What I Write



 My first novel, A THING DONE, is set in medieval Florence, and in it I have tried to give a voice to people silenced by history--people marginalized by class or by gender. Here is a description of the work, published by Fireship Press:

Florence, 1216. The city's noble families hold almost unlimited power, and they do not share it easily. Factional tensions simmer just below the surface. When a Jester's prank-for-hire goes wrong and triggers a brawl between the factions, those tensions erupt and split Florence down the middle. One side makes the traditional offer of a marriage to restore peace, but the peace crumbles under the pressure of a woman's interference, a jilting, and an outraged cry for revenge.

This is the story of Corrado the Jester, pressed into unwilling service as messenger by both sides. It will take all his wit and ingenuity to keep himself alive and to protect those dear to him, even as his beloved city splits in two. It is the story of messer Buondelmonte, the knight who plunges Florence into chaos when he rashly abandons his marriage contract to pursue another woman, and of his implacable enemy messer Oddo. And it is the story of three fiercely determined women in a society that allows them little initiative: Selvaggia, the spurned bride; Gualdrada, the noblewoman who tempts Buondelmonte with her daughter's beauty and goads him into recklessness by questioning his courage; and Ghisola, Corrado's great-hearted friend. They will do what they must, from behind the scenes, to achieve their goals--to avenge, to prevail, to survive.

A THING DONE explores how a great historical event affects ordinary people, as well as how ordinary people can influence great events. It suggests that women may have played a much more important role in determining the story's outcome than history records. The Jester is historical, as are the knights and ladies. Dante consigned one of the novel's main characters to the Inferno for speaking the fateful words "A thing done has an end," inciting his fellow knights to declare a vendetta against Buondelmonte, and Dante's ancestor Cacciaguida says in the Paradiso that had Buondelmonte's family never come to Florence, "many would be joyful who are now sad."


What I'm Working On Now

I've taken this section from my post of April 22, 2014, my entry in the "Meet My Main Character" blog hop.


The working title(s) of my WIP, which is shaping up to be two volumes, are Lady of the Seven Suns, and Brother Giacoma.
 
When San Francesco d'Assisi died in the year 1226, he spent his last days and hours surrounded by the men who had been his earliest followers -- those who joined him early in his radical quest to live a gospel life, long before there was any official acceptance or general understanding of what he was trying to do.

Those men included Brother Bernardo, a friend from Francesco's youth and the first to join him; Brother Leo, Francesco's traveling companion and confessor; Brother Angelo, the son of a knight from Assisi; Brother Rufino, a shy and self-effacing nobleman who was a kinsman of Santa Chiara (Saint Clare); Brother Egidio (Brother Giles), who would also be present at the death of Santa Chiara 27 years later, and who was beatified; Brother Masseo, who nursed the ailing Francesco with great devotion; and Brother Elias, the brilliant but controversial brother whose turbulent tenure as Minister General of the Franciscan Order exacerbated a painful rift between two factions of friars, and who ended his life estranged from the Order and just barely reconciled with the church.



All of these men and more -- and one woman, a wealthy Roman noblewoman:  Lady Giacoma dei Settesoli,  who Francesco called "Brother Giacoma."  


1.  What is the name of your character?  Is she  fictional or a historical person?

Lady Giacoma dei Settesoli (also sometimes called Jacopa or Jacoba) is a historical person, though relatively little is known about her life.  Most of what we know comes from biographical works about San Francesco, but she was a wealthy noblewoman, married into the powerful Frangipani family, so it has also been possible to learn something about her family and its position in Rome through historical sources that don't pertain primarily to the saint.

Giacoma, fresco from the Lower Basilica, Assisi

2.  When and where is the story set?

It begins in Rome in the year 1210, just before Francesco found his religious calling, and covers nearly three decades of Giacoma's life.  While some of the book takes place in Rome, other sections are set in and around Assisi.


3.  What should we know about her?

Francesco once told a companion that there were only two women in the world whose faces he would recognize, as he otherwise kept his eyes averted from women.  Those two women were Chiara (Clare) and Giacoma.  Descriptions of Giacoma in the early works about Francesco stress her energy, her strength of character, her devotion to Francesco, her tirelessness in performing good works.  In the Italian sources the words "virile" and "forza" appear with almost alarming frequency, and they mean exactly what you'd expect them to mean.  Francesco's biographers say that she "knew how to surmount every obstacle."  They stress her generosity, her sense of justice, and that Francesco was "astonished by her outspoken manner, her sense of humor and her leadership qualities (traits then thought more suitable for a man)."  One summary that struck me was that Chiara was the "dolcezza" (sweetness) in Francesco's life, and Giacoma the "forza" (strength).  She was able to provide Francesco and his brothers with considerable material support, but to my mind, the one thing that overrides all others is that in this period where platonic friendships between men and women were always suspect, these two great souls were firm friends, first, last, and always.  He specifically requested her presence at his death.  She has been described as the first Franciscan tertiary; one historian calls her the "friend, mamma, and sister to Francesco and to his brothers."  The combination of wealth and widowhood gave her a lot of power and independence, but the way she used that power was all her own.

This image is usually associated with St. Clare, but some scholars believe it may be Giacoma.

4.  What is the main conflict?  What messes up her life?

Two disasters changed the direction of her life.  First, the death of her husband Graziano when she was a young woman left her with the sole responsibility for her two small sons, a huge fortune, and a long-running lawsuit against the papacy.  Graziano must have realized what an extraordinary woman he had married, because it would have been more usual to involve some of his male relatives in these matters, but he left everything up to Giacoma.  And second, the rancorous rift that developed in the Franciscan order even before Francesco's death was extremely painful for her, as she had deep friendships with brothers on both sides of the divide.

But more than that, I see Giacoma's story as that of a woman who would have liked to leave the world behind and enter a contemplative life, but who could not do so because of her substantial responsibilities (and possibly also because of her nature).  So she spent her life searching for a  balance -- she was utterly devoted to "Il Poverello," the little poor man who considered himself wed to Lady Poverty and who burned to live a Christlike life free of all possessions, yet at the same time she was one of the wealthiest and most influential women in Rome, and part of a family that aspired to be the pope's bankers.  If ever anyone had doubts about being part of the one percent, it was Giacoma.

Some scholars believe the person in red, at the head of Francesco's bier, is Giacoma.

5.  What is the personal goal of the character?

She yearns to follow Francesco's example, but a deep sense of duty makes her stay in the world, fiercely protective of her sons, the members of her household, and the beggars and supplicants she supports, but also of her chosen family -- Francesco and his brothers.  She will place herself between these people and disaster, over and over again, no matter the cost.

Giacoma at San Francesco's deathbed (Josep Benlliure y Gil, 1855-1937)