Authors & Inspirations: Dee Romito

I’m very excited to announce my new interview series, Authors & Inspirations! In it, I’ll be posting interviews with authors from all different genres in which I ask about the art and media that they enjoy and that inspires them in their work. As an author, I love talking about my favorite art and artists, and love hearing other creators talk about their inspirations as well, so I thought this would be a fun series – hopefully for both readers and for the authors I interview. Enjoy!

My first interview is with middle grade and picture book author, Dee Romito. Dee and I became friends a few years ago, and I just adore her books – they’re so fun to read but always have an inspiring message at their heart, whether you’re a kid or an adult! Her most recent release, the non-fiction picture book Pies from Nowhere: How Georgia Gilmore Sustained the Montogomery Bus Boycott, tells the story of an unsung hero of the Civil Rights movement, and appropriately enough released on Election Day this month. Welcome, Dee!

Do you listen to music while you write? Why or why not?

Not usually. My preference is a quiet writing space, and when I’m out somewhere writing I can usually block out the noises around me. If it’s really loud, I might listen to classical or Top 40 type songs.

What was the last live concert you attended?

My kids earned tickets for our local “Kiss the Summer Hello” concert with various artists, including Alessia Cara. Before that, I think it was Garth Brooks. His concerts are the BEST.

You are magically going to be granted the ability to be a virtuoso on one instrument. Which do you pick?

Piano. I love watching people play piano, and those fast, hitting-lots-of-keys songs are incredible!

What are your all-time favorite TV shows?

Friends, Seinfeld, 24, White Collar.

What TV shows are you loving lately?

This is Us! And the last season of The Big Bang Theory. I love sitcoms.

Is there a TV show that’s had an impact on you as a writer?

Not necessarily a specific show, but TV shows in general have for sure. I find that as a writer I often don’t just watch shows, I study them. Even my husband will say, “Ooh, they wouldn’t have shown that if it’s not going to be important later!”

I once binge watched the series Hart of Dixie and when I finished the four seasons, I started it all over again. I knew I loved it, but I wanted to figure out why I loved it so much. (It was the quirky characters and their friendships!)

If you got the opportunity to write an episode for one show (past or present) what would it be?

Ooh, this is a tough one. I’d pick Friends or Seinfeld except I don’t think I could do them justice. Maybe Parenthood or Party of Five. I really loved those shows because of the complicated relationships between the characters.

If Netflix were to option one of your books for a TV series, which book would you choose, and who would play your main characters?

The BFF Bucket List would probably best lend itself to a TV series. But if I get to cast the main characters, let’s go with No Place Like Home so I can have George Clooney or Josh Duhamel play the dad. 😉

What are your all-time favorite movies?

The answer to this has always been Grease and Field of Dreams, but I have now officially added The Greatest Showman to that list. LOVE it.

Who are your favorite actors/actresses?

Anyone who follows me online knows I have a massive crush on Hugh Jackman. So much so that a friend recently sent me a cardboard cutout of him. (Okay, I might also have been sent a cutout of Josh Duhamel.

Is there a movie that’s had a big impact on you as a writer?

I got the idea for No Place Like Home while watching the movie Up in the Air. It’s about a guy who travels all the time for work and I wondered, “Could you do that if you had kids?” From that, the seed for a middle grade book idea was born.

Has a place you’ve traveled ever inspired you in your writing?

Definitely. I have always loved to travel. Several of my books have travel themes and take place in cities I’ve been to. I have one manuscript I got the idea for while sitting in Trafalgar Square in London (Someday I’ll get back to working on that one!). Of course, sometimes places I haven’t been to inspire me too. My most recent book, Postcards from Venice, takes place in Venice, Italy where I have yet to venture to.

You can go on a two-week, all-expenses paid writing retreat to the location of your choice. Where would you go, and why?

Santorini, Greece. I have always wanted to go there and OH MY GOODNESS it’s beautiful.

Are you a podcast listener? If so, what are some of your favorite podcasts?

