Thursday, March 29, 2012

Blog Tour Interview + Giveaway: The King's Agent

Please join me in welcoming author Donna Russo Morin to Let Them Read Books!

I loved Donna's previous book, To Serve A King, and I am burning through Donna's newest release, The King's Agent, right now! I'm a big fan and Donna was kind enough to answer some questions about writing historical fiction.

Your first four novels have taken readers from 17th century Versailles and Venice to 16th century France and Florence. Where do your story ideas come from? How do you decide when and where your next story will take place?

This is going to sound like an author’s trite, practiced answer, but my stories come to me…they find me and insist that I write them. The idea for my first book, The Courtier’s Secret, came to me when I was sixteen years old and I became obsessed with all things Musketeer after watching (possibly ten times) the version of The Three Musketeers with Michael York and Raquel Welch. I wanted to look like (Constance) Raquel Welch but have the adventures of D’Artagnan (Michael York). The answer…a cross dressing courtier. The second book, The Secret of the Glass, came from watching a two minute news story on the glassmakers of Murano. The third, To Serve a King, from the research of the first (the kings of France); the fourth, the just released The King’s Agent, from a true historical character found during the research for the third; the work in progress from a love of Renaissance art germinated in the third and the fourth.

And woven through the genesis of the external ideas are the internal conflicts of my own life that are laid bare in every story. On a thematic basis, the tribulations of my life have provided a great deal of fodder for my stories…the frustrated feminist in me appeared in my first book, the indecisive woman torn between duty and personal happiness dominated the second. In the third, written while going through a nasty divorce, the assassin was born. And in The King’s Agent, the woman that is, most times, overburdened by duty, tried to escape for a little fun. In my current work in progress, it is the bonds of women—of girlfriends—that will infuse the saga.

You’ve written about two of France’s most charismatic kings: Francois I and Louis XIV. How did you approach crafting them into historical fiction characters? Do you have a favorite between them?

Whenever researching and working on the parts of my book that deal with true historical characters, I try to unearth those nuances that have been most often overlooked. I think it can be easy to fall into the fact trap and take what the history books have to tell us, and write these characters in keeping with such teachings. But I look for more than surface facts and generalizations of what public activities may have to say; I try and uncover their deep-seated motivations…not what they did, but why they did it.

For instance, we know that Louis XIV was dreadful to his noblemen, promoting low ranking nobles and even commoners above them. On the surface, such behavior smacks of the tyrannical, and, indeed, it is. But what most don’t know is that he did so out of fear…fear erupting from deep wounds inflicted upon him as a child when the nobles rose up against his mother and Mazarin in a civil war known as the Fronde. The five year old child, Louis, left unattended for hours at a time, quivered under stairwells as noblemen attempted to lay seize to his home, then in the Louvre. What he did to the nobleman later in life, as a grown man and a powerful king, he did in revenge and to keep his traumatic fears at bay. These traumas, the doubts and fears—the ugly underbelly that lives in us all—is what makes a three-dimensional character.

We are all a product of our past, whether it is as attribute or determent; it is this that I try and reveal in these very public, well-known characters.

Choosing between these two would be difficult for me; not only do I tend to ‘fall in love’ with all my leading men—both real and imagined—but these are such charismatic, very male men (as a recently single woman after 23 years, I’m finding that these chevaliers seem to be as much a part of the past as the topics I write about). Louis was more handsome than François, but he was also the greater narcissist. François was no slouch in the looks department at well over six feet and muscularly built, but I think I would choose him regardless. I share his love and adoration for paintings and sculptures; it was his love of such works that began the germination of the Louvre as one of the greatest museums in the world.

Have you had any memorable or surprising moments from your research efforts?

I have done some pretty interesting things in the name of research. For the first book, I took fencing lessons and for the second I (tried to) learn to make hand-blown glass (what a disaster). For the third I learned archery, a hobby that has become a constant for me. But it was when I began to delve into Renaissance art that a real strange occurrence took place.

The main character of The King’s Agent, Battista della Palla, is a true historical character who was involved in the art world, and I set the main plot by setting him on a search for an ancient relic. In the very early stages of plot development, I happened to be watching the History Channel, I believe it was something on JFK, and the very next show was one I had never heard of. Ancient Aliens is a series that has been on for a few years (unbeknownst to me) that highlighted evidence of alien existence all through history back to ancient times. And what episode should be coming on…evidence of alien existence in Renaissance Art. I was alone in the house, shivers running up the back of my neck, yelling to no one but myself, “Are you kidding me…oh my goodness, this is amazing!” I recorded the show, watched it over and over and over, read the books highlighted during the program, and what was revealed to me was astounding and became an intriguing facet of the book itself.

