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An Excerpt! YA Historical Romance for Music Lovers

If you love classical music, enjoy historical fiction with an Italian setting, and appreciate stories of young romance, this is a novel for you (and me)!

PlayingbyHeart cover

I’m currently reading Playing By Heart from author Carmela Martino. This blog is the last stop on a blog tour celebrating the release of the book, and I was chosen to provide an excerpt. I hope you enjoy it as much as I’ve enjoyed reading this story.

First, a brief summary, and then we move on to the excerpt.

Emilia Salvini dreams of marrying a man who loves music as she does. But in 18th-century Milan, being the ‘second sister’ means she’ll likely be sent to a convent instead. Emilia’s only hope is to prove her musical talents crucial to her father’s quest for nobility. First, though, she must win over her music tutor, who disdains her simply for being a girl. Too late, Emilia realizes that her success could threaten not only her dreams for her future but her sister’s very life.

Playing by Heart is inspired by two amazing sisters who were far ahead of their time—one a mathematician and the other a composer.

First Movement: December 1736-January 1737

Chapter One: Iron Bars

The day I decided to take my fate into my own hands began much like any other. As soon as I was dressed, I headed to the harpsichord salon to practice. The maestro had finally returned from Venice and would arrive shortly. I was anxious to show him how much I’d learned in his absence. But when I turned the corner near Mamma’s sitting room, a clash of angry voices stopped me. Mamma was arguing with Father, something she never did. And something she shouldn’t be doing now, as she was heavy with child.

I tiptoed to the sitting room door. With one hand on the wall, I leaned close. The edges of the decorative plasterwork dug into my fingers as Mamma said, “Did Maria request this herself?”

My hand relaxed. They weren’t arguing about me. But knowing my sister’s fate was intertwined with mine, I pressed forward again.

“No,” Father replied. “It was my decision, one I would have carried out long ago if not for the Sardinian occupation. It’s time she had a tutor who specializes in mathematics, one who can nurture her natural aptitude for the subject. He will teach her astronomy as well.”

“Astronomy!” Mamma screeched. “Maria already spends too much time with books. Haven’t you noticed her pallor? The throat illness took a greater toll on her than the other girls.”

I pictured Mamma seated in the high-backed armchair near the window, her legs resting atop the footstool cushion she herself had embroidered. No doubt her normally calm blue-gray eyes flashed steely as she said, “Maria needs fresh air and physical activity, not more studies.”

“Very well,” Father said. “We will increase the frequency of her dance lessons. And I will order her to keep a window open in her study at all times. Come spring, I’ll have her tutors move her lessons to the garden.”

“They will simply stuff her head with more book learning,” Mamma said. “What of her real education, the one she would have received at convent school? Maria should be cultivating practical skills, such as sewing and embroidery, and how to manage a home—skills she will need to be a useful wife and mother.”

“There will be time enough for that,” Father said. “She is young.”

“Young? Perhaps her quiet manner has led you to forget that your eldest daughter is fourteen! Instead of hiring more tutors, you should be making arrangements for her future. For her betrothal, and Emilia’s, too.”

My betrothal! I clasped my hands to my bodice. It was the subject I’d both longed for and feared, especially since seeing Zia Delia last week.

At thirteen, I’d never heard either of my parents speak of my betrothal before. But that hadn’t kept me from painting a portrait of my future husband in my mind.

He’d be as tall as Father, if not taller, with mysterious dark brown eyes. And even more important, he’d love music as I did and encourage my meager talent.

I turned my ear to the wall so as not to miss a word.

“Though, I dare say,” Mamma went on, “given Maria’s religious devotion, she’d be happier as a nun”

“Don’t even suggest such a thing!” Father’s voice crescendoed. “I will not have her extraordinary talents hidden away in a convent.”

A chair scraped. Father must have stood up. “Do not concern yourself about our daughters’ futures, Woman. That is my responsibility. I assure you I will do what is best for them and for the family.”

Father’s staccato footsteps approached. I gathered my skirts and hurried away on tiptoe.

When I was out of earshot, I let my heels drop and continued down the drafty corridor to the harpsichord salon. Father’s words echoed in my mind. He’d promised to do what was best for his daughters and for the family.

Of the seven children in our family, four were girls, with perhaps another on the way. It would be burdensome—if not impossible—to provide marriage dowries for that many daughters. At least two of us would end up nuns, whether we had a calling or not. Such had been the fate of Zia Delia, Mamma’s youngest sister.

In my mind, I saw again the long, narrow convent parlor where Mamma and I had visited Zia Delia last week. The parlor was separated from the nuns’ quarters by two large windows. Iron bars covered the window openings, crisscrossing the space where glass should be. A linen drape hung over the bars on the nuns’ side.

When we’d arrived that day, Mamma had eased herself into a wicker chair facing the first window, directly across from Zia Delia. We couldn’t actually see my aunt, only her shadow on the drape. I had stood with my hand on the back of Mamma’s chair as she’d tried to make conversation. The other nuns talked and laughed with their visitors. Zia Delia said nothing.

