• We continue our muckraking exposé of the sordid tasks that working authors today are obliged to do in order to flog their wares. The gang of six authors I’m profiling here run the gamut of genres, from books for younger readers to historical fiction and nonfiction. Their common thread? All six authors write on Greco-Roman themes or books sets in Greco-Roman times. And all six have new books out this year.
• Adrienne Mayor, an independent research scholar in Classics and the History of Science at Stanford University, is the author of The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times; Greek Fire, Poison Arrows & Scorpion Bombs; and The Poison King: the Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome’s Deadliest Enemy, the latter a nonfiction finalist for the 2009 National Book Award.
Q: Welcome, Adrienne! Well, enough of the small talk–what’s the most embarrassing event you’ve ever done?
A: In Paris, I was invited to present “The First Fossil Hunters” to a Francophone classics/art history audience at the Institut National d’Histoire d’Art. Professors and students filed in for my lecture at 8pm; there was even a simultaneous translator. A bit jittery, I made a quick trip to the lavatory down the hall. The cleaning staff didn’t see me slip into a stall—and when I tried to exit, they had departed, locking the door behind them. Although I’m not fluent in French, I was able to shout “Allo!” and “Aidez-moi!” After a long time, I was liberated by a Sengalese cleaning woman. Amid laughter, she confessed she had hesitated to let me out in case I was a ghost!
• That incident had a happy ending. My other martyrdom occurred in Seattle in 2001. As my four hosts at the Pacific Science Center escorted me over, I was taken aback when they confessed they’d neglected to advertise my talk. I was even more appalled to learn they’d booked me into the cavernous IMAX theatre that seats thousands. Four other people showed up—for an audience of eight.
Q: Whew. That story is enough to make anyone lock themselves into a toilet stall. What about your oddest comments (or gifts) from fans?
A: When I spoke at the Museum of Radio and Television in Los Angeles a few years ago, I was presented with a splendid gilded Proclamation from the Mayor of Beverly Hills. That alone was unique but the questions afterward were the weirdest I’ve ever fielded. I particularly recall the gentleman who inquired, “What is the difference between a Greek griffin, a Scythian griffin, and Merv Griffin?”
Q: Only in La-La Land. Wild stuff, Adrienne! Thanks!
(P.S. to shoppers: Adrienne’s books are in hardcover and paperback; The Poison King and Greek Fire are available on Kindle.)
• Caroline Lawrence has written a 17-book series of history mystery stories for children aged 8 and up. There are also two quiz books, a Treasury, an two volumes of short stories, including The Legionary from Londinium published in 2010. The BBC produced a glossy TV series based on the books and in 2009, Caroline won the Classics Association prize for “a significant contribution to the public understanding of the Classics.”
Q: Welcome, Caroline! Can you describe the most embarrassing book event you’ve ever done?
A: It was the Oxford Literary Festival. They didn’t provide a dressing room, and as I was changing into my Roman costume at the venue, 30 middle-school children arrived early. Luckily, none of them spotted me crouching, half naked, behind a pillar.
Q: Most unusual place you’ve ever found your own book/s for sale?
A: In a secondhand bookstore on a Roman backstreet.
Q: Caroline, what’s the most bizarre question an interviewer has ever asked you?
A: This one occurred in Holland. The interviewer asked, “How old are you and how much do you weigh in kilograms?”
Q: What’s the most unusual gift you’ve ever received from a fan?
A: Fans who started reading my series eight years ago at age 10 are now studying Classics at University—and they say that my books are part of the reason!
Q: What a satisfying “gift” that must be!
(P.S. to shoppers: Caroline’s 2010 title Legionary from Londinium is a Kindle e-book. Her other books are available online and elsewhere in paperback and some in hardcover editions.)
• According to Gary Corby, ancient history is more bizarre and exciting than a modern thriller—that’s why he chooses to write mysteries set in Classical Greece.
Q: Welcome, Gary! What’s the most unusual place you have ever found your book on sale?
A: Within minutes of my book’s release, a used (!) copy was up for sale on Amazon. And another copy was up for auction on eBay Australia.
Q: What’s the strangest question ever put to you by an interviewer?
A: This didn’t happen during an interview but while doing research, touring ancient sites in Turkey. A Kurdish rug salesman asked me if it was possible for a woman during her menstrual period to experience an orgasm.
Q: Wow. I wonder why he asked you instead of a female tourist. Did you learn more Kurdish words than ‘orgasm’? In the spirit of research, of course.
Q: What’s the oddest remark—or the most enigmatic comment you’ve ever received from a fan?
A: A struggling writer once told me that my success had given him hope that he could make it too. I still don’t know what to say when someone tells me that!
(P.S. to shoppers: Gary’s debut novel The Pericles Commission is available wherever good scrolls are sold. It’s also on those newfangled nook and kindle thingies.)
• Now then—aren’t you relieved you’re not a published author? Although most authors will claim there are more glory moments than dire, deer-in-the-headlights ones, it’s still an arduously competitive and frequently humbling business. So, dear readers, please be good to these authors, and others like them, this Christmas!