HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: There’s one critical thing every book must have. Yes, a great character, and a great setting, and an important problem and a lot of secrets and a wow of an ending. But before all that. There’s one pivotal thing every book needs.
The germ, the gem, the nugget. The perfect unique twist or moment or action.
In other words: A good idea.
And the terrific Gigi Pandian got one for her birthday. (and leave a comment to be entered for a copy of MICHELANGELO’S GHOST!
Milestone birthdays led to MICHELANGELO’S GHOST
By Gigi Pandian
Two years ago, I’d figured out the basic ideas that formed my latest novel, MICHELANGELO’S GHOST: A lost work of art linking India to the Italian Renaissance. A killer hiding behind a centuries-old ghost story. And a hidden treasure in Italy’s macabre sculpture garden known as the Park of Monsters.
I loved this new story I was crafting with an India-Italy connection. All of my Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt mysteries involve a present-day crime linked to a treasure from India’s colonial history, and I felt like I was well on my way—but there was a problem. I hadn’t visited Italy in nearly two decades, and I’d never been to the Park of Monsters.
My silly husband has never been fascinated by Italy (I told you he was silly!), so I was preparing to take this research trip on my own. I’ve always been a good solo traveler, but the universe lined up to make sure I didn’t have to take this trip on my own.
Last year, I turned 40. Within a few months of my birthday, my mom turned 70 and my dad turned 80. (Yes, this is how we’ve always been able to keep track of each other’s ages!) Both of my parents were anthropologists before retiring, and my dad is originally from India, so starting when I was 10 years old they began taking me with them when they traveled abroad.
To celebrate our milestone 40/70/80 birthdays last year, we decided to take a trip abroad together—just the three of us, like we hadn’t done since I was a kid. When I learned my father had never been to Italy, that settled it: we’d travel to Italy as our family trip. We’d visit Rome for my dad and the Park of Monsters for me.
Have you heard of the Park of Monsters? Also known as the Gardens of Bomarzo, it’s a Renaissance garden located between Rome and Florence built by eccentric nobleman Pier Francesco “Vicino” Orsini, that after centuries of neglect is now a popular destination for both horror film-makers and Italian families with small children. The park has always fascinated me because the gigantic, moss-covered stone statues are like oversize gargoyles, and they’re filled with such personality. My favorite is the ogre, with its wide mouth serving as a door that leads to… not a dark dungeon, but a picnic table!
I’m not telling this story here because it was a fun trip (even though it was great to relive the spirit of those childhood family travels—this time with none of my pre-teen eye-rolling). I’m sharing it here because the trip had an added bonus: traveling with my parents turned out to be essential to writing Michelangelo’s Ghost.
Before I left for Italy, the novel had a rough draft plot and some scenes I thought were rather exciting. But… It didn’t yet have a title. It didn’t have its main twist. And most importantly, it didn’t have its heart. I’ll tell you a secret: at the time, Michelangelo wasn’t involved at all.
But once I was in Italy, it was impossible not to breathe in the rich artistic history everywhere I turned.My father—who’s basically a walking encyclopedia—made an off-hand comment about Michelangelo being difficult to work with and not taking apprentices. With that, the story fell into place like a curling row of dominoes. Michelangelo and the mystery linked together perfectly. I don’t know how I didn’t see it sooner, but that’s how writing goes!
I’m sorry (but not sorry) that I’m not going to reveal the twists here. But I can tell you this much: I do my homework to get my history right. The treasure and the twists are historically accurate. And next week, you can read the mystery and history in Michelangelo’s Ghost.
Do you enjoy traveling by yourself, or with your family or friends? Or are you more of an armchair traveler who loves to experience the world through books?
HANK: How about you, Reds? Do you like your travel real or in your imagination? Or-- if you’d rather--what’s the best birthday present you’ve ever received?
(Oh—and the winner from yesterday of SAY NO MORE is SUSAN in Williamsburg!
Send me your address via H ryan at whdh dot com and I will send you the ARC of SAY NO MORE!) And watch this space—I’ll give away another one later in the week!)
MICHELANGELO’S GHOST: A Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery
Publishers Weekly says: “Everything a mystery lover could ask for: ghostly presences, Italian aristocrats, jewel thieves, failed actors, sitar players, and magic tricks, not to mention dabs of authentic history and academic skullduggery.”
When Jaya’s old professor dies under eerie circumstances shortly after discovering manuscripts that point to a treasure in Italy’s Park of Monsters, Jaya and her brother pick up the trail. From San Francisco to the heart of Italy, Jaya is haunted by a ghost story inexorably linked to the masterpieces of a long-dead artist and the deeds of a modern-day murderer.
USA Today bestselling author Gigi Pandian spent her childhood being dragged around the world by her cultural anthropologist parents, and now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. She writes the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt mysteries, the Accidental Alchemist mysteries, and locked-room mystery short stories. Gigi’s fiction has been awarded the Malice Domestic Grant and Lefty Awards, and short-listed for Macavity and Agatha Awards.
To hear more about the stories behind the book, you can also join me for my virtual book launch party next Tuesday, October 4, on my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/GigiPandian/ (And in case you’re in California, you can join me in person: http://gigipandian.com/events.)
Connect with Gigi via her email newsletter ( www.gigipandian.com/newsletter/ ), Facebook ( https://www.facebook.com/GigiPandian ), and Twitterhttps://twitter.com/GigiPandian )