Patricia Winton and I met when we were on a panel together at Killer Nashville a couple of years ago and have since gotten to know each other better via the wonder of social media, especially Facebook. I am fascinated by her posts about life in Italy and was thrilled when she agreed to share some of her experiences with the readers of Birth of a Novel.
Patricia Winton writes about two of Italy’s great works of art: food and crime. She first went to Italy more than forty years ago, living first in Tuscany for three years. She has lived in Rome for the past ten. She has picniced on figs and wine among Grecian ruins in Paestum, feasted on wild boar in Bologna, shared a plate of tripe with a complete stranger in a Florentine market, and sampled newborn eel along the Tyrrhenian coast.
Her short story “Feeding Frenzy” appears in Fish Tales: The Guppy Anthology (Wildside Press, 2011). You can read the story by clicking on the title. Caroline Woodlock, an Italian-American journalist covering international culinary scene, and Nino Nardo, a professor of Italian culinary history and traditions, first appear in this story and continue in Patricia’s two works in progress.
She is a member of Sisters in Crime, the Guppy chapter of SinC, and the Short Mystery Fiction Society.
And now, here’s Patricia:
My stories are set in Italy, and I try to spice my work with glimpses of the culture—the history, the art, the food, the traditions. Sometimes I begin a story with a setting in mind and build around the place. At other times, I lace the story with daily habits, such as the evening pre-dinner stroll that many people take, out seeing and being seen before retiring home for a family meal.
The book I’m working on at the moment takes place in Florence. The city’s museums, monasteries, and other buildings house many renditions of The Last Supper. From the early days of Christianity, the last supper has been a favorite artistic theme, and such frescoes often decorated monastery dining rooms. Some of these monasteries still fulfill their religious purpose while others have been converted to other uses, such as conference centers. Florentine museums hold tapestries and wooden panels devoted to the theme. Lorenzo Ghiberti even worked it into one of the bronze panels on the north door of the Baptistery. I first visited some of these works about 30 years ago.
Italian cuisine is the backdrop for my work. As I began planning this book, I saw connections between the cenacoli (as The Last Suppers are known in Italian) and the story I wanted to tell. I needed to go back to Florence to look at the cenacoli I had viewed earlier and to see others I hadn’t visited in the past. Many of the works are housed in private spaces with limited opening hours and days. Spreading a map, I constructed a chart with opening times and locations.
My friend Margaret, an art historian, and I booked rooms in a convent housing one of the cenacoli. Over the next two and one-half days, we viewed eight of the works. It was quite a pace to keep up because we worked in a bit of shopping and some good dining as well. We missed seeing one of the frescoes because the opening time listed on the website had been changed to another day—after we departed. At the Museo di San Marco, we asked several museum employees how to find the painting. We’d follow the directions only to see an exit ahead. Each time we passed through the gift shop. Finally, we sat down there to rest, and on a wall we’d walked past several times spread out a fantastic work by Domenico Ghirlandaio.
A couple of times, we asked about the best way to get to the AndreadelSartoMuseum at the periphery of the city, but we were always told it was too far. On the last day, Margaret left in the morning, but I took a later train. Leaving my suitcase at the convent, I boarded a bus for a short ride. At the next stop, a woman getting on asked if it was the bus for Piazza San Salvi. My ears perked up—that was the location of the delSarto. “Sì, sì,” said the driver. I stayed on board. At San Salvi, I looked for the museum to no avail. I found an 8th century church, I walked up and down the streets leaving the piazza, and I asked passersby where to find the museum. Nothing.
Now, in Italy the best place for information is at a bar, so I entered one, ordered a cup of espresso, and asked my question. Minutes later, I viewed the jewel in the crown of Florentine cenacoli. It gave me the setting for the opening of my novel. I’m glad I was listening to the Italian being spoken on that bus; otherwise I would have missed it. I’m weaving some of these works of art in the the book I’m writing.
To learn more about this interesting person:
Thank you, Patricia. Reading this is the next best thing to a trip to Italy
I’m delighted that Mitzi Kelly, a writer I know because of our Avalon connection, agreed to stop by and share some thoughts about writing. I was first attracted to Mitzi’s Silver Sleuths Mysteries because, like my Jennie Connors mysteries, they feature sleuths who are bit older than the typical amateur detective.
First, a bit about my guest: Mitzi Kelly was raised in El Paso with her three brothers, and credits her parents, Lewis and Lucretia Rothman, for providing an idyllic childhood. There hasn’t been a sport invented that the family was not involved in, and Mitzi vividly remembers weekends where the family rushed from a gymnastics meet to a football game and then to the golf course, and still somehow fit in chores and meals! Her parents are her true heroes and there aren’t enough words to express her gratitude. She loves everything about the huge state where she grew up, from the stark beauty of the desert plains, to the majestic glory of the mountains, to the intense power of the ocean, she’s never had a desire to live anywhere else. Traveling is nice, but there’s no place like Texas!
