Please welcome Kate Quinn, author of the new novel, Daughters of Rome!

Inspiration? All Subconscious by Kate Quinn

If there’s any question a writer gets asked above all others, it’s “Where do you get your ideas?” I am occasionally prompted to give strange off-the-wall answers – “The land of Oz” or “Walmart” are two replies I can remember coming up with after a glass or two of champagne. And if you are that nice lady at my last book-signing who appeared to believe me when I made a joke about using a handbook called Twenty-Nine Original Plots For Your Bestseller, I sincerely hope you are not still looking on Amazon. (On the other hand, maybe you found something like it – you can find anything on Amazon.)

I’m a lifelong history buff, and I suppose you could say that’s where I get my ideas. Let’s say I read a biography of Emperor Domitian and think “Hmm, he’s an interesting guy; he could be a great villain for a book.” That idea knocks around for a while until it bumps into the reading I did about the suicide-massacre of Masada (“hmm, could be a great background for a heroine”) and then finally gloms onto the original Kirk Douglas “Spartacus” when I watch it for the eighth time (“hmm, I could have a gladiator hero.”) The result of that collision of ideas was my first historical fiction novel, Mistress of Rome. That’s usually how it works – a fragment of an idea pops up from whatever I’m reading or watching on TV, and eventually it either floats off again into the ether or languishes in my Miscellaneous file until I get around to it – or it starts accumulating layers, like a grain of sand scratching at an oyster, and soon more ideas make more layers, and then I have a pearl. Or a book.

But inspiration’s a funny thing. There’s always more going on there than you think. Even when you’re the writer and it’s your inspiration. When I wrote Mistress of Rome, I certainly wasn’t thinking about grand over-arching themes and root causes. I just wanted to tell a good story. But I look back on it now, and I realize that it’s really about karma. Why karma? Because I wrote the book when I was nineteen years old and there’s nothing more simultaneously flinty and idealistic than a nineteen-year-old. It’s the age when you most passionately believe in justice. You need to believe that con men, high school bullies, and those people who recruit child soldiers in Africa will all someday be on the receiving end of what they dish out. You need to believe that orphans, rape victims, and people who get hit with lung cancer after never smoking a cigarette in their lives will someday get happiness and success in return for all that undeserved pain. I flip through Mistress of Rome these days, and I see that the real inspiration was to convince myself that good people suffer, but come out of it okay in the end – and villains always learn that making people miserable will come back to bite you. Mistress of Rome is a nineteen-year-old girl hoping desperately that what goes around really does come around.

My second book Daughters of Rome is about the Year of Four Emperors, and when I began it I’d have said that my inspiration was to bring an exciting period of history to life. Now, after four re-writes and countless rounds of editing, I could tell you that Daughters of Rome is about family. I wrote it during the year I got married; during that same year, sudden death struck members of both my husband’s family and mine. Daughters of Rome is about four girls trying to survive and find happiness during a bloody civil war – but it’s also my way of asking “What is a family? What are the roles we play within our family? What happens when we outgrow those roles – will anyone even notice?” I have no idea if Daughters of Rome finds the answers to these questions or not. I may be a writer, but that doesn’t mean I have answers.

I’m writing a third book now, all about the reign of Emperor Trajan. What inspired it? I probably won’t know till the book is done and I’ve got a few rounds of editing under my belt. That’s usually when underlying patterns start jumping out at me. I will go out on a limb and guess that the book’s original seed wasn’t just Emperor Trajan and the Parthian wars!

And as for my luxuries – well, where to start? I suppose luxury is one reason I adore writing about ancient Rome; a place where the rich really knew how to do luxe. (Hollywood knows it too, which is why all these Roman movies keep getting made. What other era gives you an excuse to see a woman in gorgeous silks stroll around with a leopard on an emerald leash?)

My ultimate luxury is the glass of Yellowtail chardonnay I pour for myself after a full day of writing, as I turn on the Red Sox game and sink into a dilapidated chaise so obscenely comfortable I’ve nicknamed it the Sybaritic Chair. A glass of wine after 6,000 words worth of new chapter, as I watch Big Papi swagger up to the plate with the game on the line – there’s nothing like it!

Thanks for having me on Luxury Reading! I’ve been a fan for a while, so getting to be a guest blogger here was a big treat!


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This giveaway is open to US and Canada residents only. Deadline to enter is midnight on April 22, 2011.

Giveaway copy is provided free of any obligation by Penguin Group USA. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.