I, Sejanus

This week, to celebrate the Oscar awards, the Debs are writing about our celebrity dream readers. 

Alessandro Nivola, 2012
Alessandro Nivola, 2012

Every year I attend the GrubStreet Muse & the Marketplace writing conference the first weekend of May. They usually have a session called Literary Idol, which is a bit like American Idol, with a panel of editors and agents that listen to the first page of a story, give it a yea or nay (and one hopes they don’t stop the reader before they’ve finished the page), and then proceed to talk about what works or doesn’t work. The page is not read by the person who submitted it…no one knows whose piece it is when the feedback is being given, except the author and anyone they may have told. The year that I decided to submit the first page of FEAST OF SORROW, I was still shopping it around looking for agents. I hoped that having it read may entice one or two people on the panel to take interest if I queried them afterward. But lucky me, that year they were having a celebrity reader, Alessandro Nivola, who is known for his work in Face/Off, Jurassic Park and Coco Before Chanel. He’s also married to the very talented Emily Mortimer.

When he began reading my first paragraph, my heart did a backflip. I listened to him read my words…words from MY BOOK…a stranger, and a famous one at that, reading it out loud. I had never heard anyone read my writing out loud except perhaps snippets from my writing group. But not with feeling, with intent, with expertise. I wanted to film it but the atmosphere was all wrong. Afterward, the judges hacked it apart, mostly considering it a win. They were split down the middle about the word “fuck” appearing in the first paragraph. The men liked it. The women didn’t (and eventually my editor had the last say, cutting it from the first paragraph). But it was amazing. The first person to read a full page from my book, out loud, besides me, was a celebrity. Later, at a party I went to, I told him that it was my page that he read. I don’t even really remember what he said, as I was a bit star-struck and we were in a loud, secret Irish bar in the basement of a Back Bay mansion. But I remember the glow that I felt afterward, not because I had met someone famous, which I’ve done many times in my life, but because someone–besides my friends and family–enjoyed reading a piece of my book.

If I had to choose other celebs to read FEAST OF SORROW, it’s a long list. My novel is an epic history of a wealthy ancient Roman’s life. For some reason, the Brits always do the acting and the voices for anything Roman…there is a loftiness to the accent that lends a richness to the telling of such stories, I think. So first off, David Tennant and Sir Patrick Stewart both come to mind, funny enough, because of Sejanus. I think Tennant would make a fantastic Sejanus in a depiction of my book and of course, Patrick Stewart played Sejanus in I, Claudius.

But it is their portrayals of Shakespearean figures that truly won my heart, despite my Dr. Who and Star Trek fangirling.

Sejanus is a character that is calculated and complex, charming and terrifying. He is someone you love to hate and it takes the right kind of actor to portray a character that you can both sympathize with and despise all at once. I have seen Sir Pat as Sejanus and I could imagine David Tennant in that role. So that’s where I would start my celebrity reader list, with the two of them. That would be a real dream for me, if they read my book and enjoyed it, and thought about the world of ancient Rome and how it might unfold, in all of its epic, gastronomic glory, around them.

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Crystal King is a writer, culinary enthusiast and social media expert. Her writing is fueled by a love of history and an obsession with the food, language and culture of Italy. She has taught writing, creativity and social media at Grub Street and several universities including Harvard Extension School and Boston University. Crystal received her masters in critical and creative thinking from University of Massachusetts Boston. She lives with her husband and their two cats in the Boston area.

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