Monday, August 30, 2010

Author Interview ~ Laura Tolomei

Hey, everyone. It's Monday, and we're doin' pretty darned good. And to add to it, we have author, Laura Tolomei on our couch hanging out with me and Megan here at The Menagerie today. Let's all give her a warm welcome.

Welcome to The Menagerie, Laura. I hope you have as much fun here as we do. :-D I'll let Megan get the ball rolling.

We’re a nosy group of girls here and we want to know everything. We like geography, so where are you from?

I’m from Italy, a beautiful country full of history, art, nature, sun, sea and friendly people with the exception of the current government. But to be honest, I don’t feel much like an Italian, maybe because I grew up in other countries, mostly Nigeria, the US and India, then continued to travel around for business and personal enjoyment until I feel like I’m a citizen of the world, rather than of a single country, belonging everywhere and nowhere in particular.

Wow, you are the globetrotter. Then again, Italy sounds like the romance capital of the world—I want to go there. **Le sigh** Someday.

LOL, I have to agree with Megan, I think we should plan a trip there... someday. So, can you tell us your latest news?

My latest news is all over the net, the Virtus Saga with its three books already released and more yet to come. What is the Virtus Saga? It’s an ambitious and complex work spanning time and space on the planet Sendar where Prince Duncan Caldwell, his lover Lord Christopher Templeton and his woman Ylianor Meyer are the only ones who can shed light on the mysterious device controlling their world and their lives. Mostly, it’s about relationships, people, trust, love, friendship, discovery, truth, power, life and death. And last, but certainly not least, it’s about sex and its power not just to create connections, but also to defuse aggressive impulses

The World
Sex, sex and more sex without limits or boundaries—not in numbers, not in gender, whether it’s the phase, the pledge or the heat—such is Sendar’s very foundation, an apparently peaceful planet, without the usual pestilences associated with mankind, wars, hunger, violence. But is it really so?

The Characters
Lost while returning home, Duncan Caldwell, only son and heir of Prince Charles Caldwell, finds shelter in Ylianor Meyer’s rundown shack. The beautiful woman has a very familiar air, but for the life of him, he cannot remember who she is or resist the attraction he feels, despite his aristocratic tastes. So he offers her a job as Black Rose’s stable keeper, only to find out she’s the daughter of his father’s mistress. But will this stop the fatal pull drawing him to her bed?

Lord Christopher Templeton is fiercely in love with Duncan Caldwell, a love started before either was old enough to know what love is, which continues until Duncan decides it’s time for him to find a woman. But Chris is determined to hold on to his prince no matter what it takes, even if he has to face the hated rival he had already driven away from his lover’s side, once, so long ago.

Ylianor Meyer has been in love with Duncan Caldwell since the very beginning, growing up with him on the green hills and cliffs of Black Rose. Banned by Prince Charles’s mate, she hasn’t seen Duncan for over 10 years, but when he walks in her rundown shack, she knows she still loves him as passionately as when she was merely nine-years-old. So she follows him, no matter what the consequences, no matter what his despicable lover will do to drive her away…again.

Lord Arthur Fairchild, leader of the High Council, knows time is slipping away from his grasp and Sendar will be condemned if his hero doesn’t come forth soon. So he summons him—not just him, but also the ones he’s connected to by lifetimes of bonding love and feelings so strong they’ve transcended time and space. And the uncontrollable power, the Virt, the energy running wild on Sendar only complicate matters.

The pyramid
Three-sided like the three lovers full of power and explosive feelings, Virtus controls Sendar in ways they have yet to discover and if they can, change.

The story
Unknown to most, powerful forces dominate Sendar’s feudal-like society, the ability to wield destructive energy so strong in some people, it’s threatening to devastate their world. But to reach a new balance you have to learn, grow, blend with the world from which you come, then go beyond it before the world collapses into chaos. And that’s what Duncan, Chris and Ylianor must learn to do if sex, power, magic, passion and jealousy won’t stand in their way.

