My Writing Process

If there’s any TV show I get a kick out of, it’s Castle. Nathan Fillion plays a bestselling novelist, and to watch him you’d think a writer’s life is all red-carpet events, research trips to exotic and dangerous places, and the occasional hour or two of staring pensively at a spiral-bound notebook. No writer I know has ever worked that way–just take a look through this cyclical blog tour “My Writing Process.” Christy English tagged Stephanie Dray with the four questions below, and Stephanie in turn tagged me–and among all our answers, you won’t find a single a red-carpet event or a spiral-bound notebook!

1) What am I working on?
I’m working on the long-awaited sequel to “Empress of the Seven Hills,” which is titled “Lady of the Eternal City” and will be released March 2015. This has been the book from hell, but it’s also been hugely rewarding. I’m revisiting my rough-edged Roman legionary Vix, who is caught in a tangled triangle with Hadrian, the brilliant and sinister Emperor of Rome, and Hadrian’s elegant wife Sabina who is both the love and the bane of Vix’s life. Throw in poison, plotting, rebellion, a trip down the Nile and the building of Hadrian’s wall, and you have yourself a wild ride!

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
My books will make you laugh. A lot of historical fiction has gotten very serious lately–all these moody princesses and grim battlefield epics! And I love books like that, but history can be zany, absurd, and wonderfully whacky as well as deadly serious. And I like showing my readers the fun side.

3) Why do I write what I do?
Search me–I’m not sure we can ever figure out exactly why we are fascinated by the things that grip us body and soul. For me, it’s always been the past. Maybe because of my mother’s degree in ancient and medieval history, which had me watching “I, Claudius” instead of Disney cartoons, and listening agog to bedtime stories of Julius Caesar crossing the Rubicon rather than the Billy Goats Gruff crossing the troll bridge. But historical fiction is always where I gravitated.

4) How does your writing process work?
The two key ingredients for me are black coffee and a black dog. The coffee keeps me alert through the seven hours or so I’m sitting at my laptop (I work longer hours at this than I ever did at an office cubicle). And the little black dog at my side gets me off the laptop, insisting not so gently that I take him for his morning stroll–and that’s where I do some of my best thinking. It’s good for a writer to unplug, get away from the Facebook updates and the editor emails and online researching. And somehow, my mind always manages to wander usefully while my feet are moving–I can come back from an hour of romping with the dog in the snow, and I’ll have solved that plotting problem that was giving me headaches an hour ago.

My friend Sophie Perinot has agreed to answer the same questions for me–I love hearing how other writers work (and I’m betting no red-carpet events or spiral-bound notebooks for her, either!) Check back here next Monday March 31st, and I’ll link to her site so you can see what her answers are.