A Roman Soldier’s Horse by Patricia Iacuzzi
Remember when Downton Abbey hijacked America’s attention every week?
The series was a great yarn that took place over 100 years ago, in a world far different from today. Good historical fiction is like that. It’s a “two-fer”— well-researched history plus a compelling plot with characters that live long after their time.
Today, I would like to introduce you to Patricia Iacuzzi, an artist and writer of historical fiction.
- What attracted you to the historical fiction genre?
I was born and raised in the Mohawk Valley, an area steeped in colonial history. I lived a few miles from General Herkimer’s home and learned how he fought the British, and prevented them from dividing the colonies. I read Drums Along the Mohawk, Jane Eyre, and Little Women in grade school, so I grew up enjoying historical fiction.
- You set your first book in the Mohawk Valley in the 18th century. Why then? What’s the novel’s status now?
I set Frontier Trail in the Mohawk Valley because I was familiar with the setting and history. My first novel, it won second place in a Romance Writers of America contest years ago. However, as I learned more about the craft of writing, I realized it needed revision, so it’s “waiting in the wings.” I’d also joined American Christian Fiction Writers by then, and Frontier Trail, at that time, wasn’t written as Christian fiction.
- Do you have a favorite time period? Your current novel, “The Winter’s Hour,” is placed in the late 19th century, the gilded era in America. What do you like about writing in that era?
My favorite time period right now is the gilded age because I had great-grandparents who came from Ireland and lived in New York. Researching my ancestry opened a whole new world to me. (My grandmother was a maid in the Theodore Roosevelt household. She lived in Glen Cove, Long Island, not far from Sagamore Hill.)
- Does romance play a role in your books? If so, why?
Romance, or love, does play a role in my books to a greater or lesser degree, depending on the story genre. Love is a part of life, whether it’s familial, or between a man & a woman. Overcoming obstacles to lasting love, or difficulties that arise when we can’t recognize dangerous infatuation — can be the basis for good stories.
- As a Christian writer, what do you want to convey to readers?
In my short story The Fountain, (which is included in a published collection entitled A Kiss is Still a Kiss, along with multi-published authors Deborah Raney, Gail Gaymer Martin, and Kathleen Fuller) my theme is about sacrificial love — an example of Christ’s love when He gave His life for us.
The gilded age novel, that I’m working on now, it’s about familial love, and issues that can either tear a family apart, or bring them closer together.
I’ve also learned there is a spiritual element to good stories, beyond the physical and emotional. They don’t just end sad, happy, or neutral (in the moment). I’ve seen shows like that and they end kind of flat; they don’t carry through as life does, with hope that carries us through the next moment, hour, or day. That is what faith gives us.
- How much research do you do for a novel? On average, how many hours do you spend discovering snippets about everyday life in order to put the reader in the action?
I do research as the scene comes up (the only SOTP writing I do) to solidify the scene and strengthen characterization. I couldn’t tell you how many hours — sometimes it’s a few minutes to check on names, dates and places — sometimes it’s long and drawn out. For example, how were battles fought on the New York frontier in the eighteenth century? Who was fighting, what weapons were used, and what was the outcome? You have to enjoy doing research, and sometimes I end up going down rabbit holes and discovering something new I can use in another story.
- You are a talented artist with an MFA. How do you (as a retired art teacher) resist information dumps?
I think it’s seeing a scene in my head, as if I were watching a movie. I’m visual and seek details. But I try to scatter those details through a scene using action or dialogue; then a paragraph or two of a character’s thoughts and emotions about what they’re experiencing. I try not to drag those details out in pages of narrative.
- How do those creative juices (art and writing) intermix in your work? Do you write out your novels in long hand first? Do you think there is a connection between your tactile skills (painting) and your writing?
Very much so. I enjoy writing detailed plot outlines long-hand in journals, decorated with floral or landscape covers, and with Bible verses for encouragement. I use Pinterest for old photo collections of historical settings, costumes, and actors who might make good story characters. That really inspires me.
- If you could do only one thing – write or make art, what would you choose and why?
This is a tough one. I have been doing artwork and writing since about third grade. Sold a landscape painting in 5th grade, and wrote poetry in 6th.
A story: I was sitting in my fourth year 2-Dimensional Design class at Rochester Institute of Technology, when my drawing teacher came running up the stairs and called out, “Miss O’Brien–Miss O’Brien! You’ve won the Symposium (RIT publication) writing competition for the second year in a row! The Irish have been known for their literary skills since the Middle Ages…you should have majored in literature!” (This, mind you, after four years and paying close to $35,000 for my education!)
- Tell about your writing practices. I believe you are an outliner, and not a pantser. Do you have a daily word count goal? When do you write best? Any advice?
Yes, I outline in detail. That way I feel all I have to do is write the scenes built around each plot device. (I follow The Writer’s Journey based on Christopher Vogler’s mythic 3-act story structure). I try to get 6-10 pages done a day. But that plot outline has to be in place and all the research done. I also enjoy writing at night, and am up sometimes until 2-3 in the morning. (Wish someone could tell me why I’m such a night owl.)
- I believe you are the Queen of plot development. Given one situation, you come up with tons of conflicts and plot ideas. Does that just come to you, or is it a developed skill? If so, how?
Many people told me to start with the characters (because depth of characterization is extremely important). But those characters need to be placed in a situation; they can’t respond in a vacuum. Here is my process.
- I come up with a situation, or event, first— for example, the San Francisco earthquake.
- Then I think about the setting, and soon the types of characters who need to deal with this event begin to develop.
- From there, I take my lead character(s) and write their physical, emotional and spiritual conflicts.
- Finally, following the plot outline from The Writer’s Journey (you can use a similar one from James Scott Bell’s Plot & Structure book) I write my scenes beneath each outline heading, incorporating my characters’ conflicts.
- Do you have a message you wish to share?
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8 NIV).
Thank you, Sue, for having me as a guest. Hope I’ve contributed something folks can use.
Thank you, Pat for your wonderful contribution to the world of writing.
 Seat of the Pants