Tag Archives: historical fiction

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.


Story and Song: Visual Art Edition, Part 1

Welcome to my new edition of Story and Song! As some of you may recall, I did something similar for The Violinist of Venice, where I put a song from my playlist for the novel next to one of Vivaldi’s pieces that appeared in the book. For The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence, I thought I’d do the same thing with one difference: since we have no classical music in this novel, each post will pair a song from the book’s playlist with one of the works of art described in the novel. I hope you enjoy!

 

Anette Olzon – “Shine”

This song fits perfectly with what is perhaps the first “big” scene in The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence: when Simonetta, having come to Florence to marry Marco Vespucci, goes with him to dinner at the Medici palace in chapter 7. There she meets the rest of the novel’s major players: the Medici brothers, Lorenzo and Giuliano; Lorenzo’s wife, Clarice, and his mother, Lucrezia; and, of course, Sandro Botticelli. This sets the stage for how the relationships between Simonetta and all these characters will progress for the rest of the novel. Before the event, she is quite nervous, knowing that she’s going to meet a lot of important people, both in her soon-to-be-husband’s life and in Florence as a whole. So this song felt perfect because it seems to me to be the little voice in Simonetta’s head telling her “Shine, and lift your head high”.

Judith and Holofernes – Donatello

This statue, of the biblical hero Judith slaying Holofernes, is sculpted in bronze by Donatello. It was commissioned by Cosimo de’ Medici for the courtyard of the Medici palace in Florence, and this is where Simonetta encounters it in the novel, when Cosimo’s grandson, Lorenzo, shows it to her. This scene occurs in the same chapter noted above, chapter 7. It is the first conversation that Simonetta has with Lorenzo about art, something that continues throughout the novel. Simonetta is very struck by the power and beauty of the statue, and it is indeed striking. The above picture is one I took myself of the statue when I saw it in its current location: the museum of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. The statue didn’t make an appearance in the first draft of the novel; I was inspired to include it after having been to Florence doing research and seeing it myself.


The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence Playlist!

Below is the official playlist for The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence. Enjoy and happy listening!


Spring in Italia Giveaway!

I’ve teamed up with authors Crystal King, Sarah Dunant, and Margaret George to give away a copy of each of our new books of Italian historical fiction. See the link below to enter!

Spring in Italia Giveaway


The Inspiration Behind The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence

Perhaps the question that authors get asked the most is, “How did you come up with the idea for this book?” Inspiration comes in all kinds of ways – for instance, the idea for The Violinist of Venice came to me in a dream, out of the blue. With The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence, though, the process was rather different and more gradual.

I can’t remember for certain, but I believe it was when I went to Italy the first time – when I was researching The Violinist of Venice – that I first heard of Simonetta Vespucci, as I also went to Florence on that same trip as well. All I had, initially, were scraps of information (and as I would find when researching the novel, there wasn’t much more than scraps to be had): that she was supposed to be the woman in Botticelli’s painting The Birth of Venus, and that she had also supposedly been the mistress of Giuliano de’ Medici. I filed this away as a potential novel idea – something about her relationship with both Botticelli and Giuliano. When I got back from Italy, I found the idea had stuck with me, and so I poked around online and in the library to try to find out more about her.

One of the first things I found in my preliminary Google searching was that Botticelli had been so in love with Simonetta that he had asked to be buried at her feet when he died – AND HE ACTUALLY WAS. This COMPLETELY changed the novel idea that I thought I had. I no longer really cared about exploring whatever relationship Simonetta may have had with Giuliano (and the historical record is not certain on that score) and was instead interested in exploring the possible relationship that may have existed between her and Botticelli. Did not the fact that he was buried at her feet suggest more than a simple-artist muse relationship?

I certainly thought so, and still do think so, though we will never know the truth of their relationship for sure. What I did know was that this would make a stellar story, and was the perfect premise for a historical novel that I wanted to write. Yet with all that said, at this time I was working on my final revision for The Violinist of Venice before I was ready to start querying, and so I was in no position to start a new novel just yet. Even after Violinist was being queried and was later on submission with publishing houses I didn’t start writing my Renaissance Florence story, though I was playing around with some other ideas. For whatever reason, it just didn’t feel like the time was right. I also knew that I would want to go back to Florence to do some further research for it, so the timing would need to be right for that too, both personally and financially.

What I did do almost immediately, though, was write the last two lines of the book. I typed them out in a note on my phone, which I still have. They’re maybe my favorite lines in the book, and they have not changed through all the rounds of revisions since. I would share them here with you, but that would give away the ending 🙂 So you’ll just have to read the book when it comes out to see them!

Then Violinist sold, and not only that, but I was offered a two-book deal with St. Martin’s, which I obviously accepted. As I talked about at the time in my post on second-book syndrome, this sent me into a bit of a panic. What to write next? What could I write next that my publisher would love as much as Violinist? And hey, what about the fact that I had been (partially) paid for a book I hadn’t written yet?

At first, I had no idea what I wanted to do for my second book. None of the ideas I’d been playing around with while Violinist were on submission were really grabbing me; they just didn’t feel developed enough yet to be my next published book. So I dug out my idea about Simonetta and Sandro and thought, hmmm, maybe this is the time for this idea. I wrote some initial pages that seemed to go well and shared them with my agent, who liked what I had done. I had a phone call with my editor, where I described a basic outline of the idea, and she gave her blessing.

There was lots of struggle in writing The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence, which you can read about here and here and also here. But I pushed through it, and as a result have a book that I’m perhaps even more proud of. As I mentioned above, researching the book was rather frustrating at times because we have only the barest facts about Simonetta’s life, and even a few of those are in dispute or uncertain. Yet this also gave me a lot of freedom as a fiction writer: I took those few facts and built a framework on which I could speculate and write scenes of my own invention. And I did get to go back to Florence for research, and saw a lot of the locations where the story takes place, and also the artwork that figures into it (I actually added even MORE artwork into it after visiting Florence again).

