Today I'm hosting a guest blog from Edale Lane, who talks about the reserach behind her Italian Renaissance f/f superhero historic adventure Merchants of Milan.
One thing about historical fiction–the author must do her research! Fantasy you create, contemporary you live, but historical requires hours upon hours of research. I’d love to say I whisked off on a plane for Italy and toured all the historic sites, saw the artists’ masterpieces up close, but sadly that was not an option. Instead, I explored hundreds of websites souring for each detail I needed for a scene.
Merchants of Milan is set in 1502 shortly after Leonardo da Vinci left for France. Leonardo and his work was a focal point of this novel as the central character, Florentina de Bossi, grew up learning from him as her father served as his assistant. While Florentina and her father are fictional characters, it was common for Master Leonardo to have an assistant or two and several apprentices at any given time, and a minor character, Cesare da Sesto, was an actual student of his who was recorded to be one of the artists to paint replicas of the Last Supper. Unlike what I did in Heart of Sherwood incorporating a cast of historical figures into the story, most characters in Merchants of Milan are fictional, with the notable exceptions of political rulers and generals.
I knew I wanted Leonardo da Vinci to be central (although the reader never meets him in this book) and Milan needed to be at war. Therefore, my preliminary research was aimed at selecting the right year. I chose Milan, even though Florence boasted more art (and don’t worry, our characters will visit that great city before the series ends), because of its wealth and importance to trade. Italy, though not a unified country yet for a few hundred years, was where cities and towns grew first in Europe thrusting it out of the feudal Middle Ages and into the era of knowledge and advancement known as the Renaissance. It was the wealth of the merchant class that paid the artists and architects, financed voyages of exploration, and built great universities. While these powerful men (and a few women) were not technically nobility, in the Italian city-states they were regularly richer and more influential than the counts, barons, dukes, and so forth. Additionally the Italian city-states from time to time enjoyed a type of representative democracy not envisioned or allowed in other parts of Europe.
Researching Leonardo da Vinci was a labor of love. My mother introduced me to the great master at a young age and I have always admired him. Florentina, who watched and learned from Leonardo, kept some of his sketches and used ideas from his inventions to create her own arsenal. The flying machine was one of Leonardo’s unrealized passions; Florentina combined elements from his flying machine, his parachute, and the parasol to create her “wings.” She also took ideas from da Vinci’s early take on a Gatling gun to improvise a multi-fire crossbow. He was knowledgeable in the medical field as well so she learned about potions, chemicals, drugs, and first aid. History does not record that Leonardo had discovered the lost formula for Greek Fire, but it is highly probably that he did just on principle but did not write it down lest it fall into the wrong hands. The story also includes little-known facts about the Last Super and a peep into da Vinci’s character.
Researching the politics was not so enjoyable, but equally important to setting the stage. The ruling family of Milan, the Sforzas, had brought da Vinci to the city and commissioned great building and art projects. Milan flourished economically under their policies, but in 1500 Milan’s army was defeated by France, who was competing with Spain to gobble up the rich Italian city-states. The reins of power were passed to the French, and the Milanese were now expected to support French armies against Spain. Fortunately, none of the fighting actually reached the city of Milan and commerce continued unhindered.
The plot also hinged on historical research. At that time period in Italy wealthy merchants and bankers held the role that oligarchs do today, wielding their power in an almost mafia type style, and the vendetta was an important part of the culture. They did not have police forces as we do today; instead it was up to the family--traditionally a father, brother, or son–-to avenge a wrong done to one of its members. Florentina was an only child and a girl, so Don Benetto thought he acted with impunity when he dispatched her father. While women, particularly of the upper class, had more rights and power in Italy than most countries in Europe, they were still not expected or allowed to engage in most activities designated for men. Therefore, Florentina, an only child, found it necessary to create a disguise, a secret identity with which to carry out the family vendetta. Thus the Night Flyer was born!
