The Lion and the Rose will be released in less than two months on January 7th, and I’ve included a New Year’s treat. Tucked in the back will be a teaser chapter from the forthcoming sequel to Empress of the Seven Hills. Not just any chapter, either. Lots of readers have asked me the following questions: “Will Vix ever go home to Britannia?” and “Will we ever see Arius and Thea from Mistress of Rome?”
Yes, and yes. That’s the scene tucked into the back of The Lion and the Rose. And for you now, a snippet from Vix’s eyes when he goes back to Britannia for the first time in nearly twenty years. Partly to help build a certain wall in the north, but partly to see his family:
My feet were soundless on the grass as I approached the garden, but the man whipped about before I got a step further, one gnarled hand dropping his trowel and drawing the dagger at his waist instead. He was up in a crouch and ready to face me in an eyeblink, and his shoulders were bent and his hair entirely gray, but that crisp secutor stance could have graced any arena in Rome. And had.
“You haven’t gotten slow with age,” I told my father. “But you still can’t garden worth a tribune’s arse.”
The rest of the scene awaits you at the back of The Lion and the Rose. Hope you enjoy!
All kinds of things to celebrate today. For one, the release of the mass-market edition of Mistress of Rome – yay! If you like your paperbacks smaller and less expensive, but still with a cool cover, this is the edition for you.
Second on the list to celebrate is the stunning success of the Baltimore Book Festival, where I had a blast in the Maryland Romance Writers tent discussing everything from the perils of research to the new trend toward sexing up historical fiction to what kind of underwear Regency-era men wore (that answer might surprise you). For my own personal highlight, who can choose? Sitting down with good friends Stephanie Dray and Sophie Perinot to talk sex scenes in historical novels? Hearing Miranda Neville read a side-splitting passage on 18th century pornography in her classic English drawl? Watching my wonderful husband dress up as a gladiator to promote my books, strutting around in his tunic and sword-belt between swooning housewives shouting “ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?”
The gladiator and I have our third wedding anniversary today, which is something else to celebrate. My anniversary present? We spent a night out in D.C. attending “Don Giovanni,” but the real present is the hour he’s spending on the phone right now, untangling the electric bill with The Automated Phone Tree From Hell, so that I have the time to finish my line-edits and this blog post. And that, along with the willingness to dress up like a gladiator for my author events, is what I call love.
Imagine a dark movie theater, and a deep cheesy voice intoning “In a world where heroes were few . . .”
Yep, it’s Preview of Coming Attractions time: one month till publication date of my third book Empress of the Seven Hills (or in the UK, Empress of Rome). As promised, I’m posting Chapter One as a sneak peek. This is the sequel to Mistress of Rome, and in the first chapter you’ll see plenty of old friends from my first book: Marcus and Calpurnia, even a glimpse of Arius and Thea. But most of all, this is the story of the two resourceful children in Mistress of Rome, brash Vix and thoughtful Sabina, now all grown up and looking for trouble.
When I was thirteen, an astrologer told me I’d lead a legion someday, a legion that would call me Vercingetorix the Red. Astrologers are usually horseshit, but that funny little man was right about everything: I got the nickname, and I even got the legion, though it took longer than it should have. But why didn’t that astrologer tell me any of the important things? Why didn’t he tell me that Emperors can be loved, but Empresses are only to be feared? Why didn’t he tell me I’d have to kill the best friend I ever had–on the orders of the worst man I ever knew? And why the hell didn’t he tell me about the girl in the blue veil I met the same day I got all these predictions?
That bitch. Not that I guessed: we were just children, me a skinny slave boy, her a pretty girl in a blue veil, all bruised up (never mind why). The first girl I ever kissed, and she had a sweet mouth. I suppose that made me soft when I met her again later, after we’d both grown up. If that astrologer was so good, couldn’t he have warned me about her? “Girl in blue, beware.” What would that have cost him? She cost me plenty over the years, I can tell you.
But that’s getting ahead of things. I’m Vercingetorix: “Vix” to my friends, “the Red” to my men, and “that pleb bastard” to my enemies. I’ve served four Emperors: killed one, loved one, befriended one, and maybe should have killed the other. I’m Vercingetorix, and I have a story to tell.
