It was on another Release Day that “A Day of Fire” was first conceived, the champagne-fueled brainchild of myself, Stephanie Dray, and Sophie Perinot. We were having a celebratory lunch in honor of my latest Borgia book, and swapping idle ideas for future projects. “Continuities,” Stephanie mused, and was met with blank looks. “Basically, a novel in four parts, written by four authors, or however many are working together. Romance authors do it all the time.”
“Why haven’t historical fiction authors jumped in?” Sophie wondered. “We could pick a historical event and go to town! What event?”
“Sinking of the Titanic? Downton Abbey tie-in . . .”
“Field of the Cloth of Gold? Tudor tie-in . . .”
“Destruction of Pompeii . . . ?”
Eyes gleamed. And this project was born.
It’s been a wild, sometimes rocky, always exhilarating ride. Our original trio was swiftly joined by three more musketeers. I screwed up the nerve to approach Ben Kane, whose work I adore (after being wowed by the gorgeous mayhem he wreaked with the Spartacus legend, I knew he could tear the top off a mountain in style). Vicky Alvear Shecter already had a hit YA HF novel in the works about Pompeii (“Curses and Smoke,” highly recommended!) but didn’t mind revisiting the lava fields with us. And self-pub goddess E. Knight joined the Good Ship Pompeii and firmly took the tiller, steering the rest of us self-pub newbies through the waters of the Indie Ocean.
I am uniquely proud of what I and my five co-authors have put together in “A Day of Fire.” I think, frankly, that it’s awesome. Some of that was planned (the careful plotting we did to interweave characters; the careful research into the latest Pompeii archaeological findings), and some of it wasn’t (how did we get such a perfect cross-section of Roman society in our protagonists? Sheer luck). But we worked hard, and it was worth every moment.
And at long last, our story about the final days of Pompeii is available in e-book and print!
“This truly is the finest book I have read this year, an emotional roller-coaster that educates while it entertains. Its impact will stay with me for quite some time.” ~Parmenion Books
“Despite knowing what happens in Pompeii and to the majority of its citizens, A Day of Fire is a book full of suspense, fear, and unexpected bravery.” ~Ageless Pages
“I can’t praise this book highly enough. It’s a rattling good tale of disaster, death, resolution and rebirth.” ~Dodging Arrows
“I LOVED this! The writing style, the choice of stories told, the evolution of characters, the drama. I couldn’t have asked for anything better.” ~The Maiden�s Court
“Each one of these authors deserves a huge amount of praise for putting this impressive piece of art together.” ~Steven McKay
Pompeii was a lively resort flourishing in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius at the height of the Roman Empire. When Vesuvius erupted in an explosion of flame and ash, the entire town would be destroyed. Some of its citizens died in the chaos, some escaped the mountain’s wrath . . . and these are their stories:
A boy loses his innocence in Pompeii’s flourishing streets.
An heiress dreads her wedding day, not knowing it will be swallowed by fire.
An ex-legionary stakes his entire future on a gladiator bout destined never to be finished.
A crippled senator welcomes death, until a tomboy on horseback comes to his rescue.
A young mother faces an impossible choice for her unborn child as the ash falls.
A priestess and a whore seek redemption and resurrection as the town is buried.
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. But who will escape, and who will be buried for eternity?
I’m a foodie at heart–you can always count on there being delicious food in my books. (And the best part about fictional food? Zero calories!) My Borgia duology “The Serpent and the Pearl” and “The Lion and the Rose” has the most mouth-watering food out of anything I’ve written, because one of my heroines is a chef: Carmelina, a tart-tongued girl with near-magical skill in the kitchen, who has the job as maestra di cucina for the Borgia Pope’s mistress.
Serving under her is teenage apprentice Bartolomeo Scappi, a historical figure who will grow up and become one of the greatest cooks of the Renaissance–his cookbook is still in print today! Now, it’s a curious thing that most of the world’s mega-chefs tend to be men, but ask any of them how they learned to cook, and it’s always a female name that comes out. (Most usually “Mom” or “Grandma.”) So when I leafed through Bartolomeo Scappi’s cookbook, I asked myself “Who taught him all this?” And the answer presented itself: “I’ll bet it was a woman.”
