First, thanks to John for having me here today. I love talking about books and research, and I thought I’d talk a little about how I created the world of my new series, The Order of the Sicari. The first book in the series, Assassin’s Honor, will release the 1st of June.
In the summer of 2007, I was grasping at straws when my agent suggested I develop a paranormal series. I love paranormals. My top “must TIVO” shows are Medium, Ghost Whisperer, LOST, Heroes, Warehouse 13 and Sanctuary. Of course there are repeated viewings of my Firefly (Joss Whedon rocks) DVDs. I’m also a diehard Trekkie and Star Wars fan. Knowing that about me, you’d think I’d find it easy to sit down and write a paranormal. Nope.
For me, writing a paranormal series was a whole new experience. Testing my wings, I sat down and just wrote. Since I was writing erotic historical romance at the time, I wound up writing this sultry, sexy scene in ancient Rome with a Centurion and his philosopher wife. NOT paranormal. Since free writing wasn’t working, I decided to think about the components in the shows I loved. Nothing was really hitting my hot button, until in a fit of depression I sat down to watch HBO’s mini-series, ROME.
Ancient Rome, as well as the Catholic Church, has always fascinated me as they’re both a part of my ancestral heritage. While watching the mini-series ROME, I asked that proverbial What If question all writers ask themselves. What if I had a group of heroes who were descendants of the ancient Romans? And what if they had special powers. Then I had to ask myself more questions. In all paranormals, the writer has to create a world where the reader is able to suspend disbelief. This meant I couldn’t just give my heroes special powers, in this case telekinetics, without some ground rules. And since this wasn’t a normal world where readers were already familiar with the parameters, I had to do some extensive research.
My love of ancient Rome seemed like the perfect setting for my heroes to evolve out of. I can’t think of another culture in the distant past that produced a dichotomy of civilized culture and acceptable codes of barbarity at the same time. Ancient Rome has always been legendary, and with legends come myths. In my research, I learned that the Praetorian Guard had originated with Ptolemy the 1st who’d been one of Alexander the Great’s most important generals. From there, my imagination leaped to a what it question. What if Alexander had found a special potion during his attempt to conquer India? A potion that could give someone the gift of telepathy or telekinetics? Sounds easy enough, doesn’t it.
But that was only the beginnings of the back story. I had to build a history for these heroes from ancient times all the way through to present day. The Sicari culture, the background stories, enemies and all the other things that go into world building had to spelled out. Readers remember, and I didn’t want to do one thing in a book and change it down the road. And I can’t describe how much fun that was. To see my heroes and villains split the Praetorian Guard (body guard to the Caesars) into two factions, right down to the way I was able to use real events from the past to make the Sicari and Praetorian cultures realistic. All of these things were great fun for me. Although I did occasionally get so deep into my research that I would forget to write. Not good.
As I developed the worlds of my heroes and villains, I fell in love with two cultures that are solidly rooted in specific, ritualistic environments. The Sicari (Latin for assassin) have laws and traditions that date back to Roman times, they’ve just modernized themselves to a certain degree. But not everything is modern. I use swords to maintain the appearance of an “elegant” barbarism, and Sicari punishments are still pretty barbaric to outsiders. I mean watching someone running a gauntlet where swords are poking at you is pretty horrific. But the Sicari believe those barbaric things work to maintain order in the culture.
Then there are the Praetorians. The villains. Their environment is the Church. What better place for a telepath to hide than behind the cloak of the very entity that would otherwise destroy them if they’re talents were revealed? The Praetorians have taking the teachings of the Church and perverted them to their own agenda. Essentially, everything terrible the Church has ever done was instigated by the Praetorians. The villains have their hatred of the Sicari rooted deeply in the Church, and they’re used that power in an attempt to exterminated my heroes.
The rich history these two cultures emerged from provided me with many pleasurable hours of research as I decided how a Sicari funeral ritual is handled, or what the hierarchy of the Praetorians looks like inside the Church. Many of my decisions were based on rituals actually practiced in Ancient Rome with a twist here and there of course. After all, these heroes and villains were part of Caesar’s personal body guard, who’d been changed genetically by a magical potion. Both groups were going to have drastically different beliefs from the modern world in which they’re set. And it didn’t hurt that I was able to blend my Italian heritage with my Sicari world so it makes the series believable and fun to read.
Naturally, I’m excited about my heroes and villains in this new world, and I hope readers will be too. If you’re interested, check out the first three chapters of the book at my website. And thanks again to John for hosting me.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
An award-winning author of erotic romance, Monica Burns penned her first short romance story at the age of nine when she selected the pseudonym she uses today. From the days when she hid her stories from her sisters to her first completed full-length manuscript, she always believed in her dream despite rejections and setbacks. A workaholic wife and mother, Monica believes it’s possible for the good guy to win if they work hard enough. Monica made her first sale in 2004. She is a member of Romance Writers of America (RWA) and was a 2005 RWA Golden Heart Finalist, as well as winner of the 2009 EPPIE for Best erotic historical romance. Visit her online at www.monicaburns.com.