Interview with Marilyn Todd

I recently discovered Marilyn Todd, author of the Claudia Seferius mystery series, on the Facebook Roman history readers group and read the first book, I, Claudia, in a very short space of time on holiday this summer. I, Claudia was published in the 90s in mainstream, but the series has been re-released with the help of the internet, and is well worth discovering. Marilyn agreed to an email interview with me, and so herewith, the full email she has just sent me.

Morning, Alex!

Bet you thought I’d forgotten about you. No such luck!!

First off, I want to say thank you the interview, and congratulations on the success of “Watchmen”, it’s very well deserved. I know exactly what you mean about time being too short, and strangely, writing gets harder, not easier, as it passes, where’s the justice in THAT??? Anyway, back to your list………!

The obvious question for anyone reading your Claudia Seferius books, is how much of Claudia do you see in yourself? How much of her is based on who you are or who you would like to be?

Claudia is devious, manipulative, a cheat and a liar — and those are just her good points. Remember, this is the girl who says “there’s no point in having double standards, if you don’t live up to both. I may have my faults, but being wrong isn’t one of them. And the best way to make a small fortune is to start with a large one”. Now I ask you, Alex. Does that sound like me….?

Having said that, Claudia and I do share a love of red wine. (Not for nothing did I put her in the wine trade). We both have a strong sense of justice, neither of us are pushovers, and we both like to travel. Again, no coincidence that the series is set amid some of the most beautiful sceney in Europe, and that, being thrillers, invariably climax in spectacular locations.

“Man Eater” ends at the unbelievably dramatic Marmora Falls in Umbria, which crash more than 500’ straight down and which were, wouldn’t you know it, created by the Romans when they diverted the river. In “Black Salamander”, retribution takes place within the largest ice cave in Europe. While much of the action in “Dark Horse” is in the Plitvice region of Croatia, where something like sixteen waterfalls tumble down the valley in a five kilometre long series of cascades, inspiring me to call it The Land of a Thousand Waterfalls in the book. Although in fairness, I may have been out by a couple.

And of course, is Orbilio your ideal man?

Orbilio is Claudia’s ideal man, I created him specifically for her, but he does share many of the traits I like and admire in a man. He’s honourable, honest, pragmatic, tough and unflappable. And of course as a couple, they are very, very funny.

How do you feel that Claudia has her own Wikipedia page and you don’t? Is it a strange feeling for the character you have created to find her way out into cyberspace on her own?

Until you mentioned it, I didn’t even know Claudia had her own page. I looked it up, and frankly, I’m impressed. It’s very well put together, but again, that’s absolutely typical of Claudia. “Too much of a good thing is wonderful”, she’d say. And naturally she’d have someone set it up for her. But me? Think I’ll stick to the website!!

Your books evoke the period well. Do you have a background in history, or like many historical fiction authors, have you done the research as an “amateur?”

Thank you. My passion lies in Greek myths and legends, which spill over into Rome of course, but I’m certainly no historian, nor would I want to be. I’m a storyteller pure and simple, spinning tales across all time periods and genres, from crime to comic fantasy and all points in between. When I was asked to write the Cleopatra ‘exclusive’ for the Mammoth Book of Egyptian Whodunnits, I knew absolutely nothing about the woman, apart from “take your hand off my asp,” which probably doesn’t count. Even less about the life of Charles Dickens, when I was invited to contribute to the Dickensian collection, in which every story had to feature the man personally. And ”The Wickedest Town in the West” was set in Jerome, Arizona, during the gold rush. This won me an Ellery Queen Readers Award, of which I am very, very, very, very proud, the point being that all these needed to be thoroughly researched in order to bring the stories to life. Readers need to live the experience. Be part of it.

Orbilio works for the Security Police. Is this organisation based on a real historical group such as the Triumviri Nocturni, or the vigiles who were formed a little after your novel is set, or are they a fictional device to help with the plot?

Informants and spies were everywhere in Rome, and given the vast number of plots to assassinate, overthrow, rebel and reform, it stands to reason that someone would be charged with co-ordinating the intelligence. If the Spartans had the Krypteia, I thought…why not Rome? I call them the Security Police for the simple reason that I want to make my books easy to follow for readers who know nothing about Rome, but want a bloody good thriller with a bit of humour thrown in. Or to put it another way, I don’t want anything slowing them down!

The Claudia Seferius series is a new find for me, though it was written some time ago. Have you found that the likes of Amazon, e-books and the internet has brought new life to your older books?

Gosh, yes! The big difference was cracking the American market. US publishers didn’t believe that level of irony was suited to historical crime, indeed, dare I say it, many of them didn’t even realize it was funny. Luckily, Jay Hartman at Untreed Reads saw things differently, and now the series is really starting to take off. But the biggest bonus, at least for me, is the chance to interact with my readers. It’s brilliant. I love it.

How do you see the publishing world changing in the near future, and do you think you will stick with mainstream publishing, embrace independence and e-books, or some combination?

For me, it’s 100% mainstream publishing. I have a very successful career in the short story market, tons of projects in the pipeline, and an absolutely amazing agent. As for the industry as a whole, I suspect Indie publishing will slow down as it runs out of steam, but when it comes to predicting the future, I reckon we’ll have 3D printer babies before I know the answer to that.

What next for Claudia and for Marilyn?

I have a couple of short stories lined up for Claudia, as well as the outline for a 14th novel, “Whip Lash”. Several other short stories are also in the pipeline, including “Who Pays the Piper”, which is my take on the Pied Piper of Hamelin, and which will be published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine shortly. Meanwhile, a totally new departure for me – male protagonist, no humour, yikes! — is currently with my agent, in readiness to be touted around. An American publisher is putting out a collection of my short stories later this year, and if that’s not enough to keep me quiet, I’m putting the final touches to a contemporary novel which has absolutely no crime whatsoever, while putting together ideas for a new historical crime series.

Again, Alex, thank you for inviting me to contribute. (For some reason I can’t get the wretched margin to go back from indent!!) Look forward to reading your sequel,

With very best wishes,