Fortunately we know very little about Bartolomeo’s beginnings, when he was born, or where he trained, so I was free to invent Carmelina as the girl who teaches the greatest culinary genius of the Renaissance everything he knows. When these two get together in a kitchen, sparks fly, knives are sometimes hurled, and magic happens–along with a lot of great food!
When “The Serpent and the Pearl” was released, I put together a virtual pot-luck with six fabulous food bloggers who combed the book for recipes and trooped off to their kitchens. The results were mouth-watering, and I know we had to host a re-match for “The Lion and the Rose.” Today I’m joined by Theresa from Outlander Kitchen and Island Vittles, who cooks from Diana Gabaldon’s fabulous Scottish saga; Chelsea from Inn At The Crossroads, who recently co-authored a fabulous cookbook based on “Game of Thrones” recipes; Christiane from Taking On Magazines, who cooks her way through the likes of “Better Homes and Gardens” and “Bon Appetit” utterly undaunted; Lori from Little White Apron who is a pro chef as well as a blogger extraordinaire; Deana from Lost Past Remembered who recreates food from myriad centuries gone by; and Heather Webb from Between The Sheets who took time off from her
recent smash-hit novel on Empress Josephine to indulge her foodie hobby.
And today, we’re all posting our results! Recipes included.
Inn At The Crossroads: the Roman-style tenderloin Bartolomeo makes when Carmelina’s stuck in a convent with the Pope’s daughter Lucrezia.
Island Vittles: the candied nuts which all the Borgias are constantly snacking on as they plot. And as a bonus? The fried tubers from the New World, which feature heavily in a scene my readers have taken to calling simply �the aphrodisiac potato scene.�
Little White Apron: the salad of blood orange, fennel, and olives served to the Duke of Gandia, and the beef en brochette served at a very illicit Vatican party.
Lost Past Remembered: the fish pie flavored with oranges, nutmeg and dates which Bartolomeo whips up after changing Carmelina’s menu behind her back (and boy, does he get in trouble for that!)
Taking On Magazines did TWO posts! The venison in cream and brandy sauce served after Juan Borgia’s latest hunt, and the tortellini with basil and parsley filling with which Bartolomeo hopes to woo Carmelina.
Between The Sheets: the endives stuffed with cheese and drizzled in olive oil which are served at the Menagerie Masquerade Ball, and the pastries layered with honey and blood oranges on which Lucrezia nibbles while waiting for a divorce.
As for me, I rolled up my sleeves and tackled a recipe from Chapter 17 of “The Lion and the Rose:” a walnut and pecorino cheese tourte Carmelina muses on to keep herself sane during a dull period stuck in a convent.
From the book:
“Three eggs, whisked together with a mixture three parts sugar to two parts strawberry honey,” I recited aloud as I swept the convent courtyard. “Add two cheeses, a soft sheep’s milk cheese and a very fresh pecorino cheese from Pienza, and then a double handful finely chopped walnuts . . .” The lay sisters were supposed to recite their prayers as they went about their work–a rosary, or perhaps an Act of Contrition if they were feeling guilty about anything. I recited recipes.
This is a recipe I got from a little volume of Vatican recipes through the ages, and supposedly dates from the days of Pope Pius II. Given that a handful of walnuts and a hunk of cheese are just about my favorite snack of all time, I was intrigued by the idea of putting them together in a pie, and dying to tackle this for the virtual potluck! I made a few modifications to the ingredients–Wegman’s does not carry strawberry honey–but the result is still delicious: a sort of early-Renaissance version of a classic cheesecake. The texture is identical, and the flavor mild and nutty, the saltiness of the pecorino melting into the honey and sugar. If you would like a bolder flavor, dust the top of your tourte with cinnamon instead of powdered sugar. The perfect holiday dessert for that one family member who isn’t big on sweets.
