Interview with Phyllis T. Smith & Giveaway of I Am Livia

Today I am happy to be kicking off author Phyllis T. Smith's TLC Book Tour for I Am Livia with an interview & giveaway!

I had the recent pleasure of reading this and it was absolutely wonderful! My review will be posted a little later on in the tour, stay tuned. But first, please enjoy the interview and be sure to enter the giveaway!

Hi Phyllis, thank you so much for spending some time with us here at Passages to the Past! Congratulations on the upcoming release of I AM LIVIA, I am thrilled to be a host on your tour.

Thanks, Amy! I’m delighted to be here with you.

First, can you please tell us a little about yourself.

I’m a native of Brooklyn with a thing for ancient Rome—loved studying about it in college, love Roman literature and Roman art. I wanted to write historical novels for years before I did. I worked as a computer applications trainer while taking fiction writing classes and belonging to writing critique groups. Eventually I wrote I AM LIVIA which became a finalist for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award.

I AM LIVIA will be released on May 1st, how do you plan on celebrating?

I know I’ll be smiling a lot. Beyond that, I haven’t decided.

What was the inspiration for writing I AM LIVIA?

I’m drawn to all things Roman and naturally loved I, Claudius—the book and the miniseries made in the ‘70s. The portrait of Livia in both is chilling. She is diabolical, poisoning a string of victims. This was once the view historians took of her, but nowadays many believe her reputation was unjustly blackened. She was the most powerful woman in Roman history and may have been vilified precisely because in her society she broke the mold. The mystery about what kind of person she actually was intrigued me. As I researched Livia’s life and wrote in her first person voice, I increasingly empathized with her and wanted to do her historical justice.

What do you want readers to take away from your book?

I’ve made the book as true to Livia’s life as I could get it. She battled high odds. I feel her story has something to say to us about the value of being strong in the face of hardship and how far you should go in being loyal to those you love.

How would you like for people to remember Livia Drusilla?

I see her as a brave survivor. She experienced danger and loss which tempered her at a young age. I wouldn’t hold her up as a heroine without flaws. Right at the center of her story is a scandal that in some ways is still shocking, a marital rupture that it would be easy to judge and condemn. But the tales about her being a murderer get ridiculous when you examine the details of what she is supposed to have done. In actual fact, she was honored for many acts of charity and mercy. At a time when women were expected almost to be chattel, she had an impact on history.

Did you come across anything in your research that surprised you or caused you to re-scene?

I was surprised by what you might call Caesar Augustus’s sensitive side. We don’t tend to think a Roman ruler would be squeamish about cruelty. He certainly could be ruthless. But one ancient Roman source describes him being lenient as a judge and even leaning over backwards to acquit a man of patricide because the penalty was so savage. A scene in the book in which he reacts with great anger when someone wants to have a slave fed to man-eating eels is based on ancient sources.

What was the hardest scene to write?

The scene in which Livia is caught in a forest fire. It’s based on a true incident in her late teens. I suspect what happened was psychologically important. She must have experienced absolute terror. After that, she knew she could survive the worst. What happened was so over the top I worried about making the scene believable. I did a lot of research on modern people caught in forest fires, how they manage to escape.

What was your favorite scene to write?

The dinner party scene in which Livia meets Caesar again after they have been separated by civil war. She has every reason to hate and fear him. He was her father’s deadly enemy and now he is ruler of half the Roman Empire. They are both married to other people. On top of all that, she’s pregnant. And still they can’t take their eyes off each other. I had to keep two conversations going at the same time, the surface one—very staid and proper--and the real one underneath that, in which Livia is so torn by conflicting feelings she almost loses it.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

When I was eight. My third grade teacher liked a poem I wrote. She told me I should write books when I grew up, and for some reason I believed her. What historical time period do you gravitate towards the most with your personal reading?

I’m particularly drawn to ancient Greece and Rome, but some of my favorite novels are set in other eras. Right now, the book I’m most looking forward to is the final volume in Hilary Mantel’s trilogy about Thomas Cromwell, which I believe she is currently writing. I love many books that are set in medieval Europe or in nineteenth and early twentieth century America. So really I’m all over the place.

What do you like to do when you aren't writing?

I read a lot, most kinds of fiction and nonfiction, too—history, psychology, politics. I also enjoy almost every historical miniseries that come on TV—adore Downton Abbey. And I love to travel.

Who are your writing inspirations?

There are so many great historical novelists whose work I admire and have tried to learn from. Two who come to mind are Edith Pargeter—she also wrote under the name Ellis Peters—and Mary Renault.

What was the first historical novel you read?

The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain. I remember reading it at my desk in school, hidden in a math book when I was supposed to be doing arithmetic.

What is the last historical novel you read?

The Strangled Queen by Maurice Druon. It was written in the 1950’s, part of a classic series, and recently became available on Kindle.

If there was a soundtrack for your novel, what songs would we find on it?

I’d want Roberta Flack’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” for the love scenes. There isn’t a more romantic or sensual love song. And it would perfectly express the emotions Livia and Caesar felt the first time they looked at each other. I’d add some of the score of the movie Gladiator for the war scenes. Then, I’d like a song about a woman triumphing over adversity. “Roar” by Katy Perry would work, and it has that line about “dancing through the fire”—very appropriate for Livia.

