It seems like an anachronism, but is it? Playacting and pretense are profoundly human activities—from Paleolithic peoples re-enacting hunts to modern players in online sites like Second Life.
My Francesco de’ Medici, the alchemist prince, is a roleplayer. The idea came to me when I looked at a painting called Il Laboratorio dell’ Alchimista by Giovanni Stradano, which was (and still is) in Francesco’s private studiolo. In the painting the master alchemist is surrounded by apprentices and workmen who are doing the actual work of alchemy. In the lower right corner, wearing a plain doublet and hose, his sleeves rolled up as he stirs a concoction under the alchemist’s direction, is a workman clearly painted to represent Francesco de’ Medici. Is this how Francesco saw himself, in his secret heart?
It could have been. (A historical novelist’s favorite words.) Here is my Francesco, describing his alter ego Franco:
It was his own elaborate and deeply satisfying conceit, that he was a simple laborer named Franco. Franco worked every day with his hands, with minerals and acids, noble metals and glassworks and fine porcelains, and when the day was finished and he had no more work to do, he needed only to come home to his adoring and compliant little wife Bia, and she would tend to his every desire. Francesco, the prince—he had been the eldest, the heir, but even so he had never been the favorite, never been clever and charming and affable as his brothers and sisters had been. From the day of his mother’s death and his father’s descent into self-indulgence, his responsibilities had never ended. His wife, the emperor’s sister—she was pious and proud and never forgot who she was, not even when they came together in their interminable quest to beget an heir. It was all too much. It was so much easier to be Franco, even if it was only for a few hours.
Congratulations to Gabrielle Kimm on the publication day of her new novel, The Girl with the Painted Face! I was fortunate enough to receive a pre-publication review copy from the publishers, which is no small thing, considering that they’re in the UK and I’m in Texas.
Now Gaby is a dear friend, but even so—I adored this book. I love anything with a theatrical background (see “Playacting on Paper”) and The Girl with the Painted Face combines mystery, adventure, delicious romance and murder most foul, with sixteenth-century Italy and the gritty, colorful glamour of a traveling Commedia dell’ Arte troupe. It made me want to go try out for a play somewhere—once I’d finished the book, of course.
Boudin liked it excessively as well, as you can see—just look at the dreamy look on his face—and says his favorite character is little Ippo, the dog. Of course….
This is the moment—for me, at least—when a manuscript becomes a book.
So this week I’m reading the final page proofs. They’re so beautiful.
Will be back with snippets and teasers next week!
The hero—well, the hero/anti-hero, as he definitely has his dark side—of The Red Lily Crown is Ruan Pencarrow of Milhyntall, a man who has taken a twisted path from the devastation of the Prayer Book Rebellion in Cornwall, to the opulent courts and dark laboratories of Francesco de’ Medici in Florence.
A student of Agricola’s work, Ruan represents the sciences of metallurgy and chemistry, which at the time of the story are just emerging from the chrysalis of ancient, magical alchemy. Although he does have his own touch of magic…
“It is a sulphide of silver,” Ruan said. He took a small pick from his belt and tapped gently around the silver crystals. They fell into his hand like a cluster of hazelnuts from a tree. He put them into the mine master’s bag and extracted more samples, taking also some of the shining calcite that surrounded them.
“A neat touch you’ve got with that pick,” Ziegler said. “Not many great men will come down a shaft and into a tunnel, their ownselves.”
“I have had experience,” Ruan said. He did not specify what kind of experience, or when it had occurred, or what it had cost him…
Of course I wouldn’t write a book without at least one hound in it! The Red Lily Crown has several, and it turns out they’re descended from Tristo and Isa, the “pocket beagles” in The Second Duchess. The hounds of The Red Lily Crown even merit a section of their own in the “Cast of Characters,” just so we can keep straight who’s descended from who.
…Giovanna of Austria, now the grand duchess and first lady of the court, stood in solitary hauteur, with two of her small parti-colored hounds at her feet. They were the sire and dam to Donna Isabella’s Rina, Chiara had learned, and had been sent to the grand duchess some years ago by her sister Barbara, the Duchess of Ferrara…
Just how does Chiara prove she’s a virgin? No, not in the way you might think. The tests actually used in the law courts of the sixteenth century are pretty amazing, and I swear I am not making them up. Of course, for the details you’ll have to wait for the book itself.
This is Prince Francesco speaking to Chiara…
“Chiara Nerini, daughter of Carlo Nerini, bookseller and alchemist.”
Saints and angels. How had he found out her full name?
“Strip yourself. You will be naked for your testing.”
Her first thought was try to strip me and see how far you get. She thrust out her chin and actually opened her mouth to say it. Then she saw Magister Ruanno shake his head very slightly and caught her tongue before it ran away with her. Who cared if they saw her naked? She’d prove she was a virgin and then they wouldn’t dare touch her no matter how she flaunted herself, lest they sully her purity.
