Thursday, June 8, 2017

Crafting Characters, Cover Reveal Giveaway, and a Tetractys Poem

Today, I wrap up our series on characterization and share an announcement about my book cover reveal giveaway. At the end of this post, I also include a poem in honor of one of the first female mathematicians of modern times.

While reading the previous TeachingAuthor posts on crafting character, I couldn't help thinking about how the advice applied to my process in writing my forthcoming young-adult novel, Playing by Heart, which is inspired by two amazing sisters who lived in 18th-century Milan. The novel grew out of my research for a nonfiction biography of linguist and mathematician Maria Gaetana Agnesi. Even though I have an undergraduate degree in Mathematics and Computer Science, I never heard of Agnesi until I came across her name in an article about little-known women of note. I think her story's a fascinating one, but I haven't found a publisher for it yet. However, one of the editors who rejected the biography suggested I write a novel about Maria Gaetana and her younger sister, Maria Teresa, who was one of the first women to compose a serious opera. That suggestion is what led me to write Playing by Heart. (If you'd like to read more about Maria Gaetana Agnesi, see this website I created.)

My first challenge in writing the novel was to decide on the point-of-view character. The obvious choice would have been Maria Gaetana--I identified with her love of math, and with being the firstborn and apple of her father's eye. But Maria's story felt almost too good to be true. Besides being a brilliant linguist and mathematician, she had a heart for social justice. After her father died, she rejected her celebrity status to devote her life to caring for the sick and homeless. When I read the Anne Lamott quote April shared about how characters shouldn't be too perfect because that makes them "fatally uninteresting," I thought immediately of Maria Gaetana. She struck me as "too good" to be my main character. I chose the "second sister" to be the narrator of my novel instead.

Because the true story of the Agnesi sisters' lives doesn't fit into a neat story arc, I decided the novel would be heavily fictionalized. One of my earliest tasks, then, was to choose character names. I asked myself the same questions JoAnn shared in her questionnaire: "What is your character’s name? Does she like it? What would she prefer? What does the name mean, and why was it given to the character?" Since Playing by Heart is set in 18th-century Italy, I had to research the naming conventions of that time and place to find the answers. I won't go into that process here, but I will say that I had very specific reasons for naming my main character Emilia Teresa Salvini and her older sister Maria Gaetana Salvini.

I also relied on research to help me identify the details that would not only bring the story to life but also reveal the inner character of these people, as Carla described in her post. And, like Bobbi, I had to unearth "the emotional truth" beneath all the facts in my research. Ultimately, that's what allowed me to do what Esther recommended in her post: put elements of my story into the story of the Salvini sisters.

There's one other character-building technique I use that wasn't really discussed in any of the other TeachingAuthor posts. I'm a visual learner, so to tell my characters' stories, I need to be able to see them in my mind. Early on in the process, I look for images in books, magazines, and online to represent my characters. (I mentioned this before in this blog post.)

Coincidentally, we just finalized the cover art for Playing by Heart. I'm grateful that the publisher asked for my input regarding how I'd like to see my main character portrayed. Even so, it was a bit of a shock when I saw the initial cover mockup. The Emilia Salvini on the cover bore little resemblance to the young woman in the image I'd used for myself--that of an Italian actress dressed in costume for a musical set in 17th-century Milan.

After the shock wore off, though, I decided the cover representation was an appropriate one. I'm now looking forward to finding out how potential readers respond. In fact, I'll be celebrating a special
Cover Reveal Giveaway next week to elicit reader feedback. Unfortunately, I don't have copies of the book to give away yet--it releases from Vinspire Publishing on September 30. Instead, the prize will be a custom book bag bearing the Playing by Heart cover image on one side and containing Playing by Heart bookmarks and a special heart keychain. I'll email the contest details to my Creativity Newsletter subscribers in a few days. This will be a special edition of the newsletter, which normally goes out about once a month and contains creativity tips and quotes along with news about my books and classes. If you're interested, I invite you to sign up for the newsletter on my website (in the right sidebar).

Since I can't show the prizes without giving away the cover, I've created a cover reveal "teaser" that includes a snippet from the Playing by Heart cover:

If you want to see the full cover, be sure to sign up for my Creativity Newsletter on my website!

Before I share my poem for today, I want to announce that I'll be giving two presentations at the Catholic Writers Guild (CWG) Live Conference being held just outside Chicago in Schaumburg, IL July 18-21. In the first session, I'll be discussing "Turning Life into Fiction." The second will be a team presentation with two fellow authors on "Writing Fiction that Engages Teens and Tweens." You can find conference details and a link to the schedule here.

Now for today's poem. While working on the biography of mathematician Maria Gaetana Agnesi, I wrote a tetractys in her honor. A tetractys is a five-line poem in which the syllables per line form the series 1, 2, 3, 4, 10. My tetractys in honor of Agnesi salutes her three callings as a linguist, mathematician, and humanitarian over her 81-year lifespan, and is in the shape of a right triangle.

Be sure to check out the complete Poetry Friday roundup at A Year of Reading.

Remember to Write with JOY!


Mary Lee said...

Your tectractys is mathematically and poetically perfect!

Linda B said...

I enjoyed that you included highlights from all the posts, then your own "visual" ideas, Carmela. Congratulations on this upcoming book and thanks for the cover "teaser". The poem fits a mathematician well, then the added other important parts of her life. I love the visual too!

Jane @ said...

Congratulations on the new book - I'm so thrilled to see female mathematicians and scientists being celebrated!

Kay said...

Congratulations on the new book and cover reveal! I love how are "discovering" all the contributions from female mathematicians and scientists that have been there all along. Maria sounds quite fascinating even if she might be too good to be true!

Anonymous said...

Fabulous tetractys. Love the wordplay.

Brenda at FriendlyFairyTales said...

Perfect poem, and I like the idea of your nonfiction book and your novel. I like that you've written of sisters.

Carmela Martino said...

Thanks, Mary Lee. I'm honored you think so.
Linda B, so we kindred spirits in another way--appreciating the visual. :-)
Jane and Kay, thanks for the congratulations.
Kat and Brenda, so glad you like the poem.
Thanks, everyone, for stopping by.

Tabatha said...

Such an interesting post, Carmela! I loved hearing about your process, and your subject matter sounds fascinating!! Congrats :-)

Carmela Martino said...

Thanks, Tabatha!