15 August 2010

Guest Author: Donna Russo Morin

This week on Unusual Historicals we're welcoming historical fiction author Donna Russo Morin. Her debut THE COURTIER'S SECRET was a finalist in this year's National Readers' Choice Award in the mainstream category, and won the winner of RWI's Best First Book Award. Book Illuminations has chosen her latest release, THE SECRET OF GLASS, as an Outstanding Pick for 2010.

At the dawn of the 17th Century, the glassmakers of Murano are revered as master artisans, enjoying privileges far beyond their station, but they are forced to live in virtual imprisonment, contained by the greedy Venetian government who fears other countries will learn the intricacies of the craft…and reap the rewards.

Sophia Fiolario, the comely daughter of a glass making maestro, has no desire for marriage, finding her serenity in the love of her family and the beauty of the glass. She learns of its secrets at her father's side, where a woman has no right to be. The life Sophia loves is threatened by the poor health of her father and the determined attentions of a nobleman who could and would never love her but seeks to possess her wealth and the privilege it affords.

Thrust into the opulent world of the Venice court, Sophia becomes embroiled in the scheming machinations of the courtiers' lives. The beauty of Venice, the magnificence of the Doge's Palace, are rivaled only by the intrigue and danger that festers behind their splendid facades. As she searches for an escape, she finds the arms of another, a man whose own desperate situation is yet another obstacle in their path.

Amidst political and religious intrigue, the scientific furor ignited by Galileo, and even murder, Sophia must do anything to protect herself, her family…and the secret of the glass.

"The latest inspiring historical from Morin celebrates the eternal charms of Venice, Murano glass, and Galileo, with the story of a courageous 17th Century woman glassmaker. Morin conjures an unlikely upbeat destiny...making for a decidedly dulce ending." ~ Publishers Weekly

"One of the best written novels of Venice I have ever read." ~ Historical Novel Review

"Five Stars. Outstanding Pick for 2010. Absolutely superb!" ~ Book Illuminations

"Five Stars. A beautiful story by master storyteller" ~ Catanetwork Reviews

"Elegant prose, alluring style." ~ Historical-fiction.com

"Four Stars. History comes to life as Morin recreates the lush and dangerous world of the Murano glassmakers. Like the brilliant glass, her story swirls together colors of political and religious intrigue, murder, and romance. Readers will be enmeshed in the lives of her fascinating characters." ~ RT Book Reviews


Tell us more about yourself, your writer's journey, and maybe some things people may not know about you.

I started writing as a child, when numbers that were in love and animals that wanted to run for president filled my mind. I obtained two degrees from the University of Rhode Island and worked in the advertising and marketing fields for years. And though my short fiction has appeared in critically acclaimed anthologies and I have more than twenty-five non-fiction articles and more than sixty published books reviews in newspapers nationwide, my writing always took a backseat to my responsibilities. I fit it in between working the day job, caring for a home and my two children. Then in 2004, after two and a half years of a mysterious illness, I was diagnosed with Lyme disease. A few weeks later, my father passed away from cancer. The landscape of life had changed, my vision cleared, and I asked myself...if not now, when?

Within the next two years, I had written THE COURTIER'S SECRET (Feb. 2009), landed an agent, and sold to Kensington Publishing.

Some fun stuff about me not found on a resume...I am a FANatical football fan; my allegiance belongs wholeheartedly to the New England Patriots. I am equally passionate about video games (The Legend of Zelda rules!) and rock and roll.

You've chosen a very interesting title. What inspired the title? What inspired the book?

Like so much of life, the story and the title really came to me in the most unexpected way. When Katie Couric became anchor of the CBS Evening News, I decided to watch to support her, even though I'm not a great fan of television news programs. Within that broadcast was a two-minute feature story on the glassmakers of Murano. One point in particular caught and captured my imagination: for hundreds of years the glassmakers of Venice were virtual prisoners in their own land, captives of a government determined to keep the prestige and profit produced by the glass industry. Within a half hour of viewing that story, I had a two page synopsis written, a plot that mapped out a story about a young Murano woman who must somehow save herself while protecting 'the secret of the glass.'

What makes this book special to you?

