Okay, folks, it’s time for what I feel is going to be a yearly tradition: the “I hated your book” blog. Last year I wrote a blog post listing my top ten favorite negative comments that had come in for my first book Mistress of Rome, and I had a blast doing it. Judging from the 500 views and 20+ comments, a lot of you had a blast reading it. So here we go for Round 2: I’ve written a second book, out for nearly five months now, and plenty of people had mean things to say about it (or me).
Which is fine, really. Mistress of Rome got panned a few times, and so did Daughters of Rome, and that’s okay. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, after all, and I knew going into this line of work that I wasn’t going to please 100% of my readers. Everyone gets negative reviews–you can go on Amazon, and the Bible has negative reviews. Even God does not get a break on this one. The last thing I will ever do is be unprofessional and argue with a reader about their opinion, whether in person or on the web. And I have learned valuable things from some negative reviews–a Latin scholar, for example, who tactfully pointed out that my hero’s made-up name was actually a common adverb in Latin. Believe me, that detail got carefully worked into my next book, and I’m grateful for the correction.
But I have gotten some negative reviews of Daughters of Rome that are so bizarre or so flat-out filled with loathing that I have been left scratching my head in wonder. Here are a few memorable gems from readers who have contacted me with negative feedback. I have rephrased some for anonymity but all are true in essence:
1. There is a depraved amount of sex in this book. From beginning to end, I was just appalled!!!
So appalled that you finished the book anyway?
2. Not enough sex in this book! I was so disappointed that there wasn’t an orgy!
Probably not as disappointed as Reader #1.
3. I hated your last book. I don’t know why I bought this one.
Well, don’t look at me; I certainly don’t know either.
4. It’s too confusing to have four heroines named Cornelia.
Okay, valid. Historically it’s true that Roman women in the same family got the same name . . . but judging from the number of readers who thought it was confusing in Daughters of Rome, the four-identical-names thing might not have been the best idea for a novel. At least my four girls are all immediately separated out with different nicknames, so it’s not too confusing after the first chapter.
5. It’s distressing to see an author’s racist prejudices make their way into mainstream fiction. (Condensed from 11-page 6-point-font email)
Not really sure what ethnic group I pissed off in Daughters of Rome. First-century Gauls, maybe? Far as I know, they’re all dead . . .
6. Palid bodiss ripper with dull heroin and unreelistic senario.
I believe that’s “
Palid Pallid bodiss ripper bodice-ripper with dull heroin heroine and unreelistic unrealistic senario scenario.” C-minus–I know you can do better. Please see me after class to discuss use of spell-checker.
7. Your first book was so much better than this one.
See next comment.
8. Your first book was so much worse than this one.
See previous comment.
9. This book is wrong and inaccurate–no Christians! Not a book a good modern-day Christian should ever read.
Oh dear, I think you’d better sit down. I know it’s a shock, but–deep breath, now–not everyone in the ancient world was Christian. There, there, don’t cry.
10. Yr buk sux. U suk 2.
Thank you for taking time off from your World of Warcraft schedule to get in touch with me. I think I hear your mother calling upstairs; she wants you to vacuum the basement.
As you can see, my approach with negative reviews is to keep my sense of humor. Plenty more bad reviews will come my way, so I might as well learn to laugh about it–nasty readers and all, this job is still far preferable to working in a cubicle with Excel spreadsheets and an “Office Space” coffee mug. For those readers who didn’t like my book but wrote thoughtful, well-reasoned reviews why–thank-you; constructive well-written criticism is always useful. And for those many people who liked Daughters of Rome and wrote such nice reviews about it (on Amazon, on Goodreads, in their blogs, or just in a nice email to me), thank you for the praise. All of you really made my day–and I hope I can make yours when I read, enjoy, and review your books too.
Here’s a question I get quite a lot from readers: will your books ever be made into movies?
The answer, I’m sorry to say, is no. So far, at least, and probably for the forseeable future. Historical movies or TV shows cost an arm and a leg to make: the costumes, the sets, the CGI, the on-site locations. My latest book Daughters of Rome has several chariot racing scenes a la Ben Hur; I shudder to think what the bill would be for all those chariots, horses, and thousands of screaming costumed extras. Unless I turn into George R.R. Martin, I don’t imagine HBO will be burning up my phone line anytime soon with offers to turn Daughters of Rome into a multi-season star-studded no-expenses-spared miniseries.
But a girl can dream. I had a lot of fun last year casting Mistress of Rome as an imaginary movie with the cast of actors I’d have picked if I’d had unlimited control and budget (which no author ever gets). Now that I’m between deadlines, I think I’ll indulge myself and do the same for my second book. Coming soon to a theatre near you: Daughters of Rome, the Oscar-winning blockbuster directed by Ridley Scott!
Marcella: The trickiest part to cast, and also the meatiest. My heroine is a voluptuous frustrated schemer who writes histories, and eventually discovers that making history is even more fun than writing about it. For an actress who can play both charming and amoral, I’ll go with Hayley Atwell. She did a lovely job in “Pillars of the Earth,” a pretty brunette with an unexpectedly flinty side.
