Yesterday, I reviewed A Song of War: A Novel of Troy, a continuity anthology by the H Team members of by Christian Cameron, Libbie Hawker, Kate Quinn, Vicky Alvear Shecter, Stephanie Thornton, SJA Turney, and Russell Whitfield. You can check out that review HERE. Each of these anthologies are penned by different acclaimed historical authors which makes up the H Team. The team members who collaborated on A Song of War did a fantastic job! I have the distinct pleasure of having an exclusive interview with all seven authors! I didn’t doubt they’d cause a raucous in my home either and I couldn’t have been more correct. A fun time had by all (but I promise they are professional writers NOT drunks). Enjoy!
Welcome members of the H Team authoring A Song of War! I don’t think I’ve ever had this many people invade my home and library before, but I’ve made sure to put out a spread of food as traditional as I could in honor of the book so we’ve got grapes and fruits, olives, cheese, and plenty of wine (I know at least that will make Kate and Stephanie happy!). How does that sound? Go ahead and pass the plates, I’ll pour the wine….
Kate: Thanks! Much wine was drunk over the course of writing and editing this book, let me tell you. *passes krater of wine along to Libbie*
Simon: *Brandishes bottle of whisky* I always come prepared…
Vicky: I started a bit early. *hic* What are we talking about? 😉
Stephanie: It’s still afternoon where I am, but it’s always a good time for wine!
Christian: *reaches blearily for krater* Wine? You guys were holding out on wine? What are we writing about, anyway?
We’ll have a party for the book and document our conversation and I’ll try to keep up since I’ve also never interviewed this many people at one time. The last time I did an H Team interview, you all came separately. Some of you have been here before and some of you know me pretty well, but a few of you’ve I’ve not met, and I’m sure my readers are as excited to hear from you as I am! I’m glad you’re all here to celebrate the release of your book. (We all cheer!!!!)
I’ll start out asking some broad questions and feel free to jump in on any questions you’d like to answer.
Erin: Troy is such an amazing piece of history that never ceases to ignite the imagination of readers to this day. Who chose the project theme? Why were each of you chosen for this particular continuational anthology?
Russ: Kate Quinn suggested Troy – I think her thinking was “we’ve done a day, then a year… what can we do for a decade?” She’s threatened us all with death if we suggest The Hundred Years War next, though! As to being chosen, I feel very honoured and privileged to have been invited to work with my literary heroes. I guess I was chosen to kind of lower the tone in the email chats?
Kate: Or was it Simon who first put Troy on the table? I remember he was dying to do something with Aeneas. As soon as the words “Trojan War” were spoken, we all pretty much caught fire. (I maintain my stance on the Hundred Years War, though. Anyone who suggests it gets a spatha in the kidneys.)
Simon: If I remember correctly half a dozen different ideas were bandied around in a single conversation following the release of “A Year of Ravens.” I seem to recall throwing out numerous suggestions, some of which were probably quite odd. I think Troy captured everyone’s imagination.
Stephanie: I loved both “A Day of Fire” and “A Year of Ravens” so I jumped at the chance to join the H Team this time around. I think I might have yelled in all caps at Kate when she asked me to join the group!
Christian: I was brand new to the group and joined after the decision was made, but the idea of writing Troy is what got me into this mess. Er, I mean book.
Erin: Was it fun or challenging (or both) for each of you to write your own mini story while also tying it together with the rest of the stories? How did you best accomplish the flow?
Kate: After having done three of these things, the main trick to keeping things smooth has turned out to be lots of mapping in advance–we all knew exactly what section of the timeline we had to inhabit, and so the trick was just bringing our story to conclusion within that span. Interweaving our characters is the fun part. Sometimes we co-wrote scenes together–for the bit in my story where Odysseus chats up Hellenus, Vicky wrote her hero’s lines and I wrote mine, and the whole exchange turned out very differently than I expected!
