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Alyssa Palombo

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15 Facts About THE VIOLINIST OF VENICE

Today marks the fourth anniversary of the publication of my debut novel, The Violinist of Venice! It totally does not seem like it’s been four years since I first became a published author – it doesn’t feel like it’s been that long at all. So much has happened since then (including the fact that I’m somehow gearing up for the publication of my FOURTH BOOK – WHAT EVEN), and yet it still seems like it just happened.

So in honor of the fourth anniversary of this book I love so much, and that anniversary falling on December 15th, I decided to share fifteen fun facts about The Violinist of Venice:

 

1.) The working title was Maestro. On my first revision/second draft, I changed it to The Violinist of Venice. Before going on submission, my agent and I kicked around a few other title options to see if there was something we liked better than The Violinist of Venice, and there wasn’t, so we went with it. I love that title because it can refer to either Adriana or Vivaldi, or both.

2.) I retyped the entire book twice. My agent loves to tell this story: for each of the two revisions I did before querying, I printed out the whole manuscript, put it in a binder, and manually retyped the entire thing as I revised. This forced me to consider every single word and whether or not it was necessary, or if it was the best word. My agent found this admirable, but the two of us joined forces to break me of this habit – it’s definitely not efficient or practical time-wise, which I quickly found out when doing revisions on more of a deadline.

3.) Each version of the book got shorter. The original, very messy first draft was almost 600 pages. It got shorter (and, more importantly, tighter) with each revision it went through, from the ones I did on my own to the revisions my agent and I did before going on sub to the line edits my editor did.

4.) I first got the idea for the book from a dream I had. The dream was essentially the first chapter of the book. And the date on which I woke up from that dream? March 4th – Antonio Vivaldi’s birthday. I started writing the book that same day.

5.) I never had an edit letter for this book. By the time my editor bought it, the manuscript was pretty polished – I’d been working on it for five years (due to being in college at the time, as well as my very time-consuming revision process described above), and that was before the revisions my agent and I did. So my editor jumped right to a heavy line edit, and as this was my debut novel, I didn’t know any different. Only now do I realize how unusual this was. My books since then have all had edit letters, of course – they’ve all been much heavier lifts for my editor than the first one!

6.) There was one scene I worked on in the same place twice – sort of. The scene where Adriana and her father go to stay at the Foscari country house was originally written in my dear friend Lindsay’s dorm at Canisius College, our alma mater. I was a commuter student, and one day on campus I got caught in a MASSIVE downpour, got completely soaked through, and had to go to her dorm so that a) she could put my clothes in her dryer and b) I could borrow some of her clothes while mine were drying. So while waiting for my clothes to dry, I got out my laptop and did some writing. A couple years later, I was revising that scene in my last revision before querying while in her apartment in Maryland, where I was visiting her while she was in grad school.

7.) While I was working on the book, I only ever called it “The Beast”. I never referred to it by its title, or it’s working title – it was only ever “The Beast”, and all my friends knew it by that name, too. For a while after it sold, I kept forgetting that when people said The Violinist of Venice, they were actually referring to my book!

8.) My very favorite part of the book is Chapter 30, “Composition”. This is the scene where Adriana gives Vivaldi the first movement of a concerto she’s composed, and he tells her what he thinks and plays it for her. This didn’t get added until revisions (in the first draft, Adriana wasn’t a composer herself). I love it because I so understand all the nerves and feelings that come with sharing your work with someone for the first time.

9.) There’s a line in the book where Vivaldi says “We are both of us whores”. This is my friend and critique partner Caitie’s favorite line I have ever written to this day. When I signed her book, I wrote that line in caps across the title page.

10.) I finally went to Venice before starting the final revision before querying. At that point, I had done tons of research through books, the internet, and taking violin lessons myself. Seeing Venice and experiencing it was the last piece of the puzzle for me. It was completely magical, and Venice is my favorite place in the entire world – I’ve since been back twice more. While I was there, I went to see an orchestra perform Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, which was truly one of the most amazing experiences of my life – hearing the music in the place where it was written.

11.) I make color-coded notes for all my books. I have one notebook I carry around to jot down story notes as they occur to me, and each book gets its own color pen ink, so I can tell at a glance what book the notes are for. The notes for The Violinist of Venice were in dark red.

12.) The character most like me in this book is Giuseppe Rivalli. There’s a lot of me in Adriana for sure – the love of music being the big thing we have in common – but I realized at some point while writing this that Giuseppe was actually the most like me. I’m the friend who will try to talk you out of bad ideas, and when I can’t, I’ll go along to try to limit the damage.

13.) I’ve performed some of the music described in this book. I’ve performed the aria “Cosi potessi anch’io” from Orlando furioso, as well as the first movement of Vivaldi’s Stabat Mater. I’ve also sung in the choir and as a soloist for Vivaldi’s Gloria in D, which pops up a few times in the book.

14.) My favorite piece of music of all time is Vivaldi’s Concerto in B Minor for 4 Violins and Cello Continuo, which is Vivaldi and Adriana’s favorite piece in the book.

15.) There is a shout-out to one of my favorite bands in the first chapter. Chapter 1 ends with the line “I pulled my hood over my face and stepped outside into the late April rain, leaving him to think what he would.” This is a nod to the band Delain and their album April Rain, which I listened to constantly while writing this book. Most of the songs on the album are on the book’s playlist (which you can find here).

Bonus “fact”: If Adriana was a real person and around today, she would be first chair violin in a symphony orchestra and also playing electric violin in a symphonic metal band on the side.

In Which a Pantser Makes and Writes from an Outline

As I mentioned a few posts back, my current work-in-progress is my most ambitious undertaking yet (and if you read my most recent post then you know that I’m actually almost done!). In order to get started with it, I was forced to make an outline, which is something I had never done before (I had never outlined an entire book, at least). For someone who usually falls into the “pantser” category of writers, this was a new challenge in and of itself.

