Catherine McGrew Jaime

Author, Historian, Lifelong Learner, Teacher, World Traveler

Tag: leonardo da vinci

My Nine Tips for Novice Novel Writers

My Tips for Novel Writers Start With

  1. Write about something/someone you are interested in
  2. Set goals
  3. Write daily
  4. Plan to go back and revise often
  5. Repeat until you’re happy with the length and the story
  6. Have multiple people read and give you feed back
  7. Revise as necessary
  8. Get your book published
  9. Celebrate and plan to start the next novel soon.

And Here’s How That Looks For Me Right Now:

My Novels

I write short novels that are family friendly and tend to emphasis the historical part of historical fiction. They are based on the types of books I like to read and often have difficulty finding. As opposed to many authors of historical fiction, I work my stories around what really happened, not the other way around.

Typical Main Character – Leonardo da Vinci

I’ve been writing novels on Leonardo da Vinci for a number of years now, and hope to finish the series by the 500 year anniversary of his death (Spring 2019, so time is not on my side!) My sixth novel is currently in steps six (being read by several beta readers) and seven (being revised based on their feedback), and at the beginning of March I moved on to my next novel. I’m taking a quick break from Leonardo to write one novel on Michelangelo (at the request of a dear friend), and then I’m back to the da Vinci series. I’m currently in the midst of step 3 (writing daily), and will need to get on to step 4 (revising) fairly quickly.

New Character – Michelangelo

I shared last month that I was hoping to end March with at least 31,000 words written towards my new Michelangelo novel. I am happy to report that I made and exceeded that goal – ending the month with 36,000 words in my rough draft. And as of today, I have written at least 1,000 words per day for 33 days and counting, even while on vacation for almost a week of that time.

Writing Through Travels

I wasn’t sure if I would be able to keep it up while I was traveling and visiting with family, but I did. In fact, I found that my two travel days were two of my most productive days of the entire month.  Those two days made me very appreciative that I am happy to write both on and off the computer. (Something that many other authors have told me is often not the case.)

Writing With or Without My Laptop

I find that I enjoy writing on the laptop, since I can see my word count as I work, and I don’t have to “waste” time typing something I’ve already written. But I also find plenty of times when it just isn’t convenient to write on the laptop, and then I’m just as at ease with a good pen and a notebook (or a legal pad, or, when I’m desperate and unprepared, even scratch paper).

Flying Home

I flew to Texas on a Thursday and found myself in a small seat with even less elbow room. (Is it my imagination or do the seats and the spaces around them just keep getting smaller on these airplanes?) There was just no easy way to pull out the computer, even as small as my laptop is. So, instead, I brought out my handy notebook and spent most of the hour long flight to Charlotte working on Michelangelo. The gentleman next to me slept most of the flight and I’m fairly certain paid no attention to what I was doing.

When I got to my gate, I had plenty of time before the next flight, and the seating area was still fairly uncrowded. So I was able to spread out a little, and type up what I had written on my way to North Carolina. By the time we boarded my second flight, I had typed up over 1,300 words. Since I had written so much, I allowed myself the pleasure of reading a new book on my phone. (The newest book in one of my favorite series had been released that morning, and I had been holding off starting it until I had my own writing done for the day.)

My Goal – 1,000 Words/Day

Most days that I was with family I managed to get my 1,000 words knocked out fairly early in the morning, so that I didn’t have to worry about when I would fit it in. (In fact, during the entire month of March, I only remember one day that I was heading towards bed without having started that day’s writing –  I sat in my recliner that evening and knocked out my 1,000 words before I actually went to bed.)

My travel day to return home from Texas was supposed to be a shorter day of travel, since I was switching planes in Dallas this time, rather than in Charlotte, North Carolina. I had thought I would be boarding the first place at 9:00 am, be home by 3:00 pm, and in between there, surely find time to write at least 1,000 words.

Weather Delays

But, alas, the airlines and the weather had other ideas. I awoke to a text message saying my flight had been cancelled and they would contact me with details on a replacement itinerary sometime later that day. Eventually I got the email saying I was now booked on a 6:00 pm flight and scheduled to be home slightly before 11:00 pm.

So, with my plans for the day turned upside down, I decided to spend the extra hours of time in Texas to do some additional research. I had spent all of February doing research on Michelangelo, and that had brought me this far. But I was in need of more information on a variety of things, including how he actually went about sculpting his masterpieces. It was a good day of research and by the time I left for the airport at 4:00 that afternoon I felt like I had learned much more about my subject. But, as of yet, I had done no actually writing for the day.

