Tag Archives: author

Story and Song: Visual Art Edition, Part 5

Welcome to the fifth and final 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!

 

Epica – “Canvas of Life”

This is the song for a very important scene in chapter 24: when Simonetta goes to pose for The Birth of Venus for the first time. This song – both its sound and its lyrics – go perfectly with her initially posing for Botticelli, embracing the decision she made that she had hesitated about and agonized over before ultimately deciding to do what she wanted, no matter what anyone else might think. I listened to this song A TON while writing the book as a whole, and always while working on this scene both in drafting and in edits and revisions.

 

The Birth of Venus – Botticelli

Here it is, the painting which inspired The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence and around which the novel largely resolves. It is my favorite painting ever; I loved it long before I wrote the book and it was because it’s one of my favorites that I was so inspired to write about the woman behind it. What always astonishes me the most about this painting is how Botticelli managed to capture movement, motion, so perfectly – it’s hard to believe that the painting is standing still, as it were. The story is, of course, that Venus (or Aphrodite to the Greeks) was born fully formed out of the waves of the ocean and carried to shore in a giant shell, so that is what Botticelli is depicting here. As the Renaissance was very much inspired by the revival of Greek ideas, philosophies, and legends, we begin seeing many such themes in the artwork of the period.

As I describe in the novel’s prologue, this painting was known to have been finished around 1484 – well after Simonetta’s death. And, as I mention in the author’s note, we cannot know if Simonetta ever posed for it while she was alive, though I like to think that she did. There’s no record of the original commission of the painting, though it seems likely that it was commissioned by a minor branch of the Medici family and was for a time in the Villa di Castello, one of the Medici country houses. I changed this a bit in the novel, of course – such is the privilege of the fiction writer! Today the famous painting can be found in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence along with many other of Botticelli’s works, including what is perhaps his other most famous painting, the Primavera.

This is the last post in my Story and Song series for The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence. I hope you’ve enjoyed it! I’ll likely be doing similar posts for future books related to my writing soundtrack/playlists. Thanks for reading!

 


The New, Great, Challenging Work-in-Progress

As those of you who have read my posts in the last few months will know, I’ve been struggling to decide what idea to choose for my next novel – I had a few that I really liked (and still do like them all). But I have since decided on one – it’s the one both my agent and I were leaning towards – and have been hard at work on it. All I’ll say about it at this point is that it is set in Renaissance Italy, but it’s very different from The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence. It’s very dark and political, and it sticks very closely to actual historical events for the most part.

It is also, without a doubt, going to be the most difficult and challenging book I’ve written to date.

I thought that this book was going to be the second book of my two-book deal with St. Martin’s Press, but it just wasn’t ready yet (and so, of course, I wrote The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence). Once I turned in Most Beautiful, I thought it was going to be my third book, but it still wasn’t ready: my agent liked what I had so far, but felt like it was maybe missing something. So I wrote a different book (which I hope to be able to tell you all more about soon) instead.

I have always intended to write this book, and now, finally, its time has come. I found the missing piece of it in, as it happened, a short story I’d written in college. Then everything clicked and I was on my way. I couldn’t not write it. It’s time.

I wrote about 10,000 words (some of which I had originally written years ago, when I first started playing with this idea) before I realized I needed to face that thing that I’d been avoiding: an outline.

I’m a pantser at heart, which isn’t always conducive to historical fiction. With The Violinist of Venice, my narrator and heroine was a fictional character, so I was able to do plenty of pantsing in having her life take whatever course it wanted and that seemed natural. With The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence, I had just a few facts about Simonetta Vespucci to use as a framework for my story, but I did end up outlining the last third of the book as I approached it, as there were some actual historical events that I was planning to intersperse with scenes of my own invention, and I found I really needed to plot out how all that would happen. But, to this point, that was the extent of my outlining.

