Tag Archives: historical fiction

Donna Russo Morin

Portrait of ConspiracyDonna Russo Morin is a talented author of historical fiction, and she’s been a friend of The Copperfield Review’s for several years. Here’s my latest interview with Donna where she fills us in about her newest project, the historical novel Portrait of a Conspiracy.

Meredith Allard: I know you’ve been busy writing new historical novels since our last interview. Tell us about your most recently published historical novel.

Donna Russo Morin: PORTRAIT OF A CONSPIRACY (May 2016) is the first book in a trilogy, Da Vinci’s Disciples, about a secret society of women artists, under the tutelage of the great Leonardo da Vinci, who must navigate the treacherous life of 15th century Florence while trying to bring their artistry to the world.

In the first book, two families–the Medicis and the Pazzis–are changed forever when a rivalry becomes a feud, a feud leads to murder, and murder provokes a deadly vendetta. Giuliano de’Medici is murdered by the Pazzi family, and his brother Lorenzo de’ Medici, Il Magnifico, launches a path of vengeance through Florence, leaving a trail of death and devastation in his wake. Meanwhile, a secret society of women artists discovers one of their own is missing—and with her, a crucial painting. With the help of Leonardo da Vinci, the women set out on a desperate search for their sister as they begin their own conspiracy, one that could save them, or get them all killed. Battling their own wars—abusive husbands, love affairs, and the pressures and pettiness of rank—the women will ultimately discover there is no greater strength than that of women united.

M.A.: What inspired you to write the novel? What is it about the historical era that caught your fancy?

D.R.M.: It really was a convergence of events and ideas. I was finishing work on my 2012 release, The King’s Agent, which features a true to life Indiana Jones of 15th century Italy that included one of his actual dear friends, Michelangelo. I found myself longing to write more about art and artists. Additionally, in the interim, I found out that my last name (of my birth, Russo) originated in Florence some time in the 10th century.

At the same time, I was going through one of the most personally traumatic periods of my life. If not for a group of truly dedicated, loyal, and supportive women, I’m not sure if I would have had the strength to continue. It gave me a clarity of vision into the power of women united. Female relationships can be so much more intimate than those of men. But they can also be hard on each other. This book, the whole trilogy in truth, is nothing if not an homage to that power and the complexities of female relationships. The two thoughts connected and Da Vinci’s Disciples were born

M.A.: What else would you like readers to know about your newest novel?

D.R.M.: Portrait of a Conspiracy is a study of female relationships and their ambition, the explosive and artistic Renaissance, a mystery, a thriller, and at times, a violent depiction of life in 15th century Florence, but it is also one of the most personal stories I’ve ever written. Ultimately, the trilogy will lead us to one of the earliest, greatest, and acknowledged women artists of the time; it’s where the story was always meant to go. And, I’m so pleased to report, that as of this writing, the book has surpassed the top 50 ranking of Italian Historical Fiction on Amazon.

M.A.: As many of Copperfield’s readers know, writing historical fiction can be more time consuming and sometimes more difficult than writing in other genres. What prompts you to continue writing historical fiction?

D.R.M.: Besides the fact that I am a card-carrying history geek, it really is a combination of my love of conducting research as well as the fact that my ‘voice,’ my writer’s voice, is a bit formal, very suited to historical periods. I’m not sure it would flow as well with something completely modern. Though I am of the ‘never say never’ mindset, so who knows what the future may bring.

M.A.: Where can readers connect with you online?

D.R.M.: Hah! Just about everywhere. On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Donna.Russo.Morin and https://www.facebook.com/DaVincisDisciples/. On Twitter: @DonnaRussoMorin. On Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/2729597.Donna_Russo_Morin. At my blog: donnarussomorin.blogspot.com. And, of course, my website: donnarussomorin.com, where people can read excerpts from all my books.

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Meredith Allard is the Executive Editor of The Copperfield Review. Visit her online at www.meredithallard.com.

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Jennifer Falkner

By Meredith Allard

Jennifer Falkner is the creator and editor of the online literary journal Circa, which is devoted to historical fiction, which happens to be my favorite genre (for those of you who haven’t already guessed that about me). What makes Circa unique is the fact that Jennifer is from Canada, and she loves to publish stories about Canadian history. You can visit Jennifer online at her website.

I had known of Circa since it’s one of the few journals devoted to historical fiction (the other, of course, being some little journal called Copperfield something or other…). Copperfield has published a few pieces of Jennifer’s short historical fiction, so I knew she was a great writer as well as a great lover of historical fiction. Jennifer was nice enough to answer a few of my questions about historical fiction and Circa. Here are her responses. If you write short historical fiction, take note!

Meredith Allard: When and why did you begin writing, and did you always write historical fiction?

Jennifer Falkner: Writing stories is something I’ve just always done. I remember being nine or ten years old and writing westerns. I was going through a Louis L’Amour phase, I guess. But I only got serious about doing it well and for an audience besides myself after I turned thirty. I don’t always write historical fiction. If anything, I’d say half of what I write is contemporary. But the past has a fascination that I cannot ignore for long.

M.A.: What is your writing process like? When and where do you find time to write?

J.F.: Whenever I can. Sometimes that’s first thing in the morning before the rest of house is awake, sometimes squeezed in over lunch. Most often though I barricade myself in the study for three or four hours on Saturday and Sunday mornings.

M.A.: How would you describe your writing to potential readers?

J.F.: Improving, slowly.

M.A.: How did you come to start Circa, your online literary journal for historical fiction? Why did you choose to focus on historical fiction?

J.F.: There were so few venues dedicated solely to historical short stories when I started Circa a few years ago. There was The Copperfield Review, of course, and Alt HistVintage Script, and Snapshots of History. Now, sadly, the latter two are no longer publishing. And none of them was in Canada. So it was partly out of self-interest; I wanted to read more historical fiction, especially stories to do with the Canadian past. And once I landed on the name, I couldn’t not do it.

M.A.: What would you like to tell those who love historical fiction and readers of Copperfieldabout Circa? How can they submit their historical fiction? How do you decide which pieces you’ll publish?

J.F.: To me, history is never bland. It’s lively, preposterous, funny, sad, bizarre, everything. I want Circa to reflect all of that.

