Tag Archives: historical fiction

Historical Novel Society Conference 2017 – Recap

I spent Thursday, June 22nd through Saturday, June 24th in Portland, Oregon, at the 2017 Historical Novel Society Conference – or, as you may have seen it on Twitter and Instagram, #HNS2017. I had the most awesome time and learned so much! It was my first conference, and I’m incredibly glad that I went.

Since it was my first conference, I wasn’t presenting or speaking on any of the panels, just attending to learn (though I did participate in the author signing on Saturday, and both of my novels were for sale in the conference bookstore). I attended lots of panels and took pages and pages of notes – they were all excellent, and during certain time slots there were two or even three panels that I wanted to attend. Hard choices had to be made! I made my decisions based on which sessions would be the most helpful to my career at this point or to my current work-in-progress.

Some of the ones that really stood out to me were the session on historical clothing with Isobel Carr; a panel on hopping among different eras as a historical fiction writer and planning your research and marketing accordingly (this panel was with some of my favorite authors: C.W. Gortner, Heather Webb, Kate Quinn, and Stephanie Thornton); a panel on writing the male perspective with Margaret George, Stephanie Cowell, Stephanie Thornton, and C.W. Gortner; a panel with agents and editors called The State of the State of Historical Fiction, about current, past, and possible future trends in the genre; and a workshop on writing twin-stranded stories with Susanna Kearsley. All of these (and many others I didn’t list!) provided me with super interesting and useful information that I can immediately apply to my career overall or to my current works-in-progress, or indeed to future works-in-progress.

A few industry updates/facts I learned or had reinforced for me during the conference:

-Fiction set in the ancient world (Egypt, Rome, Greece) is largely out – editors and agents are finding it doesn’t sell as well in the North American market compared to Europe and the UK. This was surprising to me as I’m aware of several new releases set in these eras, but it seems like perhaps publishers are starting to shy away from the ancient world at large – I heard this mentioned at a couple of different panels I went to.

-Fiction set in the Tudor era is a tougher sell these days as well, given that the market is so oversaturated with that time period. If you are writing in that period, you’ll want to have a twist or a new character that hasn’t been done before to make it stand out.

-Fiction set in the earlier part of the 20th century seems to be hot right now; I noticed authors who previously wrote in earlier eras have made the jump to more recent time periods (turn of the century, WWI, WWII, etc.).

-Readers of historical fiction in the US are 95% women, so this has given rise to the perception in the publishing industry that women do not want to read the male perspective. At the panel I went to on this the panelists and audience (myself included) felt that this is not necessarily true (while as a woman myself I do tend to relate more to female narrators, I will read and have read historical fiction from the male POV; like with any novel, if it’s a character/figure that interests me and is a good story, I’ll pick it up no matter the gender of the narrator. Excellent examples of recent historical fiction I’ve read with male narrators would be The Confessions of Young Nero by Margaret George and Feast of Sorrow by Crystal King – both of which I highly recommend, and both of which are set in ancient Rome, despite that time period being allegedly “out”!) In any case, if you are writing a historical with a male narrator, know that this will make for a harder sell to an agent and publisher and do your research accordingly: have comp titles ready to go (the two I referenced above would be good places to start) and, as always, make sure the story is so compelling and well done that it’ll be hard to resist, no matter who the narrator is. This was all valuable information for me as my current work-in-progress has a male narrator, though it is dual POV and alternates with a female narrator, so it seems that will help me out in the marketability of the work.

-The historical YA market seems to be growing, which I think is wonderful – the more historical stories for people of all ages, the better!

Of course, different editors, agents, and authors all have different opinions and views on topics such as those above, but I wanted to include some of the information that I heard and found interesting, helpful, and eye-opening.

 

Then there was the Hooch Through History session. This was one for which attendees had to register separately and pay an extra fee, but boy, was it worth it. Also presented by Isobel Carr, we sampled six alcoholic beverages from six different centuries, accompanied by an entertaining and informative PowerPoint about what other beverages were produced and consumed in those eras. The crowd was a bit rowdy by the end, as you might imagine, but I learned a lot in spite of all the alcohol coursing through my bloodstream.

One of the things I learned is that absinthe is NOT GOOD. I do not recommend.

Then, of course, the social aspect of such a conference is always great fun and always worthwhile. I got to meet authors in person with whom I had been chatting on social media for some time; authors whose works I greatly admire (I fangirled a bit over Margaret George, I will admit), AND two authors who were kind enough to blurb The Violinist of Venice for me but whom I had never met in person: Kate Forsyth and Stephanie Cowell. Both are absolutely lovely ladies, and I was thrilled to be able to thank them for their support in person.

The end-of-conference banquet was followed by a Regency masquerade ball afterparty, with free domino masks and instruction in English country dancing and whist. I think I got the hang of whist for sure and will be teaching it to friends and family. Sadly, I had to leave earlier than I would have liked due to an early flight out the next morning.

Now that I’m home and have been digesting all the information I’ve learned, I feel like I need a year to just shut myself away and write with all my new inspiration and motivation (and to read all the great books I brought home!). I’m super excited to continue working on my work-in-progress, and I have a lot of ideas for how to improve both my writing and my research, as well as some promotional ideas for my next book. And I’m already working on brainstorming panels/sessions to submit for the 2019 conference!

The Historical Novel Society Conference is one I highly recommend if you are an author or aspiring author of historical fiction, or a book blogger. The information is top notch, the people are lovely, and the experience is a great one.

As one of my closest friends lives in Portland, I actually spent a whole week out there visiting with her, catching up, and sightseeing. We went to Powell’s Books, of course, and in between that trip and my conference book haul packing all my purchases into my suitcases was NOT EASY. I also visited Cannon Beach on the Pacific Coast (one of the most beautiful spots I’ve ever been), the Portland Rose Garden, and took a tour of the Portland Underground Tunnels. I also had some great local food, wine, and beer. I’m really into wine, and I was excited to find that Oregon Pinot Noirs, which I hadn’t tried much in the past, definitely live up to the hype. I also had some of the best rose wine I’ve ever tried!

Voodoo Doughnuts is definitely worth the trip, but I HIGHLY RECOMMEND Blue Star Donuts. Personal favorite.

All in all, it was an absolutely great week away. Hope everyone else is enjoying their summer so far!


The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence – Bulgarian edition!

I’m excited to announce that The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence is being published in Bulgaria by Soft Press! They published The Violinist of Venice as well, so I’m thrilled that they’ve signed on for book 2. Below is the gorgeous Bulgarian cover!


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 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!

 


An Ode to Florence: Piazza Santa Croce

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.

Piazza Santa Croce is named after the Basilica di Santa Croce, which towers over the square at one end, as seen above. The Franciscan church is perhaps best known as the burial place of Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, and Rossini, among others. Today the square is also home to shops, stalls selling souvenirs and leather goods, and restaurants and cafes.

In The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence, the square is the site of a joust arranged by the Medici family in which Giuliano de’ Medici (to no one’s surprise) wins the day. At the joust, Giuliano carries a banner depicting Simonetta Vespucci as Athena, painted by Botticelli. He asked for her favor and named her the “Queen of Beauty” at the tournament. This event, which appears in chapters 30 and 31 of the novel, actually took place and is a matter of historical record. The historical record does not tell us, however, how Simonetta reacted to being so honored, so you’ll have to read the novel (if you haven’t already) to see how I imagined her reaction 🙂

When you visit the square today (or just look at these pictures) you’ll have to imagine it with banners and pennants festooning the buildings, stands erected on either side, and the lists in the middle. The joust that day was apparently quite the spectacle!


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 🙂