SPRING a.d. 102
I won’t bore you with my beginnings. They weren’t so illustrious anyway–my mother was a slave, and my father was a gladiator, and you can’t get much lower than that. If you follow the games in the Colosseum, then I can guarantee you’ve heard of my father, but I won’t tell you his name. The world thinks he’s dead, and that’s the way he likes it. He ended up on a mountaintop in the northern-most part of Britannia, torturing a patch of ground he calls a garden, and he’s happy. My mother’s happy too, singing at her work and producing babies to fill up the villa she got for doing an empress a favor (don’t ask what), but when I hit eighteen after nearly five years in Britannia, I got bored. It was better than what we’d come from, but I’d gotten used to excitement, and a mountaintop house filled with babies isn’t much excitement. Plus there was a girl in one of the neighboring houses who was starting to give me the eye, and we might have had some fun behind the barn once or twice but I didn’t want to marry her, and I didn’t think much of my chances if my father decided I should marry her. I was big at eighteen, but my father was bigger, and weapons might come easy to me but I didn’t stand a chance against him. So I lit out for Rome, the center of everything, and my father was dubious but he gave me an amulet to keep me safe and a purse to keep me fed. My mother cried, but that might have been the baby she was starting.
Not much use describing the journey. It was wet, it was long, I lost my purse to a bastard of an Armenian sailor who cheated at dice, and I lost my dinner countless times over the bow. I hated boats. Still do. But I got to Rome. My parents hate Rome with all their hearts, and maybe they should after what they lived through. But I took one step off that reeking shit-hole of a boat and took in a deep breath, and I knew I was home.
Everyone describes Rome. Everyone fails. It’s not like anything else on earth. I hitched my pack higher on my shoulder, turned a circle, and gawped. I’d been raised in Brundisium, back in the days when my mother was still a slave, and had come to the great city itself only later. I hadn’t been able to do much exploring back then, and I’d never gotten to know the city well. Nothing to keep me from drinking it all in now: the stink, the noise, the crush; the whores in their dark robes and the sailors in their brass earrings; the vendors waving wares under my nose and the urchins trying their best to get grimy fingers into my purse. It was life, raw and noisy life as fresh as blood flowing right out of the vein.
The dock swayed under my feet. I lurched my way up the wharf, keeping one hand on the knife at my belt. Plenty of people in Rome willing to stick a knife in you first and figure out second if you had anything worth stealing. “My kind of city,” I said aloud, and got a dirty look from a housewife with a basket on her arm. I kissed my fingers at her and she hurried along. I watched her hips in the rough dress–hips like barrels, but I’d been a month on that shit-hole boat without a woman in sight, and I wasn’t picky. Even more than food I wanted a girl, but I didn’t have enough coin in my purse even for a cheap one.
Girls would have to wait. “Where’s the Capitoline Hill from here?” I asked a passing sailor in rusty Latin, and was promptly told to go screw myself. But a vendor hawking brass pans was more helpful, and I slung my pack over my shoulder and set off whistling.
Strange how much of the city I remembered. I hadn’t seen it since I was thirteen, but I felt like I’d left only yesterday. The crowds thinned once I got past the Forum Romanum with its spicy smells of meat and bread, and I let my hand loosen on the knife hilt and my feet wander. I spent some time staring at the marbled expanse of palace that covered half the Palatine Hill, remembering a black-eyed madman and his games, until an irritable Praetorian guard in red and gold told me to move along. “All palace guards look as pretty as you?” I shot back. “Or have I been on a boat too long?”
“Move along,” he growled, and helped me down the street with his spear haft. Praetorians: no sense of humor.
I spent a little longer staring up at the vast marble roundness of the Colosseum. Not the first time I’d seen it by any means–but I’d forgotten the sheer looming menace of it. No place on earth looms like that one, with its arches and plinths and statues in niches that stare out with blind arrogant eyes. That stretch of sand inside held all my father’s nightmares, and a few of mine. I’d never told him that, but he knew. Anyone who’d ever fought for their life in that place knew.
It’s many years later now, and I’m well into middle age. I’ve been in more fights than I can count, but none of them come back to me in my sleep like the ones that happened in the Colosseum. I’d killed my first man on those sands, back when I was just a child. A big Gaul who hadn’t really wanted to kill me, and maybe it made him slow enough so I could kill him first. Not much of an initiation into manhood.