With each issue, I feel Circa is getting stronger and more diverse. Pieces have to be well-written, obviously. The writer has to have done her work, researching, drafting, editing. I try to choose pieces from as many different periods as possible. This can be tricky because I receive a lot of submissions set during either the American Civil War or World War Two. And many submissions are not stories, but vignettes, a day in the life, which can be well done, but often read more like a history lesson. I want to be interested in the characters, I want to see them challenged and changed over the course of the story. And I love to be surprised.

Writers interested in submitting should check out Circa’s Submission page for instructions on how to submit.

M.A.: Which are your favorite historical novels? That’s often a tough call, I know.

J.F.: Oh, too many to list! But I’ll have a go. These are the books I read over and over. Orlandoby Virginia Woolf; The Balkan Trilogy by Olivia Manning; Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne; anything by Hilary Mantel, of course, but especially her book The Giant, O’Brien, which will break your heart, it’s written so beautifully; The Passion by Jeanette Winterson. And I’m a sucker for whodunits set in Ancient Rome, especially the Falco series by Lindsay Davis and the Ruso series by Ruth Downie.

M.A.: Which authors are your inspiration—in your writing life and/or your personal life?

J.F.: Virginia Woolf, Jane Austen, Margaret Atwood, George Eliot, Fay Weldon, especially her Letters to Alice On First Reading Jane Austen – a must-read for any aspiring novelist and any Jane Austen fans, Jeanette Winterson, Elizabeth Gaskell. And probably a dozen others.

Hmm, I just noticed how many women are in my list.

M.A.: What advice do you have for those who want to write historical fiction?

J.F.: Read, read, read. Read in, around, and over the period in which your story is set. Then pick out the one or two details that make the period unique and bring it to life. The reader doesn’t want a history lesson.

M.A.: What else would you like readers to know?

J.F.: The next issue of Circa was released on October 15 and it’s bursting with great stories!

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The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte

The Ambitious Madame BonaparteWritten by Ruth Hull Chatlien

Published by Amika Press

Review by Tracey Skeine

5 quills

 

I love novels about strong women characters who have the courage to be themselves despite what everyone else tells them. I also love reading historical novels about times or events I’m not familiar with. With her first novel, The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte, author Ruth Hull Chatlien delivers on each of those points.

Betsy Patterson wants to rise above her station, and she is ambitious indeed. Her severe father is a merchant in Baltimore, and that life isn’t enough for Betsy. These are the years of the early 19th century, and women were supposed to get married and have children and otherwise get out of the way of the menfolk. But Betsy has other intentions, and she is determined enough to see those intentions through, even when they cloud her judgement. She is not impressed by the young country, the young men, or the fashions of America.

When Jerome Bonaparte, Napoleon’s brother, comes to town, Betsy seizes the opportunity and marries him. But big brother Napoleon isn’t playing, and Betsy, now Madame Bonaparte, isn’t accepted into society.

The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte has all the historical details I love in historical novels, the kind of details that make you feel like you’re there in the early 19th century alongside Betsy. Betsy is a strong woman at a time when it wasn’t acceptable to be a strong woman, and she has to fight many battles to follow her dreams. It was an engrossing story about something I didn’t know about (Napoleon’s brother marrying an American), and it held my attention the whole time. I’d recommend it for people who love strong women characters in historical fiction. And also for readers who are interested in historical fiction about Napoleon, the War of 1812, and early 19th century America.

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Tracey Skeine received her B.A. degree in English Literature in June 2012. She is still working on her first novel set in Caesar’s Rome.

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Bellman and Black

Written by Diane Setterfield

Published by Simon and Schuster

ARC courtesy of NetGalley

Review by Meredith Allard

4quills

 

I should begin by saying that I haven’t read author Diane Setterfield’s New York Times bestselling novel The Thirteenth Tale so I had no expectations about reading Bellman & Black based on the success of her previous novel. Bellman & Black is a book about death, the whole death, and nothing but death, so help you God. It starts with the death of a rook, which a young William Bellman kills to show off in front of his friends. Let’s just say rooks hold grudges.

Many others die in the story too. William’s family dies. Those around William die. William grows into an intense man who works, works, works, and has time or care for little else. After his wife’s death, with his only remaining child close to death, William cuts a deal with a mysterious “man” he calls Black. Afterwards, William feels compelled to create an emporium for mourning—a Wal-Mart for Funeral Necessities, you might call it. Known as Bellman and Black, the mourning emporium becomes successful (since we’re all going to die after all). William thinks he has cut a deal to preserve his daughter’s life. In the end, William learns that it wasn’t a deal for his daughter’s life after all.

I love Diane Setterfield’s exquisite writing style. She has a fluidity and dexterity with the language that I feel is missing from many present day authors. She is both straightforward and poetic, and it’s from the sheer power of her writing alone that I give the book four stars. The character of William Bellman, on which the success or failure of this novel depends, begins in an interesting way but grows stagnant somewhere along the line. He watches people die and throws himself into his work, work, work with minimal emotion, which leaves minimal emotion for the reader to connect to. I kept waiting for something to happen in the story that didn’t depend on someone’s death, but when death is the theme of the novel such waiting is useless. The “ghost” in this story is Black, who isn’t a man after all. Like I said, rooks hold grudges. In the world Setterfield creates in Bellman & Black, I wonder how murderers of people would be haunted throughout their lives if this is how William is haunted after his childhood mistake? I’m not advocating killing birds by any stretch. I love God’s creatures great and small. I’m simply saying that in the scheme of things, I wonder how much of a crime the young William Bellman committed.

And yet, I finished the book, which must say something for the power of Setterman’s prose. I kept reading, pulled steadily through by Setterman, hoping for a change in William Bellman, hoping he would finally learn to connect with his daughter, hoping he would finally have the courage to live, though none of those things came to pass.  I realized I had to take the story as it was instead of what I wanted it to be, and as it was I loved Setterman’s writing.

If you’re looking for a story with a distinct plot and characters you feel emotion for and connect to, Bellman & Black may not be the story for you. If you want to read a beautifully written, lyrical, haunting novel and you’re interested in simply going along for the ride wherever the story takes you, then you may enjoy Bellman & Black. I am taken enough with Setterman’s prose that I will go back and read her previous novel, The Thirteenth Tale.

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Meredith Allard is the Executive Editor of The Copperfield Review.