One Delay After Another

The first flight from Austin was delayed, and then delayed again. When we finally took off, on the very short flight from Austin to Dallas I found myself next to a young woman who was very distraught at the fact that she had already missed one flight that day, and now was probably going to miss her flight out of Dallas. Needless to say, I didn’t get any writing done while I sat next to her.

Fortunately I had originally been scheduled to have almost a two hour layover in Dallas, so even with our tardy departure, I arrived at my gate 20 minutes before we were due to start loading. That wasn’t going to be enough time to write my entire 1,000 words, but I could at least get started. I began writing quickly, feeling the information I had gleaned from the earlier research bubbling up inside me, wanting to be added to my story.

The 20 minutes turned into 30 and then into 40. I think by time we finally boarded I had actually been sitting and writing for almost an hour. Because I had kept thinking I would be loading soon, I had once again written my words long hand instead of typing them out.

Finally Flying Home

This time our flight was over two hours. I found myself next to another young lady, this one was heading home, and was scared to death as we got tossed around by the bad weather we were flying through. I spent much of the first portion of the flight helping her keep calm. When she finally fell into a fitful sleep, I took out my notebook and continued my writing. We arrived home that evening after midnight, so I didn’t type of that travel day’s words until the following day, when I discovered that I had written 2,000 words between the airport and the airplane. A good day’s work indeed.

Revisions

In writing my past novels, I’ve usually done a lot of the revision as I’ve gone along, and I had certainly thought I would do that with this novel. But I’m enjoying using Scrivener for the first time, and so far have been focused almost exclusively on the writing portions. My current plan is to wrap up writing the rough draft of this novel sometime in the next couple of weeks. At that point I will print the entire thing and do some hardcore editing. (I prefer to do serious editing on paper, and my new laptop won’t talk to my old printer, so that is part of the motivation to just wait and do a lot of editing at once.

My Goal for the Next Twelve Months

I hope to have the story to step 5 (happy with the story and the length) and ready to get feedback on (step 6) at least by the end of April. At that point I will have approximately 12 months to write 3 more books on Leonardo, and will have to keep this pace going. It should prove to be a busy (and hopefully, productive) year!

Happy reading and writing!

Cathy

 

My Da Vinci Deadline Looms

The writing continues as I press ahead to finish the rough draft of my next da Vinci novel. As I mentioned in a post in mid-October,  my new goal for finishing this rough draft is the end of November. I’m not quite at the end of the story, or at the end of the month, so the race is on.

Enjoying the Research

As always, it is easy to get caught up in the research. Learning new things about Leonardo and the era and areas in which he lived is always fascinating to me.

This particular novel covers the period in time when he is back and forth between Florence and Milan several times. Those are both cities that I have entire books set in, since in earlier periods of his life, he spent many years at a time in each of them.

Needless to say, I’ve already studied Renaissance Florence and Renaissance Milan quite a bit.  But that never stops me from further studying.

Renaissance Milan

Map of 16th Century Milan

Some of the things I learned recently about Milan:

  • It was larger and richer than Florence during the Reniassance.
  • It was the gateway between the Italian peninsula and Northern Europe, particularly France and Germany.
  • Milanese armorers were so important to Milan that they had special privileges, much like the glassmakers of Venice.
  • It was the first region in western Europe to build navigable canals

Renaissance Florence

Map of 15th Century Florence

Florence on the other hand had these qualities at that time:

  • A large industrial city with much trade and manufacturing
  • The guilds there were particularly important, and each had their own officers and their own churches.
  • The top 7 guilds there were: bankers, druggists, furriers, notaries, silk weavers, and wool merchants.
  • In fact, the quality of wool in Florence was the highest in Europe.
  • Other important guilds in Florence included: bakers, blacksmiths, carpenters, innkeepers, grocers, and shoemakers (and 8 others).
  • Florence spent much of this time period (actually from 1498 – 1509) fighting their neighbors, the Pisans.
  • The oldest bridge across the Arno River, the Ponte Vecchio, was crowded with shops, including butchers and tanners.

Leonardo, our Renaissance Man

And, of course, I’ve continued learning about Leonardo’s life during this time period. Some of the following may or may not make it into this novel, but they were interesting tidbits, nonetheless.

