Updates on my Fourth Novel and COVER REVEAL!

I’m excited to share a few updates about my upcoming fourth novel! Previously titled In the Shadow of Saints, it is now called The Borgia Confessions, and will be released on February 11th, 2020 by St. Martin’s Griffin. You can add it to your Goodreads shelf here. And it is now available for preorder! Click here for all your preorder needs.

 

AND The Borgia Confessions HAS A COVER! I’m so thrilled to share it with you!

I love this cover a whole lot – the woman with her cross necklace captures Maddalena’s vibe perfectly. And the view of Rome at the bottom is just perfect – a bit crumbly with some ruins in the landscape. Rome at this time in history was in some disrepair, to say the least, so I love that this comes across on the cover. Also, as you’ve probably noticed, it is similar in feel and style to my other Italian novels, The Violinist of Venice and The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence. I love that this cover is also a continuation of that “brand” but is still fresh and new.

This beauty was designed by Danielle Fiorella, and I am just SO thrilled with it.

I’m so excited for this book to make its way to all of you! Stay tuned to my social media in the coming months, as there will be giveaways for early copies!

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Authors & Inspirations: S. M. Traphagen

Welcome to another edition of Authors & Inspirations! I’m excited to welcome author S. M. Traphagen to the blog. Her first novel, Finding Morgan, a fantasy that puts a new spin on the Arthurian legends, is out now. Read on to learn more about the book and about her inspirations!

 

What artist (of any medium) has had the biggest influence on you as a writer?

Alice Walker, Albert Einstein, and J.K. Rowling. Alice because she has a similar background as mine. Her journey led her to use writing as her tool to effect change and make a difference in the world while still entertaining people. Einstein because his science came from a place of creativity; it transformed the way we view relativity and universal matter, and I’ve always been inspired by his creative process.. J.K. Rowling because her path to success started rough, and she lived by meager means, and yet persevered and made her dreams happen no matter the rejections she got at first. I connected to that and the hard road traveled.

 

Do you listen to music while you write? Why or why not?

Oh yes—not all the time, but when I do its always classical music. And, I’m a huge fan of Claude Debussy and Strauss. Ironically, Debussy features in the novel—Finding Morgan, (just a brief mention), but I must have been listening to him at the time.

 

If you do listen to music while writing, share a few songs on your current writing playlist:

Strauss II, Rossini (The Barber of Seville is one of my favorites), Debussy, Tchaikovsky, Vivaldi (The four seasons: Spring—Allegro); those are off the top of my head. But I also love Jazz and opera music (my absolute favorite is Andrea Bocelli), so I alternate between those three a lot.

 

Are there any musicians who have had a big impact on your work?

Tchaikovsky and Miles Davis. Tchaikovsky because his music moves me to the core. I was also a ballerina for more than twelve years of my life, so his music is in my bones.

 

What was the last live concert you attended?

Oh gosh, um…. It was either Journey or Trans-Siberian Orchestra. My husband took me to see them. The Christmas Canon was the song I walked down the aisle to when we got married.

 

What’s the farthest you’ve ever traveled for a concert?

Pescara, Italy. I saw Irena Grande (Italian rock artist) live, in my early 20s.

 

Share some of your favorite song lyrics:

Katy Perry’s “Rise”, X Ambassador’s “Renegades”, Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing”, Andrea Bocelli’s “Because We Believe” and Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling”. There’s a trend, LOL, if you couldn’t tell. I love songs that motivate me to rise above, keep pushing, and find a way to succeed.

 

Your favorite band is going to write a song based on one of your books. What band is it, and what should the song be about?

Well, it would have to be Blackmore’s Night (a Celtic group), and the song would have to be about mystery, legend, the roots of our past. All I can picture right now are the wheat fields of the English countryside, and the rolling hills of Ireland, LOL.

 

What band is on your bucket list to see live?

Hmmm, that’s a tough one. Maroon 5, Imagine Dragons, and Mumford and Sons for sure.

 

You are magically going to be granted the ability to be a virtuoso on one instrument. Which do you pick?

Hands down, the saxophone. I played clarinet in school, but the sax was my dream.

 

What are your all-time favorite TV shows?

Oh, good question. Charmed—the original, As Time Goes By (I’m a big Brit Com fan), Grimm, The Librarians, Stargate SG-1, Farscape, NCIS, Once Upon a Time, Mad About You, Gilmore Girls and Dukes of Hazzard. Seriously, all of these; I watch these all the time, still to this day.

 

What TV shows are you loving lately?

Hands down Seal Team, The Flash, Supergirl, Expedition Unknown, Madam Secretary, and God Friended Me.

 

Is there a TV show that’s had an impact on you as a writer?

West Wing and Gilmore Girls. The dialogue in those shows—while very different, had a huge impact in how I approach dialogue in a story. I want it to feel fast paced, witty, real. The writers for those shows were top-notch, and the dialogue was always rich, colorful, and had real zing.

 

If you got the opportunity to write an episode for one show (past or present) what would it be?

The Flash—that may surprise some.

 

If Netflix were to option one of your books for a TV series, which book would you choose, and who would play your main characters?

Well, Finding Morgan: A LeFay Trilogy will make a great show, especially when you see books like A Discovery of Witches and Shadow Hunters that were picked up. I love Katie McGrath; I always had an image of her in my head when writing Morgan’s character.

 

What are your all-time favorite movies?

