16 March 2014

Author Interview & Book Giveaway: Carol M. Cram on THE TOWERS OF TUSCANY

This week, we're pleased to welcome author Carol M. Cram with her latest novel, THE TOWERS OF TUSCANY. The author will offer a free copy of the novel to a lucky blog visitor.  Be sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb.

Set amid the twisting streets and sunlit piazzas of medieval Italy, The Towers of Tuscany tells the story of a woman who dares to follow her own path in the all-male domain of the painter’s workshop. Sofia Barducci is born into a world where a woman is only as good as the man who cares for her, but she still claims the right to make her own mistakes. Her first mistake is convincing her father to let her marry Giorgio Carelli, a wealthy saffron merchant in San Gimignano, the Tuscan city of towers. Trained in secret by her father to create the beautifully-crafted panels and altarpieces acclaimed today as masterpieces of late medieval art, Sofia’s desire for freedom from her father’s workshop leads her to betray her passion and sink into a life of loveless drudgery with a husband who comes to despise her when she does not produce a son.

In an attack motivated by vendetta, Sofia’s father is crushed by his own fresco, compelling Sofia to act or risk the death of her soul. The choice she makes takes her on a journey from misery to the heights of passion—both as a painter and as a woman. Sofia escapes to Siena where, disguised as a boy, she paints again. When her work attracts the notice of a nobleman who discovers the woman under the dirty smock, Sofia is faced with a choice that nearly destroys her.

The Towers of Tuscany unites a strong heroine with meticulously researched settings and compelling characters drawn from the rich tapestry of medieval Italy during one of Europe's most turbulent centuries. The stylishly written plot is packed with enough twists and turns to keep readers up long past their bedtimes.

Praise for The Towers of Tuscany

Roberta Rich, author of The Midwife of Venice and The Harem Midwife: "The clever dialogue and fast pace make the novel zing."

Anne Fortier, author of the New York Times bestseller Juliet and The Lost Sisterhood: “The Towers of Tuscany is a delightful escape to the Siena we all love. Carol Cram has crafted a delicious story about a strong woman torn between her secret past, her love of painting and the forbidden charms of her rich patron. Hard to resist and highly recommended!”

Deborah Swift, author of A Divided Inheritance: “Carol Cram's lush descriptions and intriguing characters bring this dramatic tale of medieval Tuscany to life. If you love Italian art, a feisty heroine, and a page-turning plot, you will adore this novel.”

**Author Interview with Carol M. Cram**

Why were you inspired to write historical fiction?

The truth is that I never expected to launch a career as a writer of historical fiction. Over the past two decades, I wrote (and continue to write) business and computer textbooks. Since retiring from a faculty position at a local college, I have been expanding my career as an author to include fiction. I wrote one contemporary novel, but didn’t feel satisfied that it was my best work. Something was missing. I knew I loved history and many of my favorite books are historical novels, but I was convinced that only people with Ph.D.’s and offices filled from floor to ceiling with musty tomes they’ve actually read could even attempt to write historical fiction.

But it turns out that all I really needed was the spark of an idea, and I found that spark one day while thinking about San Gimignano, a hill town in Italy that includes at least thirteen medieval towers and commanding views of the iconic Tuscan landscape.

What was so special about San Gimignano?

During its heyday in the fourteenth century, San Gimignano had over 70 towers. I had visited the town a few times over the past two decades and I had fond memories of it. Why it popped into my head one day while I was trying to come up with a subject for a novel is anyone’s guess. But what happened was that I got to wondering how the town of San Gimignano had looked with 70 towers crammed into the same space as the town occupies today. Had a painter from the period actually depicted them? The answer is no, so far as we know. Landscape painting was in its infancy in the 14th century and highly stylized.

I decided to invent a painter who departed from the usual religious iconography and painted a view of the towers of San Gimignano in the style of the time. I also decided to make my painter a woman because I was intrigued by the possibility that women must have painted in medieval times, even if they did not become known. Medieval painting was a family affair, so after consulting with experts in medieval art, I concluded that it was plausible that a painter could have trained his wife or daughter in the painter’s craft.

