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Friday, November 18, 2011

My Gratitude Journal: The DH

Okay, it's not news, but I appreciate my husband, and even though I've used this space to express my gratitude in the past, I plan to do it again today. I have reasons.

Yeah, he's a good guy and clever and fun and he takes out the garbage, but that's not what I'm especially pleased with today. Just now I am most grateful for the way he has supported my writing habit, especially lately.

A little over a year ago, when we had our first exposure to Florence and I fell in love with the whole town and its history, I knew I would have to return. I began to read and study with an eye toward going to Florence again someday, this time to research a novel I simply must write.

Enter Roger. "Why don't you plan a trip? You can go with your sister?" It didn't seem fair, my making a trip like that without him, but he insisted. Next spring my sis and I will be going to Florence to get first-hand answers to many of the questions the books just can't answer.

But then I thought about marketing the book I'll be writing. Although I've sold nine books now without an agent, a book of this size and scope is a little bit different matter. There's an agent I want to interview and she's going to be at a writers' conference in Arizona next spring, just a couple of weeks before my Florence trip.

Enter Roger. I now have conference registration, hotel reservations and plane tickets. I will be interviewing a top-notch agent a matter of days before I leave for Italy.

But I don't speak Italian, and when we were there, we ran into numbers of people who don't speak English, either. Enter the DH again, with a full Rosetta Stone Italian. Now all I have to do is make the time to get through all five levels of lessons. (In the last ten months, I'm through one level, so I'm a wee bit behind the curve. Yikes!)

He's sweet, he's kind, he looks great in a tux, and he's the most supportive spouse I could ask for when it comes to my writing habit.

Thanks, Honey. I love you.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Happy Meeting

In my current historical work-in-progress set in Sydney, I have young James Martin at the dock checking out the folk who've just arrived on the latest passenger ship from Southampton, in England. He looks up just in time to catch the eye of one young lady, and here's what happens:

A second glance showed him there was nothing exceptional about this one. She was of average height and average-to-slim build and she wore a simple, tailored dress in dove gray with just a touch of lace at the collar. Her hair was cut shoulder length, styled up on the sides in the current fashion, and it looked a medium, mousy brown – although he had to admit that it shone like spun honey when she moved into the sunlight. Her face was a fine oval and her features were even and soft, surely not the prettiest he’d seen, though he wouldn’t call her plain. Then she looked up at him, caught his eye, smiled like the radiant sun bursting over the sea at dawn, blushed, and shyly dropped her eyes.

James listens as she comes ashore and learns her name is Eliza Wells. When she steps off the boat, he volunteers to help her. Here is how that goes:

“Miss? May I help you with your satchel?” James asked, approaching her.

She refused to meet his eyes, looking determinedly at his collar. “I do not speak with strange men, Sir.” The color was rising in her cheeks again.

He chuckled. “I’m a strange one, I’ll grant ye’ that, but I’m also a friend of the official who checked you in. If you want to walk back a step or two, he can perform a proper introduction.”

“No, um, thank you,” the girl said, rather more stiffly than James thought necessary. She took a long, deep breath and turned away from him.

Impatience sneaked up on James. “Look, Miss, I’m not tryin’ t’ give ye trouble. I thought from the way ye smiled at me –"

“I .. I didn’t smile at you.” She looked up at him, and then quickly back down at her feet, blushing furiously. “I just smiled, and ye … ye happened t’ be there.”

James nodded. “Ah, I see.” He let his tone and his look tell her how little he believed her protests. “So, since I just happen t’ be here now, is there somethin’ I can help ye find?”

I'm having such fun with James and Eliza. I promise to share more as their story develops.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Florence Facts

For the rest of November, I'm going to write random thoughts about things that interest me, bother me, or just tweak my imagination. It should be an interesting ride. I invite you to come along.

Most folks who've looked at the Renaissance realize it began in Italy. As they narrow down, they give credit to the flourishing of art that happened largely in Florence in the late 1400s (think Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael...). What I didn't realize until I started studying it carefully is this: Had it not been for one man, Lorenzo di Medici, the Renaissance as we know it might never have happened.