I stared up at the arena a while longer, fingering the little amulet my father had given me and wondering how men could build such fantastical places just for the purpose of mass killing–and then I shrugged and wandered on toward the Capitoline Hill. A quieter place, the streets smoothly paved, the women in silk rather than wool, the slaves wearing the badge of one illustrious family or another as they hurried about their errands. I passed the massive Capitoline Library, where a half-dozen senators in togas hurried in and out with distracted frowns, and I slowed my steps. My mother had said the house was somewhere around here…
“Yes?” A slave in a neat tunic looked me up and down dubiously. “Can I help you?”
“Is this the house of Senator Marcus Norbanus?”
“No beggars here–”
“I’m not a bloody beggar. Is this Senator Norbanus’s house or not?”
“Good. I’m here to see him.” The slave was big but I was bigger, and I shouldered past into a narrow hall where a dozen marble busts stared down at me in censorious disapproval. “Quit your squawking,” I told the slave, who had flapped after me. “The senator knows who I am.”
Ten minutes of arguing got me shown to a small atrium to wait. “It may be a while,” the slave sniffed. “The senator is very busy.” One last dubious look, as if the slave were wondering whether it was safe to leave me alone with the valuables, and he finally backed out.
I tipped my head back and surveyed the place. Sunlight poured through the open roof, the floor had a mosaic pattern of rippling vines, and a quiet blue-tiled pool was sunk in the middle of the room. A carved nymph looked over her shoulder at me from the corner, and I’d been long enough without a girl that even her marble breasts looked tempting. I slung my pack on a marble bench and dropped to one knee, plunging my hands into the pool and splashing my face. I looked up to find a pretty little girl gazing at me, clutching a carved wooden horse and sucking her thumb.
“Hello, sprat.” She looked four or five, the same age as my own little sister. “Who are you?”
She gazed at me solemnly through a fringe of blond hair.
“Don’t suppose you belong to Senator Norbanus?”
She inspected her little thumb for a moment, then went back to sucking on it.
“Could you get me in to see your father?”
“Could you at least tell me where the lavatorium is? I could use a piss.”
“There’s one down the hall,” a voice said behind me.
I turned and saw another girl, this one about my own age. Thin, brown hair, blue dress. “I’m waiting for Senator Norbanus,” I said.
“There’s time.” She picked up the little girl, parting her gently from the thumb, and moved down the hall with that blind confidence all aristocrats seemed to have, not needing to look back to know that I would follow. I followed her to the lavatorium.
“There’s water if you want to wash,” she said, and I took the hint. Romans took a lot more baths than anyone in Britannia. I used a basinful of water and washed the shipboard grime off my face and neck.
“Better?” The patrician girl smiled as I came back into the hall.
“Much, Lady.” I tried my best bow, rusty since I hadn’t used it in a while. Not many baths in Britannia, but not many people to bow to either. “Thank you.”
She studied me a moment longer, then smiled suddenly. She had small teeth, a little crooked but nicely so. “Ah,” she said.
A sturdy blond woman in yellow silk came swooping down the hall, bearing a baby on her hip. “Sabina, have you seen–oh, there she is.” Swinging the little girl up onto her other hip. “Faustina, you’re supposed to be with your nurse! Who’s this?” The woman gave me a distracted glance, juggling the two round-eyed children.
“This is Vercingetorix,” the girl in blue said tranquilly, and didn’t that give me a jolt. “He’s waiting to see Father.”
“Well, don’t keep him long,” the woman advised. “My husband works very hard. Faustina, Linus, it’s time for your bath–” She moved off in a bright spot of yellow, the children crowing over her shoulder.
“How did you know my name?” I demanded as the girl in blue moved back into the atrium.
She glanced back over her shoulder. “You don’t remember me?”
“Never mind” She brushed that away. “Why are you waiting to see my father?”
“I’m just back to Rome from Britannia. My mother said he’d likely help me–look, how did you know–”
“You were right to come here. Father helps everybody.” She summoned the steward and spoke a few quiet words. “I’ll jump you to the front of the line.”
And just like that, I was in.
“[An] epic, sexy romp–the long-awaited sequel to Mistress of Rome ….Readers will delight in the depictions of historical figures like Hadrian and Trajan, as well as the engrossing and dramatic relationships that drive this entertaining story.”
— Publishers Weekly (*Starred Review*)
“The lives of an ambitious soldier, a patrician heiress and a future emperor fatefully intersect…. Quinn handles Imperial Rome with panache.”