Russ: Kate is a smart lady – the whole thing ran like clockwork. I had the following story (cos Chris Cameron writes like The Flash) and wrote around what Chris had set up. The funny thing was that the bits that I included were edited out: I was running with a scene from Agamemnon’s point of view that he had written from Briseis’s – but that never made it to the final edit. So the whole degradation of Achilles’s bride was actually Chris’s idea that I was riffing on. Full disclosure!
Libbie: It was very challenging for me, because this is the first time I’ve done a collaboration with any other authors. Collaborating with six others at the same time was not the way I expected to enter the world of co-writing, but I’m glad I did it! It was interesting to see how everybody exchanged ideas about our characters, and how all my co-authors interpreted the events. Fortunately, I feel like we all worked together really well.
Simon: Kate is so practised and skilled at binding it all together now that I am quite in awe. I just picked up a tale I loved and wrote it, then followed guidelines from cleverer people than me. Mind you, I wrote my tale last and had the benefit of having read several of the others first, so I could integrate bits and pieces into my story from others.
Vicky: We’re all professionals, so we can get pretty serious, but working on these projects ends up feeling like a raucous playdate–a fun, irreverent, energizing, creative play date! As always, I’m excited and honored to be invited to play with such masters!
Stephanie: I had so much fun including everyone’s characters in my section. I had the good fortune of being able to piggy-back off Kate’s story, so she’d already introduced many of the key players. It felt like a puzzle to me, trying to figure out how to give everyone’s narrators as much face time as possible.
Christian: Kate is quite brilliant at this thing. And, luckily, I started writing with my father, years ago, and exactly in this format; write, polish, add, write, polish, add. So it wasn’t all that alien. And I have another side-project with Simon (tries to see what kline Simon is lying on) and so…
Erin: How do you feel you accurately presented this time period – one which is always up for all sorts of interpretations and many people feel might not have existed? How did you each do your research?
Russ: Chris is an expert on all things Ancient Greece – he was the go-to source and we all bought the same illustrated book (by Peter Connolly) at his suggestion. In this way, the costumes and kit were all consistent. Our other bible was “The Trojan War: A New History” by Barry Strauss (or Bazzer as he was known in our email chats… (“Bazzer has it that they stopped here for x-days.”). And I’ll lay money that everyone had the “Troy” soundtrack on at some stage or another–
Russ: One of the fun things we did at the outset was stunt-cast the “movie of the book.” It really worked well, cos once we’d chosen what person to “play” our character, we then knew what they looked like so the descriptions of them were consistent. And because I had Chryseis in my story, I could look at loads of pictures of Kelly Brook and legitimately claim it was research. #winning!
Libbie: Chris was a life-saver for me. I knew almost nothing about ancient Greece going into this. Ancient Egypt is my area of specialty, and I’ve dabbled in some other ancient cultures, too, but so far not Greece. I would have made a total fool of myself without Chris’s guidance, and the suggestions and fact-checking of Kate Quinn and Stephanie Thornton, too!
Simon: As they said, Christian Cameron is the man to ask when you have a question on this era. I was quite stunned at some of the amazing little historical tidbits he came out with. I was able to follow my main source text (Virgil’s Aeneid) quite closely, complementing it with detail from some excellent scholarly works I was recommended.
Vicky: I tried not to panic about writing Odysseus, since so many people “know” him. Some of my research showed that Odysseus was sometimes reviled and belittled for his trickery, as it was less ennobling than being a champion with the sword. His wily ways eventually earned him respect but I was able to see some ambivalence about him in the Iliad. In almost all situations, he was paired with golden Diomedes, which also gave me some new ideas.
Stephanie: This was a new era for me too. I’ve written about Alexander’s Greece, but found very early on that things were quite different several centuries in. I will say that this story had me doing some of my strangest research to date, including finding the best way to preserve human eyeballs. I decided to skip the hands-on research for that tidbit, and restrict myself to Google.