Cornelia: Marcella’s gentle older sister who goes from ambitious snob to grieving widow to passionate woman. There’s no shortage of actresses who could play her. Natalie Portman? Rose Byrne? Shannyn Sossamon? I settled on Sophia Myles, a gentler sort of beauty with an unexpected quirk of humor.
Lollia: Cousin Lollia is the richest heiress in Rome, a red-haired party girl with a penchant for good gossip and good sex. After seeing “Easy A,” Emma Stone was a no-brainer. She has Lollia’s husky voice and adorable giggle, and an underlying sweetness to give Lollia dignity as she matures into something more than just a party girl.
Diana: strangely, the only actress I can think of to play a seventeen-year-old blond beauty mad for horses and chariot racing is Summer Glau. The former Terminator from “The Sarah Connor Chronicles” is definitely neither seventeen or blond, but she has the beauty, and even more important, she has the quirky absent-minded charm necessary to make Diana’s one-track obsessiveness and utter lack of tact charming instead of irritating.
Piso: Cornelia’s husband is Imperial heir for just five days before a mob hacks him to pieces. Sean Maher would make the most out of this brief part; as Simon in “Firefly” he had the same straitlaced-but-sweet charm.
Drusus: the stalwart bodyguard who saves Cornelia’s life was cast the moment I saw Rome Season 2, and laid eyes on Allen Leech. His Agrippa could be a clone of Drusus–stocky, brave, loyal, and passionate.
Domitian: Marcella’s nineteen-year-old suitor gets another actor from HBO’s “Rome”–Max Pirkis, whose hair-raising depiction of the young Augustus makes him a natural choice for the eerie intelligence and nascent creepiness of this young emperor-to-be.
Thrax: the handsome golden body slave who consoles Lollia between bad marriages. We need at least one tribute to “Spartacus: Blood and Sand,” so let’s go with handsome golden gladiator Jai Courtney.
Llyn: the attractive and taciturn ex-rebel from Britain who scorns Romans and teaches Diana how to drive a chariot. This one was a no-brainer: David Wenham with the same haircut he had in “Lord of the Rings.”
Galba: in a book about the Year of Four Emperors, you can bet Emperor #1 won’t last too long. Michael Hogan will chew the scenery for his fifteen minutes of screen time before the mob gets him, playing grumpy old cheapskate Emperor Galba.
Otho: Galba’s successor couldn’t have been more different; a metrosexual playboy with a witty tongue. Who better than Rupert Everett, the guy who stars in pretty much every Oscar Wilde movie ever made?
Vitellius: Another polar opposite for Emperor #3–a fat sports fan who lived for chariot racing and obscenely huge banquets. Brad Leland played a loudmouth football fanatic in “Friday Night Lights,” and could do it perfectly here. And he’s got the chops to bring out Vitellius’s pathos and dignity as well as the bombast.
No need to cast the fourth emperor in the series, since he doesn’t make a cameo in the book. But previous ruler Nero does in a creepy flashback, and in my mind he’s Philip Seymour Hoffman. He’ll nail Nero’s fussy artistic pretensions and innate craziness in just five minutes of screentime.
Irritating Jessalyn Gilsig from “Glee” for the irritating sister-in-law who gets on everybody’s nerves . . . wrinkled John Noble to play one of Lollia’s more crochety and elderly husbands . . . and one final cameo, the star charioteer who drives for Diana’s arch-rival racing team. Since I’m a Yankee-hating Red Sox fan, and Diana adores the Reds team and hates the Blues team, let’s have the obnoxious-but-talented Blues charioteer be played by the obnoxious-but-talented Derek Jeter.
So, that’s my fantasy cast for my mythical movie of Daughters of Rome. Of course, even if it did end up being made into a movie, I would not have any say in the casting or even the script. J.K. Rowling was able to put her foot down when some producer wanted to re-set Harry Potter in the United States, and George R.R. Martin was invited to help write the screenplay for HBO’s “Game of Thrones”–but most of us writers have no power over what happens to our novels once they’re sold for film. So if Daughters of Rome gets made into a soft-core porn direct-to-video flick about four sisters in nipple caps who practice incest, bondage, and threesomes, don’t blame me.
In the meantime, if you’ve read Daughters of Rome and have your own casting ideas, I’m all ears.
Tomorrow I’m off for a weekend at the Historical Novel Society Conference in San Diego, where I’m looking forward to discussions on topics like “Keeping A Series Fresh” and “Historical Fiction and the Fantastic.” Great fun; the the hard part is going to be keeping my jaw off the floor when I walk past big names like Diana Gabaldon and Margaret George. Please, please, don’t let me drool too much. 😀 I’m attending the HNS conference strictly as a starstruck guest, but I did get pulled into the big book signing, so if you happen to be attending the conference, look for me between 5-6pm on Saturday June 18th.
First, however, I am guest blogging over at Taylor’s blog “All Things Historical Fiction.” Today’s topic is – if you had a time machine, what would be your top five historical eras to visit? Number Four on my list:
“Gilded Age New York. I’d like to be one of those American heiresses I was always sighing over in Edith Wharton novels, heading off to Europe in an ocean liner with ninety new dresses by Worth, intent on bagging myself an English lord. If I can marry a duke like Nan St. George did in The Buccaneers, I may just take a look around my Cornish castle and my coronetted stationery marked “Katharine, Duchess of Tintagel,” and decide not to come home.”