 

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19th Century Life: Bodily Functions

By Ruth Hull Chatlien

Two years ago when I was visiting Baltimore to research my novel The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte, based on the true story of Betsy Bonaparte, my husband and I visited the Homewood House Museum. Homewood was the mansion of Charles Carroll, Jr., son of Charles Carroll of Carrollton (the only Catholic to sign the Declaration of Independence). Today, Homewood is beautifully restored, decorated, and furnished to authentically represent how it originally looked. It’s located on the campus of Johns Hopkins University, and I strongly recommend visiting it if you’re ever in Baltimore.

Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte almost certainly attended parties at Homewood in its heyday. Not only were the Pattersons and the Carrolls both leading Maryland families, they were also intimately connected. In 1806, Betsy’s older brother Robert married Charles Carroll, Jr.’s niece, Marianne. So Homewood was a must-see for me. The day we visited, I told the woman who was going to be our guide that I was there to do research for a historical novel, but I did not name my subject. I was scrupulous about keeping that information private until I finished my manuscript.

As we toured the mansion, our docent led us into a room they have furnished as Mrs. Carroll’s dressing room. Almost directly in front of where I was standing was what looked to be a small, low mahogany table with slender neoclassical legs. Set within an arch-shaped opening in the “table” was a recessed silver basin. The docent announced in a somewhat amused voice that this piece of furniture was a bidet that had once belonged to Betsy Bonaparte. The docent didn’t elaborate—and because I was keeping my particular interest in Betsy a secret—I didn’t press her for information. I must admit that I had a very difficult time keeping a straight face.

You see, up until that moment, I hadn’t really thought about Betsy in terms of her bodily functions, so running unexpectedly across her bidet was disconcerting. It turned out, however, to be enormously helpful to me as a novelist, because it allowed me to think of her in an earthier way. She became more of a flesh-and-blood woman to me than a shadowy historical figure who existed only in the yellowed pages of old letters and biographies.

After we returned home, I did some Internet research and found an article originally published in the Baltimore Sun(Rath, Molly, “You Never Know What Will Turn Up Among the Collectibles at the Maryland Historical Society,” November 20, 1994). According to that article, the silver basin in the bidet was inscribed with the name of Napoleon’s own silversmith. I can only assume that Jerome Bonaparte gave Betsy that particular item after they married.

The article also mentioned that Betsy carried a porcelain bourdaloue with her when she traveled. A bourdaloue is basically a fancy, French porta potty shaped something like a gravy boat—a handy thing to have for those long 19th-century carriage rides. I find it difficult to imagine Betsy hiking up her skirts and taking a tinkle in a public coach, but maybe she used it in the shrubbery during stops along the way. And she and Jerome did travel extensively in their own privately owned coach and six.

Both the bidet and the bourdaloue were left to the Maryland Historical Society (MdHS) by Betsy’s grandson. At first, the curators at MdHS didn’t realize what the bourdaloue was. Thinking it was an extra large sauce dish, they put it on display as part of a table setting—until a porcelain expert enlightened them about its true function.

Since Betsy was known for her sharp wit, I feel certain that she would have had something saucy to say about that.

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Ruth Hull Chatlien has been a writer and editor of educational materials for twenty-five years. Her speciality is U.S. and world history. She is the author of Modern American Indian Leaders and has published several short stories and poems in literary magazines. The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte, coming out in December 2013, will be her first published novel.

She lives in northeastern Illinois with her husband, Michael, and a very pampered dog named Smokey. When she’s not writing, she can usually be found gardening, knitting, drawing, painting, or watching football.

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Using Information Lag in Historical Fiction

By Ruth Hull Chatlien

My forthcoming historical novel, The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte, is based on the true story of Elizabeth “Betsy” Patterson Bonaparte, the American beauty who married Napoleon’s youngest brother, Jerome, while he was visiting the United States in 1803. As I was planning the plot, one of the things I had to deal with was something I call information lag. In our current age of instantaneous communication, it can be hard to remember how long it once took for news to travel.

In the early 1800s, it took a day to travel the 45 miles from Betsy’s hometown of Baltimore to Washington. It could take four days to go from Baltimore to New York. The times for transatlantic travel were obviously much worse. An exceptionally fast ship could make the crossing in three weeks, but six weeks to two months was more typical. Not only were the travel times long, but mail was not secure. Travelers sometime amused themselves during long journeys by opening and reading packets of letters that were in transit.

Sometimes I had documentary evidence in the form of letters and news articles that told just exactly how long it took for specific pieces of news from Europe to reach the United States and vice versa. At other times, I had to dig around to find out what typical travel times might have been. Another complicating factor was that stormy weather made sailing the Atlantic in winter very difficult. Mail from overseas tended to slow down in the rough-sailing months.

As a result, information lag had a huge impact on the love story in my novel. Once Jerome and Betsy realized they wanted to marry, they had to decide whether to seek the blessing of the Bonapartes before they proceeded. At the time, Napoleon had not yet become emperor, but he was the First Consul, the chief executive of France, and he believed he had the right to direct his sibling’s lives. Betsy’s father wanted the marriage delayed while they waited for Jerome’s aide to travel to France to find out Napoleon’s reaction—or at least, gain the blessing of Jerome’s mother. Jerome vehemently opposed the idea.

Think about it. You’re a lusty young man, impulsive by nature, who is accustomed to using your position as Napoleon’s brother to get what you want. On a brief visit to the United States, you meet the most beautiful, witty girl you’ve ever encountered. You know your brother would expect you to ask him before you decide to marry, but frankly, you’re tired of being treated like a child—and it’s obvious you have many rivals for the young woman’s hand. Would you want to wait four months for a ship to cross the Atlantic and back again to find out what your family thinks of your choice?

No, I didn’t think so.

Although I’m sure the information lag was exasperating to Betsy and Jerome, as a writer, I was grateful for it because it added considerable tension to the plot. The delay in learning the Bonaparte reaction to the marriage, the months it took to learn the astonishing news that Napoleon had become emperor, and the lag in communication between the lovers once Jerome returned to naval service—all these played a significant role in my characters’ ability to make good decisions and chart the course of their lives. If Betsy and Jerome had better means of communication, their lives might have turned out quite differently than they did. But then again, if that had been the case, I probably wouldn’t have written my novel.

