Interview with Donna Russo Morin

Jen: Please help me welcome Donna Russo Morin to Romancing the Book. Donna, will you share a short bio with us?
Donna: Thanks Jen, for this great opportunity, and a ‘hey, how are you’ to your readers. I’m a born and raised Rhode Islander and proud of it. I’ve earned two degrees at the University of Rhode Island and worked, for many years, in the pr/marketing fields. My life revolves around my two sons, young men now–one a sophomore in college, the other a junior in high school. The written word is my passion and my vocation but I also love video games, rock and roll, and football (a die hard New England Patriots FANatic).

Jen: Tell us about The Secret of the Glass and where it’s available.
Donna: The Secret of the Glass is my second release, also historical fiction (my first, The Courtier’s Secret was released in Feb of 09) from Kensington Books. The book is a full release, i.e. every major bookseller, most independents as well,,,,; I’ve broken into the Sam’s and B.J.s as well.

The Murano glassmakers of Venice are celebrated and revered. But now three are dead, killed for attempting to leave the city that both prized their work and kept them prisoner. For in this, the 17th century, the secret of the craft must, by law, never leave Venetian shores. Yet there is someone who keeps the secret while defying tradition. She is Sophia Fiolario, and she, too, is a glassmaker. Her crime is being a woman.

Sophia is well aware that her family would be crushed by scandal if the truth of her knowledge and skill with glass were revealed. But there has never been any threat…until now. A wealthy nobleman with strong connections to the powerful Doge has requested her hand in marriage, and her refusal could draw dangerous attention. Yet having to accept and cease her art would devastate her. If there is an escape, Sophia intends to find it.

Now, between creating precious glass parts for one of Professor Galileo Galilei’s astonishing inventions and attending lavish parties at the Doge’s Palace, Sophia is crossing paths with very influential people-including one who could change her life forever. But in Venice, every secret has its price, and Sophia must decide how much she is willing to pay, how far she is willing to go to protect herself, her family, and the secret of the glass.

Jen: At what age did you discover writing and when were you first published? Tell us your call story.
Donna: I’ve been writing stories since I possessed the ability to write. At first silly stories about strangely colored animals and numbers that were in love. I turned eleven in 1969, the Summer of Love, and my writing turned to anti-war poetry and treatises on equality for women (I’d have burned my bra had they made one small enough to fit me). In the mid-seventies, a new author took the book world by storm and I followed the King down the twisted, intestine-strewn path that is horror. I spent many years in this perverse world, the gore becoming tempered with mythical creatures as I discovered C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. (Years later two of those horror shorts appeared in critically acclaimed, if poorly read anthologies.)

For many years, while working the day job, I wrote freelance for many local and nationally published newspapers and magazines, but novel writing was always the ultimate goal. It took me seven years to write my first novel–giving birth to two boys at the same time–a medieval fantasy liberally laced with horror. It sits in my hope chest still, though I still have ‘hope’ for it.

As far as the call story, I remember I had forgotten to turn my cell phone on in the morning, of all days. When I checked my email, there was a message from my agent congratulating me—again!—and telling me she would try me on the phone again. I jumped up so fast, I slammed my thighs against my desk. I was alone in the house at the time, but I still ran around in circles, yelping my head off. Needless to say, I didn’t wait for her to call me but called her (as soon as I could speak coherently).

Jen: Describe your writing in three words.
Donna: Multi-layered, impelling, visual

Jen: How do you approach your writing? Do you plot or go with the flow?
Donna: I’m an obsessive plotter, developing a scene by scene outline while researching for months; however, I do allow my characters, and the events they experience, to evolve organically. They are able to go where they want to go, even if I haven’t planned it for them.

Jen: What kind of research did you do for this book?
Donna: Unlike the first book, I was unable to travel to the setting (the trip to Versailles after the first draft of The Courtier’s Secret was a-mazing and I long desperately to travel to Venice). But like the first book, 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 the 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 and months of reading book after book after book. For book three, I’ll be learning to shoot a bow and arrow and a crossbow.

Jen: How do you pick the character’s names?
Donna: The main character in The Secret of the Glass is named Sophia after Sophia Loren. Growing up as an Italian American in the 50s and 60s, she epitomized a relatable beauty. As a woman, she is a wonderful example of the maddening, inspiring dichotomy of a woman who is both feminine and assertive. She refused to let the conventions of society dictate her life.

As for the other characters, I tend to make their names sound like their character traits. I really do hear my writing and I try to put that down on paper. That’s why you’ll find that the name of the love interest will be more lyrical while the antagonist will be guttural. I’m always searching for the visceral reaction to my writing.

Jen: Do you feel as if the characters live with you as you write? Do they haunt your dreams?
Donna: My characters become so real to me that I feel a true grief when I’ve finished a book. I actually look forward to copy edits and page proofs because it allows me a chance to be with them again. It was very difficult to say good bye to Galileo; I share much with the scientist by way of life experiences and that made him all the more real for him.

Jen: Is there a genre that you’d like to write? Is there a genre you’ll probably stay away from and why?
Donna: I’ve already written a medieval fantasy book; it was, in fact, my first completed work, but I’ve been unable to find it a publishing home. I’d love to see that work in print and perhaps do more in that genre. It allows me to take my love of historical and of particular historical settings and add the element of the mythological and paranormal. My first published short fiction was in horror, though I don’t see myself writing novel length in that genre. Nor could I ever see myself writing in the military genre, the Tom Clancy, Clive Cussler type of books.

Jen: If you could travel back in time for one year, what time and place would you choose? And if you could only take 3 things with you, what would they be?
Donna: This is an extraordinarily difficult question for a writer of historical fiction and a self-proclaimed history nerd. I would love to be there for a year in the life of Jesus Christ, to talk to the women in his life—his mother and Mary Magdalene. There are so many people I wish I could know…Da Vinci, Galileo, Elizabeth I, Susan B Anthony. Times of exploration and discovery fascinate me, as do times of enlightenment such as the age of suffragists. But if I had to pick just one, there can be no doubt…1776, Boston. It was a time of true passion, of standing stalwart against the odds. It was also a time of great thinkers all coalesced together: Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, George Washington, John Adams, Abigail Adams…simply astounding.

The things that come most readily to mind to take with me all require electricity, so I’ve had to rethink it. The typewriter (manual of course) comes to mind…what could Thomas Jefferson have written with that. The automatic rifle is another idea…take that you Red Coats. A lot less people would have died. And then perhaps pictures of a Fourth of July celebration, to let these people know how much we appreciate the sacrifices they made and how we haven’t forgotten, all these hundreds of years later.

Jen: If The Secret of the Glass was made into a movie, which actors would you choose to play the hero and heroine?
Donna: Well, the hero is easy…Rob Pattinson of Twilight fame, but not because of his Twilight fame but because he most closely resembles the character and could tap into his angst. And no, he was not the physical inspiration for that character; Tom Brady (quarterback for the NE Patriots) and someone I know was.

The heroine is not as easily cast. Of course it was written for Sophia Loren and if it were fifty years ago, it would be all hers. Perhaps there is an as-yet-discovered Italian actress just waiting for such a role.

The father of Sophia is undoubtedly Topal of Fiddler on the Roof fame.

Jen: Who are some of your favorite authors and books? What are you reading now?
Donna: In my genre, I am a huge fan of Diana Gabaldon, Jean Plaidy and Rosalind Laker. Stephen King had a huge impact on me as a writer, as he has for so many others. I’m a Jane Austen lover and also a huge fan of James Michener.

As for favorite books, these aren’t in order but in a class by themselves.
1. The Three Musketeers, Alexander Dumas
2. The Shining, Stephen King
3. The Outlander Series, Diana Gabaldon
4. Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
5. Angels & Demons, Dan Brown
6. Absolute Power, David Baldacci
7. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
8. Harry Potter
9. To Dance with Kings, Rosalind Laker
10. Trinity, Leon Uris
11. The Once and Future King, T. H. White
it’s really hard to stop…

I’m currently reading The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown. Though released last September, I held it off until I had finished my research reading and was well into the writing of book three, a carrot dangled as a reward (even had my youngest son hide it so I wouldn’t be tempted).

Jen: What’s next for you?
Donna: To Serve a King (tentative title) is scheduled for an April 2011 release, also from Kensington. It’s about a woman raised from childhood to be a spy for Henry VIII in the court of Francis I. Facing circumstances that spin her life out of control, she is forced to make a potentially deadly decision about her ultimate loyalties.

Jen: Where can you be found on the web?
Donna: You can find me at my website, and on Facebook.

Jen: Is there anything you’d like to ask our readers?
Donna: For lovers of historical fiction, I’d love to know if there are any settings and times that they feel are under represented in the genre. I love to step out of the typical time boxes myself.

Jen: Readers, Donna has a special give away for a random commenter this week. Up for grabs is a pair of Murano glass earrings. To enter the contest, you first must leave a question or comment for Donna. Then to complete your entry, we need to either leave your email address in your comment or send a message to The contest winner will be chosen on Sunday, February 28.