And now, let’s hear from Mitzi.
In the “whodunit” sphere, the cozy mystery continues to be one of the most popular genres in fiction writing. Personally, although I love all mystery/suspense novels, I have a particular affection for the amateur sleuth(s) who stumbles into danger during the quest for truth and justice. But there is a fine line to walk in writing a cozy mystery where you have to contrast the truly amateur sleuth and the skilled detective. The amateur doesn’t, and never will, get paid for what they do. And they always think they are much smarter than everyone else thinks they are.
When developing the characters for my cozy mystery series, The Silver Sleuths Mystery Series, I knew they had to be believable protagonists involved in believable situations. And, yet, the entire premise for a cozy mystery demands that the reader engage in a suspension of disbelief. I mean, how many ordinary, everyday people do you know who routinely trip over dead people? Having said that, though, writers of the cozy mystery genre share a unique relationship with their readers who want to suspend their belief, even for just a little while. It’s great fun to cheer on an average person who can bring down a bad guy!
I think it’s safe to say that the oldest of my characters, Millie Morrow, age 82, is anything but average. But what she does have are real feelings, and a real compassion for what effect crime has on the victims—attributes that are a real plus for someone who has a deep passion for righting wrongs. That she jumps into the crime-solving mode at the explicit displeasure of the chief of police is of no matter, because with the help of her two best friends, Trish Anderson and Edna Radcliff, Millie feels their activities actually encourage the police to do a better job. Did I mention that Millie is a little eccentric?
My trio of amateur sleuths are unusual in the genre of cozy mysteries in that their age is . . . um, way up there, and in their relationship, and the methods they use in investigating. But they do share many important traits of the cozy mystery sleuth. They don’t use weapons (I’m not counting Millie’s shotgun because more often than not, she forgets to load it), they don’t use foul language, they’re not involved in explicit sex (eeeewww . . . I don’t even want to think about it!), and they are not entangled in crime scenes full of horrifying violence and gore.
So, while some complain that the amateur sleuths in cozy mysteries are not real, I beg to differ. They may not be “real” crime fighters with the latest in technology and training, but they are very real people trying to make a difference in their communities. I will, however, accept the argument that they are nosier than most people with perhaps too much free time on their hands, but if I ever find myself in need of a friendly investigator, I think I’d rather have a nosy neighbor interfering in my life than a SWAT team peeking in my windows!
To read an excerpt from Deadly Policy – http://www.sandracareycody.com/guestexcerpt.html
Thanks, Mitzi, for sharing your thoughts on writing the Silver Sleuths Mysteries with us. If I’m in trouble, I believe I’d prefer a nosy neighbor to a SWAT team too.
I’m delighted to introduce my friend and fellow writer, Beate Boeker. Beate has been a traditionally published author since 2008 and offers many full-length novels and short stories online. Several were shortlisted for awards (Golden Quill, National Readers’ Choice Award, Best Indie Books of 2012). She is a marketing manager by day with a degree in International Business Administration and her daily experience in marketing continuously provides her with a wide range of fodder for her novels, be it hiliarous or cynical. While “Boeker” means “books” in a German dialect, her first name, Beate, can be translated as “Happy.” With a name like Happy Books, what else could she do but write novels with a happy ending? Now, let’s hear from Beate.
It all started with my thirtieth birthday. Wildly determined to make this event memorable, and not being a partying kind of gal, I decided to go on a trip to Italy with my husband. Due to my day job, I had met a wonderful Italian couple who manufactured high-quality leather items for my employer. Spontaneously, I decided to take up their suggestion to come to Italy and booked a short trip.
It rained the whole time, but I was blown away by the beauty of that city. It felt to me as if the Italians celebrate beauty, and not only in big stuff like museums or buildings, but in every detail. How they plump up a cushion. How they decorate a bit of mint next to a chocolate cake (and I’m not talking about a pricey restaurant here). How they pile ice-cream cones into each other until they look sprays of water coming from a fountain. How they burst into song on your birthday (the waiter at our hotel did, and boy, could he sing!).
I was hooked. My Italian friend later opened her own bed and breakfast right in the ancient center of Florence, and again, I found beauty in every detail when I came to stay with her. She’s a great cook, a wonderful singer, and an amazing woman. I loved every minute of my stay, and spontaneously, I decided that even if I couldn’t live in Italy at the moment, I would transport myself to the spot by placing my next novel right there.
Originally, I wanted to write mysteries because they were always my favorite genre. However, when I started out as a writer, I realized that this whole business of killing people led me onto thin ice. I had no idea about police procedures, let alone poisons and other methods of killing people. Having decided to write in English and not in my mother tongue German, I felt I had bitten off more than I could chew, so I started out with romances. After all, I had a solid base of first-hand experience with love!
After several romances and being published by Avalon Books, I realized that now I could “stomach” a murder or two, literally speaking, though I’m still careful when doing my research. I’m writing cozy mysteries, and sometimes, my research leads me down dark alleys that go straight into horror and prevent me from sleeping. My first novel set in Florence, A New Life, starts out as a romance and turns into a mystery in the second part. My series, Temptation in Florence, is a cozy mystery, but there is a bit of romance as an arch over all the books of the series. Personally, I love the mix of both genres and that’s why I’m writing it.
There’s an excerpt of Delayed Death on Sandy’s website that shows how the heroine Carlina, owner of an upscale lingerie store and Commissario Stefano Garini, the hero, get to know each other better. It’s one of my favorite excerpts because it develops both, the romance and the mystery.
Thanks, Beate. It’s always a pleasure to hear from you.
Readers, I hope you’ll check out Beate’s excerpt. It’s a perfect example of her unique blend of mischief and humor. In other words, it’s a hoot – sure to make you smile. Here’s the link: http://www.sandracareycody.com/guestexcerpt.html
Here’s a link to Beate’s Amazon author page: http://www.amazon.com/Beate-Boeker/e/B001JSC5DC/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1365985232&sr=8-2-ent
Having grown up in Missouri, in the heart of Tornado Alley, I have a healthy respect for tornados and regard them as something to stay as far away from as possible, so I was amazed when my friend and fellow writer, Mary Shafer, mentioned that she planned to go storm chasing to celebrate a landmark birthday. I thought at the time that I’d love to have her share the experience with the readers of this blog. It’s taken a while, but here she is. I think you will find her account as fascinating as I do. If you’d like to know more or to contact Mary, here’s her website: MaryShafer.com
A PIRATE LOOKS AT FIFTY
(with apologies to Jimmy Buffett)
In June of 2011, I turned fifty. Having watched several of my friends go through the expected mid-life crisis, I decided I wanted no part of that. Instead, I wanted to cross a major item off my bucket list: I was going storm chasing. After all, I reasoned: If I don’t do this by the time I’m 50, what are the odds I ever actually will?
I also knew I wanted to start researching my upcoming novel series — The Storm Diaries (StormDiaries.com) — about a forensic meteorologist who solves cold case mysteries around weather disasters. Hmmm, let’s see…write off an adventure I’d always wanted to have as a legit research trip? Sign me up!
So first I launched my @StormDiaries Twitter feed and started building a following, as I followed other storm chasers to get to know that crowd. I told everyone I would be live-tweeting our chase as long as I had cell service. When I left on the trip, I had 27 followers. When I returned home two weeks later, I had 243! Author marketing lesson: If you build it — then Tweet the hell out of it — they will come.
I registered online with Silver Lining Tours out of Denver, because it’s helmed by Roger Hill. Roger holds the Guinness Book World Record for most confirmed tornado sightings, and has a great safety record. I wanted to get close to a tornado, but I didn’t want to get killed by one.
I got my wish, and a bit more.
It had already been a horribly destructive year for extreme weather. Just a few weeks before I left on my tour, Roger had managed to keep the entire caravan of an earlier tour safe (but just barely) as they drove through Joplin, Missouri, when the infamous EF-5 twister tore through that southern city. (Watch real-time footage from Roger’s van! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ZWFN-2Au4E)
The United States’ primary tornado season is roughly mid-March through the end of June. Because it warms up faster in the spring, Dixie Alley—areas of the lower MississippiValley, the upper Tennessee Valley, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina—seems to get hit earlier. Later on in the season, the action moves west to what’s known as Tornado Alley—roughly, the area between the Rocky Mountains and the Appalachians, concentrated over the Great Plains.
Our tour officially started out of Denver on Saturday, June 11. But I was already there visiting family, so was able to go on an impromptu tour the day before, chasing a storm front across southwestern Colorado. No tornadoes that day, but the next, we took off early to follow another system and ended up inside the 90 m.p.h. outflow of an EF-1 twister near Albion, MT. It damaged grain elevators, knocked down power lines and flipped over a moving van. Pretty intense for my first official chase.
Beneath the anvil of a supercell. These are called mammatus clouds, and usually appear after a violent thunderstorm, which this one was.
How does a writer of fiction, starting with nothing but his imagination, craft a story that is true, makes sense and asks questions that are worthy of a reader’s time? How I wish I had an answer to that! I’ve certainly pondered it often enough. I’ve read books written by people who are supposed to know.
One common bit of advice is: RESEARCH – If you’re stuck, hit the books – or the internet. Research helps you build on the knowledge and experience of those who have gone before. It teaches you to look at a situation from different angles and, with that, comes greater understanding, which should make it easy. The advice is good, but, at least for me, it only works to a point. Research produces facts, the backbone that gives credibility to fiction, but facts will only get you so far. When it comes to telling a story, you’re still a long way from home.
Another source advises: OBSERVE – Stop. Look around. Almost the same as research, except now, instead of books, you’re gaining understanding from the young mother in the next lane at the checkout counter or the teenaged couple ignoring each other and texting in the seat in front you on the train. You know there’s a story there. But how do you tell it?
Another bit of advice, almost like the one just above: EAVESDROP – Don’t you love being given permission to engage in this titillating breach of manners? It may not be polite, but it is educational. Listening to random bits of conversation, you pick up the vocabulary and speech patterns unique to different groups of people, essential when writing dialogue. Helpful as this is, you still have to tailor it to your characters, their backgrounds and temperaments.
I’ve even heard: PROCRASTINATE – Put it aside for a while; let it perk. Probably good advice, but inherently dangerous. Yet sometimes it’s the best path to follow. Ideas grow and take shape if you don’t try to force them. Ultimately, though, if you’re ever going to finish your novel, you have to get back to the computer. Start clicking those keys. Make words appear on the screen. Books don’t write themselves. No one except you can tell your story.
How do you do that? How do you assemble all the disparate pieces lurking in the maze of your consciousness and mold them into a cogent whole? How do you create fiction that is more than the sum of the information you’ve gathered? The answer to that, I believe, lies in the same place as the answers to all the truly important questions: in your own heart.
I realize that these ramblings don’t tell much about how one goes about crafting memorable fiction, which brings me to the one quote about writing that every writer knows:
“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately no one knows what they are.” W. Somerset Maugham
Amen to that!
Ellis Vidler is the name I picked out of the hat. So, Ellis, if you’ll contact me at email@example.com with your address, I’ll send a copy of BY WHOSE HAND.
Thanks to everyone who left a comment. I appreciate hearing from you and hope you’ll come back again. I do plan more give-aways.
People frequently ask writers: “Where do you get your ideas?” Different writers use different words to frame an answer but they all boil down to the same thing: from anywhere and everywhere.
The inspiration for my novel, By Whose Hand, came from a book on graphology I picked up at a used book sale. I didn’t have a plan in mind when I bought the book, but the instant I spied it I knew it was a must-have resource for a mystery writer.
My Jennie Connors/Riverview Manor series is set in a retirement community where the residents are mobile, alert and just bored enough to stir up trouble. With this setting in mind, it wasn’t much of a stretch to come up with Tess, a 74-year-old former FBI agent whose specialty was . . . you guessed it . . . graphology. After that, I can’t really say I created Tess. She pretty much stood at my shoulder and told me who she was. With her standing so close, it was impossible not to know how she looked: like the quintessential grandmother with tight gray curls and brown eyes that gave no hint of her thoughts. She usually wears loose-fitting trousers and an oversized cardigan with a white linen handkerchief escaping from a pocket. The pockets are important. Tess insists on pockets. She never knows when she’ll need an inconspicious hiding place. She likes muted colors. Nothing flashy. Her goal is to blend, not impress
The real fun began when I started creating a handwriting style for each of my suspects. To test the theories set forth in the book, I filled several pages of unlined paper with my own random thoughts, then checked my script against the samples in the book. I agreed with about half of the analysis and asked my husband about the areas where I didn’t agree. His answer: “Oh, yeah!” Okay. Enough said. I was convinced that handwriting analysis is a good indicator of character.
It’s not a simple thing. There are a surprising number of elements are to consider. For example, I had no idea how much is revealed in the way each person forms capital letters, especially the personal pronoun “I” or how important the connecting strokes are. Also to be considered are the degree and direction of slant. If you would like to read a short scene wherein Tess helps Jennie analyze her suspects by examining their handwriting, please visit my website: http://www.sandracareycody.com/anexcerpt.html
This is just one example of the genesis of an idea around which to build a story. It could just as easily be a single leaf remaining on a tree after all the others have fallen. Or a line from a song that gets stuck in your head. Or an old photograph. A glimpse of an old man staring out of a bus window. A reflection in a puddle. The scent of lilacs. The possibilities are limitless and, as I said before, are anywhere and everywhere.
Waiting for me in my bookcase is another book I picked up at a book sale: The Code Book, The Evolution of Secrecy from Mary Queen of Scots to Quantum Cryptography, by Simon Singh. There has to be material for a great mystery in those pages.
How about you? Where do you find inspiration? Leave a comment and you might win a copy of By Whose Hand.