

Given the unstable, dangerous times in Roma Nova’s first few hundred years, daughters as well as sons had to put on armour and carry weapons to defend their homeland and their way of life. Fighting danger side by side with brothers and fathers reinforced women’s roles. And they never allowed the incursion of monotheistic paternalistic religions. So I don’t think that it’s too far a stretch for women to have developed leadership roles in all parts of Roma Novan life over the next fifteen centuries.

Photo courtesy of Britannia

AURELIA is a bit of a shift for you your previous ROMA NOVA books concentrate on Aurelia’s granddaughter Carina, and her adventures in a modern-day Rome. What made you realize that Carina’s forceful grandmother Aurelia and her adventures in the tumultuous 60s deserved their own story?

Well, in a way, it was a natural choice. As I was writing the first three books, Aurelia fascinated me more and more. She’s not only Carina’s grandmother but also acts as her “wise councillor”, drawing on a long life of service to the state. What had she done as a young Praetorian officer? And what part had she played in the Great Rebellion twenty-three years before we met her, a seasoned politician and imperial advisor in INCEPTIO? How was she connected with Conrad, Carina’s love interest, whose family was ruined as a consequence of the rebellion? Glimpses of Aurelia’s past life in the first three books were as tantalising for me as well as for readers; several demanded to know her backstory. So did I. As soon as SUCCESSIO, the third book, went to my structural editor, I attacked the keyboard.

Finally, the question you posed to me: do you think historical or alternate fiction does anything to help us understand the past, or is it purely entertainment?

We only have glimpses of what people said or felt in the past based on diaries, accounts and official and unofficial histories written at the time or later and, for the ancient Roman period at least, none of them is complete or unbiased.

Our ancestors lived in different, sometimes (to us) very strange conditions but I firmly believe they worried, celebrated, loved, laughed and wept in ways we would immediately understand. In alternate history, writers and readers can also explore different possible outcomes to historical events: what if Julius Caesar had taken notice of the warning that assassins wanted to murder him on the Ides of March? Or if Washington hadn’t crossed the Delaware River on Christmas night in 1776? Delicious fun!

If it’s well-researched and intelligently written, historical fiction, including alternate, stretches out a hand to us and guides us into a world that might have been. It fleshes out the gaps that the historical record leaves yawning. I’m a life-long learner–I went back thirty years after my first degree to study for my history masters–but I’ve found that I remember something best if I’ve been entertained at the same time.

So, in a nutshell: what is AURELIA about?

Late 1960s Roma Nova, the last Roman colony that has survived into the 20th century. Aurelia Mitela is alone–her partner gone, her child sickly and her mother dead–and forced to give up her beloved career as a Praetorian officer.

But her country needs her unique skills. Somebody is smuggling silver–Roma Nova’s lifeblood–on an industrial scale. Sent to Berlin to investigate, she encounters the mysterious and attractive Miklas, a known smuggler who knows too much and Caius Tellus, a Roma Novan she has despised and feared since childhood.

Barely escaping a trap set by a gang boss intent on terminating her, she discovers that her old enemy is at the heart of all her troubles and pursues him back home to Roma Nova…

And now, my thoughts!

AURELIA is something of a prequel in the ROMA NOVA series, detailing the adventures of Aurelia Mitela who is grandmother and adviser to the heroine of the earlier novels–but it stands alone with ease, and will be enjoyed by those new to the series and those who have been reading along. Aurelia is as steadfast as a Roman column, brave and capable, newly head of her illustrious patrician clan and struggling with the age-old balance of work, family, children, love, and the demands of her country. Roma Nova is practically a character in itself; the Roman Empire surviving through the centuries to become a tough little city state that values its women as well as its men, and still prizes Roman virtues like gravitas and service to the Imperium. Fans of ancient Rome will delight in the clever historical details woven throughout: elite guards still called Praetorians, the full pantheon of gods still worshipped, the Roman villas that might have come intact from the age of Augustus, but which are now decked out in 60s technology!

A mysterious industrial smuggling scam sends Aurelia on the hunt, only to find that she is the hunted. The pace never lets up as Aurelia tracks an old enemy from Roma Nova to Germany and even further–and what an enemy he is. He reminded me of my own smug golden-boy villain Pedanius Fuscus from LADY OF THE ETERNAL CITY, with the result that I was grinding my teeth in rage as I flipped pages faster and faster to see if he’d get his come-uppance. A racing climax and a fully satisfying ending–recommended for fans of alternate history and fans of ancient Rome!

