Today I’d like to introduce you to one of my co-authors at Vintage Rose, Amber Leigh Williams, whose novel Forever Amore is currently available at Black Lyon Publishing. Today Amber is going to chat about the research she did for this novel and what she learned, and tomorrow we’ll be posting an exclusive excerpt from Forever Amore.
When I decided to write a book based in ‘40’s-era Italy, I was shocked by how little information there was on the Verona region of Veneto. World War II was the first highly-photographed, -recorded, and -documented war in history. There was very little to work with in photos, reels, battle sequences, and cultural details from 1944-1945 Italy.
But that was ten years ago. Between then and the final draft of my historical romance Forever Amore, detailed books on the subject were published. I was delighted when I happened to peruse the WWII section of the Military aisle at my local bookstore. On my sixth and final revision of the novel, I used some of the information in these books to add scenes that involved Lucille, the heroine, trying to find Charles, the hero working as a spy, in Nazi-occupied Milan. The new elements not only adrenalized the formerly-lagging middle: it gave the story underlying layers of suspense and intrigue. By reading the books on WWII in Italy, I also found that women who associated themselves with or married Allied soldiers were humiliated in front of their townsfolk. Black Shirt soldiers in particular liked to cut off their hair and delouse them. Forever Amore explores the question “How far would you go for love?” Both characters risk their lives and put themselves in extraordinary danger to save the other and at times, unfortunately, pay the price.
Fashion was an important issue to contend with, as it should be in any historical romance. Lucille comes from a wealthy, almost aristocratic, wine-making family and Italy is one of the most fashionable countries in the world so when it came time to dress her, her sisters, and the other members of her family, they had to have the finest, most luxurious wardrobes in period fashion. The problem, however, I discovere d was that the story begins in March 1944 and rationing was in full effect – not just in the matter of food but in certain materials as well. And, yep, silk was one of them. In one of my favorite scenes in the book, Lucille’s rake of an uncle is taking her out to an opera to get her mind off her missing lieutenant. He gives her a silk gown he had smuggled into the country to cheer her up. The dress – a white one *wink* – plays a very significant role of its own. Lucky for me, conservative fashion came back with a vengeance after the promiscuous ’20’s and the slinky women’s wear of the ’30’s. This made it easy to add a collar or high neck to all of Lucille’s blouses and gowns in order to hide Charles’s dog-tags, which she wears underneath.
Another important research aspect of Forever Amore was the vineyard sequences. In the original draft, Lucille is giving Charles a tour of the Villa Renaldi, her family’s expansive estate. I eventually cut the twenty-five pages spent detailing how grapes are grown and harvested and how winery machinery works (the technology used in the ’40’s-era Italy, that is).
Though this information was not necessary for the overall story, it was good to fall back on for reference during seasonal transitions. When spring rolls into summer, the vines are growing taller, easily cloaking Lucille and Charles’s twilight rendezvous in the romantic vine labyrinth. Before I began Forever Amore, I knew nothing about wine. Over the course of the first draft, I not only learned everything there was to know about vino… I learned to like it as well. A tour of a Tuscan vineyard will definitely be a must on my first trip to Italy. After a visit to the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, my father brought back books and pamphlets on winemaking…as well as a bottle of Biltmore’s best label. There are several muscadine vineyards on the Gulf Coast of Alabama and Florida that I had fun exploring.
One of the final subjects I had to cover for this book was military. Like wine, before Forever Amore, I knew nothing about flying or fighter pilots. Movies came in handy here. I spent hours watching films that featured dogfighting just so I could learn fighter-pilot-speak. When I was happy with the terminology, I went looking for Charles’s plane.Thanks to the movie Pearl Harbor, I knew what a B-17 looked like and its purpose. Probably for this reason, the book states that Charles’s squadron originally dropped bombs over Rome in B-17s. It took a bit more digging to put him in the right fighter plane. The Military Channel solved all my problems by featuring the WWII-era P-38. I needed a plane with two engines to launch my story.
In the opening scene, one of Charles’s plane engines shorts out thanks to enemy artillery and Charles is forced to land in Axis territory. He winds up crashing in the Renaldi vineyard, thereby thrusting him and Lucille together. I couldn’t use the B-17 due to its weight. The fighter needed to be speedy to out-fly Luftwaffe resistance. The two-engine P-38 was built for aerial dogfighting. Staff Sergeant Joe Shannon describes it as “the most sophisticated fighter we had, and the one I found most challenging to fly.” Thanks to the Military Channel, I also learned that P-38s were some of the first planes to be steered by yokes, a term I never would’ve known or used otherwise.
Don’t forget to check back here tomorrow for more on Amber’s book, Forever Amore.
You can visit Amber Leigh Williams at her website: www.amberleighwilliams.com