Writers rejoice when their publishing dreams come true, but it’s equally thrilling when the same happens for a writing pal. I met Alyssa Palombo back in 2004, on an official messageboard for the symphonic rock band Evanescence. That’s where we bonded over music, the Boston Red Sox, and writing. We fell out of touch after a while, but I always remembered how helpful Alyssa’s feedback had been and wondered if she was still writing. The answer came in 2014, when I stumbled across Alyssa’s book deal announcement for her first two books. No lie – I was so happy for her, I freaked out!
Today, I have the immense pleasure of having Alyssa Palombo here on the blog. We talked about her historical fiction debut The Violinist of Venice, which comes out next Tuesday, December 15th. (Click here to read my review.) You’ll also learn how her music background helped with writing the book, and why she recommends reading outside your preferred literary genre now and then. And, um, there might be
lots of some fangirling (on both her part and mine) about metal music and tea. 😉 Let’s begin, shall we?
Q&A with Alyssa Palombo
Congratulations on the upcoming release of The Violinist of Venice! How do you feel now that it’s around the corner?
Excited, but also nervous! This book is really my baby. I worked on it for 5 years before I started querying, so it’s been a part of my life for a very long time – and to have it be my first published book is really awesome. It won’t just belong to me anymore, which is thrilling and scary. With that said, though, I really am just so excited for people to read it!
I really enjoyed The Violinist of Venice when I read the ARC in October and have been telling other readers about it ever since. But since you’re the author, could you tell about the book in your own words?
Of course! The novel is about a fictional character named Adriana d’Amato who loves to play the violin. However, her father doesn’t feel it’s appropriate for women to study music, so he forbids her to continue studying. This prompts Adriana to seek out Antonio Vivaldi, who was known primarily in Venice at that time as a violinist (not yet as a composer, which is how we know him today). Their lessons evolve into a passionate love affair, which is both forbidden and dangerous since Vivaldi is a priest. The novel follows their affair and its aftermath, tracing its repercussions throughout Adriana’s life – both her personal and musical life.
Violinist takes place in Venice, Italy, which is one of your favorite places in the world. You’re also a fan of the famous composer Antonio Vivaldi. How did the setting, the man, and his music inspire your story?
Venice is so much fun to write about because it’s so beautiful, yet it’s intimidating to write about for that same reason, so I hope I did it justice! It’s also a good place to write about as a historical novelist, since it hasn’t changed all that much in the last few hundred years. They haven’t exactly paved too many new roads or built many new buildings! So when I went there and saw it for myself, I was seeing a lot of the same things Vivaldi would have seen when he lived there. Physically, of course, Venice is like no place else in the world, and its history and culture and society in the 18th century were all very distinct as well, so I tried to let all of that permeate the novel.
Vivaldi was an interesting guy, to say the least, so I let the personal details I read about him as well as his music inspire me. I listened to so much of the music that he wrote while working on this novel, from start to finish. That was my starting point. I tried to let both his music and what history told me of him inform his character as I wrote.
Your protagonist Adriana is quite a remarkable woman, and a character who grows dramatically as a result of the story’s events. What do you admire most about her? And, how are you and Adriana alike and/or different?
I think that what I most admire about her is how she rises above the tragic things that happen in her life and ultimately finds a way to be happy, and realizes that happiness and love can come in many forms. She’s very wise by the end of the book, I think, though she certainly isn’t at the start.
Adriana and I are definitely alike in many ways – the love of music, certainly, though she’s a violinist and I’m a singer. Many of the passages where she talks about how music makes her feel – both listening to it and performing it – are pretty autobiographical. She also definitely has some of the hopeless romantic in her, and I do as well. She’s not afraid of going after what she wants, and I like to think that I’ve been that way as well at points in my life. Whether things works out or not, my attitude is usually that it’s better to try then wonder what might have been. I think this is where the differences start coming in, though, because I would say that she’s reckless in a way that I’m not. She’s a lot more pessimistic than I am, especially in her younger years. There were certain points when I was writing where I wondered why she had such a dim view of certain things, but I realized that’s just how she is and just tried to record her voice as it came through to me.
