Sunday, June 18, 2017

Website Outtakes

Recently I've been working on re-doing my website. It is a tedious task, and when faced with a tedious task, my every instinct is to entertain myself by keeping it light. However, one cannot get too silly in a website if one wants to be taken seriously. (Do I want to be taken seriously? I'm not sure, actually.) 

So I toned it down, but I thought I might as well use this version here in my blog, where I am not exactly known for being overly serious. By the way, don't bother checking out the site yet; I have a new host, and I'm still trying to figure out how the graphics work, so there isn't much there yet. But if you're at all curious about who I am or what I write, this outtake should help:

Tinney Sue Heath writes fiction set in medieval Italy. She didn’t originally intend to choose a bit of history that is obscure, often misunderstood, and has never been featured on a television miniseries, but that’s how it worked out.

She was poking around in the Italian Renaissance when she got to wondering “Why then? Why there?” She took a tentative step back in time and promptly discovered a whole raft of fascinating stuff that happened before the Medici, before Michelangelo, before the Borgia pope. She picked up speed as she moved backwards beyond the Black Death, because, trust me on this, nobody wants to hang around in 1348. The Black Death is seriously depressing, hitting depths of yuckiness not even a dedicated historical fictionista can endure for long. 

Onward, ever backward, until she came to a screeching halt at Dante (1265-1321). If you're looking for the source of the Italian Renaissance, this is not a bad place to hover for a while. So Heath learned about those Guelfs and Ghibellines, about medieval urban warfare, about mighty defensive towers and magnificent frescoed churches, about an explosion of glorious poetry and a sea change in the visual arts, about Florentine magnates and the audacious experiment of rule by the popolo.

And then she wrote her debut novel, and it turned out to be set in 1216.

1216? WTF? (Naturally, this stands for War-Torn Florence.) Does this mean she went further back in time and settled on a pre-Dante period? Not necessarily. Dante was still compelling, but even in early 14th century Florence she found herself asking "Why him? Why then and there?" So backwards she went, yet again, until she hit that speed bump in 1216.

She discovered a period rich in surprises, with all the vices and virtues of humanity prominently on display.

Plus, you get saints, not to mention all that complicated Guelf-Ghibelline, pope-emperor conflict. Her first book, A Thing Done, is based on an incident that triggered the Guelf-Ghibelline split in Florence. Her second (not yet published) novel, which begins in that same decade, involves the early Franciscans, with Saint Francis himself as a prominent - though not the main - character. Saints are a challenge to write about, and Heath claims absolutely no special qualifications in this area, but it's a wonderful exercise for the imagination.

She finds in the ever-squabbling Guelfs and Ghibellines a parallel to the polarized politics of our own times, and it pleases her to think that if civilization made it through that mess, maybe we 21st century folk will also manage to muddle through.
Guelfs and Ghibellines, squabbling?

 So if you want Tudors, or World War II love stories, or Roman soldiers, or guys in kilts, you'll have to look elsewhere. But be of good cheer, because you won't have any trouble at all finding those things in quantity.

All you'll find here are those Guelfs and Ghibellines (occasionally trading places), saints and sinners (ditto), knights and ladies, jesters and cardinals, crusaders and monks. (There's less place-changing in those last three pairings, though anything's possible, and you just never know...) We're back in the days before glass windows, before wall fireplaces with chimneys, before the great upsurge of religious confraternities. We're not done with the Crusades yet, the Uberti family would really love to take over the government of Florence, and just last year the pope ordered the bishops to stop including hunting dogs and falcons in their retinues. It's 1216. Fasten your seatbelts, and enjoy the ride!

And for those of you who enjoy interactive blogging, here's a little pop quiz. This list contains six things that can be found either in Heath's published book or in her work in progress. One of them is her own invention, and the other five are historical, no matter how odd they sound. Can you identify the one that is fictional?

1) A certain saint used to sleep with his head on a stone. His aversion to pillows might have had something to do with his belief that one he had once used, as a guest in a nobleman's home, was possessed by demons.

2) A jester played a joke on a knight during a banquet, and by doing so managed to start a civil war.

3) A certain pope with a notorious temper used to wear the finger bone of a holy woman in a portable reliquary to prevent him from blaspheming.

Reliquary with the finger of Marie d'Oignes

4) The women of this town used to communicate information with one another over distances by the way they hung their laundry on the clotheslines - the sequence of items and colors.

5) A wealthy noblewoman used to prepare her special almond cakes for Saint Francis, and he was so fond of them that on his deathbed he asked for some.

6) Someone once thought it would be a good idea to make peace between warring factions by arranging a marriage between one of the combatants and a woman from the other side. (Spoiler alert: It wasn't.) Someone else once thought he would just ignore the marriage contract and dump his betrothed in favor of another woman from his own political side of the fence. (Spoiler alert: Neither was that.)

About the author:

Tinney Sue Heath realized at an early age that she had no domestic talents whatsoever and did not do well with repetitive work of any sort. An aptitude test revealed that she should absolutely not even think about working as a banker or a police officer, but she might have a chance as a musician or a writer. So she went for music and writing, and those have worked out fairly well. She is a fan of medieval music, Leonard Cohen, Italian opera, men's figure skating, logic problems, live theater, and a whole slew of writers, including her inspiration for going into historical fiction, Dorothy Dunnett. She plays several Renaissance and medieval wind instruments and a portative organ, but she can't cope with stringed instruments. If there's no way to blow into it, it's somebody else's problem. She has a husband and son who are totally amazing, and if she never accomplishes anything else beyond having them in her world, it will still have been a rousing success of a lifetime. She never writes about politics online, but sometimes she is very tempted.