Sunday, March 30, 2014

Book Club Questions (slightly irreverent)

When my first book was published (in late 2012, by Fireship Press), I didn't include a list of questions for book clubs.  Silly me, I was new at all of this, and I just figured that people in book clubs could probably think up their own questions.

Well, since then I've been seeing lists of questions for book clubs every time I turn around.  So, on the assumption that "better late than never" applies here, I have turned my attention to compiling a list of appropriate questions for any book clubs that might happen upon my book.  I can see a trend when it hits me over the head with a sledgehammer.

First, I browsed online for a couple of minutes -- oops, I mean I did extensive research on what should go into such a list.  I did find one site, LitLovers, which had a list of general questions that could apply to any novel, and my first thought was to gently parody it, but it actually turned out to be a really good list, so I dropped that idea, even though this is my close-to-April-1 post and therefore you can't expect me to be entirely serious.

Instead, I have come up with this list of 10 questions, specific to A Thing Done.  If you've read the book, I'm sure you'll be able to answer them all brilliantly.  If you haven't -- well, you didn't think I could get through a post like this one without a buy link, did you?  Try here.

1. When you picked up this book, did you realize that it didn't contain a single Tudor?  or even a Borgia?  Be honest.

2. You have just read a historical novel that does not have either a female protagonist or (probably) anybody you've ever heard of.  Did you survive this experience?  Would you consider repeating it with a different book?

3. Does the fact that this period has not been featured in a television miniseries suggest to you that it counts as unusual, or off-the-beaten-track?  Discuss.

4. Did you think the Fool was a reliable or unreliable narrator, or some of each?  If he was unreliable, on what topic(s) did he fail to give us complete and accurate information?

5. Who were the good guys, the proto-Guelfs or the proto-Ghibellines?  Did you know that's what they were?

Proto-Guelfs and Proto-Ghibellines

6. Did you notice that the tower the Fool is gazing at on the cover looks a lot like the Palazzo Vecchio (which wasn't even built yet in 1216)?  Do you care?

Tower of the Palazzo Vecchio
7. How would you cast the movie?

8. Did you figure out the significance of the title, or did you forget to space back on your Kindle to get to the Dante quote at the beginning?

9. Do you think that sometimes survival is as close to a happy ending as life is gonna get? 

10. Would you like some more wine?  Red or white?

Images in this post are in the public domain, with the exception of the picture of the Palazzo Vecchio, which is licensed to JoJan via the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license,  and the picture from the show The Borgias, author: Showtime, licensed to IraqChurch via the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 1.0 Generic license, both via Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Filling in the [brackets]

I'm sure I'm not the only writer who occasionally has to leave a few little gaps while writing an early draft.  We all have our different ways of dealing with this; my own preferred method is to put something inside brackets to remind me later that I need to check something, or decide something, or add something.

Using brackets makes it very easy to search for these once the draft is otherwise complete.  Otherwise, you risk missing some, and leaving in some quite inappropriate things.

For example:  When my protagonist, early 13th-century Roman noblewoman Giacoma de' Settesoli, was traveling from Rome to Assisi, she would probably not have spent the night in [Peoria].

Not this...

Fortunately, I now have a plausible routing for her (see previous post), and so I can decide instead to have her spend the night in Spoleto.  Which is not very much like Peoria.

... but this.

And in the scene where Francis arrives in Rome in 1212 with six of his brothers, the friars are not called [Bob, Carl, Ted, Alvin, Mutt, and Jeff].  I had to look up when certain of his early followers joined him, to figure out who might have been along on that trip.  Nothing difficult there; I just didn't want to interrupt the momentum of writing to do it right at that moment.

Not Bob, Carl, Ted, Alvin, Mutt, and Jeff

A slightly different problem with nomenclature emerged when I needed to figure out names for five minor female characters who are fictional, not historical.   I keep a list of period names, drawn from literature, legal documents, chronicles, and a lot of other sources, and also I have a couple of scholarly studies on Italian naming practices in the 13th and 14th centuries.  But naming characters requires some care -- not too many similar-sounding names, not too many beginning with the same letter, none that are unpronounceable (unless they're also well known historical figures and you don't have much choice).  So I often fill in minor characters' names  later.   That left us with these lovely ladies:

[Annabelle, Jennifer, Maybelline, Sister Muffy, and Sister Carolyn]

In a recent post I mentioned having Giacoma look out the window of her new husband's tower for the first time while he pointed out to her the [Starbucks] nearby.