— Kirkus Reviews
My French edition of Mistress of Rome is out! And with a spiffy new cover too, sort of a bloodier version of my UK cover. You know it’s a good day when you wake up to read a French blogger sniffing that your villainess is “a dirty little pest.”
This marks twelve languages for Mistress of Rome. Not all have been released yet – translation takes time – but Mistress of Rome will or has already appeared in America, the UK, Germany, Bulgaria, Spain, the Czech Republic, Croatia, France, Russia, Slovenia, Hungary, and Turkey. I could not be happier, or prouder, for my firstborn.
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!
My blog tour for “Daughters of Rome” is now pretty much done, but I couldn’t resist jumping at the chance when Siobhan over at the Owl Bookmark Blog contacted me about doing a Q&A for my first book, “Mistress of Rome.” Do books feel left out when a sibling gets all the attention, like kids who get hurt feelings when the new baby has all the love? Whatever; I was happy to let “Mistress of Rome” get the love for today.
A preview . . .
“If you could only describe a single scene to encourage someone to read your debut novel, which scene would you describe?”
The scene where Arius and Thea meet, fairly early in the book. He’s a violent man forced into the gladiator business; she is a damaged slave girl with a black sense of humor, and they meet at a party where he’s fleeing the curious guests and she’s escaping her abusive mistress. They end up sitting in the shadows together, sharing a jug of wine and trading the secrets of their past, just like modern strangers who drink scotch in bars and end up telling all their problems to the person on the next stool.
To read the rest, and Siobhan’s fantasic review, click here! And thanks for having me.
Last month’s Cosmo: Senator’s sexy wife Lepida Pollia spilled all about fashion, ambition, and her outrageous sex life!
On the cover this month: THEA: The Emperor’s Mistress Spills Her Secrets
Tunic by Guccius. Earrings by Tiffanius. To get Thea’s look, try kohl in Smoky Gray, liner in Wood Ash, rouge in Masada Magic, and lip rouge in Sandstone Neutral. Hair: Thea keeps it low-key with sexy waves. Or for the look she made famous, braid hair into a crest with a ribbon (Thea likes silver!) and toss over one shoulder for girl-next-door sexy. So cute!
35 Beauty Evolution: The Empress’s Style Progression
Commoner to queen means pastels and prints to sapphires and silk! Get this look for less than 300 sesterces
44 The Real Story: The Emperor’s Niece Takes Her Vows
Why she chose thirty years of chastity as a Vestal Virgin
56 Sexy vs. Skanky
Statues: totally naked or tastefully draped? You decide!
Her parents caught her with a trident fighter–the day before her wedding!
62 Guy Confessions
He told her he’s a charioteer–but he’s just a lawyer!
64 Hot Sheet
Trends we’re buzzing about! Are gladiator sandals here to stay?
Just like Thea wears – cute and comfortable!
69 Mistress of Rome
Thea spills to Cosmo about Emperor Domitian, her surprising friendship with his wife, and how she keeps the most powerful man in the world happy. (It’s not what you think!)
We catch the Emperor’s mistress at home for some girltalk!
FUN FEARLESS FASHION
74 Not Your Mother’s Stola
New draping techniques put a sexy spin on this old-married-woman classic!
75 10 Steals at the Forum
Bargain-price accessories at the Forum Romanum–cheap and chic!
78 Beautiful British
In honor of our newly-conquered province, everything this season is coming up Celtic–neck torques, spiral brooches, and Brigantian jet, all plundered direct from the front!
Skip the blue face paint, but grab yourself some barbarian chic!
86 Wiggin’ Out?
Four wig styles that flatter everyone
88 His Picks
Ambergris: the new perfume guys love
92 Beauty Q&A
Use a bread-paste face mask to tighten and tone!
93 Beauty News
Get that Egyptian cat’s eye liner perfect every time
Cat’s eye kohl, just like Cleopatra!
102 Stud Meter
Arius the Barbarian hits the top! We can’t get enough of this surly-but-sexy gladiator. Meet his friends in . . .
104 Gorgeous Gladiators
Abs to die for–and they do! You’ll flip for these short-lived studs
107 Bad Hair Days Around The Empire
Mustaches and beards from Ireland to Syria. With hair like that, no wonder they couldn’t withstand our legions. Clean-shaven rules–literally!
