Hi everyone! Today I have the privilege of introducing to you author D.M. Denton. Denton released her novel A House Near Luccoli in 2012 and has a sequel in the works to be released. I had the chance to ask her a few questions about her writings and have the answers for you today. If you haven't heard of her yet (or the subject of her novel, Alessandra Stradella), hopefully after this interview you will want to go pick up her book!
The bio on your website indicates that the writing bug bit you in your childhood and then life happened. What brought you back to writing in earnest?
About eight years ago a compelling real-life story and character came to my attention and became the novel idea I was looking for. Actually, I never stopped writing altogether, just kept most of it to myself. Closeted boxes and folders of yellowing, curling paper and hopeful half-filled journals can attest to that. And even when I wasn’t actually writing, I was thinking about how I should be doing so. For an artist, whether one finds expression through words, brush or chisel strokes, or musical notation, what goes on in life is for and even because of one’s art. It takes time—more for some than others—to mature personally and creatively. Initially, writing was an escape and a refuge for me, much like reading was. What ‘happened’ as life did, was that I began to value this ‘calling’ enough to commit to it, unfold and experiment with its potential, and, ultimately, believe it could reach out to others.
What is the writing process like for you? Are you a planner or a spontaneous writer?
It’s an integration of instinct and curiosity, I think. To begin with, I feel the essence of a story rather than have a detailed plan for it. I don’t outline and rarely make notes about a storyline. Of course, there’s no getting round the research that goes into historical fiction, with plenty of note-taking involved. The result is much more information than can or should be used. The spirit of the story, the unveiling and evolving of its actual and fictional characters, and the flow and sensory qualities of the writing are as, if not more, important than its historical basis. Whether I’m writing about hundreds of years or a moment ago, I have to be wholly present to its possibilities. Too much planning can cause me to be pondering, over-protective, even fearful, and limited. Spontaneity causes vulnerability but, also, creates a vitality that heightens sensitivity and awareness, and allows for a chance of magic.
With the novels I’ve written so far I’ve had some idea of their progression as I went along. At least, I was fairly certain what I wanted to transpire a few chapters out. But I was often rewarded by being open to the unexpected. Even beyond the first draft, in edit after edit, I believe my writing has benefited as much from what was never planned on as what was.
In your novel, A House Near Luccoli, the composer Alessandro Stradella is your focal point. I have never heard of this man before. What can you tell us about him? Why choose to write about him?
You are certainly not alone in being unfamiliar with the 17th century Italian composer, Alessandro Stradella. Most classically trained musicians know little about him and many academic studies barely mention him, despite the fact that his output was versatile and copious, included operas, oratorios, serenatas, madrigals, and incidental music, and encompassed both sacred and secular music. In his time, for the best and worst reasons, he was quite a celebrity. After his death, the emphasis of his renown was based more on the messes he had made than the masterpieces. Born of minor nobility in 1639 in Nepi near Rome, Stradella was cultivated but also something of a vagabond. He had excellent opportunities in Rome, Venice, Turin and Genoa, but his impetuous nature entangled him in scandals. Still, he was forgiven his trespasses again and again, and continued to be engaged by royals and other nobility for both grand and domestic occasions. Unusual in his time, he wasn’t tied to any one patron but was more of a freelance composer. His work was no less significant than that of his contemporaries. If anything, it was more passionate and pioneering, impressing other composers, like Handel, enough to freely borrow from him.
How I heard about Stradella was fortuitous, and why I wrote about him quite personal. I first became aware of him thanks to a CBC Radio 2 (Canadian) program called In the Shadows. The announcer played examples of Stradella’s music and related his story. Stradella’s paradoxical genius, charisma, and libertine attitude were very seductive—all the more so because he reminded me of someone I knew. It was a few years later that I decided to write a novel with Stradella as the focus. It wasn’t any easy undertaking as there was so little about him available—no portraits or descriptions of his physical appearance and very sketchy information on the events and relationships in his life. So, I always have to mention how much I’m indebted to musicologist, Carolyn Gianturco, who has dedicated decades to researching his life and his work. Her book, Alessandro Stradella, the Man and his Music, is now considered the definitive biography on him and was my chief source.
Is there a tidbit that didn’t make it into your novel that you would want to share with us?
