Today, I find myself in writer-bliss — thrilled to be writing a new novel. There’s the phase of editing a book (tough fun) and the phase of marketing it (tough and not so fun), and the best phase, starting one. It’s summer, and ideas are blooming in my head as wildly as the roses I tend in 12 pots are putting out buds and opening red, pink, gold, and white. New story ideas opened up buds too. A lemon grove. A new heroine who’s fleeing a catastrophe in her life to run away to Florence, Italy. More
I’m delighted to have a new interview up at Authors18 — a group of this year’s debut authors, of which I’m a proud member. Among the questions asked: “If you could spend a day with anyone in history, who would it be?” See my answer in today’s interview (hint: I’d travel to Renaissance Italy). Here’s a link to the interview.
Having a book out in the world isn’t a new experience for me. With three poetry books out in the world, I’ve experienced the elation, stage fright, happy overwhelm, and sheer joy in completing a book and giving it an audience. But to have a novel published is in another sphere. It’s a goal I’ve had since I was a child. And yesterday, I achieve it, with the release of The Renaissance Club from Fiery Seas Publishing.
I’ve partied, celebrated, and emailed and passed out bookmarks to spread the word. Right now, I’m happy to share an excerpt, published at Escape Into Life. Thanks to the editors there, you can read the cute-meet of my two main characters, one who lives in the 21st century, and the other who lives in the 17th, but who find a fold in time that allows them to be in the same moment.
If you suddenly found you could time travel, what good could you hope to do by traveling into the past? Could you time travel to prevent a war or a plague? Would you want to ensure that friendly, intelligent aliens landing on our planet weren’t obliterated by weed-killer? Would you want to change your own history to become richer, more successful, or healthier? Would you try to spare someone close to you a catastrophe?
Some of those things are the goal of my main character, May Gold, in The Renaissance Club (now available for pre-order on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, and Kobo). Time travel has been a philosophical problem ever since someone devised it. It’s the problem I asked myself as I sent May back to the 17th century.
And it’s a question I kept pondering as I thought about George St. James, the club’s guide to Renaissance Italy, and for a few the guide to time traveling.
Why did George have this gift? How did he decide to use it only to aid others? In George’s case, time travel appears to be genetic. His grandmother had the ability, though neither of his parents did. But I’m getting ahead of myself, because that’s not in the prologue of The Renaissance Club. It will appear in my third novel, Time’s Wily Thief, which features George St. James.
In The Renaissance Club, art historian May Gold time travels with George’s aid, and she finds herself face-to-face with her hero, 17th century Italian sculptor Gianlorenzo Bernini. As she goes back and forth into his timeline, she starts trying to change things in his life, to prevent disasters that impeded his art.
In case you haven’t read about this already, I’m giving away a free chapter of The Renaissance Club, due to be published by Fiery Seas Publishing in January 2018. You can claim one from Instafreebie here, or simply by going to my website.
Would you give up everything, even the time in which you live, to be with your soul mate? May Gold, a college adjunct teacher, often dreams about the subject of her master’s thesis – Gianlorenzo Bernini. In her fantasies she’s in his arms, the wildly adored partner of the man who invented the Baroque.
But in reality, May has just landed in Rome with her teaching colleagues and older boyfriend. She considers herself a precocious failure and yearns to unleash her passion and creative spirit. Over the course of the tour, she realizes she has to choose — stay in a safe but stagnant existence, or take a risk. Will May’s adventure in time ruin her life or lead to a magical new one? The Renaissance Club is forthcoming from from Fiery Seas Publishing in 2018.
These aren’t the actual covers, but I had fun playing around with images! If you want to comment, please do.
If you’re picky about history, but love a time-traveling heroine going back in time, if you love love stories and romance, but don’t like the formulaic romances the major publishers put out, you might find it hard to locate books you like. I do. My must-haves for a time-travel love story include: good historical research, a well-defined sense of place, believable characters, and love that goes deeper than just a steamy attraction.
