Saturday, May 11, 2013

Interview with Donna Russo Morin

For the next few weeks, I'll be featuring interviews with some of the fabulous speakers slated to share their expertise at the Historical Novel Society Conference in Tampa, Florida, June 21-23. First up is Donna Russo Morin.

Donna Russo Morin is the author of four historical novels. "An adventurous quest in Renaissance Italy with undercurrents of the supernatural," her most recent release, THE KING'S AGENT (Kensington, 2012), earned a starred review from Publishers Weekly. Donna will be speaking on the conference panel "Sex in Historical Fiction: How to Make It Hot."

1. What got you first interested in historical fiction?

It really began with James Michener. My mother was reading him voraciously while I was in high school. I picked one up and became completely enraptured, captivated far beyond the books assigned in class. From there it went from one spectrum—Leon Uris—to the other—Rosalind Laker. When I found Diana Gabaldon’s OUTLANDER in the early ‘90s and her mingling of fictional characters with historic ones, I completely discovered my voice.

2. How do you find the people and topics of your books?

I am very lucky that ideas come to me with ease. The first book I ever wrote was a self-fulfilled wish…to be a Musketeer. The second came from a two minute news story on the glass makers of Venice. Now that I am fully ensconced in the Italian Renaissance…an era I can trace my own lineage back to…I am obsessed and bursting with stories longing to be told.

3. Do you follow a specific writing and/or research process?

I always start with solidifying my fictional plot. Then I research the historical events of the era I’m in ad nauseum. Once I feel I have done my due diligence in that regard (typically 6-8 months of work) I’ll begin to merge the two to fully flesh out the plot and outline. Then, it’s off to the races.

4. For you, what is the line between fiction and fact?

My main characters and their challenges are fiction within the rigid constructs of historical fact. The only time I’ve blurred the line, was in the case of time…bringing events closer together for a more tightly written narrative. BUT…I am a firm believer that if any such ‘blurring’ occurs, it is the duty of the author to make it clear in an Author’s Note.

5. Do you have an anecdote about a reading or fan interaction you'd like to share?

I was standing in a museum, intently studying a work of art I had just used in my last release, THE KING'S AGENT, when a young woman next to me started telling me about this book she had just read and how the author had used the painting, and, best of all, how much she loved the book. It was one of the best moments in my writing career, especially when she told me that she had only gone to the museum because of that book. It was a goose bump moment.

6. Is there an era/area that is your favorite to write about? How about to read?

I am firmly and utterly obsessed with Renaissance Italy, Florence to be exact. Not only am I a willing prisoner to the rebirth and the miraculous and wondrous changes that took place—astounding fodder for my muse and my pen—but it is a time I can trace my own lineage to. As a full, second generation Italian American, I am currently working on my Italian (dual) citizenship and hope to spend a few months of every year there (there will be a guest room!). As for reading, I am simply in love with my genre, though I do tend to stay away from periods that I feel have been overdone. 

7.What are your favorite reads? Favorite movies? Dominating influences?

Favorite Reads: All works by Alexandre Dumas, TRINITY by Leon Uris, TO DANCE WITH KINGS by Rosalind Laker, GONE WITH THE WIND by Margaret Mitchell. Stephen King and his ability to tell a complex story in a simple way and Diana Gabaldon’s perfect marriage of fact and fiction are, far and away, my most dominating influences. As for movies…not sure there’s enough time or space. I am a movie fanatic of all genres. Some of my top of list favorites are SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE; EVER AFTER; CRAZY, STUPID LOVE; LORD OF THE RINGS; anything Star Trek; LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE…the variety is evident I think.

8. Is there a writer, living or deceased, you would like to meet?

Those deceased would have to be Jane Austen and Margaret Mitchell. Among the living are Stephen King, J. K. Rowling, and Diana Gabaldon.

9. What book was the most fun for you to write?

It is most definitely THE KING'S AGENT. I combined true paranormal aspects found in Renaissance art with Dante’s DIVINE COMEDY (giving physical form to the allegory in the guise of challenges) as well as influences from my favorite video game, THE LEGEND OF ZELDA. It was a large aim of the book…to have fun. The books that came before were reflections of the extreme traumas and difficulties of my own life. When I reached THE KING'S AGENT...well, the girl just wanted to have some fun.

10. Can you tell us about your latest publication?

If I may be so bold, I would like to quote the starred review THE KING'S AGENT received from Publishers Weekly: "In return for acquiring—stealing if he must—great works of art for French King François I, the king’s royal art dealer, Battista della Palla, enjoys the king’s support, and the city of Florence enjoys his protection. When the king goes to war with Charles of Spain, he orders Battista to retrieve an ancient Greek relic that is said to “possess the strength [he needs] to reign victorious.” As Battista begins the hunt, he meets Aurelia, a beautiful, spirited noblewoman with a yen for travel and adventure, and his simple quest blooms into a mysterious journey across Italy, with Battista and Aurelia following in the footsteps of the relic’s Guardians and encountering challenges evocative of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Inevitably, the two fall in love, but a secret about Aurelia’s true identity threatens the mission. Morin (To Serve a King) skillfully blends historical fiction and fantasy in surprising ways. She draws effortlessly upon influences ranging from Dante to Raiders of the Lost Ark, and the authority of her presentation makes the world she’s created come alive. A wonderfully action-packed ride through the lush landscape of Renaissance Italy."

11. Do you have a most interesting question or crazy anecdote related to your writing you would like to share?

Well, for each book I've done some interesting physical research. For the first book, THE COURTIER'S SECRET, I learned how to fence. For THE SECRET OF THE GLASS—my second—I ‘tried’ to learn to blow glass. I learned how to shoot a bow and arrow for my third book, TO SERVE A KING, and now archery has become an entrenched hobby. And for THE KING'S AGENT, I learned how to dagger fight. It would seem my work has made me a bit dangerous.

I'll definitely be adding Donna's books to my TBR pile. Be sure to check out Donna's website to learn more about her and her books--or better yet, come to the HNS Conference and meet her in person!


Erika M said...

Donna, what a great anecdote about being in the museum! Did you "out" yourself to the woman? Do tell!

Julianne Douglas said...

I was wondering the same thing, Erika!

Donna Russo Morin said...

Actually I did 'out' myself...we ended up having a cup of coffee and an incredible conversation together. It was one of 'those' moments.

Julianne Douglas said...

What a wonderful story, for both you and your reader!

Vicki Kondelik said...

Donna, your books are wonderful. I'm looking forward to meeting you at the HNS Conference.

Donna Russo Morin said...

Thanks so much, Vicki; it's going to be a great conference! So many great people to meet!