A rare smile from taciturn bad boy Arius as he relaxes with his steady girl. Who might that be? No one knows, but she is one lucky lady!
Today’s hottest gladiators – go ahead and fantasize!
Note: Gladiator #2 died in the arena after Cosmo went to press
LOVE AND LUST
110 He Slept With A Slave Girl–Does It Count As Cheating?
First of all, don’t sell her to a salt mine
112 Arranged Marriages: Getting It Right
Learn to love the man your parents picked for you
116 Ask Him Anything
Does he have sex with his buddies? If yes, don’t worry . . . unless he’s the one on the bottom
121 100 Sex Tips From Rome’s Most Successful Courtesans
You can’t be seen associating with these women, so we did the research for you. You won’t believe Tip #47!
Rome’s priciest pros are here to help your marriage!
YOU, EVEN BETTER
138 How To Impress the Emperor
With strategies like these, you’ll never be exiled to a desert island!
139 How To Shop For Slaves
Foolproof ways to avoid the troublemakers and bring home the pick of the market every time
142 6 Tips for A Perfect Massage
Win your husband’s heart with these tips from the masseuses at the Baths of Diocletian
He’ll be putty in your hands after Tip #4
150 The Cosmo Health Report
Unwatered wine can wreck your health (and your reputation). Read here!
154 Cosmo Gyno
The new birth control: auyt gum and acacia tips! It works for Egyptian women; now it works for you
155 Your Body
Maximize your trip to the bathhouse with a fifteen minute steam–great for the skin!
A good sweat followed by a good swim will have you glowing
NEED TO KNOW
161 Race Ready
Our fail-safe guide to the chariot races: the horses, the drivers, and the factions. Impress your man with your racing know-how the next time he takes you to the Circus Maximus!
Single? There’s no better place than the Circus Maximus to scout hot guys!
FUN AND FEARLESS
164 The Naughtiest Thing I’ve Ever Done
A wax plug with a little pig’s blood–my husband never knew I wasn’t a virgin!
166 Ask Atia
Our resident bad-girl columnist spills on barbarians, Vestal Virgins, and world domination Roman-style.
Have a question for Atia? She’s seen, heard, and done it all!
Lupercalia festival this week! Get in the spirit by donning leather loincloths with your man and running through the city cracking a whip!
172 You and Him
Prep a slave by the bed with a fan for the next time you have sex–you’ll enjoy the cool breeze!
178 Healthy Sexy Strong
Want to look like a lady of leisure? A muscle-free physique is key
181 At Your Place: The Perfect Dinner Party
Impress your guests with stuffed sow’s udders, sea urchins in almond milk, and roast dormice rolled in poppy seeds. Our resident chef shows you how
Sea urchins always make a splash!
188 From Nessus–the Emperor’s astrologer reads your stars. He’s never wrong!
A bad month for Scorpio (don’t fall for a sweet-talking legionary!) but a good month for Taurus (a hot new slave might spice up your nights at home!)
He may look good, but Scorpios should pass him up!
192 Girl on girl action!
Don’t miss the new erotic poetry from Sappho
Bonus points: no rash from beard stubble!
193 Are You Mistress Material?
Mostly A’s: First wife, arranged marriage.
Mostly B’s: Sexy wife, second marriage.
Mostly C’s: Mistress on the side!
Hope you enjoyed this special Roman edition of Cosmopolitanus!
So my historical fiction novel Mistress of Rome has been out and about in the world for just over four months now, and it has been a learning experience. Mostly a very good one–I still wake up every morning deliriously happy that I can work from my couch and not have to put on uncomfortable shoes and trudge into a cubicle where I stare at Excel spreadsheets and pretend to care when my boss says that my “Tell Me How Lucky I Am To Work Here” coffee mug is not in line with the company mission statement. But being a writer has its bad sides just like any other job, and top on the list is dealing with negative reviews. Which will come, because everybody gets negative reviews. You can go on Amazon and the Bible has negative reviews. Even God doesn’t get a break on this one.