These are so hard to answer. The Mummy, Star Wars (the originals), On the Town, Singing in the Rain, White Christmas, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Top Hat, Breakfast Club, Pretty Woman, Sixteen Candles—am I dating myself here? Harry Potter, any and all of the Avenger/Marvel movies, the Transformers.

 

Who are your favorite actors/actresses?

Past: Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Maureen O’Hara (just to name a few). Present: Katie McGrath, Chadwick Boseman, Viola Davis, Mathew Goode, Amy Adams, Benedict Cumberbatch, Margo Robbie, Matt Damon. I’m sure there are more.

 

Is there a movie that’s had a big impact on you as a writer?

Off the top of my head—The Help, Hidden Figures, and Avatar. All these movies held hidden messages; inspiration that allows the viewer to be transformed. As a writer, I remember walking out of Avatar and just saying, “Wow.” The message of our planet, and how we treat the environment, it was hidden, subtle but so powerful and that’s how I want my writing to affect readers.

 

Which of your books do you think would make a great movie? Is there a book of yours you WOULDN’T want to see as a movie, and why?

The LeFay Trilogy—it’s got great adventure and magic; the story is such a great spin on the mythology. And, my romance book: Love on Jay Mountain (not yet out) would make great movies. Love on Jay Mountain I could see as Hallmark movie—I don’t write much romance, but this story was inside me, so I had to write it.

 

Are you a theatregoer? If so, what was the last play/musical you saw?

I saw Momma Mia in Toronto; the Abba music was great. That was a great show.

 

What are your top five favorite musicals?

Top Hat, Singing in the Rain, Sound of Music, On the Town, White Christmas.

 

Do you ever draw on visual art in your work?

Photography is a hobby of mine, so I draw on that for inspiration sometimes.

 

Has a place you’ve traveled ever inspired you in your writing?

Ireland and Italy.

 

You can go on a two-week, all-expenses paid writing retreat to the location of your choice. Where would you go, and why?

It would have to be England and Egypt. There is so much of our world’s history in Egypt; so much archaeology, art. To see and understand this history and culture will benefit my writing and the reader. England because much of the Arthurian legend derives from England—I would love to dig into that history a bit more, learn more about where some of the myths came from. I’ve also always dreamed of doing research at Oxford and the Bodleian for one of my upcoming books.

 

Are you a podcast listener?

Not really.

 

What authors have most inspired you in your own work?

Madeleine L’Engle, Deborah Harkness, Shel Silverstein, and Amanda Hocking.

 

What was the last book you read?

The biography of Mark Twain and The Time Keeper.

 

What’s your favorite book you’ve read recently?

Shannon by Frank Delaney.

 

What’s a book you’ve loved that you feel more people should be talking about?

There are two: The Autobiography of Santa Claus as told by Jeff Guinn, and Shannon by Frank Delaney. The first is such a unique way of sharing real historical events, with the rich traditions of the holiday season and why and how Santa Claus became Santa. The story of Shannon is beautifully told, and really gives a peak into some of the struggles of church and state. Delaney’s description of crossing the ocean via boat to Ireland is so artistically told and descriptive, the words just never leave you.

 

What are your very favorite kinds of scenes to write?

I love writing travel/adventure scenes, and I love writing dialogue. I have to say, writing dream sequences are a challenge for me but I’m getting better.

 

When you need to recharge your batteries/refill the well as a writer, what forms of media do you most often turn to?

Honestly when I need to recharge, I tend to meditate, go cycling and for hikes, and I tend to try and read in genres that aren’t closely related to the genre I am writing in—it helps me get out of my own head. I also love 80s music.

 

What artistic/creative talents do you have outside of writing?

I can sing a bit, I was a ballerina, I can speak some Italian, as I have family from there, but I’m not yet fluent, and I have an orange belt in Krav Maga.

 

What artistic/creative talent do you wish you had?

I wish I could speak multiple languages.

 

If you could have a drink/cup of coffee/beverage of choice with any three people alive in the world right now, who would you pick?

Amal Clooney, Scott Kelly, and J.K. Rowling.

 

Let us know what’s coming up next for you: new books, new projects; what are you working on?

Right now, I’m working on the second book in the LEFAY Trilogy. It will be out in 2020. I will be on the radio, on 1520 AM ESPN on Sunday May 12th talking about my first book in the trilogy, FINDING MORGAN, which is out now. I will also be doing some book club readings at Barnes & Noble, the Buffalo Public Library, and at Birchfield Penney in May and June. I have some upcoming radio appearances nationally for FINDING MORGAN, and will be doing some traveling for appearances and signings for the book as well. So, I’ll be pretty busy.

 

Finding Morgan: A LEFAY Trilogy is a debut novel by author S.M. Traphagen. It is currently available wherever books are sold, including, Amazon, Amazon UK, Amazon CA, Gardner’s, Book Bub, Barnes & Noble (online), Google Books, GoodReads, Book Baby Book Shop, Kobo, and many more. Wholesalers may order from Baker & Taylor, Gardner’s or Ingram.

The Arthurian legend. A desperate young woman. A past she can’t escape.

Growing up, Morgan’s mother was convinced they were descendants of the Arthurian legend—Morgan was convinced her mother was mentally ill. After years of emotional abuse, Morgan flees London for America, leaving her mother and all the insanity behind.

