Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Guest Blogger: Heather Domin and Augustan Rome

See the intro post for more information on this blog series!

My novel The Soldier of Raetia is set in the year 10 BCE, smack dab in the middle of the Augustan period. The first act takes place in Rome, but then the setting moves to the border province of Raetia. Why did I choose to write about this time and these places? The long answer is: rekindling old loves, the chance for more research, and the comfort of indulging in pure fun. The short answer is: laziness.

The initial idea came to me as a quickie short piece, nothing less shallow than "hot Roman soldiers in love", without need for a bigger picture. I've been a fan of Ancient Rome since I was a little girl, but I had never set a story there (Greece and Troy, yes, but not Rome), and I thought it was time to correct that. But pretty soon the characters were expanding in my head like armor-wearing Magic Grow Capsules, and I realized I had a much longer and more complex story on my hands — maybe even enough for A Serious Novel! gasp! — and so I said what the hell and decided to try a full-length novel after a lifetime of novellas and short pieces. In order to spin a decent plot, I was going to have to nail down the setting to a specific time and place. Time to put that Classics minor to use!

But with 1000 years and half a planet of geography to choose from, where would I settle down? After reading through the contents of my Roman bookshelf, I decided to go with the reign of Augustus, that pause between Republic and Empire when things were relatively simple and I wouldn't have to juggle too many current events at once. I knew a bit about that time period already, and what I didn't know I would enjoy researching.

The more I got to know Valerian, the more I knew he was an Augustan kind of guy. As for setting, I definitely wanted to get out on the frontier (all the better to write big battle scenes, my dear), so I decided to go for Germany, because I wanted to use my memories of the scenery there. I love Germany and the German people, and I thought a fictional Germanic tribe would make honorable and sympathetic antagonists instead of some generic barking savages. But I am greedy, and I wanted to spend time in Rome, too — so I tweaked the outline to make that possible. Next I couldn't decide whether to write a genre-specific romance novel or go for a straight (har har) coming-of-age story with no erotic content — and then I thought, why should I have to choose?

If I was going to do this, I was going to do it with both barrels, and I was going pour in as many things I love as possible until I had the kind of novel that I would want to read. Ancient Rome, the forests of Germany, blood-sweat-and-tears, and a bloody battle scene or two — those are all things I love. I couldn't think of a better backdrop for the love story I wanted to tell.

So in the end, my choices for time and setting were a mix of "write what you know", "write what you love", and "write what you would want to read". There was also the laziness of staying within my comfort zone, because I was already taking a big step outside of another comfort zone by writing A Serious Novel! and sharing it with the big bad world. I knew the result would be something not easily categorized and not publishable in the current historical fiction market, but I didn't care, and I knew there were plenty of people like me out there who didn't care either. This novel is for them.

Check out Rima's thoughts on setting her book in the Caribbean in the 18th century over in Heather's blog, and my post on 12th century Burgundy at Rima's blog.

Next week, we'll tackle Writing Historical Adventure.


  1. Heather, this is awesome! I love how candid you are about your laziness. :) After I read Julie's book, I'm totally hitting up yours.

    "Hot Roman soldiers in love"- with me? No? Damn.

  2. I'm happy to recommend Heather's novel, which I really enjoyed--even though without a little prompting, it might never have occurred to me to seek out a gay ancient Roman coming-of-age military romance. Not only is the book an engaging read, but there are no signs of the "laziness" the author so self-deprecatingly cites; The Soldier of Raetia is polished.

  3. Aw, you guys.

    Rima: If they're not in love with us, being in love with each other is a pretty nice consolation prize, right? ;p

    Jeff: You are the bomb, yo.

  4. Heather - that's hot.

  5. Heather & Rima: A+ comments. Would read again.