Hello gentle reader,
I’m delighted to share with you another interview with a debut author! This week it’s Alyssa Palombo, whose Historical novel THE VIOLINIST OF VENICE comes out on 15th December 2015 from St. Martin’s Press.
A Writer in the Spotlight – 25
Author: Alyssa Palombo
Location: Buffalo, NY
My interview (6th April 2015)
Did you always know you wanted to be a writer? When/How did you decide to be a writer?
I don’t remember ever making a conscious decision to be a writer – it just seems that I was always writing. When I was a kid I’d write short little stories just for fun, and when I was 12 I set out to write my first “novel” – I’d write a chapter at a time and give each new chapter to my family to read. Not sure if I still have that story somewhere – it would be both funny and cringe-inducing to read it again!
But all through middle school and high school I was writing stories and novels – often during class when my teachers thought I was taking notes, haha! So when it was time to pick a college, I decided on Canisius College, which was the only college in Buffalo with a formal creative writing program. Based on the teachers I had there and the amazing friends and fellow writers I met there, it was definitely the best choice I could have made.
Are you a full-time writer? When and where do you write?
Sadly not, though my ultimate goal is to become a full-time writer. At the moment I work both a full-time and a part-time job, which means writing time can occasionally be hard to come by. I try to write for a few hours on weeknights when I don’t have anywhere to be after work, and when I’m really rolling on a project I’ll bring my laptop to work and write on my lunch breaks. I usually get a lot of writing done on weekend days, as well.
As to where I write, I have a desk in my room with lots of pictures up around it. I had lots of pictures from Venice up when I was working on VIOLINIST to help get me in the zone 🙂 I like writing at home because I can just stay in my sweatpants to write, but sometimes I’ll shake it up and take my laptop to a coffee shop or bookstore.
What do you say to writers who want to be traditionally published one day?
I’m pretty new to the game myself, but here are a couple things I’ve learned along the way:
Get used to rejection, but also understand that rejection isn’t always personal – it generally isn’t, though it often feels that way. An agent or an editor might pass on something because they already have a similar book on their list, for example. Or they just may not be connecting with it that deeply. Reading is such a personal experience, and as such everyone reacts to a work differently. A rejection doesn’t necessarily mean that you wrote a bad book or that you’re not a good writer, just that you haven’t found the right fit for it.
Something else I would say, more about writing in general, is to find a writing routine that works for you. I used to feel guilty because I didn’t write every day, because pretty much everyone tells you that to be successful as a writer you need to write every day. What I found was that that didn’t work for me. If I work on a project for a whole string of days in a row, I start to get burned out, and need a day or two away to recharge and come back to it fresh. And, quite frankly, sometimes life happens and you’re just not going to get to your work in progress that day. That’s okay too.
So if you’re someone who can’t or doesn’t want to write every day, don’t. If you’re someone who needs to write at least a little but every day, then do that. Find what works for you and stick to it. If you’re serious about writing and being published, you will need to make a lot of time for yourself to write, and find some way of fitting it into your schedule, but do it however is best for you. Don’t feel bad that you don’t go about it the same way as everyone else!
The story of how I got the idea for THE VIOLINIST OF VENICE is kind of a crazy one, actually! I had this incredibly vivid dream one night that was essentially the first chapter of the book. I woke up somewhat puzzled – I really didn’t know all that much about Vivaldi, so why he was in a dream of mine I wasn’t quite sure – but the dream had been so powerful that I wasn’t able to forget it. Over the course of that day I came up with a very loose, hazy sort of outline of the plot in my head, and I started writing that night. I didn’t know at first what it was going to be – for a little while there I thought it might be a short story or a novella. Since the first draft ended up being almost 600 pages, that obviously was not the case 🙂 I really didn’t know much at all about Venice or Vivaldi when I started, but I wrote anyway because I couldn’t stop thinking about the story, and I did the research as I went.
