Donna Russo Morin’s passion for writing began when she was a child, took on a feminist edge in the sixties, and blossomed into a distinctive style of action-filled historical fiction. With two degrees from the University of Rhode Island, Donna has four published, award-winning books (Kensington Publishing) and is currently at work on a major trilogy about the clandestine birth of the female Renaissance artist set in turbulent Medici-ruled Florence. Her accomplishments and awards include: THE KING’S AGENT March 2012 RECIPIENT PUBLISHERS WEEKLY STARRED REVIEW, TO SERVE A KING 2011 FINALIST: FOREWORD MAGAZINE BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR; Winner: Reviewers’ Choice Award, THE SECRET OF THE GLASS FINALIST: USA BOOK NEWS BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR; Winner: Reviewer’s Choice Award, and THE COURTIER’S SECRET Finalist: National Reader’s Choice Award; Winner: Best First Book RWI-RWA. She was recently interviewed by Cheryl Malandrinos.
Why did you become a writer?
I don’t believe I had a choice; I believe it was a genetic disposition. I come from a long line of artists (my grandfather was a violin/viola player/maker; one of his viola’s is in the Smithsonian Institute. His father was a sculptor whose works still stand in the churches of Foggia, Italy. My mother tells me I started writing as soon as I learned to write. She still has the stories, though they’re yellowing and creased with age. I became a writer because I was born one.
What is the most rewarding part of being a writer? The most frustrating?
When I hear words like “I got so lost in your story,” “I totally forgot about everything while I was reading your book,” and “I learned more about history from your book than I ever did in school,” I know I have done my work well; I have crafted a story well enough for my reader to be completely swept away by it. I’ve always wanted to be a ‘storyteller;’ when I’ve done it, it’s extraordinarily rewarding.
The machinations of the publishing industry, the vagaries of it, especially in these changing days, can be outrageously frustrating. Perhaps as much as the enormous time a modern writer is expected to spend on social media and marketing. Gone are the days when one can just write, just dedicate oneself to the craft, wholly and completely.
Can you tell us a bit about your latest release?
To the casual observer, Battista della Paglia is an avid art collector, or perhaps a nimble thief. In reality, the cunning Italian is an agent for François, the King of France, for whom he procures the greatest masterpieces of the day by any means necessary. Embroiled in a power struggle with Charles V, the King of Spain, François resolves to rule Europe’s burgeoning cultural world. When he sets his sights on a mysterious sculpture, Battista’s search for the elusive objet d’art leads him to a captivating woman on a mission of her own…
Having spent her life under the controlling eye of her protector, the Marquess of Mantua, Aurelia longs for freedom. And she finds it in Battista. Together, they embark on a journey to find the clues that will lead him to the sculpture— a venture so perilous it might have spilled from the pen of Dante himself. Clues hide in great works of art, political forces collide, secret societies and enemies abound, and danger lurks in every challenge, those that mirror the passages of Dante’s Divine Comedy. From the smoldering depths of Rome to a castle in the sky, the harrowing quest draws them inextricably together. But Aurelia guards a dark secret that could tear them apart—and change the course of history…
Ah, I love this story almost as much as I love the story itself. I was doing research for my third book, To Serve a King, which entailed a great deal of study on Francois I. For those that may not know, Francois was the king of France when Henry VIII was king of England. But he was also the king so obsessed with art, that his collection became the inception of the museum we now call the Louvre. It was during this research that I found true life personage, Battista della Palla; he was Francois’ art agent, ‘the king’s agent’. He was mandated, by the king, to bring to France the great works of the Italian Renaissance painters, by whatever means necessary. Battista, his character and mission, so captivated me that I felt he deserved his own book. I had planned to ‘create’ a relationship between Battista and Michelangelo so that I could feature the artist in the book. It was as if I had hit the lottery when I found letters between the two men; letters that revealed a strong and loving bond between them.
Now, add into the mix the fact that all of my books are semi-biographical in nature in that the theme reflects a strong condition or emotion I am feeling at the time I’m developing the story. Aurelia, Battista’s female, fictional counterpart, is a woman who longs for nothing more than to shake off the shackles of a life devoted to duty, one overburdened by that duty. The girl just wants to have fun. When she is swept up into Battista’s quest…a romp that takes us across the Italian countryside and exposes her to some life-threatening danger, she does just that…the girl has fun while still serving her life’s purpose. I guess a reflection of my hope for myself.
What are you working on now?
Because my current work in progress is now in the hands of editors at some of the top publishing companies in the country, I don’t want to give too much away. I will say it is a trilogy about a secret society of women set against the turbulent period in Renaissance Florence, the late 15th century. It is historical adventure full of great artists, intrigue, and murder.
Where can we find you online?
Is there anything you would like to add? If writing flows in your veins like your life’s blood, then let the laundry pile up, let the lawn grow, let the house fester with dust, and write. If like so many, life has thrown down gauntlets of hardship, then put them in your work, allow whatever emotion you may be suffering to add depth to your characters and their own pain and hardships. Set yourself a firm schedule of when you’re going to write—even if it’s only Friday night from 8:00 to 9:00. Give yourself that gift; silence the excuses, release the prisoner, and write.