Welcome, Jannine! And thanks for being with us and answering some of the questions I had about your wonderful novels!
Q: How long have you been writing historical romance?
It's been a little over 30 years.
Q: Your latest books, THE LILY AND THE FALCON, SURRENDER TO HONOR and DANTE’S FLAME are set in Renaissance Italy and Sicily. Why did you choose that period in time?
First of all, I received a lecture from a dear Italian friend who insisted the period I chose is medieval, not Renaissance. I think he’s right, but that also depends on who makes that claim. Historians cannot agree on the precise years. Actually, an agent in a rejection letter, I think it was, called my books Renaissance and it stuck. I've always believed the Renaissance period began in the late 15th century with Lorenzo de' Medici.
When I researched medieval Italy, the 15th century hooked my interest. Cosimo de’ Medici to be precise. I was fascinated by his power over the city, and even though he wasn’t a noble, he was referred to as royalty. Through all the research I’ve done, I’ve become very comfortable with the time period. I'm not sure I'd set a story later than the 1440s, although I'd like to do one involving Lorenzo de' Medici.
This period in Italian history has so much to offer, so much change in attitudes. Interest in the arts soared thanks to Cosimo de' Medici's support. Women, although still no where near the importance of men, were able to attend medical school.
Q: How long did it take you to do the research for those books?
When I'd written them in the mid- to late 90s, I spent a good two months on research. I over-researched. However, I found many interesting tidbits that I used not only in that particular story I planned to write but also in the others. Back then, I didn't have the internet. I'd spend hours in the local libraries, schlep books home (15-20 at a time.), or peruse book sales and used book stores for anything I could use on more than one story.
Q: Were there any obstacles or blind alleys in your research? Unanswered questions?
Yes to both. The hardest thing to find was a street map showing the names of the streets and buildings and business of the time period. In other words, the layout of the town. That was one reason I over-researched. I'd piece together my findings until I was satisfied I knew the town well enough to set my story in it. Even though I couldn’t find specific answers to some questions, the extensive research really helped to spark my creativity.
Q: Is combining the facts of history and your fictional characters difficult?
Not really. In THE LILY AND THE FALCON, the hero is the (fictional) cousin of Cosimo de' Medici, and the heroine is the (fictional) cousin of Ronaldo degli Albizzi, the Medici's strongest opposition for the power of Florence.
Generally, I'll choose several facts if I think it will blend well with the story. For example, in LILY, Cristiano de' Medici (hero) has been appointed to a short-term (a few months) government position. In one scene, he's looking out the window of the Palazzo del Signoria at the piazza where a young man was hanged the day before. That and the weather are factual, as well as Ronaldo attempting to take over the city and run out the Medici. I also included many other incidents.
Q: What do you think is your best work?
I feel my best work is the first two books in my Italian medieval series, THE LILY AND THE FALCON and SURRENDER TO HONOR.
Q: What inspired your strong Italian heroes? Which is your favorite?
From the beginning of my career, my strength was in writing very strong heroes I suppose my concept of a hero, especially in historicals, is a man who is larger than life, respected, feared, dark, mysterious, and strong, yet he has an underlying sensitivity that develops as the story progresses and as he realizes he's fallen in love with the heroine.
As for my favorite, that's hard to say. Cristiano from THE LILY AND THE FALCON was my first. Antonio FROM SURRENDER TO HONOR was my second. But Antonio is the darker of the two, so I'd have to say he's my favorite but only by a narrow margin.
Q: What inspired your stories? Was it an idea? A scene? A character? Something from history?
I had wanted to write a medieval for years prior to writing LILY in 1994. I couldn’t get enough of reading medieval romances. But I was intimidated by the syntax and European history. (I started out writing stories set in the 19th century American West.) Of course, probably 99% of the medievals were set in England or Ireland at the time. Deciding to set my stories in Italy had to do with my heritage and the comfort of knowing the Italian culture and mind. I think a number of factors were responsible for inspiring my stories. If I had to pick one, it would have to be an idea. Or a character. Or something from history. Well, so much for picking one.
For SURRENDER TO HONOR, the story idea came from wanting to do something on the mafia. (And my mother was Sicilian.) Sicily being the birthplace for the mafia, I thought Palermo would be a good choice. Also, there was more information available on medieval Palermo.
My series had to be within a few years because of the age aspect of the heroes and heroines. For DANTE'S FLAME, I found the unrest in Naples between the French and Spanish. My heroine was the heroine's cousin in book one. Making sure she was old enough when that political conflict occurred , everything else fell into place.
Q: How long does it take you to write a book once the research is done? Or, do you continue to research as you write it?
When I began writing 30 years ago, it took about two months to write a 110,000 word book. Actually, many were closer to 120,000 words. I've always continued minor research while writing. Today, I seem to research heavily while I'm writing because I can't remember details anymore (LOL). In my 20s and 30s, my mind held and sorted out thousands of "things." If I can run 5 through my head at one time now, I'm having a good day.
Q: Any advice for authors who want to tackle an unusual setting?
Believe in your setting. Don't give up if you're rejected many times due to your unusual setting. Sell that setting, tell why readers would love it, how important it is to the romance. I used the “splendor of medieval Italy” when I pitched to editors or agents. That conjures up grandeur and a certain time and place in history.
Q: Your Italian medieval series reflects great detail of the life in Italy at the time: food, household roles of servants, various jobs of artisans, and of course, clothing. What kind of research did you have to do to gain that information? Are there any sources you can share with us?
This is where detective work and persistence come in. Once I decide on the location and time period for my story, I begin with looking up general information online and at the same time I pull relevant books from my home library. Then I go to either Barnes & Noble, Amazon or Abebooks to find anything available that will help me. However, these books need to have a lot of useful information in them before I buy. When all the basics are down, I begin to research each detail separately.
The following books are in my home library where (I've accumulated over 2000 research books
Food in History, Reay Tannahill
History of Food, Maguelonne Taussaint-Samat
The Medieval Kitchen: Recipes from France and Italy, Redon, Sabban & Serventi
Fabulous Feasts: Medieval Cookery & Ceremony, Madeleine Cosman
Seven Centuries of English Cooking, Maxime de la Falaise
Fast and Feast: Food in Medieval Society, Bridget Ann Henisch
For costume, I generally go to my home library and look up the time period I'm researching. I have abundant books on clothing, accessories, hair, shoes, general costume, and much more. But I also go online to find very specific clothing geared to my time and setting. Even though I have many books on medieval Italian costumes, I wasn't satisfied with my findings, so I began the hunt in the search engine. Depending on what you're looking for, it could take a chunk of your time--not just in hours, but in days spent searching the details.
Often I stumble upon the information in the most unlikely searches. While researching the town layout for DANTE'S FLAME, I came across a little-known fact about a spirit. There was only one or two sentences talking about it, but it was the first time I saw it mentioned. I almost returned the book to the bookcase because I couldn't find what I was looking for. I'm glad I didn't give up on that particular book. I think half the fun of writing is getting lost in history and finding so many possibilities for your story or for future stories. Often fact is much stranger than fiction.
To help research my Italian medievals, I found blogs from people who live in the city I'm interested in. Of course, they're in Italian. I muddle my way through. Over the years, I've found a few members who spoke some English. Several were excited to help me with my research, even doing the translation.
If you're lucky enough to travel to a city for first-hand research, that's invaluable. But don't be afraid to find those blogs (foreign and U.S.) The people on them are more than happy to share their knowledge with you. They're even excited that you're setting their city in a book.
There is no secret formula in finding just what you're looking for. You have to be willing to spend the time online or even public libraries. Don't forget used bookstores. And don't limit yourself in your search. If you find something you don't need, that could lead to a piece of information you do. Sometimes, luck gives a helping hand.
Q: What are you working on now? Another book in this medieval series?
I'm working on TEMPT NOT MY HEART, the 4th book in the series. I had hoped to finish it and turn it in to my editor by May or June. Unfortunately, life had something different in mind, so I'm only at 66,000 words in of a 95,000 to 100,000 word book.
Thanks, Jannine, for being with us! And for those reading this post, Jannine is available for your questions and comments!