For this project, though, I knew right away that I would not be able to write it WITHOUT an outline. As I mentioned above, the plot is largely comprised of actual historical events, and while I know a very great deal about this time and these particular historical figures, I did not know exact dates and chronology off the top of my head. No, that would have to all be written down and mapped out beforehand in a way that I could easily reference as I wrote. Add to that the fact that one of my two point-of-view (POV) characters is a fictional character and that I needed to decide what she was doing and how she fit in with the history, and it was obvious that an outline was necessary.

So I’ve spent the last few weeks – when I’ve had time and wasn’t busy with promotional pre-release things for The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence – pouring over history books and biographies for the chronology of events I was including in the novel, and writing an outline that incorporated all this with my fictional character’s actions. I’m planning to write a separate post about my thoughts on the outlining process a bit later, once I’ve had a chance to actually start writing from said outline, but suffice it to say that this process was both less terrible and more tiring than I thought it would be.

So now the outline is done, and in looking at its sheer length and complexity I find myself more aware than ever of the herculean task I’ve set myself, and the laundry list of challenges I’ve created for myself. I have more history to grapple with and get right than ever before. The events my characters cause and experience are incredibly varied and tumultuous (as anyone familiar with the political history of Italy in the Renaissance will know) and I must capture all that on the page in a way that is compelling and makes for a good story, as well as what seems now like dozens of plot threads and relationships to juggle. I have to make sure my characters develop in the arc that I want across all of this. This is the first time I have attempted to write two POV characters; one is fictional and one is historical, one is a woman and one is a man. It will absolutely be the longest book I have written to date. Oh, and did I mention that this is book 1 in what I am planning as a duology? Something else I have never attempted before.

It is something of a comfort to know that many, many authors other than myself have conquered these challenges in the past. What I am attempting is certainly nothing new in the world of historical fiction, but it is a new challenge for me. I have, since starting, certainly been intimidated at the size of the challenge ahead – I still am. But at the end of the day, that is what makes this project worth pursuing. I don’t want to write the same book, the same arc, the same type of story over and over again. I WANT to challenge myself, because it’s only when I do that I will truly grow as a writer. Each book that I’ve written thus far has been a new challenge for me in some way, and this is just the next one. It is the biggest challenge I’ve set myself to this point, and because of that I know that, if I can get this book right, it will be the best one I’ve written yet.


The Violinist of Venice’s One Year Anniversary

As of today, The Violinist of Venice has now been out in the world for exactly a year. It certainly doesn’t feel like that long to me! But the last year has been an incredible, and at times stressful, journey, and I have learned a lot. Having my book baby out in the world – and not something that belonged just to me – was a definite adjustment. I had a lot of anxious feelings for a while before and after the release, knowing that this thing I had created was out in the world for anyone and everyone to read, and that I was now someone with a higher profile in the world, albeit only slightly so. It’s a weird feeling that really does just take some time to adjust to, and I’m sure other authors will be able to relate.

By the same token, I’ve had the privilege to go to many different kinds of author events and meet readers and sign books. I’ve visited book clubs and discussed the novel, and I always come away from those experiences feeling like I’ve learned something new about my own work, as readers are always casting new light on the characters or plotlines or themes in ways that I hadn’t thought about before. I love when that happens! And I’ve had the honor and the joy of hearing from readers from all around the world who have connected with the book in some way. The fact that my words, that this story that I created and wrote down at first just for myself and then worked so hard on, has really meant something to others is truly the greatest gift and pleasure of being a writer.

I have also learned a lot about how to balance my life, my day job, and all the responsibilities that come with being an officially published author. Around release time I was doing a lot of promotional blog posts and interviews about the book, as well as trying to steadily post some fun Violinist-related content here on my own site. Once the book was out I had some events to work into my schedule, and I was also working on edits for The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence, as well as drafting a new book. It all takes some juggling, and there were definitely moments when I felt burned out. When that happens, I’ve learned to take a step back from whatever I’m working on as much as I can. As hectic as everything may feel at the time, with competing deadlines and multiple projects, I’ve gotten pretty good at planning out my time and getting everything done.