How does a lesbian romance fit into the time period? Renaissance Italians of education and prominence prided themselves on being Humanists, enlightened individuals who took their cue from the knowledge and wisdom of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Since Classical Greek society (and to a lesser but still notable extend the Romans) saw no problem at all with same-sex relationships–as long as a man had a wife to grant him legitimate offspring and she performed that duty acceptably–neither did the sophisticated Humanist. However, the Catholic Church did frown upon such relationships and society at large gossiped and may exclude people they found to be too unsatisfactory. Of course if one was rich or important enough, people looked the other way. Homosexuality and bisexuality were fairly common and accepted within the artist community; no one cared as long as their paintings or sculptures were first rate.
Setting the scene also required hours of research. I wanted to make sure every plant, every piece of furniture, meal, and article of clothing was correct for the time and place, along with geography and climate information. Fortunately, we have the internet! As for language usage, that was much easier to accomplish for Heart of Sherwood because it was set in England. I had no problem locating terms and expressions even for the 12th century, but Italy… that’s a whole different language. Therefore, I sprinkled in a few familiar Italian words and tried to steer clear of words and phrases that sound too modern. They would have had slang back then too, but that was harder to pin down. I selected “dribble” and “pinnacle” because the terms are old enough and they seemed to fit. As for profanity, all the colorfulisms of today were in full use during the 16th century.
Having earned a master’s degree in history, I am no stranger to research. It is my goal to make every aspect of the story as authentic as possible, enveloping the reader in the setting, educating as well as entertaining–even when giving a girl wings and teaching her to fly!
Blog Tour Promotion
Edale Lane has a new FF historical romance out, book one of the Night Flyer Trilogy: Merchants of Milan.
Three powerful merchants, two independent women in love, one masked vigilante.
Florentina, set on revenge for her father’s murder, creates an alter-ego known as the Night Flyer. Madelena, whose husband was also murdered, hires Florentina as a tutor for her children and love blossoms between them. However, Florentina’s vendetta is fraught with danger, and surprising developments threaten both women’s lives.
Merchants of Milan is the first book in Edale Lane’s Night Flyer Trilogy, a tale of power, passion, and payback in Renaissance Italy. If you like gadgets and gismos, rich historical background, three-dimensional characters, and fast-paced action with a slow-boil lesbian romance, then you are sure to love this series. Buy this one of a kind novel today and let the adventure begin!
Edale is giving away a $20 Amazon gift card with this tour. For a chance to win, enter via Rafflecopter: a Rafflecopter giveaway
In the next instant Maddie placed a caressing hand to her face, leaned in, and kissed her. Although she had been anticipating this very possibility for hours, it came on her as swift and unforeseen as a summer storm. The sensual heat of those urgent lips melded to hers ignited something deep within Florentina’s core that sprung to life for the very first time and exploded throughout her being, a sensation so phenomenal, so novel that she had no context in which to place it. Breathless, her mind went totally blank, and she simply savored the moment.
When Madelena withdrew she whispered, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to overstep.”
“Sorry?” Florentina’s heart sank and her head spun. How could she be sorry? “Why? I’m not.”
“You’re not?” Maybe Maddie was as uncertain as she, as overcome with raw emotion and not knowing how to express it. “It’s just that–and I have contemplated this–with me being your employer and all, I don’t want you to expect you must do something you aren’t comfortable with. I would never pressure you-”
It was Florentina’s turn to be impulsive. She silenced Maddie by repeating the gesture, tasting again those full, cherry lips that flooded her mind, body, and soul with sensations. When it broke, they gazed into each other’s eyes looking for confirmation. “I understand I am only a servant in your household.”
“Don’t say that!” Maddie replied firmly. “That is not how I view you. Please, Fiore. How can I explain?”
The earlier butterflies began to settle in Florentina’s stomach and the fog of trepidation evaporate. She could perceive that the beautiful wealthy widow did regard her with esteem, did have feelings for her. This was not a mere dalliance she realized. “I care for you also,” she spoke softly and stroked Maddie’s luxurious strands. “Do not think you press me to do something I have not wanted to do since the moment I first saw you.”
Relief engulfed Madelena’s expression, and she brushed her cheek to Florentina’s then nuzzled her neck with moist, eager lips. A euphoric sigh escaped Fiore’s mouth at the intimate touch and she pulled Maddie closer. When their lips found each other’s again she opened to the honey-sweet tongue that was impatient to delve into it. Without willing them to do so, she realized her fingers were wound in those silky red strands while her other hand slid down Madelena’s back as far as the bench would allow. She could perceive her heartbeat against her own heated breast. This is what she had dreamt of and it surpassed her expectations. All she wanted to do was touch, caress, explore, and please this singular woman. Even as she was rendered breathless from the physical passion, her heart was telling her head that what she felt was far more, endlessly deeper. It was a very dangerous cavern, a bottomless pit that could spell her doom; she was falling in love.
