by Michael DiMatteo
It’s easy to fall in love, really it is. Just find something that steals you’re heart, something your passionate about, and the rest takes care of itself. Simple, really. The part that’s hard is finding that something that steals your heart. As a writer (I’m still not sure I’m comfortable with that moniker as Hemingway, Dickens, Flaubert were writers – I’m more of a scribbler of thoughts and a wayward story teller), there are slightly less than a million ways one can go in search of something that truly pilfers your thoughts so thoroughly there is no recovery.
Most of the time I sit and pound away on my keyboard writing random thoughts, political meanderings that sometimes get published in Realclearpolitics (no, not a shameless plug, maybe), or begin stories that eventually peter out as a Chinese gong fades after the initial blow. They languish in my “bits and pieces” folder, frozen in time as Han Solo maybe to be revived at a later date, but more than likely not. They didn’t plunder my being and like a sometime lover, I got tired of them and simply left.
Then, on some Saturday morning, I sat down with my 6AM coffee to write as is my usual routine. For some inexplicable reason I told myself I was going to write a historical fiction novel – just like that – and then, again for some inexplicable reason, it poured out of me as an African cataract bounding over the cliffs in the southern Nile. I sat for two hours and wrote as though she, Apollonia Savucci, was speaking to me from a grave. I say “a grave” because she was an apparition from my mind. I have no knowledge if anyone by that name exists or existed, but whoever she was, she was speaking to me. I wrote down what she said, how she described losing her love to the plague in 14th century Italy and how she’d never recovered, her soul so damaged she had to flee the only home she’d ever known.
She began telling me about her distant family, where they came from and what they’d endured, and like an obedient servant, I wrote it all down. I found that I’d not been aware of some of the circumstances she was relating to me so I had to do some research. The more I researched the more besotted I became with her and her story, a story emanating from someplace deep in my subconscious. So, I researched location, weather during certain times of the year, food eaten, how people lived and what their homes were actually like. I discovered an entire world of the past this history teacher of over thirty years didn’t know existed. I became an archaeologist of time, brushing off an ancient world in a given space and age that once again became alive if only in my mind and on my computer screen.
I dug further and disinterred other families of power and influence during the period. I unveiled intertwined religions, and found that the tentacles of Italy stretched far further with greater influence than I’d ever thought. I found knights long dead coming back to life, and fictional characters interacting with them in ways I’d not imagined. I found people in love betrayed, and exposed heroism, all traits that existed then and now but with new life breathed into them by my fingers and keyboard.
I dug further. What did olive trees smell like? I found pictures of these places, now ruins but put back together by my imagination and by contacting professors who specialize in the time period. I reached out to a former student now a professor of Islamic history at UCLA who was more than happy to lend his expertise. He also gave me names of others who helped as well. I “cold emailed” a professor at Northwestern University who responded filling in a blank I had. I emailed others who didn’t bother to return my query – but no matter. I was, and am, undaunted. I was being eaten alive by this beast I’d unleashed and was loving every minute of it.
Volume one is completed. Revision has begun, beta readers have also been given copies. So far, the reviews are solid and the suggestions great. I’ve begun implementing some of them during the revision process and while I want it to be perfect, I know it will never be. There will always be something I can add, some other flavor to sprinkle in order to tantalize the readers’ tastebuds, but at some point, I’ll have to release the work to the greater world – or the five people that may choose to read it willingly. That’s ok – it’s the process not the result for me.
I’ve fallen in love with this world that once was and is now being recreated in historical fiction style. I’ve fallen in love with the process of writing and research. My heart has been stolen, my thoughts dominated by my work. None of this is to the detriment of my job for I have students counting on me each day whom I will never let down, but increasingly, I am losing ground to my writing. Good thing I retire next year.