Last week I reviewed The King's Agent by Donna Russo Morin and today I'm thrilled to welcome Donna to The Eclectic Reader. I hope everyone enjoys the interview.
1. How long did it take you to research and write The King’s Agent?
Because of contract requirements, the entire process was done in a year. A book a year is not that difficult to achieve for the most part, but I do think it adds greater stress with historical fiction. I believe in meticulous research, garnering four times more material than what ends up in the book. I conducted seven months of research for The King’s Agent, and completed the writing in five. In a perfect world I would love eighteen months per book. But then again, in a perfect world Johnny Depp would be massaging my shoulders while I write.
That's some pressure; pressure deserving of a massage by Johhny Depp LOL
2. Battista & Aurelia’s quest reminded me of a 16th century Indiana Jones adventure and obviously Dante’s Divine Comedy was an important influence in The King’s Agent but I had no idea until reading the author’s notes that The Legend of Zelda played a part. My sons were mad players of The Legend of Zelda game … can you explain the significance to readers?
Well, it all stems from the fact that in each of my novels - in each of my female protagonists - I have exorcised a facet of my life. In The King’s Agent, Aurelia, a woman devoted to duty and overburdened by it, is looking for release and, frankly, some fun. But the true genesis of the story begins with Battista della Palla, an actual historical person, the art agent for Francois I. So I found myself with an art thief and a woman who wants some escapism. It led me to adventure and adventure led me to The Legend of Zelda.
There may be many who don’t know of The Legend of Zelda, who may scoff when they learn it’s a video game. But as pastimes will, this particular game has brought me great joy. I started playing the real time adventure in its first incarnation in the late 1980s and have since played every version that has appeared on every platform. It has provided me with hours and hours of stimulating escapism in a virtual world where the burdens, difficulties, and duties of my own life could not find me. And yet it challenged me and brought me the thrill of conquest. It afforded me a wonderful environment in which to bond with my sons, one that grows ever stronger. I feel no shameful compunction in offering an homage of gratitude to something—video game or not—that has given so much to me.
There’s more to it as well, but I wouldn’t want to take anything away from a reader’s own discovery. Suffice it to say, it was a joy for me to merge my passions and to be grateful for the inspiration.
3. Apart from the actual historical figures, how did you go about choosing names for the characters in keeping with the era?
As I write the ‘other’ kind of historical fiction, by that I mean other European (concentration on Italy and France), I don’t have to worry about keeping in the era as much as if I were using English names. I mostly definitely have to keep them ethnically authentic. I do have a special process for choosing the right name for the right character. I have a couple of websites that I use that gives me not only the pronunciation of the name but the translated meaning. For me, each character’s name has to sound how they feel to me - how I hope to create them - and the meaning of their names has to fit them somehow. In the case of Aurelia, for example, it was the name of the largest road throughout Italy at the time of the book…a story very much about a journey. Additionally, its Latin meaning is golden, which comes into play as well. I try to give all of the major characters the same name significance, even if it is a bit of time eater.
4. Is there anything you find particularly challenging when you’re writing?
It’s external life that presents the most challenges. I often think that if I lived on a little island somewhere in a hut with little external distractions, I could churn out two to three books a year; that’s how much I feel is inside my head, how many stories I long to tell. But I have more than a normal share of extraneous strafe. I’m a single parent/single head of a household with two sons, both college age, both living at home who seem to not quite grasp the concept that if mom’s fingers are flying across a keyboard, then she’s working and one shouldn’t stand on the other side of the desk and chatter away at her (it doesn’t help that my office used to be the dining room and has no doors…oh, my kingdom for some doors!). For the last few years especially, the writing is not only my passion, my profession, it’s the easy part…and my refuge.
5. Are you a plan-the-whole-book-out person or a write-as-it-comes person?
I am obsessively a ‘plan-the-whole-book-out’ person; in fact, people tend to look at me a bit askance when I tell them my methodology. Basically, once I’ve the basic premise for the book — the blurb, if you will—I create a three to five page synopsis including all the major plot and sub plot points. Then, I begin the very serious research phase; this can take months and result in pages and pages of notes. I then take my synopsis and break it down into a scene by scene outline. This is even more expansive than a chapter outline as there may be more than one scene to a chapter. Then (I know, getting crazy here) I review my notes and code the research I want to include as to which scene it belongs to and then merge the two. Of course, along the way, actual writing tends to burst out of me, sentences/whole paragraphs/sometimes pages. So by the time I sit down to the gritty writing (with a 3000 word a day goal), I’m typically working from an 80 to 100 page outline. For me, it’s total pre-emersion that brings forth the muse.
6. What’s next on the table for Donna Russo Morin?
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 the study finds me in. 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.
7. Tell us a secret, something the blogosphere doesn’t know.
Oh my, this is so hard. I think the blogosphere knows just about everything about me by now, and what it doesn’t know, I’m not sure I want to tell. But what the hell. I’ve always talked about the fact that my male protagonists are physically modeled after my celebrity crushes … Brad Pitt for the first, Tom Brady for the second, Jeff Probst for the third, Johnny Depp for The King’s Agent. In truth, for the second, the character was in fact a substitute for a real man, someone in my life, a shipped that passed me in the night with nothing but the feathering of our wakes colliding. He does happen to look remarkably like Tom Brady so the character is a bit of an amalgamate. I have NEVER revealed this on any blog … you have the scoop. He knows who he is and no more than a handful of people. And it will stay that way.
YAY gotta love a scoop! hmm I wonder if the 'ship in the night' read your book (The Secret of Glass) and liked the portrayal? I have to say I can totally see Johnny Depp as Battista.
8. If you could be dropped into any book as a character who would you be and why?
This is really difficult; when I read, I do drop myself into the book…I believe I am certain characters. My first instinct was to say Scarlett in Gone with the Wind but on deeper consideration I think I’ll choose Claire from Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. The time travel aspect ignites my imagination; getting to experience the moments in history that she has with a modern perspective would be an astounding event. And the male lead, Jamie, is one of the singular most appealing male characters—physically, mentally, and spiritually—that I have ever read. Being his wife would not be too tough to take.
I totally agree Donna, the Outlander series is one of my all time favourite series and I've had a bit of Claire envy going on. If you've read these books and not fantasised about Jamie, you can't be breathing lol
9. Describe yourself in three words?
Creative, curious, eccentric.
My thanks to Donna for taking time out of her busy schedule to answer my questions.
Donna Russo Morin's website
Tour Schedule: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
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