Love of Art in Historical Fiction Series featuring Maureen Gibbon of Paris Red

paris red jacketThe artist and muse, the electric spark for high art, and in the case of Paris Red — high literature. This novel is artistic, poetic, exotic, and reflects deep care to reach perfection of prose, multi-dimensional characters and stimulating scenes. It’s as if this book was polished by a brunisseue, a “silver burnisher”, and their bloodstone, achieving a gleaming finish. It is an intense and bold story set in 1862 Paris of a young working-class woman, Victorine Meurent, who honors her internal pulse, despite the unknown and risks as she enters the world of wealthy painter Édouard Manet. This is a novel of discovery and an exploration of what drives and binds the muse and artist. Paris Red is like no other art-based historical novel I’ve read, it stirred not often accessed emotions and bodily drives, it is juicy in a way I could never have imagined nor expected. The story delves into brazen human and artistic hungers, but also lays bare an empowered female in protagonist Victorine, an adolescent coming into her own.The inquiry into the artist’s vision and how one sees and views the world and comes to understand what art means to oneself spoke deeply to me.

Drop the cloak, assume a pose on the divan, expose your essence, you feast, he devours and see if he and she can capture and reveal each others souls…

Stephanie Renee dos Santos:  What special challenges did you encounter to embody your protagonist, the artistic seventeen year old Victorine Meurent and the escapades she and her dear friend Denise find themselves exploring after meeting painter Édouard Manet? 

Maureen Gibbon:  When you’re young, you share so much with your best friend; the two of you really count on each other. I wanted to bring the closeness of female friendship to Paris Red. Before my fictional version of Victorine meets Manet, she is sharing a room with her best friend Denise in order to make ends meet, but also because the two are a great team. They are their own little family.

The day Victorine meets Manet, Denise is with her, so Manet meets both of them. He’s intrigued by the two young women, and by their intense friendship. That’s something I drew from my own experience in order to portray.

In 1983 when I was twenty years old, I studied and traveled in Europe. One day in Venice, a friend and I met an older man on the street, and we began to spend time with him. We walked the quiet city for hours, talking, laughing and teasing. There was a kiss on the street.

I never forgot the tension of our triangle, or the sensuousness of those summer walks in the dark. All of that went into Paris Red—along with plenty of research about how young working class women made their way in Paris in the nineteenth century. In many ways, their lives were not so different than the lives of young women today: they had to earn a living, they worried about unwanted pregnancies, and they craved independence.

Fiction is like that for me. I borrow anything I need for the sake of the story, and I blend research, memory and imagination. And I hope the result is an intoxicating mix for the reader.

SRDS:  What compelled you to include art and artist in your historical novel?

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detail from “Olympia” by Manet Musée d’Orsay in Paris

MG:  Édouard Manet’s Olympia was the starting place for the novel. I always had strong feelings about the nude in the painting, even before I knew anything about Victorine Meurent. After I read Eunice Lipton’s Alias Olympia and learned a little about Victorine’s life, I could not stop thinking about her. Victorine was a working class girl, just seventeen when she met Manet – but her story did not end with Manet. She became an artist, too, and that alone is astounding because she didn’t have resources. But she still found a way to make art, and she even exhibited in a Salon where Manet exhibited. She survived Manet by forty-four years, living into the 20th century

SRDS:  What drew you to your specific visual art medium, artwork, and/or artist?

MG:  As I learned more about Victorine Meurent, I learned more and more about Manet and his work, and I fell deeply in love with both people. Manet had to break away from the lessons he was taught in order to come to his own style of painting. He began something so new and provocative with Olympia that he infuriated people, and they were vicious in their attacks on him. And still he went on painting.

So the initial draw for me was a single painting, but after I got just a little way into the research, these two specific people, artist and model,  kept me involved. I love and revere both Manet and Victorine as individuals. I admire the way they lived their lives.

SRDS:  What unique historical objects and/or documents inspired the story?

maitre albert from Place Maubert

“Maitre albert from Place Maubert” photograph by Charles Marville’s of Paris

MG:  In addition to Manet’s paintings, I relied on Charles Marville’s photographs of Paris, as well as detailed maps of Paris in the 1860s. I was also moved by the erotic photographs of Félix-Jacques Antoine Moulin, and a collection of photographs compiled by Dr. George Henry Fox, a dermatologist who studied syphilis in the late 19th century.

SRDS:  Is there an art history message you’ve tried to highlight within the novel?

MG:  The relationship between artist and muse is a two-way street.

In the past I felt uncomfortable with the word “muse,” but I’ve come to my own understanding about it as a result of writing Paris Red. From my own experience as a writer, I know I cannot wait to be inspired by an outside source in order to do my work – sometimes it’s work itself, writing my way into something, that brings about “inspiration.” But there are sources and practices I turn to in order to keep myself in touch with my own creativity, or with a story, and I think those sources and practices might be viewed as muse-like.

Portrait of Victorine Meurent

“Portrait of Victorine Meurent” by Manet, Museum of Fine Arts in Boston

But if we really are talking about an artist inspired by a particular person, as Manet was so clearly inspired by Victorine Meurent, I think it’s essential to see that relationship as active. Whatever transpired between Manet and Victorine in his studio was profound and took on a life of it’s own; it’s why he was able to push through into a new style of painting. I don’t think that kind of energy could have happened if Victorine had been a passive figure or inert body. She was active and involved.

SRDS:  What do you think readers can gain by reading stories with art tie-ins?

MG:  My book would not exist without an art tie-in. I think people are tremendously interested in creativity, in where paintings and poems come from. Books that discuss the creative process are compelling to many people – and not just people interested in the arts. I loved The Imitation Game because I think it depicted how a creative mind works. Alan Turing created a computer and not a painting, but the machine came from the wellspring of his creativity, and from his utter focus. When we’re creative, we tap into something that is us and is also larger than we are, and I think people are fascinated by that, by the multitudes we all contain.

SRDS:  What fascinating information did you uncover while researching but were unable to incorporate into the book, but can share here?

manet

Manet

MG:  Manet went on painting almost until his death. He worked on small canvases of flowers up until about a month before he died. I learned this from The Last Flowers of Manet, by Robert Gordon and Andrew Forge, with translations by Richard Howard. Manet created art as long as he could. He is my hero.

SRDS:  Any further thoughts on art in fiction you’d like to expand on?

MG:  I’ve been in this love affair with Manet and Victorine for more than a decade. Paris Red enriched my life personally and artistically. I don’t know who I might have become without this book in my life, without Manet’s art, without his and Victorine’s story.

SRDS:  Are you working on a new historical novel with an art tie-in? If so, will you share a little with us about your next release?

MG:  I have three new projects going, and one of them has a tie-in to a film. In some ways, it also addresses the role of the muse. I hesitate to say more because I don’t want to jinx myself. I believe in doing the thing and not talking about it until it’s done.

gibbon gray 2About the author:  Paris Red is Maureen Gibbon’s third novel. It will be published in the U.S. by W. W. Norton in April 2015. Christian Bourgois, Éditeur published the French translation, Rouge Paris, in October 2014.

Gibbon is also the author of the novels Swimming Sweet Arrow and Thief, which have been published internationally, and the prose poem collection Magdalena.

Her short fiction, nonfiction, and book reviews have appeared in The New York Times, The Daily Mail, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Playboy, Byliner, The Huffington Post and other publications.

​​A graduate of Barnard College and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Gibbon was awarded a Bush Foundation Artist Fellowship in 2001, and Loft McKnight Artists Fellowships in 1992 and 1999. In 2006, she received a Mill Foundation Artist Residency at the Santa Fe Arts Institute.​She lives in northern Minnesota.

For more about Maureen’s works: http://www.maureengibbon.com/

 To buy (debut’s April 20th!):  Paris Red

Join us here April 11th for an interview with M.J. Rose, acclaimed author of The Witch of Painted Sorrows!

Interview posting schedule:  

2014: August 30th Susan Vreeland, Lisette’s List (new release), September 27th Anne Girard, Madame Picasso (new release),October 25th Yves Fey, Floats the Dark Shadow, November 29th Mary F. Burns, The Spoils of Avalon (new release), December 27th Kelly Jones, The Woman Who Heard Color 

2015: January 31st Heather Webb, Rodin’s Lover (new release), February 28th Alyson Richman, The Mask Carver’s Son, March 28th Maureen Gibbon, Paris Red (new release), April 11th M.J Rose, The Witch of Painted Sorrows (new release), April 25th Lisa Brukitt, The Memory of Scent, May 30th Lisa Barr, Fugitive Colors, June 27th Lynn Cullen, The Creation of Eve, July 25th Andromeda Romano-Lax, The Detour, August 29th Frederick Andresen,The Lady with an Ostrich Feather Fan, September 26 Nancy Bilyeau, The Tapestry (new release), October 31st Laura Morelli The Gondola Maker 

Join Facebook group “Love of Arts in Fiction”!

For more on Paris Red, visit Sarah Johnson’s blog review at “Reading the Past”.

Love of Art in Historical Fiction Series featuring Alyson Richman & The Mask Carver’s Son

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The Mask Carver’s Son by Alyson Richman is poetic and stirring, with tender and revealing artistic, cultural, and historical details. The story begins in 1890 near the Daigo mountains within the walls of Kyoto, Japan just before the onset of a turning point in Japanese history. Richman takes us inside the fragile paper walls of customs and those of sad luck.Through the ancient arts of the Noh theater and the constellation of artistic traditions that made up and supported this high art form we meet Ryusei, the tormented and gifted mask carver , and the renowned Yamamoto family. From an arranged marriage and subsequent tragedy Kiyoki is born, a son with longings that mirror the country’s changing times. Instead of desiring to carry on his father’s craft of mask making, he wishes to embrace oil painting. An ambition which will bring him great pleasure and anguish as he dreams of studying in Paris, France with the inspiring and vibrant Impressionist painters.

The rhetoric, the art history, the philosophy, the superstitions, and intimate details of this novel left me awed and at moments stunned by their exquisiteness. The scenes are evocative and emotive set in various places in Japan and Paris making one long to travel back to this time. One feels intensely the profound struggle between honoring tradition and family and the longings of the adventurous creative heart and the price paid for following one’s dreams. What can one do when you know in the depths of your soul that you must break away from your heritage? And how to honor one’s father, and yet fulfill one’s own destiny?