I think that I’m also a lot like Giuseppe, actually, though I didn’t realize it until the book was mostly done. 🙂 I’m definitely that friend that’s the voice of reason other people may not want to hear, and if I can’t talk my friends out of bad ideas I’ll usually come along for the ride to try to minimize the damage!
Not only are you an author, but you’re also a trained singer and violinist. Could you tell us a little about your music background and how it influenced and/or helped you research Violinist?
Having a background in not only musical performance but also music history and theory was hugely helpful. It was that much less research that I had to do! When I first started writing this novel, I didn’t know much about Vivaldi or Venice. I only knew that I had this story in me that I had to get out. Music was my way in, the thing that I could start writing about that I knew really well. Like I mentioned above, the feelings of being a music lover and performer in the novel are largely autobiographical, but also I know what it feels like to be in a lesson with a teacher and have them say, “Do it again,” and working on the same thing over and over until I get it right. That all made its way into the book.
I’m the worst kind of amateur at the violin. I only started taking lessons once I had begun writing the book, as a form of research. I was absolutely awful at it, but I had a ton of fun and learned a lot – and also gained a whole newfound respect for people like Adriana and Vivaldi, who are violin virtuosos. It’s a very difficult instrument, and I just wanted to get a basic understanding of it to help me write about it.
My classical voice training definitely figures in to the novel. I’ve performed a few of the vocal pieces mentioned in it, so I couldn’t resist writing about them. The Stabat Mater that Adriana hears in the chapel of the Pietà is one. It’s so gorgeous and was such a joy to sing. I’ve also performed the aria “Cosi potessi anch’io” from Vivaldi’s opera Orlando furioso, which is a piece that Vivaldi really wrote for Anna Giró.
Your love of music also plays a role in your writing process – and as a fan of symphonic and female-fronted metal music, your album playlist for The Violinist of Venice gets my stamp of approval. 😉 How do you use music to help you write? Which albums and artists should readers check out to know what inspired you?
I am actually listening to that very playlist as I answer these questions! 🙂 Even when I’m not writing about music (like in my second novel), music is an integral part of my writing process. I’m always building a playlist for what I’m working on and trying to find just the right song to go with each scene. Sometimes this happens completely by accident. For instance, when I was writing the very end of my second novel, I was listening to Kamelot’s “Veil of Elysium,” which they had just released – and what do you know, it fit the scene perfectly. 🙂
Sometimes I’ll hear a song and immediately relate it to a character, scene, or theme. That’s happened a lot so far with what I’m working on now. Often times, listening to these songs and thinking about them in relation to a character or scene helps me clarify something about the work, or gives me a new idea. Another thing I do is add the playlists to my iPod, and when I’m at work and can’t be writing I’ll fire up the playlist of whatever I’m working on to keep my head in the game.
For The Violinist of Venice – Nightwish, lots of Nightwish! Specifically songs like “She Is My Sin,” “Ghost Love Score,” “Slow, Love, Slow,” and “The Crow, The Owl, and The Dove.” Delain’s April Rain, Lacuna Coil’s Shallow Life, and Stream of Passion’s The Flame Within are albums I listened to a ton while writing Violinist. I also listened to a lot of Lindsey Stirling, since she’s a violinist. Other songs that really worked their way into the story are “End of Time” by Lacuna Coil, “Forgiven” by Within Temptation, “My Heart is Broken” by Evanescence, and “Heavy in Your Arms” by Florence + the Machine. The full playlist is available on my website for anyone wanting to check it out!
I always like to ask debut authors about their publishing paths. When and how did you decide to take writing seriously?