Mistress of Rome has gotten panned a few times, and that’s okay. Everybody is entitled to their opinion, after all, and I knew going into this that I wasn’t going to please 100% of my readers. 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 a few places where my Latin terminology was shaky, leading me to do some more careful research for my next book. But I have gotten some negative reviews so bizarre, so off-beat, or so flat-out filled with loathing as to leave me scratching my head. Here are a few memorable gems from readers who have contacted me with negative feedback, rephrased for anonymity but true to essence:
1. You’re going to hell for writing such a book.
Well, frankly, this one delighted me. I thought I’d have to be really really successful before anybody told me I was going to hell. I find the prospect doesn’t faze me much–a reader like this probably thinks Stephen King is going to hell too, and I always wanted to meet him. We’ll toast our feet on a little cozy Hellfire and watch Red Sox games together. Plus, whoever wrote that review is by the Bible’s definition passing judgment on their fellow man, and so will be joining me down below.
2. This book is sick and depraved. I can’t believe I finished it.
Um . . . if it was that sick and depraved, why did you finish it?
3. This book is a rip-off of Francine Rivers’s `Mark of the Lion’ trilogy.
Francine Rivers? Who’s that? (Goes to library.) Christian historical fiction, okay, that’s why I haven’t read it. (Reads first two books) Okay, serene slave girl, check. Big tough gladiator, check. Slave girl’s bitchy beautiful corrupt owner, check. Prisoners thrown to lions in arena, check. Overall Christian theme, okay, I don’t have that. Still, definite similarities. Will anybody believe I never read Mark of the Lion until after Mistress of Rome was published? Oh well. At least this review led me to Francine Rivers, whose work I am enjoying.
4. This book is a rip-off of the Starz Spartacus show.
Do I have to defend this one? “Spartacus: Blood & Sand” had just begun airing when my book released. I may work pretty fast, but not fast enough to see the pilot of a terrific TV show, write a plagiarized novel, and whip it through production before the TV show in question gets to episode 6. I’m a fan of “Spartacus,” though, so thanks for the comparison.
5. Your bio says you have a degree in Classical Voice. But that’s music, not history, so what are you trying to pull here? You think we’ll read `classical’ and think `classical scholar’?
Not trying to pull anything here, actually. It’s just the bio my publisher put together for me. I’m no classics professor, though I do float a terrific high C. I think most people out there know the difference between classical literature and classical music. If not, please see “Dictionary.”
6. This book has orgies, torture, orgies, premarital sex, orgies, drug use, orgies, rape, and more orgies. A new low on my `Most salacious books’ list.
Glad you enjoyed it! And can you please put your review up on Amazon too? Five separate mentions of the word “orgies” is bound to net me a few more readers.
7. This book doesn’t promote good values. The heroine has premarital sex.
The heroine’s a slave. What’s she supposed to do, ask her master for an engagement ring before he rapes her?
8. Dude, this is a boring book. It’s in ancint Rome and very boreing. Lots of beheadings.
Um, no beheadings actually . . . but I don’t argue with the sleep-deprived or the chemically enhanced.
9. The point of view changes are confusing.
I got this comment from enough readers to make it a majority opinion. I promise I will delineate points-of-view more clearly and smoothly in future.
10. Yr buk sux.
Thank you for your opinion. I haven’t heard from many fourth graders so far.
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. And for those many people who liked Mistress of Rome and wrote such nice reviews about it (on Amazon, on Goodreads, in their blogs, or just in a nice note to me), thank you for all the praise. All of you really made my day. Glad you could join me in ancient Rome – it’s not everybody’s cup of tea, but I think it’s a pretty cool place.
Several readers have written to ask me the following question: Will my historical novel Mistress of Rome ever be made into a movie?
I have to say, probably not. Historical movies are invariably big budget: it costs a lot of money to fund the necessary CGI, the on-location shooting, the sumptuous palaces. I shudder to think what the bill would be for all my Colosseum scenes–lions and tigers and costumed extras, oh my. HBO’s superb TV show “Rome” was canceled despite rave reviews and a big following, simply because it cost too much. And it doesn’t help that Rome is one of the most expensive places on earth to shoot film in. So I don’t imagine my little historical fiction novel will make it to the big screen, not unless I somehow turn into the next J.K. Rowling or unless Ridley Scott becomes my number 1 fan. Neither of which is too bloody likely.
But that doesn’t mean I can’t fantasize, of course. I always mentally cast my books as movies–it’s a useful exercise, trying to envision your characters in terms of real people. And useful exercises aside, I can always fantasize about getting to meet Clive Owen when he plays a hero from my book. So without further ado, here’s how I would cast Mistress of Rome–given, of course, unlimited control and budget.
