TNA: Hi, JP, thanks so much for being here with us today. Why don’t we start out by having you tell us a little bit about yourself: hobbies, interests, things we might not know about you but should?
JP: Starting out with the easy question, eh? Let’s see… I write non-fiction as well as fiction, so I research and write most of every the day. Spending gobs of time dissecting stacks of dusty old books is my bliss. I’m madly addicted to good wine, gay erotica in all media, books, art museums, classic British rock and my handsome husband, not necessarily in that order. Give me a hefty glass of Pinot Grigio, make me laugh and I’m yours. My favorite hobby is travel and I’ve spent a good part of my life in Europe, the Middle East and England.
TNA: Do you remember the first M/M book you ever read? If so, what was it, and what about it made the most lasting impression upon you? Would you say influenced you at all to begin writing in the M/M genre?
JP: The first original m/m story that I ever read was The Slave Breakers series by Sabrina Deane. Prior to her stories, I’d only read slash fanfiction. I fell in love immediately with Deane’s clean style, well-developed characters and the dark, erotic and some would say ‘taboo’ topic of masters/slave relationships. When I finished all four of her books and the extra stories that she’d posted online, I decided that I wanted to try writing m/m fiction. I’ve named a character in Dominus after my favorite character in her Slave Breakers world. So, thank you for all the inspiration, Sabrina! Now, I can’t get enough well written gay fiction and I love most every genre (romance, mystery, historical, erotica, etc.). And I still read the occasional slash fanfiction. ;)
TNA: What’s your idea of a great protagonist? What qualities do you give your heroes that you think make them strong characters?
JP: I prefer a mysterious protagonist who is a hard nut to crack. I tend to fall in love with a book when the author gradually peels off the layers of a character’s armor as the plot progresses. Basically, I want protagonists to strip tease for me. In Dominus, the Roman protagonist, Gaius Fabius, appears to be little more than a ruthless, arrogant, and controlling bastard but readers soon realize that he uses this public mask to hide a vulnerable heart, a life-long disease, a painful childhood and the damage of years spent on the battlefield. He’s a successful but emotionally and spiritually injured warrior. Gaius struggles to survive as a decent and (mostly) virtuous man in a very cruel and dangerous world. As a protagonist, he’s hard to sympathize with at first. It’s my job to make readers (and Allerix) slowly fall in love with him.
TNA: Let’s talk a little bit about your new book Dominus. Boy, when you decide to write a historical, you didn’t mess around! Why Ancient Rome? What is it about that period in history that drew you in and made you want to set your book there?
JP: Most fiction writers who tackle ancient Rome tend to focus on the exciting age of Julius Caesar and Cicero, but I prefer to explore the Rome world in second century AD. Bisexuality was the norm for aristocrats at that time; some have called the second century the age when bi and gay men ruled the western world. My debut novel, Dominus, is also different because it’s alternate history/fantasy, not true historical fiction. From 100-150 AD, the Roman Empire was at the height of her power and wealth and yet first-hand testimonies about these fascinating people are very limited. The scarcity of written political biographies means that there’s much room for my twisted imagination to play. I want to fictionalize (in my own perverted way) the real political players of that time (Hadrian, Trajan, Tacitus, etc.). To do that, I created a fictional second ‘son’ for the emperor Trajan, Gaius Fabius Rufus, who also happens to be the fictional ‘brother’ of Hadrian. So I dropped my protagonist right into the real-life intrigue of Rome’s most dysfunctional family, the emperor and his court. Then I asked myself two questions: What if a Roman general had fallen in love with his captive Dacian male slave? Could a powerful Roman aristocrat of noble ancestry have been deliberately erased from history? The story is a bizarre cross between HBO’s Rome series, PBS’s Downton Abbey, and Netflix’ House of Cards. And the women in this tale are sharp, funny and marvelously complex characters. I love writing women!
TNA: Did you do quite a bit of research on the time period? What sorts of creative license did you take to make the book more accessible to a modern audience? Any, or did you stay as faithful to the time as possible?
JP: I started this saga back in 2012 and I’ve spent tons of time in the library and online researching tiny details like Roman wagon suspension systems and recipes for stuffed dormouse appetizers. I’m blessed with editors who love to research and chat about this crazy Roman stuff as well. While the day-to-day details of dress, food, furniture, art, buildings, and such are accurate in the book, some of the history is deliberately skewed for my plot purposes. For example, in my story Hadrian returns to Rome after the Second Dacian War. In reality, he didn’t. I also had to ‘age-up’ characters to address modern (and my own) sensibilities. A historical character that will be introduced in the second book is the future Roman empress, Sabina. She was only 15 when she married Hadrian in 100 CE; I’m making her much older in my story. But I supposed what most readers notice is the language that I use. It’s rather modern in flavor but not anachronistic. My characters talk and laugh and love with dialogue that feels and sounds human. So there’s no Latin; I translate everything except a few key words like dominus (‘master’) and Erastes (‘mentor lover’). And yes, ample evidence shows that the ancient Romans swore like sailors. For the lost language of the Dacians, I use a few words and short phrases of choppy, basic Romanian. Every foreign word is understandable through context and my apologies in advance to any Romanian readers.
