A Note to Readers
In my reading life I’ve read hundreds and hundreds of books with straight protagonists and straight romances. I’ve watched hundreds and hundreds of movies with straight protagonists and straight romances. Yet here I am, still a lesbian! I’m pretty sure it works the other way as well—straight men and women will be able to read a novel about a gay woman, and still remain straight.
What’s most important is story, not sexuality. Does the story grip you? Does it make you laugh? Do you keep thinking about the characters after the book is over? I write stories to escape the despair and violence and pressures surrounding all of us in the twenty-first century. If that’s what you’re looking for too, give The Spanish Pearl a try. You’ll lose yourself in another person’s life for a few hours without endangering your sexuality, whatever it might be.
Minnesota Literature, June 2007
"Friend tackles both science fiction and romance in this adventurous tale...Is it really cheating if you have an affair nine hundred years before your partner is born, or does love and commitment span centuries and confound the linear nature of time? A most entertaining read, with a sequel already in the works. Hot, hot, hot!"
Midwest Fiction Review, June 2007
"1085 AD is a perfect backdrop for this wild romp. The observations Kate Vincent, our plucky heroine, makes about eleventh century Spain through her contemporary eyes are priceless....
...This is a rollicking good tale, full of adventure, humor, romance, and high stakes suspense, for Kate ’s friends and foes are not always who or what they seem. It will take all the smarts and patience of a severely decaffeinated woman to figure out what she wants, not to mention how to actually get home....
...The author does a terrific job with characterization, lush setting, action scenes, and droll commentary. This is one of those well-paced, exciting books that you just can ’t quite put down....This is one of the very best books I ’ve read in many months, so I give it my highest recommendation! Don ’t miss this one." --reviewed by Lori L. Lake
Rochester Post-Bulletin October 19, 2007
With her first adult novel, The Spanish Pearl, author Catherine Friend has proved herself to be an extremely versatile writer....Friend's thorough research of medieval Spanish history brings it alive in all its splendor and palace intrigue.–Paula Michel
Just finished "The Spanish Pearl" for the SECOND TIME! Wowzers, what a fantastic book….Parts of it have stayed with me well after I've finished reading. Kate is a terrific heroine, and I love how her 21st century sassiness comes to play in 1085. I laughed out loud at many of her exploits, and teared up when she helped Luis find himself. I look forward to the sequel, so Catherine, please keep up the great work. Can't wait until November when the next (and final book) in the series debuts. --L. Illinois
I have just finished reading Spanish Pearl and it’s a beauty! Can’t wait for the sequel – November seems such a long time to wait. Oh well, will have to do a couple of re-reads before then, I guess. --Sarah from Brisbane, Australia
I just finished The Spanish Pearl. I was absolutely transfixed! I could hardly put the book down. I read it straight on through work last night. You have done the impossible. You wrote the book I have always dreamed of reading. --Alisha, Missouri
I just finished the book about 4 a.m. this morning. I couldn't put it down. You were able to elicit just about every emotional reaction from me (not easily done), the best by far being laughter. --Diana
Catherine, I just want to say I LOVE YOUR BOOK!!!!! I just finish reading it and can't wait for The Crown of Valencia…. I have a handful of favorite authors and you are now on the top of my list! I would love to see this story on screen sometime. --Christine
It was such a pleasure to read your book. Actually, I am only half way through and, while I have never written a fan letter, I have been so taken by your story and your talent I chose to write you before I finished. Most lesbian fiction I have read is formulaic and often mediocre. Your book was such a nice surprise; I look forward to reading your next book and all the others that come after. --Toni
Kate’s sense of humor is wonderful. The book got better and better with each chapter as I came to know those two better. One day I was so engrossed reading TSP that I actually didn’t realize the metro train had come to the end of the line. It wasn’t until the driver started to exit himself that I realized I was soon to be alone on the train! That was a first! --Laura
From Chapter Two - Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Bold Strokes Books.
