Shakespeare’s not so boring after all in new spy thriller ‘License to Quill’
By Leobianny Hilario
January 3, 2016
Not many people sit in history class thinking, “What if Shakespeare lived a cool, double life?” Well, no one except Giacomo Calabria, who explores this undiscovered world in his new novel “License to Quill.”
Calabria, who works under the pen name Jacopo della Quercia, is a prominent writer in the Capital Region, serving as a scholar with the NY Council for the Humanities. Some may recognize Jacopo from his articles on the humor website Cracked.com, as well as being featured in the New York Times bestselling book “You Might Be a Zombie and Other Bad News.” His work has also been featured in Reader’s Digest, BBC America, CNN Money, Slate, The Huffington Post, the International Screenwriters’ Association, and academic publications offered by schools such as Princeton University. Jacopo released his first novel, “The Great Abraham Lincoln Pocket Watch Conspiracy,” in 2014.
Jacopo attempts to rewrite history as an action thriller in his new book “License to Quill,” a James Bond-esque spy thriller starring people you have only heard of in history class. This book shows a perspective of William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe like never seen before, with quick-on-your-feet sarcasm and a great sense of humor.
The first impression “License to Quill” leaves is the question of whether or not the book is overwhelming with all of the factors that come into play. The novel engulfs readers with its setting, taking place during the Gunpowder Plot, the historical figures, boundless action, Macbeth, spies, and humor. While it is a lot to take in, once immersed in the story it is easy to understand and it flows effortlessly because of how well written it is. Not only is it fast paced, but it keeps its reader on the edge of the seat.
“License to Quill” was written in Albany during the notoriously cold winter of 2014-15, and the novel was released this past December. The following interview with Jacopo della Quercia delves into the novel’s beginnings, character development, and inspiration.
Albany Student Press: How did you get the inspiration for your character’s personalities?
Jacapo della Quercia: Just about everybody has their own opinion of what these figures are like. The advantage that came to writing these people is we have so much writing on their humor and opinions, and what I try to do is imagine what life was like for them as an ordinary person. The best resource I had for that, in terms of how to write those characters, was the University at Albany’s ownWilliam Kennedy. I try to separate my characters’ spoken words from their written words, and I try my best to show that these people were not statues or women in paintings. They were people who were not too different from you and me, and just like you and me, they can find themselves in extraordinary situations.
ASP: Do any of your characters resemble people you know in real life? Are some events in the story based on experience?
JDQ: I’m delighted to say one of UAlbany’s professors appears in the acknowledgments, Dr. Gylne Griffith, who I describe as a very towering friend. I don’t want to say specifically which character I based on him, but for those who read the book and know him, they might be able to picture him towering above the rest of the crowd. But for most of my characters based on historical figures, I try to do my best to imagine what they’d do in the situations they’re put into.
ASP: Your specific writing style can be classified as historical fiction, but do you see yourself branching out to any other genre?
JDQ: It’s so interesting because I don’t see myself narrowed to any particular field. I just try to write what I like to think I am best at, but I also like to experiment and see what my limitations are. I am curious to see what else I can do, but it’s not so much about what writing style. It’s more about offering something unique to whatever genre I’m writing in.
ASP: Is there anything you found challenging while writing the book?
JDQ: I can say with a heavy heart that it was just physically exhausting to write this book. With my first book, “The Great Abraham Lincoln Pocket Watch Conspiracy,” the challenges were more mechanical, such as ‘Can I even write a novel? Can I deliver this on time?’ With my second book [“License to Quill”], I still did not know how to write a book in terms keeping track of my own health. I spent way too much time sitting and writing and not enough time exercising. It started to take a physical toll on my body. I really needed to physically rescue myself, and I was determined to use this experience in my novel. I punish William Shakespeare, I make him sick in the story. That was me trying to make the best of what was the worst of times writing the novel.
ASP: Do you have any advice to aspiring writers and/or your readers?
JDQ: Anybody can be a writer. If you can live, you can write. In many cases it’s people who doubt this basic truth that abstain from the art, so if anyone reading this is unsure about starting, to quote Dante: “The secret to getting things done is to act!” Just take a stab at it. If you have any questions about anything, please track me down. I’m on Twitter all the time, so please contact me. I want to help other writers because I would not be here right now with a book to discuss unless other writers had helped me.
“License to Quill” was released in December of 2015. For those interested in history and literature with a humorous twist, this book is worth a read. Visit Jacopo’s website at PocketWatchConspiracy.com or follow him on Twitter at @Jacopo_della_Q for more information.