In my last post, I wrote about how I found the voice of Time Traveler Tours thanks to a perceived failure. But the learning did not end there. Not by a long shot. It took another misstep en route to preparing our newest title, IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF GIANTS, to make us realize we had not yet cracked the code as to who our characters should be, and what stories they should tell.
It was another lesson learned by trial and error on our way to developing our mission and vision for Time Traveler Tours & Tales...
What happened was this...
When Mary Hoffman first pitched me her idea for a Time Traveler Tour to Renaissance Florence, her intention was to rewrite her book, DAVID: AN UNAUTHORISED AUTOBIOGRAPHY, to a size better suited to our condensed format. But this was more easily said than done.
David is an 80K-word work of historical fiction. TTT wanted a factual tale of 8-10K words. Not only is that a lot of darlings to kill, but Mary’s narrator, Gabriele, was an invented character. Although the research suggests he could have been, he is the stuff of fiction.
By this time, I had already written and published BEWARE MADAME LA GUILLOTINE, but my next two stories – to Versailles in the era of monarchy and Napoleonic Paris – were not tripping easily off the proverbial tongue. In both cases, I had invented the narrators and plopped them in non-fictional settings. One editor suggested this might be the problem: that by using characters who had not actually lived through the events they were narrating, I had compromised the authenticity of each tale.
But I’d poured years into each of these stories already. I was attached to my darlings and convinced they should work to capture my readers’ imaginations. Perhaps the problem was with me. Perhaps a more experienced writer could work the right magic.
That’s how I came to give Mary the thumbs up to let Gabriele, her imagined model for Michelangelo’s David, narrate our factual tour through Renaissance Florence. Fortunately, she realized much more quickly than I did that Gabriele really wasn’t up for the task.
Thus began the hunt for the perfect tour guide for
IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF GIANTS...
It is a little known fact that Michelangelo went into hiding in fear for his life in August of 1530. For 446 years historians knew that he’d fallen on the wrong side of the Medici family; they knew that he’d gone underground to escape possible execution; they knew that he was missing for between three weeks and three months. But no one knew where, nor how he'd managed to survive.
Then, in 1976, 10 years after the historic 1966 flooding of the Arno River, the mysterious hiding place was found. During a cleanup effort to finally shovel away what remained of the drenched and ruined coal supply stored beneath the Medici Chapel’s New Sacristy, a worker struck one of the walls of the room with his shovel. All at once, a four-centuries-old layer of plaster fell away, revealing drawings and doodles that were very clearly by the hand of Michelangelo!
This was obviously the best dramatic hook for the story. But once he’d been pardoned and allowed to come back into the light, Michelangelo covered the evidence of his imprisonment to protect his protectors. He took his secret, and theirs, to the grave. That’s why for 446 years we only ever knew that he had been hiding, not where.
There was only one person, therefore, who could divulge the details of the master artist’s 1530 plight: Michelangelo himself!
As with Charlotte’s story, IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF GIANTS practically wrote itself once we’d discovered the right character to tell the tale. That’s when we realized that our Time Traveler Tours are best led and narrated by real historical figures – whether well-known, like Michelangelo, but with a new story to tell, or less-known, like Charlotte, who played a key role of one of history’s most seminal events.
Real people telling factual tales through 1st-person storytelling.
This is our mandate, and our foundation. It is how we aim to ensure that no one says, "History is boring!" ever again. It is how we promise to be the media brand that parents, teachers, and readers can trust.
That’s why, in February of last year, I was back in Paris and Versailles story-hunting for new characters for LEGEND OF THE PLANT HUNTERS and EMPIRE OF THE DEAD. And why TTT&T Rights & Opportunities Agent, Oliver Latsch, spent two days in Berlin just this week – prior to attending the Frankfurt Book Fair – searching for the voice of our Cold War tour and tale to come.
More on that journey – and story – next week.