I slipped under the frayed yellow rope, using my nifty purple flashlight to light up the cave’s rock floor. Up two steps, and I sat down on the ledge, loosened my shoe, swung my legs up, and lay down. I closed my eyes, inhaling wet rock and sweet earth, feeling better already. I just needed a little rest while the others continued touring the cave.
Nothing disturbed me for about sixty seconds, then a high-pitched whine pierced the cavern. My eyes flew open. The sunlight above me flared into a blinding white. I covered my eyes against the burning, then felt myself starting to spin. The shrill whine nearly pierced my eardrums as I spun faster and faster. God, I must be sick. Centrifugal force tugged at my ankles and my heavy head threatened to fly right off my body. I flung my hands onto the rocks overhead to stop the spinning, but touched nothing. I grabbed for the rock ledge beneath me, but my hands scrabbled against air. My stomach roiled as I spun faster, crying out. The blinding whiteness bore down on me. I screamed, then everything went black.
When I came to, I rolled on my side and threw up. I gagged on the acrid taste, coughed, then wiped my mouth on my arm. How had I gotten the flu? Finally the nausea passed and I realized I was in total darkness except for the weak shaft of sunlight above me. Great, I get sick and the cave has a power failure.
Gripping the rock, I sat up, then fumbled in my fanny pack for the flashlight. The same path snaked through the cavern, but without the yellow rope. Had my tour group already come past? Did they coil up the rope at the end of the tour? A hollow ‘drip, drip’ echoed somewhere off to my left. I shone the flashlight on my watch. Three o'clock? But I left the path for the ledge at 1 o’clock. Oh my god, the cave employees must have closed the cave for siesta and gone home.
I fought an unfamiliar panic. I had a flashlight. I had a candy bar. But it could be morning until someone opened up the cave again. I slid gingerly off the ledge, trying not to think about what beasts might be sharing the cave with me. I knew bats wouldn't really harm me, but the last thing I needed was to be dive-bombed by an army of them. I stumbled down the two steps to the path and headed back toward the entrance.
The flashlight trembled as I felt my way along the passageway. Something soft fluttered past my cheek. "Shit!" I stopped, trying to calm my racing heart. While it wasn’t likely I'd have a heart attack at thirty, this would be absolutely the wrong place to have one. I'd die, the rats would have me for lunch, and all the rescuers would find would be my purple plastic flashlight.
"Stop it," I commanded, my voice a terrifying echo. The path began to climb until I turned the corner and flecks of dust sparkled in the sunlight streaming in through the open door. I ran for the light, stumbling out into the warm, blinding sunlight.
The silence hit me when I stepped outside the cave. The vendors had obviously all left, taking their carts with them, but then I noticed they’d taken the sidewalk as well. What? I looked around, confused. The tacky signs announcing the cave’s entrance were gone. The street snaking up the steep hill toward the cave was gone. The buses and cars and smog were all gone. Below me was only a brilliant jade river lined with thick yews and cottonwoods, and a few miles away was a town on the top of a hill, a white structure standing higher than the other buildings.
"Jesus," I muttered. I'd taken a wrong turn and come out the wrong entrance. Cussing, I started to circle the hill. Zaragoza would be on the other side. But after trudging through thigh-high grass to the other side, I stopped. Nothing but rolling hills. Had I come out the tunnel of an entirely different cave? I continued plodding around the hill until I reached the first entrance, just an opening in the rock wall. Where the hell was Zaragoza? This hill had been surrounded by an entire city not two hours ago. My head hurt. My heel hurt.
I sat down against the gritty rock outcropping, pulling my bare legs up tight against my chest, wrapping my arms around them. The deafening silence rattled me. Why couldn't I figure out where I was? Finally, as crickets and frogs began a symphony, I lay my head on my knees.
I felt it before I heard it. Faint pounding vibrations from the ground beneath me. A train? No, too irregular. Just like in the movies, I pressed an ear to the ground. Horses--lots of them. I leapt to my feet. Hooves thundering, men shouting, metal clanking. The trees below blocked my view, but the group had to be coming around the base of this blasted hill. I grabbed my fanny pack, fumbling with the strap. I would have preferred a bus, car, or taxi, but if it was to be the Spanish Cavalry, fine. Half sliding, half running, terrified they'd pass without stopping, I scrambled down the hill.
