MysteryPeople Q&A with Steven Saylor

  • Interview by Molly Odintz

I’ve been a fan of Steven Saylor’s Gordianus the Finder novels, along with the rest of my family, for quite some time. When Steven Saylor’s next visit to BookPeople drew close, I leaped at the opportunity to interview him about the series. Steven Saylor will be speaking and signing his second novel of Gordianus’s early adventures, Wrath of the Furieson Tuesday, November 3rd, at 7 PM on BookPeople’s second floor. 

Molly Odintz: First of all, what are your research methods like? Do you have a timeline going in your head at all times that you can just zoom in on for plot ideas?

Steven Saylor: I’m constantly roving through the ancient world—reading ancient authors, attending lectures at UT Austin and UC Berkeley, watching old gladiator movies (yes, that counts as research!)—but when I settle in to write a novel, I zoom in on that specific time and place, looking for the most fascinating people and all the juiciest details that could go into constructing a fast-paced, suspenseful, and meaningful story.

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MysteryPeople Review: THE WRATH OF FURIES by Steven Saylor

Steven Saylor, Austinite and author of the Gordianus the Finder historical detective novels, joins us at BookPeople to speak and sign his latest, Wrath of the Furieson Tuesday, November 3rd, at 7 PM

  • Post by Molly

wrath of the furiesSteven Saylor has thrilled us for years with the adventures of Gordianus the Finder, a private detective in ancient Rome. By the power gifted to him by the historical fiction genre, Gordianus, along with his former slave/later wife Bethesda, manages to meet most important figures and be at the center of most historical events in the transition from republic to dictatorship, serving as a cheeky guide to wonders and pitfalls of the ancient world. Saylor’s wrapped up his Roma Sub Rosa series, in which Gordianus first appears, and has recently embarked on a new series, Ancient World, exploring the world of Gordianus’ youth and focusing more on events across the Mediterranean.

In Seven Wonders, Gordianus and his tutor travel to each of the seven wonders of the ancient world, parting ways, at the end of the novel, in Egypt. Wrath of the Furies takes up where Seven Wonders leaves off, in the great city of Alexandria. Gordianus, young and in love with his Egyptian slave Bethesda, recklessly risks all to travel to the midst of a war zone to rescue an old friend. He encounters treachery, obstacles, and intrigue along the way, as he races to stop the anti-Roman crusader King Mithridates, who has come up with a plan to slaughter every Roman citizen within his conquered territory.

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MysteryPeople Q&A with Steven Saylor

 

 

~Q&A conducted by Scott Butki

I am new to Steven Saylor’s books, but I am quickly becoming a fan. Saylor is most known for his Roma Sub Rosa series, historical mysteries based in ancient Rome. Steven Saylor will be at Book People tonight. He’ll be speaking about & signing copies of his new book in the series, Raiders of the Nile.

I quite enjoyed this one. He does a wonderful job bringing ancient history alive in the book. I investigated more into Saylor and the other stories he’s written in preparation for the interview.

Saylor divides his time between Austin and Berkeley, CA. An earlier historical fiction novel A Twist at the End, focuses on a particularly crazy time in Austin’s history. Set in the 19th century, the story focuses on William Porter (who would later become O. Henry), an Austin resident at that time, and tells the stories of a series of murders. The serial murder was referred to as the “Servant Girl Annihilator,” by the press. The novel is both engaging and chilling. I recommended to learn a bit of the darker side of Austin.

MYSTERYPEOPLE: How did this story develop?

STEVEN SAYLOR: My last novel, The Seven Wonders, was a prequel to the Roma Sub Rosa series, going back to the younger days of Gordianus the Finder, sleuth of ancient Rome. Raiders of the Nile picks up where The Seven Wonders left off, with Gordianus now twenty-two years old and far from Rome, living in Alexandria, the capital of Egypt–at that time the most sophisticated and exciting city on earth. When his beloved concubine, Bethesda, is kidnapped, Gordianus ventures into the wilds of the Nile Delta to rescue her, encountering treacherous innkeepers, ill-tempered camels, a particularly vicious crocodile, and the mysterious leader of a bandit gang, who lures Gordianus into a plot to steal the golden sarcophagus of Alexander the Great.

There’s no murder mystery per se in this novel, but there are plenty of murders, and mysteries, and we see the young Gordianus just beginning to come into his own as a master sleuth. I’d say this novel is equal parts mystery, adventure, and romance, set in a very exotic time and place.

MP: Why did you decide to write a series of books based so long ago?

SS: From childhood, I always loved movies and books about the ancient world, especially Rome. When I got to the University of Texas at Austin, I majored in history, which was like a dream–I could hardly believe I was being allowed to spend all my time reading and writing about Greek mythology or the French Revolution, to name just a couple of my favorite courses.

When I finally took my first trip to Rome, the experience of walking though the ancient ruins was electrifying. I got back home and immediately began reading a book about murder trials in ancient Rome, and one of those cases inspired me to write my first novel, Roman Blood, for which I invented my series sleuth, Gordianus the Finder. Almost 25 years later, Roman Blood is still in print and Gordianus is still solving crimes, with the series translated into over twenty languages.

MP:  How far have you planned out this series?

SS: I’m actually only one book ahead right now–the sequel to Raiders of the Nile, which will take young Gordianus to the city of Ephesus in Asia Minor at the exact moment when Rome’s mortal enemy, King Mithridates, is secretly plotting a surprise massacre of every Roman in Asia Minor–all 80,000 of them–in a single day. How will Gordianus escape? I have to keep writing to find out.

MP: How do you do research on your Nile series?

SS: There’s been very little in the way of archaeological excavation in the city of Alexandria (except underwater in the harbor), so we mostly have to rely on virtual reconstructions of such wonders as the great Pharos Lighthouse. And the whole nature of the Nile Delta has changed since the building of the Aswan Dam, which stopped the annual flooding of the Nile. So most of the research for this particular story and setting was literary, which gave me an excuse to spend lots of time at the university libraries in Austin and Berkeley, my two home towns.

MP: Are Bethesda and Gordianus based on anyone specific?

SS: Every fictional character–male or female, hero or villain–is a projection of his or her creator. We all have a lot of people inside us, yet we get to live only one life. Fiction lets us slip into someone else’s skin, so to speak. That’s why we read novels, and also why we write them–to experience more life, through imagination.

MP: I was impressed you managed to have an ancient version of a car chase, albeit with camels instead. Was that fun to write?

SS: Poor Gordianus, framed for murder, ends up in a headlong chase, making one hair-breadth escape after another–it’s a bit like those chase scenes in Return of the Jedi or Raiders of the Lost Ark. I find that kind of action writing to be a great technical challenge–describing the movement of people and objects through space is the hardest kind of writing, I think. It’s probably very hard to film, as well.

MP: I first heard of you soon after I moved to Austin and I heard about your O. Henry book with its Austin connections. How did you learn about the murders and go about researching those crimes?

SS: That book was A Twist at the End, a novel based on the killings of the so-called Servant Girl Annihilator which terrified the city of Austin in the 1880s. These were America’s first reported serial murders. O. Henry was living here at the time, and I decided to make him a major character in the story.

I first learned about the murders when I came across a brief mention of them in an old picture book about Austin; but when I tried to learn more, I couldn’t find any book or even an article about the killings. That set me on the trail, and the more I researched, digging through old newspapers and court records, the more I found myself immersed not just in the story of the murders, but in Austin of the 1880s, a time and place never depicted in fiction. I wrote A Twist at the End as a sort of valentine to the city of Austin as it used to be, warts and all.

Since Twist was published in 2000, there’s been an explosion of interest in those crimes. I was recently interviewed by the PBS series History Detectives, which is producing an hour-long show about the Austin servant girl killings to air sometime this summer.

MP: Was that fun to write? Any plans for other books based in Austin?

SS: Researching and writing A Twist at the End was one of the great joys of my life. In some ways, it was a like a long vacation from my day-job–writing about ancient Rome! I would like to write another historical epic set in Austin some day, about the early days of the Texas Republic.

MP: What are the advantages and disadvantages of writing a series versus stand-alone books?

SS: The stand-alone author must always be wondering: what will I write next? But with a series, especially a historical series, you can see the road far ahead, and the question is: how many books will it take to get there?

When I wrote Roman Blood in 1991, I could never have imagined there would eventually be a dozen novels and two volumes of short stories about Gordianus the Finder. Such a long series allows a writer to build complex relationships between the characters, and to cover a huge arc of history, in this case from the bloody collapse of the Roman Republic to the rise of Julius Caesar. Gordianus gets to see a lot of history, as do the readers.

Gordianus also get older as the series progresses, aging from his thirties to his sixties–but now, with the prequels, he’s young again, which as close I’ll come to regaining my own youth. I rather enjoy being twenty-two again, if only through my alter ego.

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Raiders of the Nile is available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. Steven Saylor will be at the store tonight, Mar 31 at 7PM speaking & signing copies of the book. Visit our website for more info & to order your signed copy.

Book Review: THE SEVEN WONDERS by Steven Saylor

Book: The Seven Wonders by Steven Saylor
Reviewed by: Chris M.

In order to give you an accurate review of my experience with Steven Saylor’s latest novel, I must be honest; historical fiction is not my cup of tea. That being said, mysteries and private investigators are most definitely a cup of tea that I willingly guzzle all the time, and in The Seven Wonders Saylor seamlessly blends the scope and detail of top quality historical fiction with the suspense and brutishness of a good mystery.

The Seven Wonders is a prequel to Steven Saylor’s long running mystery series featuring ancient Roman private eye Gordianus the Finder. This being my first experience with Saylor’s work, I was a bit worried that this novel would leave me feeling like an outsider due to my lack of prerequisites, but that was most certainly not the case. An older, wiser Gordianus narrates the novel, and Saylor does an excellent job of illustrating the youthful wonder of a young man who is seeing the world for the first time. Because of this, the novel feels like the untold beginning of tales of Gordianus, and as a reader I felt welcomed into a strange new world because the world being described is strange and new to the young Gordianus.

True to its name, The Seven Wonders follows Gordianus as he travels to each and every wonder of the world accompanied by his tutor, and world famous Greek poet, Antipater (who has faked his own death and is traveling in disguise). Beginning with the Temple of Artemis, where Gordianus witnesses a most peculiar murder, and ending at The Great Pyramid in Egypt, where the curse of the mummy rears its ugly head, Gordianus and Antipater’s travels prove to be both treacherous and eye-opening.

In all honesty, I never expected to enjoy The Seven Wonders half as much as I did. Steven Saylor’s attention to detail, clever prose, and ability to pack these few hundred pages with mystery after mystery won me over, and now I can’t get enough. This is a truly great introduction to a long-standing character, and from here I plan on reading every Gordianus book I can get my hands on. Do yourself a favor and grab a copy of The Seven Wonders, and join us at Book People on Monday, June 4th 7p when Steven Saylor will be here speaking and signing his new novel.

Political Thrillers to Take to the Polls

Post by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz

As we all gear up for Super Tuesday, and curse ourselves for missing out on early voting, here are some recommended reads for those hours you’ll spend in line, or for that post-election plane ride to Anywhere Else. Some of the following volumes inspire us to embrace our duties as citizens, while others feed on the paranoia suffusing our souls.

9780062259349Pleasantville by Attica Locke

Set during a hotly contested election in Houston, Pleasantville uses political competition as a perfect venue to explore the city’s changing neighborhoods and delve into the effect of gentrification on black voting power. A murder lands a politician’s nephew in jail who swears he’s innocent, and it’s up to civil rights lawyer Jay Porter to find out why the young man is being framed.

You can find copies of Pleasantville on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

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Addendum to the MysteryPeople Top 100: Dr. Jenny Odintz’s Top 20 Mysteries

Introduction by Molly Odintz
In the past few weeks, leading up to our release of MysteryPeople’s Top 100 Crime and Suspense Novels, we’ve posted numerous lists from authors, booksellers, and critics. MysteryPeople’s fifth anniversary has now been celebrated, and our top 100 list is complete, but we’ve enjoyed these lists so much, we have one more to bring you.
I reached out to my sister, Dr. Jenny Odintz, who has a PhD in comparative literature and has taught numerous classes covering the subject of noir, for her top 20 mysteries list. She responded with an eclectic group of titles, reflecting her lifelong love of the genre. The list below includes many titles to read, and then re-read. 

Jenny Odintz’s Top 20 Mysteries

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Going Beyond the Tie & Aftershave this Father’s Day

With Father’s Day this Sunday, I thought I’d make some suggestions concerning what Dad might like instead of that tie or aftershave.

1. The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson – Sheriff Walt Longmire has to contend with someone in his small Wyoming town picking off a group of boys who basically got a slap on the wrist for the gang rape of a Cheyenne girl. Johnson blended this dark crime with a feel for the region, humor, and humanity, and just enough tough guy action. This is the book that kicked off the acclaimed series that has now inspired a TV series, “Longmire” premiering June 3rd. Signed copies now available.

2. Jade Lady Burning by Martin Limon – The first in an addictive series with Sueno and Bascome, two Army CID cops in seventies Korea. Fast paced with the author’s experienced look at the country and the military, this series has become the favorite of many dads. A personal favorite of my father, an ex-MP.

3. Old Boys by Charles McCarry – Even though this is in the middle of the novels featuring CIA agent Paul Christopher, it’s a great place to start. Christopher is presumed dead, but his nephew gathers his old intelligence buddies to find out what really happened. Your father will be casting parts for Tommy Lee Jones, Robert Duvall, and Eastwood as he reads.

4. Billy Boyle by James Breen – For Dads interest in WWII. The title character is a Boston policeman recruited to work as Eisenhower’s staff investigator, looking into a crime that endangers the D-Day invasion.
5. Roman Blood by Steven Saylor – This fun spin on the private eye genre set in ancient Rome has our hero Gordianus The Finder taking a job for Cicero. Smart ass quips and hard boiled action take place in a well-researched Rome.

The great thing about all of these books is that they are part of a series, so if he likes his Father’s Day gift, you’ve got at a few holiday gifts set.

Events


Upcoming Events

 


Sunday, 3/5/17, 5 PM

Tim Dorsey, speaking and signing his latest tale of Florida hi-jinks, Clownfish Blues.

Click here for more information.


Monday, 3/06/17, 7 PM

7% Solution Book Club discusses The Red Death by Walter Mosley.

Click here for more information.


Monday, 3/20/17, 1 PM

Murder in the Afternoon Book Club discusses The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen.

Click here for more information.


Wednesday, 3/29/17, 7 PM

Hard Word Book Club discusses Find A Victim by Ross Macdonald.

Click here for more information.


Saturday, 4/8/17, 6 PM

Philip Kerr, speaking and signing his latest Gunther mystery, Prussian Blue.

Click here for more information.


Tuesday, 4/18/17, 7 PM

Greg Iles, speaking and signing his final installment of his epic trilogy featuring Penn Cage, Mississippi Blood.

Click here for more information.


Thursday, 4/20/17, 7 PM

Megan Miranda, speaking and signing her sophomore crime novel, The Perfect Stranger.

Click here for more information.


Wednesday, 5/31/17, 7 PM

Lori Rader-Day, speaking and signing her latest psychological mystery, The Day I Died.

Click here for more information.


Past Events
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