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The Four Seasons have been sold for the following languages:
HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE IDEA FOR THE FOUR SEASONS?
I'm a community college professor of humanities, and one of my textbooks made a reference to Vivaldi's work with female musicians in Venice. I thought that was interesting and told myself that someday I'd get around to looking into it, probably just to add a little information to my lectures.
Several years later, as I was writing a non-fiction book, I discovered that I really liked the challenge and pace of writing books several hundred pages in length. I knew I wanted to write another book, so I asked myself, "What's the most interesting subject you can think of right now?" I don't know why, but the female musicians of the Pieta jumped into my head. And non-fiction never occurred to me. I knew it had to be a novel.
YOU SAID THE MUSICIANS JUMPED INTO YOUR HEAD. WHY NOT VIVALDI HIMSELF?
Being female, I am always interested in the experiences of women. Vivaldi turned out to be a very intriguing character, and the book is much richer and more complex as a result. I think I might have been able to write a compelling novel even if he were less colorful, but I certainly couldn't have if the musicians weren't sufficiently interesting in their own right. And the book would be quite different if I thought of it as being primarily about Vivaldi and his relationship with the women of the Pieta, as opposed to the other way around.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO HAVE SISTERS AS MAIN CHARACTERS?
I realized immediately that I was going to have a problem writing about a cloistered setting because the range of experience of the girls and women was pretty narrow. And of course in this case the environment they were being protected from was one of the most dazzling cities imaginable. I knew I had to find a way to bring Venice itself into the story, and the solution I came up with was to have two main characters, one of whom lives as an adult outside the Pieta and one who remains in that rich musical environment her entire life.
I considered developing two unrelated characters of roughly the same age, but I wanted more of a bond between them, so it wouldn't feel like two stories but a single, intertwined one. I thought it would work better in the later stages of the plot to have them still be connected the way sisters are, even though I know friends can be just as loyal and just as close, and often more so.
There are elements of calculation that go into the early stages of developing a novel that in the end sound horrible. Saying now that there was a point when Maddalena and Chiaretta could have been developed in a significantly different way feels a bit like murder now, because they are who they are. For example, I discovered after I had created the character of Chiaretta that the soprano who sang the role of Abra in Juditha Triumphans was named Silvia. I did a "search and replace" in my text, and I just couldn't relate to the character anymore, because she wasn't named Silvia any more than I'm named Gertrude.
THE STORIES ARE TIGHTLY INTERRELATED, BUT DID YOU END UP SEEING ONE SISTER AS THE MAIN CHARACTER, EVEN IF JUST A LITTLE?
Not at all. Sometimes one fades into the background for a while, but that's because writing doesn't lend itself well to being two places at once. I think both lead interesting lives and have similar levels of complexity, and I feel very deeply connected to both of them.
HOW DID YOU FIGURE OUT THE PLOT? DID YOU KNOW WHAT WAS GOING TO HAPPEN?
I thought I knew what was going to happen and then it didn't work out that way. Early on I thought the plot might revolve around discovering something momentous about their parentage, in particular who their father was. As Maddalena and Chiaretta became more full and interesting in themselves, I found I didn't care enough about who their parents were to put any effort into taking the plot in that direction.
I also thought about having Maddalena leave the Pieta for a while, perhaps to teach music in a convent, because convent life in this era is very interesting to me personally. Sadly, about three-quarters of the noblewomen in Venice were forced to take vows, and of course convent life was significantly affected by the fact that so many of the nuns had not chosen to be there. But eventually I had to admit that my interest in that was forcing the plot in a direction it wasn't naturally going.
And sometimes minor characters surprised me. For example, when the hooded man reaches under Chiaretta's dress to touch her thigh, I was as shocked and upset as she was. I honestly did not know he was going to do that beforehand. I went back later and made him a little creepier during the party to make the whole thing work better.
In the end, I just tried to set up complex people in multifaceted and sometimes volatile situations and see what happened. Some authors say their books take on a life of their own and I understand that better now, but for me that's really only true about what I'm typing right at that moment. The overall story, character requirements, plot trajectories, subplots, backstory, and all those kinds of things take quite a bit of thought, even though sometimes the book spins off in an entirely different direction from what one plans.
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER THE END OF THE BOOK?
Sometimes when people ask me that, I want to wave my hands and yell, "They don't have a future because they don't exist!" But they're so real to me, I don't completely believe that. I suppose the best thing I can say is I don't know what happened because I lost track of them.
I'm pretty sure Chiaretta will make a spectacular success of her new role as the most powerful woman in Venice, and I bet she remains a fabulous mother. I imagine she may eventually go back to Andrea, but on her own terms. And I can't imagine what would motivate her to marry again.
ARE YOU A MUSICIAN?
Only if the kazoo counts!
DO YOU THINK THIS MADE A DIFFERENCE AS YOU WROTE THE BOOK?
I have a good background in music history and music appreciation as a result of what I teach, and I think the most that can be said is that a trained musician would have written a different but not necessarily a better fictional treatment of Vivaldi and the musicians of the Pieta.
Music is at the core of the book, and it is extraordinarily difficult to capture in words. I tried to approach it poetically, because that's the way I hear it. I think there's actually some advantage to not being an expert, because I was forced to write about the music from my level of understanding, which is probably closer to that of the typical reader.
IF, AS IS OFTEN SAID, ALL FICTION IS AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL, WHAT DOES THE FOUR SEASONS SAY ABOUT YOU?
One thing it says is that I am not down on men. I have a male friend who bemoans "sisterhood" types of books, because he feels there is never one decent man in them. I don't want my books to fall into that kind of thinking just to create the kind of conflict necessary to a good plot. Another thing it says is that I've had a great experience having and being a sister.
DOES THE FOUR SEASONS HAVE A MESSAGE?
I didn't go into it with the idea of sending a message to readers, but of course my values and general outlook influence the book. One message is that women are smart and capable, and they (and men too) have the power to shape their lives even in situations that severely limit their options.
Another is that we have to go out and get what we want and say what we need, and that if we don't know what that is, we can't expect other people to.
And also the idea that choosing for oneself is an important part of real personhood. To me, The Four Seasons is about empowerment, and I hope readers who can be helped by that message find it everywhere in its pages.