I’m excited to let you all know that the e-book version of The Borgia Confessions is currently on sale for $2.99 across all platforms! If you’ve been wanting to read the book, now is a great time! Links below.
Unlike many writers I know or follow on social media, I’ve actually been pretty productive writing-wise since the pandemic began. That isn’t to brag, and it isn’t to say that I haven’t had days where focusing on my work has been impossible. I absolutely have. But my work has always been my escape from what’s going on in the world, or from stressful things in life, and that has held true of late. So I have, for the most part, been able to lose myself in a couple different stories since March. I finished a first draft I had in progress, did the bulk of my research for that project, and completed a revision – that draft is currently with my agent, awaiting her read and her notes. I also added about 20k words to a project I’d started – and shelved – last summer and had always wanted to come back to.
Yet for whatever reason, recently the words just haven’t been coming.
I’m not sure if it’s this particular project – maybe this one simply demands to be written more slowly than other ones have, and it’s something I’ll have to chip away at. Maybe the stress of the pandemic and the general state of the world is finally catching up to me. Or it may be something else entirely catching up to me.
Maybe the past six years since selling my debut of jumping straight from one project to another with just short breaks in between is finally resulting in the inevitable burnout that I’ve been afraid of for so long. Maybe “writing like I’m running out of time” has finally caught up to me.
There are publishing career concerns at play here as well, of course. That’s impossible to avoid when you write for publication, or for the hope of publication. The fact that I don’t have anything under contract with a publisher right now is also almost certainly a contributing factor to this feeling. This is hopefully a temporary situation, and one almost every author faces at some point in their career. Publishing is an industry that very definitely makes you Wait For It, which is extremely difficult for those of us like myself with Big Alexander Hamilton Energy. So what that means for me right now is that I’m unsure what direction it makes the most sense for me to be going in. I have a few historical projects either started or conceptualized that interest me – including the first draft of the WIP I’ve been plugging away at for the past month or so – but they’re all a bit different, so which one would be best to follow the project that is with my agent currently, if indeed that becomes my next published book as I hope it does? There’s also the fact that there are a couple of other genres I’ve been waiting to try writing in as well, but is now the right time to branch out? Does it necessarily matter what I work on at this precise moment as long as I’m enjoying it and the words start flowing again?
Whichever explanation is correct – and it’s most likely some combination of all of the above – that leaves me not entirely sure what to do. I’m in a weird headspace of wanting to write, wanting to work, but seeming to not have the mental energy or clarity of thought that writing – or creation of any kind – requires. More often than not lately, when I sit down at my laptop my head feels like it’s stuffed with cobwebs. And it isn’t that I don’t have stories I want to tell – I do, too many of them to count sometimes, it seems. And it isn’t that I’m not excited to tell those stories – I am. I just can’t seem to actually do it right now.
Today I sat down to write, with the idea of maybe starting something completely new, in a genre I’ve never written in before, just for the hell of it. Just for fun. Maybe the WIP I’d been trying to write is the problem, and I just need to switch it up to something else and see how that goes for a while. Yet even though I’d been composing sentences in my head all morning, that blinking cursor on the blank Word document I opened just seemed to completely stymie me. Cue the cobweb-stuffed head feeling.
I also opened up all the documents for recent projects I’d been playing around with in the last year or so, skimming through bits and pieces of some of them. While I remain excited about all those ideas, the words just weren’t wanting to come for any of those, either.
So I started writing this blog post.
I realize that what I’m describing above sounds a lot like what is generally referred to as “writer’s block”. This may be an unpopular opinion, but I don’t personally like that term. To me, “writer’s block” implies some sort of magical reason why someone is struggling with writing, and that there isn’t really anything they can do about it until it goes away. When I get stuck – whether on a particular project, or generally – I usually know why I’m stuck, and that helps me figure out a way to push through it. But this time, even though I think I’ve identified a veritable soup of reasons why I’m feeling stuck, the way through is not at all clear to me. Writer’s block? Maybe. I’ll probably never get over my ingrained dislike of that phrase, though, wherever that dislike stems from.
Any fellow creative reading this is probably sing-shouting at me, Eliza Hamilton-style, “Take a break!” And there’s a large part of me that realizes that that is probably the answer, or at least part of it. But then there’s that annoyingly persistent part of me that insists I want to be writing, really I do. The feeling I get when I sit down to my laptop seems to disagree, though. And that’s a really uncomfortable feeling for someone who has always been able to write her way out.
So here I am, a thousand words later, and I still don’t have the answer. All I can say at this point is these are the only words I’ll be writing today. Maybe tomorrow will look different.
Maybe it’s time I finally learned to Wait for It.
