An Ode to Venice: Piazza San Marco

In my An Ode to Venice series, I’ll be posting pictures and information about my favorite places in Venice, including those that figure into The Violinist of Venice.

For my third An Ode to Venice post – which I know has been a long time coming! – I’ll be talking about what is arguably the center of Venice, Piazza San Marco, or St. Mark’s Square.


One of Venice’s most recognizable and famous landmarks, Piazza San Marco was called at one time “the most elegant drawing room in Europe”. In many ways the center of public life in Venice, this largest public square in the city was where people congregated to meet one another, to do business, and for civic and religious holidays, among other things. The picture above was taken from the balcony of the Basilica di San Marco, which dominates the square, along with its campanile or bell tower.

DSC01389 Italy 2013 727

Just to the right of the Basilica one can see a corner of the massive Doge’s Palace, the home of Venice’s elected duke as well as the seat of Venice’s government: the palace, which faces the lagoon, also houses the chambers where meetings of the Grand Council, the Senate, and the mysterious Council of Ten took place in Venice’s heyday as an oligarchic republic.

During the seasonal flooding – caused by tides – that Venetians call acqua alta (literally “high water”), the square can be under several feet of water – including the floor of the Basilica and other nearby buildings. The acqua alta typically occurs most often in the winter, though it can happen at other times of the year as well based on the weather. The first time I went to Venice (in mid-May), there had been a big thunderstorm with heavy rain the day before, and the square had flooded. By the time I got there, there were still some big puddles, but nothing extreme.

Today the Piazza San Marco is perhaps Venice’s most densely populated tourist site. Just as it was once where native Venetians would congregate, today it is something of “home base” for tourists, as it contains many of the city’s biggest attractions. There are vendors selling souvenirs every few feet, and cafes rings the piazza’s edges, including the famous Caffe Florian, one of the world’s oldest caffes. In its day it was a hangout for the likes of Giacomo Casanova, Lord Byron, and Charles Dickens. The coffee and food is ridiculously expensive, but it’s worth the experience, in my opinion.

How this location figures into The Violinist of Venice: Piazza San Marco is where Adriana and Vivaldi go for Carnevale entertainments in chapter 25, and indeed the square was host to numerous festivities during Venice’s annual Carnevale, when the populace went about in masks for months at a time, parties happened in every house and on every corner, and all sorts of scandalous and debauched behavior occurred. Later in the novel Adriana returns there with her friends for Carnevale again, at a very different time in her life.

Italy 2013 731


Story & Song: Part 3

Welcome to the third installment of my blog series that I’m calling Story & Song. Each post will feature two pieces of music: a modern/contemporary song from the playlist of The Violinist of Venice, and a piece of Vivaldi’s music that features in the novel. I’ll describe how both pieces fit into the story with a minimum of spoilers!

It’s time for Story & Song: Part 3! Today I’m featuring a song I love by a lesser-known band called Crimson Chrysalis.

Crimson Chrysalis – “Moth Around a Flame”

I stumbled across South African symphonic rock band Crimson Chrysalis a few years ago, and I am sure glad I did. Their sound is truly something different and unique, and this song, from their first album Crimson Passion Cry, is, as you’ll hear, just lovely.

This song goes with a scene in chapter 17 of The Violinist of Venice, when Adriana attends a party and meets the man who will become her suitor, Tommaso Foscari. This song, to me, fit perfectly with their first dance together because, despite the fact that Adriana has already embarked upon her affair with Antonio Vivaldi by this time, she still finds herself drawn to Tommaso: to his charm, his good looks, his kindness, his interest in her. She knows that she could love him, and her relationship with Tommaso is one that evolves and changes a great deal over the course of the novel.


Concerto for Violin in A Minor, Op. 3, No. 6

This concerto appears in the novel several times, but it first appears in chapter 15, which is a chapter that I am rather fond of. In this chapter, Vivaldi first gives Adriana this concerto to play, and the differences in her approach to the first movement versus the second causes him to teach her something very important about music.

I actually started to learn the first movement of this concerto when I took violin lessons as research for the novel. I was not particularly good at it, but I jumped at the opportunity to attempt this when my teacher suggested it, since I had written the first draft of this scene/chapter not long before.

This chapter also holds a special place in my heart, because it was the first portion of the novel I shared with anyone beyond one of my close friends, who is also my critique partner. I had been invited to read at the Fall Coffeehouse Open Mic event at my alma mater, Canisius College, which was being hosted by a friend of mine still in school there. I hadn’t thought of reading anything from Violinist until my critique partner asked me, “Why not?” And once the idea was out there, it was like a challenge, and I found I couldn’t back down from it. So, despite being rather nervous, I read this chapter aloud for the event, and it went over well!

