Monday, November 26, 2012

Book Tour for Mark of the Gladiator by Heidi Belleau & Violetta Vane (Guest Post & Giveaway)

Hello and welcome to the last week of Riptide Publishing’s Warriors of Rome month! We’re Heidi Belleau and Violetta Vane, and all week, we’ll be posting across the web chatting about our heartpounding new novel Mark of the Gladiator, Roman history in general, and dropping a few sexy gladiator-related surprises along the way! For a complete tour listing, please check out the Riptide website, but first, read on for today’s post, and don’t forget to leave us a comment for today’s chance at winning our week-long contest!

Thank you so much to our hosts for having us, and to all of you for reading along!

Five Questions for Heidi Belleau
By Violetta Vane

Rome versus Spartacus—I think we both agree that Rome is the better show. But why? And what does Spartacus get right that really breaks the mould?

Rome’s better researched and better crafted. Put the two on side-by-side TVs and you can see the difference: Rome’s beautiful, intricate sets, full of grit and grime and life, and Spartacus has . . . 300-style greenscreen and blood spatters.

However, there are things that Spartacus gets right: the focus on slave characters gives a fuller representation of Roman society from the wealthy and powerful right down to the girl serving wine, who’d be not much more than set dressing in Rome. It also isn’t afraid to explore more diverse aspects of Roman sexuality. Other than subtext between Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo, there’s zero queer content in Rome. In Spartacus, queer relationships and queer sex get actual screentime. It’s not perfect: queer characters Gaia, Lucretia, Pietros, Barca, and Auctus have all met gruesome deaths, although Agron and Nasir (and their sweet romantic subplot) have miraculously survived a full season. Queer sex is also often played for straight titillation (as in the case of the lesbian relationship between Gaia and Lucretia), or for shock value (especially Barca and Pietros’s first season sex scenes). The relationship between Agron and Nasir, however, is a much more conventional romance plotline, given the same attention and dignity as any straight one. And despite his end, Barca is a great gay character: a badass bully gladiator, whose sexual and romantic relationships with men are complete non-issues among his brothers. He’s so much more than his sexuality. After Elton has a great article about him here.

Hopefully Mark of the Gladiator walks the line between both of these TV representations: accuracy and attention to detail, as well as sex appeal and compelling LGBT representation.

There are some really bad people in Mark of the Gladiator. Which character did you dislike the most?

Ohhh I don’t know if I can really name any villains without spoiling the book! I think, though, because of our commitment to historical accuracy when it comes to the relationship between masters and slaves, all masters in the book have their villainous moments. I definitely sympathise with Anazâr and the gladiatrices and what they endure.

Mark of the Gladiator has a strong romance arc, but it also has an ensemble cast, which is fairly uncommon for a romance book. What were some challenges of writing an ensemble cast, and some strengths that it brought to the book?

One of the most important things, for me, about writing an ensemble cast is to make sure all the supporting characters have their own lives. Plenty of romance novels do have supporting casts, but they basically exist to 1. drive the main relationship forward, 2. drive it apart. It makes the supporting characters feel kind of flat, or like puppets. So the challenge is to have the supporting cast come into their own and feel like real people, while still making sure the main focus is on Anazâr and his love interest. Plotlines get a little complicated when you go for that, though, so what we ended up doing was having a spreadsheet with each character at the top to keep track of their arc and how it’s developed in each scene. Sound complex? It totally is, but we think the reading experience is all the richer for it. Personally, I’m really happy with the decision. Our supporting characters have some of the best lines in the book!

What was the most striking parallel between ancient Rome and our own time?

The thing that sticks out most for me is the graffiti, honestly! Any time I see historical examples of graffiti, I’m struck by how little we’ve changed. We still use graffiti to say “we were here”, to sign our names on history, to insult people, to write rude things, brag about our sexual prowess . . . Well, just check out this great page all about the graffiti found in Pompeii, which Violetta and I used to help our dialogue (especially the dirty bits).

How did you approach writing humor in Mark of the Gladiator, which is overall a quite dark book?

Well, I’m (half) English, so dark humour’s in my blood! I guess the key when it comes to humour in situations like these where you’re basically making light of abject suffering is that it can’t dehumanize the characters or belittle their suffering, but instead needs to show their resiliency and strength. There’s a line I love where Amanikhabale (one of the gladiatrices) describes rape as something whose “indignity tends to accumulate”. It’s a great line because it’s such a perfect example of her character: she’s such an empress despite her station, so dignified and crafty and with such poise, and faced with this horrible crime against her bodily autonomy and her humanity, she characterizes it as being nothing more than an aggravating nuisance. It speaks to her character, the harsh reality she lives in . . . it just really works for me on so many levels.

Of course, it’s not all gallows humour. There’s slapstick, and Felix as a trickster character has several moments to bring a bit of lightness not only to the narrative for the reader, but to Anazâr’s life, as well.

After an inconvenient display of mercy in the arena, the gladiator Anazâr is pulled from the sands and contracted to nobleman Lucius Marianus to train his new stable of female gladiators. His charges are demoralized and untested, and they bear the marks of abuse. Anazâr has a scant two months to prepare them for the arena, and his new master demands perfection.

