Katherine Hall Page:
I have never been able to write about a place I have not been, save the fictitious town of Aleford, the setting for many of the books I have written in the Faith Fairchild series. And even Aleford is a compilation of towns west of Boston where I have lived or visited. The same is true of Sanpere Island in Penobscot Bay. In the first book set there, The Body in the Kelp, readers immediately twigged that it was Deer Isle, a place I have spent summers for a very, very long time. Therefore, when I had one of those sudden inspirations that come usually in the shower or just before sleep that I’d like to bookend The Body in the Boudoir, a prequel centered on Faith’s courtship by the Reverend Thomas, with one that literally begins where that one ended—the plane landing in Rome for a significant anniversary trip—I figured I’d just have to go there in order to write that second book: The Body in the Piazza. Not a chore.
Additionally, since a young Tuscan woman had figured prominently as a subplot in The Body in the Boudoir, I’d also have to go back to Tuscany, a place I knew and loved. Again, not a chore. And since my books have a great deal of food in them, I’d have to research that glorious aspect of Italian culture thoroughly as well. Again, not a…
I had been to Florence and Siena as well as some of the hill towns, but somehow despite all those years of Latin in high school (Arma,virumque cano and Omnia Gallia in tres partes divisa est), I had never been to the Eternal City. Happily, I found a boon travel companion in my friend Valerie Wolzien, author of the Susan Henshaw and Josie Pigeon mysteries. Valerie had never been to Rome either. We left our husbands at home, knowing that strolling through open-air markets and darting into enticing shops for more than a minute was definitely not their style of travel.
The first line of The Body in the Piazza, is:
Faith Fairchild was drunk. Soused, sloshed, schnockered, pickled, potted, and looped— without a single sip of alcohol having crossed her lips. She was drunk on Rome. Intoxicating, inebriating Rome.
It is an exact description of the way Valerie and I felt the entire time we were in Rome. Much Prosecco helped, but we kept asking ourselves, “Why has it taken us so long to get here?” and, put another way, “Why hadn’t someone forced tickets into our little hands and marched us onto a plane years ago, an act to be repeated as often as possible?”
But back to the research. That oh so necessary research. I had a rough outline, like a chalk one, but few details. Scouring the city for the scene of the crime added a dimension to our visit few tourists achieve. I settled on the Piazza Farnese with its distinctive fountains and relative isolation. I needed a place where the Fairchilds would be the only witnesses.
We discovered things on our own and by talking to people. The most moving conversation we had was one with a professor at the University of Rome, the friend of a friend who invited us to dinner and told us the history of the Jewish section of the city, the Ghetto, where she lived as her ancestors had. Returning to it for the best meals we had in Rome, we were haunted by her painful stories. The Fairchilds experience the same mixture.
The book continued to take off as we traveled trip north. We did not attend a cooking school/resort, as
the Fairchilds did, but imagination does have to come in to play and it wasn’t hard to dream one of these places up, especially after spending time in the Mercato Centrale in Florence and wandering the streets of Montepulciano, home of the remarkable Vino Nobile. When we found ourselves far underground below one of the tasting rooms in the maze of tunnels that connects the town’s palazzos, an entire subplot sprang to life. Discovering that there were also grottoes off some of the tunnels, carved from tufa—a soft limestone— and thought to be Etruscan tombs was the icing on the biscotti.
I prepared for the trip by doing a fun online Italian conversation course (a Groupon for Livemocha), but resisted reading up too much on what I might see. A line from Elizabeth Hardwick’s Sleepless Nights, ““When you travel your first discovery is that you do not exist.” was my goal, and became a kind of mantra. Time enough to immerse myself in all things Italian upon my return, which I am still doing although the book is long finished. There is a special joy to traveling without a guidebook and I give Faith an entrancing new acquaintance, met at the start of the trip, Freddy Ives, who tells her to “emancipate herself from her Baedeker” or modern day equivalent. Adding,
“You already have everything you need in order to ascertain the true nature of things.” Her new friend, for she instantly hoped he would become one, pointed to his eyes, ears, mouth, and head.
The journal I kept each day was a necessity, as were the photos I took, but once I was engrossed in writing the book, I seldom had to consult either. Italy was now firmly in my mind’s eye. I had been there.
Katherine Hall Page is the author of the award winning Faith Fairchild series. The Body in the Piazza is the 21st in the series and will go on sale April 30th in hardcover, large print, e-Books and audio from Wm Morrow. Katherine’s website is: www.katherine-hall-page.org and she is on Facebook