Buy AURELIA here!

Book trailer for AURELIA

More about the ROMA NOVA series:

INCEPTIO, the first in the Roma Nova series

– shortlisted for the 2013 International Rubery Book Award
– B.R.A.G. Medallion finalist in 2014 Writing Magazine Self-Published Book of the Year

PERFIDITAS, second in series
– B.R.A.G. Medallion
– finalist in 2014 Writing Magazine Self-Published Book of the Year

SUCCESSIO, third in series
– Historical Novel Society’s indie Editor’s Choice for Autumn 2014
– B.R.A.G. Medallion
– Editor’s choice, The Bookseller’s inaugural Indie Preview, December 2014

More about Alison:

Nova Roma blog | Facebook Author Page | Twitter

Lady of the Eternal City: The Movie

HBO just called, and they’re giving Lady of the Eternal City the “Game of Thrones treatment!

Sigh – I wish. But until the day Weiss & Benioff are leaving me urgent voice-mails, a girl can dream – and I don’t know a writer out there who doesn’t know exactly how they’d cast their beloved characters if given a movie set and total production control. (Which we’d never get, because no writer does. But this is fantasy, right? Come on, I’ve already planned what I’m wearing to the 2016 Oscars to watch LEC win Best Picture. Red Valentino and Louboutins; very 2011 Jennifer Lawrence.)

Anyway, here’s my dream cast for Lady of the Eternal City.
Sabina: for my elegant mid-thirties heroine, I’m going with Lyndsey Marshal. As Cleopatra on HBO’s “Rome” she had an inscrutable elegance that will wear nicely on my secret-keeping Empress. Not to mention an adorable pixie cut under the various Imperial wigs.










Vix: Dan Feurriegal played a tough-grained foul-mouthed heart-of-gold gladiator in “Spartacus: Blood and Sand” – I think he can handle Vix. He’s already got the skills for Vix’s fight scenes, Vix’s wicked grin, and Vix’s ferocious expression. (He’s my arm candy for the 2016 Oscars. We look lovely on the red carpet together.)











Emperor Hadrian: this role is a tough one, since Hadrian is endlessly mercurial and vibrates between cruelty, kindness, friendship, enmity, hatred, love, and every other set of extremes you could imagine. Eric Bana with his “Troy” beard – those intense dark eyes are SO Hadrian.





Antinous: Vix’s adopted son, Hadrian’s lover, and also one of the most famous and beautiful faces of the ancient world – yeah, this one’s a poser. I’m going with Douglas Booth, who has a face so perfect it looks carved, but all that perfections melts into a surprisingly sweet smile.





Titus: I loved Tobias Menzies in Rome, and now that he’s tearing it up as Frank/Black Jack Randall on “Outlander,” I can see he’d be perfect for my sweet, serious, noble-souled Titus.












Annia: My secondary heroine has a fiery temperament and the hair to match, a marathoner with a fierce soul who has to save the Empire at the end when all the adults have screwed things up. Molly Quinn showed on “Castle” that she could play tough, intelligent, and funny, just like Annia.










Marcus: Zach Gilford, because I adored him as Matt Saracen in “Friday Night Lights,” showing the same blend of sweetness, intelligence, and awkwardness as my young Marcus Aurelius. Who never wrote “Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose!” in his Meditations, but should have.







Pedanius Fuscus: for the swaggering golden-boy teenage ass who makes everyone’s lives a living hell, I have to go with the ultimate swaggering golden-boy teenage ass of all time–King Joffrey/Jack Gleason.









Servianus: the white-haired orator constantly droning “In my day . . .” could be played by no one other than Julian Glover/Maester Pycelle from “Game of Thrones.”










Mirah: for Vix’s fiery Jewish wife with a rebel’s soul, Brigid Brannagh would work very well.











Simon bar Kokhba: one final “Game of Thrones” alum. The charismatic Jewish leader whose ferocious rebellion nearly brought Rome to her knees has relatively little screen time in LEC, but he needs to pack a powerful punch. Pedro Pascal accomplished exactly the same thing in his cameo role of the Red Viper on GoT.




Hope you enjoyed my fantasy casting. Who do you see as Vix/Sabina/Hadrian & Co.?