Tag Archives: historical fiction

An Ode to Florence: The Ponte Vecchio

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.

The Ponte Vecchio (literally “Old Bridge” in English) doesn’t figure too much into The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence (Simonetta sees it and mentions it in passing once or twice), but as it’s one of the most famous landmarks of Florence, I had to include it in my blog series!

The Ponte Vecchio spans the Arno River, and is lined with shops on both sides. Starting in the 13th century, the shops on the bridge were of all sorts: butchers, fishmongers, tanners, etc. Many years later, however, it was decreed that only goldsmiths and jewelers could have shops on the bridge, to both show off the wealth and fine goods of the city and also eliminate the foul odors and waste that the butchers and tanners and such generated from such a well-traveled walkway. To this day, the shops on the bridge consist of fine jewelry stores and it is always a fairly crowded tourist attraction.

Running above all the shops is the Vasari Corridor. Built in 1565, this “secret” passage that connects the Pitti Palace – home of the Medici grand dukes – with the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence’s city hall. This way the Medici could get to their offices without having to walk among the common people.

The Ponte Vecchio is the only bridge in Florence that was not destroyed by the Nazis as they retreated from the city in August of 1944. The rest of the city’s bridges were blown up and later rebuilt in their original spots after the war.

The Ponte Vecchio at night, viewed from one of the nearby bridges, makes an excellent sight as you’re enjoying a post-dinner gelato 🙂


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 🙂


An Ode to Florence: The Medici Palace

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.

Properly known as the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi (after the family that built it and the family that owned it later and added to it, respectively) this is the palace where Simonetta attends parties and dinners given by the Medici family throughout the novel. It is where she first meets Lorenzo, Clarice, and of course, Sandro Botticelli, and is also where her marriage takes place.

The first Renaissance building in Florence, construction on the palace began in 1444 by Cosimo de’ Medici (Lorenzo the Magnificent’s grandfather) and was completed in 1460. It’s located just down the street from the Duomo on the Via Cavour, though at the time the street was called the Via Larga. The intention of the building was likely to convey power, wealth, and strength, and no doubt the facade communicates that message very well.

 

Above is the courtyard, where Donatello’s statue of David originally stood. It is one of the first things Simonetta sees in the novel upon entering, and it is her first glimpse of the beautiful artwork that the Medici family surround themselves with. Lorenzo’s office also originally stood off to the right of this courtyard.

This is the garden of the palace, just past the courtyard. This is where Donatello’s statue of Judith originally stood, which Simonetta also views in the novel. And this garden is the setting for the first dinner Simonetta attends at the palace, and where she meets the rest of the novel’s major players.

This room (which was undergoing some renovations while I was there) is from Lorenzo’s time (some of the rooms that are open to the public were added later). This is the room where I pictured the unveiling of Simonetta’s portrait taking place.

Above are some images of the (tiny) palace chapel, where Simonetta’s wedding service to Marco Vespucci takes place in the book. It’s a very small space on the second floor of the palace, but the frescoes are amazing.

I was initially a bit disappointed when I visited that many of the rooms from Lorenzo’s time weren’t open to the public (parts of the building are in use as a municipal building) but I was able to take what I saw and make it work for the novel. It’s a very cool building, and if you are ever in Florence I would encourage you not to miss it!


Story and Song: Visual Edition, Part 3

Welcome to the third 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!

 

Stream of Passion – “Closer”

This lovely song speaks of passion, art, and connection, so it was a natural choice for the playlist of The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence. For me, this song fit especially perfectly with the scenes in the book when Simonetta is posing for Botticelli’s first portrait of her – the one he paints shortly after her marriage to Marco. It’s a moody and beautiful song, so it seemed to go perfectly with those moments when Simonetta is first aware that her feelings for Sandro, as she calls him, are perhaps more than just friendly, though she doesn’t yet confront them or indeed know how to deal with them.

 

Idealized Portrait of a Lady – Sandro Botticelli

This portrait, widely believed to be of Simonetta Vespucci, was not in fact painted until after her death. However, in the novel I chose to have Botticelli paint the portrait sooner, and have it be the one that Simonetta poses for. I tried to describe it as best I could in the novel. I think it really is a beautiful painting, and I think that Simonetta would have liked it very much had she seen it. So in the novel I had her react in just that way to it, and she is proud that she could contribute to the making of such a piece of artwork.


The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence – Release Day!

The day has finally come! The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence is on sale now in the U.S., and will be available tomorrow (April 26th) in Australia.

 

I’m so thrilled and excited that this book is out in the world at last. As those of you who have been reading my blog over the last few years will know, I had a rather difficult time writing this book, due to second book syndrome and a multitude of other things. Yet perhaps because of that, I am so proud of how it turned out, and I can’t wait for readers to discover it and hopefully fall in love with Simonetta and her story just as I did while writing it.

This release day feels very different from that of The Violinist of Venice. Most notably, I’m much more relaxed this time around, and ready to just celebrate and have fun. The release of Violinist, while exciting and thrilling, was also very stressful and emotional: my book baby was out in the world, and I couldn’t take it back, and oh God, what would happen to it next?? It wasn’t all pleasant feelings. Yet this time, thankfully, I’m not feeling that way. I’ve just been enjoying the process and will continue to do so. After all, I’ve done this once before now. I know that, for better and worse, the world doesn’t stop spinning just because I have a book out. So while I don’t think this will ever stop being exciting, here’s hoping it will get less stressful every time, as it seems to be.

So what’s on tap for me today? I took the day off from my day job, so my plan is to hang out, relax after the pre-release hubub, probably work out, maybe do some reading, and then get ready for the book launch party later tonight. It’s going to be a lot of fun, and I’m planning to enjoy every minute!

I hope you all love The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence. Happy 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.


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.