Many creative purists have their price, and the leaving behind of a way of life, one time-honored and as beautiful as the Noh theater is no light feat…Let the crowd gather, the actors grace the stage, with hand-carved masks infused with the souls of ancestors….a legacy with deep roots that cling to old bedrock as change abounds above… the great pine tree dying, branch by branch as a new sapling of another takes hold and grows forth, producing new blooms….but all at a cost of the magnificent venerable tree that has given so much…

Noh theater stage with revered old pine tree

Noh theater stage with revered old pine tree

Stephanie Renee dos Santos:  What kinds of special challenges did you encounter while writing The Mask Carver’s Son since the story is set in a time and place and focuses on an art form that is little known outside of Japan? How did you meet these challenges?

Alyson Richman:  This is a wonderful question, Stephanie. You’re right. I couldn’t assume that the majority of my readers would be familiar with Meiji period Japan or the artistic traditions of the Noh theater when I was writing “The Mask Carver’s Son.” So right from the beginning, I tried to create a strong visual world for the reader. Since the novel is written in first person, Kiyoki’s voice allows the reader to see everything through his “artistic lens.” You feel as though you’re in the room with him as he watches his father carve the Noh masks. You can see the father’s hands as he grasps his chisels or grinds his pigments. In a sense, I wanted to create a world where my sentences painted a world for the reader.

The greatest challenge was trying to convey the silence between Kiyoki and his father. The Japanese culture avoids confrontation, so I knew I had to find another way to communicate the sense of strain between these two men. Both of them are artists, so I tried to create different ways they could communicate their emotions through their work since it was culturally impossible for them to use words.

SRDS:  What compelled you to include art and artist in your historical novel?

Noha mask by AR

Noh mask made by the author! (Yes, Alyson!)

AR:  “The Mask Carver’s Son” was my debut novel and it originated after I spent my junior year in college as an apprentice to a Noh mask carver in Kyoto, Japan.  I remember sitting in the tatami room with my teacher and four other apprentices and thinking to myself: “here I am a young Western woman studying a traditional Japanese art form, when did the reverse occur?  When did the Japanese first begin to study European art?”  After I returned to college for my senior year, I applied for a grant to research the first Japanese artists who traveled to France to study painting in the European tradition.

SRDS:  What drew you to your specific visual art medium, artwork, and/or artist?

AR:  I spent nine months in Kyoto carving a single mask. I wanted to incorporate my own artistic experience into this novel. I decided to create the character of Kiyoki, a young man who is born the son of one of Japan’s great mask carvers, but decides to forsake his ancestry and follow his own artistic path to Paris. I loved writing the scenes of the novel that drew upon my own background with mask carving. I savored the chance to bring to life the smell of freshly carved cypress wood, the silver gleam of a set of carving chisels, and the intimate space of a tatami studio.

SRDS:  What unique historical objects and/or documents inspired the story?

20090807-Japan Arts Council Kabuki Kamakura Gongoro 1895 img_4_01-04

Famous Noh theater actor Kabuki Kamakura Gongoro (1895)

AR:  I really wanted to show the internal conflict within Japan during the Meiji period. Up until 1868, Japan practiced an isolationist policy – no one was allowed to enter or leave the country except for the Dutch traders who were allowed to enter the port of Nagasaki. “The Mask Carver’s Son” is not just a novel that explores the relationship of a father and son with two different artistic passions, but also the conflict between the old and new generations of Japan. The nation was split between those who wanted to advance into the modern world and those who wanted to cling to ancient traditions.

SRDS:  Is there an art history message you’ve tried to highlight within the novel?

AR:  I think the journey of the artist is often fraught with personal perils. Kiyoki sacrifices his relationship with his father and struggles with a sense of outsidership as he pursues his life as an artist. He cannot escape the fact that he’s visibly different from his European colleagues, even though his artistic interests are the same as theirs. And when he returns to Japan, he cannot escape that he’s different from his fellow Japanese because his experience in Europe has changed him.  In the end, Kiyoki exists as an artist caught between two worlds.

SRDS:  What do you think readers can gain by reading stories with art tie-ins?

AR:  I hope readers learn about the history of the time period as well as the dedication and sense of craft of required to be an artist.

SRDS:  What fascinating information did you uncover while researching but were unable to incorporate into the book, but can share here?  

Tsuguharu Foujita

Arttist Tsuguharu Foujita

AR:  It’s a wonderful question, Stephanie. I based the character of Hashimoto on a real life artist by the name of Tsugharu Foujita. He had such an interesting life. He married a French woman, converted to Catholicism, and spent much of his life living in France. I wish I could have covered more of his life in the novel.

SRDS:  Any further thoughts on art in fiction you’d like to expand on?

AR:  I love the ability to explore the creative life of an artist in my writing. I wanted to be a painter when I was little and now I feel as though I’ve been able to incorporate my love of art with my love of writing.

SRDS:  Are you working on a new historical novel with an art tie-in? If so, will you share a little with us about your next release?

AR:  My next book, “The Painted Dove” explores the mystery surrounding the nineteenth century French courtesan Marthe de Florian and her Paris apartment that was kept as a time capsule for over seventy years. When the apartment was finally unlocked, a magnificent portrait was discovered of Madame de Florian by the Italian artist Giovanni Boldini.  Stay tuned for that novel in 2016!

Alyson Richman Stephen GordonAbout the author:  Alyson Richman is the internationally bestselling author of The Lost Wife, as well as four other historical novels: The Mask Carver’s Son, The Rhythm of Memory,  The Last Van Gogh, and the recently published The Garden of Letters. As of next year, her novels will be published in eighteen languages. The daughter of an abstract painter and an engineer, her novels are known for weaving art with extensive historical research. The Lost Wife is now being adapted to be a major motion film by Relativity Media. Ms. Richman is a graduate of Wellesley College and a former Thomas J. Watson Fellow. She lives with her husband and children in Long Island.

For more about Alyson’s works:  http://www.alysonrichman.com/

 To buy:  The Mask Carver’s Son

Join us here March 28th for an interview with Maureen Gibbon, author of Paris Red!

Interview posting schedule:  

2014: August 30th Susan Vreeland, Lisette’s List (new release), September 27th Anne Girard, Madame Picasso (new release),October 25th Yves Fey, Floats the Dark Shadow, November 29th Mary F. Burns, The Spoils of Avalon (new release), December 27th Kelly Jones, The Woman Who Heard Color 

2015: January 31st Heather Webb, Rodin’s Lover (new release), February 28th Alyson Richman, The Mask Carver’s Son, March 28th Maureen Gibbon, Paris Red (new release), April 11th M.J Rose, The Witch of Painted Sorrows (new release), April 25th Lisa Brukitt, The Memory of Scent, May 30th Lisa Barr, Fugitive Colors, June 27th Lynn Cullen, The Creation of Eve, July 25th Andromeda Romano-Lax, The Detour, August 29th Frederick Andresen,The Lady with an Ostrich Feather Fan, September 26 Nancy Bilyeau, The Tapestry (new release), October 31st Laura Morelli The Gondola Maker 

Join Facebook group “Love of Arts in Fiction”!

Tile Works Tour of the Palácio Belmonte

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Palácio Belmonte

“Quem nunca viu Lisboa, não viu coisa boa” 

He who has not seen Lisbon has seen nothing…

I meet Lisbon tour guide extraordinaire, Mary H. Goudie online while attempting to sleuth the whereabouts and gather information about a figura de convite (a tile welcoming figure invented in the eighteenth century) photo I found on her Pinterest “Lisbon Tour Designer” page. As it turns out she too became totally intrigued with the history behind this unique Portuguese artistic design innovation. We immediately hit-it-off and she helped confirm some information and seek out more fascinating facts about tiles works I was in the process of researching for my novel-in-progress, Cut From the Earth.The story of an empathetic Portuguese tile maker who risks everything to save slaves and escape The Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 that ushers Portugal into a New Age.

Library Palacio Belmonte Lisbon

The hotel’s library where I and Maria and Mary exchanged over the artworks of Brazilian contemporary artist Adriana Varejao

September of last year I headed back to Lisbon to do some last minute fact finding and confirmation, along with walking sections of my novel. To reconfirm and again, to feel and to smell and to live my story. And while in Lisbon, I had the great opportunity of meeting in person and being guided by Mary H. Goudie and proprietress Maria Mendonca to view the fifteenth-century clifftop palace, and national monument, the exquisite Palácio Belmonte. Located in the Alfama hillside neighborhood and just down the cobblestone way from Saint George’s Castle, this is no ordinary hotel residence, here is where HRH Charles Prince of Wales and other prominent global and creative personages chose to stay while visiting Lisbon. What is it that draws people to this particular historic ambiance?

Master tile works Palacio Belmontes 18th c. tile collection

Playful countryside mural by Manuel dos Santos

The Palácio Belmonte is home to some of the most valuable and well-preserved tile works from the eighteenth century in a public space today, those of Manuel dos Santos, a contemporary of my novel’s protagonist the famous master tile maker known by the monogram PMP. Imagine sleeping and sipping rich Brazilian coffee in the company of some of the greatest tile works from the eighteenth century…For me, I can’t think of any other better way to fully enjoy the exquisiteness of Lisbon and its grand artistic heritage than being in the presence of handcrafted masterly-made Portuguese tile murals.I swooned at the chance to be able to be in intimate proximity with such important works, to almost be able to touch time and the brushstrokes and compositions of one of my main character’s fellow artist works. It was an otherworldly experience to stroll the old halls and haunts of where a great tile maker more than likely walked while possibly overseeing the installment or finished installation of his masterpieces.

On tour of Palacio Belmonte with Mary, Rui, Maria

Lisbon tour guide Mary H. Goudie and driver Rui, Maria of the Palacio Belmonte and myself

Today, it is Maria Mendonca who is charged with the preservation of such a sacred place and the tile panels hidden within the edifice’s earthen walls. With humble graciousness she kindly showed us around, pointing out the old Roman subterranean foundation, walls and alcoves, along with sharing the history of this grand palace. Prior to becoming the Palácio Belmonte, the residence was owned by two elderly sisters who quietly lived with the fanciful decorated walls of room after room of Manuel dos Santos’ works.

Mary & Rui Lisbon Portugal Sept 2014

Mary & Rui Lisbon Tour Guides

If you are visiting Lisbon, I highly recommend booking a tour with “Your Lisbon Guide” Mary H. Goudie and her Lisbon-born husband and your driver, Rui. They will guide you to the secret and special places that only locals know about, and into contact with the heart and soul of this magnificent city and people, along with sharing with you local wine and food favorites.

And hands down, if you can stay at the Palácio Belmonte you are in for one of your most memorable and charming stays anywhere to be found in the world. It is a place like no other…the walls are literally adorned with old world and artistic charm, of a type only found in Portugal. Come and lookout across the terracotta rooftops and down upon the silver Tagus River from the hotel’s open air patios and balconies, walk the stone pathways under ancient arbors, reside in a princely room, read and take coffee in one of the many ambient salons, linger along the marble poolside edge, and retreat into reflective refuge in hidden nooks within the palace and its gardens.This is what awaits you at the Palácio Belmonte.

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Love of Art in Historical Fiction Series featuring Heather Webb & Rodin’s Lover

Cover 1- hdSome stories pierce parts our lives, our secrets, our wishes, and the characters stay with us for a lifetime, this is one such story. Heather Webb’s Rodin’s Lover is a novel that will enrapture creatives and captivate those curious about art, artists, and the world of art during the Belle Époque era in France.   This life story of sculptor Camille Claudel fully embraces her beginnings, family connections and conflicts, paranoid-abrasive spirit and social challenges, and her voracious passion for sculptor and the tempestuous but informing and agonizing relationship with fellow sculpture Auguste Rodin. Wholeheartedly, Webb ventures into the trails and triumphs of Cauldel and Rodin’s lives, the toil, dedication, works and opposition of being a talented cutting-edge artist female and male. The novel explores and exposes the unique concerns and hurdles the gifted and driven Caudel weathers and contends with while struggling to create masterful works in a tradition-bound male-dominated arena of competitiveness and connections, jealousy and gaming — one plagued by patriarchy. Claudel’s story is the heroine’s journey with monstrous obstacles, some overcome, others endured.

The novel’s mental illness thread of the gifted creative stalked by the disturbances of the mind tore me at the core as I have also lost a dear talented friend to mental illnesses. Webb has heart-piercingly rendered with perfection the devastating process of a troubled mind and how mental affliction slowly begins and takes over little by little, then consumes the precious person one has laughed with and loved for years.Through precise prose, Webb’s story undulates and flows like the surface of one of Camille’s burnished bronze cast pieces, shinning bright at the edges and going dark in the folds. This book is written with passion and love and with deep reverence for the call to create against all odds. I wept bitter-sweetly at the end of the novel because of Caudel’s fate, and because Webb expresses aptly the essence of the pursuit of the creative life. 

Enter into the artist studio…throw the clay, knead and roll, feverishly pinch and shape and score and mold and smooth and shave and cut and labor away on your life works, as did Camille Caudel, as does this story infused with raw heart and soul…

Stephanie Renee dos Santos: After spending so much time researching and writing about sculptor Camille Claudel’s art and world, what would say is the most important thing you learned from her life story? What has she left you with? 

Heather Webb: The most important thing I learned from Camille’s story is to take pride in the beauty we create, both in our personal lives and in our professional lives. When all is said and done, it is that beauty which transcends the tragedy of our lives and leaves a meaningful mark on the world–or at the very least, on the people we have known and loved. 

SRDS:  What compelled you to include art and artist in your historical novel?

HW:  I’ve always been an art lover, even as a kid. We did a lot of moving with the military and I have to say, my parents did a great job of making sure we hit the big museums in every town we lived in, as well as any special exhibitions. To research more about sculpture was a natural extension of my interest.

SRDS:  What drew you to your specific visual art medium, artwork, and/or artist?

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Sakuntala by Camille Claudel–private collection that rotates through the Musee Rodin as well.

HW: I’ve adored Camille Claudel’s story since I saw the film Camille Claudel in my French film class in college. Camille’s struggles haunted me. As for sculpture, I’ve always been intrigued by it as an art form. It isn’t just inspiration and years of work, but brute strength and stamina that’s needed for all of the lifting, scrubbing, and building that goes along with being a great sculptor. To create this pearly structure that seems to breathe, leap from the stone, is just mind-boggling to me still—even after all the time I’ve spent researching it.

SRDS:  What unique historical objects and/or documents inspired the story?

HW:  Several of Camille’s works inspired the narrative including Sakuntala, The Waltz, and La Petite Châtelaine, as well as her Bust of Rodin. As for Rodin’s pieces, The Gates of Hell, Burghers of Calais, The Eternal Idol, and Monument to Balzac, among others.

SRDS:  Is there an art history message you’ve tried to highlight within the novel?

Burghers of Calais by Rodin

The Burghers of Calais by Auguste Rodin, Musee Rodin

HW:  I tried to show how art defines a creative’s view of the world, their passions, their dreams, as well as how those views shape their works. In addition, I’ve highlighted one political scandal in particular—the Dreyfus Affair—and how that affected both Rodin’s state of mind and his later pieces, as well as how the politics of art affected other artists during that time. His Monument to Balzac was groundbreaking in terms of beginning the revolution of modern art.

As for Camille’s works, she was caught in a web of male-dominated critics and artists, and I highlight how this affected her career and her mental instability. I believe if she were toiling today, she would have great success, which makes this book very relevant and era-specific.

SRDS:  What do you think readers can gain by reading stories with art tie-ins?

HW:  For one, they can learn all of the fascinating backstory behind different pieces—it creates a bond between the work and its viewer that is unique and cherished. It’s a special thing to be transported into the heart and mind of a creative. I think, on some level, we all wish we possessed one of these extraordinary talents and it’s truly intriguing to see how an artist views the world. Readers can also learn a bit about the politics of art and how the culture of the day impacted an artist’s pieces.

SRDS:  What fascinating information did you uncover while researching but were unable to incorporate into the book, but can share here?

The Waltz by Claudel

The Waltz by Camille Claudel, Musee Rodin

HW:  So much! I learned a ton about sculpting in general—about the different types of stone and where they’re mined, loads about Claudel’s and Rodin’s contemporaries including painters and writers from the day. I was dying to include more about Victor Hugo, for example, as well as Emile Zola, but I had to stay true to the book’s point of view and vision, which meant those two men could only be included as they intersected Camille’s and Auguste’s lives.

SRDS:  Any further thoughts on art in fiction you’d like to expand on?

HW:  I adore reading books with artists myself, so I hope authors continue to write them!

SRDS:  Are you working on a new historical novel with an art tie-in? If so, will you share a little with us about your next release?

HW:  I can’t say too much at the moment, but I can share that my next book doesn’t have a visual arts tie-in, but a performing arts emphasis. It’s shaping up to be somewhat of a Gothic thriller, and a retelling of an old popular story.

Heather Webb Smiling (1)About the author:  Heather Webb is the author of historical novels Becoming Josephine and Rodin’s Lover (Penguin 2015), a freelance editor, and blogger. In addition she contributes to award-winning writing sites WriterUnboxed.com and RomanceUniversity.org. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society and the Women’s Fiction Writers Association.

 

 

For more about Heather’s work:

website www.heatherwebb.net  Twitter @msheatherwebb

To purchase: Rodin’s Lover

Join us here February 28th for an interview with Alyson Richman, author of The Mask Carver’s Son!

Interview posting schedule:  

2014: August 30th Susan Vreeland, Lisette’s List (new release), September 27th Anne Girard, Madame Picasso (new release),October 25th Yves Fey, Floats the Dark Shadow, November 29th Mary F. Burns, The Spoils of Avalon (new release), December 27th Kelly Jones, The Woman Who Heard Color 

2015: January 31st Heather Webb, Rodin’s Lover (new release), February 28th Alyson Richman, The Mask Carver’s Son, March 28th Maureen Gibbon, Paris Red (new release), April 11th M.J Rose, The Witch of Painted Sorrows (new release), April 25th Lisa Brukitt, The Memory of Scent, May 30th Lisa Barr, Fugitive Colors, June 27th Lynn Cullen, The Creation of Eve, July 25th Andromeda Romano-Lax, The Detour, August 29th Frederick Andresen,The Lady with an Ostrich Feather Fan, September 26 Nancy Bilyeau, The Tapestry (new release)

10 Favorite Historical Novels of 2014

This is my 2014 list! These novels all in some way brought joy, intrigue, further understanding and richness to my life. I can’t thank the authors enough for your efforts to bring these stories to life, to us, to your adoring readership!!! Thank you! Endless Gratitude!!!

18144112The Collector of Dying Breaths by M.J Rose

For sheer fast -paced memorizing and exotic atmospheric reading I loved this novel. With scenes full of inspired and unforgettable images like butterfly footprints and evocative settings and characters, one can’t help but love this rich and ambient novel. And I loved how Rose ended with a clear resolution to the question of  reincarnation, bringing all the novel’s threads seamlessly together, and on a positive note — very Buddhist!  I also loved the wisdom woven throughout and I highlighted a lot of passages. I think it is a stunning time-slip novel that crisscrosses time as a sixteenth-century monastery trained perfumer, René le Florentin, and a modern day mythologist, Jac L’Etoile, seek the razor edge between “potion and poison, poison and passion…past and present.” I highly recommend this engrossing read.

20175586Lisette’s List by Susan Vreeland

Thoughtful, well-researched, carefully-rendered and moving, these are the words this novel conjures. With a scene mid-book that touched on the universal, giving me reason for pause and to deeply contemplate, what all great literature strives for. Vreeland’s mastery of language and descriptive images are on every page. The first word that comes to mind after reading the book: Exquisite. I loved Vreeland’s characterization of Parisian and Provençal life, along with learning about Marc Chagall and his wife’s plight and his thoughts on the effects of war on art and artists and culture. Throughout the novel I enjoyed the reflections and explanations of art materials and works and the meanings behind paintings such as Picasso’s “Guernica” and “Weeping Woman”. For anyone who appreciates vivid settings, specific time period details, characters and writing with soul and heart and a focus on art, you’ll love and revel in this novel. Once again, Vreeland has created an important story, one written as finely as a Pissarro painting, but in the rich colors of Cezanne’s palette.

23332984The Spoils of Avalon by Mary F. Burns

This unique two time period historical mystery is told through distinct characters and voices, all accomplished through polished and witty prose. Burns to my blessed surprise and honor, asked if I’d write an endorsement for this novel, my very first ever which marks a milestone for me. This revealed, here’s what I have to say about The Spoils of Avalon:

“An artist, a writer, a murder, a mysterious tome, a dissolving time, a crime, Arthurian legends, ancient saints books and bones. Burns’ prose drives and is sublime, with characters and settings that live on in your mind. This is an original historical mystery connecting the Age of Industry with the Age of Miracles.”

The chapters alternate between late eighteenth-century England’s Age of Industry, opening with a reunion of American portrait painter John Singer Sargent and his lifelong British writer friend Violet Page, both of whom are called upon to unravel a disturbing murder. Then we are transported back to the sixteenth century, the Age of Miracles, during King Henry the VIII’s reign and at the crucial moment when he was disbanding the Church island-wide. Burns takes us into the secluded stone chambers and the souls of the clergy in one of the last great standing monastery’s heart-wrenching saga of dissolution. Magically Burns weaves these seemingly disparate time periods and stories in the most astonishing way! Truly her storytelling is masterful and imaginative, keeping you quickly turning the page!

22702833The Interview by Patricia O’Reilly

In this fascinating time-slip read which investigates the lives of Irish designer/lacquer painter Eileen Gray and “The Sunday Times” reporter/art aficionado Bruce Chatwin, the story recalls a real intimate exchange between the two important figures. The characterizations of both personas was exemplary and the storytelling deep and insightful, with many wonderful sentences and original metaphors. If you like to read well-written books that explore the heart and soul of innovative art and artists you’ll revel in this novel. Eileen Gray was creating in Paris at the same time as Picasso and working also in the south of France. Gray’s works and story are world-class. The Interview shares with us the behind-the-scenes and looks into the heart of the courageous artist’s life story of Eileen Gray. I loved learning about Gray and imagining this moment in time when Gray was at the end of her artistic life and Chatwin interviewing her, and what in the end he decides to report on. 

18080204The Goddess and the Thief by Essie Fox

This novel captured my attention because of its ancient Hindu lore reference. I can’t resist a novel that touches on the pantheon of Hindu Goddesses and Gods! I found the British Victorian time period perspective fascinating, along with the spiritualist medium thread. I loved learning about the priceless and sacred Koh-i-Noor diamond, claimed by the British Empire at the end of the Anglo-Sikh wars and the story of its original owners. It was said to be a stone both blessed and cursed, exerting its power over all who encounter it. What unravels in the novel is the story of a living maharajah who is determined to reclaim his rightful throne and discover the secrets of eternity, a widowed queen who hopes the jewel can bring back her husband’s spirit. All while India born, British Alice finds herself in midst of others madness over the stone and must discover a way to regain control of her life and fate. This is a sensual Victorian novel of theft and obsession and spirit.

17165628The Mask Carver’s Son by Alyson Richman

If  you want to be floored, left with your jaw dropped in awe because of original and exquisite metaphors and similes this art-based novel is for you! Beginning and set in 1890 Japan is the story of Yamamoto Kiyoki, son of a famous Japanese mask carver who longs to embrace oil painting instead of his family’s traditional craft. Yamamoto dreams of studying in Paris with the inspiring and vibrant Impressionist painters.

With gorgeous, intimate and evocative scenes set in various places in Japan and Paris one longs to travel back to this time. And one feels intensely the profound struggle between honoring tradition and family and the longing of the adventurous creative heart and the price paid for following one’s dreams. What can one do when you knows in the depths of your heart that you must break away from tradition? And how to honor one’s father, and yet fulfill one’s own destiny?

spiral croppedSpiral by Judith Schara

I was immediately drawn into this time-slip novel and found I couldn’t put it down. I was excited each evening to dive into the book and to see where it went. The story goes between 2006 England and the Iron Age, time periods I’m not usually drawn to. I found the story line fascinating, along with the time period details. In addition, there are some wonderful metaphors and similes throughout the book. In 2006 England, a secret society of Druids on accident expose an ancient burial ground, a Celtic scabbard is found that hints at more treasures possibly abound. Troubled archaeologist Germaine O’Neill is called to the site to investigate, and in an attempt to salvage her career she takes a hasty risk with repercussions, but uncovers an unknown chamber dating back to the Iron Age of a Celtic queen. O’Neill’s discovery alters her life and possibly costs her it while discovering a new twist to the history of prehistoric England. After an accident, O’Neill is in a altered state and travels back in time to the fifth century, entering the life of Sabrann ap Durot—the woman whose burial O’Neill has just discovered and her far distant ancestor, for the two women are joined across time by identical mitochondrial DNA. Sabrann posses the special gift of “sight”  and is feared for it, and will be plagued and possibly saved by her clairvoyance? The protagonist Germanie/Sabrann is interesting and intriguing, along with her yet to be revealed life purpose (of which I suspect with be reveal in the forthcoming sequel!). The story is told in the omnipresent voice and it takes the reader eventually all the way to Carthage of old. I’m already looking forward to the next book in the series! I recommend this novel if you like female protagonists, exotic settings and characters, and the idea of genetic destiny.

199 by 300The Woman Who Heard Color by Kelly Jones

This is a well-told story which left me in tears at a couple of points…that says a lot! When “art detective” Lauren O’Farrell sets out to unravel and potentially recover works of art stolen and absconded with by the Nazis during World War II, she comes into contact with elderly Isabella Fletcher. Is Isabella the daughter of a renowned German art gallery dealer, Hanna Fleischmann, whose life story holds mysteries and quite possibly the answers Lauren seeks, decades after masterpieces by modern artists have gone missing, the likes of Wassily Kadindskys, Franz Marcs, Gabriele Munters, Otto Dixs and many more. Through alternating chapters set in New York City in 2009 and back to between the two World Wars and through Hilter’s reign in Germany, Jones exposes the cutting-edge German art scene before World War II, the sweeping changes the population was confronted with, and the horrors that followed. And how modern art and artists were cast as “degenerative” and what that meant and what was lost. In this touching and tearjerking novel one comes to understand how destructive darkness was wreaked upon modern art in Germany during World War II and what would eventually be lost forever and what would be saved, but at great personal risk and costs. Through Hanna’s and Isabella’s stories we learn and see how those who were gifted and talented were forced or coerced to serve Hitler and make decisions none of us hope to ever have to make for life, for family and for the freedom to create what the spirit calls forth.

15811614I, Hogarth by Micheal Dean

In this novel Dean flawlessly reveals the rogue risqué life story of eighteenth century, British painter and engraver William Hogarth. Hogarth defined his period with works such as “Gin Lane” and “The Rake’s Progress”, depicting the ebullience, enjoyments and social iniquities of London. Dean takes us from Hogarth’s childhood spent in a debtor’s prison, his struggle to make a name for himself, his time as England’s preeminent portrait painter, his fight for artists’ rights instigating the Copyright Act, his unfortunate brush with politics, and to his deathbed in his wife’s arms. Told in the first person through the eyes and heart of the artist we come to learn Hogarth’s deepest desires, his frustrations, his triumphs, his downfalls. Dean brings to life Hogarth and his epoch, blending facts with fiction, revealing the man behind his famous and effecting work of art. Recommended.

13646255Floats the Dark Shadow by Yves Fey

This is a historically fascinating novel with macabre moments set during the Belle Époque era in Paris. Children are disappearing in the “City of Lights”, as American born painter Theodora Faraday struggles with her painting and illustrating poems for the Revenants, a group of poets inclusive of her cousin, Averill, with whom she’s romantically infatuated. When Inspecteur Michel Devaux suspects the poets are somehow tied to the disappearance of the innocent youths, Theo’s world goes starless. Fey takes us into the underbelly and mysterious of Paris:  poetry readings in the catacombs, Tarot card fortunetellers, the asylum, a black Mass, and could it possibly be true that France’s most evil historic serial killer Gilles de Rais from the fifteenth century has somehow reincarnated?

Paris  is exquisite, beautiful, but not all its inhabitants embody and live for virtuous elegance, others celebrate wickedness, live for sot obsessions, and morbid delusions. If you are looking for an original and the shadow-side of the Belle Époque era this novel is if for you!

19486758Madame Picasso by Anne Girard

Love stories have inspired art and literature since time immemorial, and Girard’s novel marries both, in telling the untold life-altering love affair between Eva Gouel and artist Pablo Picasso at the end of the colorful Belle Époque era in Paris, France. Eva, an aspiring seamstress, who will become a designer, a creative in her own right, works behind-the-scenes in the famous Moulin Rouge under the adopted name of Marcelle Humbert. One evening, she spies the rising star Picasso in a group of show goers and is Instantly entranced by the painter’s persona. A chance meeting at an art exhibit brings them into each other’s aura, where a lifelong connection begins, but one with complicated obstacles to surmount and navigate in order for them to realize their love:  doubt, another woman, a protective group of artist friends, illness and death.

Girard takes us into the cabaret and cafés, the artist’s studio and chic salons, countryside hideaways, under the sheets, and into the unexposed chambers of the heart of twentieth-century artist icon Pablo Picasso; revealing a compassionate, loving and devoted man behind his notorious womanizing character. Through the story, we learn how Eva’s relationship with Pablo affected and inspired his works, visibly noted as Picasso left the Rose period (prior relationship with Fernande Oliver) and evolved into the epicenter of his Cubist era (involved with Eva Gouel). There’s stability, a confidence, a grounded structure in Picasso’s Cubism during his involvement with Eva, reflecting those attributes she quite possibly brought to the artist’s life. Also, the novel explores a plausible artistic influence she, whom he called his ‘Ma Jolie’, may have had on him too, which I really enjoyed speculating about. Madame Picasso is a love story exploring how passion sparked form and was recorded in masterful works of art.

These novels are currently on my highly anticipated 2015 reading list, some are newly released or soon-to-be-released…delicious….can’t wait! Euphoria by Lily King, The Witch of Painted Sorrows by M.J Rose, The Rebel Queen, by Michelle Moran, Rodin’s Lover by Heather Webb, The Lady with an Ostrich-Feather Fan by Frederick R. Andresen, Vanessa and Her Sister by Pirya Parmar, Paris Red by Maureen Gibbon, The Tapestry by Nancy Bilyeau, Burning Bright by Tracy Chevalier (released 2008), and Race for Tibet by Sophie Schiller.

And already in print novels part of the ongoing “Love of Art in Historical Fiction Series”:  The Memory of Scent by Lisa Brukitt, Fugitive Colors by Lisa Barr,The Creation of Eve by Lynn Cullen, The Detour by Andromeda Romano-Lax.

2015 reads

 

Love of Art in Historical Fiction Series featuring Kelly Jones & The Woman Who Heard Color

COVER WWHC 2011Happy Holidays! For most readers here you are now in the dark winter months, Christmas past and the new year soon to arrive. Tis the season to snuggle up under warm blankets and escape into a good book! And this is what Kelly Jones of The Woman Who Heard Color promises you! When “art detective” Lauren O’Farrell sets out to unravel and potentially recover works of art stolen and absconded with by the Nazis during World War II, she comes into contact with elderly Isabella Fletcher. Is Isabella the daughter of a renowned German art gallery dealer, Hanna Fleischmann, whose life story holds mysteries and quite possibly the answers Lauren seeks, decades after masterpieces by modern artists have gone missing, the likes of Wassily Kadindskys, Franz Marcs, Gabriele Munters, Otto Dixs and many more. Through alternating chapters set in New York City in 2009 and back to between the two World Wars and through Hilter’s reign in Germany, Jones exposes the cutting-edge German art scene before World War II, the sweeping changes the population was confronted with, and the horrors that followed. And how modern art and artists were cast as “degenerative” and what that meant and what was lost. In this touching and tearjerking novel one comes to understand how destructive darkness was wreaked upon modern art in Germany during World War II and what would eventually be lost forever and what would be saved, but at great personal risk and costs. Through Hanna’s and Isabella’s stories we learn and see how those who were gifted and talented were forced or coerced to serve Hitler and make decisions none of us hope to ever have to make for life, for family and for the freedom to create what the spirit calls forth. 

Stephanie Renee dos Santos:  Please tell us about protagonist Hanna’s special ability to hear and see color, the condition called synesthesia, a characteristic she shares with the novel’s featured artist Wassily Kandinsky in The Woman Who Heard Color?

sketch for Composition II Kandinsky 1910 Guggenheim NY

Sketch for Composition II by Wassily Kandinsky 1910 Guggenheim, NY

Kelly Jones:  Synesthesia is a neurological condition in which the senses are blended. Stimulation of one sense creates an involuntary experience through another sense. In Hanna’s case she not only sees color, but also hears color. Several years before I started writing The Woman Who Heard Color I read a couple of articles about this condition and I knew at some point I would create a character with synesthesia.  I clipped the articles and tucked them away for future reference. Later, when I began research for the book, I learned that the artist Wassily Kandinsky, who plays an important role in the story, was thought to have had synesthesia. I’m not sure when I realized Hanna (a fictitious character) would also be a synesthete.  I knew from the inception of the story that this farm girl from Bavaria, who finds work as a domestic in the Munich home of a Jewish art dealer, would become caught up in the art world. Because of her gift of synesthesia her enjoyment of art takes on a whole new dimension.

SRDS:  What compelled you to include art and artists in your historical novel?

KJ:  As a child I loved creating art. This developed into a fascination with the history of art when I took an art class in junior high.  My interest continued to grow, particularly when I had the wonderful opportunity to study in Florence, Italy, during a university year abroad. I graduated with a degree in English and an art minor, with no thought of writing. Yet, much later when I started writing fiction, art and the history of art seemed like a natural place to start. The Woman Who Heard Color is my third novel in which art and artists play important roles, but it’s my first historical novel. The story spans a period of over 100 years, from the early 1900s in Munich to the twenty-first century in New York.

SRDS:  What drew you to your specific visual art medium, artwork, and/or artist?

KJ:  In my first book, The Seventh Unicorn, a set of medieval tapestries plays an important role. In The Lost Madonna, the plot develops around a missing Renaissance painting. For my third novel I wanted to write about the modern art movements, but didn’t have a particular theme or even an artist in mind. I went to the library and gathered a stack of wonderful, full-color art books and spent hours going through them. I came across the work of the Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky. I had never been a great fan of his later, and probably most reproduced art (created during his Bauhaus period), but I found his personal story intriguing and I was particularly drawn to the colorful paintings he did in the early twentieth century in Germany. When I learned he was labeled a “degenerate” artist by Hitler and was one of many whose work was banned (and ridiculed) in Nazi Germany, I wanted to know more. And this was the starting point for writing The Woman Who Heard Color. 

SRDS:  What unique historical objects and/or documents inspired the story?

Murnau the Garden II Kandinsky 1910 private collection Switzerland

Murnau the Garden II by Kandinsky 1910 private collection Switzerland

KJ:  The artwork of Wassily Kandinsky, and others, mostly German Expressionists such as Franz Marc, inspired the story. The fact that they were labeled “degenerate” added to my curiosity and desire to know more, particularly about the time leading up to Nazi control in Germany.

SRDS:  Is there an art history message you’ve tried to highlight within the novel?

KJ:  Yes, definitely, a message about the value of freedom in artistic expression and the difficulties that arise under a suppressive government. Hitler began his control of Germany under the guise of presenting art and culture to the masses. But, he actually dictated what was to be considered art. This has been a popular topic in recent times—government control of art—but it is something that has been going on throughout history.

SRDS:  What do you think readers can gain by reading stories with art tie-ins?

KJ:  Readers can learn so much about history and people through stories about art, especially fiction that is based on authentic events. Art produced during a particular time might reflect the mores of society and the ideology of those in control, but ultimately it is a personal and very individual form of expression within a specific environment.

SRDS:  What fascinating information did you uncover while researching but were unable to incorporate into the book, but can share here?

KJ:  I started out believing I would write a story about Wassily Kandinsky, but then Hanna let me know it was her story. Though Kandinsky is one of the artists prominently featured in the novel, I discovered a great deal about his life that I wasn’t able to incorporate into the book. I was especially interested in the time he spent painting in Murnau with the German artist, Gabriele Münter. She was his student, then mistress, and eventually partner. The work they created, painting side by side, at times sharing the same palette, was fascinating. I had many questions about how his style was developed and what influence she had on his work. Their paintings from that period were very similar, yet it was Kandinsky who gained greater fame. I visited Murnau and loved this little village. I could see how it had become a favorite place for them to live and paint. I wrote a scene with Hanna visiting Gabriele in Murnau, but it was ultimately cut from the book as I concentrated on Hanna’s personal trials and efforts to protect her family and save the art. Gabriele Münter is barely mentioned in the novel, yet she should be given credit for saving much of Kandinsky’s work, keeping it hidden away during the suppressive days of the Nazi regime. There might be another story (and book) here.

SRDS:  Any further thoughts on art in fiction you’d like to expand on?

BLUE HORSES Franz Marc 1911 private collection Hamburg

Blue Horses by Franz Marc 1911 private collection Hamburg

KJ:  For me, studying art has been a way of learning history. I’ve always been a fan of art, but as a student, history was never my favorite subject. When I started writing about art, I found it necessary to learn more about the historical context in which artists create. Particularly in writing about the art condemned as “degenerate,” I learned a great deal about the events in Germany leading up to both World War I and World War II. I never expected to be so fascinated by William L. Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, but it was a necessary read to write my novel. Through art I have gained a greater understanding of history.

SRDS:  Are you working on a new historical novel with an art tie-in? If so, will you share a little with us about your next release?

KJ:  I have a new novel coming out in early January. It is set in Prague and involves a precious religious icon, a small statue of the Christ Child.  The exact date of creation and the artist are unknown, though such images were carved by masters throughout Europe as early as the mid 1300s, using such media as wood, ivory, bronze and wax. This particular icon was most likely created in Spain and brought to Bohemia by a Spanish princess early in the seventeenth century. It is now on display in a small church in Prague. The upcoming novel has a contemporary setting, but this ancient religious icon plays an important part in the story, as does the history of the Czech Republic, particularly the Velvet Revolution of 1989.

Currently, I’m working on a story set in a Tuscan vineyard.  I’ve just started writing, but I am curious—can I possibly write about Italy without involving art and history?

 

Kelly Jones Author PhotoAbout the author:  Kelly Jones grew up in Twin Falls, Idaho.  She attended Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, graduating magna cum laude with a degree in English and an art minor.  She spent her junior year in Italy at the Gonzaga-in-Florence program and developed a love for travel, a passion she now shares with her husband, Jim.  An art history class in Florence fueled a love for the history of art, which has become an integral part of her writing.

Her Berkley/ Penguin published books include, Lost and Found in Prague (January, 2015), a novel of mystery, murder, and miracles; The Woman Who Heard Color (2011), a story of family loyalty, banned art, and creative freedom; The Lost Madonna (2007), set in Florence, Italy; and The Seventh Unicorn (2005), inspired by “The Lady and the Unicorn Tapestries” in the Cluny Museum in Paris, France. Evel Knievel Jumps the Snake River Canyon . . . and Other Stories Close to Home (June, 2014), is a novella and short story collection, the first release from Ninth Avenue Press. The title story is set in her hometown of Twin Falls.

She is a mother and grandmother and is married to former Idaho Attorney General Jim Jones, who now serves on Idaho’s Supreme Court.  They live in Boise.

For more about Kelly’s books:  Website , Facebook , Goodreads Twitter  

To purchase: The Woman Who Heard Color

Join us here Saturday January 31st for an interview with Heather Webb, author of Rodin’s Lover

Interview posting schedule:  

2014: August 30th Susan Vreeland, Lisette’s List (new release), September 27th Anne Girard, Madame Picasso (new release),October 25th Yves Fey, Floats the Dark Shadow, November 29th Mary F. Burns, The Spoils of Avalon (new release), December 27th Kelly Jones, The Woman Who Heard Color 

2015: January 31st Heather Webb, Rodin’s Lover (new release), February 28th, Alyson Richman, The Mask Carver’s Son, March 28th Maureen Gibbon, Paris Red (new release), April 25th Lisa Brukitt, The Memory of Scent, May 30th Lisa Barr, Fugitive Colors, June 27th Lynn Cullen, The Creation of Eve, July 25th Andromeda Romano-Lax, The Detour, August 29th Frederick Andresen,The Lady with an Ostrich Feather Fan

Love of Art in Historical Fiction Series featuring Mary F. Burns & The Spoils of Avalon

Avalon Final FRONT COVERThis month I’d like to welcome the gifted Mary F. Burns and her latest release, a historical mystery The Spoils of Avalon. Burns is one my favorite authors writing today. Her storytelling is vivid, characters distinct, all accomplished through polished and witty prose. To my blessed surprise and honor, Burns asked if I’d write an endorsement for this novel, of which I’ve shared below, with the intention of imparting the essence of this unique two time period mystery.That revealed, here’s what I have to say about The Spoils of Avalon:

“An artist, a writer, a murder, a mysterious tome, a dissolving time, a crime, Arthurian legends, ancient saints books and bones. Burns’ prose drives and is sublime, with characters and settings that live on in your mind. This is an original historical mystery connecting the Age of Industry with the Age of Miracles.”

The chapters alternate between late eighteenth-century England’s Age of Industry, opening with a reunion of American portrait painter John Singer Sargent and his lifelong British writer friend Violent Page, both of whom are called upon to unravel a disturbing murder. Then we are transported back to the sixteenth century, the Age of Miracles, during King Henry the VIII’s reign and at the crucial moment when he was disbanding The Church island-wide. Burns takes us into the secluded stone chambers and the souls of the clergy in one of the last great standing monastery’s heart-wrenching saga of dissolution. Magically Burns weaves these seemingly disparate time periods and stories in the most astonishing way! Truly her storytelling is masterful and imaginative, keeping you quickly turning the page!

Now let the mysteries behind the making of this amazing tale unfold…

Stephanie Renee dos Santos:  How did you conceive of this amazing dual time period novel concept for The Spoils of Avalon? And will you tell us a bit about each period.

IMG_4058

The ruins of Glastonbury Abbey.

Mary F. Burns:  I had been wanting to write a novel about the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and Glastonbury in particular, for a really long time, so that was on my mind. (In fact, I have a 40-page start on a “druid”-themed novel that starts in pre-historic Glastonbury and skips through time after that, but who knows whether it will see the light of day?) The other time period—later 1800’s—is tied to the lives of John Singer Sargent and Violet Paget. After I wrote my previous novel, which is about Sargent with Paget as a major character, I simply couldn’t let go of their voices! They were such lively characters to me, I wanted to spend more time with them, so I took the plunge and turned them into amateur sleuths. And as I started writing, my yearning to write about Glastonbury just rose up and declared itself in one of those delightful incidents of serendipity that happens when one writes! Because I was conceiving of this as the first of a series, the dual-time period structure is going to be a constant element in all the books to come.

SRDS:  What compelled you to include art and artist in your historical novel?

jss Paris 1880

John Singer Sargent

Vernon_Lee_(Violet_Paget)

Violet Paget

MFB:  I am both a writer and an artist myself (humbly said), so writing about two characters who also have those talents provides me with glorious opportunities to explore and present the beauty, truth and even the dark side (!) of art and writing. As amateur detectives, each character brings different strengths to solving the mystery: Paget the writer is obsessive, detailed, curious, intent on finding answers to the big questions of life and human actions, while Sargent the artist is more intuitive, taking in color, form and shading to allow him to understand and reproduce more than what is simply ‘there’ in reality.

SRDS:  What drew you to your specific visual art medium, artwork, and/or artist?

 Daughters_of_Edward_Darley_Boit

“Daughters of Edward Darley Boit” by John Singer Sargent

MFB:  I have always loved art, particularly painting, and have spent a good deal of my life in museums and poring over art books. I fell seriously in love with Sargent in 1999, when I attended an exhibition of his work at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., which is the trip that inspired my first novel about him. As a writer, I can’t help but think about the story behind the painting, and Sargent’s, more than any other paintings I have seen, have an incredible depth of humanity, psychology and emotion that just beg to be turned into a story. I’m so looking forward to writing this series of mysteries and be able to include many of Sargent’s astounding portraits in the very year that he was painting them, and making them (or the sitter) part of the mystery. The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit is one such painting that I felt I just had to write about, to discover the story behind the painting.

SRDS:  What unique historical objects and/or documents inspired the story?

IMG_3846

Castle Naworth

MFB:  I was reading a book about Glastonbury Abbey, which was the last of the great abbeys to fall to Henry VIII in the Dissolution. The author of the book (non-fiction) speculated that the Abbot had sufficient warning to try to hide away some of the most precious relics, manuscripts and holy objects, to keep them out of the King’s hands—and that some day, a veritable treasure trove of “Glastonbury items” would tumble out of a forgotten priest-hole or hidden room in some Northern England castle (where the nobles stayed Catholic longer than those in the South). That sentence caught my imagination and never let go. So, with a nod to Henry James (my favorite author) and his “Spoils of Poynton”, I began formulating the story behind The Spoils of Avalon.

SRDS:  Is there an art history message you’ve tried to highlight within the novel?

MFB:  I wouldn’t exactly call it a message, but I am eager to acquaint readers with many of the artistic (and literary) trends and movements of the time—the pre-Raphaelites (who were wild about all the Arthurian legends), for instance, and the Impressionists, who were gaining strength in Paris—and how these new styles of art were hotly debated, decried as well as lauded throughout Europe. Because I will be writing chronologically in the series, having started in 1877 when Sargent and Paget were both just turning twenty-one, I foresee a great adventure in being able to comment on the succeeding changes in the art world, from Expressionism to Fauvism to Cubism and more!

SRDS:  What do you think readers can gain by reading stories with art tie-ins?

MFB:  I hope such reading will impel readers to look at the art that is mentioned and described, either online or in museums, and even to support with their donations the many art galleries and museums that provide such an incredible experience to the public.

SRDS:  What fascinating information did you uncover while researching but were unable to incorporate into the book, but can share here?

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Plaque for King Arthur’s tomb.

MFB:  I really wanted to include a kind of “flashback” within the Glastonbury chapters on the discovery of the burial site of King Arthur and Queen Guenevere, which the monks apparently found in 1191 in one of the Abbey’s graveyards. Buried sixteen feet down, was a giant oak tree trunk, within which were the clothed skeletons of a very large and tall man, and a woman with blond hair. A bronze plaque embedded in the oak tree indicated that they were Arthur and “his second wife” Guenevere (now there’s another story!). A monk touched her hair and it fell into dust. Years later, the remains were removed to a huge black marble tomb in front of the high altar in the church, where they stayed until the Dissolution in 1539, when it “disappeared.

SRDS:  Any further thoughts on art in fiction you’d like to expand on?

MFB:  I think writing about art helps bring new insights and depth to a viewer of the art, whether it’s a painting or a sculpture or an illuminated manuscript. I find that trying to get inside the mind of the artist, by reading his or her biographies, letters, etc., is a fascinating and deeply gratifying experience, and if I can get that across to my readers, all the better!

SRDS:  Are you working on a new historical novel with an art tie-in? If so, will you share a little with us about your next release?

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Carolus Duran

MFB:  The second book in the mystery series may be set in Venice or else in Paris, where both Paget and Sargent spent a great deal of time. It will probably be either 1878 or 1879, just a year or so on from the first book, while Paget (as Vernon Lee, her nom du plume) is finishing up a manuscript for her first major publication, Studies of the Eighteenth Century in Italy, and Sargent is beginning to make his mark at the famous Salon, with his portrait of his maître, Carolus Duran, which is considered to be his “coming out” debut portrait. It won an Honorable Mention at the Salon, and as his third painting to be exhibited there, qualified him to enter paintings in the future without having to be passed by the Salon jury.

Mary Burns August 2012 (1)About the author:  Mary F. Burns is the author of Portraits of An Artist (Sand Hill Review Press, February 2013), a member of and book reviewer for the Historical Novel Society and a former member of the HNS Conference board of directors. A novella-length book, the first in a Genesis trilogy, Isaac and Ishmael, is also being published by Sand Hill Review Press in 2014. Ms. Burns’ debut historical novel J-The Woman Who Wrote the Bible was published in July 2010 by O-Books (John Hunt Publishers, UK). She has also written two cozy-village mysteries in a series titled The West Portal Mysteries (The Lucky Dog Lottery and The Tarot Card Murders).

Ms. Burns was born in Chicago, Illinois and attended Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, where she earned both Bachelors and Masters degrees in English, along with a high school teaching certificate. She relocated to San Francisco in 1976 where she now lives with her husband Stuart in the West Portal neighborhood. Ms. Burns has a law degree from Golden Gate University, has been president of her neighborhood association and is active in citywide issues. During most of her working career she was employed as a director of employee communications, public relations and issues management at various San Francisco Bay Area corporations, was an editor and manager of the Books on Tape department for Ignatius Press, and has managed her own communications/PR consulting business, producing written communications, websites and video productions for numerous corporate and non-profit clients.

From more about Mary: 

email: maryfburns@att.net , website,  FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads, or read her blog posts at:

www.jthewomanwhowrotethebible.com
www.literarygracenotes.blogspot.com
www.portraitsofanartist.blogspot.com
www.sargent-pagetmysteries.blogspot.com
www.genesisnovel.blogspot.com

 To purchase: The Spoils of Avalon

Join us here Saturday December 27th for an interview with Kelly Jones, author of The Woman Who Heard Color. (What a great title!)

Interview posting schedule:  

2014: August 30th Susan Vreeland, Lisette’s List (new release), September 27th Anne Girard, Madame Picasso (new release),October 25th Yves Fey, Floats the Dark Shadow, November 29th Mary F. Burns, The Spoils of Avalon (new release), December 27th Kelly Jones, The Woman Who Heard Color 

2015: January 31st Heather Webb, Rodin’s Lover (new release), February 28th Alyson Richmond, The Mask Carver’s Son, March 28th Maureen Gibbon, Paris Red (new release), April 25th Lisa Brukitt, The Memory of Scent May 30th, Lisa Barr, Fugitive Colors, June 27th Lynn Cullen, The Creation of Eve, July 25th Andromeda Romano-Lax, The Detour, August 29th Frederick Andresen,The Lady with an Ostrich Feather Fan

Writers’ reflections on the 2014 London Historical Novel Society panel-talk “Art and Artists in Historical Fiction”

Writers' novels

Cupid and the Goddess by Alan Fisk and The Blood of the Fifth Knight by E.M Powell

Authors E.M Powell (The Fifth Knight and the soon-to-be-released The Blood of the Fifth Knight) and Alan Fisk (Cupid and the Silent Goddess and other titles) both attend and contributed to the lively interactive discussion at the 2014 London Historical Novel Society Conference panel-talk “Art and Artist in Historical Fiction:  The special challenges of writing about art and artists”. I thought it would be interesting to follow up with some of the writers who attended the talk to hear their impressions and what they gleaned from our time together. 

Here’s what they have to say…

Stephanie Renee dos Santos:  What initially drew you to this panel-talk?

Elaine Powell:  I thought it was an intriguing topic and I wanted to find out more. I know and have met so many writers but not so many artists. I wasn’t disappointed!

Alan Fisk:  I was interested in finding out how other writers had been inspired by artists and works of art, and how they had dealt with the challenges of integrating that inspiration into a story.

SRDS: What insights and/or useful information did you gain from the discussion (if any!)?

EP:  So many! I knew quite a lot about Bletchley Park and knew of ‘Black’ propaganda from other sources. But Alicia Foster’s description of the whole process of producing leaflets that would be dropped from planes over enemy territory was riveting. It would never have occurred to me that the artists had to take into account the weight of the ink and paper when producing their work. I’m sure it’s not a usual factor when producing salacious images!

I could have listened to Michael Dean talk about Hitler as an autistic artist savant all day. Again, it was Michael’s technical understanding of Hitler’s art and how clearly he explained it that made it so compelling. Equally so his knowledge of Hogarth as a painter as well as a historical figure.

And something else I had no idea about: lacquering? But Patricia O’ Reilly knew so much about the process and brought the work of artist Eileen Gray to life. It was so interesting to hear about the physical demands (lacquer burns!) in the creation of something beautiful.

Stephanie Renee dos Santos and her account of tile making again provided a vivid account of the sheer physicality of her art. The feel of clay in her hands, the scent of tiles baking: again, these were aspects that wouldn’t have occurred to me, the non-artist.

AF:  I saw how other authors had used a variety of techniques to set the background and historical context of their fiction, and what characteristics of the times and places they had chosen to emphasise.

SRDS:  Now, how will you apply this newly acquired knowledge to your writing?

EP:  I do have someone in the current WIP [work-in-progress] who is a medieval scribe. But I think I will be able to get deeper under his skin and make sure I include the physical challenges of producing his illuminated manuscripts- which are of course works of art!

AF:  This will be an unsatisfactory answer: I’ve decided to retire from writing. From now on, I’m going to concentrate on promoting my existing novels, and intend to self-publish one of my out-of-print ones. Although I have several ideas for novels, I don’t feel the spark of excitement that has motivated me to write 10 novels in the past (two of which ended up in the garbage, which was the right place for them).

SRDS:  Anything else you’d like to share, touch on?

EP:  Just to say thank you for such a wonderfully friendly and engaging session, and for giving me a glimpse into the perspective of the artist.

AF:  When I wrote my own art-related novel, Cupid and the Silent Goddess, I didn’t have an interest in art-related fiction as a genre. I had long been fascinated by the painting, and wanted to find a story that would feature it. I settled on a fictional imagining of how it might have been created, and did only as much research as I needed to on the painting techniques of the time. It’s easy to forget that the story comes first, and the history and background come second. Cupid and the Silent Goddess features a character with what would now call autism, so I had to research that as well, but I only included as much of that in the novel as I needed to.

SRDS:  Thank you, to both E.M Powell and Alan Fisk for sharing your thoughts on this panel-talk. It was great to have the chance to exchange on this topic and explore it further with each of you. And I’m excited to annouce that this panel-talk “Art and Artists in Historical Fiction” will be held next at the 2015 Denver Historical Novel Society Conference in the USA on Saturday the 27th of June, featuring more insights into this topic from writers of art-based historical fiction Stephanie Cowell (Claude & Camille) , Donna Russo Morin (The Kings Agent), Mary F. Burns (Portraits of An Artist and The Spoils of Avalon), Alana White (The Sign of the Weeping Virgin) and myself (Cut From the Earth). Readers and writers please join us at the conference! We look forward to meeting and talking with you about this fascinating niche…

About the author:  E.M. Powell is the author of medieval thriller The Fifth Knight which was a #1 Amazon Bestseller. The sequel, The Blood of the Fifth Knight, will be published by Thomas & Mercer on January 1, 2015. Born and raised in the Republic of Ireland into the family of Michael Collins (the legendary revolutionary and founder of the Irish Free State), she now lives in the north west of England with her husband and daughter and a Facebook-friendly dog. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society, International Thriller Writers and Romance Writers of America. She is a reviewer for the HNS (fiction and non-fiction).

 

For more about E.M Powell’s books visit: www.empowell.com  To purchase The Fifth Knight and pre-order The Blood of the Fifth Knight 

AlanFiskAbout the author:  Alan Fisk’s novels include art-based historical fiction Allegory with Venus and Cupid, The Strange Things of the World,The Summer Stars, and Forty Testoons. He’s had numerous short stories published and many newspaper and magazine articles in countries around the world. He’s been a tutor on residential weekend courses on subjects including “Writing Historical Novels”‘ and “Story Theory”. He’s lived in England, Austria, Singapore, and Canada, working as an economist, an Air Force officer, and a technical author and editor. He now lives in London.

 

For more about Alan’s books visit:  http://www.alanfisk.com  To purchase Cupid and the Silent Goddess 

 

Arts Lost and Inspired by The Great Lisbon Earthquake of November 1, 1755

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The Royal Ribeira Palace prior to the 1755 Great Lisbon Earthquake as seen in the 23 meter long blue and white tile mural that survived the quake.

What was lost? 

In the Year of Our Lord 1755 on November 1st, All Saints Day, Portugal the “Queen of the Seas'” capital, Lisbon, was devastated by an estimated 9.0 Richter scale earthquake, what is referred to today as “The Great Lisbon Earthquake”. At this time, the arts flourished in Lisbon with the country’s peerless affluence as exemplified in extensive public and private tile works throughout the city and outlying areas. And as was glorified in the recently completed ostentatious Phoenix Opera House with its grand wooden cupola, of which all was but destroyed in the earthquake and the subsequent tsunami waves and mass fire that followed.The Royal Ribeira Palace along the Tagus river (now the modern day square of Terreiro do Paço) housed a Casa_Operamagnificent library of 70,000 books, the royal residence also harbored hundreds of works of art: ancient manuscripts, sculptures, tapestries, and paintings by Titian, Ruben, and Correggio —  all were lost.The royal archives disappeared, together with detailed historical records of explorations by Vasco da Gama and other early navigators’ charts and maps, plus works by Emperor Charles V, Hebrew bibles, and other treasures brought back from The New World, Asia and Africa by Portugal’s explorers. Only twelve of the seventy-two convents of the city were spared, along with their priceless relics. All the city’s hospitals with their medicinal knowledge and thirty-three palaces within the city with vast art caches were destroyed. 

After three centuries as one of Europe’s most vibrant, opulent and prosperous capitals during the Age of Discovery, Lisbon was almost completely leveled in a single day, along with its extensive tributes to the arts and collections.The material loss was astronomic for Portugal and its foreign traders: the British, the French, the Spanish, the Netherlands, Germany, Ireland, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland. It is estimated the losses to foreign investors equaled approximately twelve million pounds sterling, of which, more than half represented British losses.

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Lisbon before the earthquake, tsunami waves, and mass fire.

Many thought it was the wrath of God that had struck the “Princess of a City” — Lisbon —  due to the excesses and riches and lavish lifestyles many indulged in and flagrantly enjoyed in the face of the Lord, His precepts, and the Inquisition. While those involved in the flourishing ideas of the Enlightenment in the north of Europe sought other reasons to explain the disastrous events. Lisbon was reduced to rubble with an estimated 70,000 to 100,000 left dead and saw the end of the city’s Golden Age, but also the birth of a new, more forward thinking municipality that would rise up from the ruins.


What was inspired? 

Never in European history had a natural disaster received such international attention, as Lisbon’s losses had no precedent in Europe. And it was because of the advent of newspapers and news pamphlets across the continent and outlying areas that news spread quickly of the disasters. Plus, Lisbon had one of the most important European ports for trade with the Americas, Asia and Africa, so word rippled swiftly out by sea and reached far and wide. Artist and writers alike swooped upon Lisbon to record and report on the catastrophes.

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Homeless, helpless, maimed and executed criminals forced to public camps by J.A. Steislinger (1755)

German engravers immortalized the before and after depictions of Lisbon with ink on paper with works like The Ruined Capital of the Imperial PortugueseThe collapse of Lisbon and the fires that followed on November 1 st of 1755, and Homeless, helpless, maimed and executed criminals forced to public camps by J.A. Steislinger. 

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“The Tsunami” by Vinkeles and F. Bohn

While Holland’s etchers recreated the scene of The Tsunami as produced by Vinkeles and F. Bohn.

big FrenchThe French sent their own lithographers to depict and record the destruction.

city-and-spectacle-a-vision-of-preearthquake-lisbon-5-728And for years to come paintings, engravings, and ex-voto works dedicated to saints, along with tile works were made recalling and remembering the tragic events of All Saints Day, November 1, 1755.  

Philosophers of the Enlightenment such as Voltaire, Kant and Rousseau were inspired by the tragic events and wrote works influenced by it. Voltaire’s novel Candide, Ou l’Optimimse (1759) Candide1759and his poem Poème sur le désastre de Lisbonne (“Poem on the Lisbon disaster”) directly observed and commented on the events. Whereas Immanuel Kant furthered and elevated the concept of the sublime, although in existence prior to 1755, by attempting to comprehend the enormity of Lisbon’s tragedies. Kant published three separate texts on the Lisbon earthquake, after collecting and investigating news pamphlets which were in large circulation about the events as he worked on formulating a theory as to the causes of the earthquakes. According to Walter Benjamin, Kant’s early book on the earthquake:  “..probably represents the beginnings of scientific geography in Germany. And certainly the beginnings of seismology.” Jean-Jacques Rousseau was also influenced by the devastation, he believed the severity of the events was due to too many people living within close quarters of the city. Rousseau used the earthquake as an argument against large cities, as part of his desire for a return to a more naturalistic way of life.

marques de pombal

Marques of Pombal by L.M. van Loo and J. Vernet (1766) oil on canvas

Innovative seismic architecture was developed after the earthquake to rebuild Lisbon as lead by King José I’s Prime Minister, Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, Count of Oeiras, later named Marques of Pombal. Pombal is famous for saying:  “What now? We bury the dead and heal the living.” and “The cultivation of literary pursuits forms the basis of all sciences, and in their perfection consist the reputation and prosperity of kingdoms.

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Pombalino style tile

The installment of large-scale prefabricated buildings was developed, along with a new style of tile work named Pomblinos which were characteristically fast and economical to make.

Pombal envisioned a progressive enlightened capital as opposed to the Lisbon of the past which was a city shackled by dogma and dominated by archaic Catholic orthodoxy that shunned science. From the ashes of Lisbon, Pombal created a new state-of-the-art capital with modern sanitation, wide streets and strict building codes. He saw this was a singular opportunity for renewal and advancement of Lisbon, a capital that could become a model for the rest of Europe. For it was the first time standardized prefabricated buildings were used on such a grand scale, and ones built with quake-resistant elasticity. Later, the avant-garde town planning was emulated in Paris, France by Baron Haussmann and in Barcelona, Spain by Ildefons Cerdà. Churches were rebuilt with more hardwoods and gold from colonial Brazil and re-embellished with monumental gold gilding, all lavished in the rich Portuguese Baroque style, reviving a new “Golden Age” as exemplified in the São Roque and Santa Catarina churches.

The renewal and transformation of Lisbon was a prodigious feat, one carried out by the determined, visionary, and at times consider ruthless Pombal. Today a statue of the Marques de Pombal stands at the top of a monument in the main roundabout at the top of Avenida da Liberdade looking down on the new rebuilt downtown center, a lion at his feet, a symbol of strength of not just survival but of progress arisen from destruction.This history, plus more, and its people are given flesh, bone, heart and voice in my forthcoming novel:  Cut From the Earth

Love of Art in Historical Fiction Series featuring Yves Fey & Floats the Dark Shadow

FloatsDarkShadowCoverWith Halloween looming Floats the Dark Shadow by Yves Fey is the perfect art-related historical mystery for this month’s feature! This novel is historically fascinating with macabre moments set during the Belle Époque era in Paris. Children are disappearing in the “City of Lights”, as American born painter Theodora Faraday struggles with her painting and illustrating poems for the Revenants, a group of poets inclusive of her cousin, Averill, with whom she’s romantically infatuated. When Inspecteur Michel Devaux suspects the poets are somehow tied to the disappearance of the innocent youths, Theo’s world goes starless. Fey takes us into the underbelly and mysterious of Paris:  poetry readings in the catacombs, Tarot card fortunetellers, the asylum, a black Mass, and could it possibly be true that France’s most evil historic serial killer Gilles de Rais from the fifteenth century has somehow reincarnated?

Paris  is exquisite, beautiful, but not all its inhabitants embody and live for virtuous elegance, others celebrate wickedness, live for sot obsessions, and morbid delusions…  

Stephanie Renee dos Santos:  Please tell us about the dark and disturbing haunts and happenings in Paris during the Belle Époque era (1871-1914) that many people may not be aware of. How much of its depiction in Floats the Dark Shadow is from your imagination versus fact?

Yves Fey:  I don’t think I invented anything, unless it was specific to my fictional characters, like Carmine’s Tarot readings. The tale of Leo Taxil’s hoax is true, including the riot it caused when his duplicity was revealed. But I’m not sure he counts since all his tales of lesbian demonesses and portals to hell were fraudulent.

Huysmans_La_BasAll the gruesome stories about Gilles de Rais are taken from historical research about him, and from author J. K. Huysmans’ novel, La Bas, which is referenced in my mystery. I should note that recently Gilles has been presented as the victim of a political conspiracy to seize his lands. I chose the most dramatic interpretation of his history, his devotion to Jeanne d’Arc and subsequent fall from grace, as my own.

I wished I could have used even more about the strange occult underground that was practicing magic in Paris at the time. The story of the dueling magicians is true (well, how true is debatable, of course), but all the details were reported at the time, including the ensorcelled horses stopping dead in their tracks on the way to the duel. Huysmans believed he was being psychically attacked (along with his cat) by malevolent spirits because he’d mistakenly befriended the notorious Abbe Boullan, a truly mind-boggling debauchee. Huysmans was forewarned about the falling mirror that would have killed him.

I do plan to do more with the members of the Golden Dawn. I don’t know if Irish poet Yeats will be back, but the basic details of the psychic communion scene is based on his writings. He believed in and practiced magic, though most of his biographers just flee in embarrassment from that knowledge. MacGregor and Mina Mathers will return in later books in the series. They began holding strange “Egyptian” rites in Paris. And they are about to get involved in a huge scandal with the infamous Aleister Crowley [next novel], who called himself the Great Beast 666 and was dubbed the “Wickedest Man in the World”.

SRDS:  What compelled you to include art and artist in your historical mystery?

In the Studio by Marie Bashkirtsheff. Set over a decade earlier than my mystery, this painting shows a class for women at the famous Academie Julien, where my heroine Theo later studied. Many foreign students, women, and French students improved their skills studied here. Women were charged double.

In the Studio by Marie Bashkirtsheff. Set over a decade earlier than my mystery, this painting shows a class for women at the famous Academie Julien, where my heroine Theo later studied. Many foreign students, women, and French students improved their skills studied here. Women were charged double.

YF:  I always wanted to write about Paris in this general time frame, and felt that an artist protagonist could bring a special perspective to the time. In the past, I had considered writing something more Colette inspired, or theatre inspired, a la Children of Paradise, but when I began I was trying to write a novel with an artist heroine. My first concept had that heroine accused of murder. She was supposed to be an aspiring artist, but she kept telling me she was a journalist. We were deadlocked and I had to scrap that book and try to begin again. There was nothing wrong with it in theory, but it refused to come alive. It was when I conceived of the copycat Gilles de Rais as the villain that Floats the Dark Shadow was born. Theo and Michel, my detectives, became the new protagonists. My Gilles (like the original) is very theatrical, and thinks of his crimes, of evil, as an art. And because J.K. Huysmans had just written his novel about Gilles de Rais, I wanted to pull in the literary aspect as well, and so the Revenants, my decadent poets, came into being.

SRDS:  What drew you to your specific visual art medium, artwork, and/or artist character?

YF:  As an artist myself, and one who loves the art of that period, I felt I could write Theo believably. My main artist medium is paint, so I wanted a painter rather than a sculptor. Theo and I do share certain perceptions, but she’s not me. She’s far more brave and forthright! And her art is bolder.

SRDS:  What unique historical objects and/or documents inspired the story?

Federico Zandomeneghi enree du Moulin de la Galette 1878

Le Moulin de La Galette by Frederico Zandomeneghi. The crowd gathers at Montmartre’s favorite dance hall.

YF:  The Impressionist paintings of Paris in general and of Montmartre in particular inspired many of the settings for the book—the Moulin de la Galette and the Moulin Rouge, though I never managed to get my characters inside it. My group of poets, the Revenants, are influenced by the mystical and often sinister art of the Symbolist painters, as well as the poetry of the time. I also tried to capture the visual and spiritual decadence of Là-bas, J.K. Huysmans’ novel about Gilles de Rais. For frosting on this rich layer cake, Art Nouveau was just now sweeping into Paris, we look at it and are filled with nostalgia, but then it was cutting edge.

SRDS:  Is there an art history message you’ve tried to highlight within the novel?

YF:  Not a message, but the atmosphere of creative vitality, the energy and inspiration that made Paris the center of the art world from the birth of Impressionism to World War II.  There’s the gaiety and sunlit idylls of the Belle Époque on the one hand, but even fin-de-siècle ennui blazes on the canvases of the Impressionists, Post-Impressionists, Expressionists, and Fauves.

SRDS:  What do you think readers can gain by reading stories with art tie-ins?

YF:  New ways of looking at the world – literally changing color, shape, emphasis of their perceptions. Also revisiting, recapturing lost vision as well as finding new awareness. And all facets of art and culture interweave with the politics of the era to give a more complete picture of the time.

I read about people and periods that I love, but also sometimes about things I don’t have much feeling for, like opera, but can become fascinated by and understand better just because of the information and understanding a well-written book can bring.

SRDS:  What fascinating information did you uncover while researching but were unable to incorporate into the book but can share here?

YF:  I think I had at least pieces of everything, though I had to go through and cut many details to keep a decent pace. One great setting that went entirely was a scene at Deyrolle’s, the famed taxidermy shop in Paris, which had a wonderful visual weirdness with all the various stuffed creatures surrounding the characters, who’d come to pick up grandmama’s stuffed poodle. I’d planned a Toulouse-Lautrec style scene at the Moulin Rouge which never materialized, but I do have a scene at Oscar Wilde’s favorite café and at the Grand Guignol. Theo dances with Averill at the Moulin de la Galette.

luce-maximilein-LouvreatPontduCarousel,nighteffect (1)

The Louvre at the Pont du Carousel by Maximilien Luce, an atmospheric image of the Seine at night.

There were many deliciously weird members of the occult movement in Paris before, during and after the time in which my mystery is set. I could only do a few bits and pieces of their histories – Abbe Boullan was particularly notorious. In some cases there was no room for the tales. In other cases, the secret societies were all too successfully secret and I could not find all that I hoped I would. I will keep the occult thread alive in the book, especially for the members of the Golden Dawn, which is heading for a huge scandal.

There was far more research on Gilles de Rais than I could possibly include. For instance, after the death of Joan of Arc, there were several impostors roaming France. Claude des Armoises was one of these faux Joans, one in whom Gilles de Rais professed belief, because her resemblances to Joan was supposed to be striking.

And there is La Goulue, the dancer Toulouse-Lautrec made famous in his paintings.  Later in her life, she became a rather tawdry lion tamer. I’d have loved to create some sort of scene from that fragment of her biography.

SRDS: Are you working on a new historical novel with an art tie-in? If so, will you share a little with us about your next release?

Edgar_Degas_Hat_Shop

The Hat Shop by Edgar Degas. Of all the paintings of the era that I looked at, this seemed most like a painting Theo might have done, with the shop girl subject, the bold colors and asymmetrical composition.

FY: I’m at work on the sequel to Floats the Dark Shadow. It will have less focus on art and poetry, but will detail some of Theo’s struggle to discover herself as an artist. Her work is always of primary importance to Theo, but she keeps being distracted by these pesky murders – and the threat of falling in love. Theo does have her first group gallery show, along with her friend, Carmine.  Their art is a success, but the evening is a catastrophe.

The backdrop for the second book is the Dreyfus Affair, so there’s more politics framing the murders, and a look at various forms of prejudice at work in Paris, not just against Jews, but gays, and women. But the French were far more liberal towards those of African descent than most other European countries, certainly more so than America. In the third mystery, I hope to look more closely at the women characters, several of whom are artists, and investigate their place in the Paris art world.

AuthorAbout the author:  Yves Fey has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Oregon, and a BA in Pictorial Arts from UCLA. She has read, written, and created art from childhood. A chocolate connoisseur, she’s won prizes for her desserts. Her current fascination is creating perfumes. She’s traveled to many countries in Europe and lived for two years in Indonesia. She currently lives in the San Francisco area with her husband Richard and three cats, Marlowe the Investigator, and the Flying Bronte Sisters. Floats the Dark Shadow is Fey’s first historical mystery. It’s won several Indie awards–a Silver IPPY in the Best Mystery category, a Finalist Award in the ForeWord Book of the Year Awards in mystery, and it was one of four Finalists in both History and Mystery in the Next Generation Indie Awards. Previously, Fey has written four historical romances set in the Italian Renaissance, Medieval England, and Elizabethan England. She will soon be republishing these under her own name of Gayle Feyrer.

For more about the author’s novels visit:

Website: http://yvesfey.com/ Facebook https://www.facebook.com/YvesFey Twitter htts://twitter.com/YvesFey

Book trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1UcFbx4gNdU

To Purchase  Floats the Dark Shadow: 

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13646255-floats-the-dark-shadow

Join us here Saturday November 29th for an interview with Mary F. Burns, author the historical mystery The Spoils of Avalon.

Interview posting schedule:  

2014: August 30th Susan Vreeland, Lisette’s List (new release), September 27th Anne Girard, Madame Picasso (new release),October 25th Yves Fey, Floats the Dark Shadow, November 29th Mary F. Burns, The Spoils of Avalon (new release), December 27th Kelly Jones, The Woman Who Heard Color 

2015: January 31st Heather Webb, Rodin’s Lover (new release), February 14th, Dear Mr. Washington, Lynn Cullen (historical/art children’s book new release), February 28th Alyson Richman, The Mask Carver’s Son, March 28th Maureen Gibbon, Paris Red (new release), April 25th Lisa Brukitt, The Memory of Scent, May 30th Lisa Barr, Fugitive Colors, June 27th Lynn Cullen, The Creation of Eve, July 25th Andromeda Romano-Lax, The Detour, August 29th Frederick Andresen,The Lady with an Ostrich Feather Fan