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Wednesday, February 8, 2012


Photo of Piazza del Campo, Siena by Ricardo Andre Frantz    
Visit Siena, Italy today as we welcome Barbara Quinn, a novelist and award-winning short story writer. Barbara is founder and former publisher of The Rose & Thorn and the author of four novels: Speed of Dark36CSlings and Arrows, and Hard Head. Her love of travel has taken her to four continents and 47 states. Barbara welcomes email at BAQuinn@aol.com  and would love to keep in touch via twitter.com/BarbaraQuinn. -- AP

Settings are extremely important in fiction. Think about memorable scenes in your favorite novels and I bet you conjure up a picture so vivid you think you can smell and hear it. Whether it’s a fantasy world such as those created in The Hunger Games or Lord of the Rings, or the mansions and surroundings of The Great Gatsby, or the orphanage of Oliver Twist, memorable settings reel you in and deposit you on heady shores. They breathe life into a story and can become another character in the book, one that makes a reader want to visit in person and follow in the footsteps of the characters you come to know so well.

 One of my favorite scenes in my suspense novel, Hard Head, is set in Siena, Italy in the stunning main square called Piazza del Campo. Siena is a charming walled city with medieval roots. Its winding streets and sepia light beckon you to wander slowly through its mazes. The central shell-shaped square, Piazza del Campo, is a jewel. After walking the winding streets, it is breathtaking to spill onto the Piazza del Campo from one of the tiny narrow streets that lead into it. As you enter from dark passages, you are immediately immersed into light and air. Twice a year, once in July, and again in August, the interior of the square turns into a madhouse when the horse race called Il Palio is run and thousands of people manage to squeeze into the square.

In the Palio, jockeys ride bareback and circle the Piazza del Campo three times. They cover the inner square with dirt to provide some traction, but it is not uncommon for riders to fall off and horses to stumble. The race itself takes only a little more than a minute. Events leading up to it occur over four days. Ten horses and riders representing sections of Siena ride around the square at a furious pace. The winning horse does not even need to have a rider. Amazingly, the horses without riders still run hard. The participants do it all for the right to display a banner.

I’m not a fan of crowds and have never attended the Palio, but the spectacle of that race has been a draw for me since I became aware of it many years ago. I knew I wanted to set a part of my novel there. So when I was writing Hard Head, I steeped myself in every article, account, and picture I could find to understand the rituals and pageantry. Incidentally, the title of the book, “Hard Head” is a term commonly used to describe people who come from Calabria, the place of birth of my main character’s ancestors. She journeys to several places in Italy including Siena and Calabria.

I did eventually visit Siena and its gorgeous Piazza del Campo, not during a Palio, but during the fall season, when the walls were covered in a fiery orange from climbing vines. There’s something magical about the square, and the history associated with it. I was most content to sit in the Piazza and sip an espresso. The square was all I had imagined it to be and I could imagine the thunder of the horses and the shouts of the crowd.

Is there a magical setting or event like Il Palio that you’d like to visit?

I’m ready to pack my bags, Barbara! Thanks for visiting with us today. -- AP


Morgan Mandel said...

I'm not much a traveler, but I did visit Scottsdale, Arizona to do research for my latest romantic thriller, Forever Young: Blessing or Curse. The visit helped me put in lots of tiny details I would have missed otherwise.

Morgan Mandel

Margaret West said...

I'm not much of a traveller either, but I go lods of places in my mind lol As i write mainly paranormals I can usually do my research sitting in my office lol Great post. Enjoyed it.

Linda Hays-Gibbs said...

What a wonderful scenic view. You feel as if you are there. I visited Rome, Italy once and it was all so beautiful, it is still hard to describe. One of an author's greatest talents is in the setting of the scene and she does it beautifully.I am so interested in her war with the opposing factions too.
Linda Hays-Gibbs
My Angel, My Light As Darkness Falls

blcsdina said...

You're description makes me want to move to Sienna. Sounds like a magical place. I love horses and horse races too. I bought your book and can't wait to read it.
Dina Rae, author

Barbara Quinn said...

Morgan, thanks for commenting and good luck w/your thriller! Nice you were able to go somewhere to research.

Margaret, Yes, isn't it great to be able to travel in your head that way? Keeps me (somewhat) sane! My brain is a travel agency. Thanks for dropping by.

Linda, Siena really is a gorgeous town. I hope I get back there someday and that you get to go too. Thanks for visiting me here and good luck with your book!

Dina, Oh wow, it's wonderful of you to let me know you bought the book. Have fun reading! Thanks so much for coming over and good luck with your new release.

Shelley Munro said...

Loved your descriptions of Siena. I've always wanted to visit Siena after seeing it on a travel show. The horse race sounds like quite a spectacle, although I'm not a big fan of crowds either.

Hubby and I are off to Europe later this year. We're going to Italy, but unfortunately not Siena this time.

Barbara Quinn said...

Shelley, Ah, lucky you to be going abroad! Have much fun. Thanks for commenting.

And thanks,Lois, for having me guest here at Anastasia's blog. :-)

jenny milchman said...

Your setting sounds magical, Barbara. I would love both to see it and experience it as you created it.

Anita Clenney said...

The setting sounds lovely, and I'm particularly interested since my current manuscript is set in Italy. This post really makes me want to visit.

Francesca said...

The correct photo caption should read " PIAZZA del Campo" (not pizza) :) although I love that too!

Jane R said...

What a lovely post. I love to travel but have never been to Italy. It looks and sounds like a such an interesting place and you've described it beautifully. Thank you!

Bill Hubiak said...

What a wonderful setting for a novel. My wife and I visited Siena again last June. We spent two weeks in Tuscany and the surrounding area (Lake Como and Cinque Terra). Absolutely breathtaking. We'll be doing a 2 week cruise of the Mediterranean in May and plan to identify a setting for my next thriller. Yes, the devil is in the details, being able to describe a setting so the reader feels like they actually there. My most recent release (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0063EOVK2 ) and the project on which I'm currently working take place in my hometown of my youth (Cranford, New Jersey).


Bill, Cranford, NJ? That's right next door to where the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries take place -- Westfield. Small world!

Barbara Quinn said...

Ah, the magic of Italy and Siena. Nothing like it. Thanks all for the great comments.

Bill, Anastasia...the work I'm pitching now is set in Jersey too!