Your book is a Historical novel set in 18th Century Venice: how did you go about researching this time period? Did you go to Venice?!
I did go to Venice! That was easily my favorite part of the research process. Venice is a great place to write about because it hasn’t changed all that much in the last few hundred years – it’s not like they can be putting up lots of new buildings, or paving new roads! By the time I went to Venice I had writteb two drafts of the novel, and despite reading about the city for a long time I knew I needed to see it for myself. There’s no place like it in the world, and so photographs and such can only take you so far.
Other than that, it was a lot of reading. I read lots of material specifically about 18th century Venice, of course; I read about the history of Venice from its founding to the present; I read about Venetian culture and government; I read about religion in Venice; I read about other well-known Venetian composers and artists. It was a lot of work, but when you’re researching something you love and are interested in it becomes fun!
Of course, there’s always things you can find out by doing a quick Google search – for instance, I needed to know when Easter fell in 1711, so I was able to look things like that up as I went.
Your book features the composer Vivaldi: how did you find the right balance between historical facts about his life and the needs of your story?
THE VIOLINIST OF VENICE is a “what if?” kind of story, so with that I had a lot of free rein. With that said, Vivaldi was a frustrating figure to research since not as much is known about him in comparison to say, Mozart or Beethoven. Part of that is because his music was mostly lost/forgotten shortly after his death, and was really only rediscovered when musicians and historians rediscovered J.S. Bach and realized the influence Vivaldi and his music had had on Bach.
The first half of the novel takes place over the course of the years 1710 and 1711, and naturally there happens to be very little information about what Vivaldi was up to during that time. That got frustrating at times, but at the same time that also gave me some freedom. I used certain events as a frame: the premiere of some of his works, the dates he worked as a music teacher and composer at the Pieta, etc. He’s a less present in the second half of the book, so I could have my (fictional) heroine’s life take whatever course I wanted.
I also listened to A LOT of Vivaldi’s music as I wrote: choral music, opera music, but mostly instrumental music – specifically for the violin. All of Vivaldi’s music that I describe in the book is real; I wanted to choose just the right piece for every scene.
Another form of research I did was to take violin lessons. I had never so much as touched a violin when I started writing this book – I’m a singer myself – so I knew I needed to learn something about the instrument. Turns out I am a terrible violinist, but the lessons were a lot of fun and it definitely did help me in writing the novel.
What are you working on now?
I just finished the first draft of another historical novel, which will be the second of my two book contract with St. Martin’s Press. I don’t want to say too much about it yet, but it takes place in Renaissance Florence, and it’s different from VIOLINIST in that almost my entire cast of characters are real historical figures. Some of the notable ones that make an appearance include Sandro Botticelli and Lorenzo de’ Medici.
What are your favourite books? (Any books you’d recommend?)
There are so many! Right now I’m reading LADY OF THE ETERNAL CITY by Kate Quinn, and I’m completely obsessed and can’t wait to finish it. You can’t go wrong with any of Kate Quinn’s novels. But some of my all-time favorites are:
BITTER GREENS by Kate Forsyth
THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL by Philippa Gregory
THE WHITE QUEEN by Philippa Gregory
IN THE COMPANY OF THE COURTESAN by Sarah Dunant
GREEN DARKNESS by Anya Seton
BEL CANTO by Ann Patchett
THE SONG OF THE LIONESS series by Tamora Pierce
I better stop there before it becomes a super long list! 🙂 But in addition to the above, some I’ve read recently that I’d highly recommend are:
ARCANA by Jessica Leake
THE NIGHTINGALE by Kristin Hannah
THE DARKEST PART OF THE FOREST by Holly Black
WRITTEN IN THE STARS by Aisha Saeed
DUPLICITY by N.K. Traver
BELZHAR by Meg Wolitzer
As you can see, I read lots of historical fiction, and also lots of YA!
Thanks for the interview, Alyssa!
You can add THE VIOLINIST OF VENICE on Goodreads here.