The Search For A Story When Writing a Book: How to Separate the Suck

ToWishUponARoman_200x300Guest post by Ishabelle Torry, author of To Wish Upon A Roman

As an author and history major still in the midst of my studies enrolled in a university, I often research history that I find to be boring. Why? Because I have to in order to earn my degree, of course! My preferences in history leans toward ancient, the older—the better. However, one of my recent classes was the Renaissance, and I was less than thrilled at first—until I realized just exactly what the Renaissance really consisted of. It was more than a new age, but the revival of the old ways and studies, aided by a new thought process called humanism. This fact intrigued me.

I started to wonder just what exactly lent to this new ideology in history. So I read, and I read. Not only did I read my required texts for assignments, but I did extra research on my own. And you know what I found? Henry VIII. Yep, good old Henry the Horny, Henry the Religion Changer…or dare I say it—Henry the Wife Executioner.

His affairs were fascinating, and his court deliciously scandalous. Aside from Henry, there had been only one other English monarch that dared to marry whom he desired against the wishes of tradition pre modern age. But Henry took it a step further. He made it a habit to search for love. Unfortunately for Anne Boleyn (second wife) and Katherine Howard (fifth wife), he proved to be fickle and untrusting. OFF WITH THEIR HEADS! However, the tawdry ending of these two women, not to mention the divorces to the other wives, taught me something—and it was related to the Renaissance notion of humanism and individuality.

There was more to the Renaissance than a revival of classical literature and new methods of painting, such as that of Michelangelo. The people of Tudor England were influenced by humanism and individuality, and they sought it with all their worth. There in fact was a new era emerging in regards to marriage and sex, and most importantly love. In a sense, Henry VIII may have led the way to modern day romance.

And Henry wasn’t alone! His sister, Mary Tudor, also married Charles Brandon against her king’s wishes because she loved him, and he her. Later on down the line, Elizabeth I would also refute the status quo, and decide not to marry at all! See the connection…people were thinking for themselves. They desired, and they went for it.

So, I am sure you’re asking where the creativity is in this brief history lesson? Peeling back the suckish layers of history of Henry VIII’s political endeavors (if that’s what bores you) and other duties to England, there is still an awesome story to be told involving sex, love, lies, marriage and betrayal. It’s almost like a sordid romance novel, per se. And say you’re fascinated with the political aspects, and the suckish part to you is the romance—there is still a story to be found. The point is THERE IS ALWAYS a story where you look if you know how to separate the suck.

I dare anyone who reads this blog to pick a time period in history and read a little about it. Can you separate the suck and form a possible story line?

Author Bio: Ishabelle Torry is a full time mother, wife and student. She enjoys time with her family, and their plethora of pets on the farm. In her spare time, she is constantly dreaming of characters and the worlds they are found in. Occasionally, Ishabelle has been known to argue with her characters and bribe them with cookies when they have a wayward moment.


Follow on twitter @ishabelletorry

Book Blurb:

When Lucy received the locket from the estate of her aunt, it came with a warning to never speak his name…but where’s the fun in that?

Trapped for seventeen hundred years, General Hadrian Marias awaits his release from a crystal prison and a chance to find the reincarnated soul of his wife, Lucia. Instead, upon being summoned into the modern world, he finds Lucy—the descendant of Genevieve, the Celtic witch responsible for his entrapment. Everything he knows about Lucy stems from his experience with Genevieve, but he soon discovers the only thing Lucy shares with her ancient ancestor is an uncanny resemblance. He quickly finds himself drawn to the feisty vixen. But can he ever forgive himself for losing Lucia of the past, and move forward with Lucy?

Lucy Brady was devastated to receive word of her aunt’s death. Her only joy, a family heirloom passed down from generation to generation. Inside the golden locket hides a crystal containing the essence of Hadrian. Even though warned to never say his name, she chalks it up to superstition and inadvertently summons an ancient Roman general who demands his freedom from her tyrannical bloodline. Deeming the general’s appearance a prank, Lucy agrees to grant his freedom—in lieu of sex for a fortnight. Will the next fortnight of passion be enough to keep Hadrian at Lucy’s side? Or will he choose absolute freedom from her bloodline?

Buy: To Wish Upon A Roman


Hadrian was infatuated by the witch’s sudden change. Her demeanor had gone from a scared rabbit to a cunning wolf as she slowly advanced in his direction. She looked ready to pounce.

Damn the gods.

He shook his head in frustration, swearing at his lack-wit brain. He assumed the dark woman with the strange clothing and heavy face paint had been Genevieve’s kin, but instead the innocent angel before him was the vile sorceress’s descendant. How could he have missed it? She even had the same violet pigment as Genevieve. He now knew for certain this pale beauty was his newest captor. “Release me.”

“You never answered me,” she purred prettily, taking slow deliberate steps toward him and emphasizing the sway of her hips.

Hadrian grunted. The witch recognized her powers already. She was another generation warned in advance; already knowing he couldn’t harm her physically as long as she controlled him.

