It's the sticky part of July, nearly the dog days of summer. My mind has been jam-packed with planning for both the fall, and the winter launch of my next novel, THE CHEF'S SECRET. In the midst of that, I've had my mind in a swirl with a variety of other projects, books and ideas--many of which I think might be of interest to my readers and potential readers, so let's unpack it all:
Tasting Life Twice
Author Crystal King muses on life, history, writing and food.
Women have been using makeup for thousands of years and beauty in Ancient Rome was just as important as it is today. Just as we do, they even had books that helped women stay on top of beauty trends. Many of you might be familiar with the poet Ovid's Metamorphoses and Amores but I would bet you've not heard of his Medicamina Faciei Femineae or Women’s Facial Cosmetics, sometimes seen as The Art of Beauty. The fragment we have from this book (see the link above) is fascinating, offering up three and a half beauty tips for Roman women. The first is a lengthy and messy recipe on how to make your skin whiter. The second recipe on getting rid of pimples would, as we know now, kill you slowly over time. I imagine that many women paid such a high price to be beautiful:
I've been planning a trip to Bologna, where part of my third novel is set. I've been researching the heck out of that area. I already knew it has the oldest university in the world, but one of the things I was most intrigued to find was Bologna was a city of towers. There were at least 100 towers, many of them upwards of 32 or more stories. Here's an artist's rendering of what it might have looked like in its heyday:
According to the ancient Roman historian, Pliny the Elder, "Apicius, the most gluttonous gorger of all spendthrifts, established the view that the flamingo's tongue has a specially fine flavor." The poet Martial, who was born a few years before Apicius died, agreed, saying: “My red wing gives me my name, but epicures regard my tongue as tasty. But what if my tongue could sing?” They don't actually sing, however. They tend to honk and squawk.
It's hard to believe that it's been almost a year since Feast of Sorrow was launched in hardback and eBook. So much has happened in the last twelve months, including:
Writing a book set in Ancient Rome means that I have to work with a lot of names that are probably unfamiliar to people, such as Thrasius, Sotas, and Ruan. And, ironically, when I included ancient Roman names that have survived the centuries, such as the name Melissa, my readers told me that the name felt too out of place.
2017 was such a wonderful year for books set in my favorite country, Italia. My own novel, FEAST OF SORROW, about the ancient Roman gourmand, Apicius, hit bookshelves in April and it's been a crazy, fun, whirlwind year talking to readers and promoting my book. But the best thing about the year, for me, was meeting many of these authors and talking to them about Italy and getting a chance to read their books.
Inviting an author to speak with your book group can be a fantastic way to enhance the experience of discussing a great book. My bet is you'd be surprised at how many authors (like Annie Hartnett, featured here with a book club reading her book, RABBIT CAKE), will agree to come to your house, library or restaurant to talk about their books.
Lately, your book club is feeling a little lame. The monthly potluck selections are a bit tired and it seems more like a chore to mix up that spinach dip than ever before. The good thing is, it's easy enough to punch up the excitement -- both in your book selections and the food pairings.
My novel, FEAST OF SORROW, is full of food. Everything about the story pivots around meals, ingredients and what food represents. One of the main characters is a Roman gourmand named Apicius, whose name is on the world's oldest known cookbook.
When researching my book, FEAST OF SORROW, one of the fun bits was trying out various recipes and experiencing the flavors of ancient Roman food. The book is about Apicius, a first century Roman whose name appears as the title of the oldest known cookbook.
One of the recipes in Apicius is for Parthian chicken. Parthia was part of ancient Persia, now in a region of north-eastern Iran. Much to my delight, it turns out that the Parthians really knew how to make chicken. Hands down this is one of the best chicken dishes I've ever had. It's juicy and tender with a perfectly crispy crust.
When I wrote Feast of Sorrow, I never once thought of being nominated for a prize, much less winning one. I thought it might be a decent book, and one that some people would like, but I figured it was such a niche genre that I might not even find a publisher for it and would eventually have to start writing on book two and then sell it later.
LITsnap that is!
Writing tech and freelance marketplace startup, Reedsy, is running a really cool campaign called "#IWriteBecause: A Campaign By Writers for Writers" which showcases authors and the reasons why they write. They want to bring writers together through video. For every author who contributes a video, Reedsy is going to donate $10 to Room to Read, a non-profit foundation that focuses on literacy acquisition and girls’ education in Africa and Asia. Over 11.5 million children have benefited from Room to Read’s charity efforts in over ten countries.
I began writing FEAST OF SORROW in 2007. I had about five or six chapters when I joined Lisa Border's Grub Street summer Novel in Progress class and began workshopping it. In it I met one of my writing partners, Anjali Mitter Duva. When I took the fall class, I met another writing partner, Jennifer Dupee. I was off and running.
Yesterday I had the great opportunity to be on Boston Herald radio! I had no clue they snapped a photo. :-)
Another year nearly gone by. A time for reflection and a time for resolutions. The end of this year feels fraught with anxiety for me, for a variety of reasons. I know I'm not alone in this regard. There seems to be a collective UGH that the people around me are saying. 2016 can't go away fast enough, for me, and for many others out there.
I'm a voracious consumer of information, especially about il mio posto preferito sulla terra (my favorite place on earth), Italia. Why not share all those fun tidbits with my readers? I'm going to start doing these roundups more often. We can dream about la bella vita together.
Or at least that's what she says about herself. "I don't think I'm a food writer any more than I am a love writer or a fish writer or a fowl writer. I just write about life." And yet her view on life was very much driven by taste and pleasure and food: