I was lucky enough to read Crystal King’s Feast of Sorrow in advance of publication – which is tomorrow! Set during ancient Rome, Feast of Sorrow is a sweeping, decadent tale that tells the story of Thrasius, a talented cooking slave, as he enters the kitchen of Marcus Gavinus Apicius, a wealthy and ambitious gourmet with designs on becoming the culinary advisor to the Emperor. The intertwined elements of dangerous political intrigue and luscious feasts lured me in right from the first page, and I kept turning pages late into the night, riveted.
In between biting my nails over Apicius’ unpredictability and sympathizing with Thrasius’ sense of honour, I also found myself craving some of the delicious meals prepared in the story. Since Crystal King has compiled a few of the recipes on her website, readers can even try a few of the dishes. She also agreed to an interview on my blog, making this an extra special post. Welcome, Crystal!
What was your inspiration for Feast of Sorrow?
I was reading a book about banquets throughout the ages, FEAST by Roy Strong, and came across an anecdote about the ancient Roman gourmand, Apicius, and the extraordinary way in which he died. I thought it was so unusual that I had to be the one to tell the story of how he ended up the way he did.
Did you face any unexpected challenges or pleasant surprises while working on the novel?
It took me awhile to find my voice for the book. I rewrote the first 15 chapters three different times in different points of view. It was necessary, but frustrating. I also ended up killing off a whole bunch of characters that I never expected to. I would look up from an afternoon’s worth of writing and think, wow, I didn’t expect THAT person was going to die.
Did you try cooking any of the fantastic meals featured in the book?
Not a whole banquet because that would be outrageous, but I’ve cooked many dozens of the individual dishes. My husband and I regularly make Parthian chicken for dinner. There’s also an ancient cracker recipe that I make a lot for parties. The honey fritters are super easy and amazing too. In fact, I have a whole cookbook that I created as a bonus for book clubs reading the book that features all sorts of recipes of my own interpretation but also some from famous chefs. More information can be found on the Book Club section of my site.
What was your favourite scene to write?
That’s difficult. I think that some of the most important and best scenes of the book are also the hardest for me to write. But I suppose that one of the darlings of the book is the curse scene, when several of the characters go to an ancient Roman cemetery to put a curse on someone. I struggled finding an agent because of the book’s length and it was a scene that my writing group and agents suggested I cut to help with the length. I hung on to it though, and while it used to be much longer, I managed to keep it. And while I can’t find the original reference now, the curse itself is an actual Roman curse that I found in some history book, which I modified just slightly to accommodate the person cursed and the family doing the cursing, plus the right Gods for the book.
What’s your writing process like? Do you have a strict schedule or can you write anywhere, anytime?
I wish I had a strict schedule. I go in spurts with my writing, depending on what is happening in my life or other deadlines that I have. I work full-time in marketing for a software company so writing at night is too taxing for my poor brain. I tend to work on weekends, usually devoting an entire Sunday to spitting out a chapter or two. I do like writing in cafes, on trains, libraries and other places from time to time to switch things up.
From the book jacket:
Set amongst the scandal, wealth, and upstairs-downstairs politics of a Roman family, Crystal King’s seminal debut features the man who inspired the world’s oldest cookbook and the ambition that led to his destruction.
On a blistering day in the twenty-sixth year of Augustus Caesar’s reign, a young chef, Thrasius, is acquired for the exorbitant price of twenty thousand denarii. His purchaser is the infamous gourmet Marcus Gavius Apicius, wealthy beyond measure, obsessed with a taste for fine meals from exotic places, and a singular ambition: to serve as culinary advisor to Caesar, an honor that will cement his legacy as Rome’s leading epicure.
Apicius rightfully believes that Thrasius is the key to his culinary success, and with Thrasius’s help he soon becomes known for his lavish parties and fantastic meals. Thrasius finds a family in Apicius’s household, his daughter Apicata, his wife Aelia, and her handmaiden, Passia whom Thrasius quickly falls in love with. But as Apicius draws closer to his ultimate goal, his reckless disregard for any who might get in his way takes a dangerous turn that threatens his young family and places his entire household at the mercy of the most powerful forces in Rome.
Crystal King is an author, culinary enthusiast and marketing expert. Her writing is fueled by a love of history and a passion for the food, language and culture of Italy. She has taught classes in writing, creativity and social media at Harvard Extension School, Boston University, Mass College of Art, UMass Boston and GrubStreet, one of the leading creative writing centers in the US. A Pushcart-nominated poet and former co-editor of the online literary arts journal Plum Ruby Review, Crystal received her M.A. in Critical and Creative Thinking from UMass Boston, where she developed a series of exercises and writing prompts to help fiction writers in medias res. She considers Italy her next great love, after her husband, Joe, and their two cats, Nero and Merlin.
Crystal is also happy to connect with book clubs, so if you’re a member of one, or looking to start a book club, I definitely recommend Feast of Sorrow. How fun would it be to read the book and then cook some of the meals? Contact information for book clubs is at this link.