the serpent and the pearl

The Lion and the Rose: The Movie

I always have fun with my yearly “Let’s cast my latest book as a movie!” blog post. But with my Borgia duology “The Serpent and the Pearl” and “The Lion and the Rose,” I have a particular dilemma not faced before with any of my other books: there have been a LOT of movies already about the Borgias. Who to cast when so many have been cast already? Here’s my version, a mixture of old faces and new:

IL PAPA BORGIA

His Holiness the Borgia Pope has been played, among others, by John Doman and Jeremy Irons. Jeremy Irons was excellent as always, but a bit too languid and refined for the explosive Rodrigo Borgia (in my opinion). John Doman was better, but that flat L.A. accent . . . I think I’ll go with Sergi Lopez, who not only can play both sensual and scary (“Him and Her,” “Labyrinth of Pan”) but is a Catalan Spaniard just like the Borgia Pope. Rodrigo’s Spanish pride, Spanish temper, and Spanish enjoyment in life’s sensual pleasures were defining traits.

 
GIULIA FARNESE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Giulia La Bella was sweet, bubbly, petite, voluptuous, and extravagantly blond, so in the Showtime series she was portrayed as a moody redhead (Lotte Verbeek), and on the European series as a bitchy brunette (Marta Gastini). I’m going with Holliday Grainger, who played Lucrezia in the Showtime series. But doesn’t she look quite a lot more like the alleged Raphael portrait of Giulia Farnese? And after three seasons of watching her on The Borgias, we know she can show both sweetness and steel.

 

LEONELLO

 

 

 

 

 

Giulia’s bodyguard is a dwarf, which does limit the question of who can play him. I wouldn’t want to shrink an actor down with CGI; dwarfism poses limits on the body–and on Leonello’s character–which are critical to his particular brand of cynicism, idealism, and courage. Peter Dinklage is the too-obvious choice, but he’s busy playing Tyrion Lannister on “Game of Thrones.” Let’s find another fabulous actor with dwarfism and give him a great role as my knife-throwing butt-kicking dwarf with the love of books and the biting tongue.

 
CARMELINA

 

 

 

 

 

 

My secondary heroine is a tall skinny Sicilian girl; a professional chef with a knife up her sleeve, a pocket full of secrets, and a biting tongue. How about Coral Amiga, who not only has the perfect sharp-edged face, frizzy curls, and lanky frame, but showed serious chops on “Rome” as Kevin McKidd’s embittered eldest daughter.

 

CESARE BORGIA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There’s nobody to play Cesare Borgia but Francois Arnaud. His sexy, sinister Showtime stint as history’s ultimate bad boy puts all others in the shade.

 

LUCREZIA BORGIA

Lucrezia goes from twelve to seventeen, so we need an actress who can play both innocent child and sophisticated young wife. Kaitlyn Dever fills the bill–on “Justified” she plays a pretty but cynical fourteen-year-old, and nearly steals the show from Timothy Olyphant. Blond her up a bit and she’ll be a great Lucrezia.

 
JUAN BORGIA

David Oakes was Juan Borgia in the Showtime series, and he was fantastic: vicious, handsome, ultimately pathetic. No need to mess with a good thing here.

 

ORSINO ORSINI

Jonathan Jackson would work as Giulia’s pretty but weak-willed husband. Orsino Orsini is just the type who would have a soul patch and no spine.

 
BARTOLOMEO SCAPPI

Not only is Eddie Redmayne a true ginger with plenty of freckles, just like Carmelina’s chef protege Bartolomeo, but he can play younger than his years. Good for a teenage apprentice who bides his time on his crush until he’s eighteen, then mounts a campaign to sweep his 7-year-older lady off her feet.

So, that’s my fantasy cast for my mythical movie. If you’ve read my Borgia duology and have your own casting ideas, I’m all ears!

 

Virtual Potluck Part II!

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 eggs
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.

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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!

“The Serpent and the Pearl” On Sale For Less Than 1 Cent Per Page!

I’ve got a surprise for you–the book that started my Borgia series is now on sale for less than a penny a page! The Serpent and the Pearl is now, for a limited time only, on sale for all e-readers for only $2.99.

This first book in the series is on sale in support of sequel The Lion and the Rose, just released and probably still sitting near the front at your local bookstore, so if you start reading now, you can swing by and pick up your copy of the sequel with no delays (and no howling at me for any cliffhangers, ahem.)

Buy The Serpent and the Pearl
Amazon | Barnes & Noble (Nook) | Kobo

Synopsis:

Rome, 1492. The Holy City is drenched with blood and teeming with secrets. A pope lies dying and the throne of God is left vacant, a prize awarded only to the most virtuous–or the most ruthless. The Borgia family begins its legendary rise, chronicled by an innocent girl who finds herself drawn into their dangerous web . . .

Vivacious Giulia Farnese has floor-length golden hair and the world at her feet: beauty, wealth, and a handsome young husband. But she is stunned to discover that her glittering marriage is a sham, and she is to be given as a concubine to the ruthless, charismatic Cardinal Borgia: Spaniard, sensualist, candidate for Pope–and passionately in love with her.

Two trusted companions will follow her into the Pope’s shadowy harem: Leonello, a cynical bodyguard bent on bloody revenge against a mysterious killer, and Carmelina, a fiery cook with a past full of secrets. But as corruption thickens in the Vatican and the enemies begin to circle, Giulia and her friends will need all their wits to survive in the world of the Borgias.

Meet The Heroine, II: A Chef Contemplating Murder

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!

Meet The Hero: A Dangerous Dwarf On His Deathbed . . .

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?

Meet The Heroine: The Pope’s Mistress In Captivity

“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.

Me: How?

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!

A Renaissance Thanksgiving Feast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy eating, and happy Thanksgiving!

DON’T Write What You Know!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Win An Advance Copy of “The Lion and the Rose”

It’s about two and a half months until The Lion and the Rose is released–the second half of my Borgia duology about papal mistress Giulia Farnese and her two friends, the cynical dwarf bodyguard Leonello and the sharp-tongued female cook Carmelina. If you’d like to get your hands on an early copy of L&R, here’s your chance, because I’m running a very special kind of giveaway.

Lots of readers have written to tell me how much they swooned over all the delicious food in The Serpent and the Pearl – I even set up a virtual potluck with food bloggers cooking dishes straight out of the book. I had such a blast seeing the food pics that came out of my own pages that I’m extending a challenge: any reader who cooks a dish out of The Serpent and the Pearl will be eligible to win an advance copy of The Lion and the Rose.

So, here are the rules:

1. Choose a dish out of The Serpent and the Pearl that hasn’t been made yet.

2. Cook your chosen dish. Just be aware that some of the things my Renaissance heroines eat are illegal in the 21st century–don’t get fined for trying to cook a swan!

3. Email a pic of you with your finished dish to katequinnauthor@hotmail.com, along with a few words on how you cooked it and how it turned out. (Even if it’s a disaster. Because kitchen disasters can be hilarious!)

4. For every dish you cook, I’ll enter your name into a random drawing. And if you attempt something truly awesome, I’ll enter your name in twice. Because let’s be fair–if someone makes a stab at spit-roasted peacock or whole truffled sea bass in champagne-caviar sauce, they deserve a double entry.

5. And that’s it! On November 1, I’ll pull two names out of the hat and mail my two winners an advance copy of “The Lion and the Rose.”

So, who’s ready to start cooking?

The Page 69 Test

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!

Trailer for THE ALICE NETWORK!