By Kate E. Stephenson
In this second week of July 2012, I hereby call to order the 1st meeting of the Kate-Book.com book club. Every week, we shall be reading a tome either (a) penned by an author named Kate or (b) that includes a character named Kate.
Club members, this week meet KATE QUINN.
Kate Quinn is a native of southern California who attended Boston University, where she earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Classical Voice. A lifelong history buff, Kate first got hooked on ancient Rome while watching “I, Claudius” at the age of seven. She wrote her first book during her freshman year in college, retreating from a Boston winter into the ancient city of her imagination. It was later published as Mistress of Rome. A prequel, Daughters of Rome, followed and then a sequel, Empress of the Seven Hills. Kate is currently working on her fourth novel, this time set in the Italian Renaissance. She and her husband now live in Maryland with a small black dog named Caesar, and her interests include opera, action movies, cooking, and the Boston Red Sox, all topics she broaches on her awesome blog. But without further ado, we’ll let Quinn introduce herself by answering the following questions.
Who named you Kate and why?
I named myself Kate, more or less. I went through kindergarten as “Katharine,” and frankly that’s far too long to write on the back of your story-time pictures with a fat-tip crayon, because the E always has to go over the N when you run out of space. And there were already about eight “Katies” and I hated “Kathy,” so Kate it was.
How did you become an author?
I’ve always been a writer: I was constantly scribbling stories and story ideas, and I finished my first book when I was ten. (And it was absolutely ghastly — witch hunts, wild horses, and spunky gypsy girls in medieval Ireland, only my version of Ireland had snakes because I didn’t know anything about research at that age.) Historical fiction was always my love, thanks to my mother’s classics degree which resulted in a lot of bedtime stories about Julius Caesar crossing the Rubicon and Alexander dealing with the Gordian Knot, rather than the Three Bears or Three Little Pigs. So I kept plugging away at various historical fiction novels as I grew up, and once I got to college I tried on and off over the years to find a literary agent and/or a publisher. When I was twenty-six I finally found a terrific agent for the ancient Rome book I’d written as a freshman, and later that year I had a publisher. I’ve been very lucky!
What was the muse for Mistress of Rome?
I saw the original Stanley Kubrick “Spartacus” when I was about nine years old, and it made a huge impression on me: the splendor of Rome, the battling gladiators, Kirk Douglas’s dimpled chin. I resolved to someday write a book about a gladiator. It took me about ten more years, but I finally wrote on.
What are you currently working on?
I’ve taken a jump out of ancient Rome, up 1500 years to Renaissance Rome, and landed smack on the Borgia bandwagon! My next book revolves around Giulia Farnese, a teenage beauty with floor-length hair who became mistress to the Borgia pope and thus had a front-row seat to all the Borgia shenanigans. I’m not entirely done with ancient Rome yet — I’ve got at least one more book to write in that setting — but for now I’m finding a new era great fun!
What is your greatest accomplishment to date?
I’m equally proud of all my books. They’re my babies.
What’s your favorite word?
“Queen.” Actually, any variant on “king, queen, emperor, empress” — most of my books seem to end up revolving around power: who has it, who wants it, and what it means for the people on the fringes. Can’t pick your obsessions!
What’s your least favorite word?
“Mewed.” I read the sentence “she mewed with passion” in a book by a well-known author who shall remain nameless, and it scarred me for life.
Who’s your favorite literary character?
C.S. Forester’s Captain Horatio Hornblower — the ultimate moody intellectual warrior.
What’s your favorite quote?
“Shun epic verse.” Good advice from Bernard Cornwell.
If you weren’t an author, what profession would you like to try?
I’d be an opera singer. I trained as a lyric soprano, before books hijacked my life.
If you could do one thing in your life over, what would it be?
Can I go back to the womb and fiddle with my DNA so I get to grow up tall?
And now that you’ve gotten to know her better, it’s time to read. Here’s an excerpt from Kate Quinn’s new book Empress of the Seven Hills, chapter 1.
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.
And now I am off to curl up with the book. Thanks Kate!
Kate’s Book Club is a new column on Kate-book.com featuring interviews with authors named Kate, as well as reviews of books starring Kate characters. It runs on Kate-book.com every other Wednesday at 10:30am, and is written by the self-admitted bibliophile Kate E. Stephenson, who you should follow on Twitter here. Oh, and write to her at KateAuthors@KempsConsulting.com to suggest authors and books we should read for future columns.