Aside from all the second-book syndrome stuff, in hindsight, what I now realize is that when I initially started drafting The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence, I had a good story, but I wasn’t hearing Simonetta’s voice yet. I realized the exact moment when her voice finally broke through, when I finally began to hear it and felt like I really knew her as a character, and then it became much easier.


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!


Starting a New Project

In the last few weeks, having finished the work-in-progress that I’d spent the last year on, I did two things: 1) I took a bit of a writing break, of about a month or so (one I at times had to force myself to maintain, and 2) when that was over, I started a new writing project.

As I’ve alluded to in previous posts, I was a little nervous about starting something new this time around, having just finished something that I thought was/is probably my best work yet. Would my next project measure up? Would I love the idea, and love writing it, as much as I had my previous project? With writing, though, comparison is always the thief of joy – even if you’re comparing you to yourself, and your work to other examples of your work. And that isn’t productive or helpful. So I tried to remind myself of all of that and forge ahead with a new idea, one that had been brewing for a while. Actually, this idea was originally two separate ideas that seemed to magically come together to form one whole, filling in each other’s missing pieces.

So what is my process for starting a new novel project? Sometimes I make some notes before I actually start writing: character names, dates/timelines, a few lines that may have come to me here or there. Since I’m a pantser, there’s not too much of this, if at all, though I do make lots of notes as I go: reminders for things I need to look up/research, an idea for a new scene, notes for characters that have yet to be introduced, etc. There’s no rhyme or reason to this; I just jot these things down as they come to me.

Usually, though, the first step is to start writing. With this new project in particular, the opening of the novel suddenly started flowing through my brain as I was laying on the couch one night, reading, so I jumped up and grabbed my laptop and started typing until the words stopped. It’s a great feeling when that happens; when you’re just propelled to write, to drop everything and write. That’s what I always look for as a writer, and I’d venture a guess that others do, too.

Then I keep writing for a while. I test the idea out for a bit, needing to give it time to make sure it really has legs. There’s always a certain level of excitement when you first start working on a shiny new idea, but sometimes – and for a variety of reasons, I’ve found – that excitement can peter out, causing the project to stall. So I always make sure to give it a couple weeks of work to see how it goes before fully committing to the project. Am I still excited about working on it? Am I thinking about it when I’m not working on it? Am I still coming up with new ideas for scenes and character development and plotlines? Do I actually make the time to sit down and work on it?

After a few weeks, once I’m feeling like the project is definitely something I’ll stick with, I send what I have so far – usually the first few chapters, at that point – to my agent to get her take. I do this at the beginning of every project for multiple reasons: to make sure she thinks that the project is something that makes sense for my career trajectory as a whole and specifically for this point in my career; to see if she knows of anything similar that has recently sold and which would make my project a tougher sell; to get her take on the writing and story itself; and, quite frankly, to see if she thinks the project is something that she’ll be able to sell. Of course writing is a labor of love for me, but if I want to continue to be able to publish books, I need to be thinking about the market as well. And that’s one of the many things that an author’s agent can help with.

Sometimes my agent does have reservations on one or several of the above counts, in which case we usually get on the phone and talk it out and make sure we’re on the same page. She’s been doing this a long time and has way more knowledge of the business side of publishing than I do, so I always value her advice and insights – after all, that’s one of the things I’m paying her for. Sometimes, though, she loves what I’ve sent her without reservation and tells me to go for it. Then I keep writing to my heart’s content, and she won’t see it again until I send her a finished draft, which we both prefer. I love that she trusts me to get the work done and doesn’t need to look over my shoulder or check in with me about it; I wouldn’t work well that way. I’m sure perhaps some writers do, so to each their own!

Once my agent gives her blessing, I just keep writing – I don’t usually do any revisions until I have a full draft completed for several reasons, though there have been exceptions to this in the past. There’s usually a few mental/emotional milestones that I pass along the way: when I hit 10,000 words, which is when it feels like I’m not just playing around anymore; 20,000 words, when I realize that this is a real project I’m committed to writing and that this is really happening; and 30,000 words, which is always when a project starts to feel like a real novel to me. Then, of course, after 30,000 words we get into the middle of the novel, which is always the hardest part to write, for me; it’s when I’m in the thick of the plot and need to make sure everything is set up, and when it feels like I can’t see my way out and will be writing the book forever. But having written several novels at this point, I know that feeling is coming and am ready for it. It doesn’t necessarily make it any easier to get through, but it’s helpful to know that I feel that way every time and always get through it.

Now, what about research, you may be asking? Shouldn’t research come before any writing gets done? My answer to that is yes, probably. I always do a little preliminary research before I start writing, to make sure the idea works in a historical setting and makes sense, etc. I have been known to do lots of research as I go, which I don’t necessarily recommend (see above note about revising in the middle of a draft) but for the most part it’s worked out for me so far. The period of The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence was something I had a solid background in before I started writing, so in that instance my research before and as I wrote was mostly a matter of filling in blanks.

This new idea is a bit different for me in that it’s set in a period I’ve already written about and researched extensively (though I won’t say just yet what that is). That’s not to say that there aren’t aspects of this new story I’ll still need to research – there absolutely are – but again, it will be more a matter of filling in the blanks, and in this case I already know where to go to find the information I need.

Maybe this new project will see the light of day at some point, and maybe not. That’s the risk we take as authors each time we start a new project – there are no guarantees. That’s why, as long as I love the idea and am having fun writing it, I can usually block out just about everything else.