Interview with Melodie Winawer+ #DebBallGiveaway of THE SCRIBE OF SIENA

I am delighted to welcome one of my Touchstone Books sisters, Melodie Winawer, to the Deb Ball. We both have books set in Italy and have a curiosity and love for cooking history. Her novel, THE SCRIBE OF SIENA, is her first, but what a fantastic first it is! I loved this time-travel, medieval Italian tale with its trifecta of love, science and art, combining together for some fantastic historical fiction. Set in medieval Italy, a time traveler from NYC discovers a plot to destroy Siena, but along the way she falls in love with an artist, Gabriele.

About the book:

Accomplished neurosurgeon Beatrice Trovato knows that her empathy for her patients is starting to impede her work. So when her brother passes away, she welcomes the unexpected trip to the Tuscan city of Siena to resolve his estate, even as she wrestles with grief. But as she delves deeper into her brother’s affairs, she discovers intrigue she never imagined—a 700-year-old conspiracy to decimate the city.

After uncovering the journal and paintings of Gabriele Accorsi, the 14th century artist at the heart of the plot, Beatrice finds a startling image of her own face and is suddenly transported to the year 1347. She awakens in a Siena unfamiliar to her, one that will soon be hit by the Plague.

Yet when Beatrice meets Accorsi, something unexpected happens: she falls in love—not only with Gabriele, but also with the beauty and cadence of medieval life. As the Plague and the ruthless hands behind its trajectory threaten not only her survival but also Siena’s very existence, Beatrice must decide in which century she belongs.

You too can have a chance to get a copy for free! To enter to win, simply retweet on twitter.

Or you can share our post from Facebook. We will select and contact the very lucky winner on Friday, May 26th at noon (US Only).

Now, on to the interview!

Which talent do you wish you had?

This is embarrassing but…driving.  I’ve driven at most 25 times. I grew up in Manhattan, which explains things somewhat—owning a car in Manhattan is about as useful for transportation as removing one of your legs.  I have a driver’s license but I almost never use it. Recently I thought I’d try to practice, but we have a minivan and three kids. I’ve never driven a minivan and is it really the right time to learn when three of the most precious people in your life are in the back of the car?  My nine-year-old daughter actually scolded me for even considering it…not that I needed her to tell me that but it gives you an idea of what she’s like.  We are all in her thrall.

What is your advice for aspiring writers?

Write for the joy of it, not to please some imagined audience, or market. Don’t worry if people say, “no one is buying [ insert your genre here]”, or “no first novelist should write a book over 400 pages”, for example (both of those things were said to me, and I ignored them).  You should write your story because you love it or must write it.  There’s no point otherwise.

What’s your next big thing?  (new book, new project, etc.)

Because I have more than one job/profession/(life!) can I talk about TWO next big things?

On the science front, I’m starting a new project that explores a novel idea connecting seizures and brain tumors. Most people wouldn’t be surprised to find out that brain tumors cause people to have seizures. But what about the reverse?   What if seizures stimulate existing brain tumors to grow?  This is totally unknown, but if it turns out to be true, then it would change the way people with brain tumors are treated—prevention of seizures would be crucial in people with brain tumors, even if they have never had a seizure before. (This doesn’t mean that people with epilepsy should be worried about getting brain tumors though—there is no evidence for that!) Currently, there is no consensus on that aspect of treatment. I am planning a research study now to look at that question. One of the things I love about being a scientist is that I am constantly on a vertical learning curve, having to think about, read about and do things I’ve never done before. This project is like that.

In my fiction universe, I’m working on a novel set in late Byzantine Greece. It centers in the now-abandoned city of Mystras, in the southern Peloponnese. The city is mostly in ruins, but many buildings are still standing, and you can walk through it, into the churches and crumbling houses. Mystras has a tumultuous history as the center of the late Byzantine Empire after the fall of Constantinople, with moments of great triumph and also great despair. The new book, like The Scribe of Siena, connects the past and the present…but in a different way. I can’t tell you how yet!

What’s the strangest job you’ve ever had?

In medical school I took a summer off to do research in the department of Otolaryngology—ear nose and throat medicine.  It seemed interesting in theory, trying to figure out how to plan surgeries for cochlear implant, in which a device is implanted in the inner ear that can help deaf people hear. Sounds great, but my job was to look at hundreds of MRIs and measure the distance in millimeters between a small black circle (the carotid artery in cross section) and a small black oval (part of the cochlea) over and over and over again.  It was outrageously dull. Fortunately, that experience didn’t make me give up research entirely.

Has anyone ever thought a character you wrote was based on them?

No, but my brother Paul thought a character in The Scribe of Siena was based on our mother!  The character, Umiltà, is a tiny, intense, and extremely talkative nun who always gets her way. She’s a force of nature, tough but loving, and fabulously effective–a great ally. My mom is a trial lawyer with her own firm, a fabulous conversationalist, and a single mom who has always been her kids’ champion. Her power far exceeds her physical size, and obstacles tend to disappear when she gets involved.  Paul and I are lucky—she’s great mother to have! (So nice to be writing this tribute right after Mother’s Day.) Umiltà ends up acting as a mother figure for Beatrice, my protagonist, who is not only an orphan, but stranded in time with no family at all. The funny thing is, although I didn’t base Umiltà on my mother on purpose, I can see why my brother thought I had.  Maybe without knowing it, I did!

photo by Dana Maxon

THANK YOU for joining us, Melodie! It was a pleasure to have you on the Debutante Ball.