  • When Leonardo left Florence in the summer of 1506 with his battle painting incomplete, the Signoria (City Fathers) required him to leave 150 florins – money he would lose if he didn’t return from Milan by the end of the three months they were giving him.
  • In July 1507 King Louis referred to Leonardo as “our dear and good friend, our painter and engineer.”
  • Sometime in 1507 Leonardo started his painting, the St. Anne Madonna, and he completed it sometime in 1508.

Preview from the Draft Below

For any who are interested, I’ve included a preview from the current version of my story, where Leonardo gets the message that he needs to leave Florence and head to Milan.

Happy writing and reading!

Cathy

As Leonardo took the message the servant stood straight again. “I have been instructed to wait for a response. I actually bring you two messages that are somewhat connected to each other. The first is that the friars at the Chapel of the Franciscan Brotherhood are unhappy about an altarpiece that you did for them with the de Predis brothers. They are requesting that Governor d’Amboise require you to come back to Milan and complete the altarpiece to their satisfaction.”

The servant stopped, looking for a response from Leonardo. But Leonardo merely stood there, considering the implications of this message. The altarpiece in question had been his first commission in Milan. A commission that went back more than twenty years. He had not thought about the Madonna of the Rocks in years. But he had completed that painting. Why were the friars bringing up it after so long?

Leonardo thought about the money the three artists had been promised for completing the altarpiece. Now that he stopped to think about it, he wasn’t sure whether they had ever been paid in full. He had started working for the Duke of Milan soon after they had completed the altarpiece and he had left the final financial details with the brothers. Suddenly Leonardo realized that the French servant was standing silently in front of him, as if waiting for Leonardo’s full attention to deliver the rest of his message.

“I’m sorry,” Leonardo mumbled. “I was thinking about the altarpiece. Did you say there was a second part to your message?”

The servant smiled and continued, “Governor d’Amboise requests your presence at his Milanese court.”

Back to My Writing

In mid-August I wrote two blog posts on my ongoing work on the next da Vinci novel – Working on my Da Vinci Series and The Joys of Researching. At that point I was about 20,000 words into my current novel (or almost half way through the rough draft, since my novels are more “novella” length – in the 40,000 word range).

My Progress Since August

Since I can generally write 1,000 words/day or more, at that time I fully expected to have the rough draft done by sometime in September – maybe the beginning of October if I really got bogged down. Alas, plans are great, but as is so often the case – life intervenes. So here I am in mid-October, a full 60 days since I wrote those posts. Any guesses as to how far along I am on Leonardo da Vinci book #6? If you guessed still at 20,000 words you would be correct.

What Excuses Do I Have?

Sadly, until a few days ago I hadn’t touched my novel since mid-August. There are all kinds of reasons/explanations/excuses I could give for the lack of progress. But ultimately, it doesn’t much matter. Here I am in mid-October with half a book left to write.

I could get mad at myself, tell myself it will never get finished, and I should just give up. Or I could dust off my computer and my notes and just get back to work. Which, of course, is what I’m doing (otherwise, I wouldn’t bother to tell you!).

Time For a New Deadline

Since I missed my original deadline, I need to set another one. I would love to say I’m going to knock out the second half in the next three weeks, but at this point, I doubt that’s a reasonable goal. I’ll give myself some extra time for research (part of what had stopped by my forward progress this summer) as well as the other responsibilities I have right now (primarily coaching Mock Trial and helping my students prepare for the Mock Trial competition in early November).

So now, let’s make the new goal the end of November, more like six weeks away. If all goes well, I’ll have a rough draft by then. (Of course, that will still leave the editing stage, so the book still won’t be done – but again, if all goes well, it will finally be well on its way.)

Progress Reports to Come

I’ll keep you posted on whether I succeed with this deadline. In the meantime, it’s back to trying to continue figuring out how many trips Leonardo actually made between Florence and Milan during this time frame. How much interaction did he have with Raphael and/or Machiavelli when he was back in Florence? How much detail do I want to include about the autopsy he did on the 100-year-old man, on the gala he organized in Milan, or on his newest painting commissions? And of course, the list goes on.

So, to myself, and other writers reading this, I say:

Happy writing! And keep going, you can do this!