The Books
Book 1 The Sex – available now

Book 2 The Game – available now

Book 3 The Festival – available now

Book 4 The Leader – later 2010
Book 5 The Pledge
Book 6 The Heat
Book 7 The Trace
Book 8 The Keeper

The story begins in Book 1 The Sex with Duncan lost while returning home from a neighboring town. Before night falls though, he finds shelter in Ylianor’s rundown shack. The beautiful woman has a very familiar air, but for the life of him, he cannot remember who she is or resist the attraction he feels, despite his aristocratic tastes. So he offers her a job at Black Rose, his family’s estate, only to discover she’s the daughter of his father’s mistress. And his lover, Chris, isn’t too happy about her either, being fiercely determined to hold on to his prince against the hated rival he had already driven away from his lover’s side. But since life has the strange habit of surprising people, the lovers will be forced to take her along with them on a journey that will test their limits, particularly in Book 2 The Game where they’ll have to play masters or slaves in a vortex of sexual commands and passionate submissions. And even if with Duncan, Chris and Ylianor it’s easy to guess who will play what, the far reaching consequences of their game will change their lives, and that of their world, forever. Then in Book 3 The Festival everything comes together, the responsibilities and the relationships finally falling into place thanks to their new awareness of what their world is all about. And if the secret is to be as one whilst still remaining three…well, it’s something they’ll have to explore further in Book 4 The Leader, coming later 2010, with more exciting developments, twists and turns in and out of bed.

That’s a lot of information on some interesting books. When did you first consider yourself a writer?

Late in life, after my 40s, but let me start at the beginning. I started early, in high school, even if I didn’t have the slightest idea I wanted to become a writer, only reached that conclusion until almost 30 years later. My very first beginning was to publish a short story, Nostalgia, in the high school’s journal, born out of my longing for my country. Then I continued in college, writing articles for Emory U’s Journal, The Phoenix, but when I returned to Rome, Italy, I concentrated on more “serious matters” like graduating, finding a job, blah, blah. Well, I had to live life for a long time, rather than write about it until I had to give voice to an experience that had tormented me since my American days. It came out as a novel, “Piccolo Crocevia a Cinque” (loosely translated “Little Five Points”). This set me right back on the writing track, although again it wasn’t a continuous commitment. I had to wait until about five years ago when I came to a turning point in my life, in order to decide to become a WRITER, expanding my work in English, too. But it wasn’t until after I published my first two/three books that I considered myself an AUTHOR, or rather, I think it was after I received the 2010 EPIC nomination for Sacrificial Sex. That, more than anything else, told me I was getting somewhere…finally!

An award; always nice. Gotta love those. But starting later in life isn’t always bad. My vamps didn’t really live til 200 years into their existences.

This is true. How awesome that you finally had the chance to do what you love so much. How did you come up with the title?

I didn’t. My mate, now husband, did, like he did for most of my books. He has the rare gift of synthesizing in a word or two what takes me a whole book to explain. And he’s so insightful. He only needs a sketch of the story to come up with just the right tile. Take Re-Scue - However you lived your past, today you’re the key to changing your future - a horror/paranormal novel soon to be released by Romance Divine. The story is very complex and deals with to two souls tied by a passionate, bloody game of sex and knives that chase one another, like a hunter and a prey, through several lifetimes before they can reach some sort of balance. And the title says it all, not just in the sense of “rescuing” one or both souls, which it is in a way, but mostly of repeating something by using the hyphen between “re” and “scue”. He’s a genius! He also came up with the title for its sequel, Tasting Leon’s Mark, where the last two incarnations, Leon and Sean, raise their game on a higher level, not as bloody, yet even more excitingly than before. And of course, I have to thank him for Divinitas, probably the best title so far, because in a word, it tells a potential reader the book is an erotic tale with a deep, spiritual meaning. Oh, and the list could go on to include the titles of the Virtus Saga, though the saga itself derives its name from a brain storming between the two of us. Yeah, sometimes I come up with titles, too, and the two I’m most proud of are Spying The Alcove and To Seduce A Soul Mate, great titles that fit both stories to a tee.

Those are awesome, and you gotta love a partner who is so into helping you.

Those do sound like great titles. Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

Yes, definitely, there is. The reason I write, and in the romance genre in particular, is because I want to tell people there are alternatives to certain destructive mechanisms that seem to dominate relationships nowadays. Sometimes, we deliberately hurt ourselves by behaving according to a social custom we don’t really feel right and those close to us suffer the consequences. What I’m trying to say is that we should always make a choice between our instincts and society’s guidelines to overcome dangerous prejudices that get in the way of our freedom and happiness. Yes, choice is the key to avoid trapping people into convenient categories, going beyond their gender, race or sexual preferences to value them as individuals, not the expression of a “group”. And when we discover the individual…well, things are a lot easier, wouldn’t you agree?