Creating a new life on the New England Coast, Morgan has everything she’s ever wanted—a husband, a home, a child of her own that she adores. But it isn’t long before Morgan starts suffering from the same symptoms as her mother, fearing she now has the same mental illness. Her recent friendship with the enigmatic Irishman Roan McNally isn’t helping matters. Every encounter with him leaves her confused and deeply shaken…a feeling of familiarity and attraction like none she’s ever known. Hiding her symptoms from her husband, Morgan trusts only Roan to be by her side as she tries to untangle the threads of her past. As tragedy strikes, Morgan is forced to leave her old life behind, and all she dreamed of having, to discover who she’s meant to become…

 

S.M. Traphagen is a local author from upstate NY and an Associate Publisher for a regional magazine. Follow S.M. Traphagen at www.smtraphagen.com (sign up for her newsletter and upcoming media appearances), Twitter: Shannon @fictionandfood, or Instagram: @smtraphagen_writelife.

You can contact S.M. Traphagen via her website or her publicist Jackie Mangione at mangionejackie@gmail.com.

Authors & Inspirations: Cass Morris

Welcome to another installment of Authors & Inspirations! Today I am fangirling a bit, as I have fantasy author Cass Morris on the blog. Her debut novel, From Unseen Fire, is a fantasy set in a world based on ancient Rome, and was absolutely one of my favorite books that I read in 2018. That I read it while actually in Rome made for an extra-magical reading experience! The paperback edition of the book will be released on April 2nd and is available for preorder now! Welcome, Cass!

 

What artist (of any medium) has had the biggest influence on you as a writer?

Shakespeare. I worked for the guy for seven years after getting a Master’s degree in Shakespeare studies, so his words are sort of just always floating around in the background noise of my brain. Shakespeare is also the reason I learned as much as I have about rhetoric.

Do you listen to music while you write? Why or why not?

Often! I cannot stand silence, so I always have to have some sort of noise while I’m writing. It can be TV, if it’s something I can halfway tune out, but music is better for concentration. I build playlists for each project, but those are actually better for moodling over the project than for actually writing them. I prefer instrumentals for writing time.

If you do listen to music while writing, share a few songs on your current writing playlist:

Lately I’ve been very big on various Cirque de Soleil soundtracks.

Share some of your favorite song lyrics:

And you can’t fight the tears that ain’t coming

Or the moment of truth in your lies

When everything feels like the movies

Yeah you bleed just to know you’re alive

And I don’t want the world to see me

‘Cause I don’t think that they’d understand

When everything’s meant to be broken

I just want you to know who I am

–The Goo Goo Dolls, “Iris”, one of the best songs ever

You are magically going to be granted the ability to be a virtuoso on one instrument. Which do you pick?

Drums. I always thought I’d make a decent percussionist.

What are your all-time favorite TV shows?

The West Wing, HBO’s Rome, Star Trek: DS9, Star Trek: The Next Generation

What TV shows are you loving lately?

The Magicians

If you got the opportunity to write an episode for one show (past or present) what would it be?

Star Trek. Any Star Trek, really. I think I could’ve written some great DS9 episodes if I hadn’t been in grade school at the time. I would love to write for a new series, twenty years on from the Dominion War… It’s possible I’ve spent a bit of time considering what that might look like. (CBS, have your people call my people). Or I’d love a piece of one of the new Star Wars live-action series that are supposedly in the works. That’s actually been a dream of mine since I was 11. (Disney, you may also call my people).

If Netflix were to option one of your books for a TV series, which book would you choose, and who would play your main characters?

I would be delirious with joy if Netflix wanted to option the Aven Cycle. Sarah Gadon, who’s probably best known for Alias Grace but who I first saw in Belle, is my top pick for Latona. I have some ideas for the rest of the characters, but mostly I’d be invested in making sure the cast was as diverse as it ought to be to reflect the ancient Roman world.

What are your all-time favorite movies?

Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, The Scarlet Pimpernel (1982), The Empire Strikes Back, Anastasia.

Who are your favorite actors/actresses?

Tom Hiddleston and Natalie Dormer

Which of your books do you think would make a great movie? Is there a book of yours you WOULDN’T want to see as a movie, and why?

I think the Aven Cycle would do better serialized. (Netflix, you may also call my people). I tend to think episodically, so the books would break down into seasons and episodes pretty easily, and a TV series would give the room to spin out all the side characters I so adore but sometimes have to trim down for the sake of streamlined narrative.

Are you a theatregoer? If so, what was the last play/musical you saw?

So much yes! As aforementioned, I worked at a Shakespeare theatre for seven years, so I’ve not only seen every single one of his plays more than once, I’ve also seen a lot of work by his contemporaries that doesn’t get performed anywhere else. (Literally. We were first-in-400-years productions for some plays). I also love musicals. My mama and I used to have tickets to the tour that came to Richmond every year, and we hit shows on Broadway as often as we can manage it. Most recently, I saw Richard III and The Man of Mode in the same weekend at the American Shakespeare Center.

What are your top five favorite musicals (if applicable)?

Chess, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Hamilton, Into the Woods, The Secret Garden

Are there any visual artists you’re a big fan of?

Tran Nguyen, who did the cover for From Unseen Fire, is astonishing. I love following her on Instagram (instagram.com/mynameistran) to see her works-in-progress. I’m also a huge fan of Stephanie Pui-Mun Law, who did the art for my favorite tarot deck, Shadowscapes. And then there are a lot of artists from the past whom I adore — Titian’s Venus d’Urbino is my favorite artwork of all time, Bernini was the greatest sculptor who ever lived and I will fight people on that, and there are a lot of neoclassicists I enjoy.

