Historical Research:Investigation Leads to Inspiration by Alison McMahan
A question that comes up often when I appear at author events is "why historical?" My 'cute' answer is that I don't have to make anything up — not what the characters were wearing or what they ate. It's all there to be looked up.
Of course that answer is simplistic. Most historical authors, myself included, work hard to weave together a story that's composed of true historical events/settings/figures, accurately described, mixed in with fictional characters living out their own dramas.
For The Saffron Crocus (www.TheSaffronCrocus.com), my young adult historical mystery, I knew I wanted the story to be set in Venice, a city I'd visited a few times. After some research, I picked the year 1643. Why 1643? Because I wanted my heroine, Isabella, to be fifteen and to have lost her parents in the Black Plague of 1633, when she was five. And since Isabella wants to sing, first in Claudio Monteverdi's choir and then in operas, I had to choose a time when Monteverdi was still choir director at San Marco's Basilica and his first operas were being performed.
One of the great pleasures of writing historical is stumbling on discoveries that change everything in your novel. I was reading travel articles about Venice and stumbled on this gem:
Venice is no ordinary city, and neither is its cemetery. Until the early 19th century, Venetians usually buried their dead under paving stones within the central city -- not a salutary practice, particularly in times of pestilence. So the Austrian occupation decreed in 1837 that San Michele would be the only possible burial ground for most Venetians. (A Jewish cemetery dating from the 14th century is on the Lido.) (Susan Allen Toth, New York Times, 1993: Venice's Isle Of The Dead) http://www.nytimes.com/1993/05/16/travel/venice-s-isle-of-the-dead.html
Venice buried their dead under paving stones! This changed all my memories of wandering around Venice and taking in the sights. When I walked across a campo, was I walking over Venice's dead?
Just as fascinating was that Venetian Jews had a cemetery centuries before Christian Venetians did. These two facts together inspired in the crafting of one of the main twists in the story.
Even though The Saffron Crocus is a mystery, it's not all about death. Isabella is fifteen. In 1643 that made her an adult. She had to decide how she was going to earn her living and who she was going to marry. But she's still young enough to be trying new things and getting into trouble.
I wanted to write a scene a modern teenager would identify with. Today's teenagers sneak off with a six pack of beer. But in 1643 the drug of choice was coffee. Called cavee, it was much stronger than what Americans drink today, and definitely had a mind-altering effect. So I built a scene of teenagers hanging out and getting to know each other around the 'forbidden substance' of cavee.
More than anything, The Saffron Crocus is about music. As I did my research, I was pained and saddened to discover that many scores to operas have been lost. One of the greatest losses is L'Arianna, by Claudio Monteverdi. All that remains is the music for one aria, the "Lamento d'Arianna" (Arianna's Lament), which is still performed today. You can find many versions on youtube. This discovery influenced me to write the scene that for me was one of the most powerful scenes in the book.
Historical research can be difficult and time consuming, but sometimes even a small discovery can have a huge impact on a story.
About The Saffron Crocus
Publication Date: December 13, 2014 | Black Opal Books | eBook; 306p
Genre: Young Adult/Historical Mystery/Romance
Winner of the 2014 Rosemary Award for Best Historical for Young Adults.
Venice, 1643. Isabella, fifteen, longs to sing in Monteverdi’s Choir, but only boys (and castrati) can do that. Her singing teacher, Margherita, introduces her to a new wonder: opera! Then Isabella finds Margherita murdered. Now people keep trying to kill Margherita’s handsome rogue of a son, Rafaele.
Was Margherita killed so someone could steal her saffron business? Or was it a disgruntled lover, as Margherita—unbeknownst to Isabella—was one of Venice’s wealthiest courtesans?
Or will Isabella and Rafaele find the answer deep in Margherita's past, buried in the Jewish Ghetto?
Isabella has to solve the mystery of the Saffron Crocus before Rafaele hangs for a murder he didn’t commit, though she fears the truth will drive her and the man she loves irrevocably apart.
ExcerptWho knew a singing career would be this much trouble?
“Rafaele!” She flew into the garret. “Piero, it was so wonderful, wait until I tell you!”
The stool next to the bed was knocked over. The tray with the genepy bottle was on the floor, one of the cups broken. The fat candle that had been burning next to Rafaele’s bed had been flung to the other side of the room.. Canvases were strewn all over the floor, some of them slashed, and many of Master Strozzi’s jars of paint elements were broken.
Did Piero and Rafaele have a fight? She quickly suppressed the thought. Who would get into a fight with a man who was already injured?
Something else must have happened.
She walked across the garret. “Piero? Rafaele, are you here?”
Rafaele was not in the bed. The sheets and blankets she had piled on top of him were strewn everywher. Blood-stained sheets spilled over the edge of the pallet. There was a pile of clothes on the floor.
She walked around to get a closer look.
Not clothes. It was Piero. Face down, one arm stretched out before him, as if in supplication.
A puddle of blood under him.
Praise for The Saffron Crocus"I adored this beautifully written, passionate book. The Saffron Crocus is a glittering, thrilling opera of a novel that plucked my heartstrings and kept me reading at fever pitch. Brava, Alison McMahan! Encore!" -Nancy Holder, New York Times Bestselling Author of the Wicked Saga
Buy the eBookBlack Opal Books
Barnes & Noble
About the AuthorAlison McMahan chased footage for her documentaries through jungles in Honduras and Cambodia, favelas in Brazil and racetracks in the U.S. She brings the same sense of adventure to her award-winning books of historical mystery and romantic adventure for teens and adults. Her latest publication is The Saffron Crocus, a historical mystery for young. Murder, Mystery & Music in 17th Century Venice.
She loves hearing from readers!
Author LinksWebpage for The Saffron Crocus
The Saffron Crocus Blog Tour & Book Blast ScheduleMonday, April 13
Book Blast at Genre Queen
Thursday, April 16
Guest Post & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books
Friday, April 17
Interview at Mythical Books
Monday, April 20
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Tuesday, April 21
Review at History From a Woman's Perspective
Wednesday, April 22
Guest Post at History From a Woman's Perspective
Tuesday, April 28
Book Blast at A Literary Vacation
Wednesday, April 29
Guest Post & Giveaway at So Many Precious Books, So Little Time
Tuesday, May 5
Review at Book Nerd
Wednesday, May 6
Review at Just One More Chapter
Thursday, May 7
Review at 100 Pages a Day
Friday, May 8
Guest Post at Just One More Chapter
Saturday, May 9
Book Blast at Romantic Historical Lovers
Tuesday, May 12
Review at The True Book Addict
Wednesday, May 13
Guest Post & Giveaway at Historical Fiction Connection
Thursday, May 14
Review at Book Babe
Guest Post at What Is That Book About
Monday, May 25
Review at Beth's Book Nook Blog
Wednesday, May 27
Book Blast at CelticLady's Reviews
Thursday, May 28
Review at The Lit Bitch
Review at Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers
Monday, June 1
Review at Broken Teepee
Tuesday, June 2
Guest Post at The Maiden's Court
Friday, June 5
Spotlight & Interview at Jorie Loves a Story
GiveawayTo enter to win a print copy of The Saffron Crocus please leave a comment below with your email address.
– Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on May 3rd. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open to US residents only.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion
– Winner have 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.