Welcome to Episode 13 of the Art In Fiction Podcast!
Do you love Renaissance art? Then you won't want to miss my conversation with bestselling author Stephanie Storey about her two marvelous novels: Oil and Marble and Raphael, Painter in Rome, both listed in the Visual Arts category on Art In Fiction.
Learn about Stephanie's love of the creative process and her fascination with Michelangelo, Raphael and da Vinci, listen to her read from Raphael, Painter in Rome, and get advice about publishing and marketing.
Stephanie Storey's debut novel Oil and Marble was hailed as "tremendously entertaining" by The New York Times, has been translated into six languages, and is currently in development as a feature film by Pioneer Pictures. Stephanie's latest novel, Raphael, Painter in Rome was released in April, 2020, in conjunction with the 500th anniversary of Raphael's death.
Stephanie Storey has a degree in Fine Arts from Vanderbilt University and attended a PhD program in Art History before leaving to earn an MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College. She has also been a television producer for nearly 20 years in Los Angeles.
Press Play right now and be sure to check out Stephanie Storey's novels Oil and Marble and Raphael, Painter in Rome, both listed in the Visual Arts category on Art In Fiction.
Stephanie Storey's website: https://stephaniestorey.com/
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Hello and welcome. I'm Carol Cram, host of the Art In Fiction Podcast. This episode features my interview with Stephanie Storey, author of two marvelous novels set in the Italian Renaissance: Oil and Marble and Raphael, Painter in Rome, both listed in the Visual Arts category on Art In Fiction.
Stephanie Storey's debut novel Oil and Marble was hailed as "tremendously entertaining" by The New York Times, has been translated into six languages, and is currently in development as a feature film by Pioneer Pictures. Stephanie's latest novel, Raphael, Painter in Rome was released in April, 2020, in conjunction with the 500th anniversary of Raphael's death.
Stephanie Storey has a degree in Fine Arts from Vanderbilt University and attended a PhD program in Art History before leaving to earn an MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College. She has also been a television producer for nearly 20 years in Los Angeles for such shows as Alec Baldwin on ABC and the Emmy-nominated The Writer's Room on the Sundance Channel.
Welcome to the Art In Fiction Podcast, Stephanie.
Carol, thank you so much for having me. I'm delighted to be here because I love the idea that you focus on art in fiction as you do on your blog and on social. But I love it that that's what this podcast is about because those are my two favorite things.
Mine too. And actually both of your novels are perfect for Art In Fiction because of course they're about some of the greatest artists in the western world. You can't get much better than Michelangelo, da Vinci and Raphael.
I wanted to start by asking you about your latest novel, Raphael, Painter in Rome. Can you give us a little bit of a summary of the novel?
Sure. So I think everybody's really familiar with Michelangelo's Sistine Ceiling.
But oftentimes don't realize that at the same time Michelangelo was putting his masterpiece up on the ceiling of the Sistine, just down the hall in the Vatican, a younger, equally, maybe more, talented rival of his, a better looking, more beautiful, more handsome, more beloved rival, is just down the hall, putting his own masterpieces up on the walls of Pope Julius II's private rooms. And so this novel, Raphael, Painter in Rome, the primary focus of the plot is about the rivalry between Raphael and Michelangelo. But it is told only through the point of view of Raphael. So it's like he's sitting across the tavern table from you, giving you his version of events. And this is what really went down when Michelangelo and I went head to head in the halls of the Vatican.
And that's what I loved about it because it's in the first person so it's Raphael's voice. I actually listened to the audio version, which was just excellent because I really got a feel for Raphael as a person. He comes across as just so delightful.
Did your research reveal a lot about his personality or is a lot of that, you know, you made up?
Both. First of all, the Audible book, PJ Ochlan is fantastic. He also read Oil and Marble and he actually won an Audible award for his work with my Raphael.
He should have.
Which I think is so well deserved because I think he did a fantastic job. So anybody who wants to listen to it on Audible, PJ really hit it out of the park on that one.
