Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Interview with the authors of A Day of Fire, part one

Yesterday I reviewed the faaaaaaaaahbulous A Day of Fire, a marvelous historical novel set during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Uniquely, it's penned by six authors -- Vicky Alvear Shecter, Sophie Perinot, Ben Kane, Kate Quinn, E. Knight, and Stephanie Dray -- but reads as a single work, devastating and exciting in equal part.

On a whim, I asked if the authors would consider doing a roundtable interview/discussion for my blog and to my delight, the authors agreed! I'm so excited to share this interview -- it confirms what I've suspected: that authors really are among the most fun people out there! I've split the interview into two parts, so here's part one (part two to be live on Friday).

And I loved this book so much I've decided to splurge and offer a giveaway, so be sure to enter!

How did this project come about?

Stephanie Dray: It started when Kate, Sophie, and I were celebrating Kate’s latest book release and began chatting about how, in the romance genre, they write continuities all the time. We thought it would be a coup if we could pull one off in the historical genre.

Kate Quinn: Yep, that’s how it happened. There was champagne, and it certainly helped the ideas start flowing.

Ben Kane: Doesn’t champagne always help ideas flow?!

Kate: Certainly does.

Sophie Perinot: It wasn’t the champagne that made me giddy, it was the idea that we could be a FIRST. None of us could think of any previous continuities in the straight historical fiction realm. The three of us immediately started an idea list--wow, was that a long list. I believe we settled on the right historical event in the end. What could be more exciting than the destruction of Pompeii? And because Vesuvius was an equal-opportunity destroyer, we were able to incorporate characters from every walk of life.

Vicky Alvear Shecter: I had never even HEARD of continuity projects, so when I was approached to participate in “A Day of Fire” I had two responses: 1) YES PLEASE! and 2) Wait, what? How does this work?

Stephanie Dray
Stephanie: Vicky was so down with this project from day one, that we knew we’d asked the right author. And the entire project could never have worked without her brilliant first story.

Eliza Knight: I’m also a fan of champagne, so when I got a call from Stephanie asking if I wanted to rip out the heart of readers, I couldn’t resist and popped the cork! :)

Stephanie: Personally, I’m very fond of writers who like to rip out the hearts of readers.

Ben--when you were first contacted about a project full of Americans what were your thoughts?

Ben Kane
Ben: The first I knew of it was when Kate contacted me. We knew each other a little from various internet fora. I thought the idea was brilliant - who wouldn’t? Rome? Pompeii and THAT day in AD 79? - and said yes on the spot.

Stephanie: I didn’t realize Ben wasn’t American when we pitched the project to him, but I’ve been delighted to see the differences between the two markets, and to learn from his expertise from that side of the pond. Also, he’s very charming.

Groundwork: Was there a single thread decided on for the overall novel-in-six-parts storyline, or did it evolve as folks worked on their individual pieces?

Kate Quinn
Kate: We knew from the beginning that we could NOT all show the eruption, or else we’d have the Groundhog Day effect: If that mountain blew in every story, the reader would have eruption fatigue by Story #3. So our first concern was distributing segments of the timeline.

Sophie: I agree that setting the timeline was a HUGE and very important step. I think we made several wise decisions there--keeping it tight with some, but decreasing overlap; and gathering some of our number together in person to hammer it out once Ben’s story was in hand. (He wrote his first.) I think we benefitted from the fact that people were flexible. I would have loved to write a story with more destruction, but early stories were needed too, and I knew I could create characters--like Sabinus--who people would want to follow to the dramatic end of the book.

Ben: We talked a lot about timeline before we got started, and as others have said, it was important to do so. ‘Eruption fatigue’? I like the sound of that! but it would have switched many readers off. Portraying the whole event, from ‘before’ to ‘after’ was crucial, in order to convey some/all of the horror that must have been that day. It was also necessary for everyone to be flexible - and they were! This has felt from beginning to end like a great team effort.

Vicky Alvear Shecter
Vicky: I think it was both--the single thread had to be set at the beginning but that doesn’t mean things didn’t evolve as the project matured. We each came to the table with the germ of our story ideas and then discussed ways others characters could weave in and out of them. I was a little surprised at how easily that happened. For example, in one early draft, Kate suggested I have my character run into Ben’s gladiator since he was walking by that area anyway. Perfect! It served to introduce a character we will meet later, and also allowed my character to ruminate on the very thing he’s struggling with--what does it take to feel like a man, which is triggered when he a hugely muscled gladiator taunts him. And the more we interwove our individual pieces the stronger the overarching plot became.

Stephanie: For a very brief time, we considered simply making “A Day of Fire” an anthology of separate, unrelated, stories, to make it easier for everyone to write. Once we had Ben’s story in hand, however, we were able to see how to use it as the centerpiece around which the rest of the stories could be built. And I think that was the smartest decision we made. It turned the project from something fun that a bunch of authors worked together on, into a more challenging piece of art. And I’m so proud of what we accomplished!

