I had the opportunity to review License to Quill thanks to my position as a Sidewise Award judge. You can read my entire review by clicking on the previous link, but to summarize: License to Quill is an excellent historical thriller that combined the worlds of Shakespeare and James Bond.
Its author, noted educator and historian Jacopo della Quercia, saw the review and was kind enough to share it over Twitter and agree to an interview with me. Here is what we talked about:
Matt Mitrovich for Amazing Stories: How would Jacopo della Quercia describe himself to a stranger?
Jacopo della Quercia: Are you talking about me or the Renaissance sculptor? (Also, that’s not a joke! I’m pretty sure I’ve said that to someone at least once.)
A.S.: Why did you choose the name of an Italian Renaissance sculptor for a pseudonym?
J.Q.: To you it’s a pseudonym, but for me it’s a nickname! Jacopo is one of many names I’ve been called my whole life due to Giacomo, my real name, being a bit difficult for most people to spell and pronounce. Since I was doing political work when my first Cracked articles ran, “Jacopo della Quercia” the perfect solution. It was a name I had already been called for years. Also, as a history nerd, I knew that writing under this name would put me in good company! Giacomo da Lentini wrote under the name “Jacopo” as a formality during the Middle Ages, and Casanova went back and forth between “Giacomo” and “Jacopo” throughout his lifetime.
Ultimately, I like to view my pen-name as an extension of myself and my writing: It’s a history lesson you weren’t expecting.
A.S.: I am a big fan of your work on Cracked. How did you begin writing for them?
J.Q.: Honestly, I just wanted to see more history articles on the site! I always enjoyed reading them, but they seemed too few and far between for me. I knew there was fantastic material out there the website could be covering. So, as a bit of a learning experiment, I took some subjects I was covering in class as a teacher and wrote them into articles that I imagined any reader would find entertaining and surprisingly well-researched, especially for a comedy website.
It wasn’t easy since, as mentioned, I was teaching and working on a grueling political campaign at the same time. Fortunately, the experiment seems to have been worth the gamble! It is a pleasure to be writing novels as love-letters to my Cracked readers.
A.S.: What is License to Quill about?
J.Q.: License to Quill is a James Bond-esque spy-thriller starring William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe during the Gunpowder Plot. It has been extensively researched for historical accuracy and features a vast cast of characters ripped straight out of history: real heroes, real villains, real spies and spymasters. It was a delight to research, and I hope readers get to share in the enjoyment! It’s an action movie set in the Renaissance, and if enough readers give it a chance, we might get to see it on the big screen!
A.S.: What inspired you to write License to Quill?
J.Q.: When I finished The Great Abraham Lincoln Pocket Watch Conspiracy, my first novel, the conversation quickly shifted from what I was writing to what book I would be writing next. As I searched for possibilities, Skyfall was in theaters and I was bombarded with advertisements and articles celebrating 50 years of the James Bond franchise. It was the perfect environment for writing a spy novel, and once I found all the makings for one in Shakespearean England, the stage was set for License to Quill.
A.S.: Without spoiling anything, how much of the “magic” in the novel is just science?
J.Q.: Let me put it this way: I consulted scientists, chemical engineers, a firefighter—B.L. we’ll call him—and even an aquanaut to keep License to Quill grounded in reality, no matter how far-fetched it seemed. The story takes place during the scientific revolution and the golden age of English espionage. Francis Bacon was popularizing empirical research while England’s King James orchestrated some of the bloodiest witch-hunts in history. I viewed this conflict as akin to an arm’s race between science and “magic,” and as Arthur C. Clarke offered, “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
Whenever something came off as a bit too fantastic for my audience, I threw in a footnote. Whenever possible, I even cited sources that would have been available to the characters in England at the time! I encourage any reader to browse some of these sources I provided throughout the novel.
A.S.: License to Quill is full of references from Shakespeare, James Bond and other sources, like Assassin’s Creed. Any other references that you think I and other reviewers may have missed?
J.Q.: Believe me, there are references to more movies, video games, and comic books in License to Quill than I could ever fit into one interview! One of the character’s “pirate’s diet” should stand out as an obvious one. I also think some Game of Thrones fans will delight over the scenes that take place at London Wall. I’d like to share more, but alas, “it’s a secret to everybody.” Perhaps I’ll reveal all the secrets in an annotated edition of the book in the future, which I would very much like to write if this first edition sells enough copies.
A.S.: Who designed the cover to License to Quill?
J.Q.: It looks nice, doesn’t it? 🙂 That beautiful piece of work was designed by Lisa Marie Pompilio and illustrated by Michael Koelsch, who both worked on the cover for The Great Abraham Lincoln Pocket Watch Conspiracy. I thought they did a fantastic job! I was particularly impressed that they incorporated so many details from my then-incomplete manuscript into the cover. It was a pleasure to work with them once again! I am already looking forward to their design for my next book.
A.S.: The Great Abraham Lincoln Pocket Watch Conspiracy was your first historical thriller. What can you tell us about that?
J.Q.: The Great Abraham Lincoln Pocket Watch Conspiracy is a Jules Verne adventure that I based on the real life mystery of what happened to the pocket watch Abraham Lincoln wore the night he was assassinated. If you haven’t read it, License to Quill is the perfect introduction to it. And if you have read it, License to Quill is the stand-alone sequel to it. I genuinely view them as part of the same series and wrote them as such. Please read them both! I have no doubt you will be surprised by how these seemingly unrelated stories ultimately share the same narrative.
A.S.: Any advice for aspiring authors?
J.Q.: Sure! Whatever you’re thinking about writing, write it down! It’s that simple. One of my favorite maxims is “The secret to getting things done is to act!” I’ve seen that line attributed to Dante, but whomever wrote it ultimately is not as important to me as the fact that someone wrote it instead of thinking about writing it, talking about writing it, or planning to write it later, and then forgetting. Stars begin with single sparks. Books begin with single words. Hamlet, perhaps the greatest work of English literature, opens with the words: “Who’s there?” Seriously! “Who’s there?” That’s all it took for the world to have Hamlet!
If you’re an aspiring writing, stop aspiring and become a writer by writing. It’s the only way to become one, so you might as well try it now instead of never. Believe me, writing now will always be a lot more fun than writing never!