You probably won't be surprised to learn that there wasn't really a Starbucks outside Giacoma's tower (though I did once see a tower in Pisa - not the tower in Pisa, but another one -- and by the way, several towers in Pisa lean, not just that one.  But I digress.  I did once see a tower in Pisa where a man and his family were locked up and starved to death, the unfortunate Ugolino della Gherardesca, and noticed that there was a snack stand underneath it with a large Coca Cola sign.  Also, there's a castle in Ghent where if you actually shot an arrow out of a particular arrow slit, you'd hit a Chinese restaurant.  But now I really digress.)

But that was now, and this is then.  (That was a real historical novelist's kind of sentence, wasn't it?  I justify it by quoting science fiction writer Ursula Le Guin, who took some pride in having written "The people in this book might be going to have lived a long, long time from now in Northern California.")

I have several excellent books on Rome in the middle ages, including a modern translation of an actual guide to Rome used by pilgrims and tourists in the 13th century (Mirabilia Urbis Romae), so this one should have been a shoo-in.  It wasn't.  Those books are fine for the better-known monuments and the ones that survive, but Giacoma's palace, which incorporated the ancient Roman Septizonium, was razed for building materials in the 1500s.  (It's possible to use Google Maps Street View to look at the foundations, though.) 

Arch of Drusus

It looked like she might have gazed down upon the Arch of Drusus, but finding same on the map convinced me that wasn't likely.  I found a nearby church that might have been within sight, which was handy because I needed the name of a church in the neighborhood, but I wasn't quite certain of what would be visible from up there.  It would depend on what else was around at the time.  But I did finally come up with two things:

One, the location where the body of Saint Sebastian (he of the many arrows) was supposedly stuffed into a sewer.  It's right across the street.  And I'll bet that in the 13th century that meant there would have been a shrine there. 

And two, she would have been within sight of the Circus Maximus, which at that time was controlled by her husband's family (the Frangipane) and was largely taken over by vines and other agricultural plantings, and by a mill.  But it also contained this tower, known as the Torre di Moletta:

So that takes care of the view.   I still had a few items to fix, however.  For one thing, I knew that cardinals were not yet called "Your Eminence" at that date, but I had to find out what they were called ("Lord," or "Your Lordship").  Not, as I had it, [Your Redness] -- a doubly unfortunate choice, as cardinals were not yet wearing red except in a limited way and under certain carefully defined conditions.

Also, I needed to choose a virgin martyr (did that), figure out which nearby small town a certain character came from (check), and decide what would replace the phrase [something dessert-ish], referring to a food prepared by Giacoma's cook, Amata.

[something dessert-ish]
There are moments when I wonder why I spend so much time on this sort of thing.  After all, is anybody who reads this book going to know what Giacoma could see from her window?  Or which virgin martyr has a story appropriate to what I want?

Yes.  I'll know.  And because I can be very pigheaded about these things, that's enough.  So I'm not going to just say that she could see the Tiber from her window, however tempting and easy that would be.  In Puccini's opera Tosca, the heroine is often said to throw herself from the parapet at the Castel Sant'Angelo and wind up in the Tiber.  When I finally saw the Castel Sant'Angelo, I realized that wasn't going to happen.  Not without a hang glider, she doesn't.  And I didn't want to create something equally silly. 

Castel Sant'Angelo and Tiber

Images in this post are in the public domain, with the exception of the photo of Peoria, which is licensed to Rklawton (Robert Lawton) via the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license, the photo of Starbucks, which is licensed to Elvert Barnes via the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license, and the photo of Castel Sant'Angelo, which is licensed to MarkusMark via the Creative Commons Atribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Research diary: Part 2 of 2

Last week on this blog I posted Part 1 of my research diary, covering a six-day week and giving examples of the kinds of problems I find myself pursuing in the course of writing my work-in-progress.

