Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Aqua Alta

RHYS BOWEN:  Isn't it strange how often something we are writing suddenly echoes an event in real life? I have written about murders and then read in the paper of one that was just as I described it.  And how many books have been written about pandemica? Eeek!
And now a scene in my new book (called The Venice  Diary/Sketchbooks/Keys/Legacy/Secret?Something. I'll let you know what marketing finally decides) could have been taken directly from recent headlines.  It is a time of Aqua Alta--high water. When the high tide from the lagoon rises over the streets and into first floor homes.

Venice has always flooded in the winter, but not badly until now. When I wrote this scene I tried to think what it would be like to have to wade through water to  get home, but the Venetians take it entirely as a normal event. If you see newscasts during the recent Aqua Alta you'll see people sitting on stools in bars with water below them, shops open with a foot of water inside.


My heroine, a new arrival in Venice doesn't find it so easy.

Here's an excerpt:

We managed to skirt around the side of the square without getting too wet and both ordered a bowl of minestrone soup, which warmed us up nicely. I was so glad that I could finally enjoy food again. We finished our soup, ordered coffee and a pastry and still the rain hadn’t eased up. Then we were conscious of a loud siren, blaring out over the city.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Aqua alta!” a man at the next table said, waving his arms excitedly. He got up in a hurry, left some coins on the table and ran out, his coat over his head.
“What does that mean?” Henry asked.
“I think it means that some of the streets get flooded. We should go home while we can.”
Henry nodded. He insisted on paying the bill. “Will you be able to get home all right?” he asked.
“I’ll be fine. I expect the traghetto is still operating,” I said. So we parted company. My raincoat and scarf were soon soaked through. The wind had come up, driving the rain in different directions, first hitting me in the face and then in the back of the neck. I reached the traghetto dock and found the gondola tied up with its cover on.  “Blast,” I muttered. I was now in for a long walk up to the Accademia Bridge before I could cross the Grand Canal.
I slogged on, feeling more and more frustrated as there is no such thing as a direct route in Venice. I had to retrace my steps to cross a canal, then constantly choose left or right instead going forward. Finally I reached the Accademia Bridge and had to battle both wind and rain, clinging to the railing as I made my way up the fifty two steps and the down the other side. When I came down to the little piazza it was already flooded. I waded through the icy water, feeling it lapping over my ankles. Other people trudged through it as if it was only a minor inconvenience--a woman carrying a laden shopping basket, another pushing a stroller with the child suspended just above the water level. 
I was now so cold I was shivering uncontrollably. Campo Santo Stefano loomed ahead of me. Not too far now. I stumbled into an unseen drain and fell forward. I would have gone flat on my face into the icy water if a passing man hadn’t grabbed me and hauled me to my feet again. I passed a bar and was amazed to see men sitting on stools, drinking and smoking while water lapped below them. It seemed that nobody else cared too much about the rising waters.
“Madonna!” Signora Bertolini exclaimed when I came into the flat and stood in the hallway with water dripping from my clothing.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I am making your floor wet.” I tried to unbutton my coat but my fingers were numb with cold.
She came up to me. “You poor child,” she said, and started unbuttoning my coat for me. “Let’s put it over the bathtub to dry,” she said. “And your shoes. So the aqua alta is already upon us, yes?”

I can't tell you what happens next,  but a major plot twist. That's one of the challenges of giving sneak previews: I want my readers to be surprised when they read the book. And in this book I've given myself an additional challenge: It takes place in four time periods and I want to reveal the story, bit by bit in each of them, constantly surprising the reader. I've written two and a half stories and then I'll have to find a way to put them together. Maybe it will be like the Tuscan Child and I'll have to lay out one set of chapters in my front hall and then decide where to add the chapters from other time periods (and pray there is no sudden draft!)
What do you think about books written in more than one time period? Does the jumping around annoy you?

32 comments:

  1. I've enjoyed books that involve two time periods. I'm intrigued by jumping around in four time periods. But I'm sure you can pull it off.

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  2. Oh, Rhys, I feel for your poor heroine, trudging through all that water. It’s hard to imagine people taking it for granted, but I suppose if your city floods every year you’d get used to it. But now I’m intrigued and want to know what comes next . . . .

    I enjoy stories that are told in more than one time period; it’s always interesting to discover how they intersect.

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  3. I like different time periods in a book, and I can't wait to see what you do with four. I'm sure it will be brilliant. I'm finishing up Above the Bay of Angels, Rhys, and I love it so much! I have been fascinated through the whole book, and I have only about 40 more pages. If I didn't have to get up at a decent hour later, I'd be staying up until I finished it. It's sooooo good.

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  4. I love exploring different time periods in books. The Tuscan Child was fabulous, so I'm confident whatever worked for you on that one will serve you well with this one too.

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  5. Different time periods are a lovely reading challenge, and usually a pleasant surprise.

    The first time I'd ever heard of Aqua Alta was when a friend and her husband stayed in Venice for a week, about 20 years ago. I didn't know whether to believe her stories of walking on tables or not!

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  6. Hi Rhys! I love stories in multiple time periods so I'm really looking forward to this one.

    Regarding the Aqua Alta: My parents grew up in southern Missouri which is very flat. When the water would rise several feet they used a rowboat because the venomous cottonmouth snakes LOVE water. The houses were built up off the ground so they didn't have to worry about it getting in the house. I have pics of my dad and his family in high water with a rowboat in the front yard.

    How hot is it in Venice? When the water recedes how do they prevent mold? Just wondering because my allergies would kill me.

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    1. Aqua Alta only happen in the winter but there is a mold problem in ground floor rooms
      And we once lived in Texas at a time of flood and there were water moccasins swimming around. Yikes!