I wasn’t until this past year, but now I really enjoy them. My favorite kidlit podcast is Literaticast and my favorite just for fun is Dax Shepard’s Arm Chair Expert. Although don’t listen to it with kids in the car!

What’s your favorite book you’ve read recently?

I read a lot of picture books, especially nonfiction and biography. I love learning about people in history. One of my recent favorites is A Lady Has the Floor by Kate Hannigan about Belva Lockwood–an amazing woman I didn’t know about!

What are your very favorite kinds of scenes to write?

I like writing fun scenes that make me laugh, but I also like the ones that tug at the heart strings and make you feel the character’s emotions. Those are usually the hardest to write, but they’re so important to a story.

When you need to recharge your batteries/refill the well as a writer, what forms of media do you most often turn to?

I’m supposed to say books or music to sound official as a writer, I know, but my real answer is TV. I’m very visual, so TV shows and movies are my ultimate comfort spot when I need to recharge.

What artistic/creative talent do you wish you had?

Oh how I’d love to be an illustrator! But there are so many talented illustrators out there, it’s actually more fun to see what they do with the books.

If you could have a drink with any three people alive in the world right now, who would you pick?

Well first of all, I’m allergic to alcohol, so I’d just be ordering a water with lemon. Hugh Jackman, Ellen DeGeneres, and Michelle Obama.

Let us know what’s coming up next for you: new books, new projects; what are you working on?

I have a chapter book series coming out with Aladdin/Simon & Schuster in 2020 called Fort Builders. It’s about a group of kids who start a fort building company to earn money. Inspired by my own box fort builders at home. (Yes, there is currently a box fort in our play room.)

 

Dee Romito lives in her hometown of Buffalo, New York. You’re likely to find her on adventures with her husband and two energetic kids, at the local ice cream shop, or curled up in a comfy chair with her cats. She loves to write, travel, and giggle like a teenager with her friends.

Her middle grade books include The BFF Bucket ListNo Place Like Home, co-authored Best.Night.Ever, and Postcards from Venice (Aladdin/S&S). Her debut picture book, Pies from Nowhere: How Georgia Gilmore Sustained the Montgomery Bus Boycott (Little Bee Books) is now available. You can visit her website at DeeRomito.com.

Website

Blog

Twitter

Facebook

Instagram

Goodreads

Advertisements

An Ode to Florence: The Church of the Ognissanti

In my An Ode to Florence series I’ll be posting pictures and information about my favorite places in Florence, including those that figure into The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence.

 

DSC01726

The Church of the Ognissanti – or Church of All Saints – sits facing the river Arno in Florence, right across from the riverbank. The Franciscan church was originally built in the 13th century but has since been remodeled. It was the parish church of the Vespucci family, the family into which Simonetta Cattaneo married.

DSC01711

In The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence, Simonetta mentions attending Mass in this church with her husband and his family; they lived not far. Also in the neighborhood was Sandro Botticelli’s workshop.

Simonetta Cattaneo Vespucci and Sandro Botticelli are both buried in this church. Botticelli asked to be buried at Simonetta’s feet when he died, and his wish was granted. This was the detail that truly inspired me to write The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence.

DSC01717

The above shows the area where Simonetta Vespucci is interred.

DSC01715

Just a few feet away is the grave of Sandro Botticelli, pictured above. People regularly leave flowers, letters, and notes on his grave. It was a very moving experience for me to visit the burial sites of my two main characters. I asked for their blessing, and can only hope that my novel did them justice.

This concludes my An Ode to Florence series. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading along and that you’ve learned some things you didn’t know before! I highly recommend visiting Florence in person if you are able at any point in your life.

Story and Song: Visual Art Edition, Part 4

Welcome to the fourth installment of my blog series that I’m calling Story and Song: Visual Art Edition. Each post will feature a modern/contemporary song from the playlist of The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence, and a piece of artwork that features in the novel. I’ll describe how both fit into the story with a minimum of spoilers!

