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!
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!
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.
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.
I am so excited and thrilled to be able to reveal the cover for my second historical novel, The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence, out 4/25/17 from St. Martin’s Griffin. Like with The Violinist of Venice, I was having a hard time visualizing what the cover for this book might look like, and once again the creative team at St. Martin’s absolutely went above and beyond and gave me a cover that is just perfect and is everything that I didn’t know I wanted.
Without further ado, here it is!
There are so many things I love about this cover. The first is the pink color scheme. My notes in my notebook for this novel were all color-coded pink, so it’s very fitting that that’s the color scheme here. I also love how the woman looks just like the real Simonetta Vespucci (whom you can see if you take a look at Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus). The angle of her face/head also reminds me of another Botticelli portrait of her, one that she poses for in the novel. Finally, I love the panoramic image of Florence at the bottom – it’s a beautiful city, and this picture really captures that, as well as capturing its dominant feature, the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (aka the Duomo) with Filippo Brunelleschi’s amazing, enormous dome. This same vista can be seen by climbing up to the Piazzale Michelangelo in the hills overlooking the city, which I did when I was in Florence researching this novel. So to have that image on the cover is really wonderful.
I hope you all love this cover as much as I do! Please let me know what you think. And I just can’t wait for this book to be out in the world for you all to read it.
Below is the synopsis of the novel.
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.
Last week Thursday, July 16th, wound up being something of a banner day for me, though I hadn’t expected it to be so when I woke up that morning. But that was the day that I got my first galleys/ARCs of The Violinist of Venice, and by that evening I had sent off my second book to my editor.
For those of you who don’t know, galleys or advanced reader copies (ARCs) are pre-copies of a book that are printed in advance of the release date for publicity and promotional purposes. They’re not final – all the changes from first pass pages may not have been incorporated, and the cover design isn’t final – but still, the pages are typeset, the copyright page is there, and it is bound into actual book form. So this was the first time I was able to hold my book in my hands when it actually looked and felt like a book – and it smells like a book, too!
I don’t know if there has ever been a more amazing moment in my life. It didn’t hit me right away, but rather it took a few minutes. I was sitting on the couch with one of the copies, flipping through it, and suddenly I burst into (happy) tears. (My dog was quite concerned). I was holding a book, a real book, full of words that I wrote. It was a book like one you might find in a bookstore, like one of the countless books I’ve read throughout my life, except this was one that I wrote.
It was an incredible, wonderful moment. My fondest hope is that anyone who aspires to write and publish a book will one day experience that moment, because there is nothing else like it. I’m still so excited; even driving home from work today I thought back to the day I started writing Violinist, and felt that wonderful sense of disbelief and happiness and accomplishment all over again.
However, once I managed to pull myself together, I had work to do. I had gotten on quite a revising roll with my second book, which wasn’t due to my editor until the end of August. I didn’t have much more to go, so I had a feeling I could finish it that night, as I wasn’t anticipating needing to make too many changes to the last few chapters.
So I did. I finished the second draft and sent it off to my editor.
Anyone who’s a writer will know that wonderful “I-finished-a-draft” feeling, and this was even better. I had come in ahead of my deadline; I had written a book that I loved and was proud of and had worked so hard on in less time that I had thought I could; and, as you’ll know if you’ve read some of my previous blog posts, this book was a problem child almost from day one and gave me no end of problems. That it had come so far after such a difficult and frustrating start – and that I had come so far as a writer in the process – felt amazing. It still does. I’m still riding the end-of-draft-high.
And even though Violinist isn’t even out yet, I’m already excited for this second book to come out into the world, partially because it was such a struggle at times. The first step, of course, is to see if my editor likes it, but I think she will. Though it’s in a different place and time period than Violinist, it’s somewhat in the same vein. It’s still me. It’s reflective of who I am as a writer and a reader and as a woman, and of my interests. In some ways I think it’s a bit darker than Violinist, and maybe deals with some heavier themes – both of which are things I didn’t plan out ahead of time, but which emerged organically as I was drafting, and then got polished up in revision.