Serves 12 — Prep time 30 minutes — Cooking time 55 minutes, plus at least 2 hours for chilling
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup honey
1 1/3 cup very fresh grated pecorino cheese
1 cup ricotta cheese
3 cups flour
1 1/2 cups shelled walnuts, finely chopped
12 egg whites, whipped stiff (to avoid the mess of breaking 12 eggs, just use those egg whites that come in cartons for low-fat omelets)
Whole walnuts and powdered sugar or cinnamon, for garnish
Pre-made pie shell or short-crust pastry of your choice
1. Whipping egg whites into peaks takes both time and muscle if done by hand. If you don’t have a hunky kitchen apprentice with arms like a god (Carmelina does), then use a stand mixer and get your egg whites beating with a whisk attachment as you prepare the rest of the pie. If you do have a hunky kitchen apprentice with arms like a god, what on earth are you doing in the kitchen?
2. Make your pie-crust if you are making from scratch (use a pre-made shell if you’re low on time). Either way, pop the crust into the oven at 325 degrees and do a pre-bake for a few minutes, so you don’t end up with a soggy bottom crust once filling is added.
3. Whisk together the eggs, sugar, and honey in a large bowl.
4. Gradually add the pecorino cheese, ricotta, flour, and chopped walnuts, and blend together. When egg whites have been whisked stiff, add bit by bit to the walnut and cheese mixture, and blend.
5. Give mixture one final stir (the nuts will want to sink to the bottom) and then pour into pie shell. There will be enough for two pies.
6. Bake 55 minutes at 325 degrees, checking frequently toward the end. You want a nice golden top, not a burned blistered pie.
7. Let cool, sift with powdered sugar, and decorate with whole walnuts. Chill thoroughly before eating.
Be sure to check in on the others for some more great recipes! And as for the food bloggers who kicked in on this project – Theresa, Lori, Heather, Christiane, Chelsea, and Deana – thank you all so much!
I really cackled when I wrote this guest post for Writerspace. I am sad to say that every single one of these examples is drawn from life, either mine or one of my writer pals’. Including Tip #1:
“Do not get freaked by your spouse’s Google search history when it pops up things like “testicle amputation techniques” or “how to kill a child and get away with it.” It’s all just research.”
To read the rest, click here!
More guest blogging today, over on The Reading Frenzy! Topic? Why I write about the Borgias, which Borgia I’d most like to meet, and all the crazy things that make them tick:
“I couldn’t suppress a giggle when I wrote Giulia tearing her beautiful hair in frustration at yet another papal family crisis and crying out, `Maybe there’s a REASON Popes aren’t supposed to have families!’ She’s got a point there–Pope Francis today has quite enough to do without having to manage four children and a girlfriend!”
Though wouldn’t it be interesting if he did?
For more, click here!
Guest blogging today over on Love Romance Passion, and they’ve got a great topic: list your top ten fictional heroes. Well, I was reading historical fiction long before I was ever writing it, and there were plenty of historical hunks who will always be on my list of fictional BFs. Like #6:
“Horatio Hornblower from C.S. Forester’s Hornblower series. Moody melancholy men might be frustrating to date in real life, but between the pages, Horatio Hornblower is totally worth it: a brilliant naval commander who thinks nothing of taking on four French warships single-handedly, but worries compulsively (and adorably) about his uncontrollable hair and his cheap shoe-buckles when going to dinner at his lady love’s.”
For more, click here! And who’s your favorite fictional date for a night in?
For the fifth time in my life, I can type the words “I have a book coming out today!” Usually I’m a nervous wreck on release days–I haunt my Amazon page looking for that first all-important review, and my fingernails are gone before the book’s been out 24 hours. But you know what? This time around, I’m just plain excited. Because I’m uniquely proud of “The Lion and the Rose.” I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever written, and here’s five reasons why:
1. Two kick-ass heroines. I love my two leading ladies in this book, because they really come into their own. Giulia Farnese started as a naive, happy-go-lucky golden girl, and Carmelina started as a prickly cook with a secret, but by this book they’ve matured into women who aren’t afraid to fight for the life they want, and reach for the love they want. And when the rigid Renaissance world they live in says they can’t have those things, they say “Screw that.”