In This Moment – “Dirty Pretty”

This song, as you’ll hear if you listen to it, is dark and heavy and gritty. The lyrics talk about a woman being objectified, and how she wants to rise above that. This song was a no-brainer on the playlist for Simonetta’s story. As those of you who have read The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence will know, at times Simonetta is flattered by the attention she gets because of her looks and enjoys it, and at other she finds it ridiculous and even threatening. I felt this was a realistic way for her to interact with her beauty and that kind of attention. This song goes with chapter 32, in which Marco tries to trade on his wife’s beauty in a way that she is not at all okay with, and she lets him know. She feels angry and ashamed and dirty, even though she herself didn’t do anything wrong, and upset at how people see her. So she stands up for herself. I always imagined her walking away from Marco at the end of her argument with some of the lyrics from this song in her head: “I won’t close my eyes/Like you want me to/I am wild and free/I am untameable/And more than you’ll ever see/More than just your dirty pretty”.

 

Adoration of the Magi – Botticelli

In the novel, Botticelli at one point mentions that he is working on this painting, a commission for the church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence, and in fact that is just where it was really painted for. In chapter 34, Simonetta goes to the church to see it, and recognizes some familiar figures. In what was a common practice at the time, Botticelli included his patrons in the painting: the man in the red cloak kneeling in the center is Piero de’ Medici, father of Lorenzo and Giuliano; the man in darker red at the far left edge is Giuliano de’ Medici, and the man in black to the right of Piero is Lorenzo de’ Medici. The Medici were particular fans of the Adoration of the Magi motif – the private chapel in their palazzo has a fresco of the same theme, painted by Benozzo Gozzoli – because they were the only rich men in the Bible who made it into heaven. A fitting choice for a family of fabulously wealthy and at times ruthless bankers.

And finally – as Simonetta recognizes in the novel when she goes to see the painting – the figure in yellow at the far right edge of the painting, looking back at the viewer, is a self-portrait of Sandro Botticelli himself. Artists often painted self-portraits into scenes like this, and in Renaissance art you can always tell which one is the artist because he will be looking directly out of the painting and at the viewer.

This painting hangs today in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, and I saw it in person when I visited doing research for the novel. Of course, I made sure to say hi to Botticelli 🙂

Story and Song: Visual Art Edition, Part 2

Welcome to the second installment of my blog series that I’m calling Story and Song: Visual Art Edition. Each post will feature a modern/contemporary song from the playlist of The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence, and a piece of artwork that features in the novel. I’ll describe how both fit into the story with a minimum of spoilers!

 

Serenity – “The Perfect Woman”

This song, from Serenity’s concept album Codex Atlanticus about Leonardo da Vinci, nevertheless fits in PERFECTLY with the Simonetta and Sandro’s story. It’s about an artist who is consumed with the painting that he is working on, and about the woman who is the muse helping him bring the work to life. It could have been written for The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence, honestly. It exactly captures the relationship and atmosphere between Simonetta and Sandro as she poses for his masterpiece, The Birth of Venus.

 

Return of Judith to Bethulia and The Discovery of the Body of Holofernes – Sandro Botticelli

  

The two paintings above are a set painted by Botticelli around the time The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence begins and were at one point in the possession of the Medici family. In the novel, I have Lorenzo de’ Medici displaying them with the Donatello statue of Judith that I mentioned in my previous Story and Song post. They are the first example of Botticelli’s work that Simonetta encounters, and she is fascinated by them, before she meets the artist himself. Judith, for those unfamiliar with the story, was a Jewish widow who sneaked into the tent of enemy general Holofernes the night before he was to attack her town and seduced him. Then, while he slept, she cut off his head (and took it with her), thus saving her people. It’s a powerful story about a woman who takes power into her own hands, and so the equally powerful and striking depictions of her that Simonetta sees are both awe-inspiring and simply inspiring to her.

These two (small) panels are both in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence today.

 

The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence – cover reveal!

I am so excited and thrilled to be able to reveal the cover for my second historical novel, The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence, out 4/25/17 from St. Martin’s Griffin. Like with The Violinist of Venice, I was having a hard time visualizing what the cover for this book might look like, and once again the creative team at St. Martin’s absolutely went above and beyond and gave me a cover that is just perfect and is everything that I didn’t know I wanted.

