Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words is happy to have Sam Starbuck here to blog about his latest book, The City War, published by Riptide Publishing:
Hello everyone! I’m pleased to be hosted by Scattered Thoughts today as part of a blog tour for The City War, my first novella to be released with Riptide Press.
This is the second part in a series of posts I’m doing about the process of writing historical romantic fiction, and how one gets from being a history nerd to a romance writer in a few easy steps; today’s entry is about the delicate dance of historical fiction. To thank you all for reading, I’m offering a chance to win $10 in credit with Riptide Publishing; every comment you leave on the post today and for the entire tour enters you to win!
Something that comes up frequently when people talk about writing historical fiction of any subset is the difficulty of Getting Everything Right. If you set a story in ancient Roman culture — as the Warriors of Rome series is — it’s easy to leave out things we’re aware don’t belong: microwaves, cellphones, pianos. It’s often harder to leave out things we don’t know don’t belong — did the ancient Romans have books, or only scrolls? Did they have plates and cups? Did they have toilet paper? (Yes, Yes, and No.)
It’s daunting, the idea of having to know a dead culture so well that you can create a whole world without screwing it up.
But it’s also fun.
One of the things I researched for The City War was the food served at feasts, particularly feasts for the nobility of the highly class-stratified culture of Rome. The servants brought in trays of apricots in sweet sauce and lentils imported from Egypt, roasted thrushes, goose livers in garum and oysters in cumin sauce.
“The servants brought in trays of apricots in sweet sauce and lentils imported from Egypt, roasted thrushes, goose livers in garum and oysters in cumin sauce. Cassius occasionally licked sweet apricot sauce off his thumb, glancing at Brutus with lowered eyelids to see if he noticed. Brutus saw that Aristus did, and the older man drank more wine than usual. Brutus just busied himself counteracting the heat of the cumin with bites of honey-soaked melon, and ignored them both as children. He was getting tired of Cassius’s air of mystery.
By the time the servants brought in the pig—small but well-cooked, and stuffed with tender laurices and fragrant spices—Brutus saw the horse-boy watching the dancers as well, crouched in a shadow behind a tall window that let the breeze pass from the outer yard into the triclinium.”
It sounds delicious and poetic, but sometimes that’s part of the trick of historical fiction; goose livers in garum seems luxurious, if slightly gross to our modern sensibilities, until you find out that garum is a sauce made from fish that’s been left to decay in the sun for days. “Stuffed with tender laurices” makes the mouth water — until you look it up, as one of my editors did, and realize that a laurice is the term for the unborn fetus of a rabbit, a delicacy in ancient Rome. But part of the joy of writing for this era in particular is the fierceness and the nearness to the food chain that even the upper classes were required by their limited technological means to engage in. It was an earthy time.
Historical fiction is about getting the world right, but also getting the sense of the world right. It’s important to understand the spirit of an era — and sometimes to temper it a little in places, particularly when writing romance, which I’m also addressing today over at Well Read.
Bio: Sam Starbuck is a novelist and blogger living in Chicago because he enjoys trains, snow, and political scandals. By day, he manages operations for a research department at a large not-for-profit, and by night he is a pop-culture commentator, experimental cook, advocate for philanthropy, and writer of fiction. He holds two degrees in theatre, which haven’t done much for his career but were fun while they lasted. His love of ancient cultures and art crimes makes him a very strange conversationalist at parties. His novels include Nameless, Charitable Getting, and Trace, published independently, and The City War, published with Riptide Publishing. He blogs here, and you can check out his writerly accomplishments here.
The City War Blurb: Senator Marcus Brutus has spent his life serving Rome, but it’s difficult to be a patriot when the Republic, barely recovered from a civil war, is under threat by its own leader. Brutus’s one retreat is his country home, where he steals a few precious days now and then with Cassius, his brother-in-law and fellow soldier—and the one he loves above all others. But the sickness at the heart of Rome is spreading, and even Brutus’s nights with Cassius can’t erase the knowledge that Gaius Julius Caesar is slowly becoming a tyrant. Cassius fears both Caesar’s intentions and Brutus’s interest in Tiresias, the villa’s newest servant. Tiresias claims to be the orphaned son of a minor noble, but his secrets run deeper, and only Brutus knows them all. Cassius, intent on protecting the Republic and his claim to Brutus, proposes a dangerous conspiracy to assassinate Caesar. After all, if Brutus—loved and respected by all—supports it, it’s not murder, just politics. Now Brutus must return to Rome and choose: not only between Cassius and Tiresias, but between preserving the fragile status quo of Rome and killing a man who would be emperor. You can buy The City War or read an excerpt here at Riptide Publishing.
Thank was wonderful. My review of The City War will be posted tomorrow and you won’t want to miss it. And don’t forget to enter your name in the contest. Just leave a comment and you are entered into the contest to win $10 in credit at Riptide Publishing. The Winner of the contest will be announced at the end of the tour.
Good luck, everyone. And my thanks to Sam Starbuck and Riptide Publishing for stopping by today.