Story & Song: Part 2

Welcome to the second installment of my blog series that I’m calling Story & Song. Each post will feature two pieces of music: a modern/contemporary song from the playlist of The Violinist of Venice, and a piece of Vivaldi’s music that features in the novel. I’ll describe how both pieces fit into the story with a minimum of spoilers!

Welcome to Part 2 of Story & Song! Today’s post features an artist who will surely be appearing in this series a few more times – my favorite band of all time, Nightwish.


Nightwish – “She Is My Sin”

This song first appeared on the Finnish heavy metal band’s 2000 album, Wishmaster. It has since been given new life as the band has performed it live on their recent tours with new lead singer Floor Jansen, and it was included on their 2013 live album/DVD Showtime, Storytime, a recording of their performance at Wacken Open Air that year (which is where the above video comes from). The band played it when I saw them live in Buffalo in April, and I was rocking out and dancing like crazy through the whole thing (causing Marco Hietala, the bass player, to keep looking over at me approvingly – I was right down in front!).

This is a song for the first love scene in The Violinist of Venice, and in listening to the song I’m sure you can see why – it’s a sexy, groovy song, and the lyrics speak of temptation and forbidden desire – perfect for my two main characters, who are embarking on a very forbidden relationship indeed.


Concerto for 2 Violins in A Minor, Op. 3, No. 8, II. Larghetto e spirituoso

The second movement is what is most important to the story out of this concerto, though the entire thing does figure into the novel in a later chapter. Start the above video at 3:24 to hear the second movement.

This movement appears in the novel in chapter 5, when Adriana arrives for a lesson with Vivaldi and he asks her to play it with him, as it is something he has been working on. The two play the movement together and, as I think you’ll hear, Adriana is struck by its emotional beauty. It’s an important scene because it’s the moment when the attraction between these two main characters manifests itself for the first time, and the reader gets to see how they react to it.

Story & Song: Part 1

Welcome to the first installment of my new blog post that I’m calling Story & Song. Each post will feature two pieces of music: a modern/contemporary song from the playlist of The Violinist of Venice, and a piece of Vivaldi’s music that features in the novel. I’ll describe how both pieces fit into the story with a minimum of spoilers!

As I’m sure I’ve said before, writing and music are inextricably linked for me. The Violinist of Venice is an obvious and literal example of this: the book deals mostly with music and its effect on a life, and includes musicians as its main characters. But even when I’m writing a story that doesn’t have any music at all (which doesn’t happen that often, to be honest) music is an integral part of my process. I have to listen to music when I write; it seems to unlock something in my brain. More than that, I am constantly building playlists for each novel that I work on, finding the perfect song for each scene and to describe what is happening in the lives of the characters. Sometimes listening to these songs gives me more insight into a situation or a character than I would have had otherwise. These playlists – while certainly fun to make – are helpful in another way too: I’ll load them onto my iPod and listen to the playlist of a work-in-progress while at work, or while exercising. This helps keep my head in the game, so to speak, and keeps my project on my mind and keeps me thinking and daydreaming about it when I can’t actually be working on it.

So I’m hoping that this Story & Song series can help give some insight into my creative process and inspiration for The Violinist of Venice, as well as introducing you to some of the beautiful and powerful music written by Antonio Vivaldi that appears in the novel.


Lacuna Coil – “Spellbound”

This song was the lead single off of Italian heavy metal band Lacuna Coil’s 2009 album, Shallow Life. You can read a little more about this album and its impact on The Violinist of Venice in this previous post. This album came out not long after I’d started writing the first draft of the novel, and “Spellbound” perfectly captured for me the attraction, interest, and tension that manifests between Adriana, my heroine, and Vivaldi in the first few chapters. The lyrics talk about – as you might expect – being spellbound, being unable to get someone out of your mind even when you’re not quite sure why. I tended to go for this song when writing/revising/reading through chapters four and five (chapter five is actually titled “Spellbound”, in a shout-out to this song).


Concerto for 4 Violins in B Minor, Op. 3, No. 10, I. Allegro

This is the most important piece of music – to me, anyway – that is described in the novel, specifically the first movement of the concerto. I first heard it not long after writing the first chapter of the book, and I fell absolutely in love with it right away. As such it made its way into the novel right away: this is what Vivaldi plays for Adriana (parts of it, anyway) at their first lesson in chapter two, when she asks to hear him play. He plays it again for her later on in the novel, and has a whole orchestra play it for her at an even later point.