Exciting news! On Tuesday, July 14th, 2020, the audiobook edition of my second novel, The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence, will be released via Tantor! The amazing Nicol Zanzarella narrated, and the moment I heard her audio sample I knew she was PERFECT for Simonetta. I can’t wait to hear the finished product myself!
And look – Tantor even gave it a snazzy new cover!
The audiobook is available for preorder now! Links below!
Since we are all staying at home and socially distancing, and since I can’t be at bookstore events reading to you all in person, I decided to record a video of myself reading a short passage from The Borgia Confessions. Hope you enjoy, and hope you are all staying safe and staying healthy!
How about a new Authors & Inspirations post? I’m delighted to welcome Stephanie Storey to the blog today. Stephanie is an author of historical fiction, and her fabulous and vivid next novel, Raphael: Painter in Rome, will be out April 7th. I was lucky enough to read an early copy, and this beautiful book is one that has stayed with me since. Definitely pre-order yourself a copy for an escape into Renaissance Rome during these trying times! Read on to learn more about Stephanie’s own artistic inspirations.
What artist (of any medium) has had the biggest influence on you as a writer?
Michelangelo because of his obsessive determination to succeed, loner nature, and talent for expressing the struggles of humanity.
Do you listen to music while you write? Why or why not?
I almost always listen to music while I write. I choose songs that help me slip into the mood of the character. If I’m listening to a song that brings forth that same emotion in me, I can more easily can empathize with what my character is going through.
Are there any musicians who have had a big impact on your work?
REM/Michael Stipe and the Indigo Girls probably had the most formative impact on my writing: I admire the way they dive deep and straight at the heart. But also, I’m from the American South (Arkansas), so I also have to admit that country music has profoundly impacted my storytelling.
Share some of your favorite song lyrics:
“And the Mississippi’s mighty
But it starts in Minnesota
At a place that you could walk across
With five steps down
And I guess that’s how you started
Like a pinprick to my heart
But at this point you rush right through me
And I start to drown”
–Ghost by Indigo Girls
“Did you never call? I waited for your call
These rivers of suggestion are driving me away
The trees will bend, the cities wash away
The city on the river is a girl without a dream…”
–So. Central Rain by REM
Favorite old lyrics that take on whole new meaning these days:
“This was unexpected,
What do I do now?
Could we start again please?
I think you’ve made your point now
You’ve even gone a bit too far to get your message home
Before it gets too frightening, we ought to call a halt
So could we start again please?”
–Could We Start Again Please from Jesus Christ Superstar
Your favorite band is going to write a song based on one of your books. What band is it, and what should the song be about?
Instead of a band, can I go with songwriter? Because I want to hear Lin Manuel Miranda writing a song about the moment in my new novel, Raphael, Painter in Rome, when the young Raphael stands in front of Michelangelo’s David for the first time, witnessing his rival’s brilliance and questioning whether he can ever find a way to beat it. I’d love to hear what Lin did with this moment of self-doubt mixed with determination to somehow win.
You are magically going to be granted the ability to be a virtuoso on one instrument. Which do you pick?
Saxophone. I love the yearning in the whine of a sax. It feels like a great expression of human longing. I desperately wanted to learn to play one when I was a kid, but never had the chance. Maybe that’s what I’ll do in my 40s!
What are your all-time favorite TV shows?
Survivor! It’s my favorite anthropological study of human interaction. I learn so much about how people manipulate others while watching that show (great research for a novelist!)
What TV shows are you loving lately?
I love a lot of them, but again, I’ll limit myself to one: This Is Us is my favorite show on TV right now. It makes me weep every single week.
Is there a TV show that’s had an impact on you as a writer?
Lots of them influenced me, but I’ll go with Little House on the Prairie because I used to watch and re-watch that show when I was a little kid (like 6, 7, 8). I was realizing that I wanted to write when I grew up, and I knew I wanted to tell stories that were as exciting and suspenseful and emotional as Little House on the Prairie (At the time, I thought it was the greatest storytelling in the world). I didn’t know this at the time, but now I know that I was breaking the stories down to study their components and figure out how they worked together to drive narrative forward. Yes, I was a nerdy kid.
Is there a movie that’s had a big impact on you as a writer?
The Star Wars movies probably had the biggest impact because they were formative in my young life, and they serve as the basis for so much of Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey (which applies Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces to screenwriting) which probably had the biggest impact on my writing out of everything I’ve ever read and studied.
Which of your books do you think would make a great movie? Is there a book of yours you WOULDN’T want to see as a movie, and why?
Oil and Marble is in development as a feature film right now by Pioneer Pictures, and I’m very excited about it because I originally conceived of the story as a screenplay/movie, so it feels like it’s all coming full circle!
