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 🙂


Having Fun with Research

No matter what kind of novel you’re writing (unless perhaps it’s high fantasy or extremely autobiographical) you are going to have to research some aspect of your story at some point. And obviously, when it comes to historical fiction, research is an even bigger part of the process. But research isn’t all pouring over history books or old letters or diaries – though reading all the information you can find about your time period/historical figures is, of course, something you will need to spend a lot of time doing. But reading isn’t the only research you can or should be doing. There are lots of other methods you can use to learn the historical information and details you need to make your work come alive, and some of them can be unorthodox and actually a lot of fun. Below are some things you can do – many of which I have done – to approach your research in a different way and get away from the books and the computer screen:

Look at paintings/artwork/photographs from the period you’re writing about: I’ve done this for both The Violinist of Venice and The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence. Looking at artwork and especially paintings created during the period you’re writing about can tell you SO MUCH: what the clothing looked like that people actually wore; what homes/buildings/churches looked like; what personal effects people may have carried or had in their space; what hairstyles were in fashion; jewelry fashions; what religious themes were chosen/depicted and what that might say about the artist or their patron, etc. Of course, for The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence artwork was especially key as many famous works of art appear in the story, so I looked at many of those online, in books, and in person. But those paintings were also helpful for the clothing, hairstyles, etc. And if photographs were around in the period you are writing about, certainly take advantage of those wherever you can find them.

-Listen to music from the period: Obviously, this was crucial for writing and researching The Violinist of Venice, a novel about music and Antonio Vivaldi’s music in particular. But even if your novel doesn’t explicitly include music, listening to music that was written or popular during that period can help you get a better feel for the atmosphere of the times.

-Look at/consult other primary sources or artifacts: For me with Violinist, this involved looking at the actual scores of some of Vivaldi’s music, specifically pieces I was describing in the novel. I also went to several museums over the course of my research and saw musical instruments from the period, some of which – like the viola d’amore – are no longer in use in modern orchestras. Look into the collections of museums in your area or places where you may be traveling and see what they have. There may be furniture, articles of clothing, pottery, household wares, etc. from your period that you can go and see (and possibly take pictures of, depending on the museum’s photography policy).

-Travel to the location where your book is set: If your novel is set in a specific city or area, try to go there for at least a few days and get a sense of it. I’ve done this with both of my two novels, and have been able to see exact locations where scenes and events in the books take place. I found those experiences to be completely invaluable and, in addition to helping with historical accuracy, greatly improved my sense of place and sensory details in my writing. Learning your way around the city or area can help with logistics in the novel as well, such as how a character would physically get from point A to point B, if it would be feasible to walk, etc. Obviously not everyone has the time or means to make such a trip, especially if your novel is set farther afield, but if you can it is absolutely worth the investment.

-Look at maps and photographs of your setting: Whether you can travel there or not, studying maps of a city or area is extremely helpful, especially maps that were drawn during the period your novel takes place so that you can see what it looked like then. Again, photographs from the period are helpful as well if they are available, but if not modern photographs can still give you a sense of a place you may not be able to travel to. And if you do travel there, take lots of photos of places important to your story. I always do this in my research travels and refer to the photographs later as I’m writing to help sharpen my descriptions or just generally give me some inspiration.

-Attend historical reenactments: I have not done this myself (yet), but I know other authors who have. Depending on what period you’re writing about, there may be a battle reenactment or something along those lines not too far from you that you can go and see. This can give you a great sense of everything from military tactics to clothing to weaponry to surgical instruments and medical care. Along the same lines, look for living history museums (something like Colonial Williamsburg) that may be relevant to your setting/time period. Such places can be an absolute wealth of information on all kinds of details.

Research can and should be about more than just reading, and these things and more can help you expand and enrich your historical fiction by presenting information in new and perhaps unexpected ways and contexts. The more period details you can include in your work, the more it will come alive for your readers and make them feel as though they are actually there, and the more they will be able to understand and relate to your characters. Always be ready to discover new information, by whatever means are available, even those that seen unorthodox. Even things you never thought you’d need can come in very handy when writing, so the more ways you can go about acquiring information, the better. Your work – and your readers – will thank you for it.

The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence – release date and synopsis!

I have some exciting news today about my forthcoming second book with St. Martin’s Press, The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence. The novel will be released in the U.S. on April 25, 2017!

Also, below check out the synopsis to learn some more about the book!

A girl as beautiful as Simonetta Cattaneo will never want for marriage proposals in 15th century Italy, but she jumps at the chance to marry Florentine Marco Vespucci. Marco is young, handsome, well-educated, and shares her longtime love of reading. Not to mention he is one of the powerful Medici family’s favored circle.

Even before her marriage with Marco is set, Simonetta is swept up into Lorenzo and Giuliano de’ Medici’s glittering circle of politicians, poets, artists, and philosophers. The men of Florence – most notably the rakish Giuliano de’ Medici – become enthralled with her beauty. That she is educated and an ardent reader of poetry makes her more desirable and fashionable still. But it is her acquaintance with a young painter, Sandro Botticelli, which strikes her heart most.