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  7. I'm confident you'll find the stories intertwining where they need to, Rhys--stories that move from one time period to another are a delight to read, when well written. I read one last year which got rave reviews. But when I read it, I found the clues in the modern-day story so obvious that long before the end, I'd figured out the details of the story set in the past. I love it when you are racing towards the end and all the stories start dovetailing and then, when finished, you have to go back and read all the details that led to the conclusion. This nippet has me confident that your novel will have me glued to the pages!

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  8. Past and present, woven together. You'll make it work.

    Aqua Alta! When we found our hotel in the pouring rain, three sets of alleyways back from the Grand Canal, they gave us rooms across the alley and up two flights of stairs "so we wouldn't worry about the water." Elevated platforms in Piazza San Marco, but no standing water during our visit.

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  9. As long as it is done well I really enjoy stories that alternate time periods. I want the chapter heads to indicate which period we are in or I get too confused.

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  10. What I don't like is to be confused... and it takes a lot of skill for a writer to zigzag among timelines and NOT confuse. No worries about that with Rhys's writing.

    We were just in Venice last summer, fortunately not during aqua alta. Isn't there aqua alta these days in Miami?

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  11. I do love books that alternate time periods. Historical novels are among my favorite genres and when combined with mysteries, ah-h that is a bonus. Like Hallie, I do not like to be confused, but I have every faith that you will combine all four time periods so that it makes complete sense.

    I am listening to Above the Bay of Angels. It is my very first Audible book. I only listen when I am alone and I must say that I am a little impatient to keep going. If it were a paper book, it'd be finished by now. It's a terrific story.

    This year I've also been reading all of the Her Royal Spyness mysteries and just adore the characters you've created and the authenticity of the time period. It's a bit embarrassing to see that I've become a gushing "superfan." That said, I still have about 30 more of your books to read. That is one of the benefits of being late to the party!

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    1. If it makes you feel any better, Judy, I have been similarly growing to be a gushing fan of Rhys. I used to say "I don't really read historical fiction," and she is a BIG factor in my having moved from that to "I occasionally enjoy historical fiction" to "Historical fiction is one of the genres I really enjoy."

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  12. I like different time periods -- makes for interesting reading. However, if some graphic device is used to indicate the shift, it's helpful for me to keep track.

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  13. Rhys, it depends on the writing. I do not mind the duplicate time periods as long as I can follow the story. My major problem is often confusing a character with another character and getting lost while trying to follow the story. Your new novel sounds intriguing! I was in Venice during the fall. No flooding while I was there.

    Diana

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  14. This is SUCH a good question! I adore multiple time periods, and I am always curious about hte best way to label them. I When the writing is good, it's not hard to distinguish. But it is SO frustrating when it's not-and the readers get confused. And i see reviews of various books where this is a big complaint. I am a big fan of labeling chapters. I mean--you might not HAVE to, but why not Cannot wait to read this,Rhys!

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    1. That’s what I did with the Tuscan Child, Hank. I headed chapters so we knew who was speaking and when

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  15. Ooohh, Rhys, I love this, and I can't wait to see what happens next! You can guess that I love books with multiple time periods, but I've never tried to juggle four! I'm sure you will do it brilliantly!

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    1. Yes, Deb, you definitely have this "down." I just love how so many of your wonderful stories incorporate the past, sometimes ancient, sometimes personal and sometimes the last generation. I need to reread all of your books, again.LOL

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  16. Multiple time periods can be hugely powerful if done well - kind of a ghost story without the ghosts - and I love the idea in theory. My kind of book. Of course it takes a whole lot of skill to pull it off, and not be confusing and annoying. Rhys, of course you will do it! (Lately, I have been hooked by tv show This Is Us, which scrambles the times periods so very skillfully to layer both plot and emotion)

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  17. I have enjoyed many books with multiple time periods too, and Rhys, I'm sure you are skilled enough to make it work smoothly. I will admit, though, before you asked your question, I flinched a bit at the line "It takes place in four time periods and I want to reveal the story, bit by bit in each of them, constantly surprising the reader." I flinched only because I enjoy twists to a point, but I have read books that were so twisty it felt like an exercise rather than enjoyable storytelling. But to reiterate, I have great faith in Rhys Bowen's ability to make it great.

    One of the most impactful books I read last year was The Alice Network by Kate Quinn, and I thought it did an especially strong job of interweaving two time periods very effectively.

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  18. Okay, now I'm intrigued and I agree with others titled chapters or sections help keep the lines straight in my muddled mind. I can't wait for the resolution of the mysterious title .... Oh, to answer the question, different time periods in same book are fine if the flow is good and the only way I get lost is when I'm into the story so much that I can't put it down until the end.

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  19. I love stories with multiple time periods! I just finished one in the wee hours this morning. It helps keep track when each chapter is headed by date and character’s name. Loved the snippet, Rhys! I’ve never been to Venice but I live in Houston. Does that count?

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  20. I very much enjoy different time periods within a book. And can't wait to read this one!

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  21. This was a perfect read for an unusually rainy week in AZ. Flash flood warnings through Friday - Aqua Alta, indeed! I love multiple time periods and can’t wait to read your newest! Yay!!!

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    1. Drive safely to San Diego! I'll miss seeing you there.

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  22. Great excerpt. Isn't it funny what the people who are new to an area consider a tragedy and people who live there shrug and bear it.

    I like multiple time periods and don't mind the jumping as long as the jump is clearly communicated.

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  23. Thank you for the memory, Rhys. I was traveling alone and didn't know much Italian beyond gelato when the high water hit Venice. They had to take me to the window to show me why I couldn't leave the hotel. It looked just like that first photo!

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