As a second generation Italian American and a writer of European historicals, I really wanted to set a book in the land I consider my second country. Then, when I started my research, I found Galileo. I was unaware of how much time he had spent in the magical city of Venice. I knew nothing of the symbiotic relationship between him and this wonderful land. But I was astounded when I learned the professor suffered from a chronic illness. I found kinship in his tale of determination, one echoed in the story of the land itself and the people that had made it so unique.

What kind of research did you do for this book?

Unlike my first book, I was unable to travel to the setting (the trip to Versailles after the first draft of THE COURTIER'S SECRET was amazing and I long desperately to travel to Venice). However, I did learn to do what my character was doing. For the first book (basically a female Musketeer adventure), I took fencing lessons. For THE SECRET OF THE GLASS, I learned to make glass. I have to emphasize the word 'learn'; while I took lessons, I was less than successful in creating a viable piece (it exploded actually...too many air bubbles). This is, of course, in addition to months of academic research. For next year's release, TO SERVE A KING, I learned to shoot a bow and arrow and a crossbow.


In addition to her website, you can find Donna at her blog and on Facebook.

Would you like the chance to win a signed copy of THE SECRET OF GLASS? Just leave a comment or question for Donna. Perhaps you'd like to know more about Italy, glassmaking, or her travels? I'll draw a winner at random next Sunday. Void where prohibited. US addresses only. Best of luck!


Alison said...

I'd love to know more about glass-making. I'm hoping to be given a Pandora bracelet soon and the glass beads for it are amazingly beautiful.

Chelsea B. said...

Interesting interview! Beautiful covers;I cannot wait to read the books themselves!

LilMissMolly said...

Your books sound wonderful. I'd love to win one. I grew up in a town next to Fenton Glass. We'd take school trips for tours of the factory and see how they blow the glass. It was a wonderful experience.

librarypat said...

Followed the month long event on this book on another group of sites. Most interesting. Ha heard of Murano glass and have a friend that has several pieces in her blue glass collection. Have enjoyed watching glass blowers many times over the years. We have several pieces of blown glass, but nothing like the multi colored beauties from Italy.

If/when you make it to Venice, what is the first thing you would like to do/see?

Donna Russo Morin said...

Thank you, all, for your great comments. Glass and the making of the glass fascinate so many people, and I wholeheartedly concur. It almost has a magical quality to it.

Librarypat...great question and not an easy one for me to answer. But I'd have to say a visit to the top of the campanile would probably top the list. It is the setting for the excerpt posted here on Thursday, the place where Galileo revealed is telescope. The scene continues on quite a bit from the excerpt and is one of my favorites in the book. But mostly it is a place of such stupendous triumph as one of the most beautiful place in the world is laid out at your feet...I can only imagine the inspiration and energy to be found at such a place.

Noelle Pierce said...

I'm so glad I stumbled onto this site. The Secret of Glass sounds very interesting, as do your other titles. I loved Venice when I went, but didn't make it to Murano. I did see it from St. Mark's Plaza whilst covered in pigeons, though (note: NOT covered in pigeon poo, I'm happy to report. I was really afraid of that.).

Rosie Hong said...

This book looks really interesting, and the cover is beautiful!

Donna Russo Morin said...

Noelle...I've seen the pictures of visitors covered in pigeons and have often wondered how often they are 'blessed' by the birds. Glad to hear you made it out unscathed. :D

Rachel E. Moniz said...

Donna, what a wonderful interview! And your hands-on research is awesome to read about. I visited a glass studio in Shelburne, MA and thought it was fasciniating how they crafted their pieces!


IheartBrookings said...

What beautiful book covers you have! I really appreciate that you do all of the research that you do. I really like when books can tie into real life. :)

What's next for you?

paigeray23 at yahoo dot com

windycindy said...

How admirable that you do academic
and working research on the various places and time periods of your delightful books...How exciting!
Many thanks, Cindi

Maureen said...

It looks like an interesting topic. Does a glass maker of today do it any differently than they did hundreds of years ago?

Donna Russo Morin said...

Maureen...the method of making glass today is almost exactly as it was all those years ago. The materials and tools, such as the large furnaces, are much more modern, but the process remains the same.

Paige...my next book, To Serve a King, releases in February of 2011. In a nutshell...a woman is raised to be a spy and an assassin for Henry VIII at the court of Francois I.

Thanks Ladies!

Carrie Lofty said...

Sorry about the delay. We have a winner! Congrats to Rachel E. Moniz, and thanks to everyone else who stopped by.