This Sunday, October 27th, Writerspace is once again hosting one of their fabulous chat/giveaways, not surprisingly with a spooky Halloween theme. One of those pesky real-life commitments means I won’t be chatting this time, but I am offering two signed copies of The Flower Reader as my contribution to the many wonderful prizes.
Speaking of The Flower Reader—did you see the premiere of Reign last week on The CW? Are you going to watch it again this week? What did you think? The young Mary in The Flower Reader is two or three years older and has been through some major life changes. (I won’t specify what, just to avoid any spoilerage.) Will Reign‘s Mary experience the same changes? The show has enough of an alternate-history element that there’s no telling what they intend for their Mary, and if her life will run parallel to my Mary’s life or not.
To get back to the Writerspace Halloween Mash, the overall prizes include Kindles, autographed books from many of your favorite Writerspace writers, gift cards, and much more. You don’t have to be present to win, but you must be registered. To register, and for details on all participating authors and prizes, visit the Writerspace Halloween Mash site.
To chat with authors and readers (and the chats are always hilarious), just stop by Writerspace this Sunday, October 27th, from 8:00pm to 11:00pm ET.
We meet Francesco de’ Medici, the alchemist prince…
He had a narrow, swarthy face with a high forehead, so high he had his cropped dark hair brushed forward—he was losing his hair, then. His eyes slanted downward, sensual, melancholic and secretive. Saints in the churches, painted on panels and murals, had halos of light around their heads and bodies; the prince seemed to have a tracing of darkness, as if he were standing in front of a prince-shaped hole that led into something terrible, and you could just catch glimpses of it when he moved….
My sneak previews of The Red Lily Crown continue, with the appearance of a mysterious Englishman (who is actually a Cornishman, but we don’t learn that until later).
The foreigner smiled. His face was sharp-boned and sun-weathered, so his teeth looked wolfishly white; the lines at the corners of his mouth were cruel. His head was uncovered and his crest of dark hair had spangles of rain amidst the glints of copper. Unexpectedly his eyes were sad, so sad there was no bottom to their sorrow….
Today I’m starting a new feature—sneak previews of The Red Lily Crown, coming in April 2014. Sometimes the preview will be a few words, sometimes a sentence or two, sometimes a paragraph, and I hope they’ll give you a tiny, tempting taste of what’s to come.
Let’s begin with the opening lines…
The prince was a Medici, richer than Satan, and people said he loved only two things—women and alchemy. To feed her Nonna and her two little sisters, Chiara would have sold herself to him quick as a stray cat, but she wasn’t very promising concubina material—her chest bones stuck out and her wrists and ankles were knobbly as a colt’s fetlocks. True, she was fifteen and a virgin and had a braid of dark hair down to her hips, but on the other hand she had the curved scar on the left side of her head, just above her ear. Her hair covered the mark but she couldn’t always hide the headaches and the falling-spells. Sometimes she heard demons’ voices.
No, not very promising concubina material.
The Alchemist Prince (which is still The Alchemist Prince for the moment, but watch this space) is now scheduled for release in May 2015 in the UK. I know, I’m sorry—but the mass-market paperback of The Second Duchess will be released in the UK in 2014, so Chiara and Ruan and Francesco and Giovanna and Bianca and Isabella will have to wait a bit. Francesco is off in one of his dark sulks about it, and Bianca is outraged. Heh.
The Red Lily Crown is firmly on track to be released April 1, 2014 here in the US.
After the first of the year, when I have books, I’ll host some giveaways here, including special international giveaways. Another reason to watch this space…
This Sunday evening I’m participating in the Writerspace Beach Party, chatting live and giving away two copies of The Flower Reader, with signed postcard bookmarks. Come and chat with me, and register to win.
The event Writerspace Beach Party, featuring dozens of your favorite authors, is Sunday, August 25th, from 8pm to 11pm eastern time. Everyone will be chatting and giving away Kindles, autographed books, gift cards and more. You don’t have to be present to win, but you must be registered. To register, and for details on all participating authors and prizes, visit http://www.writerspace.com/beach.
Hope to see you there!
Why is Kate Quinn like a carrot?
Because her new book The Serpent and the Pearl has been released today, and I love Kate Quinn’s work, and I want to read it so badly. But I have to finish my revisions of The Red Lily Crown. I really have to. So there Kate’s beautiful book sits, on my bookshelf, waving at me gently like a carrot on the end of the stick, luring me on and promising me the most delicious of rewards when I am finished…
Here’s the beautiful and dramatic cover for The Red Lily Crown: A Novel of the Medici (I do love that it has a subtitle), which is scheduled to be released in April 2014. The back cover copy is as follows:
Elizabeth Loupas returns with her most ambitious historical novel yet, a story of intrigue, passion, and murder in the Medici Court…
April, 1574, Florence, Italy. Grand Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici lies dying. The city is paralyzed with dread, for the next man to wear the red lily crown will be Prince Francesco: despotic, dangerous, and obsessed with alchemy.