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Ruth Hull Chatlien has been a writer and editor of educational materials for twenty-five years. Her speciality is U.S. and world history. She is the author of Modern American Indian Leaders and has published several short stories and poems in literary magazines. The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte, coming out in December 2013, will be her first published novel.

She lives in northeastern Illinois with her husband, Michael, and a very pampered dog named Smokey. When she’s not writing, she can usually be found gardening, knitting, drawing, painting, or watching football.

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Lynn Cullen

Mrs. PoeBy Meredith Allard

Lynn Cullen is the author of the new historical novel about Edgar Allan Poe, Mrs. Poe (Gallery Books/S & S).

Meredith Allard: When and why did you begin writing? Did you always write historical fiction?

Lynn Cullen: When you’re the sixth of seven kids like I was, you need a niche in which to shine. The title of Smartest, Wittiest, Prettiest, Most Athletic, and Funniest had already been taken so I needed to find another handle. Not long after I had learned to spell, I wrote my first story, a tale of a bear that ate so much honey that he had to roll home in a barrel. The acclaim (mostly self-) from that made me realize who I could be: The Writer. I’ve been happy in the role ever since then.

Gluttonous bear story aside, I have favored historical fiction from the start. My first published novel, for adolescents, was about a girl who found the ghost of a Civil War bugle boy in her backyard. At the time, historical fiction for kids was out of style, so I snuck in my beloved historical content by having my heroine go back in time with the ghost. In a weird twist, the year after The Backyard Ghost (Clarion Books) came out, I actually found cannonballs from the Civil War in our backyard. My story, in a sense, came true. I have since become a believer in the power of coincidences, a philosophy that I worked into Mrs. Poe.

M.A.: What inspired you to write Mrs. Poe?

L.C.: In a word: desperation. Two years ago, a year after my husband had lost his job like so many others had during the Great Recession, my then-publisher turned down the manuscript I’d been working on for a year and a half. They wanted something with a more “feisty” heroine. Feisty heroines, it seems, sold in a market that was very shaky, as was about every kind of market around the world back then. The week I got this devastating news, my husband fell ill with a life-threatening case meningitis (or encephalitis—they never figured out which). When I brought him home from the hospital, I didn’t know how we were going to survive. He had sustained a debilitating brain injury from his illness and I had no book prospect. So there I was, pacing in my office, half delirious from fear and exhaustion, thinking, “Feisty heroine, feisty heroine.” Suddenly into my dazed mind came the word Poe. 

Not having read Poe’s work since high school, I raced to my computer to look him up. I saw that he was an orphan, very poor, and a lonely lost soul:  just my kind of guy to write about. But I wanted to write a novel from a woman’s point of view—and a feisty one, evidently, at that—so I kept looking. Poe’s wife, Virginia, was thirteen when he married her and didn’t seem so very feisty. Then I read about his alleged affair with poet Frances Osgood just after he’d written “The Raven.” I found that Frances had been abandoned by her portrait-painter husband and was trying to support her children with writing. So here was this desperate woman trying to survive by her writing. Oh, I could so relate. And she was plenty feisty, too. As my husband healed, I set about telling the story of Frances and Edgar from her point of view. If Frances’s desperation seems real to you, it’s because her creator was living it. But I’m grateful to have gotten a genuinely emotional book out of that traumatic time, and, happily, my husband has completely recovered.

M.A.: I learned a lot about Edgar Allan Poe from reading your novel. Mainly, what I learned is that a lot of what we think we know about Poe isn’t necessarily true. I had always thought of him as an opium-infused alcoholic who wrote these brilliant pieces and died in poverty and obscurity. What did you learn about Poe from your research for Mrs. Poe, and what surprised you the most?

L.C.: It came as a shock to me that Poe’s image as a drunken madman comes to us courtesy of his rival, Rufus Wilmot Griswold. They were enemies after Poe had criticized Griswold’s poetry collections and had taken some of Griswold’s literary criticism gigs. Griswold hadn’t been able to harm Poe’s reputation while Poe was alive—everyone knew that Griswold was a hothead and a bully. But once Poe died, Griswold got his revenge. In the most bizarre twist of fate in literary history, Poe’s aunt made Griswold Poe’s literary executor, even after Griswold had written a widely-published malicious obituary about Poe. Once he got his hands on Poe’s papers, he proceeded to doctor them as he saw fit. With Poe’s tampered letters in hand, he began to spread lies about Poe’s behavior and wrote a biography full of inventive slander. This biography stood alone for the next 25 years; subsequent biographers repeated all the falsehoods in it. Our image of Poe as an addicted psychopath, therefore, is the direct result of Griswold’s smear campaign. It doesn’t help Poe’s cause that his stories were so dark, but in real life, he was a very hard worker with little time or money to feed an addiction. The truth is, he wrote his scary stories because they sold. Like so many writers trying to support themselves by their writing in any era, the man was desperate for cash.

Another surprise was that in 1845, the year of “The Raven” and of Mrs. Poe, Poe was considered to be quite appealing and attractive. Reports from those days called him “elegant” and “handsome.” As one man said, “He had gentleman written all over him.”  Poe was not the morose and sketchy-looking specimen of the daguerreotypes which with we’re most familiar. Those photos were taken a few months before he died, when he was not well—not a good time for one’s close-up. Yet these photographs stand since they fit Griswold’s creepy image of the man. A more appropriate portrait has been done by Frances Osgood’s husband, who even though well aware of his wife’s close relationship with Poe, painted this winsome portrait of his wife’s alleged lover.

M.A.: I write historical fiction myself, and my main characters are always fictional while I keep the real-life people as secondary characters. What are the particular challenges of writing an historical novel where your main characters are real people, and not only real people but famous authors? After all, Edgar Allan Poe is a legend in American literature.

L.C.: The challenge of writing about Poe was different than it would be if I’d written about someone who had been at least somewhat fairly assessed throughout history. My challenge—and delight—was to bring to light the man who I think is the real Poe. Even though my Poe is a fictitious character in a novel, he has to be more accurately drawn than the fictitious product of Griswold’s lies. Yet I will be the first to admit that I’m a novelist, not a biographer. My Poe is my own interpretation of the man after I’d done my research. I shaped his character around my story. I saw him as being much like Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights—an orphan whose unkind treatment in the hands of his foster family instilled in him debilitating self-loathing. Ralph Fiennes as Heathcliff in the BBC Films version of Wuthering Heights provided a handy visual reference—sexy, brooding, and vulnerable beneath cool silence.

