13 March 2014

Excerpt Thursday: THE TOWERS OF TUSCANY by Carol M. Cram

This week, we're pleased to welcome author Carol M. Cram with her latest novel, THE TOWERS OF TUSCANY. Join us again on Sunday for an author interview, with more details about the story behind the story. 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 post or Sunday'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.”

**An Excerpt from The Towers of Tuscany**

 Chapter One

The occupation known as painting calls for imagination, and skill of hand . . . presenting to plain sight what does not actually exist.
Cennino d’Andrea Cennini, Il Libro dell’Arte,
Chapter I: The First Chapter of the First Section of This Book

Sofia did not blame her father for allowing her to marry Giorgio, but not a day went by when she did not blame herself.

Every night as Giorgio grunted and thrust, she imagined wrapping her hands around his thick neck and squeezing. His dull eyes would widen in the moonlight, then bulge as she dug her thumbs into the swell of his throat and smiled when his lips turned a pale, pure blue.

But most of the time, Sofia tried not to think about him at all.

A shaft of sunlight fell across the small panel of the Nativity she was painting. Sofia snuffed out the candle and paused a moment to watch a curl of smoke spiral to the wooden rafters. She wanted to be the smoke—light enough to escape through the tower window and out into the fields, away from her husband, away from San Gimignano, away from her household with its incessant demands, away to paint every day in peace. But such thoughts were fancy, and hadn’t her father scolded her often enough for preferring fancy over fact?

Sighing, she loaded one of her smallest miniver brushes with terre-verte. Giorgio was out hunting, which meant she had until the next bells to paint. Using tiny, precise strokes, she added touches of the green-tinged pigment under the Virgin’s chin and down her neck to suggest a shadow. Delicately, between two fingers, the Holy Mother lifted the fold of a sheet. Sofia added more white lead to the edge of the sheet to give it an illusion of movement, catching Mary at the moment she leaned forward to keep her child warm. Sofia wondered if she would ever lean over her own child, hear its cries, feel her heart swell with the love Caterina was always rattling on about.

She hoped not.

The bells for Nones caught her by surprise, as they always did. The only part of her day, her week, worth living was already over. She pushed back from the table and rose to her feet. Massaging with one hand a knot in her shoulder, she stepped to the narrow window. Between the two closest towers, the countryside beyond the town was just visible as a slit of green and gold. The commune of San Gimignano fairly bristled with towers—more than seventy the last time Sofia counted. Day after day, the pounding and clanging of endless construction filled the air, along with dust so thick that on windless afternoons citizens squinted across the Piazza della Cisterna.


Sofia gasped. Giorgio sounded as if he were halfway up the first set of ladders. She looked at her hands. A daub of ochre streaked one finger, a parody of the late afternoon sunlight flooding the tower room. If her husband made it up the ladders, he would destroy the pigments and brushes, destroy the painting even. No! He would never be so stupid. The small panel of the Nativity belonged to her father. Even Giorgio knew enough about the painter’s trade to respect the rights of a patron. And he would never dare anger her father.

But he could make sure she never painted again.

Sofia picked up a corner of her smock and rubbed at her stained finger. The paint was still wet enough to smear. She spat, rubbed, spat again until finally the yellow lifted. Her hands would pass inspection if Giorgio didn’t look too closely. Fortunately, he rarely looked closely at anything.

“What the devil are you doing up there?” Giorgio was barely able to gasp out the words. For the moment, she was safe. He didn’t sound capable of making it to the second level, never mind the third. Giorgio was getting heavier by the day. One night he would fall to sleep on top of her. And then what? If she couldn’t rouse Paulina from her palette at the foot of the bed, she would perish.

“Forgive me, husband!” she called as she ripped off her smock and smoothed her hair. God willing, she didn’t have any paint on her face. She took a last look at the painting. It was good—maybe even her best work. Would her father agree? He was a harsh critic.

She stepped to the opening in the floor, placed one foot on the first rung, then began to descend, reaching the final rung of the middle set of ladders just as Giorgio was squeezing through the opening in the floor to flop, panting and sweating, onto the landing. She saw at once that he had not spent his day hunting boar or anything else save a happy turn of the dice. Was that blood on his jaw? Had he been fighting again? How many florins had he gambled away with the sun not even close to the horizon?

“You must ask your father to help us,” he said as he rose to his feet, still gulping for breath.

“I wasn’t aware we needed help.”

Giorgio balled his fists and moved closer. She smelled stale wine and put one hand to her nose. A slight whiff of egg tempera still lingered on her skin. Relief was making her bold. If Giorgio had not yet asked what she’d been doing at the top of the tower, he was unlikely to. He hadn’t the wit to concentrate on more than one thing at a time—which was why his saffron exporting business was falling into ruin. They would be lucky to keep the house with its convenient tower past her twenty-first birthday.

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

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