Do you ever draw on visual art in your work?

I do, both as inspiration and as a way of painting the world for the reader. Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s Baths of Caracalla directly inspired From Unseen Fire — those women gossiping at the bath put the Vitelliae sisters into my head. The ancient Romans had so much art in their daily lives, too, that I try to mention in the book. I feel like it helps, to know how brightly painted their statues were, how intricate the mosaics in their floors and fountains, and what different styles of murals and frescos were popular.

Has a place you’ve traveled ever inspired you in your writing?

From Unseen Fire is based on ancient Rome, so obviously I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from Rome and Italy! I went for the first time when I was sixteen, then went back on a research trip a few years ago.

You can go on a two-week, all-expenses paid writing retreat to the location of your choice. Where would you go, and why?

Back to Rome! I could certainly find two weeks’ worth of entertainment. What I’d really like to do is take a research trip around the Mediterranean, starting in Lisbon and working my way around. Come to think of it, though, those would both be more research trips than writing retreats — so just to focus on putting words on the page, I’d hole up in a cozy cottage in Cornwall for two weeks.

Are you a podcast listener? If so, what are some of your favorite podcasts?

Sometimes! I tend to go in fits and starts. The only ones I keep current with are The West Wing Weekly and Disney Story Origins. I loved Mike Duncan’s History of Rome (I was listening to that when I started drafting From Unseen Fire), and I’ve listened to portions of his Revolutions podcast. I also regularly enjoy The British History Podcast, Myths and Legends, Imaginary Worlds, and Spirits Podcast, as well as some NPR podcasts like Hidden Brain and Science Friday.

What authors have most inspired you in your own work?

Jacqueline Carey, Kate Elliott, Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman

What was the last book you read?

Chuck Wendig’s Damn Fine Story

What’s your favorite book you’ve read recently?

I recently devoured Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series and absolutely adored it.

What are your very favorite kinds of scenes to write?

High emotions. People saying incredibly meaningful things at each other, wringing their hearts out, declaring themselves, standing up for themselves.

What artistic/creative talents do you have outside of writing?

I embroider with middling talent, I can carry a tune in a bucket, I act a bit, and I know how to do a lot of 16th-century English and Italian dances.

What artistic/creative talent do you wish you had?

I’d love to be able to draw, and I wish I’d taken up dancing early enough in life to be good at it.

Let us know what’s coming up next for you: new books, new projects; what are you working on?

Book Two of the Aven Cycle is currently with my editor, I’m working on a secondworld fantasy, and I’m putting together a nonfiction book proposal. I also post microfiction, behind-the-page snippets, random historical ramblings, and more over on my Patreon on an ongoing basis.

 

Cass Morris works as a writer and educator in central Virginia and occasionally moonlights as a bookseller in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. She completed her Master of Letters at Mary Baldwin University in 2010, and she earned her undergraduate degree, a BA in English with a minor in history, from the College of William and Mary in 2007. She reads voraciously, wears corsets voluntarily, and will beat you at MarioKart. Her debut novel, From Unseen Fire: Book One of the Aven Cycle, is a Roman-flavored historical fantasy released by DAW Books.

Website: cassmorriswrites.com

Patreon: patreon.com/CassRMorris

Twitter: twitter.com/CassRMorris

Facebook: facebook.com/cassmorriswrites

Instagram: instagram.com/cassrmorris/

Authors & Inspirations: Sandi Van

Today on the blog I’m thrilled to have my friend and fellow Buffalonian, Sandi Van! Her debut YA verse novel, Second in Command, was released last month from West 44 Books. A brief synopsis of the book is below. Welcome, Sandi!

Sixteen-year-old Leo dreams of becoming an Eagle Scout and, someday, a police officer. He makes sure to always do the right thing and be responsible. With his mom deployed and his dad constantly working, Leo is often left in charge of his two younger siblings. Then Leo’s brother, Jack, gets caught up in a dangerous plot that rocks the community. Can Leo keep his promise to stand by his brother no matter what, or will he stand on the side of justice?

 

Do you listen to music while you write? Why or why not?

Yes, I usually listen to music while I write, especially if I’m someplace noisy like a coffee shop or indoor soccer center. It helps me focus. It can also be great if I’m trying to create a certain mood, like if I have to write a heartbreaking scene I’ll loop a really sad song on repeat.

If you do listen to music while writing, share a few songs on your current writing playlist:

Normally I’ll chose a particular artist or genre to stream depending on my mood or the mood of the story. If there’s no wifi available, I’m stuck playing whatever is saved on my laptop, which is mostly techno and electronica songs. I love the beat and energy. Two of my favorites are My Way by Calvin Harris and The Greatest by Sia. I did create a playlist for Second in Command: https://open.spotify.com/user/jcix7v3qr7zd8dhc856jummqb/playlist/2b92iRMAar9paHXFwBAlxx?si=ax1FNX6MR0WYMf7g1gHNSw

What band is on your bucket list to see live?

James. I regret not seeing them live when they were big in the US. They only tour in the UK now it seems, although I did see a date in Greece this summer. That would be a fun trip. I watch their concerts on YouTube sometimes, and Tim Booth is an amazing performer. Unfortunately, my husband hates live music, so we don’t go to many shows. I’m going to Mumford and Sons with some friends in March though, and I’m really excited about that.

What TV shows are you loving lately?

I’m a sucker for This is Us. The writing is beautiful and I have yet to make it through an episode without crying. I also loved Sex Education on Netflix. So smart and funny.

