Published: December 27, 2011
Format: Paperback (304 pages)
A special guest post by author, Kathyrn Kay . . .
The Gilder: Fact vs. Fiction
As I wrote my novel, The Gilder, there were many times I wondered if readers, especially those who knew me, might think the story was autobiographical. It was a small concern but one that nagged at me and sometimes succeeded in distracting me from my writing. It’s not an uncommon thing to wonder and I’ve been to plenty of readings where the first question asked is “How much of this story is based on your own life and personal experience?”. When I received the galleys of The Gilder I shared a few copies with friends who didn’t know anything about the book, but who knew enough about my life to recognize similarities in the book. Sure enough, the compliments and congratulations were often followed with, “Did you really…?”. Even my own husband (who didn’t know me during that time in my life) confessed that he pictured me in the place of my protagonist in spite of the fact that the character of Marina bears no resemblance to me at all…nor do her actions.
As I prepare to embark on my book tour, and anticipate those “Did you really?” questions, I thought I’d address the boundaries of fact and fiction in The Gilder. Yes, I lived in Florence in the mid to late 1970’s, but unlike my protagonist Marina, who stayed for a year, I stayed for five. Like Marina, I went to Florence to study design but my arrival in Florence was a more spontaneous decision (upon dropping out of college) than Marina’s long-wished for and well-planned adventure. We both studied restoration with a teacher named Sauro but while Marina focused on gilding, I specialized in the art of inlay.
In regard to the characters in the book, I did become very close friends with an expat couple who bear little resemblance to Sarah and Thomas. Like most fictional characters, Thomas is an amalgam of men I’ve known and observed, while Sarah in all her ethereal beauty is the antithesis of who I (or anyone I knew) was at the time. I did have those Frye boots Marina wore on her first day in Florence but that’s where the similarities end.
The two English girls from the restoration class are fictitious but, like them, I did know a group of Persian architectural students who studied in Florence and who had a dilapidated country house they used on weekends. Marcello, too, is wholly fiction but it’s true that Florence was known for it’s beautiful transvestites, and I remember seeing them in doorways much as I describe in the story. While I‘ve never met anyone like the Contessa, her physical appearance was inspired by someone I once met, and although I have a friend who suspects that I might have the Contessa’s tight red jacket and whip secreted away in my closet, I do not. Lydia and June and their children are inspired by, but not drawn specifically from, a community of lesbian women I’ve had the good fortune to know for the past thirty years. I do have a daughter who was once fifteen years old, and I was a single parent for many years so it’s inevitable that Marina and Zoe’s relationship draws on my own experience.
Almost all the physical aspects of the book are real, and I’ve described the historic sites as accurately as possible. Aside from these, via Luna and the apartment on that street do exist; it’s where I lived during my years in Florence and both are much as I describe them. Trattoria Anita is a restaurant that still exists, and where I often ate with my Persian friends back in the 70’s. In those days it was a neighborhood trattoria frequented predominantly by locals and the few tourists who stumbled upon it by accident. Whenever I visit Florence I’m never quite sure I remember exactly where it is but I eventually find it exactly where it’s always been in the maze of narrow streets between Santa Croce and the Palazzo Vecchio. There were and still are olive groves on the outskirts of Fiesole but Marina and Sarah’s picnic spot is imagined. My expat friends did live in a converted convent in via dei Macci, and their doorbell was the bottom button with no name, but the apartment I describe in the book has been upgraded from the one they occupied.
In short, many of the physical places that Marina visits, the streets she walks, the food she eats, the sights, sounds and scents that fill her days are real. However, the people she meets, the situation she finds herself in, and the decisions she makes are pure fiction.
My thanks to Kathryn Kay for giving this blog her special touch with this post. In her own words, she fills my page with facts about her fiction and gives us readers the real story behind her story.
Today, Kathryn Kay celebrates the release THE GILDER from Kensington Books. It’s a great read that you’ll just have to finish!