On the first anniversary of the release of The Violinist of Venice, I want to say thank you to all the readers who have reached out with their kind and thoughtful words; thank you to the booksellers who have sold and promoted the book and invited me to do events in their stores; thank you to all the bloggers who have reviewed the novel and helped spread the word; and thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who bought the book or borrowed it from the library or gave it to a friend or recommended it. I appreciate all of those things more than I can possibly say. Readers are why I can do the thing that I love!

In 2017, of course, I’ll have the release of The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence, and I hope that everything that I’ve learned in the last year will serve me well with the release of that book. And I know that at some point in 2017 I will have some more news to share with all of you!

Wishing everyone a very happy holiday season, and I hope you all are staying safe and warm (hopefully with a good book!) Happy Holidays, and a Happy New Year!


What Next?

As I’ve mentioned in my last few posts, I recently finished up a work-in-progress. It’s one that took me about a year to draft, and honestly, I loved every minute of it, even the moments where I felt certain I would be writing it FOREVER. I love it so much that I probably could work on it forever and be happy. It’s a book of my heart in many ways and also (I think) the best thing I have written so far.

So now that I am finished working on it for the time being, that begs the question: what next? As I mentioned in my update post earlier this week, I always make myself take time off between projects to rest and relax and recharge; I know that I need this time, but it isn’t long before I start to get antsy and want to start writing something again. I love writing and I love having a project to work on, so sometimes I have to make myself take a break or extend that break. (Of course, when I’m in the thick of working on a project, I look fervently forward to that time when it’s done and I can chill and come home from work and do nothing but read if I want. There’s just no pleasing me, I guess.)

So now, as I’m relaxing and recharging, I’m also trying to think of an idea for my next book. There’s no rush; I know this (again, aside from my aforementioned antsiness). And I certainly have no shortage of ideas; it’s just that nothing has so far reached out and grabbed me by the throat and said WRITE ME NOW (which is absolutely what happened with the book I just finished). I love that feeling, and that’s what carries me through the long and sometimes tough drafting process.

Better and more experienced writers than me have said it, but it bears repeating: no matter how many books you write, it never gets easier. That next book never feels like a given. If the thing I just finished is the best thing I’ve written so far, where do I go from there? How can I top that? How can I fall that in love with another idea again?

The comforting part in all this is that I’ve been here before. I had the exact same thoughts after I sold The Violinist of Venice, another book of my heart. I was feeling lost and casting around for an idea a little over a year ago, when finally that last idea hit me like a lightning bolt. So I know that these doubts come and go. I know by now that this is all part of the process. It doesn’t always serve to assuage the fears in the moment, but it gives perspective. If I’ve overcome this feeling before, then I can again. And if I ever don’t feel uncertain or scared, then that probably means that I’ve stopped caring. And I hope and believe that that will never happen.


On Making, Not Finding, the Time to Write

I’ve done quite a few author events now in the 10 months since The Violinist of Venice was published, and one question I almost always get is, “Do you have a day job?” When I answer that yes, I do (as most authors do), the question that inevitably follows is “How do you find the time to write?”

This is a fair enough question, as anyone with a full-time job and friends and family obligations can certainly attest to the fact that time always seems to be in short supply. But my answer is that I don’t find the time, I make the time. The distinction between the two, for me, is in the conscious effort behind making time. If I just waited around until I had a large, unspoken-for block of time on my hands, I would never have written anything, let alone the four total book-length manuscripts I’ve produced since I was in college. No one – or at least, not many people – in this hectic day and age ever really have blank blocks of time on their hands, waiting to be filled. Something will always come along to fill that time, be it putting in extra hours at the office or family or friends or Netflix. The list goes on.

So in order to ensure that I have enough time for my writing, I carve out that time and firmly protect it when necessary. I don’t have a set writing schedule that I follow religiously from week to week, just because my life really isn’t conducive to that at this point: sometimes my hours at my job change slightly, sometimes I have other obligations, sometimes I have plans with friends. So I take the time whenever I possibly can, which for me of late looks something like this:

-On week nights when I have a free evening, I try to write at least 1000 words. I’ll often designate at least one night in a week for this and not allow myself to make other plans.

