Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Next Big Thing

Okay, readers, what we have here is an episode in a gigantic online game of Author Tag, called The Next Big Thing.  The idea is, a writer puts up a post on his or her own blog answering ten questions about his/her work in progress, and then "tags" three - or five, depending on which version you see - other writers to do the same.  Then, the writer posts a link to his/her "tagger" and to the people he/she is "tagging" so that readers who are interested can visit those pages and perhaps discover some new authors whose work they'd like to read.

I was tagged by Elizabeth Caulfeld Felt, author of Syncopation:  A Memoir of Adèle Hugo.  The writers I have tagged in my turn appear at the bottom of this post.

I chose to write about my first novel even though it will be published quite soon, justifying it as being still in progress because it isn't (quite) out yet.

But first, one announcement:


At the request of a reader, I've added a thingie (technical term) on the blog so that people can follow it.  My readership has been growing at a satisfying rate during the year the blog has been in existence, and I know the current small number of followers does not reflect that, so please, if you read this blog with any regularity, consider becoming a follower, now that I've finally made it easier.  Many thanks.

Now, The Next Big Thing:

What is the working title for your book?

A Thing Done.  It comes from the words uttered in the spring of 1216 by messer Mosca dei Lamberti, who some may recall from Dante's Inferno:  Cosa fatta, capo ha.  A thing done has an end, or - a slightly different emphasis - a thing done cannot be undone.  Quoted by contemporary chroniclers, by Dante, and by historians, including Machiavelli, this phrase is still heard in Italy, where, according to L'Encliclopedia Italiana, it is used to cut short discussion about things that have already happened.

Where did the idea come from for this book?

From a footnote, if I remember correctly.  Footnotes contain so many little throw-away tidbits of information - perhaps they don't pique the imagination of historians or of the average history student, but how can a novelist resist?  Especially when the tidbit doesn't, in and of itself, make sense.  (See question Who or what inspired you to write this book? below.)

What genre does your book fall under?

Historical fiction.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

The actors I see in the roles of the Jester and his best friend Neri are two actors from the American Players Theatre in Spring Green, Wisconsin, the wonderful summer Shakespeare theatre near where I live:  Jim DeVita as the Jester, and Brian Mani as Neri.  But since those names won't mean much to those of you who aren't lucky enough to attend this theatre regularly, here's my list for the Hollywood cast with the most expensive payroll ever assembled (especially when you factor in the time travel that would be necessary to present them at more or less the right ages):

I'd like to see my Jester played by Roberto Begnini.  If I couldn't persuade him, I would love to see Daniel Day Lewis in the role.

Neri the musician, the Jester's troubled friend, would be in good hands played by Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Oddo, the irascible knight who is not as simple as he seems, could be played by Kenneth Branagh.

Buondelmonte, the hotheaded knight whose rash action plunges Florence into chaos, I see as somebody like Russell Crowe.

And Mosca, whose fateful words sealed the fate of his foe, has to be Ralph Fiennes.

As for the women, I'd pick these actresses:

Ghisola, the Jester's great-hearted friend, should be played by Emma Thompson.

Gualdrada, the noblewoman whose pride definitely goeth before somebody's fall, would be well played by Susan Sarandon.

Isabella, the beautiful siren who tempts a knight with disastrous consequences, could be played by Scarlett Johansson.

Fiammetta, Isabella's younger sister, who is cleverer than anyone suspects, would be well portrayed by Cate Blanchett.

And Selvaggia the schemer, the very picture of a woman scorned, could be played by Helena Bonham Carter (if she wasn't much too pretty for the role).  

And there you have it.  Never mind that at least three of these people probably don't want to be on the same planet with each other, let alone the same movie; anything goes, in a daydream.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Urg.  I sweated blood over the five-page synopsis, and the one-page synopsis, and now you want a one-sentence synopsis?!?  I'd just like to note that Nigel Tomm wrote a whole novel in one sentence (469,856 words), and the Guinness Book of World Records cites a sentence in William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom! at 1,288 words, and that Molly Bloom's soliloquy in James Joyce's Ulysses consists of two sentences:  one of 11,282 words, and the other of 12,931 words.

That said, here's my one-sentence synopsis:

Florence, 1216:  When Corrado the Jester's prank-for-hire goes wrong and triggers a brawl between two knightly factions, one side seeks peace via a proposed marriage between the factions, but a woman's interference, an unforgivable insult, and an outraged cry for revenge plunge the city into chaos and place the Jester in a perilous situation where even his considerable wit and ingenuity may not be enough to protect himself or his friends. 

