Friday, August 01, 2014

Interview with Jacopo della Quercia, author of The Great Abraham Lincoln Pocket Watch Conspiracy - August 1, 2014

Please welcome Jacopo della Quercia to The Qwillery as part of the 2014 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Great Abraham Lincoln Pocket Watch Conspiracy will be published on August 5, 2014 by St. Martin's Griffin.

TQ:  Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing fiction?

Jacopo:  Thanks for having me! I guess my first foray into fiction started with some of the outlandish explanations I offered for historical events in my earliest Cracked articles. In one article in particular, I joked that the reason the Library of Alexandria was destroyed was "to prevent Greece from using time-travel against the Roman Empire again." Although this was an aside, I enjoyed the fanciful scenario it illustrated for my readers. Once I was given the opportunity to expand such hilarious scenarios into full novels, I immediately fell in love with narrative writing.

TQ:  Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Jacopo:  Just a moment. I need to Google "pantser." [moments later] Now that I know what a pantser is, I guess I'm a bit of both. While I have a rough idea how my stories will begin and end during the pitch process, the finer points hinge entirely on what I find during my research. I try to base my writing as much as possible on real events, so the more I research my subjects, the richer and more interwoven the plot becomes.

TQ:  What is the most challenging thing for you about writing? How has being an educator and history writer influenced the writing of The Great Abraham Lincoln Pocket Watch Conspiracy?

Jacopo:  The most challenging thing for me is knowing when to stop editing. I have wasted months obsessing over individual paragraphs when I should have simply ventured forward. In my experience, all the sweat and stress that comes with micromanaging your own work is ultimately unnecessary, especially since your publishers will be reviewing it anyway.

As for how my teaching and history writing influenced The Great Abraham Lincoln Pocket Watch Conspiracy, let me put it this way: I specifically wrote the book to be used as a handy tool in the classroom. It's a device for making history more engaging and exciting for readers of all backgrounds, and my pages are filled with footnotes, historic documents, and recommended texts to aide those interested in learning more for themselves. Interestingly, this makes all the existing history from the period serve as an "expanded universe" of sorts, and several of my reviewers even read my book with Google and Wikipedia open on their computers.

TQ:  Who are some of your literary influences? Favorite authors?

Jacopo:  I love high adventure, so I am immensely indebted to Alexandre Dumas, Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, and the ancient poets Homer and Virgil. Naturally, this appreciation extends just as much to the minds, writers, and artists behind some of my favorite movies and video games as a child, such as The Princess Bride, the original Indiana Jones and Star Wars trilogies, King's Quest V, and The Dagger of Amon Ra. In terms of my writing style, I'd say Edgar Allan Poe, Bram Stoker, Herman Melville, and Lewis Carroll all influenced me in various ways ranching from visual detail to humor. However, I think the poet Dante is ultimately my biggest influence. His detailed Commedia and frequent use of symbolism compelled me to create worlds so richly populated and intricate that nobody could read my book the same way twice.

TQ:  Describe The Great Abraham Lincoln Pocket Watch Conspiracy in 140 characters or less.

Jacopo:  "A Jules Verne action-adventure starring President Taft and Robert Todd Lincoln in a race to solve a mystery stretching back to the Civil War." If you omit the period and quotation marks, that should be exactly 140 characters!

TQ:  Tell us something about The Great Abraham Lincoln Pocket Watch Conspiracy that is not in the book description.

Jacopo:  The entire book was written using historically-accurate vocabulary; even the narration! I didn't want anybody using words that didn't exist at the time. I also worked with several engineers to make sure that the science featured in the book was faithful to the methods, material, and technologies available at the time the story is set.

TQThe Great Abraham Lincoln Pocket Watch Conspiracy is a genre bending and blending (alternate) historical thriller whose main characters are President William Howard Taft and Robert Todd Lincoln. What attracted you to President Taft as a character? And to Robert Todd Lincoln, President Lincoln's first child?