Madelena realized she was making a mistake. She had acquired a good tutor for her children and a new friend to share meaningful experiences with, but a romantic affair? Where could that possibly lead? What would her brother think or do when he found out, and she knew he would, eventually. Hadn’t she lived a well-disciplined life? Could she not control her desires for more than a few weeks?
As her mind was blaring at her all the reasons to say no, her heart had been pleading an opposing case. Yes, she had found a teacher and a friend, but in Florentina she had discovered abundantly more. She was interesting, witty, talented, intuitive, and compassionate. She opened whole new worlds to the widow whose entire education was meant only to prepare her to be a merchant’s wife. For the past six months she had felt lost, as if she had no place and no purpose. She had helped Alessandro with the bookkeeping and personal relations with customers, but she had also spent her nights alone speculating on what the future may hold for her. She still could not answer that question, but she had spoken honestly when she said that Fiore made her feel real and alive. Since growing closer to the dark-haired inventor’s daughter she had begun to experience so many things. And today–today had likely been the best day of her twenty-eight years on this earth! Then the emotion of sharing her story, it was just all too much to expect her to maintain self-control. But now that she had initiated this passionate encounter, what would she do next?
Presently, she drew back from those sultry lips trying to regain some restraint. “Have you ever been with a woman before?” she asked to fill the silence.
Florentina shook her head. “If you mean sexually, I am quite inexperienced with anyone, male or female. Years ago when Cesare told me he was attracted to men, I mentioned that I was more drawn to women. I didn’t think he’d ever say anything; it’s not like we talked about it much, but now,” she paused casting starry eyes at Maddie, “I’m glad he did.”
She smiled and stroked Florentina’s cheek. “So am I.”
“I know you have experience,” she noted. “So, what do we do next?”
What indeed! Madelena considered. “Take one step at a time. May I suggest we try to get some sleep and take a night to process it all? I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed at the moment.”
“You’re overwhelmed?” Fiore laughed. “I’m not certain my legs will carry me upstairs!”
Maddie hesitated to move, as the tug of an invisible cord was drawing her back to her newfound treasure. Neither was Florentina was moving away. One more kiss and you must move. Give both of us time to think. She touched her lips to Fiore’s and closed her eyes. What makes one kiss a sloppy flop and another a driving, sensuous pleasure? Is it one’s mental perception or a physical current that connects two individuals who are similarly charged? I can feel the energy pass between her and I unlike any other before.
“I shall see you in the morning.” She released Florentina and pushed herself to her feet with a sheer force of will. Florentina followed saying her good-nights and Madelena closed the bedroom door behind her as she left. Alone once more, she glanced around her empty chamber and wished her lover could have stayed all night.
Edale Lane is the penname used by Melodie Romeo for LGBTQ fiction novels. She is a native of Vicksburg, Mississippi, earned a bachelor’s degree in Music Education from the University of Southern Mississippi and a master’s degree in History from the University of West Florida.
Ms Romeo is a retired school teacher who currently travels the country as an over the road truck driver. Her first book, Vlad, a Novel, an historical thriller, was published in 2002. She has had short stories published in anthologies by Seventh Star Press, Charon Coin Press, Alban Lake Press, Less Than Three Press, and Past and Prologue Press.
Edale Lane’s first novel, Heart of Sherwood, is an historical retelling of the Robin Hood story supposing that the hooded outlaw had been a woman: https://www.pastandprologuepress.lpages.co/Sherwood1/
In addition to driving and writing, Melodie is also a musician who plays the French horn, composes, and has spent many years as a choral and instrumental director. She aspires to be a successful enough author to quit driving and devote herself to writing fulltime. Melodie resides in Utica, MS with her longtime partner, Johanna.
Some of her works can be found at http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00WFFFEA4
In 2019 Melodie founded Past and Prologue Press. Please visit her website.