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Author Spotlight: An Interview with Alyssa Palombo

ALYSSA PALOMBO is the author of The Violinist of Venice, The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence, and The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel. She is a graduate of Canisius College with degrees in English and creative writing, respectively. A passionate music lover, she is a classically trained musician as well as a big fan of heavy metal. When not writing, she can be found reading, hanging out with her friends (and her dog!), or traveling. She lives in Buffalo, New York, where she is always at work on a new novel.

Alyssa Palombo’s fourth novel, The Borgia Confessions from St. Martin’s Griffin is scheduled for release on February 11, 2020. I was excited to catch up with Alyssa to find out what has gone into the making, The Borgia Confessions.

Do you have a one line pitch for The Borgia Confessions?

The upstairs/downstairs story of the notorious Borgia family, told through the points of view of both Cesare Borgia and Maddalena Moretti, a maid who works for the family.

Do you have a story about how you started writing The Borgia Confessions or a story during the writing?

I've always wanted to write a book about the Borgia family - I've been a bit obsessed with them since I was a teenager. And, specifically, I've always wanted to write from Cesare's point of view, since he to me was the true villain of the family and so ultimately the one who fascinated me the most. I actually started this project years ago—chapter 2 was where I originally started—but could never seem to quite get it off the ground; something always seemed to be missing.

When the 2016 presidential election happened, I knew that I wanted to write something about power and corruption and politics, and thought that maybe it was time to revisit this project. I found the long-missing piece in a short story I'd written in college, about a maid who gets involved with Cesare Borgia. I decided to include her perspective as well, and show a very tumultuous political time from the point of view of both one of the powerful and one of the powerless.

I know you love music.

Was there a top song on The Borgia Confessions playlist?

The song "Citizen Zero" by Kamelot really cracked open Cesare's voice as a character for me. That song came out in 2015, a couple of years before I'd really started working on this project in earnest, but that was immediately Cesare's song.

Weirdly, on that same Kamelot album (Haven), there's another song called "Liar Liar (Wasteland Monarchy)" which is also: A) Super perfect for this novel and B) Has a guitar riff that is quite reminiscent of the opening theme for the TV show, The Borgias. So, it sort of felt like someone was trying to tell me something with that album, haha. A lot of the songs on it are on The Borgia Confessions's playlist.

Cesare’s Playlist on Spotify

What motivates you to put words on the page.

Do you have a ritual when you sit down at the computer/notepad?

I write on my laptop, so when I sit down at my desk I always light a scented candle, fire up some music, and get to it. I like to write in cafés, as well, from time to time, for a change of scenery!

Who gets to read your first drafts?

My agent, and a few critique partners—although in their cases, it depends on how busy they are!

Do you have a time of day that’s a sweet spot for words?

I work full time in addition to writing, so I can't be picky—I try to fit in the writing whenever I can. I like Saturday and Sunday afternoons, and right after work before I have dinner.

Any advice for novice writers?

Read extremely widely. Read recently published books in your genre. Read widely outside of your genre as well. Also, make time for writing in whatever way works for you. You'll need to make a lot of time, and get into the habit of making time, but do it as best suits you and your process. You don't have to write every day if that doesn't work for you (it doesn't for me). Find what works best for you and do that.

Let’s Talk about Alyssa

A favorite Composer? Or Band? Both? (I challenge you to name just one!)

If I haaaaaad to pick just one, I'd go with Nightwish as my favorite band. Which works out since Tuomas Holopainen, the keyboardist and main songwriter, is probably my favorite living composer.

Tell me a story about one of your most loved books - it could be the oldest, the most read, or one with a memory tie?

When I was in Rome researching The Borgia Confessions, I brought with me an excellent fantasy novel set in a world based on ancient Rome - From Unseen Fire by Cass Morris. Reading it while in Rome was just such a perfect reading experience. I have a great memory of sitting in a café one morning reading for a bit, and it was awesome.

I have to know the French fry connoisseur story?

Do you do blind tastings? Is it a pilgrimage? Is there a perfect fry?

Where might I seek the grail of the French Fry?

And condiment choice? Mayo? Mustard? Gravy? Ketchup?

Ha! I just really love French fries, and so I've eaten them at many restaurants in several different countries, so I'm a self-proclaimed connoisseur :) To me a perfect fry is crispy on the outside and with some nice soft potato on the inside. I prefer skinny fries, but I do love a good steak fry as well. And as for toppings, just salt for me! I'm not a big condiment person.

Tell us about your Fenway, your furry family member!

Fenway is a silky terrier, which is an Australian breed that was originally bred to kill snakes, rats, and other vermin. As such he's very ferocious, but he has no confirmed kills to his name at this time (through no fault of his own—I saved a rabbit, bird, and snake from him on different occasions). BUT he likes people and likes to be cuddly—all he really wants in life is: A) Snacks and B) Someone to lay on the couch with.

What are you reading/watching on TV right now?

Recent movie you’ve seen? Last book you read?

TV: The Good Place. I'm almost caught up and I just adore that show.

Movie: I honestly don't even remember—I don't watch a ton of movies! I did rewatch the 2005 Pride & Prejudice over Christmas break, though.

Book: I just finished Raphael, Painter In Rome by Stephanie Storey, which I read for a blurb. It'll be out in April and I just loved it—it's one of those books that has been sticking with me.

I know you’ve traveled quite a bit.

Do you have a place at your top of must-go-back-to list?

Where is the next destination that you hope to get too?

I'm always wanting to go back to Venice, any chance I get! It's my favorite place on earth. The next place I'm really dying to go that I've never been, is New Orleans. There's so much history there; it would be such a fascinating place to visit and learn about!

You may instantly choose to travel in time to any place on Earth.

When and where do you choose—and why?

Provided I can come back (as a woman I'd much rather live in the present), I would love to travel to Vienna on May 7th, 1824 to be at the premiere of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. It's such an incredible piece of music, unlike anything that came before, and I have just always wondered what it would have been like to be among the group of people who heard it for the first time.

What are your 2020 writing plans? We can keep a secret.

I have a draft of a dual timeline project I finished in November of last year, so once my agent gets me her notes on that I'll be revising it. I also have two historical projects I started last year that I'd like to finish, and a historical fantasy project I've been itching to get back to. We'll see how much I end up getting to!

Secret Bonus Round.

The tough question, because I think there are a bunch of things I already know that will accomplish this. Pretend that we have just met and I know nothing about you.

I need to know one thing about you that will make me remember you. Go.

I'm a semi-goth girl who loves heavy metal and is also a classically trained musician.

Follow Alyssa!

Alyssa's Books!

The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel: A Story of Sleepy Hollow


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