Anazâr is surprised by how eager he is to achieve it—far more eager than a man motivated only by self-preservation. Perhaps it’s because Marianus is truly remarkable: handsome, dignified, honorable, and seemingly as attracted to Anazâr as Anazâr is to him.

But a rivalry between Marianus and his brother sparks a murder conspiracy, with Anazâr and his gladiatrices caught in the middle. One brother might offer salvation . . . but which? And in a world where life is worth less than the pleasures of the crowd or the whims of a master, can there be any room for love? As a gladiator, Anazâr's defenses are near impenetrable. But as a man, he learns to his cost that no armor or shield can truly protect his heart.

Buy the entire Warriors of Rome Collection (including MotG) at a 20% discount
Also available on your favourite third party e-tailers!


Two unlikely friends and co-writers, Heidi Belleau is a wholesome small-town history nerd from Northern Canada and Violetta Vane is a former academic with a sketchy past from the American South. Together, they write sex-soaked multicultural M/M romance and urban fantasy. You can visit them online at and, or reach them on twitter as @HeidiBelleau and @ViolettaVane.


All week, leave comments on our blog tour stops for a chance to win all three books in our M/M urban fantasy series Layers of the OtherworldAll you have to do is leave a comment with your email whenever you see us touring. One comment = one entry, so be sure to check us out every day! The more you comment, the better your odds! On December 3rd (that’s one week after Mark of the Gladiator’s release!), we’ll draw one lucky winner to receive Cruce de CaminosThe Druid Stone, and Galway Bound in the ebook format of their choice. Bonne chance!



  1. The interview was really interesting and it definitely encouraged me to read the book. I wish that links had been working, but I'll look for them on my own. Thank you for posting this interview.


    Posted by Barbara to Words of Wisdom....from The Scarf Princess at November 26, 2012 1:53 AM

    1. Thanks Barbara!

      What links didn't work for you? I can certainly see if I can give you an address you can paste right into your address bar if you let me know. :)

    2. Hi Heidi, after I reposted Barbara's comment I rechecked the links too and all of them are working. So maybe when my Blogger blowup happened is when the problem occurred....which I'm so sorry for again. ACK! I hate technology some days!

  2. Urb has left a new comment on your post "Book Tour for Mark of the Gladiator by Heidi Belle...":

    Great interview--thank you! I'd love to read Mark if the Gladiator and the Layers if the Underworld series. Hurray, please count me in!

    brendurbanist at gmail dot com

    Posted by Urb to Words of Wisdom....from The Scarf Princess at November 26, 2012 12:40 AM

  3. Merrian has left a new comment on your post "Book Tour for Mark of the Gladiator by Heidi Belle...":

    I already have MotG so read this for the enjoyment of knowing how the story and world has been created. I am looking forward to more stories from Violetta and Heidi.

    Posted by Merrian to Words of Wisdom....from The Scarf Princess at November 26, 2012 1:25 AM

  4. I love that you've incorporated some humor into the book. Books in this time period can definitely go the route of being really dark so I appreciate some levity. I also found the graffiti really interesting.

    JYL22075 at gmail dot com

    1. It's a tricky balance to get right so that you don't mess up the overall tone of the novel, but a bit of well-placed humour makes things seem more authentic to me!

      I loved the graffiti too, glad you liked it!

      Good luck in the contest :)

  5. Sounds like great books. Please count me in. Thanks!

  6. YEssssssss.. I Loved Rome so much more too!! lol...
    Enjoyed the post! ^__^


    1. Thanks Loveless! Rome was a great show, I marathoned both seasons over a weekend with my best friend. She's a Lucius Vorenus fan, but I'm all about Titus Pullo!

  7. I really need to watch Rome... I started, but somehow I got tired with it quickly. Maybe I should give it another go.

    Also, the part about graffiti reminded me about my trip to Pompeii in may. There's a very well preserved brothel with frescoes depicting the available services, though the interior was nothing like the one in Gannicus' favorite hangout haha.

    berniak85 @

    1. Hi Agni! I really loved Rome although the second season was kind of disappointing because they took several seasons' worth of plot and shoved it into the one season because they found out they'd been cancelled.

      That's awesome you've been to Pompeii! Although it came out of a huge tragedy, it's pretty amazing for people who study history to be able to have it so well preserved in all its grit and glory. I loooove ancient graffiti! They've found Viking graffiti as well and it's much the same subject matter LOL.

  8. Heidi: I guess this proves some things just don't change ;D

    berniak85 @

    1. The more things change, the more they stay the same LOL.

      Or maybe things change, it's just we as people don't!

  9. I'd say people are all the same when it comes to satisfying basic instincts. It's quite surprising though that there are exceptions (such as tribes that don't express aggression in any form or communities that don't fit the widespread cultural tendency of men being sexually jealous), so it might be certain things are only prevalent in the collective mind of cultures originating around the Mediterranean.

    berniak85 @

    1. Isn't that interesting to think of, that some things are inherent to the human condition and others are culturally passed on from our ancestors and communties!

      Thanks for this great comment. :)

  10. I agree wholeheartedly that supporting characters need their own background and lives. I can't stand flat secondary characters.


    1. Me neither! Books with strong secondary characters are always my favourites by far.

  11. Im just starting to explore different genres. I love finding new authors and books.