Christian: Wow. All flattery gratefully appreciated. That said, I had been preparing for a whole set of novels on this period and then dropped the idea … complex reasons, never mind. But it meant I had already done some good research. To me, the interesting part was working with the group to make the compromises–and that’s not a dirty word–the compromises between what (little) we know of Mycenaean Greece, and what we see in the Iliad (which is often about 8th and 7th c. BCE iron age Greece) and even our own small-r romantic expectations about the Iliad. We had to get all that right; it was world creation, like writing a fantasy novel, as well as research and authenticity. I think we all enjoyed it.
Erin: What did each of you hope your characters would invoke in readers about the time period? Which were your favorites – in your own story or in other stories? Why?
Russ: Well – I can’t call anyone out because everyone did a brilliant job. I thought that Si’s characterisation of Aeneas was ace – I loved the idea of making him a bit of a prig, but each of the writers did an amazing job as I say. For my part I just hoped that people would understand why Agamemnon is the way he is. He’s never going to be a nice man, but I hoped readers would at least understand why he’s so horrid. It was hard at first but the more I wrote him the more I understood him. At the end of it, I wanted to assassinate Achilles myself! He’s a pain in the ass!
Caption: Wiki / Aeneas tells Dido about the fall of Troy, by Pierre-Narcisse Guérin
Stephanie: I thought Russ’s take on Agamemnon was beyond impressive. I’ve always seen Agamemnon as a villain, but Russ actually made me feel bad for the guy!
Libbie: I loved Philoctetes in my own story. He’s gruff on the outside but he’s a big, melty, gooey guy in love on the inside. And I’ve always been a sucker for the tragic, unrequited love storyline. It’s just about impossible to pick a favorite in the other stories. I was blown away, reading the final stories, to see how beautifully each author rendered their characters. The surprise of sympathizing with Agamemnon was a big one for me. And some of the creepy twists Stephanie put into Cassandra’s scenes gave me literal chills, so my hat’s off to her!
Simon: I hoped (and still do) that Aeneas brought out a sense of sorrow in the reader, but also of hope. That is what his tale is. A mix of sorrow and hope.
Vicky: I’ve always loved Odysseus and writing him only helped deepen my affection for the trickster. However, I also ended up having a tremendous amount of empathy for Cassandra, Briseis, Philoctetes, and (to my amazement) even Agamemnon. Really, I thought every story’s main character was brilliant.
Kate: I love Vicky’s Odysseus. He has more cameos throughout all the stories than any other character, and the page just comes to life every time he strolls onstage, I thought. And Chris’ Achilles was truly weird in the best sense of the word: part man, part god, petulant and heroic and cruel and kind. Sometimes all at the same time!
Christian: I loved Aeneas and I thought Russ’s Agamemnon was brilliant; I thought Cassandra was such a good character that I considered fudging my plot line to get her into my story. I loved Odysseus but I’m biased; to me he’s the best character anyway. As for my own stuff, I really wanted to emphasize, as an expert ‘battle and war writer,’ what a crappy life women would have had in the Iliad mythos. Too often, I think ‘Boy’s Own’ genre stuff absolutely ignores the sheer scale of refugees, ruined lives, and haunted, broken people that war leaves. I thought it would be … different to dwell on all that. And still write a good fight scene!
Caption: Representation of Trojan Horse / Original image by Tetraktyas
*See attribution terms at bottom of post*
Erin: What kinds of lessons can we call learn today as people, and/or our governments, from the stories of Troy and Greece? Do you believe myths can be reality or be examples for reality?
Russ: I’m nowhere near smart enough to answer that one and if I try I’m just going to show myself up because everyone else will be really erudite. I’m essentially the fart-joke guy of the H Team.
Libbie: Every team needs a fart-joke guy to keep the rest of its members from taking everything too seriously. We couldn’t have done it without you, Russ. Whenever I write ancient historical fiction, I just hope my readers pause and consider how similar the characters’ basic feelings and goals are to the way we think and feel today. We’ve been the same humans for all of our vast history. Our behavior hasn’t changed much, which can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on the context. I think we can learn from the story of the Trojan war that drawn-out conflicts have serious consequences for everybody involved. And every myth, every story, is built on some kind of truth…something that’s important to us as people.