So, as far as his personality goes, the sources on Raphael are interesting. He was not a prolific letter-writer like Michelangelo. He was not a poet like Michelangelo or like his own father. He didn't keep a, you know, these lengthy notebooks like Leonardo da Vinci did. He also wasn't old enough to basically dictate his biography like Michelangelo did late in his life. So, the sources that we have are basically Giorgio Vasari's biography of him as Vasari gives the biographies of so many of our most famous artists, including Leonardo and Michelangelo and Raphael. There's also this assumption that in Baldassare Castiglione's Courtier, The Book of the Courtier, that Castiglione is thinking of Raphael as his ideal courtier when he writes that book.
So I took that legend to be true, and so used a lot of what's in The Courtier as the basis for at least Raphael's public vision of himself. You know, the self he puts forward, not necessarily the self he's mumbling to in his head.
And then the other thing is I spent a lot of time with his drawings and his artwork, trying to find him. The biggest thing that shows up in contemporary accounts of him and the few letters we have, to me, particularly in the contemporary accounts of him, is he's funny, he's witty, he's charming. So those are the pieces that I tried very hard to latch onto. He's certainly more charming than I am in person.
Well, that's what comes across so, so well is how funny he is. And in the audio version that really comes out. You just got right into his skin and he was the kind of guy that you would like to go to the tavern with and have a beer or a glass of wine with. Whereas Michelangelo, maybe not so much. He's much more of a forbidding figure. I don't know what you think about that.
Well, yeah, I mean that is Michelangelo. Michelangelo was notoriously a grump. People do not like hanging out with him. He is not the most sociable person on the planet, although he did notoriously have some very close friends, and he does have very solid relationships with during his life. And he's very close to his family, but he's definitely a grump.
Whereas Raphael is notoriously everybody loves him, men and women, everybody wants to be him. Everybody wants to hang out with him. He is just consistently called charming and lovable. And so that's what I was aiming for. That was the hard part, to try to make him likable, even when, sometimes in the book, in my opinion, he's doing not so likable things, particularly toward the darker part of the novel, you know, toward the "all is lost" moments during the difficult parts of the book, to still make him extraordinarily charming, even while doing it.
I think we empathize with him so much because through it all, no matter what he does, he is committed to this ideal of beauty. And, you know, he is in pursuit of the perfect painting. No matter how sometimes unlikeable he was, although I actually never found him unlikeable, what redeems him is his pursuit of beauty. So what do you have to say about that, this whole idea of the creative process, of the pursuit of beauty as Raphael embodies it?
Well, anybody who spends any time with Raphael’s paintings, you know he worked really hard at trying to achieve perfection, I mean, everything about those paintings is just so perfect. And they're so, they are so beautiful. He's not aiming for strife or angst like Michelangelo is in his work. You know, Michelangelo is trying to capture some of the human angst in his work, whereas Raphael really is focused on these beautiful pictures and these beautiful images and making the world more beautiful than it perhaps sometimes is.
And that's the other place where I found his personality, is anybody who would spend that much time aiming toward beauty and perfection in their work would have to have that dedication to putting beauty out in the world in their real lives. You know, all the people I know who, who really focus on, on something about putting pretty things or beautiful things, or really putting goodness out into the world and their work, they oftentimes do the same thing in their personality. Now, not all the time, but oftentimes they do the same, they have the same personality.
I dunno, Raphael's paintings are beautiful and perfect. And so how could you not sink into that when trying to figure out who he was as a human being, by trying to figure out what that dedication would be like?
Exactly. And that, that's what you do so well. And that's also what was so inspiring about the novel as someone who writes novels myself and trying to infuse my own novels with something, that special something, I just found it really inspiring to really get into the skin, as I said, of a real living, breathing genius. So that was fantastic how you did that.
I do have an issue with the, with the real living, breathing genius thing.
Because I think too often we, as a culture, this is my own like big bone-to-pick soapbox. Okay. So, too often when we go into a museum, we go, Oh, this guy was a genius. He's separate from me. He's, he, this man or woman, well look what brilliance they created. I could never do that because they were, they were some creative genius that's untouchable.
And I just don't, flat don't believe that. I mean, not that I don't think that there's not a piece of talent, but the primary driver of genius, I think, is extraordinary hard work, determination, dedication to the craft, not to some genius bestowed by some divine force as Vasari would have us have it.
So that's how I feel about that particular term, that you're getting into the skin of someone who was really dedicated and stubborn and determined more than just divinely blessed by talent.
