Stories of Serendipity: Writing Historical Fiction Series Featuring author Alana White

Stephanie Renee dos Santos

Welcome to week five of the stories of serendipity series where authors share their tales of serendipity and synchronicity while writing, researching and publishing historical fiction, and speculate about why such happenings occur.

This Sunday I’m excited to introduce author Alana White and her miraculous story while writing and researching for her recent release, a historical mystery: The Sign of the Weeping Virgin…

Alana Photo 2“When I began writing The Sign of the Weeping Virgin the book had no title and no weeping painting. All I knew was I needed a miracle for my fifteenth-century Florentine lawyer to investigate in spring 1480. But what kind of miracle? Unexplained flames in the night sky over the city? What happened next made me believe not only in serendipity but in its sister, magic, too.

Turning to one of my favorite research books, Luca Landucci’s Florentine Diary, I found this entry: “March 1480: Peace was proclaimed, and the image of Our Lady of Santa Maria Impruneta was brought to Florence for the fête.” Delving deeper, I learned how Renaissance Florentines associated the painting of the Virgin Mary of S. M. Impruneta with miracles: a good crop, an illness cured. Something stirred in me: this seemed fortuitous. But had finding the Landucci quote only been very good luck?

VM of S.M Impruneta - Copy

Virgin Mary of S. M. Impruneta

Curious, I researched the word “Impruneta,” and discovered it is a small Tuscan town just south of Florence. The Church of S. M. Impruneta was still there. And—miraculously—after five centuries, so was the painting Luca Landucci had mentioned in his diary. I felt a little thrill, excited because I had already planned a research trip to Florence. By now I was beginning to glance over my shoulder. At noon on a sunny Sunday in October I slipped into the Church of S. M. Impruneta . . . only to see people leaving. Mass had ended. There was no sign of the painting. I found the priest, who—between my poor attempts to speak Italian and his struggle with English—explained the painting was available for viewing only on very special occasions. Not today. Disappointed to the core, I started to leave, whereupon the priest ran after me, smiling, and made me understand the following Wednesday was a special occasion, indeed: this was a Jubilee Year and during Mass the Virgin Mary of S. M. Impruneta would be displayed. I almost wept.

I returned on Wednesday to behold the painting of Mary that rose from the floor behind protective glass on the altar’s right side. She and her child had gilt halos; her robe was muddy my_cover Alana covergreen, and her eyes stared straight into me. I saw her and she saw me, and that is how a centuries-old painting became the heartbeat of my story and even gave the book its name.

Chance? Coincidence? Perhaps. Earlier, I used the word “magic,” and this is what I now believe: magic—serendipity—happens when we have done the work, and we are present to the moment, and we are willing to let magic take us by the hand and guide us where we need to be.”

For more about Alana’s work:

See you here next Sunday October 6th for author Marina Maxwell’s uncanny story: One not to be missed!

Posted by Stephanie Renee dos Santos


  1. Ruth Lebovitz
    October 2, 2013

    I am moved by your experience and feel that I too am often led by the hand. I think it is often a matter of a willingness to allow the magic into our lives and an awareness that it is there.

    • Alana White
      October 2, 2013

      Thank you for your comment, Ruth. I think, too, it has to do with recognizing it when it happens. Happy researching & writing!

      • Stephanie Renee dos Santos
        October 3, 2013

        Yes Ruth & Alana, it is that being open and awake to see clearly what comes before us and to see how pieces can fit together and sometimes it is pure magic!

  2. M. Louisa Locke
    October 5, 2013

    In a striking example of serendipity, I was writing a piece on this subject for the Historical Fiction eBooks blog when I ran across the first of these series of posts on the Historical Novel Society site. If you would like to see my post, you can find it here:

  3. Alana White
    October 6, 2013

    We all seem intertwined somehow, don’t we? Lovely article, and I enjoyed reading it.

  4. Yves Fey
    October 10, 2013

    Wonderful story. It is indeed magical when everything falls into place.

  5. Erika Mailman
    October 10, 2013

    What an amazing story–and I’m so glad your visit ran through that next Wednesday so you could see the painting!