Stephanie: There are definitely lessons to be found, but I certainly hope some of those Greek myths aren’t examples for reality! Otherwise we’ll have a lot of girls being turned into trees and such.
Simon: *Folds arms and grumbles in the corner, because he thought he was the Fart Joke guy*
Vicky: The fart joke guys are the best. But Kate’s “sex commando” asides are hysterical too.
Christian: Clearly no one thinks I’m the fart joke guy. Whatever. Human conflict is incredibly messy, like all the other things humans do — love, art, farming, sieges… what little we know from recent scholarship about Troy suggest superpower politics between the Hittites and their Syrian and Egyptian rivals were influenced by upstart Mycenaean and that Troy may have been a focal point for a nasty little surrogate war with slave taking and roving criminal gangs aiming at destabilizing the governments of the Mediterranean littoral. Like, modern Syria. Or do we just see it that way? A little study of historiography suggests that we are almost unable to avoid projecting our own lives on the past…. Damn. A fart joke would have been funnier. And wait, didn’t I coin commando sex raid? Kate?
Kate: You did! Russ is the fart joke guy, Chris is the Commando Sex Raid guy, and Si is the guy flying a model TIE fighter past the camera during Skyped plotting sessions . . . As you see, Erin, we’re a very serious bunch.
Erin: How did you all accomplish writing this collection together so seamlessly? What was the process like?
Russ: Kate’s a brilliant editor and Steph was continuity checking – they’re epic and it’s down to them that the whole thing reads the way it does. I can’t thank them enough. Kate is especially brilliant when she suggests changing a word here or there that just elevates my writing. Basically, if you read the Agamemnon story and come to a turn of phrase and think “that’s really good” the Hand of Quinn will have touched it.
Libbie: Being new to all of this, I just kept my mouth shut, did what the more experienced authors needed me to do, and turned in my piece by the deadline!
Simon: With Kate at the helm it’s just a case of writing a good story and then listening to what she tells you to do. That’s my opinion, anyway. I would be utterly lost in how to tie it all together, but having seen her do it twice now, I’m fairly sure she could take any seven pieces of writing and integrate them seamlessly.
Vicky: Yes, Kate is a true genius and a brilliant writer. She wins the MVP award for pulling us all together to make this work. She certainly held my hand more than once (Libbie too) as I struggled with Odysseus’s arc. She made terrific suggestions throughout the writing process.
Stephanie: Yep, it’s all about Kate. She went in and worked her magic, plus everyone edited at least a couple stories, which was invaluable.
Kate: Aww, you’re all such sweet-talkers. But they’re being way too complimentary. Editing a collaboration like this is time-consuming (that’s always my job because I have zero skills to offer in terms of formatting or banking or online wizardry) but it’s not difficult when all the writers on the team are SO good. With a group like this, there was literally no problem we could not crowd-source a solution to. If one of us didn’t know whether pines were indigenous to Sparta or how to preserve a human eyeball in a jar, you can bet that among the other six of us, someone would have the answer.
Christian: Kate’s brilliant.
Erin: Some of you have written in these before, but do you all feel it’s something you’d love to do again? What other ideas have or can each of you come up that you think would make good collections?
Russ: I’m honoured to have been invited to do this again. If I’m asked next time, I’d do it in a shot.
Libbie: I’d love to do it again, now that I understand how it all comes together. We have kicked around a few ideas for some potential future H-Team projects, but I don’t think we’ve settled on anything yet.
Kate: The gods only know what we’ll do next, or who will be involved–the lineup of authors tends to rotate depending on who’s got room in the deadline schedule and who doesn’t–but this is too much fun to quit now!
Simon: I have a taut writing schedule, but if there’s space in it to work with the H team and they’ll have me, I will always take part. My ideas are almost entirely Roman-o-centric, but then, with two millennia of Roman history to play with, there’s plenty of stories to cover.