Actually, I'm glad you made that distinction because I do agree. Right. I, um, that, that is also what's compelling is how hard he works and that determination. So yes, good point. I get what you're saying and I, I believe that too. I actually, I don't know why I said creative genius 'cause really, I don't necessarily believe that, you know, someone gets a lightning bolt and boom.
It is hard work and incredible dedication and you bring that up with Michelangelo as well. But we'll, we'll talk about him in a minute.
I'm presuming you spent a lot of time in Italy. So when you're visiting the Vatican, how do you put yourself back 500 years ago? You know, when it's teeming with people. I've been to the Vatican several times and it's certainly not a restful experience shuffling through all those rooms. So how did you kind of get into the zone when you were there?
That's a good question. I guess, I don't know the answer to that, in a way. You go and you visit and you go to the room so that you know which wall everything's on and you know how big the room is and, you know spatially where everything is compared, like, those are sort of some of the physical notes you're mentally taking when you go as someone who's a novelist of this period.
You want to know what it smells like and, and all of that, but the feeling of transporting yourself 500 years, a lot of that's reading about that time period in a mag, you know, reading the Ross King version of Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling, and imagining yourself there. I don't know what that element is. I think my mom has sort of looked at me like I'm an insane person sometimes. Like, how do you do that? Ma, I don't know. It just happens. Just happens. It's just an imaginary process.
Now, the one thing that, as I'm saying this out loud, I did spend a lot of time. At the Vatican, you can go and take virtual tours of portions of the Vatican, particularly of the Sistine and of the Raphael rooms. And those, you can spend time in just the quiet, empty rooms by doing it virtually, in a way, you know, so I would put it on and I would wander through the rooms and that, you know, there's not noise and there's not people and there's not pushing around. It is this weirdly, this really quiet space when you're doing it online. I think that's maybe part of it. And, and I don't even know how I feel about virtually visiting these places, but in the aspect of having already been there and then trying to revisit it to look at a particular detail or to figure out where exactly the door was or something, I do find myself going there in a different way that's a little bit more private.
You know, in a way, moving digitally like we all have during the pandemic, it's more intimate in a weird way, even though you're separated by a screen. You know, when you're on a, you're on a digital meeting, you're looking directly at that person. And when you're interacting with a piece of artwork on a screen, oftentimes it's much more intimate. I mean, think about how much closer you can get to the Mona Lisa online than you can at the frickin' Louvre where there's millions of people gathering around.
I'm really glad you brought that up because I think if authors are doing historical fiction, well, any kind of fiction, this ability to do virtual tours, which is getting bigger and bigger now, probably because of the pandemic, or at least it's getting, it's expanding, is actually a godsend. I use it all the time. And I'm, so I'm really glad you mentioned that because it does give you that intimacy. It's a really wonderful tool. I actually think that it's a great thing to be able to revisit, you know, the Raphael rooms, just on your own zooming in all of that.
It's like, wow, because a few years ago we couldn't do that. You had to go, you had to see it there and then look at static pictures, but now we can actually immerse ourselves. So I think for novelists, this is a huge boon.
Yeah, I think it's really interesting, but I think one of the words you used is key, which is to revisit, you know, I don't want people deciding, well, I've seen it online, therefore I don't have to go in person because seeing, like, the Sistine in person, the virtual tour does not compare. Seeing Raphael's Transfiguration in that room where the lighting is just, the thing glows, that painting glows in that room in the Vatican.
There's nothing to compare seeing these pieces in person as there is online. But I agree with you that the revisitation thing is, and people who can't afford to go and to travel. I think it's, it's unbelievably helpful to giving us all access to works that we otherwise don't have access to.
And it's getting bigger and bigger. I'm finding it quite amazing, actually, how many places I can go. I'm writing a novel set in Paris. And I actually put on Walking through Paris videos on my other screen while I write just out of the corner of my eye, just to kind of remind myself, and they're all shot before the pandemic, so I'm thinking why are all you people sitting together so closely?
I feel that about everything I watch now.
Yeah, no kidding. Isn't it weird. The rivalry between Michelangelo and Raphael plays a huge role in this novel. Was there actually a rivalry between them?