I love individualism. Probably why I have blue hair and tats. Speaking of being a character, what is your favorite character you’ve written (published or not)? Why?

It’s, and this is a recent discovery for me, to win Christopher Templeton. As to why, it must be because he’s got such a complicated personality, and unlike any of my other characters, he talks though his sexual life. It may sound horny, but I just realized while I was finishing the edits to The Game, due out May 15, Chris expresses not just his feelings, but his opinions about a person from the way he has sex with them. If he doesn’t give a damn about them, he’ll be open and available, almost submissive in his apparent lack of interest in what they’ll do to him while deeply enjoying it. If he cares about someone though, it’ll be a totally different sex scene, like all the ones he has with Duncan when they’re alone. And then there’s Ylianor. You already know he hates her at the beginning and treats her like he’s out for revenge, being cruel and hurtful on purpose yet when things start to change, there’s a definite shift in their sex, too. And his moods, rapidly shifting from up to down, reflect this roller coaster behaviour he keeps in bed. Really, I didn’t think I had it in me to create such a complex character, but in the end, he’s surprising even me, his author LOL

He sounds like a great character to have in your head. It's always great to find your character grows and becomes someone you like as their story progresses.

Surprises are great. And he sounds...intense, just like I like them. What books have influenced your life most?

Too many to list all, but I’ll select examples from the two main categories that had a definite impact on my life: the strong male-heroes books on one hand, the strong female-heroine ones on the other. The former attracted me from the earliest childhood, starting with Emilio Salgari’s Pirate Cycle, where the two main heroes, Sandokan and Yanez, simply fascinated me. Then growing up, I came across Alexandre Dumas’s The Three Musketeers and couldn’t get enough of it to the point I learned French to read the original version. In high school, I discovered Evelyn Waugh’s masterpiece Brideshead Revisited and again fell in love with a book, couldn’t help it, not with a fascinating character like Sebastian. Only later, much later in life, did I connect this early passion with my writing in the M/M genre because, these books’ all center on strong men who share an equally strong connection to other men, the same thing I’ve tried repeating in my own limited way, even if my tales also include sex in their relationship.

But I also read a lot about women and there are at least three books that have influenced my life deeply. In the order in which I read them, the first is Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, then The Women’s Room by Marylin French, The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley and The Life and Loves of a She-Devil by Fay Weldon and last, but certainly not least, Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates. Here, too, different settings, times and places, yet they all focus on strong female characters, survivors in worlds that change unexpectedly. Against all odds, they manage to adapt and even ride the same tide that would have overwhelmed them had they been weaker or less sure of themselves. And that to me, says it all about their worth and gives the measure of how much they’ve inspired my heroines, too.

Lastly, and just for fun, here’s a brief closing list of books that one way or another have influenced me, but I’ll let you see if you remember the authors: The Thorn Birds, Wuthering Heights, The Lord of Rings, Heart of Darkness, The Lord of Flies, Fahrenheit 451, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?…and the list could go on forever.

Fahrenheit 451 was the oddest book when I read it in high school, but when I went back in college was the coolest. What did I know?

Oh, you knew enough, lol. I can't say that I have any idea who wrote that last one... I guess I could look it up, lol. What book are you reading now?

The Persian Boy, a 1972 historical novel by Mary Renault, an English writer who died in 1983. Narrated by a young Persian from an aristocratic family captured by his father's enemies and castrated, he’s sold as a slave to the king Darius III, who makes him his favorite. Eventually he becomes the lover and most faithful servant of Alexander the Great who overthrew Darius and captured the Persian Empire. It’s very inspiring both for its historical contents and for the unique characters, though for me it’s a bit too unemotional to get really into it, but that’s probably my limit.

It sounds interesting! What are your current projects?

After releasing The Festival, Book 3 serial—where Duncan Caldwell will have to carry out his legacy and return the stolen pyramid to its rightful place—I’m now working on the final edits of Re-Scue - However you lived your past, today you’re the key to changing your future -, to be released second half 2010 @ Romance Divine, the bloody and passionate prequel to Tasting Leon’s Mark, the beginning of a connection that spans time and space as two souls, the hunter and his prey, chase each other from one lifetime to another to fulfill a dark desire neither can or want to control. Then I’ll plunge right back into the Virtus Saga, where I’m about done with The Leader, Book 4, and The Pledge, Book 5, again to be released between the end of 2010 and beginning 2011 @ eXtasy Books, so be sure not to miss either.