Stradella almost wasn’t a bachelor when he arrived in Genoa, his status as one important to the premise of A House Near Luccoli. In Turin, three years before A House Near Luccoli is set, he was to marry Agnese Van Uffele, who had fled with him to Turin from Venice where she had been the mistress of Alvise Contarini, a powerful and wealthy Venetian. Contarini had asked Stradella to teach Agnese music and, as was perhaps inevitable with Stradella, they became lovers.
It all became very complicated in Turin, but it seems that eventually Stradella signed a contract to wed Agnese who claimed her old lover Contarini had promised to be generous to her if she ever married. It seemed as if Stradella had, once again, got himself out of a tricky situation, until one evening in October 1677 he was attacked and given a blow on the head that almost killed him. In letters he wrote to one of his patrons shortly afterwards, Agnese was not mentioned and never was again in any of his surviving correspondences.
Your novel is set in Genoa, Italy – have you ever had the chance to go to the area where your novel is set?
No, I haven’t been to Genoa, at least not bodily. Traveling there wasn’t an option when I decided to write A House Near Luccoli. However, I couldn’t let that stop me. Thanks to the internet and some wonderful books with excellent information and visuals, and after years of imaginatively ‘living there’, I feel as if I’ve actually seen its churches, caruggi (alleyways), palaces, plazas, and harbor, and have an inherent understanding of its culture, history, and overall sense of itself. I’m sure that if I ever do travel to this often overlooked Italian city, I will recognize it as I place I’m returning to and not visiting for the first time.
You are working on a sequel to A House Near Luccoli. How is that process going? Did you always intend for a sequel or was it something that developed organically?
I’m pleased to report that the sequel, To A Strange Somewhere Fled, is finished and in the queue for editing and publishing by All Things That Matter Press. It moves the female protagonist of A House Near Luccoli, Donatella, from Genoa to a small village in late Restoration England (a village called Wroxton in Oxfordshire where I actually lived for 16 years). She mingles with some very interesting historical and fictional characters, music and its masters not done with her yet, including the great English composer, Henry Purcell. The title is taken from a line in a 17thcentury poem, The Despair, by Abraham Cowley. I just finished a painting to be used for the cover design—I did the artwork for A House Near Luccoli, too—and love that my publisher allows me to be so involved in the presentation of the book.
Initially, I saw A House Near Luccoli as a stand-alone novel, and it certainly can be read as such. The seeds of a sequel were planted as I was writing A House Near Luccoli and it became as much about Donatella’s journey as Stradella’s. I began working on it even before I knew A House Near Luccoli would ever be published.
My full name is Diane M Denton (nee DiGiacomo), a native of Buffalo, New York. My writing life began as a child retreating into the stories and poems that came to me, always believing that writing was the love I would keep and that would keep me. Early on, I developed an interest in history, especially European history, while my participation in and appreciation of music was encouraged through memories shared about my maternal grandmother, who was a concert pianist in Chicago in the 1920’s. My early pursuits also included drawing and painting—and acting, which I eventually gave up, admitting that my inclination for drama was better written than acted out, my imagination more consistent than my courage.
A House Near Luccoli Book Blurb:
Over three years since the charismatic composer, violinist, and singer Alessandro Stradella sought refuge in the palaces and twisted alleys of Genoa, royally welcomed despite the alleged scandals and even crimes that forced him to flee from Rome, Venice, and Turin, his professional and personal life have begun to unravel again. He is offered, by the very man he is rumored to have wronged, a respectable if slightly shabby apartment and yet another chance to redeem his character and career. He moves in to the curiosity and consternation of his caretakers, also tenants, three women whose reputations are of concern only to themselves.
Donatella, still unmarried in her mid-thirties, is plainly irrelevant. Yet, like the city she lives in, there are hidden longings in her, propriety the rule, not cure, for what ails her. She cares more for her bedridden grandmother and cats than overbearing aunt, keeping house and tending to a small terraced garden, painting flowers and waxing poetic in her journal.
At first, she is in awe of and certain she will have little to do with Stradella. Slowly, his ego, playfulness, need of a copyist and camouflage involve her in an inspired and insidious world, exciting and heartbreaking as she is enlarged by his magnanimity and reduced by his missteps, forging a friendship that challenges how far she will go.
Copyright © 2014 by The Maiden’s Court