2. An unconventional hero. I’ve written a lot of tough-guy warrior heroes, but Leonello is different. He’s a dwarf, and that means he’s spent his life being kicked around by a world that thinks he’s a freak. But he refuses to let it define him. He’s every bit as much of a tough guy as any of my gladiators or centurions, and this is the book where he kicks some serious butt. Often in novels, dwarves get stuck as somebody’s side-kick or jester–the role to which real-life dwarves were often relegated in times past. This dwarf informed me in no uncertain terms that he wanted center stage.
3. A new hero. I’ve got a brand-new guy preparing to enter the limelight in this book, and I think he’ll sweep you off your feet.
4. Pay-off. When “The Serpent and the Pearl” came out, there were reviews that said it felt like a set-up novel. In a way, it was–and this is the pay-off. A killer was introduced, and now he gets caught. Love struck like a thunderbolt, and now it gets requited. The Borgias rise to power, and now they begin their fall. It all happens here.
5. There’s a scene which all my beta readers called “the aphrodisiac potato scene.” Enough said. 😀
I hope you enjoy “The Lion and the Rose” as much as I enjoyed writing it. For my release day, I’m off to lunch with perpetual launch day buddies Stephanie Dray and Sophie Perinot, who have permission as always to use anything up to and including handcuffs to keep me from my Amazon page. There will be champagne, and there will be laughter, just as there was on my previous four launch days. And as ever, I have to give thanks to the world and to my readers that I am lucky enough to do this for a living!
My secondary heroine from “The Serpent and the Pearl” is usually very tough to track down–as a working girl (cook to the Borgia Pope!) she’s always on the move and on the job. But now she’s at loose ends, and consented to be interviewed!
Carmelina: Ask as many questions as you want. As long as we’re held captive here, I haven’t got anything to cook.
Me: You know how many readers accused you of ruining their diets?
Carmelina: Diet? What’s that?
Me: It’s when people swear off butter or cream or pasta.
Carmelina: Why would anybody ever do that? Swear off pasta? Pasta is delicious!
Me: Well, it’s fattening. People stop eating it so they can be thinner.
Her: Who wants to be thin? My mistress Giulia Farnese is the most renowned beauty in Rome, and she’s a solid size 14 in your sizing charts.
Me: Jesus, I wish I lived in the Renaissance.
Her: No, you don’t. I’m the best cook in Rome, and I don’t even get paid for it because I’m a woman.
Me: Fair point. So, how are you faring in captivity?
Her: Madonna Giulia has managed to keep the French from raping us all, God bless her. If she can hold them off a few more days, the Pope should have us all ransomed and home. Can’t be soon enough for me.
Me: Leonello said that you . . .
Her: That little bastard talked about me?
Me: A little. He said he knows things about you . . .
Carmelina: How dare he!
Me: Look, I’m your creator. Believe me, I already know all your secrets. What people really want to know is this–are you really planning to poison Leonello before he outs you? Because you were looking pretty determined . . .
Ok, Carmelina just stomped out. Looks like you’ll have to wait till tomorrow to see if she put hemlock in our hero’s wine or not!
My “Lion and the Rose” hero is still flat on his back on a stretcher, but he consented to an interview. 😀
Leonello: Consented, hah. You cornered me, woman. It’s not exactly like I can run away when I’m full of broken bones.
Me: Yes, I’m sorry about that.
Leonello: Nothing to do with you. I’m a bodyguard and I defended my charge, simple as that. My own decision, I assure you.
Me: Well, I am your creator.
Leonello: As if you ever made me do anything I didn’t want to do.
Me: Fair point. How are you feeling?
Leonello: Like a French army stamped all over me. Which it did. I’m probably dying.
Me: Surely not . . .