-On weekend days I try to write at least 2000 words.

-I’ll often write on my lunch breaks at work. I only get a half hour break, so on the surface it almost seems like not enough time to bother. But boy, do those half-hour sessions start to add up. I’ve gotten to a point where I can actually write 1000 words in a half an hour sometimes, when I just completely focus in and tune out everything else and don’t let myself stop writing.

-When I’m NOT writing – and this is key – I’ll try to brainstorm new scenes or plot points, or just let my mind wander around with my characters and within the world of the story I’m working on. I also always create playlists for my works-in-progress, which I’ll often listen to while at work (when I can’t be writing) in order to keep my head in the game and possibly give me some new inspiration. I’m a pantser – I don’t do written outlines – so this is the most planning ahead I do with my work. And I’ve found that giving at least some thought to what scene will come next or to a plot or character problem before I sit down to write helps me avoid that blinking cursor of doom on the blank screen.

-Something I did recently when I finished up the first draft of my most recent work in progress is that I went on a solo writing retreat. I took a couple days off from work and booked a hotel room with a balcony and a nice view for a long weekend, and I holed up with some snacks and wine and just wrote for a few days straight. I will absolutely be doing that again in the future, because it was SO helpful to take that time and get away from my usual space and its distractions. It was honestly one of the best weekends of my life. Certainly not everyone will have the time or the means to do something like this, but if you do I highly, highly recommend it.

-I have a group of writing buddies that I meet up with most Wednesday nights, and we all write together. This is helpful because we keep each other accountable to show up and get the work done. And while writing is a solitary activity, sometimes it’s fun to have company!

You’ll notice that in the points above I used the word “try” quite a bit. And that’s because that’s what it is, an attempt: I try to stick to these patterns as much as possible, but it doesn’t always work out. Things come up. I have plans with family or friends, or I’ll come home from work and feel exhausted and just in need of a night on the couch. And that is all okay. If you are a serious writer – or artist of any kind – there will be lots of times when you will need to put your work first, and stay in on a Friday night or pass up happy hour with your coworkers. Believe me, that will need to happen a lot. But there will also be times when you won’t want to write that day, or can’t, or need a break, and that’s fine too. Don’t feel guilty when life intervenes. I used to, but I realized that it’s just as crucial to my process that I take a day off here and there.

You’ll need to make a lot of time to write, but do it in whatever way works best for you. Carve it out of your schedule wherever it fits, in fifteen minute increments here and there or chunks of a few hours (though believe me, I know those can be hard to come by). But make that conscious effort to carve out that time, because it isn’t going to happen on its own. It isn’t going to come to you. Soon making that time, even if you don’t write at the same time on the same days every week, will become second nature. You’ll start grabbing whatever moments you can to get some writing in, and that’s when you really get into a groove.

It really irritates me when people say “I’ve always wanted to write a book, but I’ve never had the time”, and I know my fellow writers will relate to that. It’s a frustrating thing to hear, for me, for two reasons: the first being the simple fact that I don’t have any more hours in the day than anyone else. As I’ve outlined above, I don’t have time sitting around unaccounted for any more than anyone else: I make that time, and that takes effort and dedication. The second reason it bothers me is that it implies that spare time is all one needs to write a book, and that is not true either. Anyone who’s written a book has spent years reading everything they can get their hands on, especially in their genre, and tinkering with sentences and characters and plotlines and story arcs and doing research and accepting criticism and trying and failing over and over again to render their story on the page in a way that is just right. Having time to write is crucial, yes, but there are a lot of other ingredients as well.

What I’ve found, though, is that the people who really love writing, who live and breathe words and beautiful sentences and imagery and metaphors, will always find a way to do all of this. They are already making the time whenever they can, because they love to write. They are already disciplining themselves and dedicating themselves to the craft and trying to learn more, trying to grow and get better. They couldn’t stop if they tried.

Sometimes I don’t even know how and when my books get written, when I think about all that I have going on in my life. But they do. They do because at the end of the day, through all the ups and downs, writing is my favorite thing to do in the world, and I will always, always make time for it.