Writing a synopsis is like pulling teeth

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Neither.  I've signed a contract with Fireship Press, an indie publisher I'm delighted to be working with. 

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

A summer, plus a little.  But lots more drafts followed.

Author, beta readers, critiquers

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

At least two agents who read the manuscript told me they had expected it to be like Sarah Dunant's In the Company of the Courtesan, because obviously a sixteenth century dwarf in Rome and Venice was going to be exactly like a thirteenth century jester in Florence, right?  (Wrong.)  I think a better match might be a couple of Vanora Bennett's books.  In Portrait of an Unknown Woman Bennett told the story of a little-known historical personage, weaving the strands of her subject's life together with much better-known historical people (like the unknown woman's foster father, Sir Thomas More).  In Figures in Silk she created a fictional woman of the merchant class and had her interact, convincingly, with royalty and other people whose names we know from history.   My protagonist is a little of both:  the Jester did exist, but we know nothing at all about him beyond the act that started the brouhaha.  So he is almost wholly fictional, a man of the Florentine underclass who was given no voice and no story of his own in the histories, and yet... and yet, the Jester did exist.  And he did interact with people who are recorded in history.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Curiosity, at the beginning.  I couldn't reconcile some features of the brief, tantalizing accounts of the incident which survive:  Why was Buondelmonte wearing white on that fateful day in 1216?  What inspired Gualdrada to try to persuade him to wed Isabella?  Who ordered the Jester to do what he did?  What made Mosca so eager to set a vendetta in motion?  Why did Oddo try to provoke Buondelmonte?  Would an assassination attempt really have taken place on Easter?   It was as I explored those questions, and others, that a tale began to emerge, and I found myself wondering, especially, what it would have been like to be the Jester whose action set in motion such mayhem, and who had to live with the consequences.

What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

One thing I've done in this book is to explore the roles of several women in this event, which is certainly something the historians never bothered to do.  In the historical record, only Gualdrada has a name and a political agenda.  But what of the girl promised to Buondelmonte, the girl I've called Selvaggia?  How did she react to all that happened?  And lovely Isabella and her younger sister Fiammetta - what did this rift in the Florentine nobility do to their lives?  And Ghisola, my purely fictional character, the Jester's great-hearted friend - what was it like to be a woman of the lower classes when the upper classes were tearing your city apart?  This book gives these voiceless women personalities and choices, and and recognizes that women were never completely without power, even in medieval Florence.

Woman making (questionable) choice

Include the link of who tagged you and this explanation for the people you have tagged.  

I've linked to Elizabeth Caulfeld Felt, who tagged me, above.  The writers I've tagged are, in alphabetical order:

Prue Batten, author of fantasy novels The Stumpwork Robe, The Last Stitch, and A Thousand Glass Flowers, and of the historical novel Gisbourne:  Book of Pawns

Emmalyn N. Edwards, writer of fantasy and science fiction

Mary Donnarumma Sharnick, historical novelist, author of Thirst:  A Novel, set in 17th century Venice

Elisabeth Storrs, author of The Wedding Shroud, a novel about Etruscans and Romans

Julia West, prize-winning science fiction and fantasy writer and "Chief Mugwump" at Callihoo Publishing

Images in this post are in the public domain by virtue of age.  The photo at the top is our own (and yes, I own the instrument and the hat).


H Stuart said...

Emma Thompson is such a pale blonde. I have always pictured Ghisola as having just a hint of red in her hair, or perhaps rich amber honey would be a better description. (And Ghisola's hair, in my mental pictures, is also curly). And my mind's screen has her cheerfully buxom, too! (Though I have no idea if she'd be getting enough good food to make and keep her so.) But I do love Emma Thompson, in general and in specific.

Prue Batten said...

Tinney, i have so enjoyed reading your motivations and without knowing the characters of the book I am looking forward to reading, I applaud your choice of actors. Thank you too for giving me the chance to talk about my own novels...

Tinney Heath said...

H Stuart, my mental picture of Ghisola is very like yours (no surprise there), but hair, etc. is fixable, and I tend toward the opinion that Emma Thompson can play anything!

Prue, thank you. I'm really looking forward to reading about your work.