That’s a lot to ask! The gatekeepers of publishing use very narrow formulas, So I delved into backwaters of Amazon categories: time-travel romance, historical fantasy, science fiction romance, historical time-travel, and other secret pockets, where I’ve even found the likes of Alice Hofmann and Mark Twain. Because sometimes a good story is just unclassifiable. I’ve made a list of my finds, which I hope to keep adding to. I’d welcome your suggestions!
RACHEL’S LIST OF TIME-TRAVEL NOVELS INVOLVING LOVE
We can’t change the past, but the past can change us. (That’s one of my favorite statements in a time-travel novel!) Fern’s vacation in Italy turns into a nightmare when she’s snatched back in time and lives the life of Cecilia, lady in waiting to Queen Caterina Cornaro. Luca, a local architect, comes to Fern’s aid when Cecilia embarks on a passionate affair with the artist Zorzo. Echoes of the past manifest themselves increasingly in the present until past and present collide.
When Eva’s film star sister Katrina dies, she leaves California and returns to Cornwall, where they spent their childhood summers, to scatter Katrina’s ashes and in doing so return her to the place where she belongs. But Eva must also confront the ghosts from her own past, as well as those from a time long before her own.
Echo In Time, Lindsey Fairleigh
Kind of a conventional romance formula, but such an unusual setting, and a twist for the heroine. Alexandra Larson isn’t quite human, but she doesn’t know that. Lex simply considers herself an ambitious archaeology grad student with a knack for deciphering ancient languages. When she’s recruited to work on her dream excavation, Lex’s translating skills uncover the location of the secret entrance to an undiscovered underground temple in Egypt. She is beyond thrilled with what she’s found…as is the enigmatic and alluring excavation director, Marcus Bahur.
Waiting. Publishing your writing is so full of waiting to hear from an agent or editor that medieval torture begins to seem like a diversion to inflict on yourself while enduring the greater agony. I’m at another waiting stage with my novel-in-progress, The Renaissance Club. I’ve been working on this for so long that I can’t look at it right now without guidance. I need an agent or editor to hold my hand and tell me what I’m reading. I’m waiting to hear from an agent, and the longer I work on this, the slower time seems to go. It’s going slower than for this 19th century girl with her print book in hand.
One of the things I’m doing while waiting to hear from the agent is blog. Here, for example, is my Baroque rockstar bad boy hero, Bernini, in his self-portrait. I’d also add an image of Rome as I remember it on my first day when, like May, I couldn’t wait to get out into one of the most incredible cities I’ve ever seen. And here are my first two paragraphs:
The other thing I’ve done while waiting is to plan a new novel (that’s a no-brainer — if you’re hooked on writing fiction) and to research publishing and its future. Trying to peer into the crystal ball is something it seems few in the industry really want to do. It’s very scary because this is an industry on the brink of The Unknown. A thing far scarier than anything in a Stephen King novel.
If you’re curious, here are two great publishing-futurist gurus who are lively, intelligent, and crazily informed:
WARNING! If you are device-averse and print-dependent, do NOT peruse these. They will make you uts. But I’m the daughter of a rocket engineer and I do love my technology, so I find this endlessly fascinating.
Stay tuned for the future of The Renaissance Club. What will happen when May stops being a realist and encounters her adored genius?
I thought of Bernini as a mage and master — a magician and a master of sculpture — long before I saw the title of the article. As I worked on my novel, The Renaissance Club I studied the great Gianlorenzo Bernini and his works. Bernini plays a leading role in my story, along with a young art historian who worships the 17th century artist. I looked at many still images and videos of his work, and I had been lucky enough to see many in person, in Rome. This wonderful article discusses the three major sculptors of all time, and Bernini was one. More
I’m working on a series of scenes in my novel about the great Renaissance sculptor Bernini and his mistress, Costanza, wife of one of his assistants in Bernini’s busy sculpture studio. Bernini had his servant slash Costanza’s lovely face after discovering she had slept with his brother.
I found it hard to get into the mind of a character who could do such a thing, so I delved into the story of Costanza and the grisly cultural context of face-slashings in that era. Every man in Rome wore a knife (even some priests). They were almost as prevalent in seventeenth century Rome as guns in today’s America. Italians also had a high sense of honor/dishonor and retribution. There’s a good reason the word “vendetta” comes from the Italian.
