Stephen Leigh, who also writes under the name S.L. Farrell, is a Cincinnati author who has published twenty-seven novels and many short stories, including several for the WILD CARDS series, edited by George RR Martin. [Administrator’s note: He is also one of David’s most very favorite people, and the nicest guy you could ever hope to meet.] His newest novel is IMMORTAL MUSE (by Stephen Leigh), DAW Books, March 2014. PW Weekly gave it a starred review, saying “Leigh seamlessly inserts his two immortals into history, playing with actual people and events to deliver beautifully-rendered glimpses of different eras. Leigh strikes the perfect balance between past and present, real and imagined.” Stephen’s web site is www.farrellworlds.com.
For the first time this week, I had a chance to hold my latest novel, IMMORTAL MUSE, in my hand. It’s a fine feeling — one that I suspect every writer relishes, no matter how many novels one has published. Ah, that new book smell….
I’ll be putting up a post here every Friday in March, and those will focus on the writing craft. But for this first one, given that this is “release week” for the new novel, it was suggested that I might use this one to push the book.
But I don’t want to just stand here jumping up and down, shouting “BUY MY BOOK! BUY MY BOOK!” — though, let’s be honest, I might do that if I thought the tactic might work. The truth is that in my ideal world, my publisher would assign someone to do all the publicity for me and promotion for me. I don’t like doing publicity and promotion; all I really want to do is write the books.
Why not talk about research?
IMMORTAL MUSE, as you might suspect from the title, concerns a genuine muse and covers a huge span of time from the late 1300s to contemporary New York City, as that muse — like a metaphorical butterfly, touches down to merge with several of the creative minds of history. Lots of historical eras = lots of required research… and I don’t mean Wikipedia. Oh, okay, I confess I hit Wikipedia now and then (just like my students), but only as a starting point for further research or for a quick fact.
I love research. For one, I love reading nonfiction: history, anthropology, sociology, all sorts of stuff about other cultures, places, and times. Most of my reading material anymore is exactly that, because it’s in nonfiction that ideas for fiction are sparked — for me, at least. And when you’re in the midst of putting together a world, reading nonfiction will spark dozens of ideas to inform, change, and deepen the characters, the setting, and the plot. I guarantee it.
You want to know where writers get those crazy ideas? Research. (Well, at least that’s where this writer gets them.)
Mind you, in my case I was writing an historical fantasy. There are a couple issues with doing fiction based on history. One is that you have to get the facts mostly right (or you lose the reader); the second is that you can’t get all the facts right (because you’re not an expert in the era usually), and (three) sometimes you just need to bend the facts a bit (to make it work for the novel). For instance, look at Gianlorenzo Bernini and Costanza Bonarelli.
I spent lots of time researching potential artists and their muses. The story of Constanza and Bernini caught my attention as soon as I read it. In fact, if you want to check out Bernini’s famous portrait bust of Costanza (generally considered to be one of Bernini’s masterworks), you can look it up here: http://www.getty.edu/visit/events/mcphee_lecture.html — or just google “Costanza Bernini bust” and see what you get — or, if you have some extra cash around, go to the Museo Nazionale del Bargello in Florence, Italy, where it’s on display.
Here’s the basic story: Costanza was Bernini’s mistress, even though she was married to one of Bernini’s assistants. When Bernini began to suspect that his brother was also having an affair with Costanza—Bernini supposedly saw him leaving Costanza’s house and kissing her when she was dressed only in her night shift—Bernini hired someone to slash poor Costanza’s face, then tried to kill his brother. For that, his brother was exiled and Costanza was arrested and imprisoned for adultry, while Bernini was merely ordered to pay a fine. He wouldn’t ever pay that fine, since Pope Urban VIII stepped in to save his favorite artist and forgave the fine provided that Bernini married Caterina Tezio, the daughter of a prominent lawyer who was also friendly with the pope. Bernini agreed to this arrangement; he and Caterina would remain married for 34 years and produce eleven children.
Of poor disfigured Costanza, she vanishes from history after that horrible incident.
So in IMMORTAL MUSE, Costanza is one iteration of my muse. I won’t say much more to avoid spoilers for the book, but the basic story remains the same… except where it doesn’t. For instance, in the book, Bernini is wrong about his brother. And Costanza doesn’t vanish…
Of course, in that section of the book, there are also conversations and seductions and interactions which are made up entirely of whole cloth. That’s the way it is with research: it leads to its own new and unique reality. An alternate world. That’s the beauty of research: it’s not just the real details that we writers pull from it, but also the wholly invented ones that ripple out from what we learn — and those are the most fun of all.
So if you want to see how I’ve tugged and and pulled and twisted history in several decades, you can check out IMMORTAL MUSE. And if you do, let me know how you like it!
Steve Leigh can be found on the web at the following places:
FB (Stephen Leigh): https://www.facebook.com/stephen.leigh
FB (S.L. Farrell/Stephen Leigh author page): https://www.facebook.com/pages/SL-Farrell/54301773336