You have a lot going on. But let’s go to some fun questions.

Yup, it's that time... time for the "absolutely-nothing-to-do-with-writing" questions: What animal do you think makes the best pet and why?

Definitely cats because they’re intelligent, self-sufficient, elegant, noiseless, beautiful, cuddly—thankfully not as much as dogs—and generally great fun without the dog’s excessivenesses. I ought to know. I started my life from day one with dogs, loving them a lot, even if at times, to take them out walking every day proved tasking. Then York entered my life, an amazing Alaskan Malamute, and changed my perception of pets radically. To call him beautiful was an understatement—if you’ve ever seen one, you know exactly what I mean!—but what fascinated me was his independent stance, so unlike any dog I’d known previously, and his strong will to do as he pleased. He had a mind of his own and was never afraid to use it, always telling you where he wanted to go, never the other way around, and if one didn’t obey, he’d simply refuse to move. And since his weight allowed him to get his way, he always won in the end. Yet, he never failed his duties as a dog, protecting the family against any outsider, even from our own guests, which he’d keep a close watch on from the second they entered the house to the second they left. And he never, ever barked, just growled, which was his only warning before he attacked. I must admit, York spoiled me, for any dog that came after was never at his level, so I switched to cats. Well, part of the reason was also because in the meantime I’d started to live with my mate, so dogs were harder to handle on my limited time budget. But to be honest, had I had time in abundance, I’d still have gone for cats, because I discovered I relate much better to their independent spirit than I do to dog’s friendlier approaches. And after having convinced my mate—he was neither for one nor for the other, but he’d never had a pet in his life—now I live with four of them.

I don't have any cats, but I do have a dog.

Cats rock, but then I have a couple dogs and cats, so I guess I’m not too partial. What were you doing at midnight last night?

Having sex. I’d just written a very hot scene from my upcoming novel, The Leader Book 4 Virtus Saga, and since my husband was still around—not too sleepy either, probably because he had sensed my mood—so even if he was tired after a hard day’s work, he immediately agreed to it. And well…believe it or not, the sex turned out even better than what I had just written!

ROTFL, yanno... most people might consider that WAY too much information... I'm sure you're not surprised at all to find that WE DON'T. LOL And what a wonderful Research Assistant you have helping you figure out an even better love scene to use at a later date. LOL

Well, at least we know you research. What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten?

I ate a snake in China, during one of my business trips, but what impressed me, wasn’t the eating part, rather seeing it propped up on the dish. I swear! It looked alive, maybe because its head was still on, ready to move and slither off the table. Instead, the cook had coiled it around a pole and sliced it into pieces, which could easily be taken off without ruining its shape, until there were so many holes, it gave me the impression of vanishing like Alice’s Cheshire cat, piece by painful piece.

Oh... my... gosh... I think my stomach just turned over. How brave of you, much braver than I will ever be! Hold on while I go shudder and rock myself in a corner...

Interesting description, even if I’d never eat it. What is your favorite animal?

Any of the many feline species roaming the Earth. I spend hours watching documentaries on lions, tigers, panthers, leopards, cheetahs, wild cats and just anything endowed with as much beauty, elegance and intelligence. Recently, I heard that Buddhist monks have a natural reserve in India where they train tigers not to attack men by feeding them only cooked meat. Apparently, the systematic use of this diet makes them lose their taste for raw meat and for the hunt altogether. And since they’re not as dangerous as in wild life, or so the Buddhist claim, people can visit the reserve and actually cuddle a giant tiger as if it were a domestic cat. I’ve seen a documentary about it and have to admit, I’m tempted to buy a plane ticket and fly over there right now!

Kealie, she likes the tigers, lions, and such almost as much as you.

Oh, I dunno... probably at least as much as you do, if not more. I love them, think they're just so gorgeous and so elegant in their movements. I might be on that plane next to you! What is your heritage?