Yeah. Raphael is actually Michelangelo's most famous rival. I mean, the, the Michelangelo versus Leonardo rivalry that I sort of uncovered in Oil and Marble is known, but it's actually not nearly as well known as the Michelangelo-Raphael rivalry. During the Sistine years Bramante famously did try to get the Sistine for Raphael. You know, a few times there was this push to try to get Raphael the ceiling.
So they were definitely going at it in the halls of the Vatican. And then late, right before Raphael dies, Raphael dies so young at 37, but right at the very end of Raphael's life, he's painting the Transfiguration, arguably his most famous altarpiece, I think arguably the most perfect painting on the planet, his Transfiguration is technically in competition, is a competition altarpiece, with a different altarpiece called the Raising of Lazarus by Sebastiano del Piombo. And the person who designed Sebastiano del Piombo's altarpiece is Michelangelo. Everybody in the art world at the time thinks of it as a competition between Raphael and Michelangelo. Michelangelo's just using Sebastiano del Piombo sort of as his mouthpiece for their competition between those two altarpieces.
So yes, during their lifetime, thousand, thousand, thousand percent, they had this very heated rivalry. Michelangelo does not appreciate Raphael very much. He makes it publicly clear.
Wonderful that you mentioned all of these paintings, because one of the things I loved is that on your website, you've got the images of the paintings that are mentioned in the novel. So when you read the novel, you can go and see all the paintings. I actually didn't know that when I was listening to your novel.
So I was just going to Google, but that's, that's really a wonderful service that you've done, that people can go and say, Oh, what does the School of Athens look like, to remind themselves? Or if they don't know. So I'm, I'm going to put that in the show notes that you've got that, because that really is a, a great add-on that you've done.
Well, thank you. Yeah. When I wrote the novel at first, and there is still a note in the hardcover that says, go to Google to go look these things up. And then as we were preparing the ebook, my editor called and said, you know, it would take a lot of work and we don't have much time because we're about to finalize the ebook. But do you want to add in links to all of the paintings as they come up to the ebook? And so I did.
And when I did that, so I had to create the pages on my own website anyway, but, you know, I wanted the images I wanted. I wanted to be able to show you exactly what I wanted to show you. And so then I did create that page. So yes, if you go to my homepage, on the homepage or anywhere there's a banner at the top, just click on it and it will take you right to a page that lets you follow along with all the images, which I love because I got so obsessed with all the paintings in this.
You know, I'm such an art history person, but there were so many great works. And there were so many amazing works that he was influenced by. He was such a brilliant student of the history of art himself. And he really did build off of everyone who came before him. And so I wanted him to be name-dropping pictures and painters all the time, because that's what he did.
He was constantly doing that in his work, constantly quoting other artists. He was sort of constantly name-dropping these other huge masters that he considered himself following in the footsteps of. So I wanted to be able to include all those paintings and it can be a bit much for people who are not art history nerds like me.
Well, and me too. I loved it. So that leads me to my next question. Why the Renaissance? Your background is in fine arts. You actually were doing a PhD in art history, weren't you.
Briefly, I was briefly in a PhD program in Art History in the Italian Renaissance. My specialty was in the Italian Renaissance. I did not stay. Academics don't like it when you make stuff up.
No. So why the Renaissance, like what is it about the Renaissance that obviously totally compels you to want to write about them?
I think it's because, so when I was in college, I was in an art history program at Vanderbilt. I was both a painter and an art historian. I was studying both. So the art department put together a study abroad program at the University of Pisa. And it was the first time that Vanderbilt had had an Italian abroad program. And so I signed up immediately. We were going to go study art history in Italy.
And so I go to Pisa, which, you know, if you've been there, you know, it's a 30, 45 minute train ride from, from Florence. And so that first weekend, my fellow students and I hopped on a train and it was my first time in Florence. And I saw the David and I think my world changed.
It was so astonishing to me how giant it is, how gorgeous it is, how it comes out of a piece of marble. And then that statue at the end of that hall, the hallway of the museum of the Academia are lined with Michelangelo's unfinished slaves.
Oh, I love those.
They're so amazing. Yes.
You see his process. You see what the David looked like or would have looked like as it came to life.
It's such an amazing museum. I know, I just love walking by all of those stones with half-done figures coming out, and then you see the David at the end. It's miraculous, well, no wonder you had an epiphany.
