Saturday, November 3, 2012

So - what's it about?

I'm delighted to announce that A Thing Done is now a thing published.  The people at Fireship Press have been a joy to work with.  I love the cover, and I've had all the support and editorial expertise anyone could ask for.  And now it's available for purchase - Kindle and Nook versions first, other ebooks and paperback to follow soon. 

Naturally, the first thing everyone asks is, "What's it about?"  That question isn't as easy to answer as you might think.  Here, then, is the blurb on the back cover of the book:
In 1216 the noble families of Florence hold great power, but they do not share it easily.  Tensions simmer just below the surface.  When a Jester's prank-for-hire sets off a brawl, those tensions erupt violently, dividing Florence into hostile factions.  A marriage is brokered to make peace, but that fragile alliance crumbles under the pressure of a woman's interference, a scorned bride, and an outraged cry for revenge.  At the center of the conflict is Corrado, the Jester, whose prank began it and who is now pressed into unwilling service by both sides.  It will take all his wit and ingenuity to keep himself alive, to protect those dear to him, and to prevent the unbridled ambitions of the nobles from destroying the city in a brutal civil war.
Yes.  That is what the book is about.  But in addition, it is about several remarkable human beings; it is about a complex political situation; it is about some very human conflicts and emotions.  If I had to find a single pithy phrase to nail down the theme of the book, it would probably be "human resilience."

Nothing in what I've just added, though, distinguishes it from a novel set in 2012.  What else is A Thing Done about, that makes it a historical novel?

Here are a few thoughts on that.  They may seem trivial, but I think they add up to something that readers of historical fiction are looking for.

It's about the food they ate.  Roast mutton in January and roast lamb at Easter.  Onions, baked in the coals and eaten with salt and vinegar.  Feast meals and fast meals.  A delicate ricotta pie.  Chickpea fritters purchased from a street vendor.  Soups and stews, and a frittata that scorched while its cook was listening in on an interesting conversation.  Sausages and eel pies.  Quince paste and almonds.

Cooking dinner

It's about the clothes they wore.  A jester's hat.  A chicory-flower blue dress purchased from a used-clothing vendor and lovingly refurbished.  White garments for a baptism, even if they had to be rented.  A fool's motley.  A magnificent scarlet overdress.  A much-mended red tunic.  Boots and cloaks and purses and rings.

Men's and women's clothing

It's about the animals they encountered every day.  A flea-bitten dog who loves to chase rats.  A gray cat who is an expert mouser.  A horse with attitude.  An owl.  Hunting dogs.  Mice in the kitchen.

Horses with attitude

It's about the homes people lived in.  Central hearths, and portable braziers for heating other rooms.  Windows covered with stretched and treated cloth.  Faded frescoes on walls.  Candles for lighting.  Loggias.  Forbidding stone towers, looming over the city.  Makeshift additions to upper floors, jutting out and blocking the sunlight from the street below.  Privies flushed with kitchen waste water. 


It's about daily chores.  Buying food in the market, and cooking it.  Sewing, spinning thread, mending, and embroidering.  Laundering garments and linens and hanging them to dry.  Fetching water, from a well or a fountain. 

Making garments

It's about the role of the church.  Holy Week rituals.  Processions of penitents.  Mass baptisms on the day before Easter.  Funerals.  The role of the parish church in the life of the city.  Pervasive beliefs and assumptions.

Penitential procession

It's about entertainment and pleasure.  Juggling and jesting.  Storytelling.  Music, sung and played.  Acrobats and stilt-walkers.  A portative organ, a harp, a flute, a vielle, a pipe and tabor.  Neighborhood taverns.  Feasts and games of skill. 


It's about young people.  Children at their lessons.  Children listening to stories from Aesop.  A spotted-faced adolescent already in training for the church.  A baby lulled to sleep in a cradle that rocked her from head to foot, rather than side to side.  Infants awaiting baptism, fed goats' milk through hollowed cow horns.

Children with their parents

And it's about the city of Florence.  Crowded streets, overhanging bits of buildings, narrow dark alleys.  People forced out of the way by others passing on horseback.  The ancient Baptistery.  Beggars on the streets and in the porches of churches.  The bridge across the Arno, shops lining either side.  The battered statue of Mars.  The cathedral, Santa Reparata.  Church bells measuring and dividing the day.  Streets bristling with soaring towers, vital to both defensive and offensive urban warfare.  A bustling marketplace.  Small parish churches, nestled in the neighborhoods where their patrons had their palaces.


These are some of the things that it's been my pleasure to learn and write about, and I hope they add something to the book for its readers.

And now that A Thing Done is indeed done, it's time for me to move on to the next project, which takes place about two generations later.  Onward!

Images in this post are in the public domain by virtue of long-expired copyright (if there ever was one).


H Stuart said...

Well put! and it is that very attention to the totality of life that brings this book and all its very human characters so vividly to life, as well. I can't tell you in words how excited I am to read the finished project--to hold your book in my hands!--and what a privilege it has been to be intimately acquainted with these people (all of whom are so real to me) from the first time they touched paper.


Tinney Heath said...

H Stuart - thank you so much! I'm pretty sure this book would never have seen the light of day if you and B. hadn't believed in it so much and given me such great feedback.