I found the actual writing of the outline itself to be somewhat tedious – necessary though I knew it was, I just wanted to be writing the actual story and digging into the characters and relationships and dialogue. It didn’t help that the outline took much longer to finish than I’d anticipated (though given what the overall length of the book will end up as, that shouldn’t have surprised me). But then once it was done, I was ready to get writing, and embark on this strange new journey of writing from an outline.

I wondered whether writing from an outline would help me to draft faster. I’m told I write pretty quickly, but I would always like to be faster (well, as fast as is reasonable without writing a draft that is a complete and utter mess). This has most definitely been the case; I’m at about 104,000 words right now in something that I started back in March (though, full disclosure: I did have the prologue and a few chapters already written, since I originally started playing with this idea some years ago, so I probably had around 5000ish words to start). That is the fastest I have ever written a draft of this length to this point in my writing career, and I can only conclude that it is because of the outline.

Because, of course, making an outline has removed that element of pantsing wherein I sit down in front of my computer and say “Okay, what next?”. No need to try to figure it out as I sit down to write; I can just refer to the outline. It has prevented me from getting really stuck or hung up on plot elements, since I’d already mapped all that out in advance.

That’s not to say, of course, that I haven’t had difficulties and roadblocks in writing this draft. Oh, have I ever. It’s just that those difficulties have been more along the lines of character arc and development and the subtleties of the characters’ relationships with one another – which run the gamut from loving to tricky to downright dysfunctional. Getting those sorts of things right, of course, is no easy task in writing any novel, whether you’ve got an outline or not. On the flip side, though, one of my two POV characters was being a bit more elusive, and what I found as I wrote the outline is that some of her motivations and the way she thinks became clearer to me. She’s been a bit of a tough nut to crack overall, and only recently do I feel like I finally have all the keys to her as a character. And that is something else that often comes with the drafting process.

And certainly not all of the spontaneity of my pantser’s soul has been eliminated. There were a few events that I originally included in the outline that I decided to cut, both to keep the length of the book manageable and also for the overall flow/arc of the story. Then there have also been events and scenes that I added in that were not in the outline, or scenes that ended up becoming bigger and more fleshed out than I had originally anticipated while outlining. Parts of the story and characters are still revealing themselves to me as I write, which is one of the things I love about pantsing. I like to be surprised (at least a little bit) when I’m writing, and that has still happened in this book.

Along those lines, another of my concerns was that, since I already knew everything that was going to happen and had already sketched it out, would I get bored with the actual writing of the book? The answer, thankfully, has been a resounding no. Quite the contrary, actually: since mapping everything out in brief I’ve been itching to get at many of the scenes and really dig into them. I was very glad to find that!

So, overall, much as it may pain me to admit it, writing from an outline has actually been a really good experience, and I think it has helped me draft this book more successfully in many ways. Do I see myself making an outline again in the future if I don’t absolutely have to (as I did with this book)? Hmmmm…maybe, maybe not. I don’t know that I could make myself sit down and write a whole outline again if the story did not absolutely require it, as in this case. I do still like discovering and unearthing the story as I go along. So while I wouldn’t say I’ve been converted from pantser to plotter altogether, writing from an outline has been a much better experience than I thought it would be.

 

The Howling

I have that buzz in my veins. That excited, almost anxious fizzing in my blood that comes when I am closing in on the end of a draft. The howling of words that are scratching and clawing and trying to get out and onto the page. It makes it hard to focus on other things (like work, conversations with actual people, etc.) because everything in me just wants to be writing and writing and writing until I’ve finished. I start to resent anything and everything that takes me away from writing.

It’s a good feeling. A frustrating, exciting, energizing feeling. A good one.

I’m forgetful. I leave things behind. I walk into rooms and can’t remember what I went into them for. I can’t always hear the daily thoughts I need to function over the howling of the words in my ear. It’s a miracle I show up anywhere on time, given that while my body might be here, now, in the present, my head is in Rome circa the late 1490s.

Once the draft is finished, once I get all the words out of me and onto the page, the howling will quiet. It will fade away for a time as I finish my research and start to make revision notes and get feedback from my agent and critique partners. Then it will start up again: the sound of the words, now they are on the page, clamoring to be polished, to be gilded, to be made to sing where before they only howled.

All of us writers must hear this, the calling of the words to be put down and placed in a certain order and made to shine. That must be why we write, in answer to this siren song. The urge to tell a story, even when it’s not perfect, because it’s bubbled up within us to the point where we can’t not tell it anymore. And then the clamor continues, urging us to, now that we’ve told the story, to tell it well. Because if we don’t, then haven’t we wasted our chance to tell this story? Because if we don’t, who will?

As I write this, I’m about 96,000 words into my current work-in-progress. If I had to make an estimate, I would say that this one will end up at around 120,000 at this point. (It will probably get longer in revision). That’s still a bit of a ways to go, but I’ve got that downhill momentum going. I’m in the last third, and I’ve started rolling.

It doesn’t feel like this book has gone as fast as it has. It’s been a difficult one for many reasons. And while the buzzing, the fizzing, the howling is always the same, it always happens for me at this point in every first draft of everything, this time I think it does feel a little different, because of the challenges I’ve faced. The ones I am still facing. Because of the desire to just be able to say that “It’s done”, so I can go about fixing it. So that I can begin to imagine what it may finally look like. So that I can begin to imagine what it would be like to achieve what I meant to with this book.

I can’t quite imagine it yet. But soon. Because beneath the howling is a whisper that maybe I can do what I set out to do after all. The first draft is only the first step, but perhaps the biggest one. And so the howls and whispers alike prod me on.

 

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