Cathy

The First Few Paragraphs

In case you’re interested, here’s a small taste of what the first few paragraphs of the story currently look like.  I hope you enjoy them. (Always subject to change, of course!):

Florence, Italy, May 1506

Leonardo walked into the spacious room without seeming to notice Salai and Tommaso huddled in the far corner. Absentmindedly he picked up a small notebook, flipping quickly through the pages. Without a word, he threw the notebook on a nearby table and stormed out of the room.

Salai and Tommaso heard the outside door slam, but for a long moment they both remained in their places, speechless. In the years they had worked for Master Leonardo they had both seen him angry on a few occasions. But never like this. And certainly never for this long. It had already been more than a week since he had walked away from his battle painting in the City Hall. Machiavelli had stopped by almost every day in an attempt to converse with the Master, but as of yet Leonardo had been unwilling to see or talk to anyone. Maybe Machiavelli’s last visit had pushed Leonardo too far.

Finally breaking the silence, Salai asked quietly, “Do you think one of us should try to talk to him when he returns?”

“Not me. No way.” Tommaso replied, with fear practically dripping from his voice. “You are certainly welcome to try. But I am not going near the Master until he calls for us. There is no telling what he might do.”

Salai pondered their options before speaking again. “We can’t continue trying to avoid him for much longer. There is only so much we can do without instructions.”

Working on My Da Vinci Series

I’ve been hard at work this summer on the next novel in my “Life and Travels of da Vinci” series. With the 500-year anniversary of Leonardo’s death looming in the relatively near future (May 2019), I’m doubling up my efforts to complete my da Vinci series by then.

My First da Vinci Novels


In my earliest years of novel writing I was able to complete an average of one novel per year. (These are relatively short novels, technically more “novella” size, so one per year with everything else I was doing was generally attainable.) I kept that pace fairly consistently for the first four novels: Leonardo the Florentine, Leonardo: Masterpieces in Milan, Leonardo: To Mantua and Beyond, and Leonardo: A Return to Florence. But I slipped a little between the fourth and the fifth, not completing Leonardo: A Return to Painting until this past spring, more than two years after the previous one had been finished.

At Least Nine Books

By my current calculations, there should end up being at least nine books in the series by the time I’ve completed it. Which means starting this year I will need to write more like two books per year to finish in time. Again, considering the lengths of these books, and the fact that as of January 2017 I am now semi-retired, this should be completely doable.

Setting Goals

One of the things I love about self-publishing my books is that I get to set my own goals. (Of course, as the two-year gap shows, sometimes goals where you only answer to yourself can get away from you!) But typically, I’m better at setting goals that I can attain, and actually meeting them.

Daily Writing

I can easily write 1,000 words or more each writing day. (On good, productive days I often hit more than 2,000 words, and when the story is clicking I’ve done as many as 3,000 – 4,000 words.) Considering my last da Vinci novel was the longest, and it came in at only 42,000 words, you can see how writing the first draft isn’t a long process when I’m working on it daily. (Six days a week is my goal during the peak of a “writing season” for me.)

The Rough Draft

I’m almost half way through the rough draft of this next story, hitting 21,000 words in just over three weeks. I’m allowing myself the next two weeks as a break from writing for two reasons – to do some more research for a few parts of the story and to spend more time with the children and grandchildren who are visiting.

Where to Begin

One of many sketches Leonardo made for the battle mural.

It’s exciting to see the story develop before my eyes. I knew where the story would begin – basically where the last one ended: Leonardo had just walked away from a large mural he had been painting for the Florentine city fathers. There was a large disaster involving the paint he had used, and the painting was effectively destroyed. What Leonardo (and the city fathers) would do next was a huge concern. (And became a bigger concern when they threatened to sue him for breach of contract.)

Other Interesting Events

All of that was a known part of this next story that I’m writing. Along the way to researching and writing those portions I have found several other interesting events during that time period in Leonardo’s life: He built a model for a flying machine that he tested with one of his apprentices; he was threatened with a lawsuit for an altarpiece he had painted in Milan twenty years earlier; and he was asked to assist a good friend in Florence with a set of life-size sculptures for the Florence Baptistery.

Learning enough about each of those events to weave them into this story is my current project. As with all my historical fiction, I want to have as many of the facts as possible, while still trying to make an interesting story.

Until next time,

Cathy

Falling in Love with Leonardo da Vinci, Renaissance Man

Leonardo da Vinci Renaissance Man

I have enjoyed studying and teaching Leonardo da Vinci for almost twenty years now. But I had actually been buying books about him for a number of years before that. Even before I knew why, I was fascinated by Leonardo, the ultimate Renaissance man. And of course, the more I learned about him, the more fascinated I became.