A long and noble one. My last name is Tolomei, which in Italy is very famous, mostly because Dante in his Comedy, writes of Pia de’ Tolomei, an unfortunate noblewoman, or “gentil donna” in Italian, who lived in XIII Century Siena, a beautiful city in Tuscany. As legend has it, she was charged with infidelity and though innocent, on the order of her powerful husband, the Lord in Maremma Nello d'Inghiramo Pannocchieschi, thrown from a window of her home, Castel de Pietra, so that he could marry his lover, Margherita Aldobrandeschi, Contessa of Sovana and Pitigliano. Here are Dante’s exact verses, first the original Italian ones, then the English translation:

"Deh, quando tu sarai tornato al mondo,
e riposato de la lunga via,
seguitò 'l terzo spirito al secondo,
Ricorditi di me, che son la Pia;
Siena mi fé, disfecemi Maremma:
salsi colui che 'nnanellata pria
disposando m'avea con la sua gemma"

and in English...

Ah, when you have returned to the world,
and rested from the long journey,
followed the third spirit after the second,
remember me, the one who is Pia;
Siena made me, Maremma undid me:
he knows it, the one who first encircled
my finger with his jewel, when he married me."

Safe to say, in modern day Siena, everything’s still named after the Tolomei family: squares, streets, roads and palaces in the center of the old city. Tolomei palace, now a bank’s headquarters, is near the square where every year runs the famous Palio di Siena, a sometimes brutal horse ride that takes place every August 16th. There’s even Piazza Odoardo Tolomei, which is my father’s name, and a very uncommon one for it’s an ancient form of Eduard.

But my heritage goes even further back, way back to Greek times and it’s inextricably tied with Alexander the Great. In the ancient Greek language, Ptolemaios, Ptolemy or Ptolemaeu means “warlike” and the most famous representatives of all are the Greek-Egyptian astronomer Claudius Ptolemaeus and the Macedonian founder and ruler of the Ptolemaic Kingdom in Egypt, Ptolemy I Soter who just happened to be Alexander the Great’s half brother. The Ptolemaic dynasty ruled for centuries over Egypt, but guess who’s the most famous of its descendents? Cleopatra, supposedly the most beautiful and intelligent woman during the I Century AD. In the end, I come right down from Cleopatra’s lineage and boy, am I proud of it!

Wow, I'd be proud of it too. That's just fascinating!

Huh, that’s a long line to be connected to. What is your favorite pizza?

Hey, I’m Italian and even if we didn’t invent pizza, as I recently discovered surfing the net, we’re still the ones who made it famous. Apparently, the early Greeks were the first to bake large, round and flat breads anointed with oil, herbs, spices and dates, but of course, without tomatoes, for they became known in Europe only after 1492 when Christopher Columbus, another very famous Italian, discovered America.

In 8th Century Italy, flat breads were sold without toppings on Naples’s streets and markets mostly to the poor since they were relatively cheap, tasty and filling. Then on the occasion of Queen Margherita’s visit to the city, Naples honored her by creating a special pizza, Pizza Margherita, which combined tomato and mozzarella cheese, still a classic in today’s Italy and it was the birth of modern-day pizza.
Still today, Italians use very few toppings on their pizza, even if many have imported the American custom. Personally, I still prefer the Pizza Margherita, tomato, oil, mozzarella and basil without any added extras.

Okay, remind me never to place Trivial Pursuit with you. I thought I knew lots of stuff... And now I know even more.

Unfortunately, it's not time to bring this interview to an end. Thank you so much for joining us here on the couch today, Laura. It was great fun getting to know you better, and learning a few new things in the process! Don't be a stranger. Make sure you let us know when you've got new stuff goin' on in your world.

Thanks to everyone for stopping in and hanging out with us today!

Born 1965 in Rome, Italy, I grew up in Nigeria, US and India, returning to Rome to complete my studies and start a working career. In 2008 I published my first short story in eXtasy’s Anthology Atlantis Allure and have been writing and publishing since then in both Italian and English. Still a fairly new author, I have already published several full length novels and short stories at eXtasy Books, with more yet to come also on Whiskey Creek Torrid and Romance Divine.

You can keep up with Laura on the Web:

GoodReads Author Page

Amazon Author Page

Authors Island

Whiskey Torrid Publishing Author Page

Coffee Time Romance feature page

Goodreads Friendship requests

The Festival
Virtus Book 3 by Laura Tolomei

Prisoner of their whims, it was impossible to resist them further. With a shock of pleasure, she realized they were her masters—not just one, but both—to which she surrendered herself, body first, juggled upward and sideways, until she had no choice but to ride their tide, swept along with their passion, swelling uncontrollably as they drove her into bliss, her convulsions sucking them to the balls and squeezing them dry.

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