M.A.: Mrs. Poe definitely kept me turing pages because I couldn’t wait to see what would happen next for Poe. How would you describe Mrs. Poe to potential readers?

L.C.: It’s an interesting challenge to reduce to one sentence a story that is the result of two years of intense work, but here goes: Mrs. Poe traces Poe’s rise to prominence with “The Raven,” to his utter ruin within the space of one year, through the eyes of his alleged lover, poet Frances Osgood.

M.A.: All authors have a different path as they seek publication. What was your journey to publication like?

L.C.: I started out by trying to write children’s books when my daughters were young. My three girls had been born within a four year span, so while they were growing up, the most I could manage was shorter fiction, especially since I always had to work at least part-time to contribute to the family finances. Later, I trained as a teacher but as soon as I was certified, gave myself a year to get published or throw my lot entirely with teaching. I had no idea how naïve a goal that was but miraculously, I made it. Twelve children’s books were a result of that hectic period.

Once my kids were older and I’d seen my father through his final illness, I was able to devote the longer hours necessary for writing historical fiction.  My young adult novel, I am Rembrandt’s Daughter (Bloomsbury), served as a bridge from children’s books, and then after publishing two more adult books about misunderstood figures in history, Reign of Madness and The Creation of Eve (both Putnam), I arrived at Mrs. Poe (Gallery Books/S & S). It has been an interesting trip, the best part of it being the people I’ve met along the way.

M.A.: Which authors are your inspiration—in your writing life and/or your personal life?

L.C.: Penelope Lively is my go-to author when I’m stuck in my writing and simply to refresh my brain. I must have read her Heat Wave a dozen times. She also inspires me because she went from writing children’s books—all fabulous—to winning the Booker Prize. I am also inspired by Stephanie Cowell. Her Marrying Mozart is astonishing in its exuberance and veracity. As a historical novelist, I really respect what she achieved in that book.

M.A.: What advice do you have for those who want to write historical fiction?

L.C.: Don’t let all your hard-won research blind you to your main goal: telling a believable story that sheds some light on the human condition. And have fun. Although historical fiction might be the most difficult genre to write, it’s also the most fascinating. Enjoy the people you meet on your trip back into time!

M.A.: Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?

L.C.: When a door closes, a window opens.  Really—I thought my career was over during those dark days of 2011. Yet from that trauma, the book of my dreams was born. I was given the chance of a lifetime. I am so thankful.

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Meredith Allard is the Executive Editor of The Copperfield Review.

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M. Louisa Locke

By Meredith Allard

M. Louisa Locke is the author of the Victorian San Francisco Mystery series and a trusted authority on independent publishing. The first book in the Victorian San Francisco Mystery series is Maids of Misfortune, and the sequel is Uneasy Spiritsboth bestsellers in the historical mystery category on Kindle. Maids of Misfortune is a 2012 B.R.A.G. MedallionTM Honoree.

Meredith Allard: When and why did you begin writing, and did you always write historical fiction?

M. Louisa Locke: I knew I wanted to write historical fiction by the time I reached high school. Books had played an enormously important role in my life growing up, and historical fiction was already my favorite. When I attended college in the late 1960s, however, I realized that if I had to have a day job (I assumed that writing wouldn’t support me) I would rather be a professional historian than a professor of English literature. I went ahead and got a doctorate in history, but while doing the research for my dissertation, I found myself daydreaming about writing a series of mysteries that would feature the different jobs women held in the late Victorian era.

In 1989, between teaching jobs, I decided to give writing a chance as a means of support, and I wrote the first draft of what was to become Maids of Misfortune. Annie Fuller, my protagonist, makes money by running a boarding house (a common occupation for widows like Annie), but she also supplements her income giving business advice as a pretend clairvoyant (again, a frequently held female occupation at the time.) In this first book, Annie also goes undercover to work as a domestic servant, the most prevalent job for women in the nineteenth century.

Soon after I completed this first draft, I not only received a series of rejections from publishers but I also got a full-time job as a history professor at San Diego Mesa College. Writing again took a back seat. Twenty years later, when I semi-retired from college teaching, I picked up the manuscript, rewrote it extensively, and published it as both a print and an ebook. The sales on Maids of Misfortune were so strong that I was able to retire completely to become a full-time writer, publishing Uneasy Spirits, the second book in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery series, in 2011. I plan to publish the third book, Bloody Lessons, in the early Fall, 2013. It may have taken me 50 years, but I finally am realizing my childhood dream of writing historical fiction!

M.A.: On your website you mention that you did your Ph.D. dissertation on the late nineteenth century western working woman. Your historical mystery novels are also set around the same time. What brought about your fascination with the western working woman?

M.L.L.: I think that the late 19th century fascinated me because of the parallels I saw to my own generational experience (I was born in 1950 and grew up squarely in the middle of the sixties social movements.) The Civil Rights movement, the women’s movement, and the demand for political reform that came out of Watergate all had their counterparts in the 19th century. In both eras, there were strong pressures to keep women confined to the role of wife and mother. Yet, in both time periods there were women who challenged those traditional ideals.

In the late 1970s, I was studying to become a history professor when less than 20% of all history professors were women, so I was surprised to learn in my research that women had held a higher proportion of professional jobs a hundred years earlier than they did when I was growing up. I wanted to know about these women and the choices they made, so I did a statistical analysis of women who held income-producing occupations based on the 1880 Federal manuscript census. I chose to study women in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Portland because I lived on the west coast and most of the research on working women had focused on eastern cities. Naturally, when I started to think about writing fiction, I turned to the women I had been studying. They had become very real to me, and I wanted to make them come alive to others.

M.A.:  I love to read mystery novels, but I have yet to try to write one. What are the particular challenges of writing mystery?

M.L.L.: As with most genre novels, there are certain conventions that you need to keep in mind when writing mysteries. Even if you disobey those conventions (for example, don’t have a body in the first chapter) it needs to be for a good reason. Otherwise, you can lose your reader. People who read mysteries expect that there be some sort of puzzle that is going to be solved. The puzzle can be a death or some other crime, and the person who solves the mystery can be a professional or an amateur. But as a mystery author, you need to know what that crime is (what was done), have developed some red herrings (people who might have done the crime, but didn’t), and eventually provide enough clues so that the reader has a chance to guess who actually committed the crime along side the detective. Then, depending on the sub-genre of mystery, you need to balance those basic mystery plot requirements with effective character development, detailed setting, believable romance, sufficient suspense, etc. I would say that achieving that balance is one of the most difficult tasks any mystery writer faces.