Jacopo:  Honestly, I picked President Taft because I knew next to nothing about him when I started my research! This was my first novel, and I wanted to challenge the hell out of myself. Fortunately, Taft turned out to be such a fascinating character in real life, and tailor-made for a steampunk adventure. By the time I finished researching him, I was convinced he was one of the most underrated presidents in US history.

As for Robert Todd Lincoln, I was always drawn to the allure he exuded as being the closest thing to Abraham Lincoln following his father's assassination. Robert could have been president, but for whatever reason, he chose not to. He was such a mysterious figure, and when coupled with his appreciation for the sciences, he was the perfect ingénieur for the story.

TQ:  Who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Jacopo:  I think the easiest character to write was Nikola Tesla. I knew precisely what role he had to play in the story and already had a good impression of how he spoke. As for the hardest character, I have to go with Abraham Lincoln. So many people already have their own versions of Lincoln in their heads based on his countless appearances in movies, books, cartoons, etc., never mind his letters and speeches. He's such a universally known figure that I had to go to greater lengths to make his dialogue sound both true to history and compatible with the Lincoln in the public imagination.

TQ:  Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery lines from The Great Abraham Lincoln Pocket Watch Conspiracy.


"Taft wasn’t a president; he was a puzzlewit. A flubdub. A fathead with brains of about three-guinea-pig power."

TQ:  What's next?

Jacopo:  In addition to promoting my book, I'm already hard at work on my next novel for St. Martin's Press. It's called License to Quill, and it's a Ian Fleming-esque spy/thriller starring William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe during the Gunpowder Plot. It's written in the same style as The Great Abraham Lincoln Pocket Watch Conspiracy and set in the same universe, so I hope it will be the second of many adventures I take you and your readers on through time and space!

TQ:  Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Jacopo:  Thank you kindly! It is a delight to be a part of your Challenge.

The Great Abraham Lincoln Pocket Watch Conspiracy
St. Martin's Griffin, August 5, 2014
Trade Paperback and eBook, 400 pages

This historical thriller is an equal-parts cocktail of action, adventure, science-fiction and comedy. The book follows a globe-trotting President Taft and Robert Todd Lincoln in a race to solve a mystery stretching back to the Civil War and the Lincoln assassination. Based on true events, readers will find themselves swept into a vast conspiracy spanning four continents and three oceans during the turn of the century. Fascinating technologies will be harnessed, dark secrets revealed, true villains exposed, and some of the most famous figures in history will take the stage. With surprises lurking around every corner, and a vast cast of characters to root for, Jacopo della Quercia's The Great Abraham Lincoln Pocket Watch Conspiracy is a heart-pounding adventure that only history could have made possible.

About Jacopo

Jacopo della Quercia is an educator and history writer perhaps best known for his more than 100 articles on the comedy website His work has been featured on BBC America, CNN Money, The Huffington Post, Slate, Ripley's Believe It or Not!, Playboy's The Smoking Jacket, CBS’s Man Cave Daily, and academic resources offered by Brigham Young University, George Mason University, and Georgetown University professor John Brown's Public Diplomacy Press and Blog Review.

As a writer, Jacopo strives to present otherwise obscure scholarly subjects in a manner more easily accessible and enjoyable for all audiences: a practice he honed in the classroom throughout his career.

In print, Jacopo can be found alongside his fellow Cracked writers in the New York Times best-seller You Might Be A Zombie and Other Bad News and its follow-up The De-Textbook. He was also featured in the May 2011 "Best of America" global special issue of Reader's Digest and his article translated into more than twenty languages, including Braille.

As an academic, Jacopo has taught classes on Medieval and Renaissance history, literature, and art since 2006. He has delivered lectures on Machiavellian political psychology at institutions such as Rowan University and the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at NYU. Most recently, Jacopo had an article on the works of Dante and J. R. R. Tolkien featured in the Electronic Bulletin of the Dante Society of America, a scholarly publication offered by Princeton University.

The Great Abraham Lincoln Pocket Watch Conspiracy is Jacopo's debut novel, and it is dedicated to students and teachers of history everywhere.

Website  ~  Facebook  ~  Twitter @Jacopo_della_Q


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