So I just, I just had this moment and then I went to a bookstore and I picked up a copy of Irving Stone's The Agony and the Ecstasy, and then we go to Rome and I see the Pietà and I see the Sistine. And then I go on a pilgrimage to see every Michelangelo on the planet. And then I just start reading everything about Michelangelo I can.
So the Italian Renaissance is true, but truthfully, I think the Italian Renaissance is a spin-off for me because of my personal obsession with a guy by the name of Michelangelo.
And you write about that period, what, from 1500 to what, about 1510, where all three were active: da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael. It's an amazing period. It's funny, because actually my favorite period is 150 years earlier, but I obviously loved the Renaissance as well. How, how could you not, right?
Well, I mean, everybody gets obsessed with their own people in their own particular things that draw them into an era. Although my real obsession, and again, I think this goes back to, it's my way in through Michelangelo, right? Michelangelo is such a unique person in his determination to create these masterpieces and defy his family.
And then even though he claims he hates to paint, he paints masterpieces. It's that creative spirit of him that I'm drawn to. So that stays true for me, whether you're talking about this particular time period or any other time period where artists create things. I am particularly interested in that creative process and why artists dedicate themselves in the way they do to their art.
And I just think Michelangelo happens to be sort of the paragon example for me, you know, of that creative dedication.
Well, and this is why I really enjoy your books because the whole idea about the creative process is what prompted me to develop Art In Fiction to begin with, because I'm also fascinated by the creative process and how creativity is so important. Art is so important in our world.
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And now back to the show.
There are lots of passages I actually really like reading from Raphael, but I'm just going to read the prologue because it is the way in. It's the piece that I wrote before I figured the story out. This is the voice that was in my head. This is the voice that I knew I had to write this book, was this prologue.
The rest of it, the story, and in fact, when I was going to write the book, I thought, do I actually need the prologue? Or is it just setting the voice in my own head? But I decided to leave it because, because it is him, it is his voice. And it does set up why he's telling this to you.
Prologue Rome, March 1520:
Why does Michelangelo always get to be the hero?
A struggling sculptor, not trained in the art of fresco, forced by a temperamental Pope to abandon his precious marble and paint a wretched ceiling, overcomes agony and obstacles to create a divine masterpiece. . .
Sì, certo, you're moved by the story. I'm moved by it.
But you don't honestly believe that he painted that ceiling while lying on his back, do you? And how would he crawl in and out—his body only an armlength from the ceiling—without smearing the paint all the time? And how would he have moved? Wriggled about on his shoulder blades and hindquarters? Perhaps once or twice, when he was up against a particularly steep curve of a spandrel, he had no choice but to lie on his back for a few moments, but let's bury the myth right now. Michelangelo painted—like the rest of us—standing up. Don't believe me? Look at his own drawings. He sketched himself painting that ceiling, head tilted back, arms stretching overhead, standing on his feet. So, no, Michelangelo was not some subjugated hero, forced to lie on his back by an intransigent pope.
I'm not angry with him for the story. I only wish I'd thought of it.
Tell me, per favore, that you don't believe that he hates to paint. Yes, he repeats the lie oft as a Nicene Creed. but that doesn't make it true. During the years when he was painting the Sistine—not carving any marble at all—he still insisted on signing his letters “Michelangelo, sculptor in Rome,” as though he hates to paint so much that he's incapable of calling himself a painter. But if you ever walked into the Sistine on a quiet Tuesday morning and looked up at those colors?
Santa Madonna, those colors. Were you moved to tears too? Now, tell me that he could’ve painted such a thing while hating it. Is that what you tell your children? Find something you hate, force yourself to do it and Ecco! A masterpiece!
I know what people say about me. They say Raphael Santi of Urbino is the ideal courtier: polite, generous, humble. They say I was born with such happy countenance that nothing ruffles me. They say my good looks reflect the beauty on the inside. They say my talent comes easily; they say everything comes easily. But don't, don't strip me of my humanity because I'm good at playing a part. You do it too, I’ll wager, put on a smile sometimes even when you’re feeling foul, so don't deny me those same basic human talents. In real life, no one could be as generous and charming and loyal as I pretend to be. No one.
You imagine me—if you imagine me at all—the way he describes me, don't you? Standing in the background, easy to forget, an easy rival to vanquish. When I look back on those years, I picture the events the way he tells them too: him in the center, me in the corner.
