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!