What draws you to historical fiction? Do you ever think about writing another genre?

I actually started out writing horror; greatly influenced by The King (Stephen, that is), my first published paid works were short fiction. And, as a disciple of the likes of Tolkien and Lewis, I am enraptured with fantasy (I think their influence can be glimpsed in The King’s Agent). I would love to venture further into the cross-genre of historical and fantasy. But I don’t think my ‘voice’ will allow me to write anything not rooted in the historical; it’s very formal in tone and would sound stilted if I tried to write, say, a contemporary mystery.

I was drawn to historical fiction long ago, at a very young age. I think it started with Gone with the Wind and Camelot and the stories of King Arthur. I was that under-engaged student in history class that learned little from the sterile presentation (as well as the burgeoning feminist impatience with the ‘old white man’ version) of history. When I discovered historical fiction…starting in high school with the works of James Michener, John Jakes, Leon Uris…the past became alive and I knew the passion I felt when reading this genre could only be surpassed by the passion I would feel writing it.

What do you like to read for pleasure?

Well, as mentioned above, reading historical fiction is as much a delight for me as writing it….these days I love the works of Diana Gabaldon, C. W. Gortner, Diane Haegar and many others. It’s a wonderful time for the genre with great works meeting the increasing demand. But I still worship the King (just finished 11/22/63) and will go far off my well-trodden path if the subject provokes me (Andre Agassi’s Open is a marvelous case in point). I adore Harry Potter and can easily see me re-reading the entire series someday, when I have the time. The same could be said for The Lord of the Rings. I am also a devotee of New Age Spiritualism and find tools and great succor in the books of Eckhart Tolle, Wayne Dyer and the like.

What are you working on now?

As I’ve hinted at in previous questions, preceding research has left me obsessed with 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.

Thank you, Donna! Wasn't that a great interview?
(And I watch Ancient Aliens all the time!)

Would you like to win your own copy of
The King's Agent?

Leave a comment or question for Donna with your email address, and you're entered! This giveaway is open until 11:59pm, Wednesday, April 11, 2012, to U.S. residents only. Thanks, and good luck!

This giveaway is closed and the winner has been selected!
Stay tuned for more great giveaways!

The King's Agent is on a blog tour!
Click here to view the tour schedule.
Click here to visit Donna's website.


  1. sounds good! Thanks for the giveaway!

  2. A very interesting interview. I really identified with the answer re. authors like Michener, John Jakes, and Leon Uris - some of my early favorites. Thanks for the giveaway.

  3. My love for history began in my early years, but not in school. I found the quick glaze over history that you find in many schools hard to take. But I too love the history channel.
    I'd love to win this book, It sounds like its even better than To Serve a King.

  4. Fabulous interview! That is really fantastic you're working on a story about the birth of the female Renaissance artist. I don't think I've read any books of that nature! Exciting!

  5. I love historical fiction and romance! I'd love to read this!
    Lmackesy at gmail dot com

  6. Your interview was fascinating as is this novel. What a great deal of research and reading. Best wishes and much happiness. elliotbencan(at)hotmail(dot)com

  7. Historical fiction set during this era and in Italy is wonderful. I am so captivated with this novel. Female Renaissance Italian artists sounds incredibly interesting for your next book. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

  8. I found this author's comment about "voice" very interesting. Love to read this.

  9. I am a big fan of historical fiction and this time period is so exciting Thank you for the chance to win.


  10. I've never heard of a historical novel incorporating aliens. How intriguing! I'd love to read the book.


  11. This sounds so good. I'm obsessed with Ancient Aliens! I get creeped out by it too. IT's awesome that some of it may have made its way into her book.

  12. i love historical fictions, so TheKing'sAgent is on my WishList!!!!

    thank you for the giveaway!!!

    cyn209 at juno dot com

  13. I am so impressed with authors of historical books. All the time spent in research that brings theses books to life! Thank you! I must admit, I am thankful to live in this era.


  14. I really liked The Secret of the Glass.

    Thanks for the giveaway!

  15. I love the idea of a novel based around Renaissance art!

    Thanks for the giveaway!


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