Once I’d created Sofia Carelli, a painter in a man’s world, I was immediately hooked. Sofia snatched up the reins of the story and I followed along as fast as I could. She is a force to be reckoned with and it was marvelous to spend almost four years in her company.

Did you visit Tuscany to research the novel?

People ask me this question a lot and the answer is – absolutely! My two-week solo trip to Italy in 2011 to research The Towers of Tuscany was a delight from beginning to end. I travel frequently with my husband, who is a painter and often has exhibitions in Europe, but this time I was traveling just for me. I was able to focus all my attention on the sights and smells and history of my novel’s setting. I spent most of my time in San Gimignano and Siena, the two cities where all of the action of The Towers of Tuscany takes place. 

In San Gimignano, I really hit the historical novelist jackpot. I discovered San Gimignano 1300 (www.sangimignano1300.com), a wonderful museum in San Gimignano that includes a large scale model of how the town appeared in the year 1300. Two artists have painstakingly recreated the city complete with all seventy of its towers. My morning spent at San Gimignano 1300 was one of the most productive of my writing career to date. In subsequent months, when I was writing and editing the novel, I could refer to my pictures of the model and other museum exhibits and imagine my Sofia walking through the narrow streets that were laid out exactly as they had been in 1300.

I also visited Siena on my solo trip and spent several days wandering the medieval streets and viewing the wealth of fourteenth century art. Many of the paintings and frescoes I viewed in Siena inspired scenes in the novel.

Who will The Towers of Tuscany appeal to?

The Towers of Tuscany is appealing to people who are fascinated by fourteenth century Italy and by Tuscany, particularly the towns of San Gimignano and Siena, where the action of the novel takes place. Readers interested in the glorious art of the period and in the workings of a medieval painter’s workshop are also enjoying the novel.

But most of all, people are enjoying The Towers of Tuscany because of Sofia Carelli, my spirited, talented, kick ass heroine who never gives up her passion for painting or her search for love, even in the face of almost insurmountable limitations. I was recently honored to receive a review of The Towers of Tuscany by bestselling author Spider Robinson who happens to live on the same rain-soaked island as I do. Spider calls my Sofia “one of the most endearing protagonists in years” and the novel itself a “startlingly first-rate piece of historical fiction.” I was also honored to receive the following review from Anne Fortier, the author of Juliet, which is set in Siena during the same period as The Towers of Tuscany:
“The Towers of Tuscany is a delightful escape to the Siena we all love. Carol Cram has crafted a delicious story about a strong woman torn between her secret past, her love of painting and the forbidden charms of her rich patron. Hard to resist and highly recommended!”

For an author, nothing beats knowing that other authors you respect have read your work and enjoyed it.

What other novels do you have planned?

The Towers of Tuscany is my first historical novel with an “arts twist.” I have dipped my toe in most of the arts over the years and my goal is to combine my love of the arts with my love of history to produce novels that celebrate an individual’s journey with his or her art during a particular era. My next novel, tentatively titled Nocturnes, tells the story of a concert pianist in Vienna in the 1820s, shortly after the death of Beethoven and during the last year of Schubert’s life. I plan to release that novel in the fall of 2014. The novel after that tells the story of an actress embroiled in the “Old Price” riots of 1809 in Covent Garden Theatre in London. History and the arts are full of great stories! A sequel to The Towers of Tuscany is also not out of the question. 

Carol M. Cram has enjoyed a wonderful career as an educator, teaching at Capilano University in North Vancouver for over twenty years and authoring forty-plus bestselling textbooks on business communications and software applications for Cengage Learning. She holds an MA in Drama from the University of Toronto and an MBA from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland. Carol is currently focusing as much of her attention as she can spare between walks in the woods on writing historical novels with an arts twist. She and her husband, painter Gregg Simpson, share a life on beautiful Bowen Island near Vancouver, Canada, where Carol teaches Nia dance and is also very active in the local arts council. Visit her online at www.carolcram.com. 

Learn more about author Carol M. Cram

Web site: www.carolcram.com
Novel as e-book and paperback on Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/m6n3zmu
Twitter: @carolcram
Facebook: carol.cram