My story takes place in Rome and Assisi, beginning in the year 1210.  It has proved fiendishly difficult to pin down verifiable dates for events in the life of Saint Francis, and if we can't be certain even of the saint's history, you can imagine what it must be like trying to track down the details on anyone else of that period.

Naturally, that's what I'm trying to do.  My quarry is one Roman noblewoman, Lady Giacoma (aka Jacoba, Jacoba) dei Settesoli, an early friend and follower of Saint Francis.  So far I'm juggling two different death dates (several decades apart), four or five different combinations of names and dates for her sons, four dates for when she was widowed, another four dates for when she met Francis, and at least two different political orientations for her family - although, given the times, that last one is actually believable.

Lady Giacoma dei Settesoli (fresco in the Basilica of St. Francis, Assisi)

I gave you my research problems for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday last week, so now I bring you Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.  (Sunday I went to a movie.  You can only do so much of this...)


Research problem:  My storyline requires Giacoma to visit Francis in Assisi.  This visit has to take place between 1212 and 1215.  I need to find a timeslot when Saints Francis and Clare will both be present in Assisi.

Saints Francis and Clare

What I find:  This is harder than you might think.  I've compiled a timeline for Francis, drawing on perhaps a dozen different biographies and going with my best guesses when they conflict; another for Clare, also doing some guessing; and one for Giacoma, again pulling together my best guesses based on everything I can find about her, which isn't much.  Then I merged the three timelines, using a different typeface for each of the three, so I can see at a glance what's going on with whom at any given time.

So far, so good.

This visit can't occur in 1212, because there's just too much else going on.  Francis makes a journey to Rome early in the year, before Palm Sunday in March, at which time Clare escapes from her house and joins Francis and his brothers, takes her oath of obedience, and Francis cuts her hair.  He places her first in a Benedictine convent, and shortly thereafter moves her to another house of women, near Assisi (which may have been a convent or possibly more of a beguinage); meanwhile her sister Catherine joins her, taking the name of Agnes, and their family makes repeated attempts to get one or both of the girls back.  Eventually the sisters (and by then other women who wish to join them) are moved to a humble house at San Damiano, a church that Francis himself has restored. 

Courtyard at San Damiano

During the spring and summer of that year, Francis is preaching in various places around Umbria, and in September he leaves for the far east (doesn't get there, not this time, anyway, but that's another story).

So with both of them moving around, that pretty much axes 1212.  How about 1213?  Well, Francis preached in the villages of the Apennines in the spring, and he went to Spain that summer, and probably wasn't back in Italy until late 1214 or even 1215.  Thus, Giacoma can't make her trip in 1214.  Clare, meanwhile, was either in a holding-tank sort of convent, or in San Damiano.

Do you think the sources will agree on how long it took her to move from one to the other?  Of course not.  She arrived in San Damiano "soon," "in a few weeks," "in several months," or "in 1216."  1216?!  I don't think so.  She took the title of abbess in 1216, but it seems likely she was in San Damiano well before that. For one thing, with their irate family aggressively trying to get Clare and her sister to come back to the family fold, the women they were staying with would probably have wanted their guests to find another place, so they could get their peace and quiet back.

So I get arbitrary.  Giacoma is going to arrive in Assisi in the early summer, during that brief moment when Francis must have been back from his preaching tour and not yet departed for Spain.  (There had to be such a time, didn't there?)  And by then, I arbitrarily say that Clare is in San Damiano.

Star rating: ***  I've done what I can with it; my position can't be proved, but it is plausible, and I don't think I've neglected anything.  Not satisfying, but it's the best I can do if my characters are going to be running around all over the place and refuse to stay put.


Research problem:   Actually, I misspoke last week (misblogged?) when I said I was going to research Christmas in Greccio (by which I meant Saint Francis's setting up the first nativity scene there in 1223).  I've already done some of that in an earlier blog post, which you can find here.  But it was a Greccio question I wanted to explore.

Santuario, Greccio

In the oratory connected with the convent in Greccio, there is a painting of Saint Francis.  It shows the saint dabbing at his eyes with a handkerchief, the result of the painful eye ailment that plagued him for much of his adult life and resulted in his eventual blindness (or near-blindness).  The tale is that the painting was commissioned, during Francis's lifetime, by Lady Giacoma, so naturally I was interested in it and hoped to learn more, including the name of the artist.