TNA: Tell readers a little bit about Gaius and Allerix. If you were to describe each of them in just a few sentences, what would you like us to know about them going into the book?
JP: In addition to what I’ve said above, I would add that Gaius is a thirty-five-year-old, married, bisexual ginger with an average-sized penis but huge balls. He’s a fiercely loyal man who will stop at nothing to protect his friends and family; Gaius relishes his self-appointed role as everyone’s savior. Allerix, on the other hand, is still a mystery to me. He’s the twenty-one-year-old second son of a Dacian king, so he has a bad case of ‘little brother’ syndrome. He’s gay but he grew up in a society that wouldn’t accept or tolerate his identity. In Rome, ironically, he can finally experience love and lust with other men without prejudice. Ultimately, Allerix wants to be a hero and he has a scheme to exact vengeance on behalf of his conquered nation. But he’s also genuinely kind-hearted and a hopeless romantic. Allerix is often too serious, always horny and somewhat naive.
TNA: What’s the overarching message in the book you hope readers will take away from it?
JP: I suppose there are two main themes or messages in Dominus: a person’s identity is fluid and always changing and, second, true love (whether romantic or platonic) requires trust and sacrifice. Despite the ancient setting, I think both of these messages have resonated with humans throughout history. They are still true today.
TNA: Would you be willing to share an excerpt from the book with us?
JP: Here’s a bit of one of my favorite scenes in Dominus, the board game scene featuring the two main characters: our Roman master, Gaius, and his newly acquired Dacian pleasure slave, Allerix.
Blurb: In AD 107, after a grueling campaign against Rome’s fierce enemy, the kingdom of Dacia, Gaius Fabius returns home in triumph. With the bloody battles over, the commander of the Lucky IV Legion now craves life’s simple pleasures: leisurely soaks in fragrant baths, over-flowing cups of wine, and a long holiday at his seaside villa to savor his pleasure slaves. On a whim, he purchases a spirited young Dacian captive and unwittingly sparks a fresh outbreak of the Dacian war; an intimate struggle between two sworn enemies with love and honor at stake.
Allerix survived the wars against Rome, but now he is a slave rather than a victor. Worse, the handsome general who led the destruction of his people now commands his body. When escape appears impossible, Alle struggles to find a way to preserve his dignity and exact vengeance upon the savage Romans. Revenge will be his, that is, if he doesn’t lose his heart to his lusty Roman master.
Dominus is a plot-packed erotic fantasy that transports readers back to ancient Rome during the reign of the Emperor Trajan. This is the first book in an alternate history series—a tumultuous journey filled with forbidden love, humor, sex, friendship, political intrigue, deception and murder.
Excerpt: The Roman lifted a slender wooden box off the desk and opened it flat on the small table.
“Do you know the game that we call Tabula?”
“No.” Allerix furrowed his brow as he studied the board. It appeared to be the same game he’d mastered under Istros’ tutelage. There were several strategies to score a win. “I do not know this game, Dominus.”
Gaius dumped a handful of metal discs from a tan fabric pouch into his cupped palm. “I’ll teach you. You’ll pick it up quickly. It’s simple.”
“Roman kings seem to prefer simpler challenges.”
As he sorted the game pieces into two piles, Gaius smirked without looking up from the wooden board decorated with lines and numbers. “First, unlike you lot, Romans don’t have kings. Second, I’m surprised to learn that your peasant father schooled you on the gambling vices of our Divine Claudius. Careful, cub—your purple pedigree is showing.”
Allerix tightened the mantle around his shoulders. The edge caught on the silver fugitive collar.
“We will play the game by my special rules. I won’t repeat them, so listen carefully, Paulus.”
“Each player receives three types of tokens with numbers on one side, five of each type. Fifteen for you, fifteen for me. You will play the numbers three, five and eight.” Gaius carefully place fifteen bronze discs face down and pushed them towards Allerix’s side of the board. Each had a large number stamped on its upturned surface.
“Keep them face down or else you forfeit the game. I will play the twos, sevens and nines.”
After he pulled the other pile over to his side, Gaius lifted Allerix’s chin. “Are you paying attention to my instructions, căţel?”
The Roman’s amber eyes were filled with volatile mixture of lust and curiosity. Allerix couldn’t look away. He felt himself melt into them, as if he and the Roman were two divergent streams merging into one dangerous torrent.
“Yes.” Allerix smothered a cough with another swallow of Dacian wine and garbled out an unenthusiastic, “Dominus.”
“The goal is to get one of your men to the finish first. We throw these dice to move the tokens.” Gaius unfurled his right fist; three ivory dice rocked back and forth in his palm.
“This position is the starting point.” Gaius tapped the first narrow compartment on the board labeled with the numeral one. “I prefer to play Tabula as if our men were chariot rivals, jockeying for position, until one of our tokens crosses that line for the victory. It’s much like a circus race, in fact, though with more calculation and less bloody carnage.”