Botticelli immediately invites Simonetta, newly proclaimed the most beautiful woman in Florence, to pose for him. As Simonetta learns to navigate her marriage, her new home, her place in Florentine society, and the politics of beauty and desire, she and Botticelli develop a dangerously passionate artist and muse relationship, which will lead to her ultimately being immortalized in his masterpiece, The Birth of Venus.

Alyssa Palombo’s The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence is a story of love and tragedy, of passion and humor, and ultimately, of what happens when love finds us when we least expect it.

I am SO EXCITED for this book to make its way into the world for everyone to read. I hope you will all enjoy it when you do get the chance to read it!

I have seen the cover for this book as well, and hope to be able to reveal it soon – it is absolutely GORGEOUS and just perfect for the book, and I’m sure you all will love it as much as I do!

Stay tuned for more fun book 2 things coming soon!

Why I Write Historical Fiction

In my experience, people who call themselves writers write for many different reasons, and often for one simple one: they have a story (usually stories) burning to be told. I’m no different. Yet you may well ask: why did I choose the genre of historical fiction? What is it about stories in the past that draw me more than any other kind?

Believe me, sometimes I ask myself that question too. There are definitely days when I wished I wrote a genre that doesn’t require quite so much research. But, luckily, those are not most days.

One of the reasons I write historical fiction is a simple one, and perhaps the most obvious: I love history. I always have, something for which I credit my father. He’s a big history buff (WWII being his preferred time period) and always impressed upon my brother and me the importance of studying history, so that we (both individually and as a society) can learn from our mistakes and not repeat them, can see the patterns that repeat themselves throughout humanity. (I wish more people in the world would take this lesson to heart, but I digress). So I grew up with a strong sense that history was important. I always enjoyed the subject in school, and here and there – but with much more frequency once I hit my late teens – I began reading books of history for pleasure, and to learn on my own. Since I was a kid I loved to read historical fiction, and a pattern I picked up – and one that persists to this day – is that I will read as many historical novels as I can get my hands on about a certain time period/historical figure, and then I will delve into nonfiction on the subject.

In high school it was the Tudors, then the Borgias. The Borgias led me to a deeper interest in the history of the Italian Renaissance, and from there to Italian history in general (something that should come as no surprise, given the novels I’ve written!) I also tend to like royal history in general (be it English, French, Spanish, what have you) – a couple years ago I went on a series Wars of the Roses binge. The Salem Witch Trials are another event that particularly interests me and that I’ve read quite a bit about (I’ve even been to Salem twice). Lately, Italy during WWII and the Spanish Civil War are two periods that I’ve gotten interested in and am planning to read more about – just for the heck of it. Maybe a novel will come of it at some point, and maybe not.

So having a love of history certainly put me in to want to write stories set among the historical periods I loved so much and, as I alluded to above, I’ve always read a lot of historical fiction. It started when I was young, with series like Dear America and the Royal Diaries, and authors like Ann Rinaldi. When I was in high school I discovered Philippa Gregory, and that sort of sealed the deal for me. I have a vivid memory of sitting in my high school cafeteria, reading The Other Boleyn Girl for the first time, and thinking, “This. I want to do this.”

I definitely had the makings of a historical fiction author early on. But there’s more to it than even all those things, for me. History, whether consumed in strictly nonfiction form or through a historical novel, is a lens for all sorts of things. Something that I try to keep in mind when writing about characters that lived hundreds of years before I was born is that we are all human beings. People three hundred years ago wanted, at a basic level, the same things we want today: love, respect, freedom, financial security, the ability to live the life of our choosing. Some of them, of course, wanted power, wealth, control, fame. Just like today.

Perhaps the most powerful aspect of fiction is its ability to hold a mirror up to ourselves, the way it allows us to see ourselves reflected in different characters. Historical fiction, in many instances, allows us to see ourselves reflected in people from the past, in people and circumstances from time periods we never lived in, in places and countries we’ve never been to. At least, to me, this is what well-done historical fiction should do. And this allows us – as reading of any kind will – a greater capacity for empathy for people in the past and present alike.

On a larger scale, another thing I love about historical fiction is its ability to allow us to reflect on the circumstances of our own time, on how far we have come on certain issues and how far we still have to go. Sometimes it’s difficult to see the issues that affect us personally clearly, because we’re so close to them. Sometimes we need the distance that historical fiction can provide to get a closer look at these things.

My second book (which I hope to be able to share some more information about soon!) ended up being something of a meditation on questions of female beauty and objectification. I didn’t intend for that to happen; they’re themes that emerged organically as I wrote (and I love when that happens!) It was something of a sobering and thoughtful moment for me when I realized that the questions my protagonist was asking about these issues, back in 1470s Florence, are questions that we still do not have the answers to today. So if, when this book finally makes its way into the world, I can provoke some thought among my readers about these questions and issues, then I have done at least one of my jobs as a writer.

In The Violinist of Venice (which you all will be able to read SOON!) I think (I hope, anyway) that there is a place for readers to reflect on lots of different things, namely the way the world worked for women in the past, and how that differs or not from today. I think perhaps readers might consider things like what it means, truly, to be happy, and what it means to have the strength to live a life of one’s own choosing. I think it definitely communicates the power of music, which is something that, to me, is timeless.

And maybe that’s what historical fiction shows us best: what things, what questions, what aspects of being human are truly timeless.