Vicky: Would I love to do this again? Ummm. YAS. Please.
Stephanie: I’d bribe each of these writers with all the ice cream cake they can eat for a year if they’d have me again!
Christian: I have five books to write this year. And I really only do periods I love and understand… but… really, I’d love to do it again. Of course, they have to ask me, too. Heck, maybe I’ll learn a fart joke.
Erin: If you all could travel to Greece together, what places would each one of you plot on the itinerary?
Libbie: I would love to see the caves at Delphi! That has always been on my “to visit someday” list.
Russ: The pub, because I have to think of things like that while the others are off doing the Parthenon and Thermopylae and all that authory historical stuff.
Kate: I’d like to see the actual ruins of Troy, after poring over so many archaeological sketches. Then probably join Russ in that pub for a cold one.
Simon: I’ve done much of what I’d want to see in Greece, but I would love to spend time everywhere again and again. In particular, Actium, Corinth, Mistra, and Thessalonica for me.
Vicky: I’ve never been to Greece so I would want to see EVERYTHING. Also, I’d be that annoying person that would go all “verklempt” at every site and museum.
Stephanie: I love Greece! I haven’t been to Delphi yet, so I’ll definitely tag along with Libbie for that one!
Christian: I take a tour to Greece almost every year, called Pen and Sword. We go to Delphi… hey, everyone, it’s a blast! We have a bus as nice as a land yacht and we’re in charge! Crusader castles, wineries, superb temples… seriously… y’all should come. Yes, I go to Greece almost every year and sometimes twice… I adore Greece, both past and present. This year we’ll go to the Macedonian royal tombs, which I haven’t seen yet…
Erin: Let’s eat, drink, and be merry. I won’t put each of you in the hot seat anymore. And besides there might be a giant wooden horse at the door I have to attend to…..
Thanks so much to all of you for writing an amazing anthology and for hanging out with me today to discuss it. Best wishes for you all on this book and all your own personal works as well. Come back anytime!
Russ: Thanks, Erin – you’re a wonderful host 🙂
Libbie: Thanks for having us!
Kate: *raises glass in salute of our hostess*
Simon: *Grins over shot glass*
Vicky: *downs shot and raises the glass in your honor* Thanks, Erin!
Stephanie: *passes a piece of ice cream cake* Thanks so much for having us!
Christian: *leans over to kiss Kate* Oh best of editors, let me sing your praises. *realizes he’s drunk too much.* Simon, can you drive?
A Song of War: A Novel of Troy
by Christian Cameron, Libbie Hawker, Kate Quinn, Vicky Alvear Shecter, Stephanie Thornton, SJA Turney, and Russell Whitfield
Foreward by Glyn Iliffe
Publication Date: October 18, 2016
Knight Media, LLC
eBook & Paperback; 483 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction/Ancient History/Anthology
Troy: city of gold, gatekeeper of the east, haven of the god-born and the lucky, a city destined to last a thousand years. But the Fates have other plans—the Fates, and a woman named Helen. In the shadow of Troy’s gates, all must be reborn in the greatest war of the ancient world: slaves and queens, heroes and cowards, seers and kings . . . and these are their stories.
A young princess and an embittered prince join forces to prevent a fatal elopement.
A tormented seeress challenges the gods themselves to save her city from the impending disaster.
A tragedy-haunted king battles private demons and envious rivals as the siege grinds on.
A captured slave girl seizes the reins of her future as two mighty heroes meet in an epic duel.
A grizzled archer and a desperate Amazon risk their lives to avenge their dead.
A trickster conceives the greatest trick of all.
A goddess’ son battles to save the spirit of Troy even as the walls are breached in fire and blood.
Seven authors bring to life the epic tale of the Trojan War: its heroes, its villains, its survivors, its dead. Who will lie forgotten in the embers, and who will rise to shape the bloody dawn of a new age?