When I’d finished the manuscript for The Spanish Pearl, I asked various writing friends to read and critique it for me. My dear friend Phyllis had come to visit, so I’d handed her the fat three-ring binder containing the novel, and she said she was looking forward to taking it home and reading it. I left the room to look for something else, and when I came back five minutes later, Phyllis was sitting in the green velvet rocker, her nose buried in the last chapter of the book.
“PHYLLIS!” I yelled.
“WHAT?” she said, jumping a bit.
“Please tell me you aren’t reading the end of the book first.”
She looked down at the heavy binder in her lap, then up at me. “I’m reading the end of the book first.”
And thus I was introduced to a curious breed of readers known as RTEFers (Read The Ending First readers.) As I careened around the room, sputtering indignantly, Phyllis tried to explain. Apparently some people are unable to relax and enjoy a book if they don’t know how it ends first. “I just can’t concentrate until I know that the person survives, or the romance works, or the mystery is solved satisfactorily. I won’t even buy a book unless I know I like the ending.”
Falling into the other camp are readers, such as myself, who don’t want to know anything about what happens until we read it on the page. We are LMITDers, or Leave Me In The Dark readers. Sometimes book reviews (and reading guides) can provide so much detail, and explain so many of a novel’s twists and turns, that LMITDers want nothing to do with the book itself once they’ve read the review, even if it’s a positive review. That would be me.
Websites offer interesting challenges for authors who provide reading guides for their novels. What if a RFETer surfs by, reads the reading guide, and doesn’t learn enough about the ending? What if a LMITDer surfs by, inadvertently reads the reading guide, and suddenly knows too much?
I mean, really. What would have happened if Emily Brontë had set up a website from the parsonage at Haworth and included a reading guide? If you’d learned before buying Wuthering Heights that Catherine and Healthcliff never end up together, but both die tragic deaths, are you going to race right out and buy the book? Or what if Margaret Mitchell had included a reading guide for Gone With the Wind, and one of the questions had been: “What happened to Scarlett and Rhett’s relationship after their little daughter died?”
Accckk! They had a baby? She died?
The Spanish Pearl isn't a classic, and isn’t sad, but you get my meaning. So while I’m including a reading guide, it’s a carefully worded guide, hopefully providing enough for RTEFers to be interested, yet not so much that LMITDers are turned off. We writers walk a dangerous path.
Reading Guide Questions
- In The Spanish Pearl, Kate falls back in time to 11th century Spain. In Diane Gabaldon’s Outlander, Claire falls back in time to 18th century Scotland. If a time machine suddenly appeared before you, to what time and place would you set the dial?
- Kate’s skills as a modern woman do not help her much in the 11th century. What would it feel like if you suddenly had no idea how to function in a society? On what resources would you draw to survive? Have you ever been in a situation where you’ve been a ‘fish out of water’?
- Kate is torn between two loves. How do we know what person to choose, if we’re in that position? How do people decide or recognize they’re in love with the ‘right’ person?
- Luis Navarro’s best friend, Nuño Suarez, carries around a secret for over ten years. How do you think this secret has affected his life, and his relationship with Luis?
- Do you think Kate Vincent has changed by the end of the book? I’m not sure she has, which is actually okay with me. Do you need a main character to undergo a major emotional transformation to keep you engaged in a novel?
- Kate doesn't always make the best choices. Is this okay, or do you wish she was smarter and wiser and braver than the rest of us?
- If you were suddenly ripped from your life, what would you miss most? Who would you miss most? What would be appealing about living in a different time?
- Would you have made the same choice Kate made? Why or why not?
- What do you hope/expect will happen in the sequel, The Crown of Valencia?
Download The Spanish Pearl Reading Guide PDF | See all Reading Guides