Put vendetta together with knife and you begin to get the picture. But look at the long-term picture of Costanza.
Costanza wasn’t killed by the servant’s attack. She wasn’t even disabled. She may have been repaired by one of the burgeoning new class of plastic surgeons who were inventing ways to repair the cuts and disfigurements that were common punishments of the time. As Sarah McPhee details in her fascinating new biography, Costanza Piccolomini went on to live a long and prosperous life — and amazingly, remained married to her husband, who more amazingly continued until his death as Bernini’s assistant. There’s something that isn’t being told in this tale.
And how would she have been patched up to go on in such a successful and public life? According to Pubmed.gov, the Italian contribution to plastic surgery arose from these early experiments in treating facial wounds:
“The birth of what we now call plastic surgery dates to the fifteenth century, when the diffusion of nose amputation as a punishment was paralleled by the blossoming of surgical procedures for nose reconstruction. The relationship between the Eastern and the Western world fostered the spreading of the so-called Indian method, based on the use of a forehead flap.”
Costanza’s nose wasn’t under attack, but her beautiful cheeks were. Perhaps they mended to such a degree that she was still considered a beauty.
The story of Costanza and Bernini isn’t as simple as is often presented through the lens of our contemporary values. Another common practice of the day was for husbands to offer their wives’ favors to patrons who could further their careers. Can you say “pimp” in Italian? (“Mezzano.”) The varieties of possibility in this love triangle stagger modern sensibility, but one thing is clear: Costanza was able to heal and thrive beyond this phase of her life.
Bernini’s career was also patched up by the Pope, who ordered him to get married and who sent the brother into exile and the mistress to jail. Adulterous women were the ones punished in Bernini’s Rome. But at least there was a way to repair. Take a look at the marble bust and see what a scar would do to such a beautiful face.
My interest in this kind of story could be defined as obsessive. What can be more obsessive than something you’ve lost or something you feel you never completely had? Novels about families and other groups fascinate me because my family never quite cohered and split apart pretty fast. So I read to replace it with a better family, though my secret wish is to see that all families or groups of closely connected people have the visceral conflicts and the unique quirks mine did — to see that whole panoply of psychological oddity that really is, in my view, the human condition. Perhaps growing up with my parents gave me that idea: a bipolar rocket scientist and painter for a father, and a mother whose idea of fun was to see what lay down any forsaken dirt road, especially if it led to a beach. And those were the pleasant qualities. The darker stuff was equally bizarre and led me to contemplate the labyrinth of light and dark we each are.
So when I began to write my time-travel novel, The Renaissance Club, knowing it would be set in northern Italy and involve an art history tour, I couldn’t resist populating it with quirky people. Is there really any other kind? I’ve been in search of a “normal” family life all my life, and have rarely observed one. When I did, it was so abnormal I suspected it for being a sham, as was the family of my best friend in junior high. All plaid, cheerleading perfection on the surface, roiling weirdness under the table manners.
After such a childhood, it’s no wonder I fell in love with naturalist Gerald Durrell’s marvelous My Family and Other Animals, as animals in menagerie quantity have played a part in my family life too. Or Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle (read it!). There’s a quirky family embodied as Dorothy’s companions in The Wizard of Oz. That series became my childhood reading, writing, and collecting passion. I still have the cloth bound editions with John R. Neill’s wonderful illustrations.
After conferring with a college teacher about the politics within a community college, I decided to set as my quirky family group in Italy a bunch of college instructors. The dean is Dad, his wife the mom who really doesn’t take care of anybody, and the professors just so many siblings squashed into an uncomfortable though sometimes dazzling road trip. And having lived in a communal house or two in Berkeley in the 60s, I feel qualified to translate family and housemates (or work mates) back and forth, as different categories quirky family. One day I will write about those large cottage-like group living houses in Berkeley, and the odd birds who inhabited them, bringing their even odder friends to dinner, or to dinner for a week at a time.