What I found:  Not much.  For one thing, it's a copy - some sources say 14th century, some say 15th.  It may well be a faithful copy of the original, but we have no way of knowing.  I can't find any hint of an artist's name anywhere, which I suppose is not really surprising, but I had hoped that something would turn up.  And I can't find any proof that Giacoma commissioned the work, though I don't see anything to say she didn't, either, and the sign with the painting says she did.

I do learn that this was Mother Teresa's favorite depiction of Saint Francis.  And I learn that the sign under the painting translates to something like this:  "Real portrait of Seraphic Patriarch San Francesco d'Assisi, commissioned by the pious Roman woman Giacoma de' Settesoli, when the patriarch was alive."  That's it.

Star rating:  *  Oh, well.  I still really like the painting.


Research question:  I want to discover the route that Giacoma would have taken when she went to Assisi, and that Francesco and his brothers would have taken when they went to Rome.  And I wanted to find out to what extent it overlapped with the ancient pilgrimage route called the Via Francigena.

Photo by Laurom

What I find:  The Via Francigena is the pilgrims' path to Rome.  It's usually associated with France (or the Frankish lands), as the name implies, though a version of it going all the way from Canterbury to Rome was laid out by Archbishop Siguric around the year 990.

Photo by Bjorn Christian Torrissen

In those days Assisi was off the route (or routes; I learned that the Via Francigena was more than one route, encompassing as many as three or four different points for crossing the Alps or the Apennines, depending on one's starting point).  Now, thanks to Saints Francis and Clare, Assisi is itself a pilgrimage destination, so it's not surprising that even today pilgrims are walking between the two cities.  And that made it relatively easy to plot out a plausible route for Francis going to Rome, and for Giacoma going to Assisi.  As a walking route, it involves 14-16 stages, averaging 10-12 miles per day, and much of the terrain is mountainous.  But the total distance, 150 miles, is dwarfed by Archbishop Siguric's route:  1,100 miles. 

Photo by Sailko
It was almost ridiculously easy to put together the information I needed, particularly since I've traveled in this part of Italy and (sort of) know where things are.  Companies that serve tourists and pilgrims, many of whom still make the journey on foot, offer detailed itineraries and maps, and that, plus the records of some of Francis's journeys -- where he stayed, where he stopped and preached, etc. -- make this a fairly simple task.  And I find my point of overlap between the Rome-Assisi route and the Via Francigena:  it's Rieti.

Pilgrims bound for Rome, carved on the Duomo in Fidenza (near Parma)

Star rating: *****  Finally, an easy one!

Now, maybe it's time to address all the things-in-brackets in my draft which still need to be filled in.  I usually use something modern and obvious, so I won't accidentally leave in something inappropriate.  Thus we get things like "She gazed out the tower window, looking down on [the Starbucks] below..."  and "The beggars, [Tiffany and Mortimer], were becoming more insistent."   Not to mention the cardinal who is currently being addressed as "Your Redness," because "Your Eminence" wasn't in use this early.  But that's another topic, for another time.

Images in this post are our own (Giacoma, San Damiano), in the public domain, or licensed as follows:  pilgrim silhouette on rock licensed to Laurom via the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license; collage of signs licensed to Bjorn Christian Torrissen via the same license; signs posted on stone wall licensed to Sailko via the same license. 

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Research diary: Part 1 of 2

After writing about my writing process last week (see here), I started thinking again about my research process as well.  After all, the original intent of this blog was to explore the research process, though in practice it has often turned into sharing research results.  

I find that research never entirely ceases.   Though the preliminary reading and organizing for my work in progress is done and I am now writing, hardly a day goes by when I don't have to hit the books for something:  to clarify a point, find a date or other bit of information, check a detail, or just to pursue a new line of thought that has emerged in the course of writing.  

So I decided to post a research diary for one six-day week, and to give each day's research a star rating of one to five, based on how successful it was (or wasn't).  I'll post the first three days this week, and the last three in another week.  Here goes:


Research problem:  My main character was lady of the castle in a place called Marino, not far from Rome.  I need to know something about what Marino was like in the early 13th century, and whether it would be worthwhile traveling there to learn more.