M.A.: You mention in your bio that your first historical mystery novel, Maids of Misfortune, was inspired by a diary entry from a domestic servant, and that you found that diary entry while researching your dissertation. How do you go about researching the history in your stories? Have you traveled for research purposes?

M.L.L.: Since I spent years doing research on San Francisco and the women who worked there in the 19th century, I don’t have to do a lot of new research for my novels. However, the internet has made the supplementary research I do for each story much easier. There are websites that tell you when the sun and moon rose on a given day in 1880, what words were in common usage then, and what a Victorian corset feels like. The main problem is not letting the research suck you in so that you don’t get the words onto the page.

Because the sections of San Francisco that I set my novels in were devastated by the Earthquake and Fire of 1906, I do have to spend a good deal of time looking at old maps and pouring over old photographs to make sure my descriptions are accurate. But I also visit San Francisco frequently, trying to come at the same time of year that the current book is set in to get a feel for the weather, where the sun hits buildings, and so forth. I love walking the streets between the different places in my books, imagining….

M.A.:  How would you describe your novels to potential readers? What makes your novels different from others about similar eras?

M.L.L.: Many of the other successful Victorian era mysteries tend to portray the violent and sexually exploitative aspects of 19th century urban culture. They are darker in tone than my books and often have more in common with contemporary thrillers. While my books don’t neglect some of the important issues of the day, for example the extreme anti-Chinese sentiment in the west at this time, my goal from the first was to write historical mysteries that were traditional cozies in style.

Annie’s boarding house reflects the kind of small community you find in a cozy, and there is a strong thread of humor and romance throughout my stories as well. The sex and violence is generally off-stage, and there is even a cute dog. On the other hand, I believe that because my historical mysteries are set in real places, with characters facing real issues of the time period, readers can feel a greater connection to the people in my stories than they may do with the quirky characters found in many contemporary cozies.

M.A.: All authors have a different path as they seek publication. What was your journey to publication like? What can you tell us about the joys and the challenges of being an independent author?

M.L.L.: While I pursued my career as a college professor, I watched as my writer friends were treated in the increasingly hostile environment traditional publishing. As a result, when I decided to give publishing another try in 2009, I was open to considering the opportunities that self-publishing and the ebook revolution were providing. One of the major considerations for my decision to become an indie author was how long it took (and still takes) for a book to make it into print the traditional way. I’d conceived of Maids of Misfortune thirty years earlier, I’d written it twenty years earlier, and I didn’t want to wait another 2 years or more to get it into the hands of readers. If no one liked it, so be it. At least I would have given it a try.

Once this decision was made, it only took a few months for me to master how to design, and format ebooks and print books, and it took only 24 hours to upload the Maids of Misfortune. Within a day I had my first sale and my first positive review!

I also enjoyed learning the technical and marketing aspects of self-publishing. I am a life-long student, as well as a social scientist and a teacher, so learning how to publish independently, experiment with different marketing strategies, and then being able to share what I have learned with other authors, has simply added to my satisfaction with the process.

I can say without reservation that my decision to self-publish was the best decision I ever made. Besides the fact that my books have been a financial success, every positive review, every letter from a fan, every comment on my Facebook page is pure gold.

M.A.: I was looking at the Historical Fiction Authors Cooperative, and I can’t believe I’m only finding out about it now. It is definitely something readers of Copperfield should know about. How did the Historical Fiction Authors Cooperative come about?

M.L.L.: One of the upsides of the ebook/indie author revolution has been that books like Maids of Misfortune that weren’t making it through the gatekeepers/bottlenecks of agents, publishers and booksellers, are getting published and in the hands of readers. However, the question has become: how is a reader going to be able to sift through all those books and find the right one for them, and how is an author going to make sure their books are visible to the right market?

Book review websites like Copperfield Review is one answer and The Historical Fiction Authors Cooperative (HFAC) is another. HFAC was formed by a group of independent authors who recognized that there was strength in numbers. Behind the scenes we share information on technical issues (like cover design, formatting, getting books into the various ebooks stores like Kindle and Nook), and we help cross-promote each other’s work. All of this helps elevate the quality of our work and its visibility.

But the most important tasks were to recruit great historical fiction authors and design where readers could find our work. The group started less than three years ago with just a handful of authors, but we now grown to 40 members with 140 separate titles in our catalog, which can be found at HFeBooks.com.

M.A.: What can readers who love historical fiction gain from visiting the Historical Fiction Authors Cooperative site?

M.L.L.: A fan of historical fiction can discover on our website high quality historical fiction that they wouldn’t find in traditional bookstores. In some cases the books are out-of-print books our authors have republished, in others, they are new independently published work by authors who are still traditionally published, and in most cases these are books by innovative independent authors.

Because membership in HFAC is by invitation only and we thoroughly vet those members and their work before inviting them, a reader can be assured that the books in our catalog are grounded in accurate historical research, are professionally edited, and well-written. We have listed the books by historical eras, as well, since many fans of historical fiction have favorite periods they like to read about. You can also find out about the author, the other books they have written, and you can read interesting articles by them about their historical research on our blog.

Finally, if you subscribe to the website, you will be alerted every week about discounts and free books that are being offered, as well as when a new book by one of our members is published. Other ways you can be alerted to this information is to follow us on twitter or Facebook.

M.A.:  Is there a way historical fiction authors can be considered to be included in the cooperative?

M.L.L.: The vetting process is very slow since at least two members have to read and evaluate an author’s work before extending an invitation. As a result, most of our recruitment comes from recommendations from other members. We also look at those ebooks that are successful in historical fiction categories in ebookstores.

The bottom line is: write high-quality historical fiction, market it well, and, in time, as you gain reader recognition there is a good chance your work will come to our attention.

M.A.: Which authors are your inspiration—in your writing life and/or your personal life?

