Friday, April 27, 2012

Book Tour: Interview with Donna Russo Morin, author of The King's Agent

First of all, I would like to welcome Donna Russo Morin today. Donna, thanks so much for taking the time to visit and answer my questions.

I’m thrilled to be here; thank you so much for having me. 

The King's Agent is your new book. Can you tell us a little bit about it?

The King’s Agent
chronicles a fictional event in a factual life. I found Battista della Palla while researching my third book, To Serve a King. He was of such a complex character and dashing countenance, that I knew I must write more about him. He was, in fact, one of Francois I’s art agents, his foremost art agent in Italy, instructed to obtain those masterpieces the King of France craved, at any cost, even—when all else failed— thievery. Yet he was the very definition of contradiction, deeply religious and loyal yet with the heart of a rogue. The Lady Aurelia is a sequestered, cloistered woman drowning in her own serious life and burdened by the profound duty that imposes it. What I wanted for this story—for these two characters—was adventure, diversion, depth, intrigue, puzzles, art, murder, and more…a many layered tale. In a search for a relic for Francois, Battista and Aurelia cross the magnificence that is Italy. Clues hide in great works of art, political forces collide, secret societies and enemies abound, and danger lurks in every challenge they face, those that mirror the passages of Dante’s Divine Comedy. But in the end it is not just the relic at stake, but the balance of power throughout Europe. 

What was the inspiration behind the writing of Aurelia and Battista's story?

As I mentioned above, the dichotomous nature of Battista was an inspiration in itself, but I was also anxious to try my hand at writing from a male perspective. I think it’s important for artists of any medium to try and continually evolve and try new things, not just keep doing the same type of story written in the same kind of way. Having never written from the male pov, doing so was one such challenge for me. Aurelia was inspired by where I was in my life at the time; overburdened with duty and responsibility, the woman simply longs for adventure and fun. Battista and their search for the relic allowed her to have her titillating escapade and serve her duty at the same time. 

Having written four novels of historical fiction, what books or films, if any, were motivators for your writing historical fiction? Are there any authors that you particularly admire?

There are two major works that really put me on the path to the historical, one a book, one a movie. The first, the book, was Gone with the Wind; I think I was twelve the first time I read it, and, like so many others, it stayed with me—the ‘epic-ness’ of it, the sweeping saga, and yes, the history. The other piece of the puzzle, the bigger of the two actually, was the movie, the 1973 version of "The Three Musketeers"; it actually directly inspired my first book.

In terms of other authors…there’s Stephen King (more on him in a bit) but in my genre there’s James Michener, John Jakes, Rosalind Laker, Leon Uris, and Diana Gabaldon. Their works taught me a lot about the kinds of books I wanted to write. 

In addition to writing, you have also been a writing teacher, a model, and an actress. Are you still doing any of the three or have you officially made writing your central career?

I still do a little of all three. A bad marriage followed by an even more disastrous divorce has left me a single parent/head of a household. I’ll do whatever it takes to keep me and my boys (they’re really young men now—22 and 18) together and in our home. That said, the modeling work is a little tougher to come by now that I’m in my fifties and the acting, which has always been extra work in movies and television, is enormously time consuming. I do dream about obtaining my MFA in Creative Writing and teaching on the college level as opposed to adult extension, but I love to share my passion for the written word with others. All that said, novel writing is my main profession and accounts for the vast majority of my time and, someday soon I hope, all of it.

What about writing historical fiction do you enjoy the most? Was there something that motivated you to start writing in that genre? I know your bio states that your first writing was of "the gruesome and grotesque."

I’m a card-carrying history nerd (there really isn’t a card, but maybe I’ll create one for me and those like me someday ;-). So the research process is really just a delightful privilege for me; digging through old records and books and primary source documents and finding those nuggets of gold—no matter how big or how small—is enormously satisfying. Learning more about the past than I ever did in sixteen years of school, and learning it on a truly human level, is one of the best things that I get to do. Then when I can see parallels to modern life and my imagination discovers how to put it all together with my plot…it’s like magic. 

I did start out writing ‘the gruesome and grotesque,’ otherwise known as horror. Stephen King published his first book during my impressionable teenage years, when I already knew I wanted to be a writer. Reading his work taught me so much about good story telling, I just followed him down his dark path; in fact my first published short work was in horror. But it didn’t sit right, and that’s mostly because of my ‘voice’, that distinctive tone—like a fingerprint—that every writer possesses uniquely unto themselves. Mine is formal and perfectly suited to historical fiction. When I discovered that, my struggle to publication became a much smoother road.

You probably get this one a lot, but me being an aspiring historical writer, I have to ask if you have any advice for those interested in writing historical fiction?

Don’t be afraid to write the stories you want to write. In historical fiction, more than in any other genre, I think it’s really easy to fall back on what appears to be the most popular characters and time period of the moment…the Tudors and Eleanor of Aquitaine jump to mind. Only write about them if that’s what you are truly passionate about, not because you think that’s what you have to write to make it in the genre. What’s popular in any given moment, in this industry, can change with the quickness of a heartbeat. Write an outstanding book and they will read it.

Can you give us a hint about what you're working on next or is it top secret?

No, it’s not top secret. In fact, I’m so excited by it, so passionate about it, I can’t NOT talk about it. Part of my enthusiasm is that, once more, I am trying to expand my writing wings and, for the first time, am attempting a series. 

The research for the last two books has left me with an obsession for Italian Renaissance painting and artists, but I’ve grown tired and frustrated with the all-male club of it. In my current work in progress, it is the bonds of women—of girlfriends—coupled with that growing obsession of Renaissance art, that is inspiring a trilogy, one about the birth of the female Renaissance artist. The trilogy will feature six women in all, women from all the different ranks of Renaissance life, that are bound, at first, by their passion for art, but that are tied by the bonds of friendship that women seem to be able to experience on a much deeper level than men. Their stories will be set against the backdrop of Florence and some of the most traumatic events in that extraordinary city’s history. I hope to peel back the layers of female relationships, that universal, timeless experience—the good and the bad—within the construct and the depth of historical fiction.

A final two-part question...What are you currently reading? What recent historical fiction novel would you recommend to my readers? 

I’ve just finished Death of Kings by Bernard Cornwell. The period is a bit earlier than I normally like but the man is amazing at writing historical fiction. Now I’m on I, Mona Lisa by Jeanne Kalogridis, reading it in my continual study of writing ‘other’ European (for me meaning Italy and France) historicals. 

Donna, it has been a pleasure having you here today. Thank you.

I always consider the opportunity to personally relate to readers and, hopefully, potential readers an honor and a privilege. So thank you. 

Check out the TOUR SCHEDULE 
Links for author Donna Russo Morin: WEBSITE | FACEBOOK | TWITTER
Twitter Event Hashtag: #KingsAgentVirtualBookTour


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