When I was initially approached about reading Violinist of Venice, I was interested in it from the start. I love historical fiction anyways, but I’m rarely able to find historical fiction about topics that I’m already interested in- such as classical music. I was stuck in the story and loved finding out what was going to happen to Adriana next. I highly suggest it to anyone looking for a good romance or a good historical fiction!
Anyways, without further wait, Alyssa wrote up an AWESOME post on her research for the novel and her road to learning more about Vivaldi and Venice.
Check it out and then go get her book because it is out TODAY!
The research behind The Violinist of Venice
By Alyssa Palombo
It goes without saying that a lot of research has to go into any work of historical fiction. Every author will go about this research differently, but it’s a lot of work no matter how you slice it. Writing The Violinist of Venice was an interesting experience in that I went about it all sort of backwards: I started writing the novel first and did the research as I went.
I don’t know if I can say I recommend this method of writing historical fiction, only that it worked for me in this instance. What started it all was a dream that I had, a dream that was essentially the first chapter of the novel. When I woke up I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and throughout that day I kept imagining more things about these characters, more things that might happen to them or that they might do or what might become of them. By that night, I had a loose outline in my head of what I thought the story might be (though I deviated greatly from that outline in the end) and had written the first chapter.
I knew hardly anything about Vivaldi or Venice at this point, but the dream and the story I had started to imagine as a result of it completely consumed me; I just had to get the story out and couldn’t stop writing to do all the research I knew I would need to do to really do justice to the story.
So, like I said, I did it as I went. I started with Vivaldi’s music, as the musician and music lover in me could not resist starting there. I sifted through tons of recordings on iTunes and randomly downloaded certain pieces that I would listen to, some of which made their way into the pages of the novel. I wanted to make sure that for each scene where Adriana and Vivaldi are playing the violin, I chose one of Vivaldi’s pieces to describe that fit the mood and tone of the scene, as well as one that he would have written by that point in his life. A lot of those passages describing the music took a lot of tinkering and revising to get just right. I listened to music and I studied scores and just immersed myself in it.
For Vivaldi’s background, I started in the obvious place: Google. Obviously research needs to get a lot more in depth than Google, but it’s the perfect place to start. If I have a historical figure or event or place in mind that I’m considering writing about, I always do a preliminary Google search just to get some basic facts, so I know what I’m in for (and for my second book, that preliminary Google search completely changed the idea I initially had into something else, based on a fact that I found about my real-life heroine). So I got a general idea of Vivaldi’s life and career, and then I started compiling a list of books about him and about Venice. There are not a ton of biographies out there about Vivaldi – not like there are about Mozart or Beethoven, for instance – but I found the ones there were and read those, and of course I referenced certain portions of them multiple times while writing.
Part of the reason there are not as many books about Vivaldi as about other composers, I think, is that not as much is known about his life. This suited my purposes well enough, though, as I could use fiction to fill in some of the holes. The period in which the first half of the novel takes places is one in which no one knows too much about what Vivaldi was doing. And of course, the heroine of my novel, Adriana d’Amato, is a fictional character, so I could have her life take whatever course it wanted. Vivaldi himself doesn’t appear as much in the second half of the novel – it has truly become Adriana’s story by then – and so there I used certain events and dates, such as the premieres of certain of his works, as a touchstone. In shaping his character, I took the facts that history told me about the man – that he could have a fiery temper, and that he didn’t take his responsibilities as a priest too seriously, among many other things – and blended them with what I thought the music he wrote told me about him, and so created a character that I could write about.
My list of research books also included lots of books about Venice and its history, culture, and government, among other topics. What should be obvious (but wasn’t to me as a twenty-year old undergraduate who decided to try to write a historical novel) is that you need to read much more widely about your topic than just the scope of your novel. Initially I had thought I only needed to research Vivaldi and 18th century Venice. What I didn’t know (though I figured it out) was that I really needed to read about the whole history of Venice, from its founding onward, and how all the things – from religion to government to trade to social customs, etc. – that defined 18th century Venice came to be in the first place. Certain things I had learned about 18th century Venice made a lot more sense once I understood more fully the history of the place, which was at one point the most powerful and wealthy country in Europe.
And let me tell you, 18th century Venice was a crazy place, and quite the party town. I was absolutely fascinated by the time period, by the opera and the art and by the decadence of the upper crust that my main character is a part of. 18th century Venice is the Venice of Giacomo Casanova and of Lord Byron. Carnival went on for months at a time, and when the whole city went around in masks for so long, the results were just as scandalous as you might expect. It was a debauched, loose, fast-living society, juxtaposed against the traditional values of the Catholic Church.
Once I had a complete first draft (which, on my full-time undergraduate and part-time office clerk’s schedule, took a year and a half) and had the pieces of the story in place, I knew where the holes in the manuscript were; knew exactly what needed more researching and fleshing out. I had done some research by that point, but knew I had a lot more to go. Between drafts and into revisions is where I did most of the heavy lifting.
And, of course, I had the perfect excuse to go Venice, right? It had always been high on my list of places to visit, ever since I found out that there was a city with water for streets. I’ve always had a weird love for bodies of water – lakes, streams, rivers, oceans, what have you – and just like being near water. (My best friend will tell you that’s because I’m a Pisces, a water sign, and though I’ve never been one for astrology I’m inclined to agree with her on this point). The idea that such a place could physically exist had always been fascinating to me, and from the very beginning of writing the novel I knew that I would need to see Venice to be able to really do it justice.
So I went, before starting the third (and ultimately final) draft of the novel. I was only there a few days, but that was all I needed: I simply wanted to see the place I had been writing about for so long, as well as visit some of the locations that figure into the novel (such as the Church of the Pietà and Piazza San Marco, for instance). Venice is really the perfect place to write about as a historical novelist, since you can go there and it hasn’t changed all that much – not physically, anyway – in the last few hundred years or so. So when I came home and began the third draft, I was able to try my best to infuse the novel with the breathtaking, beautiful, deceptive, impossible, beguiling reality of Venice.
I did also take violin lessons for a bit as research. I had never so much as touched the instrument before, and wanted to have at least a basic knowledge of it to better write about the experience of playing it. I am, as it turns out, a really awful violinist, but I had a ton of fun and learned a lot that I think ultimately did improve the book. I have boundless respect for violin virtuosos like Adriana and Vivaldi! It is a very difficult instrument.
Of course, writing a novel without knowing a lot of the information means that some things will need to change from your original draft or vision, and of course that happened to me. Weirdly, some things that I just wrote and guessed about turned out to be true. But ultimately I was able to keep the shape of the story the same, and flesh it out in all the many ways it needed to be fleshed out. Research can be frustrating, time-consuming, and difficult; it can also be fun and deeply interesting. It’s all worth it when you begin to funnel everything you’ve learned into your novel and see it really take shape.