ARIUS: Sean Bean, now in his fifties, is really too old to play my taciturn gladiator hero, which is a pity. He has exactly the right combination of bitterness and savagery, and as we’ve learned from his stint in “Lord of the Rings,” the man knows how to swing a sword. Dominic Purcell might be another good choice; as the convicted murderer of “Prison Break,” he keeps a nice balance of passive misery that can boil over into sudden rage. Plus–very important for Arius–Dominic Purcell is a hunk. Other suggestions from readers: Ray Stevenson (a close second! I loved him in “Rome”), Aaron Eckhart, Kevin Durant.
DOMITIAN: Russell Crowe would be excellent as the charming, enigmatic, semi-psychotic Emperor of Rome. I’d love to see him play a villain, wouldn’t you? But in case Russell’s tired of the sword-and-sandal genre, I’ll happily take Kenneth Branagh. Put a few pounds on him and he’s a great Domitian: anyone who’s seen him as Iago in “Othello” already knows Kenneth Branagh can be a terrifying villain. No one’s better at projecting both charm and menace. Other suggestions: Leiv Schreiber, Billy Crudup, Michael C. Hall.
MARCUS: Really we need Derek Jacoby for my intellectual Senator, since naturally, I based Marcus on his performance in BBC’s “I, Claudius.” But for someone else suitably graying and distinguished, I’ll take Gabriel Byrne. Other suggestions: Hugh Laurie, Rufus Sewell.
PAULINUS: Scott Porter has the charm and quiet leadership necessary to play Marcus’s idealistic soldier son. He stole the show in “Friday Night Lights” as the paralyzed quarterback, by turns bitter, disillusioned, and charismatic. Other suggestions: Ben McKenzie, Josh Hartnett, Rupert Friend.
THEA: Oddly enough, the casting of my quiet slave girl heroine gives me the most trouble. Scarlett Johansson has Thea’s smoky voice but is otherwise a bit too much of a sexpot. Anna Paquin looks right, but is too sunny. I’ll go with Amy Acker for the time being–a quieter sort of beauty, and anyone who saw her in “Angel” or “Dollhouse” knows she can play desperate, funny, smart, passionate, and everything in between. Other suggestions: Emma Watson, Camilla Belle, Gemma Arterton.
LEPIDA: For my bitchy and beautiful villainess, look no farther than Leighton Meester. Her turn as the ruthless teen queen on “Gossip Girl” is only a hair removed; Lepida with an occasional twinge of conscience. Take that away and she has Lepida to a T: the doe-eyed beauty, the raptor-like cock of the head as an enemy’s weak spot is identified, the sweet smile as the dagger sinks into an unprotected back. Other suggestions: Natalie Dormer, Megan Fox, Emily Blunt.
JULIA: Samantha Morton is a bit old for my fey and fragile Vestal Virgin, which is too bad because she’s my first choice after I saw her as the shaven-headed psychic in “Minority Report.” But I’ll go with Kerry Condon, who was by turns frail, uncertain, and serene as Octavia in HBO’s “Rome.” Other choices: Emilie de Ravin, Sophia Myles.
THE EMPRESS: Connie Nielson, if just for a “Gladiator” tribute.
GALLUS: Ian McNeice was oily and amusing as the Newsreader in HBO’s “Rome.” He’d be just as good as Arius’s oily and amusing owner/manager.
VIX: It’s hard to cast kids, even in imaginary movies. By the time they film anything, the kids are too old. But it’s my fantasy, so I’ll pick River Phoenix circa “Stand By Me”–tough, muscled, and formidable even at twelve. Perfect to play Thea’s troublemaking child-gladiator son.
SABINA: Marcus and Lepida’s introspective daughter would have to be played by several actresses at different ages. But as the twelve-year-old who plays a critical part in the final crisis, I’ll take Dakota Fanning. True, Dakota Fanning is sixteen. But if I can cast River Phoenix when he’s dead, I can cast Dakota Fanning at twelve.
So, that’s my fantasy cast for my mythical movie of Mistress of Rome. Of course, even if it did end up being made into a movie, I would likely have no say in the casting or even the script. Stephenie Meyer was able to stipulate in her movie contract that none of the vampires have exaggerated fangs, and J.K. Rowling was able to put her foot down when some producer wanted to re-set Harry Potter in the United States–but most of us writers have no power over what happens to our novels when they get turned into celluloid. So if Mistress of Rome gets made into a terrible direct-to-video flick starring Fabio in nipple rings, don’t blame me.