Mamma began describing Father’s recent name-day celebration to Zia. “After the meal, we adjourned to the harpsichord salon. There, we listened to Maria recite two epic Greek poems she’d translated herself. Carlo said it was the best present she could have bestowed upon him.” Mamma gave an exasperated sigh. “Really, he praises that girl too much! If heaven hadn’t blessed Maria with such a humble nature, she’d be unbearably prideful by now.” Mamma shook her head. “Afterward, Emilia gave a spectacular performance on the harpsichord, but Carlo barely thanked her.”

So Mamma had noticed, too.

As I recalled Father’s disappointment, the room started to spin. I gripped the wicker chair tighter and breathed in deeply until my bodice stays dug into my ribs.

“Carlo’s behavior was terribly rude,” Mamma went on, “especially compared to Count Riccardi’s impeccable manners. He praised Emilia profusely, saying how he’d never heard anyone her age play so beautifully, boy or girl.”

I took another deep breath. Mamma didn’t understand. The count was just being polite.

Zia Delia’s shadow shifted. “What did you play, Emilia?”

Surprised by her question, I released my grip on the chair. “Three of Scarlatti’s sonatas and Rameau’s Suite in A Minor.”

Zia bowed her head. “Secular music is strictly forbidden within these walls.” Her voice held both sorrow and longing.

How could such beautiful music be forbidden? I shivered at the thought.

I stepped forward and pressed my hand against the iron grille. On the opposite side, Zia stood and raised her hand to mine. She pressed hard, as though she could make our fingers touch through the linen drape. But I felt only the cold iron bars.

Zia whispered, “Don’t let them do this to you.” Her shadow gestured behind her, toward the nuns’ quarters. “Don’t let them lock you away from the music.”

I shivered again then shook my head Father would never do that to me.

Now, as I neared the harpsichord salon, I wasn’t so sure. Especially not after what I’d just overheard. Or rather, what I hadn’t overheard.

When Mamma had mentioned arranging for Maria’s betrothal and mine, Father had said nothing of me. He’d spoken only of Maria. A spark of envy flared in my chest. Heaven forgive me, I prayed silently as I took a quick breath to extinguish the flame. Even if envy wasn’t a sin, I owed Maria too much to blame her for Father’s favoritism.

I pushed my thoughts aside. Time was running short. I had to prepare for my lesson—my first with the maestro in nearly three years.

Not long after the Sardinian invasion, Maestro Tomassini had accepted a temporary assignment in Venice. The maestro was a stern taskmaster, but I’d sorely missed his instruction. His return made me grateful Milan was again under Hapsburg rule. I’d be doubly grateful if the maestro’s time away had somehow softened his disposition.

I hurried into the harpsichord salon. Paintings of various sizes covered the walls here as in the other rooms. Most depicted scenes from the Bible, though there were also a few landscapes, seascapes, and still lifes. But this room held a work of art not found elsewhere in our palazzo—a harpsichord.

This morning, sunlight from the window fell directly on the harpsichord’s open lid, illuminating the painting there of a small white ship sailing across a blue-green sea. The waves carved onto the harpsichord’s side panels continued the nautical theme, as did the lovely mermaid figures hugging the base of each of the three legs.

Naldo, our manservant, must have been here already, for fires burned brightly in both hearths, chasing away the December chill. I sat down and began as I always did, by pressing the high-C key. As the note rang out, it merged with the sensation of the quill plucking the string to send a quiver of delight through me. I loved both the sound and the feel of the instrument.

Instead of starting with one of my usual practice pieces, I played the opening allemande of Rameau’s Suite in A Minor. I’d hoped the challenging opening would distract me from the dark thoughts hovering at the back of my mind. But playing Rameau only reminded me of Zia’s words, “Don’t let them lock you away from the music.” Which would be worse, to be deprived of music or of love?

My fingers slipped, striking an ugly chord that set my teeth on edge. I dropped my hands to my lap.

I didn’t understand—why couldn’t Father let Maria take the veil? She would truly welcome a life of devotion to God. Yet Father’d been angered by the mere suggestion. I will not have her extraordinary talents hidden away in a convent.

The chiming of the Basilica bells pulled me into the present Maestro Tomassini would be here any moment. I raised my hands to the keys and began my first practice piece—a piece the maestro used to have me play blindfolded.

Suddenly, I knew what I must do. I had to make Father feel the same way about my talents as he did Maria’s.

My fingers stumbled again as a voice in my head said, But you’re not good enough.

To which my heart replied, then I must become good enough.