To me, this piece of music is so lively, so passionate; but the fact that it’s in B minor gives it something of a hungry, desperate edge. It was perfect for the novel as a whole, as well as simply being a beautiful and powerful piece of music, one that I can (and have) listen to countless times and never grow tired of.

An Ode to Venice: The Rialto Bridge

In my An Ode to Venice series, I’ll be posting pictures and information about my favorite places in Venice, including those that figure into The Violinist of Venice.

For my second An Ode to Venice post, I am highlighting one of the landmarks of the city, the Rialto bridge.

Italy 2013 716

The Rialto Bridge (or Ponte di Rialto) is the oldest of the bridges that span the Grand Canal. Today it is usually mobbed with tourists walking across it, posing for pictures on it, and taking pictures of the view of the Grand Canal from the bridge (and it is a pretty nice view):

Italy 2013 200

Two rows of shops run up the center of the bridge, mostly souvenir and glass shops.

The Rialto area is one of the oldest sections in Venice, and was the site of the original food market, which necessitated the building of the first bridge on the site, a wooden one built in 1255. As Venice grew as a mercantile power, the Rialto district became the center of commerce and trade in the city as well. The current stone bridge was designed by Antonio da Ponte and was completed in 1591.

Like much of Venice’s magnificent – and old – architecture, maintenance and restoration is conducted on the Rialto bridge. On my visit there this past May, half of it was covered in scaffolding as such maintenance took place. It’s a bummer not to be able to fully see such a wonderful structure – and I was especially disappointed for my father, who had never been to Venice before and was seeing it that way for the first time – but of course, whatever has to be done to preserve such wonderful pieces of our history should be done where possible, in my opinion!


How this location figures into The Violinist of Venice: During the time that the novel takes place, the Rialto was the only bridge that crossed the Grand Canal, thus my characters would have been using it a lot. The bridge and the surrounding economic/market district are mentioned a few times throughout the book. And the first time I visited it, as I walked across it I was vividly aware of the fact that Antonio Vivaldi would have walked just where I was walking. It was a very cool feeling.

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.

An Ode to Venice: The Grand Canal from the Accademia Bridge

This post is the first in a new series I’ll be doing, called An Ode to Venice. In it, I’ll be posting pictures and information about my favorite places in Venice, including those that figure into The Violinist of Venice.

The subject of my first An Ode to Venice post is none other than my very favorite spot in the entire world: the view of the Grand Canal and lagoon from the Accademia bridge (or Ponte dell’Accademia).

DSC01084 Italy 2013 082

The first time I walked across the Accademia bridge – one of the four bridges which spans the Grand Canal – I fell in love at first sight. It was the most beautiful view I had ever seen, or have ever seen to this day. The pictures don’t really do it justice; if you’ve never been, someday you have to go and see it for yourself. Like most of the gorgeous views in Venice, I could just stand here and look at it all day. I have a canvas print of a picture of this view – taken by a professional photographer who was in my tour group the first time I went to Italy – that hangs over my writing desk. It’s like having a window into my favorite place on earth, and has definitely provided a lot of inspiration for me!

This view looks towards the mouth of the Grand Canal, where it feeds into the lagoon. Dominating the entrance to the Grand Canal is the church of Santa Maria della Salute – Our Lady of Health – built by the Venetians in thanksgiving for being spared from a bout of the plague in the 1600s. But more about Santa Maria della Salute in another post 🙂

When I went back to Venice earlier this year, this was, of course, my first stop after checking into my hotel. I stood right at the very top of the bridge and, under my breath, sang a part of my very favorite song – Nightwish’s “Shudder Before the Beautiful” – because it so perfectly summed up how I was feeling in that very moment: “We are shuddering before the beautiful/Before the plentiful/We, the voyagers.”

For dinner on my last night in Venice this past spring, I scored a seat at what is probably the best table in the whole city: right at the base of the Accademia bridge, facing my favorite view:


The view from the other side of the bridge isn’t bad either!


How this location figures into The Violinist of Venice: Well, it doesn’t 🙂 The first Accademia bridge wasn’t built until 1854, over 100 years after the events of The Violinist of Venice. The original structure was steel, and it was demolished and replaced by a wooden bridge in 1933. This second bridge was also eventually razed due to safety concerns, and the current bridge (also wooden) was built in 1985.