Title: If I Were Fire
Author Name & Publisher: Heloise West (Dreamspinner Press)
Publication Date & Length: September 16, 2015 – 19,000 Words
In 18th century Siena, Count Salvesto Masello has returned home to find the family villa and his father’s estate steeped deeply in debt. In order to save it, he has been selling off valuable family heirlooms, but he is running out of silverware. Somewhere in the villa his deceased father had hidden the art treasures that will pay the debt, but Salvesto can’t find them anywhere.
Amadeo Neruccio has been on the run from the vicious pimp, thief, and pawnbroker Guelfetto, but his toughs finally catch him and bring him to the cellar where Count Masello is selling off his silver. When the count learns what fate Guelfetto has in store for Amadeo, he intervenes and trades the last of his mother’s dowry for the young man’s freedom.
Salvesto had left home over ten years ago to live the life of adventure he craved. He had also hoped to leave his broken heart behind. When he rescues young Amadeo, he did not expect to find love again, or that his adventures had yet to end.
Everyone knew everyone’s business in the small hilly honeycomb town of Siena. The house the Masello had once occupied for short periods during the year belonged to a rich merchant now. The eldest Masello had died in a hunting accident in the countryside, and his father, it was said, died of grief a year later. This event had brought the new conte home to the villa with the leaky roof, the broken-backed barn, and massive debt. Yet perhaps Conte Masello was not as bad off as they said, for he had paid Amadeo’s debt to Guelfetto.
Likely Amadeo was wrong about that, too, as the conte had traded for his freedom with silver dishes and spoons. Amadeo swallowed hard but could not dislodge the lump in his throat, a combination of gratitude and resentment. Life in a Florentine bathhouse and sexual slavery to the traditional enemies of Siena was no life at all. He shuddered. He had meant it about throwing himself on the tender mercy of the river.
What kind of master was the new Conte Masello? He glanced at the man beside him and found warm hazel eyes gazing down at him. His new master’s hair was as brown as chestnuts and touched with gray strands. Whatever he’d been doing while the family fortunes dwindled—soldiering, sailing, perhaps even tramping about in the New World—had made him a man with a face weathered by the sun and muscles that strained the seams of his fine clothes. He was broad-shouldered and a forearm’s length taller than Amadeo, who felt like a willow tree beside such an oak.
“We have another stop to make,” the conte whispered. “Finish your prayers.”
The hard press of the conte’s velvet-clad shoulder and the intimacy of his warm breath on Amadeo’s neck sent a small shock through him, and his cock stirred restlessly in response.
Oh no, you don’t. You are not to ruin this chance for me either. Pardon me, dear Saint Catherine. I pledge to you I will stay away from the gaming tables and this man’s bed.
1) Was there a basis for you story? A previous experience or something else?
It started life as a short story but the editor of the Dreamspinner anthology saw something more there and asked me to expand it. The inciting event for one of the characters is the August palio, one of the many horse races held in Siena all year round. I love Siena, studied much of its history for another novel, but I’ve never been to the palio. The inciting event could have been anything gambling-related in any 18th century city, but I had both a historical and fictional Siena to draw on to fill out the details. The anthology was for “Kindness of Strangers” but not based on any experience except for the historical details lurking around in my head.
2) What skills do you think a writer needs?
Be well read. Read poetry. Do your research. Learn punctuation and grammar, learn the proper elements of storytelling—plot, character, setting, point of view (one at a time, please). Be curious, persistent, and original.
3) What for you is the perfect book hero?
That’s a tough one—there are many types of heroes. I do find the carbon copy hero tropes irritating and rejoice in an original or a twist on the old. I don’t know why some stand out for me and the rest just sink into the mire. I guess if I knew that, then I could build one, but I believe that it’s really got to come from the heart and soul of the author, and without artifice.
4) Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Ugh. Finishing a first draft. The daily worry that it’s incomprehensible crap. Trusting in the muse that they’re not leading me to the edge just to push me off, laughing manically. Yet loving every word and second of creation just the same.
5) Tell us about your favorite childhood book.
Too many to name a favorite, but A Wrinkle In Time has to be in the top ten. I read somewhere that Madeline L’Engle wrote it sitting in a cathedral. Unfortunately, I don’t think they’d be too happy to find me tapping away down the hill at a pew in the summer church, but it’s pretty and quiet up here where I live. (The summer church has no heat, so the local church goers have two churches, one for winter and one for summer. It’s just the way it is.)
Heloise West, when not hunched over the keyboard plotting love and mahem, dreams about moving to a villa in Tuscany. She loves history, mysteries, and romance of all flavors. She travels and gardens with her partner of 10 years, and their home overflows with books, cats, art, and red wine.