M.L.L.: Georgette Heyer was my first inspiration. She was a serious historical scholar, but the light romantic Regency novels she wrote are a continuing delight, and for over fifty years I have turned to her books when I need to escape the painful realities of this world. From Dorothy Sayers, and her Lord Peter Wimsey/Harriet Vane mysteries, I learned how to combine romance and crime solving. From Tony Hillerman’s New Mexico mysteries, I discovered that the importance of setting, and Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael series gave me the idea of combining historical fiction and mysteries. There are many great contemporary writers who have continued on in these traditions, but these were my first inspirations.

M.A.: What advice do you have for those who want to write historical fiction or mysteries?

M.L.L.: This may seem trite, but it is true. Read. Reread your favorite books in the genres you wish to write in, but do so looking at what worked to make them your favorites. Is it the characters, the plot, the pacing, the background material? Read new books, and here you might find yourself analyzing what doesn’t work for you. Why did you get impatient at some point, never really care for the main character, become confused? Do you seem to like books written in the first person? Third person? Shifting points of view?

If you are pursuing historical fiction, skim through general texts about the period, read autobiographies and contemporary fiction of the time. All of this should give you a general feel for the historical setting. But don’t spend too much time in detailed research until you are actually writing the book. Spending days figuring out what to call the kind of carriage your character might own, before knowing if that carriage will even figure in the story, can be a waste of time. This is the stuff you can fill in later as you go along (or after the first draft is written.)

M.A.: What else would you like readers to know?

M.L.L.: For those who think they might be interested in my work, do check out my website/blog or my Facebook author page.  I also have two short stories that feature minor characters from my full-length novels that you might find amusing. They are Dandy Detects and The Misses Moffet Mend a Marriage.

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Meredith Allard is the Executive Editor of The Copperfield Review.

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Donna Russo Morin

By Meredith Allard

Donna Russo Morin is an award-winning author of historical novels, including The King’s Agent, To Serve a King, and The Secret of the Glass (Kensington Books).

Meredith Allard: On your website, you mention how growing up during the turbulent 60s gave you grist for your writing. When and why did you begin writing, and did you always write historical fiction?

Donna Russo Morin: My first stories were written as soon as I learned how to write; my mother still has them, the paper yellowing, the creases growing weak with age. I wrote a great deal of poetry during those turbulent days of the 60s while I was living the turbulence of my own puberty. Then the influence of the King took over (Stephen, that is) and I did find my first fiction published in the form of short horror. But all the while I was reading, voraciously, historical fiction, from Gone with the Wind to Leon Uris’s Trinity. When I discovered Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, when I heard the perfect merging of fictional characters within a detailed historical construct, I knew I had heard the sound of my own writer’s ‘voice.’

M.A.: How did you decide which era(s) to focus on for your historical novels? Did you have a previous fascination with that time?

D.R.M.: My first book, The Courtier’s Secret, was a self-fulfilled wish…to be a Musketeer, something I wanted to be ever since the 1973 version of The Three Musketeers with Michael York and Rachel Welch. The second book came from a two minute news story on the glassmakers of Murano, about their continuing efforts to keep their process secret, The Secret of the Glass. The third actually came from the glut of Tudor books on the market and the question I asked myself…how awful I felt for all the royals who ruled simultaneously with Henry VIII; they were so very ignored (for the most part). That’s when I found Francois I and the French court. It was a world filled with intrigue with much more powerful women. Where better to put a young female spy who must make a decision…To Serve a King.

My research on Francois I led me to his real life art agent, The King’s Agent, who procured pieces by the great Italian Renaissance masters by any means. Battista della Palla truly was the Indiana Jones of his age; I knew he deserved his own book. That book led to a fascination with the Renaissance, a period I am now fully ensconced in, completely obsessed with, and am writing a trilogy set within the height of the time and in its birthplace, Florence. Having full Italian heritage and in the process of getting my Italian citizenship, I think it has all led me to where I belong, my home…Renaissance Italy!

M.A.: Your novels are so lush with the history you’re writing about. How do you go about researching the history for your novels? Do you travel to the places you write about?

D.R.M.: My research is a combination of the academic to the practical. For most books, I spend eight to ten months in the research phase. That includes reading as many primary source materials (letters, diaries, journals, manifests) as I can get my hands on as well as the books that specialize either in the era or the people who inhabited it. But I also include some form of practical research. For my first book, I learned how to fence. I attempted to blow glass for my second book. For my third I learned how to shoot a bow and arrow (archery has now become a full blown hobby for me and I own my own compound bow). For my latest release, I learned how to dagger fight. Right now I am immersed in the techniques of painting that were used in the Renaissance period with many visits to many museums and many sketches and antique paint mixing techniques attempted.

Unfortunately, I’ve only been able to travel to the location of my first novel, The Courtier’s Secret, which was set almost entirely at the Chateau Versailles. Spending hours there truly helped me infuse realism into the work. But thanks to the ever evolving internet, there are so many virtual tours available, it is much like traveling there. As I do feel strongly that my work going forward will be anchored in Italy, I do hope to live there a few months out of each year.

M.A.: How would you describe your novels to potential readers? What makes your novels different from others about similar eras?

D.R.M.: They are a vibrant and fast-paced merging of the factual and the fictional to take the reader on an adventure impossible in modern day, where I reveal not only what happened in the past, but how it truly felt. I don’t write bio-fic, which is a prevalent form of historical fiction, but I set my characters next to multiple historical people, allowing the reader to meet and interact with many of the great personages of the past through the experiences of my main characters. I also tend to stray from ‘trend’ topics. My Italy books were released long before Showtime’s Borgias. Renaissance Italy was the birth of new thought and innovation, new ways of life—both grand and lascivious. I endeavor to bring the rare gems of history to light.

M.A.: I always thought if I were a little braver I’d have become an actor. Maybe in my next life… What drew you to acting? Do you see any similarities between acting and writing fiction?

D.R.M.: Acting came to me actually. Though I had done a great deal of school acting (a shy extrovert finds a great outlet there), it wasn’t until I was walking through the local Sears store where I was ‘discovered’ and put in my first television commercial. Modeling and acting became a wonderful resource for income, especially while paying my way through college. Though I tried to ‘make it’ as a rather short woman (for modeling at 5’5) I never made it to ‘the big time.’ It has, however, been a lucrative if sporadic part-time profession. The greatest rewards have been working with (with being relative as I was an extra in The Departed and a Showtime series The Brotherhood) the likes of Martin Scorsese, Martin Sheen, and Jason Isaacs (Lucias Malfoy of Harry Potter).

