I am a avid reader of non-fiction history and it is usually while I’m reading that some sentence or fact will make me sit up and say “What a great idea for a story.” The idea for Mask of the Gladiator first came to me while I was reading a book on the lives of the Roman emperors. Something about Caligula’s demise, the real PG version, not the XXX version that has also survived the ages, caught my attention. The story wouldn’t let go until I’d crafted it into a tale in which regular people get caught up in the life and death events of their era with a great romance and sex thrown in because hey, after all, this is Rome.
Having read many books on ancient Rome, I knew a great deal about the era but needed more details on the nitty-gritty of daily life under Caligula. Thankfully, researching ancient Rome was, in many ways, easy. The Romans, thanks to the length of their empire, left a lot of material, both written and physical about their lives, and these artifacts are scattered everywhere from Britain to Germany. I remember during my first trip to England marveling as I stood on a medieval wall looking down on the ruins of a Roman amphitheatre. You don’t find that kind of history where I live in California. Here, most people think Mid-Century Modern is an era of antiquity.
The wealth of information on the ancient Romans made research both interesting and easier. Thanks to surviving statues of Caligula, I was able to base my descriptions of the emperor on his busts instead of having to extract details from ancient sources, most of which were not flattering. For details on Caligula’s assassination, I turned to Justinian and Suetonius. Their accounts, though not exactly first hand, are well fleshed out, if not blatantly exaggerated in a few spots. I incorporated details from their stories into my story while adding a few of my own in order to better weave the main characters, Livia and Titus, into the historical events. In regards to the daily life of the nobility, there were endless resources available from the excavation at Pompeii to modern research books detailing the archeological evidence.
While this wealth of historical information is great, it can also be overwhelming and at times distracting. Sometimes, especially if you’ve ever read any books in the History of Private Life series, more details exist than you actually want to know about. It is a challenge deciding what to include or leave out and how true to the time period to stay without forcing the readers to keep Googling archaic terms. In the end, I think I struck a good balance between fact and fiction and created a compelling story that is both true to history and romance. I hope readers think so too.