Chiara Nerini, the troubled daughter of an anti-Medici bookseller, sets out to save her starving family by selling her dead father’s rare alchemical equipment to the prince. Instead she is trapped in his household—imprisoned and forcibly initiated as a virgin acolyte in Francesco’s quest for power and immortality. Undaunted, she seizes her chance to pursue undreamed-of power of her own.
Witness to sensuous intrigues and brutal murder plots, Chiara seeks a safe path through the labyrinth of Medici tyranny and deception. Beside her walks the prince’s mysterious English alchemist Ruanno, her friend and teacher, driven by his own dark goals. Can Chiara trust him to keep her secrets…even to love her…or will he prove to be her most treacherous enemy of all?
I’m deep in my final revisions, and I can’t wait for this new story to fly free! Hopefully I’ll soon have artwork for the cover in the UK, where the book will be called The Alchemist Prince.
Here’s a charming historical postcard from St. Petersburg, Florida, in honor of the Historical Novel Society’s 2013 conference, which is being held there this weekend. Love the Model-Ts!
My fabulous agent Diana Fox is going to be there, so find her and say “hi!” to her for me! I wish I could be there in person—I know everyone is having a wonderful time. I’m following all the various updates I can find, so everybody—please keep blogging, tweeting and FB-ing!
Today is The Second Duchess‘s publication day in the UK—congratulations to Barbara, Alfonso, Lucrezia, Maria Granmammelli (yes, it means what you think it means), the beagle puppies and the whole cast of characters I love so much. I’m very excited, and I also love this version of the cover.
Many, many thanks to everyone who has helped The Second Duchess on her journey around the world!
My next book, which is scheduled for the first half of 2014, has had a working title of The Alchemist Prince, because it is set in the court of Francesco I de’ Medici, historically known to have been obsessed with alchemy. However, my US publishers asked for a different title, and after considering dozens of possibilities, we came up with The Red Lily Crown.
The red lily—a red fleur-de-lys—has been the heraldic symbol of Florence since the 1200s, and still is. When Cosimo I de’ Medici (Francesco’s father) managed to coax (or bribe) the pope into creating him the grand duke of Tuscany, he had the most outrageous crown made for himself, with a huge red fleur-de-lys in the front and seven red lilies around the rays, crammed in among all the jewels. At right is a portrait of him wearing it.
The crown with its red lilies is a symbol of ducal power in Florence, and really, that’s what everyone in the story is either angling for or struggling against. The word “red” evokes passion, fire and blood, and the story has a lot of all three. So The Red Lily Crown really does fit the book.
However, at the moment it does look as if the book is going to remain The Alchemist Prince in the UK, and that’s great, too, because Francesco, with his dark sadness, his malevolence, his vengefulness and his power, is not exactly the hero (or even really an anti-hero), but he is certainly the primary moving force of the story. I just want everyone to know that it’s the same book with two different titles!
The mass-market edition of The Flower Reader is being released today in the UK. Thrilling adventure, high romance, and exquisite flowers—it’s perfect for Valentine’s Day! If you’re in the UK, check Tesco or W.H. Smith’s, or order online.
Cressie says, “It’s delicious for reading in bed. If your ears are long enough (like mine), it’s perfect for ear-draping. I give it five cookies. No, six! Maybe seven? Please?”
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Last Monday night, the world lost one of the bravest women I’ve ever been privileged to know.
Margaret Frazer’s double-Edgar-nominated Sister (later Dame) Frevisse books were my introduction to historical mysteries. Margaret, whose real name was Gail, was prolific, funny, strong, generous, and heartstoppingly gallant—she fought her great enemy cancer for twenty years and wrote twenty-five novels and a baker’s dozen of short stories while she was doing it. With one hand tied behind her back. (Well, not really, but you know what I mean.)
I remember a long thread on the Crime Thru Time email group when Gail was trying to figure out the title for her book The Sempster’s Tale. It was the world of the historical fiction writer in microcosm—“sempster” was the word that would have been used at the time of the story, but would readers understand? Should she change it to “sempstress”? “Seamstress”? In the end she stuck with “sempster,” because she was fiercely dedicated to historical accuracy. And you know, that one word, I think, set the tone for the book and the story.
Vale, Gail. May they have an endless, endless library on the far side of the universe.
Margaret Frazer’s website, with a complete list of her wonderful books and short stories, is at www.margaretfrazer.com.
Tomorrow (January 21st) is the Feast of St. Agnes, so today, well, today is the Eve of St. Agnes, and tonight is the night you can see (according to the old legends, anyway) the person you are going to marry.
Don’t forget I have a free short story called The Eve of Saint Agnes, set in the world of The Flower Reader, which originally ran in the Scottish magazine My Weekly. It’s a PDF file for downloading:
Enjoy, and may you see your heart’s desire in your dreams tonight.