Crystal King is an author, culinary enthusiast, and marketing expert. Her writing is fueled by a love of history and a passion for the food, language, and culture of Italy. She has taught classes in writing, creativity, and social media at several universities including Harvard Extension School and Boston University, as well as at GrubStreet, one of the leading creative writing centers in the US.
A Pushcart Prize–nominated poet and former co-editor of the online literary arts journal Plum Ruby Review, Crystal received her MA in critical and creative thinking from UMass Boston, where she developed a series of exercises and writing prompts to help fiction writers in medias res. She resides in Boston but considers Italy her next great love after her husband, Joe, and their two cats, Nero and Merlin. She is the author of Feast of Sorrow and The Chef’s Secret.
What genre do you write and why?
I write historical fiction. It’s something I never thought I would write, until suddenly there I was writing a book about the historical past. But I don’t think I’ll always write historical fiction. I have several shelved fantasy novels that I hope I can get back to someday. I also have a couple ideas for some non-fiction books. I think that the publishing industry likes to have an author write in only one genre but I hope that I won’t be limited to that in my writing career.
What or who inspired you to first write? Which authors have influenced you?
I was a very early reader and that led me to begin writing when I was very young, at the age of five or so. I had great, encouraging teachers. I remember being chosen by my school to attend a young writers conference when I was ten. The author speaking was Madeleine L’Engle and I was so excited because I loved her books. My influences over the years have been eclectic, ranging from poets like Anne Carson and Czeslaw Milosz to authors such as Stephen King, Margaret Atwood, Ursula K. LeGuin, Anais Nin and MFK Fisher. I also love reading the classics such as Tacitus, Virgil, Herodotus, Dante and Shakespeare.
Do you ever cook any of the recipes described in your book?
Yes! That’s one of the most exciting things to me about exploring the lives of Italian culinary heroes. I think to really know my characters I have to cook the foods that they would have cooked or at least make a grand attempt to. The recipes aren’t always easy to decipher, and many of the ingredients are not as familiar today to a modern palate. Or they are things we just don’t eat any more. For example, peacock, crane, calves eyeballs, hedgehog, or porcupine. But there are many things in the 1570 cookbook that Bartolomeo Scappi wrote that we would find delicious, including apple crostata, braised beef, mushroom soup, fritters, and so much more. I include many of these recipes in The Chef’s Secret Companion cookbook, which can be found here. And if you are interested in ancient Roman food, check out my page all about the cuisine of that time, and you can also download the Feast of Sorrow companion cookbook too.
Do you write every day?
I don’t write every day although when I have made a practice of writing every day, I find that the book really sits with me and I can write quite fast. But since I have a day job and a lot of other activities it sometimes hard for me to write on top of all the other work I’ve done during that day. For the most part, I tend to write on the weekends. Usually I will clear all my Sundays and write several hours on that day.
Do you have a writing group?
I do. It’s a group of women that I’ve been meeting with for 12 or 13 years now. We meet every two weeks and usually go over a few chapters of whoever has chapters to share. They have helped me hack apart and reassemble all of my novels countless times. We call ourselves the Salt + Radish Writers because of our tradition of having salt, butter and radishes to nosh on during our yearly writing retreats in Maine, but also because salt is flavor, radishes are nourishment and those are things that we deliver to each other, and almost always, over a meal.
Name a quirky thing you like to do.
I don’t think this is actually terribly quirky but most people are surprised to know that I love video games. I tend to like games with rich story arcs, usually sci-fi or fantasy. My husband got me an Oculus Rift for Christmas and I have really had a lot of fun with that exploring virtual worlds. I’m super excited to see where that technology is going to take us in the next 5 to 10 years!