Maria Vergine, that's what I do, isn't it? I mean, all he does is make himself the hero of his own story—can I blame him for that?—but why do I insist on making him the hero of mine? How can I expect anyone else to say I'm the greatest painter in history, if I can't say so myself? Is there a version where I get to be the hero or does he end the victor every time?
And that is the voice in my head that kicked it all off.
That is fantastic. I just so enjoyed that. I was totally taken back to listening to the novel. As I said, he's just such a great character and I can feel how much fun you had writing this novel. It just feels like you were enjoying getting yourself into Raphael's head and writing from his point of view.
I am glad that you felt that because I did have the best, the greatest time writing this book, because he is so entertaining.
Yes. I felt that this was even more fun, in a way, than Oil and Marble, which I totally enjoyed as well, but kind of a different experience.
Very different experience. I was very nervous about this one because of the first person, because of trying to get into that character, because of trying to make the point of view so strong, I think it's a very different experience, but I, I thoroughly enjoyed both of them.
Oh yes. Of course. Well, you took a risk with the Raphael one. And that was very brave and it paid off because as I said, it's incredibly entertaining, but it's also elucidating. It's also interesting. You know, you not only learn about his art, but you also enjoy the process.
So that, of course, that's what we're trying to do as historical novelists, isn't it? We're not historians per se. We're trying to bring it to life.
Tell me if this is true for you. I think I'm trying to get people interested in the real history. Like, I'm trying to spark the interest, so then they will go read some historian's book or go to a museum or right? Is that our job?
One of the greatest compliments is when people say, Oh, you know, thanks to your book, I went to Tuscany or I listened to such and such a piece of music or whatever, depending on the book. And I think, yeah, that's kind of what I was hoping would happen, that you want to share your love of this incredible art with other people.
And their way in is through fiction.
Yeah, because it's a story, right? Because you're drawn into the stories and the characters in a way that straight up history doesn't have an availability to do because you have to stay true to the facts and we get to make up the thoughts and the dialogue.
Exactly. It's a win, win. So, what are you working on now? What's your next one?
So it's still art historical fiction.
Because I hope to write that until, you know, I hope to be like Michelangelo. Michelangelo was still carving marble two days before he died when he was almost 89.
So I hope to be just writing art historical fiction until I die, but I have left for now. Probably this is the reason why I was, I was pushing back against a little bit of just the Italian Renaissance. I have left the Italian Renaissance for now.
I've changed eras and countries to head to a different period of art history that I have equally been obsessed with since I was a kid. And one of those moments in art history where I've always felt like but we skipped this part too much. We should be more focused on this part, like I was with the Michelangelo-Leonardo rivalry, but I'm not saying much else about it yet.
Because you know how it is when you're writing a book, you're, you're in that place. I have a draft. I am, I'm working very hard on it, but it is still living inside of me too much to be ready to talk about it yet.
I totally get that. So can we know the era or is, do you want to wait for that? And that's fine. I totally get it.
Here's what I'll tell people. Some people who have been following my social media over the last year or so have some pretty good hints.
Okay. Follow Stephanie Storey on social media and you'll get some hints. I can hardly wait now.
Well, this is the thing with historical novelists. You don't have to just keep with the same era over and over again. You can go anywhere. It's a, there's such a vast palette that you can draw from. This is what I like about this type of work. I mean, my latest book, isn't even historical fiction. So, you know.
Really? You're leaving historical fiction?
Wow. That's awesome.
The latest one is actually, it's still got some art, but it's set in Paris and it's more sort of a contemporary women's fiction. It's fun.
Oh, okay. So wait, so can I ask you a quick question because I've been thinking about since, since I'm leaving the Italian Renaissance behind, I've been thinking about what connects my three stories now, that makes them sort of uniquely mine. Because I think we all have things we're obsessed with.
And I know that mine is this literal creative struggle in the arts of, of the great people who really changed and had giant impacts on art history and therefore on our world, what their creative process is like and how they manage to make such an impact with their art and that creative process, regardless of the time period.
Do you know what it is about your particular books that connect each other? Like, like what connects this contemporary piece to your historical pieces?
Well, the first three novels were actually all about women in the arts. They're not actually a trilogy because they take place in totally different eras and about different arts. So I've got visual art, music and theater, but the fourth one, yeah, it is actually quite a departure.
