History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

18 August 2007

Welcome, Amanda McCabe!

A Notorious Woman
By Amanda McCabe
Available Now!

Venice belongs to the mysteries of night, to darkness and deep waters. And so does Julietta Bassano. The beautiful perfumer hides her secrets from the light of day, selling rose water and essence of violet to elegant ladies rather than taking her rightful place in society.

Then enters Marc Antonio Velasquez—a fierce sea warrior determined to claim her. Seduced by his powerful masculinity, Julietta begins to let down her defenses.

But in the city of masks, plots spiral and form around Marc and Julietta—plots that will endanger their lives and their growing love….

A Notorious Woman is set in Renaissance Venice. How did you become interested in this time period? What do you love about it?

Romeo and Juliet! Or rather, the Zeffirelli movie version of it, which I first saw on cable when I was a kid. So, I guess it was the aesthetics of the Renaissance that first grabbed me. The fashions, the villas with their austere stone facades and glorious interiors, the art. It has a very ‘romantic’ aura about it.

Once I started studying the era, I also loved the contrasts of it all, the sense that it was such a huge turning point in human history, in the whole way people thought of being ‘human.’ It was so very violent—just as in R&J, vendettas and blood feuds were common. There were battles, invasions, shifting alliances. Milan versus Venice, Florence versus Pisa, Rome versus Florence, Naples versus Milan. Yet juxtaposed with this ruthless warfare, there was tremendous optimism, the rise of humanism and art. Individuals were, for the first time since antiquity, rising to prominence in almost every area of human endeavor—art, exploration, science, philosophy. Art, especially, was making huge strides, not just in terms of technique but in what it meant to be an Artist. Very exciting.

What do you like least about this period? Anything that constrained you or that you had to plot carefully around?

Well, I don’t think I would have liked the plague! Or the lack of hygiene. My characters, of course, are remarkably clean, LOL. One thing I did have to work around was the rigidity of Venetian society. Venice was nominally a republic, yet not at all the way we think of it. Caste was strict. Patrician families, suitable for marrying and associating with, were listed in the famous “Golden Book.” I needed to find ways for my hero and heroine (outsiders) to move freely and be involved in society events. Also, I was careful not to set the story in a plague year!!
What sparked this book? Was it a character? An historical event? A scene you just couldn’t get out of your head?

My heroine, Julietta, actually came first. I read a biography of the d’Este sisters, patrons of the arts and ruthless Renaissance figures in their own rights. I’ve always been fascinated by people (women, especially) who fight the system, who forge their own paths by using their talents and wits. Julietta learned when she was very young that a constrained, “feminine” life would never work for her, so she runs her own business (a perfumery). She makes her own life in a very complicated city—and even finds a man who is a perfect compliment for her! Marc is a sea captain, a hero of Venice, with secrets and a vengeful mission of his own.

(Also, I just happen to love Venice! And movies like A Dangerous Beauty, Casanova, and The Wings of the Dove just feed that addiction. Julietta and Marc seemed to belong there, more than anyplace else…)

Did you have to do any major research for this book? Did you stumble across anything really interesting you didn’t already know?

Since I had been immersed in the Regency for so long, and hadn’t really studied the Renaissance since college (my grad school ‘specialty’ was Elizabethan poetry!), I had to do a lot of reading. Or I should say “got to do” a lot of reading! I’m not sure I found anything really startling, but I did come across a ‘treasure’ at a book fair, a reproduction of a 16th century souvenir book of colored sketches of Venetian scenes at Carnival. Masked revelers pelting each other with eggshells full of perfume, sword-dueling thugs, the Marriage of the Sea ceremony, dance barges on the Grand Canal. It was a great inspiration for many scenes in my book! I incorporated a torchlit ball in the Piazza San Marco, a secret party somewhere near the Ghetto, the Marriage ceremony, hanky-panky in a gondola…

What/who do you like to read?