Damn her smugness! He took a step back with each forward step she took. “Stay back, witch.”

He didn’t mean it. He felt himself harden with her approach. He hated her. Nay, he didn’t, but he should. Something about her perplexed him. She has her ancestor’s looks. Genevieve. His last step back was blocked by the loveseat. He thought to sidestep the smiling vixen, but a squared table blocked his path.

Curse her and her second sight! She has me purposely trapped!

The witch appeared to enjoy his uneasiness as she played cat and mouse. She obviously delighted in being the predator, moving in just the right way to keep him cornered. Her siren voice with its otherworldly quality beckoned him as she spoke. Aye, she was just as much the devil’s mistress as Genevieve.

“I ask you one more time, Hadrian Marias: Why should I release you?”

His pulse pounded in his ears. “It would be the honorable thing to do, milady. Seeing your family has held me prisoner for almost two millennia.”

“I see.” She dared to wink. “What’s in it for me?”

His paranoia threatened his temper. He felt the sudden need to hide from this enchantress. He would not make the same mistake again and trust a witch. No matter how beautiful she was or innocent she appeared, she was evil. Genevieve’s blood ran through her veins. “What do you want?” He finally managed to ask, hoping she didn’t hear the apprehension in his tone.

She threw her sultry head back and her laughter floated on the air and teased his defenses.

Devil’s Mistress…

She smirked. “In fourteen days, I will release you, but only if you become my sex slave and guarantee my satisfaction.”

Buy: To Wish Upon A Roman

How Does One Become a Courtesan?

Courtesan's Lover

Guest Post by Gabrielle Kimm, author of The Courtesan’s Lover

First of all, thank you so much for inviting me onto your blog!

Your question – ‘how does one become a courtesan?’ did make me smile.  I wondered at first how a classified ad might read:

Career Opportunities for the Broad Minded:

Thinking of making a fortune, and hoping to retire in luxury?  Do you have style and charm, sex-appeal and courage?  Is your sense of timing immaculate?  Prepared for anything?  Yes?  Then you might just be standing on the brink of an extraordinary and highly lucrative career as … a courtesan.  No formal qualifications required, though experience is preferred.  Lack of moral scruples advised.  Enthusiasm is a must. 

Being a little more serious, though, many Renaissance courtesans were in fact introduced to the profession by their mothers, who had most likely been courtesans themselves, and had hopes of being kept in their old age by their offspring in the lavish style to which they had become happily accustomed.  As it happens, Francesca, my eponymous courtesan, is an exception to this rule – as a devoted mother to her two daughters, she expresses her disgust at the thought of maternal procuring at one point in the book:

“Unlike me ,” she says, “(I discovered this life late, compared to most),  most courtesans are born to it – born into harlotry – like that little snake, Alessandra Malacoda, who, if I am to believe the Neapolitan gossips, was introduced to the delights of the bedchamber at the age of ten by her pimping whore of a mother.  No doubt La Malacoda has made her mamma proud of her.  And she plans, so I have been told, to be just as proud of her own daughter.  Hoping she’ll be kept in luxury in her old age, no doubt.  The child is four.  God! – the very thought makes me retch.”

In contrast to the more lowly street-walking prostitutes (or puttane), the courtesans never worked for pimps.  Those who had been introduced into the profession by their mothers would have had patrons procured for them by those mothers; others would have worked with, say, a manservant, and provided their own clientele.  Unwanted patrons were quickly dismissed, and so, to a large extent, a courtesan’s diary was filled only with those men she was happy to see and entertain.

Gabrielle KimmEven within the luxurious world of the high-class courtesan, though, there lurked the threat of danger and disease.  The great Veronica Franco, probably the best-known of the Renaissance Venetian courtesans (and subject of the film ‘Dangerous Beauty’), talked about this.  I include a quote from Franco before the start of The Courtesan’s Lover.  She says:

“  To expose yourself as prey to so many men, with the constant risk of being despoiled, robbed or killed; with the chance that one man, one day, may take from you everything you have acquired with many, over a long time;  to say nothing of the other dangers – of insult and contagious, frightful disease.  ”

Yes, it’s true that a courtesan in Renaissance times might not have faced the grueling terrors that an enslaved and drug-addicted modern sex worker is forced to face every day, and the courtesans may have lived lives that others might see as luxurious, but the bottom line was that they were selling sex, with all the inherent dangers that such a lifestyle brought with it.  On top of everything else, too, at this period in history, there lurked the terror of damnation – the courtesans knew that what they were doing, in the Church’s eyes, was a mortal sin.  Towards the end of The Courtesan’s Lover, at a point at which Francesca’s life seems to be falling in on her and crushing her, she says:

Behind all the tawdry trappings, I have to face the fact … that I’m nothing but a whore.  I earn my scudi on my back.  Strip me of my finery and I am no different from any street puttana.