How much did your original premise change as you worked with the other authors?

Ben: I believe I may be the exception. Because of the way things turned out - we had talked the storyline through, and had an ‘almost’ deal with a traditional publisher on the table, which was then shelved - I decided to write my story a year ago. I had just finished a novel, and had time to spare. If I’d left it until our plan moved forward, I would have been one third, say, or halfway into a new novel. I didn’t want to have to turn around at that stage and write a completely unrelated short story. So I just got on and wrote it, and hoped that the project *would* come to fruition. Lucky for all of us, it did.

Eliza Knight
Eliza: I have a penchant for killing people… so it was pretty much a given that my story would be very dark. Kate and Stephanie have said the motto for my historical fiction should be: Everybody dies… But, before we kiss them goodbye, I like to really drag out the emotion and explore the human condition in whatever situation has been presented. I knew where I wanted my story to flow. So the hardest part for me may have been weaving in the other authors’ characters. That is because my story begins and ends inside. Ultimately, the characters from the other stories made “appearances” in mine through flashbacks. As far as changes in my own story, originally, I wanted to take the perspective of my heroine and her husband, but then I realized that her father had a lot more to lose, so it was important for me to use him as a POV character.

Stephanie: I really deliberately held off in formulating the specifics of my prostitutes with hearts-of-gold-and-mud story until other people nailed theirs down because I was taking the last slot. This gave me more flexibility to accommodate everyone else. But I’m not the only one who had to bend, and I was very grateful to Ben for changing an entire character in his story to help mine work better.

Sophie: Stephanie, I think everyone appreciated your ability to “ride the curve” of the developing plot arc. You had a tough job batting clean up, because you were taxed with providing closure to other people’s characters which meant letting them step back onto the stage. I deeply enjoyed being able to be Sabinus again during your story--I’d missed him.

Did your writing process change in response to the collaboration, or did you write the way you normally do regardless?

Sophie Perinot
Sophie: Writing as a collaborator is different than writing as a solo act. Collaboration means cooperation, and cooperation, in my opinion, has a multiplying effect. It makes things more intense in a good way. Characters come MORE alive by interacting with other writer’s characters. I knew who Aemilia and Sabinus were before I wrote my first word, but I got to know them better when they had to react in real-time to something Stephanie’s Capella or Kate’s Diana said or did.

Vicky: The original premise of my story didn’t change much but it certainly deepened as I read the other stories and went back to my own. The other stories inspired me in ways that I could not have anticipated or expected. It was a wonderful experience!

Stephanie: I definitely wrote differently because I had to manage voices of characters that weren’t mine. Better to let Kate write some of the senator’s dialog, for example, than for me to write it myself. Which meant that I would leave chunks of the story unfinished while I moved on.

Eliza: I have a specific way of writing that doesn’t really change story to story, but one thing that was done differently with this collaboration which I really enjoyed was that we used GoogleDocs to write specific scenes together (that involved mutual characters) at the same time. It was really fun doing that!

Ben: I wrote my story before anyone else’s, as I have already explained. So at first, I didn’t have to think about the collaboration. This changed of course as the others wrote their stories, and they needed to have some of their characters appear in mine. That felt a little strange - I have never collaborated with other authors before - nor had I added in other characters. It’s a mark of the others’ professionalism and ‘coolness’, therefore, that I found the process very easy. It was enjoyable too! I loved reading the others’ stories, and found it very exciting that my characters appeared in their storylines, and it was soon quite clear that to do this would make the characters rounder, and turn the whole dang thing into a damn good story!

Kate: An interesting corollary to this discussion of writing process in collaborative work is the question of writing style. I write funny; Stephanie writes dark; Ben writes bloody, etc. And that’s before we even get into the fact that some of us write in first person and some in third, some in present tense and some in past! After much discussion we decided to give ourselves free rein rather than try to conform to a “house style,” and in the end I was hugely relieved to see that the styles didn’t clash - if anything, they enhanced each other. The book has a real panorama of flavors, and everyone’s strengths played to a different part of the drama, i.e. Ben could use his flair for violence in describing the mountain blowing up, I could use my penchant for humor to give the reader a last chuckle and loosen them up before Eliza ripped their hearts out!

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My thanks to the authors for their time and thoughtful answers.  You can learn more about the authors and find their websites here.  Be sure to check back on Friday for Part Two of the interview!


I'm thrilled to offer a Kindle e-book copy of A Day of Fire to one lucky reader!  To enter, fill out this brief form.  Open to US and international readers, ends 11/14. See my Giveaway Policy for complete rules.


  1. Such cool authors, and I can't wait to read it!! Thanks, Audra!

  2. Sounds fun- though its a depressing subject to pick when downing champagne.