“What is the reward for winning?” Allerix’s deep voice was strong and confident until it cracked. “Dominus.”
“That…” Gaius extended his palm. “That is a surprise. You are the guest, cub. You may toss the tesserae first.”
“I am a prisoner of war.” Allerix countered, as the dark blue cloak he was wearing fell open to reveal his thick but small patch of black chest hair.
“The wars are over and your people lost. You are a slave, Paulus.” Gaius placed the three ivory dice on the board, leaned back in his chair and drew a hearty gulp from his wine cup. “You are my property now, căţel, but for this game on this day I prefer that you play the part of my honored guest. Now cast the fucking dice.”
Allerix picked up the incised cubes and threw them across the wooden tray; they bounced off the lip on opposite side of the board and came to rest.
“Io, the gods have granted you eleven moves. Good throw. It’s best to divide up your moves between two or three of your men.”
“Why would I do that?”
Gaius raised an eyebrow at first but softened his annoyance with a smile. “This is a game of strategy, not a fool’s race to finish. All fifteen of your playing pieces must find a spot on the first half of the board—in these boxes marked one through twelve—before your men are allowed to advance to the second half of the playing field. Understand?”
Allerix nodded and moved three of his discs: two threes and one five. Gaius picked up the dice and took his throw.
The Roman stared at the board for much longer than seemed necessary; he perched his chin on his fist as the tip of his tongue darted in and out between his thin lips. With casual indifference, he spread his thighs apart. It was impossible not to notice the shadow of Gaius’s sac hanging down between his legs.
Allerix was transfixed, again.
With a chuckle, Gaius hoisted his tunic up around his waist and spread his thighs wider to fully expose his naked groin. “I am flattered, but you’d be wise to stop drooling and focus on the game instead of on my colossal balls.”
Allerix blinked and turned his attention back to the board.
Gaius took a slow drink. “I purchased a lad once that turned out to be ill-matched, a twitchy timid little thing that never enjoyed a good pounding, let alone having my cock shoved down its throat. No interest at all in a hard arse fuck. Pity, since it was rather pretty. Though not nearly as attractive as you, cub.”
“What did you do? I mean, what happened to him?”
“I sold it, of course, and made a decent profit on that sale, as I recall. Your people don’t own slaves, do they?”
Allerix snapped. “My people own nothing now, Dominus.”
Gaius slammed both palms down on his armrests. “Blame your dead and unreasonable prick of a king for that!” Gaius took a deep breath and lowered his voice. “But, if I understood your society correctly, Dacia did have a proletariat class that lived off the land, beholden to royals and priests.”
Allerix fought back the tears. He’d be damned if he’d let this monster see him weep. “Yes. But no one, certainly not a child, was ever forced into slavery.”
“You had no slaves because Dacians never won a real fucking war. We’ve built the greatest empire to ever rule the seas on the backs of slaves. Slaves and some damn fine soldiers.” After a satisfied grunt and a vigorous scratch of his sac, Gaius leaned down and moved one of his tokens until it landed in the same compartment as Allerix’s number five.
“Ah, how very unfortunate for you, my beguiling guest. Now that token of yours must start all over again from the beginning.”
His mouth open wide, Allerix watched Gaius pick up his coin and drop it on the game board’s starting point.
“That’s horseshit!” Allerix shouted.
Gaius’s shock crumbled to a gut splitting laugh. “No, that would be my fucking rules. Back to the starting gate for you, sport.” He grabbed Allerix by the jaw. “You’re even sexier when you’re angry. I’ll remember that.”
TNA: I know this is sort of like asking you to name your favorite child, but if you had to pick your favorite between Gaius and Allerix, which would you choose and what makes him your favorite?
JP: Yikes! It changes depending on the scenes that I’m writing, but I’d have to say that at the moment my favorite child of these two is Allerix. That beautiful, raven-haired lad often surprises me with his strength, compassion and humor. I like to be surprised.
TNA: Would you care to share a little bit of information on any of your current WIPs with us?
JP: I’ve started the second book in this four-book series. The tentative title is “The Lion of the Lucky Fourth,” and I plan to release it by the end of the year. Unlike Dominus, much of the action in the second book takes place in Rome. More historical and original characters join the mad cast when Gaius brings his boys to the capital city to help him solve a mystery. There will be much more humor, sex, loss, deceit and romance. Oh, I introduce more ghosts. I like a good ghost story, as did the ancient Romans. And we meet Gaius’s prized but nasty she-goat!
TNA: And finally, would you share with us all the places we can find you on the internet?
JP: I love chatting with readers and fellow writers, so please feel free to contact/friend/follow me. I don’t have a proper blog but I post announcements, chapter previews, naughty pix of gorgeous, scantily clad men and ancient Roman crap on my Tumblr blog. Stop by my online sites or shoot me an email and say hello!
TNA: Thanks again for being here with us today, JP.
The Giveaway: THIS CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED