Today I have the opportunity to host new author Tinney Sue Heath whose novel, A Thing Done, was released October 30, 2012. Please join me in welcoming her – and don’t forget to stay tuned at the end for a giveaway!
Your novel, A Thing Done, is set in 1216 in Florence. What was it about this time/place that inspired you to write about it?
I wish I could tell you why Florence, but I honestly don't know - it's just always been Florence for me. I started with the Renaissance, then I worked my way back to Dante, and with this book I've arrived at a time before the poet, and well before the rise of the Medici and the great works of Michelangelo and Fra Angelico. Saint Francis was still alive, the merchant guilds were not yet powerful, the Black Death lay in the future, and knights engaged in urban warfare from their formidable stone towers. Someday I may go earlier still, because each period contains the seeds of the next. Perhaps it's all really a search for the origins of the Florentine Renaissance.
When you were in the early idea/planning stages of your book, which came first, the time/place or the story you wanted to tell?
At the time this idea hijacked my attention, I was immersed in a slightly later Florence, though still 13th century. But the historic events underlying this story raised so many interesting questions in my mind - Why did they do that? What did it mean? How could such a thing have happened? What made them think that particular course of action could be anything other than a disaster? - that I just had to explore further. So I'd say the story came first, but luckily I was already in the right zone with my research. (The early 13th century differs significantly from the later 13th century, so I did have more research to do, but not nearly as much as if I'd been working on, say, Vikings or Victorians).
Have you ever had the chance to visit any of the locations that you have written about? If so, what was your favorite place?
Yes, I've been lucky enough to visit Florence several times. There is so much to see there – museums, historic palaces and churches, the city herself – that I know I'll never get tired of visiting. I did find, though, that since much of the medieval city has been replaced by Renaissance and later structures, I get a better feeling for my time period in some of the smaller towns in Tuscany and Umbria. Towns like Todi, Spello, Montepulciano, Assisi, and Poppi retain a more medieval character, and especially at night it's easy to imagine that the centuries have slipped away and you're back in Dante's Italy. If I had to pick one favorite, I think I'd choose Gubbio, a rather isolated hill town in Umbria. It's so beautiful!
What has been the most difficult part of the writing/publication process so far? Has anything surprised you?
The most difficult part, without a doubt, was trying to get an agent. I can't count how many agents told me I was a strong writer, but... they couldn't sell anything without a well-known historical character, or without a female protagonist, or both. I worked hard at it. I carefully tailored each query letter according to the preferences on the agent's website, but with no luck. Finally I gave up on that. I'd formed a good opinion of Fireship Press, so I decided to write to them directly. This time I didn't tailor my letter. I wrote about my book in my own way, describing it the way I saw it, and I figured if they didn't like it, they weren't the right publisher for me. After all, I didn't have much to lose. And they sent me a contract! After all those unsuccessful agent queries, that's what surprised me.
You mention on your website that you have always been a reader – have you always wanted to write a novel or was this a more recent idea?
I've always wanted to write – in fact, I've always written. I have a background in journalism, but the idea that I could actually get my fiction published occurred to me only after a bout with illness woke me up and convinced me that it was time to get serious about what I was doing. There's nothing quite like a brush with mortality to help a person focus. And I must say, getting serious has proved to be a lot of fun!
Do you have any writing plans for the future you could tell us about?
I've returned to the project I was working on when this idea sidetracked me. It's also set in Florence, but this time in the late 13th century, and it is based on the life of Gemma Donati, the woman Dante married. Gemma's father betrothed her to the poet when Dante was only twelve, and she probably younger. They were neighbors. Also living in the neighborhood, just a few doors away, was the young Beatrice, who was to become Dante's inspiration and love. Gemma almost certainly knew Beatrice, quite possibly better than Dante did. In addition, Gemma's kinsman Corso Donati was the leader of the political party that later forced Dante into exile. The great poet left his wife and children behind, and he never returned to Florence. It was from exile that he wrote his masterwork, The Divine Comedy. And Corso's brother Forese was Dante's close friend. There's so much dramatic potential in all of those complex relationships that it may take me more than one book to do it justice.
I'd like to thank Heather for hosting me here, and for asking such thought-provoking questions. I think I understand my own writing process and motivation better for having searched for the answers.
Tinney Sue Heath has loved music and history all her life. Born near Chicago, she started college in Boston at the New England Conservatory with the intention of becoming a professional flutist, but after a rather abrupt change of direction she wound up with a degree in journalism from Antioch College. She worked as a staff reporter for the Chronicle of Higher Education and later provided editorial assistance to University of Wisconsin-based editors of two professional journals.
Her musical and historical interests eventually merged, and she discovered the pleasures of playing late medieval and early Renaissance music on a great variety of instruments. Her historical focus is currently on Dante's Florence, so she and her husband spend a lot of time in Florence and elsewhere in Tuscany. They live in Madison, Wisconsin, where they enjoy playing music and surrounding themselves with native wild plants.
You can visit her website to learn more about her work.
Now for the giveaway opportunity. I have 1 copy of A Thing Done up for grabs to a US resident. The giveaway is open until January 27, 2013. Please complete the Rafflecopter below to enter.
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