View of Marino from a nearby villa, Gaspar Van Wittel, 1719

What I find:  I learn that there is an Ikea in Marino.  Also that it's possible to sign up for zumba classes.  Somehow I don't think either of these applies to my characters.  Searching further, I learn that much damage was done during WWII when the town was bombed; that and the fact that many of the tourist sites seem to be later than my time period suggest that it might not be worthwhile to visit.  

Frangipane tower

But I also learn that Marino has a donut festival, which is a plus for visiting, and a wine festival, which is an even bigger plus.  And I find some pictures of surviving medieval towers, which is another plus - and one of them (above) belonged to my character's family, the Frangipane.  I learn that there is a huge lake nearby.  I learn some things about the terrain, and the vegetation that grows there. 

I learned of a nearby quarry that produces "peperino," which is not in my Italian dictionary.  (The closest thing is either the word for "peppers" or the sheep-milk cheese called "pecorino," but I doubt that it was a quarry of either cheese or peppers.)  The internet came through this time.  It means "tufa."

The prize:  During the wine festival, a fountain in the heart of the city is made to flow with wine, free for the taking (which results, apparently, in a rather boisterous festival).  One year, the transformation of water to wine was announced, and the mayor and other dignitaries held out their cups, only to find them filled with - water.  Much consternation ensued, until suddenly a woman inside a nearby building cried out, "Miracolo!"  It seems that someone had made a slight mistake, and the wine was flowing out of her kitchen tap instead of the fountain.  Can I use this story?  No.  Do I love it anyway?  You bet.

Star rating:  ****  Promising results, fun story.  Do I visit?  Maybe.


Research problem:  It's written in the earliest biographies of Saint Francis that on his deathbed he called for the Roman noblewoman Lady Giacoma dei Settesoli (my main character) to come to him, and to bring with her some of the almond sweets that she used to make for him when he visited Rome.   What, exactly, were those sweets?

What I find:  Many, many people have tried to reconstruct them.  They are often said to be similar to mostaccioli (not the pasta version, but an almond cookie popular around Rome).  Another source calls them mortarioli, but when I request a definition of that, an online dictionary sniffs, "Did you spell that right?" - thereby revealing its ignorance.  Hmpf.  Then it goes on to suggest that maybe I mean "mortuaries," or possibly "mortarboards."  Hmpf, again.

Others think that what Giacoma brought to the saint was something closer to frangipani, an almond-flavored cream pastry filling named for her husband's family, the Frangipane.  I looked at dozens of recipes.  The ingredients listed in the earliest writings about Francis were simple:  almonds, honey, spice, eggs, flour.  You'd be amazed at the variations.  

They all have almonds, however.  There is a bit of a debate about whether Giacoma used sugar or honey.  The sugar group says that she was wealthy and therefore could have afforded the expensive commodity.  The honey group says that sugar at that time was mostly used for medicinal purposes, and honey is the likelier sweetener.

Purchasing sugar
Or was it honey?
Some modern recipes for mostaccioli include chocolate, which was obviously not part of Giacoma's version.  I also discount the ones that involve Crisco and self-rising flour, as well as vanilla extract, dark rum, and baking powder.

Mostaccioli often use grape must, which is tempting, except I don't happen to have any.  So I proceed with this list of ingredients:  blanched almonds, honey, cinnamon, egg whites, and flour.  And just for good measure, I also make some frangipani to slosh on the almond thingies, which look like they're going to need some help.

The results?  Well, remember about how the WWII bombing wrecked a lot of older buildings in Marino?  Let's just say that if they had been built out of these almond cakes and mortared together with frangipani, they'd probably still be there.  They tasted fine, but they were dense.

Star rating:  ***  Nothing definitive, but at least I managed to give some thought to the ingredients.  Plus there were almond cakes.  With frangipani.


Research problem:  I want to find out when the controversial Brother Elias joined Saint Francis's band of brothers.  