To make my point, let me take you to Florence, circa 1450:

The old feudal system of kings, knights, and so forth is gone, but the aristocratic families still proudly claim knights as ancestors. Slavery is still widely practiced; Circassian slave girls are especially popular and many prominent men have an acknowledged child or two with their slaves. People are openly pious in proclaiming their religion, yet they often profit openly from business practices that are condemned by the church. (In a city built on banking, usury is one of the most serious of those sins.)

The Tuscan city-state ruled by Florence is one of many rival kingdoms on the Italian peninsula. Among these, the papal states, where the pope rules as unrivaled "prince of the church," has one of the strongest armies. In the midst of this, Florence manages a nominal democracy where even lowly craftsmen can rule for a time alongside the most vaunted names in the city.

And into this mix steps Lorenzo di Medici, known even in his lifetime as Il Magnifico. He organizes the Plato Academy where, for the first time, the greatness of God is celebrated together with the greatness of human form and thought: a combining of Christian and humanist thought that has never been rivaled. He creates a sculpture garden, finds talents such as the young Michelangelo Buonarroti (13 years old when Il Magnifico took him in) and nurtures them in the traditions of Greek sculptors. He holds contests for poets to equal Dante, hires Brunelleschi to complete the dome on the cathedral (which has stood uncovered for 100 years) and creates a library of manuscripts to rival the fabled library of Alexandria. What a fascinating man!

I'm imagining my story, set against the backdrop of Il Magnifico's magnificent life, and I'm enjoying the process of studying and researching for it. In time I hope to share it all with you. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Fascinating Florence

For the rest of November, I'm going to write random thoughts about things that interest me, bother me, or just tweak my imagination. It should be an interesting ride. I invite you to come along.

So yesterday I wrote about Australia and said I couldn't think of a more fascinating place to be. How about another that fascinates me just as much?

A little over a year ago, I visited Italy for the first time, and I fell in love with Firenze, the city we call Florence. For one thing, I love my home in northern California. It's one of the four places on earth, outside of the Mediterranean nations, that has a Mediterranean climate. So the landscape and the flora that I love every day here at home are there, too. Gorgeous!

At the same time, we here in nor-Cal consider something old if it's been around for a century. Century-old objects in Tuscany are just getting started. Then too, for someone who loves beautiful art and architecture, every day in Florence is a visual feast.

I intend to go feasting again next spring. My excuse is another historical novel, this one set during the early Italian Renaissance. If nothing else, that book will give me a chance to indulge in Florence fancy. I can hardly wait!

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Wonderful Land of Oz

I started this blog in mid-May and I have now written 135 posts (make this one 136). So far I've been fairly faithful in following my schedule, but it's time for a departure. For the rest of November, I'm going to write random thoughts about things that interest me, bother me, or just tweak my imagination. It should be an interesting ride. I invite you to come along.

My topic today is Australia. Upside down seasons, varieties of 'roos, bell birds, animals that look like walking oven gloves with spikes (I'm talking about echidnas here, people -- sort of marsupial porcupines), . . . what's not to love about the Land Down Under?

The dh and I visited briefly during ten charmed days in the middle 1990s. Since one does not see a continent in ten days, we contented ourselves with trying to see the best of Melbourne, Victoria and Tasmania -- still too much, but a bit easier to attempt. The experience was amazing.

I learned so much in such a few short days. I learned that people who drive on the left also walk on the left (who knew?) and look very strangely at folks coming at them on the right side of the walk. I learned that wombats (essentially 90-pound gophers) can rip the undercarriage out of a car that hits them in the road, get up and shake themselves, and then go merrily on their way. I learned that Victoria looks much like northern California -- except for the flocks of cockatoos flying overhead. I learned I love Australia!

The wonderful Land of Oz has been much on my mind of late. I'm working on a new book, an historical novel, that begins in Sydney in the middle 1850s. Loosely based on the true story of my great-great-grandparents, the story has me steeped in the wonders of that magical land.

I can't imagine a more fascinating place to be.