In the meantime, if you’ve read my book and have your own casting ideas, I’m all ears.
Given that I just released a book about ancient Rome (buy here if you haven’t already!), I consider it my duty as an author to keep current in my field. This essentially means putting my feet up with a glass of wine to watch any movie or TV show set in ancient Rome, and calling it research. Given that this blog covers all things historical fiction, I decided to start posting reviews on historical fiction in film as well. What to start with?
My novel Mistress of Rome probably began with Kirk Douglas in the original “Spartacus,” and also owes something to HBO’s too-soon-canceled series “Rome.” But I decided to kick off my career as a movie reviewer with Starz’s re-modeled series “Spartacus: Blood & Sand.” For one thing it is still running, making it the most current dish out there for ancient history fanatics, and for another–well, it surprised me. I enjoyed “Spartacus: Blood & Sand” immensely, despite its faults, and will be looking forward to Season 2.
A few mild spoilers may follow.
For those of you who missed the promos everywhere, the new “Spartacus” is not so much a remake of the old Kirk Douglas story as history pumped up on steroids. There was a real gladiator named Spartacus who led a slave rebellion during the late Republic, and gave a lot of Roman senators sleepless nights. He was eventually defeated in battle and killed. Not much more is known than that: who the man was, why he rebelled, or how he did it. Stanley Kubrick made a surprisingly quiet and touching film which showed Kirk Douglas as a rebellious and passionate slave who during his gladiator training has finally Had Enough and launches a doomed mission to free every slave he can get his hands on, marry Jean Simmons, and get away before their child is born. Starz’s version of Spartacus is a lot more naked and a lot more gory, but who’s to say the events are any less plausible? After all, we have no idea what the real facts are.
Starz’s Spartacus is a noble warrior (with beard) who falls afoul of an evil legate and is sold into a gladiator school while his wife is sold into slavery. He becomes a gladiator (without beard), resolving to escape and get his wife back, but instead becomes the champion of Capua, making a few enemies along the way. That’s the bare plotline, but why bother talking plot? This show is all about style.
Notoriously, it’s shot in the semi-comic book style of “300,” and the arena violence is the stylized variety featuring slow-motion leaps and extravagant fountaining blood. Either you like that style or you don’t, so I won’t bother discussing it here. Personally, I think they overused the slo-mo in the arena fights, but real violence of the non-games variety was always filmed more realistically. Sometimes too realistically–I’m not too squeamish, but I would have preferred a cut-away during the scene where a pit gladiator was skinning a victim’s face off. Do not watch this show when you are eating.
The acting is good–Spartacus is noble and chiseled, and his gladiator buddies vary convincingly from thugs to good guys–the Gaul with the unlikely Marine flat-top was particularly touching, both bone-headed and deep of feeling. Spartacus’s wife is a trifle dreary, but she gets killed off halfway through, thank God. On the Roman side of the table we have the deliciously smarmy John Hannah (Scottish accent? whatever) and the depraved but always funny Lucy Lawless as his voracious wife (Australian accent? whatever!) There was also more historical accuracy than I had anticipated: the training exercises were authentic, as was the arena, a great deal of the Latin terminology, and much of the armor down to the ridiculous gladiator helmets.
There is a great deal of sex in the show: Lucy Lawless bangs a gladiator, Spartacus bangs his wife in flashbacks, John Hannah bangs pretty much anything that moves, and even when people aren’t banging there are still plenty of half-naked gladiators and slave girls walking around for eye candy. This will either offend you or it won’t, like the violence, so I won’t bother discussing it too much. I will say that while some things were blatantly inaccurate (surely slave girls wore more than that during the winter? Surely the gladiators didn’t walk around in loincloths all the time?) there were some things that were quite accurate. The lust that patrician women felt for star gladiators, much as today’s women fawn over movie stars. The casual attitude towards homosexuality and nudity. The nonchalance many slave-owners felt about sex with or in front of their slaves.
All in all, I had fun with “Spartacus: Blood & Sand.” It’s already been renewed for a second season, and I’m glad. I’m not getting into any kind of rating system here, so I will merely recommend it if you like sex and violence with a little history, or history with a lot of sex and violence.