I honestly can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a writer. I’ve loved to read ever since I learned how, and perhaps as a result of that I always wanted to write my own stories, and did even as a kid. I actually wrote a novel in high school that I then queried, which didn’t go anywhere – no surprise, and thank God, because it was horrendous. I have a few “drawer” novels that will never see the light of day, but I always knew that I wanted to write and publish books and have that be my career. I actually thought about shelving Violinist a few times, but I loved it so much that I couldn’t give up on it until it was publishable, and it worked out! My ultimate dream is to be able to write full time, but lots of authors never get there, so we’ll see. I have no shortage of stories I want to tell, so as long as I can keep writing books that I love, I’ll be happy.
What was your first conversation with your agent Brianne Johnson like? How did you know she was right for your work?
I was so nervous before talking with her for the first time. I figured she would offer me representation, because when she emailed me to set up the phone call she was just so complimentary and excited about the book. But I had no idea how the conversation might go, and I wanted to sound like I somewhat knew what I was doing, even though it was all so new to me! Plus, she was my first choice agent from the day I started querying. I hardly slept the night before the call. But she put me at ease pretty quickly. She’s so wonderful and easy to talk to. Even now when we talk, I feel like I’ve known her longer than I really have. But she was just so excited and enthusiastic about the book, and in talking about it she completely got what it was and what it wasn’t, and she understood everything that I as the author was trying to do.
We also talked about what changes she thought I should make before we sent the book out on submission to editors; and all her suggestions were really spot-on, made sense, and in the end totally made the book way better. And from that first phone call, we’ve been on the same page about my career as a whole and where we want it to go. All of this let me know without a doubt that she and I were a perfect fit, and I still feel that way!
Which authors would you say had the greatest influence on your writing?
Definitely Philippa Gregory – she’s one of my favorites and really inspired me to write historical fiction. Also Sarah Dunant – she’s another historical fiction author, and her work is just beautiful, so meticulously researched and vivid and sensual. Ann Patchett is another literary hero of mine. I always aspire to write sentences as beautiful as hers. I got to meet her as an undergrad when she spoke at my college, and I was completely star-struck! Something she said that day always stuck with me: she talked about deciding what to write about based on what she wanted to learn about, not necessarily what she already knew. There’s that whole “write what you know” adage, and it’s definitely good advice, don’t get me wrong – but Ann Patchett’s words let me give myself permission, basically, to want to write about things I didn’t know so long as I was willing to put the research in. A good lesson for any historical novelist, I think!
You’re an avid reader of historical fiction as well as various genres of Young Adult literature. What about YA appeals to you, or does it depend on what the story’s about? Also, how important do you think it is for writers to read outside their target genre now and then?
I think that when we’re teenagers, we really feel everything deeply and urgently in a way that we don’t as much as adults. YA gets that across on the page very well, which can make it very interesting and exciting to read. But also, coming of age and learning about ourselves doesn’t stop when we reach adulthood, and so that’s another reason that I think YA stories are or can be relevant to us all.
Personally, I think that writers should always read widely within their genre and outside. Every book can teach you something, and just because you write historical fiction doesn’t mean you can’t learn something from fantasy or thrillers, for instance. Many of my favorite books are blends of different genres. The more you read, the richer your stash of techniques and points of craft to draw on. Plus, reading a variety of stories by many different writers – by men and by women, by people of different races and religions and backgrounds, etc. – makes us more well-rounded as human beings, and by extension as writers as well.
Thanks to Twitter, I’ve learned that you’re a fellow tea lover. Care to share some of your favorites or make recommendations?
Sure! My go-to is PG Tips – I drink it every morning. I also really like the brand Twinings of London. They have a few seasonal teas that I really like, such as their Pumpkin Chai and their Christmas Tea. Another brand I like is Mighty Leaf Tea. I recommend their Organic Breakfast and Bombay Chai. The Organic Breakfast goes really well with baked goods.
As for loose-leaf teas, my favorite that I’ve found so far is Teavana’s Strawberry Blush Rosè, which is an oolong. Naturally, it’s one of their more expensive ones! I also like their Spiced Apple Cider Rooibos in the fall and White Chocolate Peppermint Rooibos around Christmas.
What’s next after The Violinist of Venice?
Right now I’m working with my editor on revisions to my second novel, which will also be published by St. Martin’s Griffin. I don’t have an official date yet, but will be announcing that as soon as I can! This novel takes places in Renaissance Florence, and has a lot to do with the magnificent artwork of that period. Sandro Botticelli is one of the main characters.
I’m also working on drafting what I hope will be my third novel, and I am SO loving everything about working on it so far. Music comes into this one a little, but it also has a sort of personal connection for me outside of that. I don’t want to say too much about it yet, though! 🙂 I still have a lot of research to do for it. It’s a bit of a jump from Italy, as it takes place in the young United States.
What one piece of advice do you have for writers who haven’t been published yet?
Know that if you’re serious about wanting to write and publish a novel (or novels), you’ll need to make a lot of time and put a lot of hours in. With that said, though, make the time however it works best for you. Write every day if that is how you work best, but don’t feel like you have to if that doesn’t work for you. I know that, for myself, I have to take a day off every now and then to recharge. Do whatever, and write whenever, makes you the most productive.
Also, if you work full time, I highly recommend lunch break writing. I can pound out a thousand words in half an hour because I know that’s all the time I get!
Thanks so much for taking the time to answer these questions, Alyssa! I wish you the best with The Violinist of Venice and all your future novels!
Thanks so much, and thanks for having me, Sara! I really appreciate it!
Alyssa Palombo’s Final Fast Five
- Last Book She Read and Loved: A Madness So Discreet by Mindy McGinnis. A gorgeous, dark, disturbing yet beautiful YA historical.
- Her Dream Costume for the Carnival of Venice: Pretty much anything where I could wear one of those gorgeous 18th century dresses and masks!
- Favorite Instrument Besides the Violin: Piano. I love that it’s so versatile. It gets used in so many genres of music and always sounds right at home.
- Random Object(s) We’d Find at Her Writing Desk / Space: Always a Yankee Candle (or several!). Right now it’s Harvest. Also pictures of the places I’m writing about (I have lots of Venice and Florence at the moment) as well as a couple knick-knacks. I have a little hand-painted mosaic turtle I got in Barcelona, and a tiny stone owl my best friend brought me from her honeymoon in Capri.
- Three Things She Can’t Live Without: My iPod, books, and chocolate.
About Alyssa Palombo
Alyssa Palombo’s short fiction has appeared in Black Lantern magazine and The Great Lakes Review. She is a recent graduate of Canisius College, with degrees in English and creative writing. A passionate music lover, she is a classically trained musician as well as a big fan of heavy metal. The Violinist of Venice is her first novel. She lives in Buffalo, New York.
Find Alyssa Palombo:
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THE VIOLINIST OF VENICE
A sweeping historical novel of composer and priest Antonio Vivaldi, a secret wealthy mistress, and their passion for music and each other
Like most 18th century Venetians, Adriana d’Amato adores music-except her strict merchant father has forbidden her to cultivate her gift for the violin. But she refuses to let that stop her from living her dreams and begins sneaking out of her family’s palazzo under the cover of night to take violin lessons from virtuoso violinist and composer Antonio Vivaldi. However, what begins as secret lessons swiftly evolves into a passionate, consuming love affair.
Adriana’s father is intent on seeing her married to a wealthy, prominent member of Venice’s patrician class-and a handsome, charming suitor, whom she knows she could love, only complicates matters-but Vivaldi is a priest, making their relationship forbidden in the eyes of the Church and of society. They both know their affair will end upon Adriana’s marriage, but she cannot anticipate the events that will force Vivaldi to choose between her and his music. The repercussions of his choice-and of Adriana’s own choices-will haunt both of their lives in ways they never imagined.
Spanning more than 30 years of Adriana’s life, Alyssa Palombo’s The Violinist of Venice is a story of passion, music, ambition, and finding the strength to both fall in love and to carry on when it ends.