Pub Date: May 1, 2014 | Lake Union Publishing | eBook, Paperback, Audio

Her life would be marked by scandal and suspicion, worship and adoration…

At the tender age of fourteen, Livia Drusilla overhears her father and fellow aristocrats plotting the assassination of Julius Caesar. Proving herself an astute confidante, she becomes her father’s chief political asset—and reluctantly enters into an advantageous marriage to a prominent military officer. Her mother tells her, “It is possible for a woman to influence public affairs,” reminding Livia that—while she possesses a keen sense for the machinations of the Roman senate—she must also remain patient and practical.

But patience and practicality disappear from Livia’s mind when she meets Caesar’s heir, Octavianus. At only eighteen, he displays both power and modesty. A young wife by that point, Livia finds herself drawn to the golden-haired boy. In time, his fortunes will rise as Livia’s family faces terrible danger. But her sharp intellect—and her heart—will lead Livia to make an unbelievable choice: one that will give her greater sway over Rome than she could have ever foreseen.

About the Author

Phyllis T. Smith was born and currently lives in Brooklyn, New York. After obtaining a bachelor's degree from Brooklyn College and a master's degree from New York University, Phyllis pursued a practical career in computer applications training, yet found herself drawn to literature and art of the ancient world. I Am Livia is her first novel. She has another novel set in ancient Rome in the works.

Phyllis T. Smith’s TLC Book Tours Tour Stops

Monday, April 21st: Passages to the Past – author guest post
Wednesday, April 23rd: Dwell in Possibility
Friday, April 25th: Svetlana’s Reads and Views – author guest post
Monday, April 28th: Historical Tapestry – author guest post “Why I Love Rome…”
Monday, April 28th: Words for Worms
Tuesday, April 29th: A Bookish Affair
Wednesday, April 30th: Italian Brat’s Obsessions
Thursday, May 1st: Literally Jen
Monday, May 5th: Ageless Pages Reviews – author guest post
Wednesday, May 7th: Broken Teepee
Thursday, May 8th: The Most Happy Reader
Monday, May 12th: Passages to the Past
Tuesday, May 13th: Unabridged Chick
Thursday, May 15th: The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader
Monday, May 19th: Ageless Pages Reviews
Wednesday, May 21st: The Most Happy Reader - author guest post
Thursday, May 22nd: Books Without Any Pictures
Tuesday, May 27th: Col Reads
Tuesday, June 3rd: Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Wednesday, June 4th: Luxury Reading


Passages to the Past has one paperback up for grabs. Giveaway is open to US/Canada residents only and ends on May 1. To enter please complete form below.

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  1. I love books set in Ancient Rome. Looking forward to reading this book. Thanks for the giveaway!

  2. Oooh, I love the Roman period...I'll have to check this one out!

  3. Livia was one of the most intriguing characters in I, Claudius - I'd love to read about her! Thank you!

  4. This unique historical would be fascinating. Thanks .saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

  5. This sounds like a great book! And right up my alley :)

  6. This sounds good. mljcwsu at yahoo dot com

  7. Ooh, this sounds really meaty! I'll be reading it, one way or another. Thanks for the chance to win.

  8. I've sent a lot more time reading about the ancient Greeks than I have on the Romans. Maybe I've been missing out. Thanks for the chance to win a copy of I Am Livia.

  9. I read Phyllis's comment that Livia was the most powerful woman in Roman history, so of course I absolutely must read her book now!

    DeniseK1 at Outlook dot com

  10. I am so intrigued by Livia--ever since I read I, Claudius, in fact. This looks like a terrific book, especially since I enjoy reading about Ancient Rome.

  11. Really intrigued by Livia, ever since I read I, Claudius, in fact. Sounds like a terrific book, and I'm looking forward to reading it. Fan of novels featuring Ancient Rome.

  12. I read an arc of this book and LOVED it! Great interview!

  13. This sounds like an amazing book. I love reading about the time period of Caesar and the Roman empire, it is all so interesting. Thanks for having the giveaway.

  14. I purchased this book through the Kindle Firsts program a few days ago. I was so caught up in it that I didn't even sleep on my plane ride like I usually do. I'm on about page 70 and so far I love it!

  15. I loved I, Claudius. Thank you for the giveaway. This one is on my TBR list.

  16. Lovely cover and seems very interesting!

  17. What a fascinating woman. You have certainly done some extensive research. I obviously know little about her and the time period. This book will be most interesting and enlightening. I am curious about history and the people who made it happen. I never miss an opportunity to learn what I can about it.
    I wish you the best for your release of I AM LIVIA. It sounds wonderful.

  18. My only experience with Roman historical fiction isn't even literary -- I was a big fan of the HBO series on Rome. This is not for lack of interest; I am excited to be introduced to characters I have not fictionalized concretely in my head already (as I have, say, the Tudor family from reading so many novels -- and histories -- featuring their lives). I am not one to be drawn in by a cover, but I find in this case the woman's face is arresting! She demands the reader to recognize the book and begin reading, it would seem! ;-) Thanks for this opportunity!

  19. Happy release day to author Phyllis T. Smith -- and thank you for sharing your passion for Rome with us! I look forward to reading your work ....

  20. Great questions. Loved the one about the soundtrack for the book and the response to it!


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