Are you a theatregoer? If so, what was the last play/musical you saw?
Musicals are actually my favorite kind of storytelling. The most recent show I saw was Jagged Little Pill on Broadway. I expected it to be yet another jukebox musical (this one of Alanis Morrissette’s music), but it was so much more than that. It’s a moving, important, contemporary story that everyone should see. My other favorite that I’ve seen recently is Six the Musical about the six wives of King Henry VIII. It’s a musical in which his six wives have a sing-off, competing over whose marriage was worse. It’s funny and sweet and inspirational!
Are there any visual artists you’re a big fan of?
I could write a whole book about just this one question! I’ll narrow it down to my absolute, all-time favorite top five:
Michelangelo (of course)
Raphael (of course)
Everett Shinn (American, Ashcan School, for those of you who don’t know)
… Can’t believe I made myself narrow it down to five!
Do you ever draw on visual art in your work?
All the time, every day, every hour. I hope to be writing art historical fiction until the day I die, just like Michelangelo was still carving marble the week before he died when he was almost 89 years old. Oh to be able to do what you love until you die.
Has a place you’ve traveled ever inspired you in your writing?
The first place that truly inspired me was Italy. I studied art and Italian at the University of Pisa when I was twenty-years old, and I’m fairly certain that semester abroad altered the course of my life, since it was the first time I saw the David and the Sistine Ceiling in person. Paris also holds a particular creative power over me. Honestly though, almost every place I’ve ever traveled inspires me in some way!
What authors have most inspired you in your own work?
Jane Austen and Margaret Atwood are my all-time favorites, but my work is equally as inspired by Ken Follett, Dan Brown, and Philippa Gregory.
What was the last book you read?
I’m finishing up the Borgia Confessions by YOU, and I’m really loving it. It’s shocking that you made me empathize with Cesare Borgia, of all people, and that new perspective was just fun. Last week, I finished Christopher Bollen’s A Beautiful Crime, a gorgeous crime novel set in Venice. Next up, Therese Anne Fowler’s A Good Neighborhood.
What’s your favorite book you’ve read recently?
Goldfinch is the most recent book that I’ve read that I just positively fell in love with—like instant classic for me. It ranks up there with my all-time favs like Pride and Prejudice and anything by Margaret Atwood
What’s a book you’ve loved that you feel more people should be talking about?
Consider the Feast by Carmit Delman is strange and fascinating and rich… I’ll admit a bias: Carmit and I got our MFAs in Creative Writing together at Emerson College, but I was genuinely floored by her newest novel, and it has stuck with me long after I read it.
What are your very favorite kinds of scenes to write?
Anytime an artist is having a creative breakthrough, Michelangelo finding David in the stone; Leonardo finding Lisa’s smile; Raphael sparking genius on the walls of the pope’s private quarters…
What artistic/creative talents do you have outside of writing?
I was a singer for a very long time when I was young. I’ve also spent serious stints as both a painter and an actor. I love exploring new creative fields, if nothing else to understand—more clearly—what it feels like to create different kinds of art.
If you could have a drink/cup of coffee/beverage of choice with any three people alive in the world right now, who would you pick?
My husband, Mike Gandolfi, and two of my best friends from college Michelle D’Antuono Wilburn and Sarah Potter (and I’d bring along Michelle’s husband and Sarah’s wife if I could expand the dinner party, too!) I’ve produced talk television for nearly 20 years, so I’ve met everyone famous I could ever want to meet, and let me tell you, they never live up to expectations. Plus, awkward conversations with famous people are not nearly as much fun as great conversations with great friends; and I appreciate those moment even more now during this pandemic, when we can’t get together with the people we love the most.
Let us know what’s coming up next for you: new books, new projects; what are you working on?
My new book, Raphael, Painter in Rome, comes out on April 7th so I’m out promoting that (moving book tour out of physical venues and online!) I’ve already finished the first draft of my next novel, but I’m not talking about it yet, except to say that it’s still art historical fiction and that I’ll be leaving the Italian Renaissance for now. I’m not done with the Italian Renaissance yet, but I want a moment away from it, so I can return with a fresh perspective. The next novel will also cover an area of art with which I have been obsessed for a very long time…
Stephanie Storey is the author of the stunning debut, Oil and Marble: A Novel of Leonardo and Michelangelo. It has been translated into six languages and is in development as a feature film by Pioneer Pictures. Storey is also a TV producer of The Alec Baldwin Show on ABC, The Arsenio Hall Show for CBS, and the Emmy-nominated The Writers’ Room on Sundance. When not writing fiction or producing television, she can usually be found traveling the world with her husband—an actor and Emmy-winning comedy writer—in search of her next story.