Character – the Essence of a Series

Author Alana White and I had a great time talking about our writing while at the June Historical Novel Society conference. Since Alana is writing a series, I asked her to talk about that experience.

MKTod: Please tell us your journey to writing a series. Did you have a series in mind before you began? Was the story too long to be a single book? Was there some other reason for creating a series?

Alana White: I’ve always loved historical mystery series, so while I wasn’t planning one when I first considered writing a book set in Renaissance Italy, that seed had been planted. Regarding the Guid’Antonio Vespucci mystery series, I remember sitting on our patio one day reading about the Sunday in 1478 when in Florence Cathedral assassins armed with knives attacked Lorenzo and Giuliano de’ Medici, the two young leaders of the Florentine Republic, intent on killing them and seizing the government. During Mass, Giuliano fell to the floor beneath Brunelleschi’s dome, dead. Wounded, his brother, Lorenzo, drew his sword, leaped the altar, and escaped to the sacristy where, in a panic, he waited for help. Well…!

I’ve always enjoyed historical fiction, but I couldn’t find any whose backdrop was the Pazzi Conspiracy, as this event is called. With one historical novel and a young adult biography to my credit, I decided to take the leap. Initially, I had in mind a biographical novel with Lorenzo de’ Medici as the protagonist. Was his story too “big” to be a single book? Yes.

Even in his own time, Lorenzo was larger than life. I was looking at a trilogy, one involving the Italian Renaissance in all its glory. The fifteenth-century saw a revival in the arts and sciences, particularly in Italy, and even more particularly in Florence, a smallish walled town set in the heart of Tuscany like a shining gem. Lorenzo and Giuliano’s intimates included marquee-name painters, poets, politicians, and popes—like Sixtus IV, who helped plot the attempt to kill the Medici boys. Writing about the Medicis at this time would mean writing about their star-studded family of friends and enemies. Daunting? Definitely!

During my research I had found real-life Florentine doctor-of-law, Guid’Antonio Vespucci, who was not only a lifelong Medici family supporter, but also a close friend. In the way of writerly things, he blossomed into my main character, my man on the inside, who would investigate crime in Florence while struggling to protect his homeland from all threats—including those in the Vatican. I embraced the fact Guid’Antonio was uncle to Amerigo Vespucci, who worked for a time as Guid’Antonio’s secretary and right-hand-man before finally sailing west and into the pages of history. With Amerigo, I had my “sidekick.”

What sort of techniques do you use to plan and craft your series?

So far, there are two books in the series, The Sign of the Weeping Virgin and The Hearts of All on Fire. While the Pazzi Conspiracy is the overall arc, the books are character-driven—I care about the emotional journey for Guid’Antonio, who sees his good friend die at the hands of assassins. Too, since he is a lawyer, he is drawn into court cases that cause self-reflection as he decides the fates of others. All this while commissioning art from his neighbor, Sandro Botticelli. You asked about technique. Since these are real people, I look at what everyone is doing during the time each book happens. Was Botticelli in town the summer The Sign of the Weeping Virgin takes place? Yes. What was he painting? A fresco of St. Augustine in Guid’Antonio’s family church, thus providing Guid’Antonio with the clue he needs to solve the main question asked in that book. For me, plotting a story comes from serious consideration of what really happened—or as close as I can get within the fictional realm. I spend time making connections, weighing my characters’ wants, successes, and failures.

How do you create an effective character arc over a series of novels?

Guid’Antonio’s arc, or “shadow,” is the fact he was in Florence Cathedral when Giuliano de’ Medici was killed. Giuliano was his good, young friend—and he had told Guid’Antonio he feared Rome was up to no good. Did Guid’Antonio listen? Not closely enough. And so he blames himself for Giuliano’s death. In the first book, the assassination has occurred. In the second, we go back to when the plot is swirling around Guid’Antonio. In Book Three, we have closure—but not until Guid’Antonio has to face himself and come to some measure of self-forgiveness. Despite crime and all manner of intricate plotting (on my part, and on theirs in the fifteenth-century), my passion is to whisper a word of hope into the ears of readers. If Guid’Antonio and the people he loves could survive all that, we can, too.

Do you have plans for more stories in the Guid’Antonio Vespucci series?

After Book Three, perhaps a duel-timeline harking back to him and his journal. I would love to write a love story. (And the irony is not lost on me that despite trying to dodge a trilogy, I have three books, anyway.)

What considerations have guided your cover art choices for the series?

What a terrific question! I treasure S. G.MacLean’s Damian Seeker series (seventeenth-century England); her covers featuring the Seeker inspired me. I knew I wanted Guid’Antonio on the cover. For a personal touch, particularly for the cover of The Hearts of All on Fire, I wanted his little dog, Orsetto, beside him. Guid’Antonio may be involved in murder and mayhem, but he adores his curly-haired Little Bear.

Do you have any advice for those considering a series?

Yes! Keep a character “bible.” You’ll need it. Save a PDF of your manuscripts. This makes it easier to pin down where you are as you move back and forth in the intriguing and complex world of historical fiction.

Many thanks, Alana. What an intriguing period of time and significant event you’ve chosen for your trilogy. And your idea for continuing the story using a dual timeline sounds fascinating.

The Hearts Of All On Fire by Alana White ~ Book II in the Guid’Antonio Mystery Series set in Renaissance Florence, Italy

An impossible murder. A bitter rivalry. A serpent in the ranks. Florentine investigator Guid’Antonio Vespucci returns to Florence from a government mission to find his dreams of success shattered. Life is good, but then a wealthy merchant dies from mushroom poisoning at Guid’Antonio’s Saint John’s Day table, and Guid’Antonio’s servant is charged with murder. Convinced of the youth’s innocence and fearful the killer may strike again, Guid’Antonio launches a private investigation into the merchant’s death, unaware that at the same time powerful enemies are conspiring to overthrow the Florentine Republic—and him.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY 

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel is THE ADMIRAL’S WIFE, a dual timeline set in Hong Kong. Mary’s other novels, PARIS IN RUINS, TIME AND REGRET, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from AmazonNookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

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5 Responses

  1. These have gone right to the top of my tbr list – especially as I am considering an historical mystery series set at the beginning of the 17th c in Florence myself! (With a spin-off fictional main character from my Scottish series set 1586 – 1600) in which Medicis and a medical backdrop will feature.

    1. Margaret, thank you so much! And good luck with 17th c Florence. I have a lot of medical resources, since one of my main secondary characters is a woman doctor in Florence during the Renaissance. Let me know if you would like the details. I have a bibliography at the end of both books…:)

  2. I will be reading Alana’s books as a prelude to our trip to Tuscany in April 2023. Perfect timing for me! Thanks for highlighting this author’s books and they are now on my virtual book shelf.

  3. Thank you, Jill! Wish I were going, too! I miss Tuscany and Florence and have got to get back. 🙂 I hope you will visit my Guid’Antonio’s home church, Ognissanti. One of the clues in Weeping Virgin comes from a fresco by Sandro Botticelli that is there in the church. It is of St. Augustine. Enjoy!

  4. Terrific to hear about how Alana White’s series evolved and the challenges she faced. I spoke with her at the conference, but we never got into this depth about her writing.

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