But that’s all I’ll say about book 2 for now.
Almost as soon as I hit “Send”, of course, my brain was asking, What next? And I’m not sure. It’s a wonderful and also slightly scary feeling to know that I can start writing something brand new, something that’s anything I want it to be. And I have plenty of ideas, believe me. I’m not sure yet which one I’ll end up going with. My plan is to give my brain a few weeks to rest and refresh itself – something I’ve found that’s always necessary for me after finishing a draft – and then I’ll see which of the ideas I gravitate towards the most.
And there’s now a copy of a book that I wrote on my desk for if and when I need a little confidence boost, a reminder, a reassurance, or just a visit with old friends.
A couple days ago I finished reading through my first pass pages for The Violinist of Venice and sent them back to my editor. First pass pages are when you receive a hard copy of the manuscript that has been typeset and formatted how it will look in the actual book. Therefore this was the first time that Violinist looked like a real book, and so that was a pretty big moment in and of itself.
The point of the pass pages is for the author to go through the book again and make any small changes that still need to be made, correct anything that may have been missed in copy edits, etc. So I spent quite a while reading through the entire manuscript (it took me some time, it being a very long book). But really, I loved the experience. I haven’t simply sat down and read through the whole thing – just read it as a reader, without an eye to making changes or cutting things or revising – in over a year, since right before I began querying agents. For the first time, I was really able to read it as though it were a book, a for-all-intents-and-purposes finished piece of work, and not a work-in-progress.
It was very cool. I felt like I finally had enough distance, enough objectivity, to really see that it is a good book, that I really did pull it off and write something good. It’s strange how easy it is to lose sight of that more often than not. We writers are our own harshest critics, and so we don’t always give ourselves the credit we maybe deserve.
I tweeted some of my thoughts as I was reading, using the hashtag #ViolinistofVenice, so feel free to check that out, if you are so inclined.
I got emotional as I was reading the story, at all the right parts where I want readers to get emotional, and even with my new-found distance I couldn’t really tell if that was a genuine reaction to the text, or if it was just because this book is my baby. I’ll never be able to completely objective about it, I know. But just as there’s a moment in the book when my main character, Adriana, realizes that the music she writes really does and can mean something to other people, I realized that maybe my words could too.
Another big part of my emotional reaction to reading the pages – especially on the last day, when I finished reading and got ready to send it back to my publisher – was my realization that this was the very last time the book would be just mine, and mine alone. Soon ARCs will be printed and will be sent out into the world, for bloggers and reviewers and readers, and then the book and the story and the characters aren’t just mine anymore. That day was the last time it was just me and those words, sitting with each other at my desk. And though of course I want the book to go out into the world, am excited and proud and happy and nervous and anxious about it, it was a big deal to sort of acknowledge and be aware of that moment, and to cherish it.
My baby book is all grown up now.
I just recently finished up my copy edits for The Violinist of Venice and sent them back to my editor. Things are really moving along now!
The evening that I finished going through the copy edits, I was playing some vinyl records (newly converted vinyl devotee that I am) and without thinking about it, one of the albums I put on towards the end of my trip through the manuscript was one of the ones that I listened to the most while working on the book initially. It made for a rather emotional moment, quite frankly – especially when one of the songs came on just as I reached the scene that it went with.
Music and writing are inextricably linked for me. Perhaps this comes as no surprise, since I wrote a book largely about musicians and music and the impact of music on their lives. Yet other than the music of Vivaldi himself that inspired and is featured in the book, Violinist also has a very carefully curated (and long) playlist of modern music, by my favorite artists, that fits in with the general storyline, with a specific scene, or was just something that I listened to a lot while writing the book and so became entwined with the story.