Melodie Winawer is a physician-scientist and Associate Professor of Neurology at Columbia University. A graduate of Yale University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Columbia University with degrees in biological psychology, medicine, and epidemiology, she has published over fifty nonfiction articles and book chapters. She is fluent in Spanish and French, literate in Latin, and has a passable knowledge of Italian. Dr. Winawer lives with her spouse and their three young children in Brooklyn, New York. The Scribe of Siena is her first novel.

Find more of Melodie here:
Website: www.melodiewinawer.com
Facebook author page: www.facebook.com/authorMelodieWinawer/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/melodiewinawer


These Are A Few of My Favorite Things

This week the Debs are singing songs from the Sound of Music…wait, no, that’s just Deb Crystal. But we are talking about some of our favorite things–the things that make us happy, that make us smile, that make us laugh. The Roman orator and philosopher, Seneca, once said, “True happiness is… to enjoy the present…
Continue reading »


I Must Confess – True Stories of a Writer

This week’s Deb topic is about Confessions! Each of us are sharing something unknown, something hidden about us, our books or our writing process.  Today I am going to confess. All the sins of my past, the wayward thoughts and actions that led me astray. It might not be pretty. Feel free to turn your…
Continue reading »


5 Things You May Not Know About COME AWAY WITH ME

Well, it’s here. THE DAY has arrived. I’m a published author. I’ve now checked off bucket list item #34 – Write a novel and get it published. The book is out in the wild…which means people are reading it. (Thank you!) People I don’t know. Which is thrilling. And scary. And awesome. And scary. (Wait, did I already…
Continue reading »


A Side of Real Life with my Fiction, Please…

When my husband was reading an early draft of COME AWAY WITH ME, it wasn’t long before he turned to me and asked, “So, I’m Gabe, right?” (Yes, but only the good parts, naturally …*wink wink*) Gabe is fictional, of course he is. But there is a lot of my husband in him – from…
Continue reading »


A Deb Moment with Guest Author John Grisham

It’s fitting that our theme this week is I Want to Learn, as I had the good fortune of meeting today’s guest author, John Grisham, while in pursuit of something I had long wanted to learn, Italian. John has wisely parlayed his Italian experience into books set in Italia: first, his bestselling novel, The Broker, and now–in a departure from the legal thrillers with which we’ve come to associate the iconic author–Playing for Pizza: A Novel. Pizza is about hack third-string NFL quarterback Rick Dockery, who becomes a national laughingstock after singlehandedly losing the AFC playoff game his team was on the brink of winning by a landslide. Booted from his team and shunned by the NFL, his agent amazingly lands him a starting quarterback position…in Parma, Italy. Thus Dockery sets off on an adventure, discovering all he did not know about himself, about Italy, and about football Americano, Italian-style.

John–or should we say Gianni–was kind enough to agree to be a guest on the Debutante Ball, despite his busy travel schedule, a pending book deadline, his sponsoring a fundraiser this week for Hillary Clinton and the release of his latest novel (check out People Magazine’s terrific review). So without further ado, a Deb Moment with esteemed author John Grisham:

Q: You have shown with previously published works that you don’t want to rest on your laurels, but rather choose to continue to stretch creatively and branch out into other subjects and genres with your books. Your last book (The Innocent Man), in fact, was non-fiction–about a man wrongfully convicted of murder, sentenced to death, and ultimately his spirit crushed despite the eventual overturning of the conviction. And now, a light-hearted story about American football in Parma, Italy. What gives?

JG: After 15 legal thrillers, I began to wonder what else I might be able to write. This is only natural for a writer to want to explore and stretch the imagination.

Q: Your audience at the Debutante Ball will be a lot of aspiring authors who are interested in the mechanics of your writing career. Can you tell us a little bit about your writing habits?

JG: When I am writing, with a serious deadline not far away, I start early in the morning, around 7 or 7:30, and work hard for about 4 or 5 hours. That’s enough. After 5 hours the brain is pretty well shot and the creative impulses have disappeared.

When I’m not writing under a deadline, which is about 7 months out of the year, I am usually collecting notes and research for future books and thinking about what to write next.

Q: Ever get anxiety over what to write at this point in your career?

JG: At this point I have more stories than I can ever write. Words and ideas are flowing freely, and I still enjoy the process.

Q: Do you have any sage words of advice for writers who might be reading this?

JG: I don’t give much advice. Each writer works differently and has a different background. The one truth, however, is that until you are writing at least one page each day, nothing will happen.

Q: What’s next for you, writing-wise?

JG: I am writing the next legal thriller, which is due in New York this fall, to be published early next year. As of today, I do not have a title, and that’s always a bad sign.

And as some at the Debutante Ball have already learned, the publisher will be happy to change your title for you anyhow, so no worries there!

After John and I spoke I tried to follow up with a burning question I’d forgotten–plotter or pantser? But John was buried deep in his work, so we’ll have to wait for that answer for another day. Look for John on the Colbert Report on Comedy Central at 11:30 EST tonight–it promises to be an amusing interview!

Thanks again, John, for taking time from your hectic schedule to spend a few minutes with us!

And for those of you thinking about pursuing a new interest, go for it! You never know what–or who–you’ll encounter along the way!

Deb Jenny (who next wants to learn violin, but fears a family revolt due to noise pollution if she attempts it!)