What I find:  I satisfy myself that he was not part of the original small group of brothers who traveled to Rome, which is the point where my story begins.  And I satisfy myself that he was part of the group by 1212, which is the year where Giacoma's next encounter with the saint is to take place.  But I cannot find out exactly when he joined. There are thousands of biographies of Francis of Assisi, and I own several, have looked at many more from various libraries, and have pursued this question while in Assisi, and I absolutely can't pin it down.  Francis's dates are notoriously elusive, and scholars often disagree on the exact year in which something happened, let alone the month and day.  Do I need to know exactly when he joined?  Well, no, not really.  Would I like to know?  Of course I would.  

Brother Elias is almost certainly one of the friars depicted in Giotto's painting of the verification of Saint Francis's stigmata, above.  It was Elias who wrote the letter announcing both Francis's death and the miracle of the stigmata to the order.  The only known contemporary portrait of Elias has not survived.

Brother Elias is a fascinating character, an enigma, controversial in his time and since, who died estranged from the Franciscan order and just barely reconciled with the Catholic church, yet who was instrumental in the creation of the great Basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi.  One find in this frustrating research journey:  an article by a Catholic businessman who credits Brother Elias with being the CEO of Francis's order.

Basilica di San Francesco

Star rating: *  Not helpful.  So, I assign him a probable date of entry into the order.  It's not certain, but it's as educated a guess as I can come up with.  And it invokes my emergency mantra for such things:  "Dammit, Jim, I'm a novelist, not a historian."

Come back next week for the second half of my research diary:  a visit to Assisi, Christmas in Greccio, and traveling the Via Francigena.

Images in this post are in the public domain either because of their age or because of the generosity of a photographer who released his/her work into the public domain on Wikimedia Commons, except for the picture of the Basilica, which is my husband's.  Thank you, photographers.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Blog hop: My writing process

Kim Rendfeld, author of The Cross and the Dragon and the forthcoming The Ashes of Heaven's Pillar, invited me to participate in this blog hop and answer four questions about my writing process.  The Cross and the Dragon is a rich and absorbing tale of the power of love, set during the wars and blood feuds of Charlemagne's reign, and Kim's upcoming The Ashes of Heaven's Pillar, a companion to her first book, is a story of a Saxon mother and the lengths to which she will go to protect her children.

My writing process


My ancestors, watching over the process

I'll answer the four questions, but since my blog posts are usually lavishly illustrated, I'm going to intersperse a few pictures of the talismans/friends/inspirations that surround my writing area and help me work - because we all get by with a little help from our friends.

Inspiration, perched on the photocopier

1) What are you working on?

My work-in-progress is a story set in Assisi and Rome, beginning in the year 1210 - only six years earlier than my novel A Thing Done, which is set in Florence.  My current book is based on the life of a remarkable Roman noblewoman, a wealthy widow called Giacoma dei Settesoli, who became one of Saint Francis's earliest followers.  Her social position allowed her to provide substantial support for Francis's fledgling order, and she and Francis shared a deep friendship for years - so much so that he had her summoned to his deathbed, and even asked her to bring along some of the almond sweets she used to make for him when he visited Rome.  Remarkably, Francis welcomed her into the inner sanctum where no other women were allowed, and he even called her "Brother Giacoma."  I'm exploring the extraordinary friendship between one of the wealthiest women of her day and the saint who considered himself wed to "Lady Poverty."

The sheep.  There's a reason for the sheep; all will be revealed in the fullness of time.

2) How does your work differ from others of its genre?

Many people write of the Italian Renaissance, a period that seems to fascinate almost everyone.  My work, which has as its pivot point the writings of Dante, is set earlier, at a turbulent time in history, and I find myself exploring what preceded the astonishing phenomenon that was the Renaissance in Italy (and most especially in Florence).  What were the conditions that allowed the Renaissance to flower when and where it did?  What set the scene?  What went before?

Dante.  Dante must be somewhere nearby.

Also, many people write about the middle ages, but in England, not in Italy. And they were very different:  a king vs. individual city-states, English climate vs. Mediterranean, far away from the center of the Church vs. having the papacy right there, not being particularly concerned with the Holy Roman Empire vs. being right in the midst of the longstanding rivalry between emperor and pope.  Italy's medieval history holds a strong appeal for me, and I don't believe that it's been adequately explored yet in historical fiction.  It certainly hasn't been overdone.