I'm not sure that it does relate to, to the first three. Now I have to think about that. All I know is that this was a novel I wrote quite a while ago and when the pandemic hit, I wanted to get it back out again because it's funny and it's light and it's about a cookbook author that goes to Paris and all these things happen.
And I just wanted something fun to kind of counterbalance what the world was at that point. So I don't really know if it has that much to do with the other three. We'll find out.
That's awesome. It is interesting how much the pandemic is changing the way we all approach our rating and our work and our art, I think.
Oh, absolutely. Uh, we, we don't know what the ramifications will be. It's a pretty remarkable time in history. So you're in the middle of writing a novel right now. Can you describe a little bit about the process that you go through to write a novel?
People keep asking me and you emailed me this question. I've had many other people ask me, am I a pantser or a planner or whatever?
Yes. A plotter or a pantser.
First of all, whoever these people are, who just sit down and start writing novels, I don't get it.
Yeah. I don't either.
I have way too much history and timelines and events I have to hit at just the right moment in just the right order to be as true to the historical record as I can be. I can't just sit down and start writing. Like, I gotta have all that plotted out, so that I don't get, but I will say that even though I plan a lot, I also, I think like every writer in the world, you discover so much when you're writing that first draft.
So I plan and I plan and I plan and I plan, but then it's still like walking into a dark room and finding the details when you actually sit down to write the draft and then that first draft is horrible.
Because it always is. It's just, it makes no sense and nothing holds together and you're like, Oh my gosh, I'm a terrible writer. This is never going to work. I can't write another one. And then you start the revision process and 512 years later, you're done with that initial process.
I know, it amazes me and every author I talk to says this, it doesn't get any easier. You're on your third novel. I would imagine it's no easier than the first one. Probably harder.
I started to say it in some ways it's harder because now there's expectation.
I thought no one would read Oil and Marble. And although I love The New York Times for giving me, like, I got a rave New York Times review the two days before it came out in, in the Sunday Book Review. And I love The New York Times for it. But that New York Times review wrecked me for years because I was like, well, I can't do it again.
I know, isn't that funny? That's what we want but then when we get it, it's like, oh my goodness, you mean you took me seriously? Oh oh!
Right. Woops! I thought my mom and her book club were going to read this book.
Exactly! What is wrong with us, eh?
This is the artist's psyche that I love. Like, I love looking at that in these great artists who have changed the world. I love exploring those weird neuroses we all have.
Yes. Well, me too, because that's basically what my novels were about.
So new authors are always interested in how to get published. Can you tell us about your publishing story?
You know, I think the biggest thing about my publishing story is I, so I had a, I have an MFA in creative writing and then I went out to Hollywood and I produced TV for 15 years before Oil and Marble came out, which, the great thing about it is, is it gave me this extraordinarily tough internal critic. And I was really hard on myself before I sent anything to an agent.
I mean, I think I've, I think I've seven novels in a filing cabinet, like we all do, but I really held my feet to the fire as far as I'm not sending anything out until I am quite sure that it is of publishable quality and of high publishable quality.
So I just waited and waited and waited. I mean I was 40 years old by the time I sold my first novel. I just waited. I waited a long time. And then, so then by the time I sent out five blind query letters to my top five agents that I wanted, I had done research on, these people actually represent people at this point in their career and you know, they're approachable and they represent the right kind of stuff.
And I got responses back from all five, requests and material from all five, and signed with my top choice. So, but man, I legit waited until I was quite sure that Oil and Marble was, was good enough.
That's fantastic advice for authors. Don't be in a hurry, actually do the work. Make sure it's perfect, as perfect as you can make it, before you start sending it out. That's a really good story.
Well, and then people are going to revise it anyway. Like, even after you send it out, I did a revision with my agent, I did a revision with an editor. I did a revision with publishing, like, you're still going to go through 50,000 revisions even though you think it's perfect.
But the people I caution against is, if you really want to have a writing career, really want to have a legitimate career, don't rush and go, well, I couldn't get anybody to read it so I'm going to put it out myself. Be careful about that. I'm not saying don't, but be careful about it and make sure that that's really what you want to do.
I agree. It should be a choice. I'm actually a big fan of indie. I consider myself a hybrid.