What was the difference between a mistress and a courtesan?  This is a difficult one.  In  many ways the courtesans were businesswomen – astonishingly independent, acute, even feminist, businesswomen.  They may have slid into emotionally-charged affairs from time to time, and become to all intents and purposes mistresses of whichever man it happened to be; they may have become allied to one particular patron, to the exclusion of all others, for a protracted period; but in the end, they were at heart professional lovers.  I suppose you could sum it up by saying that any courtesan could be a mistress, but not every mistress could be a courtesan.  Does that make sense?

It’s been great fun exploring the world of the courtesan and discovering how extraordinary they were.  I suppose, that in our comparatively liberal, sexually-emancipated world, there is no need for creatures like courtesans any more, but I can’t help thinking, having spent such a lot of time in their company of at least one of them over the last couple of years, that life is perhaps a little less colourful for their loss.

I do hope you enjoy The Courtesan’s Lover – and thank you again for inviting me onto the blog!

Gaby x

Buy: The Courtesan’s Lover

Castello and Cafaggiolo

by Gabrielle Kimm, guest blogger and author of His Last Duchess

Thank you so much for inviting me onto your blog.  You ask about castles – I thought I’d tell you a bit about what I discovered when I went to Italy to research the locations for His Last Duchess.

I travelled to Ferrara with my sister, back in 2005, and we arrived in the city as dusk fell.  Despite the lateness of the hour, we simply couldn’t bear to wait until morning to go and find the Castello Estense, so, as soon as we had unpacked, we set out on foot, map in hand.   The Castello is situated right in the middle of the city, completely hemmed in by buildings, and you can’t see it from even quite a short distance away.  It came as a surprise – no, let’s be honest, a shock! – to walk down a narrow street, cross a busy road, turn a corner and be confronted with the enormous home of Alfonso d’Este, exactly as I had imagined it:  huge, eerily floodlit and sinister, surrounded by the black water of the moat.

We went back first thing next morning.

The Castello is big and red-brick, and square and bulky.  As it says in the novel, ‘the four great red towers … [glower] down at the city like scowling sentries’.   It was built in 1385 as a moated fortress, and at that time it was much more squat and featureless than it is now.  The Renaissance generations opened windows in the walls, added turrets and built balustrades and other prettifications, hoping that it would stop looking like a fortress, and would resemble the palace they so wanted it to be.

But, to my mind at least, it didn’t work.  It still looks like a fortress – but a fortress with a few twiddly decorations on it, like a knight in armour with a lacy bonnet on.   The interior has been beautifully restored, and a large section of it is open to visitors (the rest is municipal offices, though  – how sadly boring!).  You cross a heavy drawbridge, and go through an archway into the central courtyard, then the tour – not guided, but directed, one-way traffic through the restored apartments – takes you through a number of wonderful rooms – above ground are the huge formal rooms, frescoed and gilded and gorgeous, and below are the red-brick kitchens and … the dungeons.

These really freaked me out, I have to admit.  They are dark and louring, oppressive and depressing, each cell with a horrible iron door at least a foot thick.  The low, vaulted ceilings are covered in graffiti:  desperate ramblings written in candle-smoke by the poor unfortunate occupants of the cells.  I felt quite chilled.

The upper floors are no longer accessible to the public, though I’ll let you in on a secret … I sneaked up a wonderful spiral staircase, desperate to get a peek of the rooms where Alfonso and Lucrezia’s bedchamber apartments might have been.  I felt very naughty – although there were no actual ‘No Entry’ signs, it was so obvious that this was out of bounds.  But up I went anyway, and I peeped through the first door I came to.  Oh, how disappointing!  It was full of filing cabinets!  On my way back down, I was met by a very dour, square, angry-looking museum attendant, but I just chattered cheerfully and apologetically to her in English, of which she understood not a word, and scurried off out of sight as soon as I could.

A day or so later, we drove down over the mountains to Cafaggiolo, the summer residence of the Medici, some ten miles north of Florence.  This place is so different to the Castello – it is low and golden and welcoming, set in acres of Tuscan countryside.  We haltingly explained to the attendant that we were going to understand almost nothing of his guided tour, and, much to our delight, he said he was happy for us to make our own way around the house.  The rooms here are large and low, with heavy beamed ceilings.  Huge windows let in the Tuscan sun, and everywhere feels light and bright and airy.  A nearby waterfall can be heard pretty much throughout the house – a lovely sound effect, I found.

I was entranced by the inner courtyard, where in the novel Lucrezia and Giovanni crouch on their balcony, watching Alfonso’s first entrance into the story.  And the Cafaggiolo kitchens had a homely feel to them, after the great red-brick vaults at the Castello.  You can really imagine them bustling with noise, full of steam and smoke, and the smells of roasting meat and stewing fruit.

History was very kind to me, I reckon.  If I could have picked two locations to suit my story, I could never have bettered the two castles where my central characters actually lived.  Lucrezia’s childhood home is sunny and golden and welcoming and utterly delightful – and she leaves this, full of trepidation, to take up residence in a great, heavy, red-brick fortress.   These two places were simply perfect for the purpose!

There are some more pictures on my website –

Thank you again for inviting me onto your blog – I do hope you enjoy the book!   xx

Buy: His Last Duchess