Without further ado, here it is!

themostbeautifulwomaninflorencecoverbigger (1)

 

There are so many things I love about this cover. The first is the pink color scheme. My notes in my notebook for this novel were all color-coded pink, so it’s very fitting that that’s the color scheme here. I also love how the woman looks just like the real Simonetta Vespucci (whom you can see if you take a look at Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus). The angle of her face/head also reminds me of another Botticelli portrait of her, one that she poses for in the novel. Finally, I love the panoramic image of Florence at the bottom – it’s a beautiful city, and this picture really captures that, as well as capturing its dominant feature, the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (aka the Duomo) with Filippo Brunelleschi’s amazing, enormous dome. This same vista can be seen by climbing up to the Piazzale Michelangelo in the hills overlooking the city, which I did when I was in Florence researching this novel. So to have that image on the cover is really wonderful.

I hope you all love this cover as much as I do! Please let me know what you think. And I just can’t wait for this book to be out in the world for you all to read it.

Below is the synopsis of the novel.

A girl as beautiful as Simonetta Cattaneo will never want for marriage proposals in 15th century Italy, but she jumps at the chance to marry Florentine Marco Vespucci. Marco is young, handsome, well-educated, and shares her longtime love of reading. Not to mention he is one of the powerful Medici family’s favored circle.

Even before her marriage with Marco is set, Simonetta is swept up into Lorenzo and Giuliano de’ Medici’s glittering circle of politicians, poets, artists, and philosophers. The men of Florence – most notably the rakish Giuliano de’ Medici – become enthralled with her beauty. That she is educated and an ardent reader of poetry makes her more desirable and fashionable still. But it is her acquaintance with a young painter, Sandro Botticelli, which strikes her heart most.

Botticelli immediately invites Simonetta, newly proclaimed the most beautiful woman in Florence, to pose for him. As Simonetta learns to navigate her marriage, her new home, her place in Florentine society, and the politics of beauty and desire, she and Botticelli develop a dangerously passionate artist and muse relationship, which will lead to her ultimately being immortalized in his masterpiece, The Birth of Venus.

Alyssa Palombo’s The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence is a story of love and tragedy, of passion and humor, and ultimately, of what happens when love finds us when we least expect it.

The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence – release date and synopsis!

I have some exciting news today about my forthcoming second book with St. Martin’s Press, The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence. The novel will be released in the U.S. on April 25, 2017!

Also, below check out the synopsis to learn some more about the book!

A girl as beautiful as Simonetta Cattaneo will never want for marriage proposals in 15th century Italy, but she jumps at the chance to marry Florentine Marco Vespucci. Marco is young, handsome, well-educated, and shares her longtime love of reading. Not to mention he is one of the powerful Medici family’s favored circle.

Even before her marriage with Marco is set, Simonetta is swept up into Lorenzo and Giuliano de’ Medici’s glittering circle of politicians, poets, artists, and philosophers. The men of Florence – most notably the rakish Giuliano de’ Medici – become enthralled with her beauty. That she is educated and an ardent reader of poetry makes her more desirable and fashionable still. But it is her acquaintance with a young painter, Sandro Botticelli, which strikes her heart most.

Botticelli immediately invites Simonetta, newly proclaimed the most beautiful woman in Florence, to pose for him. As Simonetta learns to navigate her marriage, her new home, her place in Florentine society, and the politics of beauty and desire, she and Botticelli develop a dangerously passionate artist and muse relationship, which will lead to her ultimately being immortalized in his masterpiece, The Birth of Venus.

Alyssa Palombo’s The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence is a story of love and tragedy, of passion and humor, and ultimately, of what happens when love finds us when we least expect it.

I am SO EXCITED for this book to make its way into the world for everyone to read. I hope you will all enjoy it when you do get the chance to read it!

I have seen the cover for this book as well, and hope to be able to reveal it soon – it is absolutely GORGEOUS and just perfect for the book, and I’m sure you all will love it as much as I do!

Stay tuned for more fun book 2 things coming soon!