StreetLib Stories: Dorah Blume
Our StreetLibers are the foundation, brick and mortar of our company. We are only the workers. StreetLib stories are a way to learn about these foundations, one StreetLiber at a time. We discover today Dorah Blume’s publishing story as told by herself. Thanks Dorah for sharing it with us! Here is her story:
Botticelli’s Muse (under the working title of Floriana) had been with a literary agent for a couple of years without gaining publisher interest. I took the manuscript and rights to it back in 2013 with the intention of self-publishing. I did another revision and then generated close to 100 small black and white drawings to sprinkle throughout the text. Juiceboxartists Press (my own independent micro press) is publishing it. As author, I am Dorah Blume, a pen name I created over 20 years ago. It has been a way for me to separate my writer self from the visual artist. But we are good friends.
While a student at the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence, Italy in the 60s, I had no idea the seeds for a fiction series set in the Italian Renaissance were being planted in my imagination — seeds that would take a lifetime to flower.
The Earliest Seeds
• A boyfriend of my Bennington classmate Margo commented in 1963 that I resembled someone in a Botticelli painting. It caused me to look more closely at Botticelli’s work.
• When my Italian lover crossed the Atlantic in 1964 to spend a summer with me in Boston, we tracked down his distant relation who was living in Hyde Park, Boston. Zio recounted a World War II experience in Italy — seeing infant skeletons fall out of the walls of a bombed-out convent. The image never left my mind.
• In his mid-sixteenth-century tome, Lives of the Artists, Vasari referred to Botticelli as a minor artist. Why? Added to that, I had heard the legend of Sandro burning his work on the Bonfire of the Vanities, set by the Dominican friar Savonarola. What would have possessed the artist to do such a thing? Those questions stayed with me throughout the years. Botticelli’s Muse and its sequels will attempt to answer these questions.
As the Seeds Took Root, a Novel Grew…
The first few lines of Botticelli’s Muse began as a free-write session in my living room. It took a full year for me to discover the voice belonged to a character in a Botticelli painting. A visit to Italy in the summer of 1993, and an unplanned sojourn in hotel Mona Lisa (a building that had lodged the religious heads from Constantinople and Rome for the Council of Florence in 1438) introduced me to the matron of the hotel, Oslavia, who inspired the character of Sandro’s sister. I searched the archives of Florence’s synagogue/temple library and the Jewish burial grounds, using my inadequate Italian to find names and places that might show me a way back in time. As my imagination expanded these historical scraps, a story began to unfold.
The novel workshop I took while completing my MFA at Emerson College helped me flesh out the characters, weaving actual historical events into an ambitious thirty-two-chapter outline that spanned 1477 to 1498. After graduate school, I set the project aside to collect its requisite pound of dust.
Prompted by an essay written by Aram Saroyan (son of the famous William Saroyan) titled “The Lake Matters: Notes about Writing and Life,” and sent to me by a fellow writer, I set aside the outline and resumed work on the manuscript on July 21, 2002. The goal: to find out what the story was about, and then to be its first reader. In fourteen months the book grew from 50 to 800 pages. And the time span of the first volume of the story, which became Botticelli’s Muse, shrank from twenty years to eighteen months. Now the 20-year narrative arc had become the outline for a trilogy and the armature for the series that, considering that I am now in my 70s, might take me the rest of my life to write.
A friend with a vast library on the Renaissance, loaned me books and also read the manuscript in subsequent drafts which pared the number of pages down and made way for the series that is now in progress. After I had formatted it for publication over a year ago, she suggested that I illustrate it. Within a few short weeks, my illustrations began to emerge. I generated over 100 drawings for the book.
Coming to StreetLib
I first came to StreetLib because they partner with Overdrive which is connected to an international library lending program. To my surprise, StreetLib turned out to be an Italian company. Being the Italophile that I am, I was excited to find them.
The last time I was in Italy, was the summer of 2016 when I spent some time with friends in Umbria followed by a month in Silvi Marina, a tiny town on the Adriatic coast. From my single room on the 11th floor in Hotel Hermitage, I watched the swallows in flight from my opened window, and with the help of a professional cover designer and an editor, I settled on the cover design, refined the manuscript, and slowly got closer to the product finish line. One day a bird flew through the window. Someone told me that was a sign of good luck. I often feel like one of those swallows trying to make its way back to Capistrano when I’ve been away from Italy too long, and a lot like the one that got trapped in my room when obstacles appeared along my slow way to publication. My dream for the novel is that it will be translated into Italian and find its way into a TV series, ideally made in Italy! That way, I’ll have to be on set as a creative consultant.
Self-Publishing inside the Silver Tsunami
In addition to publishing my own work, one of my goals for Juiceboxartists Press, is to bring the voices of other older writers to the page. There are so many of us who have started late in life because the tasks of day to day survival have often taken us away from our creative passions. The world of self-publishing is transforming books and reading. With each year the products get more and more sophisticated. Self-published books today outnumber trade publications. I’m proud to be a part of this trend, and to be a member of the Silver Tsunami — the rising numbers of silver-haired seniors making their way into the cultural mainstream.
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