What are your all-time favorite movies?

Real Genius. The Goonies. The Princess Bride. Better off Dead. Everything by John Hughes. Basically, I love 80’s movies.

You can go on a two-week, all-expenses paid writing retreat to the location of your choice. Where would you go, and why?

I used to live on the west coast and we took a road trip down to Oregon and hiked some of the waterfalls off the Columbia River. It was incredibly beautiful and inspiring. I’d love to rent a cabin out there somewhere with a view of a waterfall out my window. Get up in the morning, go for a hike, then come back and write.

What’s your favorite book you’ve read recently?

My son and I read Pax by Sara Pennypacker. It tore me apart; it was so beautiful and sad. I love books like that. My son adored it as well – he’s listened to the audiobook more times than I can count.

What are your very favorite kinds of scenes to write?

Oh, the heart wrenchingly sad ones. They are not easy to write, but I tend to lose myself in them completely and really feel connected to my characters after we’ve gone through a difficult moment together. They are emotionally draining but also very therapeutic.

When you need to recharge your batteries/refill the well as a writer, what forms of media do you most often turn to?

Books. The language of a well written story will often kick start my creative flow. If I’m stuck in a rut, getting into nature or performing menial tasks (like painting a room or cleaning windows) will often help as well.

If you could have a drink/cup of coffee/beverage of choice with any three people alive in the world right now, who would you pick?

First I want to say that if it was someone no longer alive it would be Shirley Jackson. Because she wrote some crazy stuff and I’d love to have been able to pick her brain. Margaret Atwood for sure, and Emma Watson. They are both amazing, smart, trail blazing women and I am totally in love with listening to them talk.

Let us know what’s coming up next for you: new books, new projects; what are you working on?

I’ve been going back and forth between two stories lately. One is an adult novel about a young woman who gets stuck in a snow storm and her experience on the road helps her deal with the guilt of her brother’s death. The other is a major revision to a previously finished novel; that one is YA and it’s about a girl whose father gets deployed during Desert Storm and she’s on a quest to find her mother. I recently had an idea for some changes and am excited to try and weave those into the manuscript.

 

Sandi Van is a writer, counselor, and former special education teacher from Buffalo, NY. Her nonfiction piece, “Labor and Delivery” was featured in Adoptive Families Magazine and her poetry won recognition in the Elmira Star-Gazette and the PennWriters’ In Other Words contest. Sandi is also a proud Navy wife. Her debut verse novel, Second in Command, was inspired by and dedicated to military families facing deployment.

Announcing My Fourth Book, IN THE SHADOW OF SAINTS!

I know I’ve been teasing book 4 quite a bit on social media, so I am SO THRILLED to finally be able to tell you ALL about it! My fourth novel, entitled In the Shadow of Saints, will be coming in Winter 2020 from St. Martin’s Griffin!

Of course, I was always going to write a book about the Borgias 🙂 They’ve been my favorite historical family since I first stumbled on a novel about them as a teenager. They’re often referred to as Italy’s first crime family, and while historically that isn’t really technically true, their story does indeed have all the things that such a moniker suggests: scandal, corruption, politics, shady dealings, wealth, sex, violence, power, murder. It’s rich ground for any storyteller, and I am certainly not the first nor the last to cover it.

My novel, though, does take a bit of a different perspective on the infamous Borgia family. It’s told in alternating points of view, by two different characters: one being Cesare Borgia, the eldest of Rodrigo Borgia’s children, and the second being Maddalena Moretti, a maid who works for the family and is a fictional character of my own invention. My agent has been calling this my “upstairs/downstairs” look at the Borgias, and it is very much that. However, there are several reasons I chose to tell this story from two points of view, and from the points of view of these two characters in particular.

Cesare Borgia (pronounced CHEH-sah-reh – “ce” in Italian is pronounced like “che” in English; think “cello”) is the member of the Borgia family who has always fascinated me the most – perhaps because he was the most brilliant, manipulative, and wicked of the bunch. Most of the novels about the Borgias that I’m aware of usually focus on Lucrezia, as the only sister and most unfairly maligned member of the family. I wanted to really dig into Cesare as a character because, after all, villains don’t tend to start out as villains – they become so over time. I’ve been thinking of Cesare’s portion of this book as his villain origin story, and it was both a lot of fun to write a baddie and at the same time could get rather dark. I definitely drew inspiration from Walter White of Breaking Bad fame when working out Cesare’s character arc: I wanted him to be someone readers would sympathize with and root for in the beginning, then have that sympathy slowly start to erode over the course of the story as his actions become increasingly more awful. It was a challenge that I set myself, and one I embraced eagerly. I’m very pleased with how his character turned out. You all will have to let me know whether I’ve succeeded in my aims!

I had always wanted to write from Cesare’s point of view, but Maddalena’s perspective came about in something of an interesting way. I had written a few chapters from Cesare’s point of view that I showed to my agent at various times – I had actually initially anticipated this being my second book, then my third book (obviously, that didn’t happen). Each time she saw it, she liked what I had so far, but felt like something was missing, and that this project wasn’t quite ready. I agreed with her but didn’t really know where else to go with it, so it continued to sit on the back burner.

Fast forward to the fall of 2016. I had just handed in The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel to my editor and was working on drafting something new. You may have seen me refer to me “sexy opera book” on social media; well, that’s what I was writing, and I was having a blast. It was a book that I was just having a lot of fun writing, and at that point I anticipated that it would be my fourth book, as it was going really well.

Then the 2016 U.S. presidential election happened, and suddenly a fun, sexy book didn’t seem like the thing I should be writing, or the thing I wanted to write just then. I wanted to dig into something darker, something about power and corruption. It seemed like the best way for me to explore all that was to return to the Borgias book. And suddenly I found the missing piece, which had actually been there all along. In college I’d written a short story from the point of view of a maid who becomes involved with Cesare Borgia, and this, I realized, needed to be my second POV in the novel. I needed an outside perspective on this infamous family, someone who was of a completely different socioeconomic class than they, someone who could get entangled with and dragged into their power struggle, so that we might see how an everyday person could be harmed and compromised by the actions of the powerful and also by their potential proximity to that power. It all felt like something important, exciting, relevant, challenging, and interesting to explore.

So I added Maddalena’s POV, and it really was what the book had needed all along. Of course, that didn’t make any of it easier to write. Maddalena is by far the main character who has given me the most difficulty to date: it took me a long time and many rounds of revisions to really get a handle on her voice, to really get to the heart of who she was. She slowly revealed herself to me bit by bit, and as a result she’s a character that I’m really proud of. I hope you all love her like I do.

This is by far the most ambitious book I’ve written to date – I blogged a bit about getting started with it in this post. There were lots of times it felt like it was going to eat me alive. There was so much history to balance, so many tangled politics to keep in mind, dates and timelines to keep straight, lots of plot threads and character arcs to flesh out and bring to completion. I made and wrote from an outline for the first time, which I blogged about in this post.

The title has been another struggle – it had several just on my end before I ever handed it in to my editor, and then she and I changed it a few more times. We had a big Google doc going of title ideas, and would throw them back and forth to each other, but it took us MONTHS to find one we both liked and felt fit well and that the marketing/sales folks at St. Martin’s would go for. I’ve never had this kind of problem with a title before – even if I didn’t have the final title right off the bat, I usually found it without too much trouble – and boy, was it a challenge. This is such a big, sprawling book that it felt difficult to find just one title that encompassed everything, and that fit with both Maddalena and Cesare’s very different characters. I really love In the Shadow of Saints, though – ironically it was a title I first thought of a while ago, but it took me a while to see that it was the best one. I think it’s fitting and contains different layers of meaning that will inform the story as one reads on.

As difficult as writing this book was at times, though, I really did love doing it. I got to write about political dealings (shady and otherwise), a fascinating and large cast of complex characters, war and negotiations, murder, the glory and filth of Renaissance Rome, and a lot of drama that actually happened. So much of that was fun because a lot of it was new for me (especially the politics – I’ve always wanted to write a book that was very “let us sit in this room and plot politics”, and I’ve done it!). And, of course, I got to write about my favorite historical family, and my favorite era of history. I just love writing about Renaissance Italy, and I can promise you that I’m not done doing so.

Because of the many challenges of this book, in some ways perhaps it’s the one I’m most proud of. It’s something different, and it’s definitely my darkest book so far. It’s taken a lot of revision and edits and smoothing over of rough edges, but it is finally the book I always wanted it to be, the book I always knew it could be. A lot of credit goes to my editor as well, for her amazing, spot-on notes and feedback, and always being there for me to bounce ideas off of as I revised. It’s been such an amazing feeling, to keep working at it and see it improve each day. I really believe it’s my best book so far. And I can’t wait for all of you to read it.

As soon as I have a release date, cover, etc., I will be sure to share it all here!

 

Authors & Inspirations: Elise Hooper

This week I’m welcoming historical novelist Elise Hooper to the blog! Elise’s new novel, Learning to See, about iconic photographer Dorothea Lange, just released yesterday. Her debut novel, The Other Alcott, tells the extraordinary story of May Alcott, the famous Louisa May Alcott’s sister who was a talented artist in her own right. I couldn’t put The Other Alcott down, and I’m so excited to read Learning to See! Welcome, Elise!

 

Do you listen to music while you write? Why or why not?

I don’t. Now before you start thinking that I’m crazy, let me explain: I need it quiet so I can hear the voices in my head while my characters talk. Okay, that sounds pretty crazy, but it’s how I work.

What are your all-time favorite TV shows?

I’ve been a “clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose” full-on fan of Friday Night Lights since it first aired and recently rewatched all five seasons with my girls. I’ve also been known to binge watch Six Feet Under, Parenthood, The Wire, The Americans, Downton Abbey, The Office, Game of Thrones and I never tire of Leslie Knope’s antics on Parks & Rec.

What TV shows are you loving lately?

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and The Crown.

Is there a TV show that’s had an impact on you as a writer?

Hmmm, good question. This is incredibly dorky, but I love PBS’s American Masters and each time I watch one, I’m inspired to research and write about someone new. As a side note, the show on Dorothea Lange is terrific. I didn’t see it until after I was working on my novel about her, and now I’ve watched that documentary about five hundred times.

I also need to give a shout to The Wire for this question. Wow, talk about a story with complex characters, suspense, and fascinating moral questions. I still mourn for Omar Little, one of the most interesting bad guys of all time.

What are your all-time favorite movies?

Franck Eggelhoffer from Steve Martin’s Father of the Bride is a character I love to imitate, much to the dismay of my children. I also love all of the Indiana Jones movies, think Erin Brockovich was totally badass, and enjoy quoting lines from Election and Legally Blond.

What are your top five favorite musicals (if applicable)?

Hamilton, The Sound of Music, Chicago, The Wedding Singer, Dear Evan Hansen

Are there any visual artists you’re a big fan of?

I don’t even know where to start with this one! I would cast a wide net over the kinds of art that I enjoy, but I will say that the show that blew me away recently was when Kehinde Wiley’s work came to the Seattle Art Museum. I love everything about him. His process, ideology, and aesthetic, all of it.

Also, seeing the Women Artists in Paris: 1850 – 1900 exhibit last spring at the Speed Museum in Louisville was very exciting because it brought together so many women artists whose work I’d studied extensively while writing The Other Alcott. The show’s organizers went all out and put together an amazing collection of pioneering artists.

Do you ever draw on visual art in your work?

All the time. Both The Other Alcott and Learning to See are about artists so I always study the work of my subjects and their circle. Sometimes images inspire scenes too. Many of the scenes in Learning to See are inspired by Dorothea Lange’s photos.

You can go on a two-week, all-expenses paid writing retreat to the location of your choice. Where would you go, and why?

Wow, I love this question. So many options! Italy is one of my favorite destinations. The food, the art, the landscape, history, and people—it’s all wonderful. Plus, I could live on gelato, especially those side-by-side scoop cones. I’d eat a lot of those.

Are you a podcast listener? If so, what are some of your favorite podcasts?

Modern Love is a go-to podcast for me. Its episodes are usually the perfect amount of time for me to drive to the courts where I play tennis so I sometimes arrive at matches all teary which can be a little awkward, but it’s okay, I pack Kleenex. I’m also really into Last Seen right now. It’s a podcast about the infamous unsolved art heist at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and I’ve always found that topic to be fascinating.

What was the last book you read?

I’m currently listening to Michelle Obama’s Becoming and am completely obsessed. I’ve been surprised at how intimate and relatable it feels. I’m midway through reading Jennifer Robson’s The Gown and savoring everything about it.

When you need to recharge your batteries/refill the well as a writer, what forms of media do you most often turn to?

I turn away from all media and try to get outdoors and exercise. I’m an avid tennis player and love to run, swim, and hike. If I lived in a warmer climate, I would surf more because I love the ocean.

What artistic/creative talents do you have outside of writing?

I’ve been sewing and knitting for as long as I can remember, but I’m mostly knitting these days because I can work on projects while I listen to audiobooks.

What artistic/creative talent do you wish you had?

I wish that I could sing and play the guitar. Sometimes I like to imagine myself as Sheryl Crow.

Let us know what’s coming up next for you: new books, new projects; what are you working on?

I’m writing a novel about three pioneering American women track stars who end up coming together to race in Hitler’s 1936 Olympics in Berlin. My Olympic history trivia is totally on point right now and I’m learning a ton. These three women—Betty Robinson, Helen Stephens, and Louise Stokes—have amazing stories and I can’t wait to share them with you. Fast Girls will be out sometime in the summer of 2020, right around when the Tokyo Olympics are underway.

Elise also provided me with some of Dorothea Lange’s photographs, which are below!

Toward Los Angeles, California

Toward Los Angeles, California

Ditched, Stalled

Once a Missouri farmer, now a migratory farm laborer on the Pacific Coast. California

Gas station. Kern County, California

Gas station. Kern County, California

Plantation overseer. Mississippi Delta, near Clarksdale, Mississippi

Plantation overseer. Mississippi Delta, near Clarksdale, Mississippi

 

Picture of Dorothea Lange

Dorothea Lange, Resettlement Administration photographer, in California

 

Although a New Englander by birth, Elise lives with her husband and two young daughters in Seattle and teaches literature and history.

Website: http://www.elisehooper.com

FB: https://www.facebook.com/elisehooperauthor/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/elisehooper/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/elisehooper

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Learning-See-Dorothea-Revealed-America/dp/0062686534

Authors & Inspirations: Hester Fox

This week’s Authors & Inspirations interview is with historical fiction author Hester Fox! Hester’s debut novel, The Witch of Willow Hall, came out on October 2nd of last year – the same day as The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel. I loved Hester’s moody, gothic, witchy book (it makes a perfect fall AND winter read, when you’re cozy inside under some blankets) and it’s been fun that our books were release day sisters! Welcome, Hester!

 

What artist (of any medium) has had the biggest influence on you as a writer?

Can’t think of one in particular…I think it would have to be a combination of influences that came at the right time for me in my writing journey.

Do you listen to music while you write? Why or why not?

Oh yes. I love creating playlists for different projects, sometimes down to the scene level. I find listening to the same music throughout a manuscript helps me stay in the same mood/headspace and achieve a level of cohesion throughout the months-long writing process.

If you do listen to music while writing, share a few songs on your current writing playlist:

My current work in progress is set in the 1850s, so it’s loaded up with Chopin, Beethoven, Schubert, as well as some period movie soundtracks.

Are there any musicians who have had a big impact on your work?

I love the Decemberists because they are master story-tellers. Each song has such a strong sense of place and mood.

What was the last live concert you attended?

I think it was Arcade Fire last year.

What’s the farthest you’ve ever traveled for a concert?

I saw the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra perform Mozart and Dvorak in Amsterdam, though I was there to visit family- the concert was just a bonus!

Share some of your favorite song lyrics:

Too many to choose from!

Your favorite band is going to write a song based on one of your books. What band is it, and what should the song be about?

It would have to be The Decemberists. I think they would be the perfect choice to write a song about a clairvoyant orphan that lives in a cemetery in 1850’s Boston 😊

What band is on your bucket list to see live?

I’m a huge Lana del Rey fan and I would love to see her perform live one day.

You are magically going to be granted the ability to be a virtuoso on one instrument. Which do you pick?

I played violin for most of my life but never even got close to virtuoso level. I always wanted to play piano, though.

What are your all-time favorite TV shows?

Downton Abbey, The Office, Parks and Rec, Drunk History, Bob’s Burgers

What TV shows are you loving lately?

I can’t get enough of The Good Place, and I’m really looking forward to Season 3 of Harlots

Is there a TV show that’s had an impact on you as a writer?

Not one in particular that comes to mind, but often I will watch a period drama to help me get in the right head space for writing, and to mimic character idiosyncrasies.

If you got the opportunity to write an episode for one show (past or present) what would it be?

Downton Abbey. Two words: Zombie Sybil.

If Netflix were to option one of your books for a TV series, which book would you choose, and who would play your main characters?

Hm, I think Book 2 which I’m just finishing up now. It’s set in 1840’s rural Maine during the height of Edgar Allan Poe-mania. There’s a big cast of characters and lots of mystery. I’m rubbish when it comes to casting though!

What are your all-time favorite movies?

I don’t watch a ton of movies, but the ones I do watch over and over are usually adaptations of 19th century books and period dramas. I love Pride & Prejudice, Northanger Abbey, Bleak House, and Quills. The Others is probably my all-time favorite.

Who are your favorite actors/actresses?

I’m really bad at names and faces, but I will watch anything with Matthew McFayden, Tom Hardy, Kate Winslet, or Holiday Grainger.

Is there a movie that’s had a big impact on you as a writer?

Nothing immediately springs to mind.

Which of your books do you think would make a great movie? Is there a book of yours you WOULDN’T want to see as a movie, and why?

I think The Witch of Willow Hall would make a better movie than tv series. I definitely wouldn’t turn down either, though!

Are you a theatregoer? If so, what was the last play/musical you saw?

Not usually, but I was lucky enough to see Hamilton in Boston last month.

What are your top five favorite musicals (if applicable)?

Sorry, I don’t think I could name even five!

Are there any visual artists you’re a big fan of?

Kelly Louise Judd. Her art hits that sweet spot of folksy, dark, nostalgic, and melancholy.

http://kellylouisejudd.com/

Do you ever draw on visual art in your work?

I will keep tabs open on my laptop with different art from the period in which I’m writing so I can reference them as I write. I’ve also found museum catalogs and websites to be helpful, especially when it comes to describing furniture or interior design.

Has a place you’ve traveled ever inspired you in your writing?

Traveling in general always gets the story juices flowing, but I don’t usually get story ideas about the specific locations where I travel. I started Willow Hall on a plane to Iceland, for example.

You can go on a two-week, all-expenses paid writing retreat to the location of your choice. Where would you go, and why?

Somewhere in the UK, probably either Yorkshire or Scotland as those are my favorite places. Maybe the Hebrides?

Are you a podcast listener? If so, what are some of your favorite podcasts?

Yes! My Favorite Murder, Lore, Someone Knows Something (and pretty much anything the CBC puts out) are some of my favorites.

What authors have most inspired you in your own work?

I am a big fan of Susanna Kearsely’s work. I love the ease with which she crosses and combines genres, and the beautiful romances in her stories. I grew up on authors like Hardy, Dickens, Trollope, Gaskell, and Austen, so I feel like I have a lot of 19th century literary devices and tropes imprinted onto my subconscious.

What was the last book you read?

I’m usually reading multiple books at once so I’m not sure which was technically the last! I recently read Midnight Blue by Simone van der Vlugt which I enjoyed a lot.

What’s your favorite book you’ve read recently?

I also just finished the last book in Sandra Gulland’s Josephine B. series and have a serious book hangover.

What’s a book you’ve loved that you feel more people should be talking about?

One of my favorite books of all time is Sherri Holman’s The Dress Lodger. I didn’t read it until years after it came out, so I might have missed some of the hype.

What are your very favorite kinds of scenes to write?

Any kind of scene where a character lays it all on the line and bares their soul to someone else. Sometimes this is a fight scene, other times a declaration of love.

When you need to recharge your batteries/refill the well as a writer, what forms of media do you most often turn to?

I like to put on an audiobook and take a walk.

What artistic/creative talents do you have outside of writing?

I like drawing and water coloring small scale illustrations, learning new languages, and photography. I also bake with mixed success.

What artistic/creative talent do you wish you had?

I’ve tried sewing many times throughout my life and never been able to get the hang of patterns.

If you could have a drink/cup of coffee/beverage of choice with any three people alive in the world right now, who would you pick?

I’m so introverted I’m not even sure I could come up with three people!

Let us know what’s coming up next for you: new books, new projects; what are you working on?

I’m finishing up revisions for my second book, The Widow of Pale Harbor which will be out fall 2019. I’m also working my third book The Orphan of Cemetery Hill.

 

​When not writing and painting, Hester Fox works in the museum field as a collections maintenance technician. This job has taken her from historic houses to fine art museums, where she has the privilege of cleaning and caring for collections that range from paintings by old masters, to ancient artifacts, to early American furniture. She has a master’s degree in historical archaeology, as well as a background in Medieval studies and art history.