Monday, April 5, 2010

Book Club Exchange: Kate Quinn

I am really excited about today's Book Club Exchange post! I am a huge fan of all things ancient Rome (I was one of those geeks who actually took Latin in high school), and I am currently reading (and enjoying very much) the new historical fiction book MISTRESS OF ROME by Kate Quinn.

One of the things I do for each and every book I read is decide if I think it's "book club worthy". I make an effort to address why I think it would be interesting to talk about, and I also try to list some themes or topics for discussion. So I thought it was very interesting to get Ms. Quinn's take on why MISTRESS OF ROME would be a good selection for your next book club.

Did They Have Book Clubs In Ancient Rome?

I normally don’t care for chick flicks, but I loved the movie “The Jane Austen Book Club.” The women in that movie read books, talked about books, argued about books, swooned over books, and you could tell the love was real. I’ve never belonged to a book club myself, but that’s exactly how I picture an ideal book club should be: a bottle of wine, a comfortable couch, and a lot of spirited discussion between people who genuinely love to read.

But when first asked to write about why my historical fiction novel Mistress of Rome would make a good book club pick, I was at a bit of a loss. I wasn’t sure it was a good book club pick. It’s not socially relevant; it’s unlikely ever to be assigned reading anywhere; it’s not a scholarly historical. My aim was just to tell a ripping good story. I had a good time writing Mistress of Rome, and I hope people have a good time reading it. But it didn’t exactly seem to be book club fare.

But when I thought about it, I concluded maybe Mistress of Rome wouldn’t be such a bad pick after all. Because books in the end are about people, and even if the people I created lived in ancient Rome, they faced problems people still face today. I had a lot of fun imagining people arguing the following points from my book:

1. Thea, my slave-girl heroine, survived a lot of painful things in childhood, and comes into the book with a whopping case of survivor’s guilt and a bad habit of cutting herself when things get tense. But she still manages to function: falling in love, raising a child, trying to move forward with her life. Self-mutilation, depression, ways of dealing with pain while balancing relationships and parenting and careers – all still problems today. A discussion on how women of the past and the present handle such issues could be enlightening.

2. Lepida, the book’s villainess, is the single biggest bitch in all of ancient Rome. (My husband claims it makes him nervous that I had it in me to invent her.) She spends five hundred pages screwing people over for fun. Cue discussion of the backstabbing boyfriend-stealing Mean Girls we all remember from high school.

3. My hero is a gladiator, and is routinely thrown into kill-or-be-killed situations. In the modern era we don’t have gladiatorial games where people get murdered for entertainment – but we do have Ultimate Fighting, boxing, and pro football, and the fans are just as rabid as the people who bayed for blood in the Colosseum. How much has really changed through the centuries? Throw in the modern public’s enjoyment of violent movies as well as action sports, and you have a wide-ranging discussion. Be sure to get sidetracked wondering which movie stars would play which characters if Mistress of Rome ever gets made into a movie. (Sigh.)

That’s just a few questions that could keep a book group busy. There might be some heated discussions – slavery, sexual abuse, incest, adultery, and murder are all strong subjects, and they all come up in Mistress of Rome. Maybe not everyone will agree with what I’ve written, but if I can make people think about a controversial topic in a new way, I think I’ve done a good day’s work.

Incidentally, feel free to contact me if your book club selects Mistress of Rome for its monthly pick. I’m a great admirer of John Shors and his program for phoning in to book clubs, and I’d love to do the same. If your club meets anywhere near San Diego, I can drop in for the discussion in person. If you’re further away, I’ll be happy to call in and answer questions. There’s even an online reader’s guide.

So put the phone on speaker and crack another bottle of wine. I’ve never been in a book club before, and I’d love to visit yours.

Anyone looking to arrange a book club call-in should contact my publicist Julia Fleischaker at


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.

I am so grateful to Ms. Quinn for sharing how her book is ideal for book clubs. I also think inviting her to your next meeting would be fascinating and fun. If you are interested in participating in a future Book Club Exchange, please contact me at


bermudaonion said...

It sounds like Kate Quinn needs to write a reading guide for The Mistress of Rome. I love authors who are so accessible.

Nicole (Linus's Blanket) said...

I think that there is definitely some book club fodder in there. As long as you have characters with interesting lives and choices, there is bound to be some good discussion.

Becky said...

So true Nicole. I love books that are based upon people's lives. There is a great book titled, "Her Mother’s Hope" by Francine Rivers, a wonderful historical fiction that I just finished reading. I was intrigued form page 1. I just found it so fascinating to read about the complexities of the family dynamics.

Kate Quinn said...

What nice comments! I'm glad you all enjoyed my guest post. Just so you know, there is a reader's guide for "Mistres of Rome" online - I think the questions are great, either for a book club or just food for thought.

Thanks again for having me on Booking Mama!