Can't write historical fiction without a map or two

3) Why do you write what you do?

My first book centered on a man who was poor, powerless, and marginalized, yet who had a role in a momentous event.  I'm always looking for the "little guy" in history, the one no one thinks is important enough to remember.  Kings and queens are all well and good, but I'm curious about how ordinary people - some of whom may not have been so ordinary after all - experienced the events of history.

The "running commentary" bulletin board

My current book is exploring the meaning of poverty - both the voluntary poverty of Saint Francis's followers and the involuntary poverty of the many poor people Francis strove to help - and of vast wealth, coexisting as the two extremes did in a society that encouraged almsgiving but guaranteed nothing to its least fortunate.  Again, I find myself looking at the forgotten people in history.

Yet another map

4) How does your writing process work?

My process consists of three fairly distinct stages:
  1. A long period of time spent immersing myself in the time and place I want to write about - lots of reading, travel if I can manage it, looking at art and architecture, watching films and documentaries, figuring out which characters I want to concentrate on.
  2. A brief moment in which I hear two characters talking, inside my head.  They're never talking to me, just to each other.  So I eavesdrop, and that gives me the voice I want.  That's the moment when one or both characters step out of the shadows and start to become real to me.
  3. Then the writing starts.  It starts slowly, with felt-tip pen and a notebook, and picks up speed until I have to switch to a computer to keep up with it.  Even then it proceeds in fits and starts, and I have to surface occasionally for the odd bit of research or to rethink something as the story unfolds.  So things sort of lurch along, and eventually I have something to show for it.
Symbol of my undulating writing process

I guess it's not really much of a process, but it seems to be what I do.  Sometimes I think I'd like to be more organized, maybe use Scrivener, for example, but the part of my mind that can deal with computer programs is not the same part that writes, and I'm not good at rapid shifts back and forth.  So it is as it is, and fortunately it seems to work.

 Many thanks to Kim Rendfeld for tagging me for this blog hop.  And now it's my pleasure to introduce my three "taggees," three fine writers whose writing processes should prove to be very interesting.

On March 10, visit Elizabeth Caulfield Felt.  Elizabeth is the author of Syncopation: A Memoir of Adele Hugo, the fictional autobiography of the youngest of Victor Hugo's children.  With help from her family, Elizabeth wrote The Stolen Golden Violin, a contemporary children's mystery that takes place at a summer music camp.

In addition to writing, Elizabeth teaches freshman composition and children's literature at the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point. She is a former librarian, an avid reader and a very busy mom.

On March 17, visit Mary Donnarumma Sharnick.  Mary is the author of Thirst, a novel set in 17th century Venice. Mary has been writing ever since the day she printed her long name on her first library card.  A native of Connecticut, she graduated from Fairfield University with a degree in English, and earned a master’s degree in Renaissance studies from Trinity College, Hartford.  Fascinated by la Serenissima and the islands of the Venetian Lagoon since her first visit in 1969, Mary has returned to Venice numerous times.  A Solo Writer’s Fellowship from the Beatrice Fox Auerbach Foundation afforded her the opportunity to live and write in Venice during July, 2010.

Also on March 17, visit Mark WiederandersMark lives in Northern California and writes about the private lives of famous authors. His screenplay about William Shakespeare's family, "Taming Judith" was a finalist in the Academy of Motion Pictures' annual screenwriting competition and was optioned by a film company. The idea for his current novel, Stevenson’s Treasure, hatched during a visit to Carmel, when Mark learned that Robert Louis Stevenson suffered a near-fatal collapse in 1879 while hiking nearby. What was the young, as-yet unknown Scottish writer doing so far from home?

Writing the novel that resulted from this question first took Mark to many Stevenson sites in California. Then he followed RLS’s footsteps to Europe, lodging at the Stevenson home in Edinburgh followed by a week in the Highlands cottage where Stevenson wrote Treasure Island. Mark also worked as a research psychologist (Ph.D, University of Colorado) who studied delinquency and mental health programs. His interests include acting in community theater (recently a Neil Simon play), downhill skiing, golf, and spending time with his wife and three grown children.