The full playlist will be posted later, and I have lots of fun music-related blog posts and features up my sleeve for the future 🙂 In the meantime, though, my experience while copy editing inspired me to write this post about the four albums that were on heaviest rotation while I wrote Violinist.
1. Lacuna Coil – Shallow Life
This album, by Italian heavy metallers Lacuna Coil, came out just as I really started rolling on the very first draft of Violinist. The first single, “Spellbound”, which was released before the album itself, became the perfect song for the beginning of the book, when the tension and attraction between Adriana and Vivaldi first begins to manifest itself. The album as a whole is full of heavy, urgent songs that fit well with the story in certain places.
Songs from this album on the Violinist playlist: “Not Enough”, “Spellbound”, “Shallow Life”.
2. Delain – April Rain
This album came out in the spring of 2009, when was I deep into the first draft. I had liked Delain’s first album, Lucidity, well enough, but April Rain, their sophomore album, made them one of my favorite bands, a title they still hold to this day. I recently saw them live for the first time when they opened for Nightwish on their North American tour. If you ever get the chance to see this band, go – Charlotte’s voice is even more beautiful in person (and the band are a super nice group of guys/girl!) I’m off on a bit of a tangent now, but I was right down in front for the show, and Charlotte liked me because I knew all the lyrics 🙂
Anyway! Delain’s music has always been, to me, both intimate and epic – and I would love it if someone were to use that same term to describe Violinist. To this day, when the song “On the Other Side” comes on, it takes me right back to the final pages of the book.
Fun fact: I use the phrase “April rain” in the first chapter of the book as a nod to this band and this album.
Songs from this album on the Violinist playlist: Most of them! “Stay Forever”, “Control the Storm”, “On the Other Side”, “Start Swimming”, “Lost”, “Nothing Left,” “Come Closer”.
3. Stream of Passion – The Flame Within
Another summer 2009 release (believe me when I say that I was really spoiled for music that year), The Flame Within is Dutch/Mexican progressive metal band Stream of Passion’s second album – this band can’t make a bad album, I’ve found in the years since. They write some of the most gorgeous songs of anyone in the metal scene, in my opinion. Marcela Bovio’s angelic voice, coupled with the lush piano arrangements and haunting strings, all against a driving backdrop of guitars and drums, make Stream of Passion’s music a real treat to listen to. And furthermore, their songs are so rich with emotion, which make them perfect fits for a story like Violinist, where my main character goes through so very many emotions over the course of the book.
Songs from this album on the Violinist playlist: “In the End”, “Games We Play”, “This Endless Night”, “A Part of You”.
4. Nightwish – Imaginaerum
This is the album I put on while finishing up my copy edits. Nightwish is my favorite band of all time and space, as those of you who follow me on Twitter will know. Imaginaerum, released in January of 2011 in the US, was the second and last album to feature vocalist Anette Olzon. Though Nightwish’s most recent album and their first with Dutch vocalist (and one of my idols!) Floor Jansen, Endless Forms Most Beautiful, has the title of my favorite album of all time, Imaginaerum will forever have a place in my heart. Every note of this album is burned onto my soul. By the time this album came out, I was into the second draft of Violinist, yet this album left its mark on the book in a major way all the same. So much of what Violinist currently is came about in draft 2, with this album playing in the background. The album’s themes of fantasy, storytelling, and imagination are also perfect for a writer!
Everything I ever write will have Nightwish songs on the playlist; this band is just so deeply ingrained into my life. Their music inspires me like no other band’s does; it’s epic and thought-provoking, and manages to be both beautiful and brutal at the same time. I got to meet the band before their show that I attended in April, and I got the chance to tell Tuomas Holopainen (Nightwish’s keyboardist and the main composer) how much his music meant to me and had inspired me, and he seemed to appreciate my saying so. It was a big moment for me.
Songs from this album on the Violinist playlist: “Slow, Love, Slow” and “The Crow, the Owl, and the Dove”.