Attention, readers! This is the last day to enter to win a copy of Playing by Heart. Enter here

PR BW portraitCarmela Martino is an author, speaker, and writing teacher. She wrote the middle-grade novel, Rosa, Sola (Candlewick Press), while working on her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College. The novel was a Booklist “Top Ten First Novel for Youth” and received a Catholic Press Association Book Award in the “Children’s Books” category. Her second novel, Playing by Heart (Vinspire Publishing), took first place in the Young Adult category of the 2013 Windy City RWA Four Seasons Romance Writing Contest. Carmela’s credits for teens and tweens also include short stories and poems in magazines and anthologies. Carmela has taught writing workshops for children and adults since 1998, and she blogs about teaching and writing at www.TeachingAuthors.com. Read more about her at www.carmelamartino.com.

 

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Coming Soon! 1920s Historical Novel for Tweens and Teens

Something new is coming in October, and it’s

  • My first historical novel
  • My first crime drama
  • My first novel with a male protagonist

When the reward is the most costly sacrifice of all …

In a southern farming community in 1925, thirteen-year-old Salvatore and his Italian immigrant father become involved against their will in a crime that results in the murder of an innocent man and family friend. Will Sal keep the secrets about that night as his father asks, or risk everything he and his family cherish in their new homeland, including their lives? 

Amidst bigotry, bootlegging, police corruption, and gangland threats, Sal must discover whom he can trust in order to protect himself and his family and win back his father’s freedom. Sal’s family, their African-American farmhand, and the girl who is Sal’s best friend find their lives forever changed as dreams are shattered and attitudes challenged in a small community called Freedom.

 

Let’s visit the 1920s like you’ve never seen them before! I hope to meet you there!

 

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Turn Up the Music in Young Adult Fiction

bassboy

Image courtesy of Morguefile free photos

Name one non-living thing that teenagers everywhere love: music.

It may be Christian rock, country western, hip-hop, or the traditional music of an exotic culture—but I haven’t known a young person from any background who didn’t enjoy some type of music.

Featuring music, or a love of it, is a great way to make a story and its characters more relatable to a teen audience.

Sometimes music is fundamental to the story and the main character. Sometimes it plays a supporting role, with the love of a certain type of music appearing as one facet of a secondary character’s personality. The plot or main character arc may depend on music to motivate a character to act and change, or a character’s involvement with music may influence another character’s feelings for him.

Examples of contemporary YA fiction employing music in the storylines are Sarah Dessen’s This Lullaby and Just Listen, Michelle Buckman’s My Beautiful Disaster, and Judy Blume’s Here’s to You, Rachel Robinson. A friend and fellow author also suggested a YA fantasy novel, Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonsong. In my novels, 8 Notes to a Nobody and 10 Steps to Girlfriend Status, one of the main characters plays the clarinet, and her music is an important part of her life.

Before you search your favorite music to incorporate it into your fiction, a word of caution about including any part of a song’s lyrics: you might get into trouble! Lyrics are copyrighted, and it’s difficult (or expensive) to gain permission to use them unless you know the artist personally. However, in the U.S. any song or musical work published in 1922 or earlier is in the public domain.*

Society tends to associate particular musical instruments with certain looks and personality types, but if you think outside the (music) box, they needn’t be stereotypical combinations.

When you imagine a male teenager who plays electric guitar or bass, how do you picture him? Is he a bad-boy rebel with long hair and a sketchy reputation, or a modern-day Buddy Holly with close-cropped hair and glasses? If that musician is a girl, is she a Shania Twain or a Cindy Lauper?

How about a female flutist (a.k.a. flautist)? Do you imagine someone outgoing and a member of the marching band or a lover of the classics who is quiet and shy? She may be a serious student, or perhaps she uses her music to escape her troubles at school or at home. If your male character plays the flute, does he date a girl in the student orchestra, or is he an introvert? Does he play classical music but listen to hard rock? Does he study the martial arts?

If you employ irony by pairing a musician’s love of a particular instrument with that of a hobby that seems to contradict it, you can make a character even more memorable. Is the cello player also a skydiver? Does the drummer rescue cats?

Playing music can be a diversion, a forced extra-curricular activity creating conflict with a parent, or perhaps a young person’s primary focus and anticipated career. Your teen character may play the organ at church, compose guitar music for a band, write lyrics in secret, or work in a recording studio—for fun, for profit, or to gain experience.

Bonuses in incorporating music into a story come not only in more relatable, three-dimensional characters, but also in creating believable settings and scenes with easy-to-use sensory details.

In addition to the obvious instrumental sounds, consider other sounds as well as the marvelous sights and smells surrounding the playing of music. Think of the aromas of wood or a leather case—from an acoustic guitar or a cello, antique or brand new. Light plays with musical instruments, bouncing from metal horns and showing off a violin’s luster. Back to sounds, some of the most interesting are those that occur before and after the music plays. Sheet music rustling, discordant tuning, cases rattling or scraping the floor, locks snapping shut. Use them to show joy, frustration, or anger.

Remember that teens all over the globe can identify with other teens who love music or are involved with it in some way. Your story will truly resonate with them when the music one of your characters loves happens to be the music they love too.

Which YA novels have you read that feature music?

*http://www.pdinfo.com/public-domain-music-list.php

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