Leonello: If the blood loss doesn’t kill me, the cook probably will. She hates me.
Me: What did you do to her?
Leonello: Carmelina? I know a few things about her that could make life very uncomfortable. I may have rubbed it in, when I pointed that out.
Me: Was that entirely necessary?
Leonello: Just because I am small does not mean I am cute, kind, or cuddly.
Me: No, it certainly doesn’t. Not only do you have a tongue like a razor, you kick a surprising amount of butt for a person of reduced height
Leonello: Dwarf. Call it what it is.
Me: We’re more politically correct in this century.
Leonello: Dio, I don’t even want to know what that is. Am I done now?
“The Lion and the Rose: a novel of the Borgias” releases in just three days! Usually I’m nervous for my release days, but this time around I just can’t wait. Because this book is sequel to “The Serpent and the Pearl,” which came out last August and ended on just a leetle bit of a cliffhanger, and I’m delighted that this time around, I didn’t have to leave my readers hanging for too long. (I really am sorry, “Empress of the Seven Hills” fans.)
And my three main characters of “The Serpent and the Pearl” were all in a very tight spot on the last page–captured by the French army, with their lives very literally on the line! Over the next few days I’ll be interviewing each of my characters here on my blog as a promo. Today let’s welcome Giulia Farnese, mistress to the Borgia Pope and currently a French captive when she got waylaid by an invading army on her way home from a family visit . . .
Giulia: Do you have any of that stuff called chocolate which you introduced me to at our last interview? You left me in a very bad place, sticking me with the French between books, and frankly if a girl ever earned an out-of-her-century treat, it’s me.
Me: Yes, of course. Try a Snicker’s bar, you’ll love it.
Giulia: Thank you. I always eat when I’m being held hostage.
Me: I truly am sorry about leaving you in enemy hands for five months . . .
Giulia: Oh, that’s all right. It’s not as long as five months in my world. Snickers, why is it called that? Nothing to snicker about, being a French captive. They’re pigs.
Me: Are they really?
Giulia: Well, they’ve been relatively nice once they realized what Rodrigo–
Me: Can you tell the readers who that is, for the ones who didn’t read the first book?
Giulia: Rodrigo Borgia. His Holiness, Pope Alexander VI. I’m his mistress.
Me: Wow. Our current pope, um–well, he’s a little different. I don’t really know what would happen if he came out and told the world “Hi, I have a twenty-two year old girlfriend with floor-length hair.”
Giulia: Maybe he’d be more relaxed. It’s a very tiring job, being Pope.
Me: Well, anyway. The French?
Giulia: They’ve been relatively nice to me once they realized what the Holy Father would pay to get me back.
Me: So you’re going home?
Giulia: On page 1. God knows if it’ll be in time to save my bodyguard, though. Leonello, his name is, and he nearly killed himself protecting me–the French beat him so badly. I’m making them pay for it.
Giulia: I’ve acted like an utter haughty bitch ever since they captured me. I’m normally quite an easy-going sort of person, but I’ve been complaining and pitching fits for that French general ever since he laid hands on me. He’ll be quite glad to see the back of me, I assure you.
Me: Sounds like you have things well in hand, then. Good luck, Giulia!
Giulia: Can you do me a favor? Pray for my bodyguard. I’m going to be all right–I just want to get home to Rodrigo, who isn’t nearly as frightening as people seem to think all the Borgias are. But I really don’t know if Leonello’s going to live or not.
Me: I could tell you, but that would spoil the surprise. Thanks for dropping by!
By the time this posts, I’ll be in Bermuda on the first vacation out of the US that I’ve had in four years – to Bermuda, where I was four years ago on my honeymoon! But I’ve got a guest blog post scheduled on Campaign For The American Reader, this one “the Page 69 Test.” Namely, what would any reader think, if they opened your book to page 69?
Anybody who did that that for “The Serpent and the Pearl” would probably think “Why’s this chick talking to a severed hand?” Or maybe they’d think they wandered into an Addams Family spin-off. Who knows? But to read more, click here!