Let’s welcome Kate Quinn, author of Mistress of Rome, to Peeking Between the Pages today. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel as you can see from my glowing review here. I hope someday to see this one made into a mini series – it would be awesome! While Mistress of Rome is Kate’s debut novel she’s been writing a long time as you will see in her guest post entitled Sixteen Novels…
Now that I have a book published, I’m used to hearing it being described as my “debut novel.” But I still blink and have think twice whenever someone asks, “Is this your first book?” Well, sort of. It might be my first published novel, but it’s actually my eighth book. I’m twenty-eight years old, and I’ve written sixteen novels over the course of eighteen years.
I bring this up because people are often curious how writers come about. We’re not like dancers or artists, who take classes in their craft and keep getting better until they are professionals. A novelist’s apprenticeship is much more private, and probably much more jagged. Out of my sixteen novels, only a few are publishable, but each one taught me something.
I wrote Book 1 when I was ten years old – 121 double-spaced pages about an Irish gypsy girl accused of witchcraft. I seem to remember that my version of Ireland had snakes – I wasn’t big on historical research when I was ten.
Book 2 came around when I was twelve, something about a turn-of-the-century American girl who ends up raising eight orphaned cousins. I’d just seen Last Of The Mohicans, so my hero was half-Indian and looked like Daniel Day-Lewis. Book 2 was when I learned about the importance of having a hunky hero.
Book 3 was something about whales. Don’t ask. But by this time, I had at least ditched the habit of describing everybody’s hair and eye color in minute detail.
Books 4 through 7 spanned my high school years. Three of them were a massive fantasy-historical trilogy I began at fourteen, all about a young Empress who ruled an empire like Russia. That trilogy was a working apprenticeship, as I invented and re-invented the wheel and learned something about the nuts and bolts of putting a novel together. Book 7 was a fluffy little romance I ripped off somewhere in the middle when I got tired of Imaginary Russia for a while, all about a European opera company. I think the big appeal of writing about an opera company was that I was a big opera fan already and thus wouldn’t have to do much research.
Book 8 – that one I wrote my freshman year at college. I was three thousand miles away from home and knew absolutely no one, so I escaped into ancient Rome instead. The first thing I produced that was even close to professional, and even so it was sprawling and far too long. After a lot of sweat, blood, and tears, the book I had nicknamed “The Bloated Tome” is now being published under the title Mistress of Rome. This book taught me to edit.
The next three novels were all stabs at a different genre. Book 9 was a fairly terrible attempt at a medieval story; I later cannibalized the good parts for another book and junked the rest. Book 10 was a mystery and Book 11 was a sci-fi thriller. Both these books proved that I should really stick to historical fiction.
I got obsessed with the Middle Ages after that, learned the importance of research, read everything I could on the whole era, and tore off four novels in a row. Book 12 deals with an English nunnery during the Black Plague; Books 13-15 were the first in a series about the Hundred Years War. I’m still tinkering with those four; we’ll see if they’re worth publishing someday.
Hanging out in the medieval era with all the dirt and disease and death can get depressing, so I went back to the Roman era (it felt like an old friend) and wrote Book 16 about the Year of Four Emperors. Around the same time, Mistress of Rome was grinding its way toward publication, so here I am. Maybe most of my earlier books are only fit for the trashcan, but they all taught me something important about writing. Even the one about whales.
In the end, you don’t learn to write in a class or from a book. You learn to write by writing; putting words on paper and seeing for yourself what works and what doesn’t. Molly Ringwald had Sixteen Candles to prove she grew up. I had Sixteen Novels.
Thank you so much for this terrific guest post Kate. You’ve definitely been busy. I’m sure glad Mistress of Rome made it to be published because it’s a great novel! I can hardly wait for the prequel and sequel I hear you’re working on!
About the Author
Kate Quinn is a native of southern California. She attended Boston University, where she earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Classical Voice. After college, she held down any day job she could find until she sold her first book, Mistress of Rome.
The daughter of a history major, she grew up with anecdotes about Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great instead of Grimm’s fairy tales, and used to sneak out of bed to watch I, Claudius behind her parents’ backs. She wrote her first story at age seven: “All about the assassination of Edward II,” she says, “and full of sex and violence long before I knew what either was.” Still in elementary school when she saw the movie Spartacus, she resolved to someday write a book about a gladiator. That ambition turned into Mistress of Rome, written when she was a freshman in college.
“I was alone in a brand-new city – I knew no one and nothing about Boston, so I escaped into ancient Rome instead. I didn’t even have a computer, but I didn’t let that stop me.” Mistress of Rome was completed in four months, written in six-hour stretches in the Boston University basement computer lab while listening to the Gladiator soundtrack on repeat.
Kate is currently working on a sequel and a prequel to Mistress of Rome. She also has succumbed to the blogging bug, and keeps a blog filled with trivia, pet peeves, and interesting facts about historical fiction. She and her husband live in San Diego, and her interests include opera, action movies, cooking, and the Boston Red Sox.
AMENDMENT: The author, Kate Quinn has offered up another copy to US residents only. Isn’t that fantastic! Thanks so much Kate!
I have 1 copy of Mistress of Rome by Kate Quinn up for giveaway courtesy of the publisher Berkley Books open to US residents only. Since that is open to US residents only I will put up my gently read ARC to everyone! To enter:
- For 1 entry leave me a comment with a way to contact you.
- For 2 entries follow my blog. If you already do, thank you, and please let me know in your comment.
- For 3 entries, blog or tweet this giveaway.
I will draw for the winners on Saturday, May 8, 2010. Good luck to you all!