For the rest, read here!
Guest blogging again today! And this time I’ve got a Q&A with Stephanie Thornton over on her blog, where the motto is “Well behaved women rarely make history.” Today’s questions cover ancient-era birth control, the Red Sox, and some really disgusting Roman food. A snippet:
“Rabid fans, beer in the stands, `We’re #1!’ chants and those guys who show up at the stadium in team-color face paint–ancient Rome is probably to blame for the modern sports team. Only in Roman sports, people died a lot more frequently. A tradition I could completely support as long as it only applies to the New York Yankees . . .”
To read the rest, click here!
I’m doing the guest blogger thing again today, and this time it’s on RomCon – “Where Romance Rules.” Today’s topic of discussion: 5 lessons to be learned from historical romance novels, and how my heroines in “Daughters of Rome” use these rules to negotiate life:
Life Lesson #2: To facilitate your love life, acquire at least one unsympathetic relative. You’ll need someone who can be counted on to throw up roadblocks in your romantic road to bliss. Unsympathetic fathers are a classic; grasping uncles also good; meddling aunts or cousins who are after your inheritance can also work in a pinch.
For more, click here!
For the last day of my blog tour, I’m over at “Enchanted By Josephine” with a post on Roman style marriage and divorce – rather different than we do it nowadays . . .
“Roman wedding vows were simple; a recitation that began `Where you are Gaius, I am Gaia.’ Much better than these dreadful personalized vows that start with “You are the rock in my stormy sea” and only get worse. The priest follows up with a sacrifice for good luck, a sow or maybe a goose. I’m not really in favor of dead animals, but at least it wouldn’t put me to sleep the way the inevitable reading from Corinthians does. And after the wedding banquet, the bride gets to light the fire in her new home for the first time–and toss the wedding torch to the unmarried girls in the crowd; the one who catches it will be the next bride. If you’re the bride and you want to really nail that one slacker bridesmaid, I’m betting you could do a lot more damage throwing a torch at her than a bouquet.”
For the rest, click here.
And a big thank you to everybody who followed me around on my blog tour – and to all the bloggers nice enough to have me!
I’m at “Over the Edge Book Reviews” today, doing a Q&A with Christine who (thank God) has some wonderfully original questions. There’s only so many answers to give to “Where did you get your ideas?” so it’s lovely that Christine wanted to know things like “What’s the most interesting thing you ever learned by Googling yourself?” and “What fictional hero would you want to hang out with?” My answer to that last one:
“C.S. Forester’s Captain Horatio Hornblower. I first read the Hornblower series at about nine years old, and I had such a crush on the moody swashbuckling Horatio that I was completely ruined for boys my own age. Not one boy in my fourth grade class had sunk a Spanish warship, escaped a French firing squad in a rowboat, or battled four enemy two-deckers to a standstill–I was so disappointed.”
For the rest of the Q&A, click here. And thanks for having me, Christine!
Giving the guest blogger thing a rest today as I head over to British Weekly. I’ve got a Q&A there, covering everything from why “Daughters of Rome” is unlikely ever to become a movie, to what the hell my shorthand notes mean:
“My shorthand makes perfect sense to me, but anyone from the outside would assume I went completely nuts, like Russell Crowe finding imaginary codes in the newspaper in `A Beautiful Mind.’ Fortunately my husband was very good about it all, merely inquiring mildly from time to time why there was a Post-It with Google headless Romans York on our fridge.”
Click here to read more!
I admit it – I love “Sex and the City.” I treated myself to a marathon after turning in Daughters of Rome, and I started to see certain similarities between the TV show about four girls from New York, and my book about four girls from Rome. So when “Historical Fiction Connection” invited me over today to guest blog, I decided to make a category by category comparison . . .
The Romantic Escapades
“Carrie and the girls managed, over many seasons and two movies, to rack up four marriages, one divorce, three children, and countless lovers. I’m sorry, but my heroine and her posse have them beat with eleven marriages, six divorces, eight children, and countless lovers. Those racy Romans . . .”
To read more, click here!
Now this is a weekend treat: I got to wake up to a rave review for Daughters of Rome from none other than C.W. Gortner, whose marvelous Confessions of Catherine de’Medici was one of my favorite reads of the year. Chris was also nice enough to have me as a guest on his blog “Historical Boys,” and we agreed on a topic that fascinates us both: women in power. A sample . . .
“No matter what kind of power she wielded behind the scenes, Augustus’s empress Livia was smart enough to present herself publicly as a simple Roman matron; Augustus was constantly bragging that his wife wasn’t too proud to weave his tunics with her own hands, Empress or no. (I always picture Livia getting up from her desk full of official dispatches when she heard guests coming, weaving exactly two bands of cloth until they went away again, and then going right back to work while the servants finish the weaving.)”
For more – and for Chris’s fabulous review – click here!