Thank you so much to our hosts for having us, and to all of you for reading along!
Five Questions for Violetta Vane
By Heidi Belleau
What drew you to write about Roman history?
I’ve always been a huge Roman history nut. You could maybe chalk it down to a childhood diet of Asterix books. These are French comic books set during Julius’ Caesar’s time and packed full of terrible puns. The main character are Gauls (thinly veiled modern Frenchmen) named Asterix and Obelix who ramble across the world encountering famous historical figures and getting into trouble.
In junior high school, I started learning Latin. I’ve read Julius Caesar’s Commentaries in the original, as most Latin students do, although I never really got past an intermediate understanding of the language. I’ve studied and taught Latin epic and lyric poetry in translation.
I think what draws me is the fascinating modernity of the period, how familiar it is. A lot of my country’s laws and culture uphold ancient Rome as a model, E Pluribus Unum and so on, but the more you study that time, the more disconcerting the similarities become. “Bread and circuses”, for example. I’m also fascinated by race/ethnicity in the Roman world. This was a time when the people who were regarded as childlike and incapable of civilization were, well, Germans. Ethnic prejudices back then provide an insightful mirror of racism and white supremacist ideology in the modern world.
I couldn’t wait to write a story set in Roman times. All the complicated stuff about culture and sexuality and poetry was swirling around in my mind waiting to be channeled into a powerful, fast-moving story, with love. Love and stabbing. Lots of stabbing.
What was your favourite fact you learned while researching this book?
My favorite fact was that gladiators probably used mineral supplements to help develop strong bones. They were the rock stars of the ancient world, and at the highest level, their nutrition was developed with the same kind of careful study that allowed the Romans to build massive engineering projects.
I also learned that gladiator diets are a huge source of controversy among nutritionists and dieticians today. There are reputations riding on archeological finds, and even lots of money riding on selling EAT LIKE A GLADIATOR(tm) diets.
Who was your favourite character to write?
We both love Felix. One inspiration for him was Catullus in Steven Saylor’s mystery The Venus Throw. Although Felix is more likeable, he has that same command over language, the love of playing with words. As a writer, I think we’re predisposed to fall in love with characters like that. He’s flamboyant, he’s in your face, and he’s got a devastating mouth on him.
I also loved writing the Aethiopian and the Sarmatian. They’re women who represent two totally different extremes—intellect versus brute force—and I enjoy how they play off each other and both have hidden depths.
The gladiatrices were your idea. What drew you to the concept?
Women were pretty mobile in Roman society—not that they had it easy, by any means—but they moved around in the public sphere. I wanted to use that in service of a plot, since all my favorite historical media set in Rome does the same thing. And I don’t like male suffering sausage-fests, in general. If male suffering is shown as important and eroticized and deeply symbolic whereas the female suffering is just boring background taken-for-granted leave-it-out stuff, I’m especially horrified. So if we did a dark gladiator story, I wanted to show female suffering that mattered... and women fighting back. Because they did. The gladiatrices represent a rare but very real historical development; they also represent, on a different narrative level, the importance of female agency in the ancient world.
In addition, I think a freedom rarely taken advantage of in m/m is the freedom to write great positive non-sexual relationships between men and women. We’ve got a situation with Anazâr and the gladiatrices that’s classic A-Team, Longest Yard, Firefly, Seven Samurai, ragged band of misfits trope. That he’s a man and they’re all women matters, but it’s not the most important part of their dynamic, which was a pretty awesome and exciting dynamic to write.
What about Mark of the Gladiator will appeal to Romance readers? What about it will appeal to readers of Historical Fiction?
I think romance readers will appreciate the layered depth of the HEA. This is a really dark story, but it moves fast, and it goes somewhere. And where it goes will hopefully make people cry a little out of happiness. Romance readers may also appreciate what we did with the structure of the love triangle. It’s not just there as an ”oh shit we need a plot” thing. It’s a carefully planned pivot with real emotional and moral stakes. Deadly real.
A chest of sex toys also figures prominently. And there’s a bathhouse scene. There’s no way we were going to write an ancient Roman m/m story without bathhouse sex.
If you’re a historical fiction reader—well, I’m a historical fiction reader too. We want to first be taken away, second thrilled, third educated. And Mark of the Gladiator does all three. We designed it as an immersive experience. Not just the sights and sounds but the smell and taste and texture of the streets of ancient Rome. It’s not about cold hard facts; it’s about imagining you’re there, that there is no other world beyond this. And as for being thrilled... well, there’s plenty of sex, and violence, and most importantly, real suspense.
Lastly, we’re influenced by other books and movies and television shows about this period, but we also cover some stuff that rarely gets covered, and weave it together in a way that should give readers some wonderful geeky thrills. For example, Anazâr is a veteran of the Battle of Actium, on the losing side. Have you ever wondered what it would be like for Marc Antony to give your legion a pep talk? Anazâr knows. He was there.
All week, leave comments on our blog tour stops for a chance to win all three books in our M/M urban fantasy series Layers of the Otherworld. All you have to do is leave a comment with your email whenever you see us touring. One comment = one entry, so be sure to check us out every day! The more you comment, the better your odds! On December 3rd (that’s one week after Mark of the Gladiator’s release!), we’ll draw one lucky winner to receive Cruce de Caminos, The Druid Stone, and Galway Bound in the ebook format of their choice. Bonne chance!
About Heidi and Violetta
Two unlikely friends and co-writers, Heidi Belleau is a wholesome small-town history nerd from Northern Canada and Violetta Vane is a former academic with a sketchy past from the American South. Together, they write sex-soaked multicultural M/M romance and urban fantasy. You can visit them online at HeidiBelleau.com and ViolettaVane.com, or reach them on twitter as @HeidiBelleau and @ViolettaVane.
After an inconvenient display of mercy in the arena, the gladiator Anazâr is pulled from the sands and contracted to nobleman Lucius Marianus to train his new stable of female gladiators. His charges are demoralized and untested, and they bear the marks of abuse. Anazâr has a scant two months to prepare them for the arena, and his new master demands perfection.
Anazâr is surprised by how eager he is to achieve it—far more eager than a man motivated only by self-preservation. Perhaps it’s because Marianus is truly remarkable: handsome, dignified, honorable, and seemingly as attracted to Anazâr as Anazâr is to him.
But a rivalry between Marianus and his brother sparks a murder conspiracy, with Anazâr and his gladiatrices caught in the middle. One brother might offer salvation . . . but which? And in a world where life is worth less than the pleasures of the crowd or the whims of a master, can there be any room for love? As a gladiator, Anazâr's defenses are near impenetrable. But as a man, he learns to his cost that no armor or shield can truly protect his heart.
Buy the entire Warriors of Rome Collection (including MotG) at a 20% discount Buy Mark of the Gladiator Also available on your favourite third party e-tailers!