Do you have about a week for me to answer that?! I read almost anything I can find—fiction (romance, mystery, literary, historical), non-fiction (history, biography), travel narratives, fashion magazines. Even sometimes cookbooks, though I don’t cook! Some recent good reads were Michael Gruber’s Book of Air and Shadows, Ian Sansom’s new “Mobile Library” mysteries, and Susan Vreeland’s Luncheon of the Boating Party (historical fiction centered around Renoir’s famous painting!)

Care to share a bit about your writing process? Are you a plotter or a pantser? Do you write multiple drafts or clean up as you go?

I’m pretty much a plotter! When I was first starting, I was very much an “into the mist” writer. Had no idea where a story was going to go. Practice has made me clean up my act somewhat when it comes to pacing, seeing where I need to go. I still can’t be a total “plotter”! Things like chapter-by-chapter outlines and storyboards, which work so well for other people, would be a waste of time for me. I keep changing things! And I get impatient, can’t do multiple drafts—I usually fix as I go, so I won’t get bored.

What are you planning to work on next?

I just started working on a Regency-set story (book #2 in my yet-to-be-released “Muses of Mayfair” series) which is set on Sicily. So, I can reuse some of my Italian research! After it’s done, to quote Monty Python, “now for something completely different”! A story set in the 16th century Caribbean. Balthazar, from A Notorious Woman, will be the hero of that one. I really think I need to do some on-site beach research for that one…

Speaking of research, here are a few sources I found useful:
Adrienne Mayor, Greek Fire, Poison Arrows, and Scorpion Bombs: Biological and Chemical Warfare in the Ancient World
D. Chambers & B. Pullan (eds.), Venice: A Documentary History, 1450-1630
S.K. Cohn, Women in the Streets: Essays on Sex and Power in Renaissance Italy
G. Ruggiero, Binding Passions: Tales of Magic, Marriage, and Power at the End of the Renaissance and The Boundaries of Eros: Sex, Crime, and Sexuality in Renaissance Italy
G. Wills, Venice: Lion City
Stella Mary Newton, The Dress of the Venetians, 1495-1525


Blogger Victoria Dahl said...

Oh, Amanda, your book is so beautiful and it sounds fascinating! Brava!

11:14 AM  
Anonymous Tracy Grant said...

The more I hear about this book, the more wonderful it sounds--fabulou setting (it really comes to life when you talk about it) and the characters sound so intriguing. I remember reading a young adult novel set in Renaissance Italy (it began in Urbino) as a teenager in which Isabella d'Este was a minor character (she was portrayed as rather villainous in that book, as I recall). Have you read Dorothy Dunnett's "House of Niccolò" series?

3:05 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

I love Venice, and I was so excited to see that you had set a book there, particularly during the Renaissance. I too love A Dangerous Beauty, sigh Rufus Sewell. Nice to see historical romances set in other time periods. So far thanks to this blog, I've found at least 3 new books to read, darn you!

4:33 PM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

Well, I have a thing for Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet, too, Amanda! I think I was in the second or third grade when it came out and I played Barbie dolls to the record of the movie. ;-)

A Notorious Woman sounds like my kind of book...in place, in time and subject!

10:09 PM  
Blogger Amanda McCabe said...

Romeo and Juliet Barbies! I love it! :)

I've been off touring Williamsburg and Jamestown this weekend with Diane Gaston, which is why I haven't been checking Internet! Immersion in a slightly later period than the Renaissance, but still fun. I had the best time researching Venice, listening to madrigals, etc. It's so atmospheric and romantic.

Tracy, I think I might have read that YA book that had Isabella d'Este (or a book like it anyway), but I can't at all recall the title. I remember being enthralled by the setting.

2:37 PM  
Blogger Laura Vivanco said...

Seeing as you mention art, I'm curious about why you chose the surname "Velasquez" for your hero. As far as I know, it's a Spanish surname, most often associated with the painter Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez.

2:15 PM  

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