I do think the ability to completely immerse myself into a character, whether it is as an actor or writer, is invaluable. For that is what I do whenever I write…putting myself ‘into’ the character, imagining what they would be feeling and doing in the circumstances my writing has put them in. It is an empathy that comes across on the page I think…I hope.

M.A.: All authors have a different path as they seek publication. What was your journey to publication like?

D.R.M.: Twisted.

In truth, I had no choice but to become an author, it was imprinted in my DNA. While I started writing as soon as I learned how to hold a pencil, external forces tried pushing me in other directions, then true destiny took over.

I took my first degree in Communications and mapped out a fairly successful freelance writing career while working a ‘day job’ in public relations and advertising. In addition to inclusion in the two anthologies, I was on staff at a local magazine, and my book review career, which began in 1988, hit a pinnacle of sixty published reviews, including publication in The Milwaukee Journal, The Hartford Courant, and Foreword Magazine.

Novel writing was always the ultimate goal. It took me seven years to write my first novel–giving birth to two boys at the same time–a medieval fantasy liberally laced with horror. It sits in my hope chest still, though I still have ‘hope’ for it.

In the summer of 2002, I came down with what I thought was the flu. After two and a half years and more doctors than I care to remember, I was diagnosed with Lyme Disease. Six weeks later, my father passed away from cancer. I retreated from the world and into my books and writing. I re-watched The Three Musketeers and remembered how much I loved it and all the Musketeer stories. I remembered how I wanted to look like Rachel Welch/Constance (who doesn’t?) but I wanted to be Michael York/D’Artagnan. The idea for The Courtier’s Secret, my first book, was born. While being treated for the Lyme, I conducted nine months of research and wrote the first draft in nine weeks.  I found an agent in two months and she got me my first two book contract in four months. The rest, as they say….

M.A.: Which authors are your inspiration—in your writing life and/or your personal life?

D.R.M.: Stephen King taught me how to write, though he doesn’t know it. His talent for telling a complex story in a simple manner, as if he sat next to you and told it to you, was my tutorial. Diana Gabaldon’s amazing talent for merging fact and fiction in a dynamic manner became my ideal. J.K. Rowling’s triumph over a broken marriage and harsh financial situations is my own story. But, in truth, any artist—be it writing, painting, music—who is willing to forgo material wealth for the sake of the craft is worthy of emulation. People who want ‘fame and fortune,’ who think ‘I’ll write a book and make a lot of money and become a celebrity’ I find abhorrent. But those that want to create something magnificent for the sake of its creation, whatever the cost, those are the people who inspire me.

M.A.: I was reading about your latest project on your website and it sounds amazing. I can’t wait to read it. What can you tell us about it?

D.R.M.: Ah, speaking of destiny. As I said, my third book, To Serve a King, brought me to Francois. Francois was responsible for sowing the seeds of what would become, for us, the Louvre Museum. He was obsessed with art. He had, in Italy, an art agent, The King’s Agent (title of my latest book), who would procure from the Italian Renaissance greats art for Francois’ collection. These two books, and their emphasis on art, led me deeper and deeper into the Renaissance and the evolution of art that took place there. But, as always, I was frustrated by the ‘men’s club’ that is history. So I started researching women artists. That’s when it came to me.

The trilogy depicts the birth of the female Renaissance artist set against the turbulence and brilliance that is Florence in the late 15th century. But it is, as well, an homage to the bonds between women, their steely strengths and their petty weaknesses. It is full of intrigue, murder, revenge, love, sex, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Botticelli, the great works of the age and how they were created. It is one of the most magnificent moments in history come to life through the experiences of a myriad group of women.

M.A.: What advice do you have for those who want to write historical fiction?

D.R.M.: Be passionate about the era you write about. Don’t just pick it because it seems to be what’s selling.

Learn ten times more than you need to know or that you’ll include in the book and use only the material that serves the plot of the story. (But save ALL your material…you never know when you may use it elsewhere.)

If you ‘tweak’ history (which you may have to do in order to tell your fictional story) TELL THE READER! That’s what Author’s Notes are for.

Give credit to the hard work of the nonfiction historians from whom we get our glorious material. Include a bibliography even though you write fiction. They deserve it.

M.A.: What else would you like readers to know?

D.R.M.: I include Discussion Questions in the back of every one of my books. Share the stories with friends and family. Sit together and discuss the works, go through the questions, let your minds go where they lead, tell your own stories. If you belong to a book club, contact me and we can have Skype discussions. But most of all, if you learn something of the past from my books, if you feel something you’ve never felt before…I’ve done my work and I thank you for allowing me to do it.

About Donna Russo Morin:

Donna Russo Morin’s passion for the written word began when she was a child, took on a feminist edge as she grew through the sixties, and blossomed into a distinctive style of action-filled historical fiction at a defining moment in her life. With two degrees from the University of Rhode Island, the state in which she was born and raised, Donna’s first book, The Courtier’s Secret (2009) won RWI-RWA’s Best First Book Award and was a finalist in the National Readers’ Choice Award. The Secret of the Glass (2010), her second book, received a Single Titles Reviewers’ Choice Award and was a finalist in the USA Best Books of the Year Contest. Also a recipient of a Single Titles Reviewers’ Choice Award and a finalist in the USA Best Books of the Year Contest, Donna’s third Book, To Serve a King (2011), was a finalist in Foreword Magazine’s Book of the Year Award as well. The King’s Agent (2012), Donna’s latest release, received a coveted starred review in Publishers Weekly. Donna is currently at work on a major trilogy about the clandestine birth of the female Renaissance artist set in turbulent Medici ruled Florence. Donna is a proud, single mother of two sons, Devon and Dylan—a future opera singer and a future chef—her greatest works in progress.

Donna’s books on Amazon http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_0_10/184-1092533-4046236?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=donna+russo+morin&sprefix=donna+russ%2Caps%2C298

Donna’s books on B&N http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/donna-russo-morin?store=allproducts&keyword=donna+russo+morin

donnarussomorin.com 

donnarussomorin.blogspot.com 

Twitter @DonnaRussoMorin

Facebook http://www.facebook.com/DonnaRussoMorin

 

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