I am too. Yeah.
Yeah. And I think there's, there's a lot to be said for indy. But quality is number one. You know, people ask me, well, how do you get published? I said, you write a good novel first.
And if you choose indy, great, but it's a choice.
And understand the choice you're making. Mainly, understand that this book got passed over because of stupid business reasons. It didn't get passed over because it wasn't good enough.
Make sure that what you're putting out is good because you don't want people reading your early drafts. I'm so glad no one gets to read the books that are in my filing cabinet.
Exactly. So as you've answered my question, but one last advice. What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
One is the thing that everybody knows, right? Write every day, even if it's only a sentence, but I think more and more as I'm writing further and further, I think when I was younger, I didn't trust my gut enough in, in what I was putting on the page.
And I didn't trust my gut when it was screaming at me, Hey, look at that. That's not working. I was more likely to ignore that voice in my head, hey, that's not working and think, Oh, that's good enough.
Don't ignore the voice in your head that's saying, Hey, that one thing's not working. Go back and make it better. So listen to that screaming voice in your head, even though it's exhausting and you're on your 1,286th draft, listen to the voice in your head telling you that the place that you fear is not quite working, if you have that fear in the back of your head it's not quite working, go make it better.
Then you're usually right.
Yeah. You usually are.
Yeah. Don't, don't cut the corners. I think new writers think that there's sort of a magic bullet that it really doesn't matter, they're going to fix it later. Yeah, no.
Yes. There will be edits later, but you need to have it as good as you can get, in that moment, is what we said.
Yes. So it's probably the same advice I'd already rambled about before, but that's what's coming to me as I'm, as I'm getting later in my career is, listen to that voice now because you're going to have to fix it eventually anyway, so do it right.
Get it right.
Actually, just one more thing and I know you do need to go. A lot of authors, well, I think all of us, have to do our own marketing, whether we're traditionally published or not. So what are some of your tips for marketing your novels?
Lots, right? So I was a member of the media for, I've been a member of the media for 20 years. So I'm the person you'd call to put yourself on the, on the TV and on, on television, like, to book yourself on a television show, I'm oftentimes the person you call.
On the shows that I produce. I think one is, I know a lot of people think they have to hire some big, fancy publicist. You can. And I certainly do the work for organizations sometimes, but be careful about it because if you hire somebody, you're the person who's going to be so much more invested in selling your work.
You know who your audience is, you know what the story is. You're going to go out and do a thousand times more hustle than any publicist out there is going to do. So don't be afraid to embrace that and go out and do it and call the venue you want to be at. And be honest with them, tell them, I'm the author.
And I'm, you know, and I'm calling and if you need me to hook you up with my publicist in my publishing house, I can, but this is what I want to do. Don't be afraid to promote yourself. You have to give yourself permission, I guess, to promote your work.
Yes. Good advice. And I have found that most of the success I've had is when I did it myself. I haven't had that much luck with publicists. Not that they're not useful.
But I think, yeah, you're, ultimately, you know your work the best and you're your own best marketer.
And you know your audience. And you know, when, when that news story comes up and you're like, Oh my gosh, I can be addressing this news story in the news. You know, that more than anybody else, you know, where your expertise comes into play. And so you're the best person to promote yourself.
So I guess just give yourself permission. I don't know. I teach whole, like, long classes on this stuff, so I have lots of thoughts, but then I think that's it.
Just give yourself permission to go be your own best advocate.
Fantastic. Thank you so much for chatting with me today, Stephanie. This has been a lot of fun. I was really looking forward to meeting you, albeit virtually, because I did enjoy your books so much. And as I said, they totally fit into Art In Fiction.
Carol, I thoroughly enjoyed this conversation.
I love what you're doing at Art In Fiction. I'm going to admit that I'm now going to go look you up on Google and buy all of your books because I mean on Amazon or Barnes and Noble or wherever they are, or at my local indie, because that's what we all should be doing, because we have the same perspective on the creative process and on how all of this stuff works. So I've thoroughly enjoyed this conversation.
Thank you so much for having me.
I've been speaking with Stephanie Storey, the bestselling author of two novels set in Renaissance Italy. You'll find both Oil and Marble and Raphael, Painter in Rome listed in the Visual Arts category on Art in Fiction at www.artandfiction.com.
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