Not only was Leonardo an amazing artist, he studied so many other topics, it almost boggles the mind to consider the things he was interested in, including, but not limited to: anatomy, astronomy, botany, cartography, geology, and zoology. The list seems endless, as do the pages in his notebooks on these and so many other subjects. It seems that very little was outside of Leonardo’s interests.

Drawings of various inventions by Leonardo da Vinci

Teaching Leonardo da Vinci

The first time I had the privilege of teaching a series of classes on Leonardo da Vinci, we delved into a different interest of his each week for eight of our ten weeks. After our introductory session we spent another class learning about Leonardo and his interest in the human body, another one on his interest in horses and his work on the equestrian monument in Milan, and yes, we even did a week on his amazing art. (You can see many of his paintings on this page – but please note, that page is still a work in progress!)

Not surprisingly Leonardo considered his art and his science to be mutually dependent, once saying:

“Study the science of art and the art of science.”

Sketch of a Deluge Witnessed by Leonardo da VinciAnd it is clear from looking at his work in both areas that he excelled in each of them! Had his notebook pages been published earlier, and his work in science shared with scientists that came soon after the Renaissance rather than centuries later, there is no telling what scientific advances might have been made sooner. But, alas, that was not the case, and his notebook pages were lost to many who might have benefited from his scientific work.

Leonardo’s Distractions

Botany Sketch by Leonardo da VinciIn the realm of art, Leonardo stood as one of the greatest artists of his day, in spite of actually completing only a fairly small number of paintings. It is likely that his perfectionist tendencies contributed to that low number, as well as his frequent “distractions” by work on math or science.

Non-Fiction Writing about Leonardo

As I learned more and more in my early studies of da Vinci, it was exciting to be sharing that enthusiasm with students of a wide variety of ages.  Even as I taught those first classes, I worked on my first non-fiction work about him. After six months of research and three months of teaching, I had written a short, but comprehensive, family-friendly biography of Leonardo da Vinci – Da Vinci: His Life and His Legacy. But that, as they say, was just the beginning. I was hooked!

The more I knew about Leonardo’s life and his work, the more I wanted to learn. Even after completing those first classes, I continued to read dozens of books about da Vinci, visited exhibits in various parts of the country about him and his work, and eventually made two trips to Italy to visit many of the places he had lived.

Two of Leonardo's Sketches of ChurchesAnd, as always seems to happen when I am engrossed in a topic, I wrote. The next book I wrote him was another non-fiction book – Doing Da Vinci for Kids. And then I kept learning and kept writing. (For more information on books I’ve written on Leonardo da Vinci, you can go to this page.)

Fiction Writing about Leonardo

But it would be many years and many classes later before I tried my hand at writing fiction. One summer I was at the Creative Learning Connection booth at a curriculum fair conversing with another author who had just completed his first novel. I mentioned, more in conversation than anything else, that I had considered writing a novel someday. He looked around my booth and stated matter-of-factly, “You should write about something you know. I think Leonardo da Vinci would fit that description.”

Several of Leonardo's Horse SketchesGoing home from the curriculum fair I casually mentioned the idea of writing historical fiction about Leonardo da Vinci “some day.” But my children wouldn’t hear of it. Several of them quickly insisted that I start right then, not later. And with some prodding, that’s exactly what I did.  Within a month I had written my first historical novel – Leonardo the Florentine. It would be several more months before I had found an editor for the novel and gotten it published. I’m not sure what was more exciting, holding that first paperback in my hand, or the recent release of Leonardo the Florentine as an Audible book. Both were pretty amazing!

As the years went by, my series grew, and I eventually wrote four more historical fiction books about him – Leonardo: Masterpieces in Milan; Leonardo: To Mantua and Beyond; Leonardo: A Return to Florence; and just recently, Leonardo: A Return to Painting.

500 Year Anniversary – May 2019

One of Leonardo's Designs for FlighIn May 2019 the world will celebrate the 500 year anniversary of the death of this great Renaissance man. My goal is to have my historical fiction series completed by then, meaning at least three more novels. In the meantime, I will continue to research him, continue to write about him, and continue to fall in love with Leonardo da Vinci.

And I hope I have managed to share just a little of that passion with you!