About the Authors
CHRISTIAN CAMERON was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1962. He grew up in Rockport, Massachusetts, Iowa City, Iowa,Christian Cameron and Rochester, New York, where he attended McQuaid Jesuit High School and later graduated from the University of Rochester with a degree in history.
After the longest undergraduate degree on record (1980-87), he joined the United States Navy, where he served as an intelligence officer and as a backseater in S-3 Vikings in the First Gulf War, in Somalia, and elsewhere. After a dozen years of service, he became a full time writer in 2000. He lives in Toronto (that’s Ontario, in Canada) with his wife Sarah and their daughter Beatrice, currently age four. And a half.
LIBBIE HAWKER was born in Rexburg, Idaho and divided her childhood between Eastern Idaho’s rural environs and the greater Seattle area. She presently lives in Seattle, but has also been a resident of Salt Lake City, Utah; Bellingham, Washington; and Tacoma, Washington. She loves to write about character and place, and is inspired by the bleak natural beauty of the Rocky Mountain region and by the fascinating history of the Puget Sound.
After three years of trying to break into the publishing industry with her various books under two different pen names, Libbie finally turned her back on the mainstream publishing industry and embraced independent publishing. She now writes her self-published fiction full-time, and enjoys the fact that the writing career she always dreamed of having is fully under her own control.
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. A lifelong history buff, she has written four novels in the Empress of Rome Saga, and two books in the Italian Renaissance detailing the early years of the infamous Borgia clan. All have been translated into multiple languages.
Kate 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 now live in Maryland with two black dogs named Caesar and Calpurnia, and her interests include opera, action movies, cooking, and the Boston Red Sox.
VICKY ALVEAR SHECTER is the author of the young adult novel, Cleopatra’s Moon (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic, 2011), based on the life of Cleopatra’s only daughter. She is also the author of two award-winning biographies for kids on Alexander the Great and Cleopatra. She is a docent at the Michael C. Carlos Museum of Antiquities at Emory University in Atlanta. The LA Times calls Cleopatra’s Moon, “magical” and “impressive.” Publisher’s Weekly said it was “fascinating” and “highly memorable.” The Wall Street Journal called it “absorbing.”
STEPHANIE THORNTON is a writer and history teacher who has been obsessed with infamous women from ancient history since she was twelve. She lives with her husband and daughter in Alaska, where she is at work on her next novel.
Her novels, The Secret History: A Novel of Empress Theodora, Daughter of the Gods: A Novel of Ancient Egypt, The Tiger Queens: The Women of Genghis Khan, and The Conqueror’s Wife: A Novel of Alexander the Great, tell the stories of history’s forgotten women.
SJA TURNEY lives with his wife, son and daughter, and two (close approximations of) dogs in rural North Yorkshire.
Marius’ Mules was his first full length novel. Being a fan of Roman history, SJA decided to combine his love of writing and love of the classical world. Marius’ Mules was followed two years later by Interregnum – an attempt to create a new fantasy story still with a heavy flavour of Rome.
These have been followed by numerous sequels, with three books in the fantasy ‘Tales of the Empire’ series and five in the bestselling ‘Marius’ Mules’ one. 2013 has seen the first book in a 15th century trilogy – ‘The Thief’s Tale’ – and will also witness several side projects seeing the light of day.
RUSSELL WHITFIELD was born in Shepherds Bush in 1971. An only child, he was raised in Hounslow, West London, but has since escaped to Ham in Surrey.
Gladiatrix was Russ’s first novel, published in 2008 by Myrmidon Books. The sequel, Roma Victrix, continues the adventures Lysandra, the Spartan gladiatrix, and a third book, Imperatrix, sees Lysandra stepping out of the arena and onto the field of battle.
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*Attribution for Trojan Horse art: Based on Wikipedia content that has been reviewed, edited, and republished. Original image by Tetraktyas. Uploaded by Mark Cartwright, published on 14 May 2013 under the following license: Creative Commons: Attribution-ShareAlike. This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work even for commercial reasons, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms.