Recap of the 2014 London Historical Novel Society Conference & Panel-talk “Art and Artists in HF”

my conference picks

Conference book purchases!

For months I’d been awaiting this writers conference! And it was an interesting and energizing weekend exchanging with other authors and those interested in the historical fiction genre.

SCREENSHOT1-1024x516Congratulations to the conference Short Story Award winner Lorna Fergusson (middle) and her winning piece Salt.

1st place:  Salt by Lorna Fergusson (middle) 2nd place:  The Man with No Hands by Anne Aylor (right)  3rd place:  For Love of Megan by Mari Griffith (left)

Jessie Burton, Essie Fox, Kate FrothysHighlights of the conference for me were meeting in person, or hearing speak, Historical Novel Society Founder Richard Lee and authors  Helen Hollick, Anna Belfrage, Elizabeth Cooper and her husband, Nicky Moxey, Essie Fox, Kate Forsyth, Hazel Gaynor, Annamaria Alfieri, Jessie Burton, and Professor Diana Wallace. panel talk 2014 London HNS ConferenceIt was an honor to participate on the panel “Art and Artists in Historical Fiction: The Special Challenges of writing about Art & Artists” with writers Patricia O’Reilly (The Interview), Michael Dean (I, Hogarth), and Alicia Foster (Warpaint). All of us could have easily discussed this topic for hours! It was a lively exchange with excellent questions from the attending group (authors E.M Powell, Alan Fisk, and others).

* In October I will be posting a more in-depth post about the points discussed at this panel-talk. Stay tuned!

Dinner at Hardy'sDinner at historic Hardy’s was divine, along with the conversations. Cheers to a weekend well-spent!

Love of Art in Historical Fiction Series featuring Susan Vreeland & Lisette’s List

LisettesList_cover_cezanne_3.251Welcome to the “Love of Art in Historical Fiction Series”, a continuation of the Historical Novel Society’s “Art in Historical Fiction Interview Series”. Art in fiction is an ever-growing literary niche as you will see with our ongoing review/interview series.This month’s featured author is Susan Vreeland and her recent release Lisette’s List (Random House August 26, 2014). Yet again, Vreeland has created a vital story, one written as finely as a Pissarro painting, but in the rich colors of Cezanne’s palette, of a woman awakening to the power, importance, and contributors to European art as she takes refuge and seeks consolation in Provence and Paris, France, before,in the midst of, and after World War II.

Lisette Roux departs Paris for Roussillon in southern Provence to help her art framer husband, André, care for his aging grandfather, Pascal, a former ocher miner whose pigments were used by famous painters of his day, Cézanne and Pissarro. Lisette longs to return to the vibrancy of Paris and its art scene, to pursue her dream of becoming a gallery apprentice. But surprisingly, through her caregiving and exchange with Pascal she begins to learn about art and artists. When André and his good friend Maxime, a Parisian art dealer, are enlisted in the war effort, Lisette must learn to fend for herself in her newly adopted home. As the war advances, she comes into direct contact with Marc and Bella Chagall, and a life affecting friendship develops along with a further understanding of art. The war plays out, as does everyone’s new situations and complications, with an ensuing threat to lovers of art, art and artists.

In the wake of the two recent discoveries of 1,406 potentially Nazi-looted and labeled “degenerate artworks”, uncovered in Munich in 2013, at the home of Mr. Cornelius Gurlitt and then at his second home in Salzburg, Austria, in 2014, Lisette’s List transports us to the world and time period when these works were more than likely seized and absconded with. Through exquisite prose, poignant period and place details, and profound observations on art and war, Vreeland reveals the beauty, the struggles, and the losses of the World War II era.

Come, let the provincial light and Parisian culture warm your heart, while the mistral of war and endangered art and fleeing artists drawn by Vreeland sweep you into the past, showing what was at stake then and now, and which perhaps hasn’t been completely lost forever.

Stephanie Renée dos Santos:  Where did the inspiration for your protagonist, Lisette, stem from for Lisette’s List

Susan Vreeland:  She came from my imagination of a woman with longings to participate in the art world, not unlike my own longings, a woman displaced, and a woman open to what the new environment had to offer, even to the degree of seeing her exile as her “holy ground.” It’s natural for me to write a character who has a developing spiritual sense. I wanted a character whom I could love for her goodness, her forgiveness, her willingness and sincerity, qualities I cherish.

SRDS:  What drew you to the time period of the novel?

nature morte au compotier

Nature Morte au Compotier, Paul Cézanne, Private Collection

SV:  World War II, of course, which provided trauma, upheaval, and tragedy, and the threat to Europe’s artistic heritage. We must not forget that under the Occupation by the Third Reich, the war brought about the vast and systematized plunder of “degenerate art,” motivated by thought control, revenge, and arrogance. Hear Hitler’s rant as early as 1937: “We will, from now on, lead an unrelenting war of purification, an unrelenting war of extermination, against the last elements which have displaced our Art,” horrifying words later reused relating to his “final solution.”

Can you imagine France without its art? The Louvre emptied and turned into an arsenal or a warehouse? A Holland bereft of its Rembrandts and Vermeers would be a land without its heritage. It’s a form of rape. What does that do to a people? My love for art made me outraged.

SRDS:  How and why did you choose the book’s settings, Paris and Roussillon in southern Provence?

SV:  I had to have both–Paris for the art world that Lisette would be sad about leaving, and Provence for the ochre mines, the source of pigments for paint that she would be learning about during her exile. What we have in the two locales is the primitive material culture in the geology of Roussillon which represents the origin of art, and the completion of art is suggested in the paintings of Parisian museums and galleries. The two locales serve as bookends to the process from ore to frame, from earth to majesty. Pascal embodied both.

Also, to flesh out the novel with colorful human beings, Paris and Provence provided a contrast in the stereotypes at work between northern and southern France. In general, northerners, and specifically Parisians, were stereotyped as rational, cultured, sophisticated, and reserved, whereas the ethnological type of the Provençaux have been labeled coarse, clownish, and prone to explosive passion and impetuousness. Southerners have the spirit of joy, of exuberance, and also of exaggeration. Parisian men spend their afternoons in cafés discoursing on philosophy, literature, film, art, and politics, while Provençal men spend theirs on the boules court tossing around steel balls and arguing about their landing spots. Such stereotypes provided humor and a rich well from which I could draw.

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

Bride Groom

Bride and Groom of the Eiffel Tower, Marc Chagall, Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre George Pompidou, Paris.

SV:  Chagall’s historic “Letter to the Paris Artists”, 1944, was a thrilling discovery for me. His deep concern about the loss of France’s artistic heritage which he referred to as the soul of France moved me deeply. Before the end of the war, during the Occupation, he wrote from his exile in the United States, “Today the world hopes and believes that the years of struggle will make the content and spirit of French art even more profound, more than ever worthy of the great art epochs of the past. I bow to the memory of those who disappeared, and of those who fell in battle. I bow to your struggle, to your fight against the foe of art and life.”

The discovery of this important letter led me to see that the novel was not just a narrow story of a woman retrieving her family’s seven paintings. Her experience was a microcosm of the vast rape of Europe’s art by what Chagall called “satanic enemies who wanted to annihilate not just the body but also the soul–the soul, without which there is no life, no artistic creativity.” After reading the letter, Lisette saw this too. By focusing on one character’s experience of potential loss, I could represent the larger issue of art ownership and national patrimony which is at issue even today.

SRDS:  How is Lisette’s List different from your other seven art-related novels?

SV: The novel is not centered on one artist and his or her development. That approach has given me much joy for a decade, but recently I began to feel it was too constraining. Lisette’s List came from a need to outgrow that mode of turning art history into narrative, and instead, to completely invent a set of non-artist characters with their conflicts and circumstances, dipping into the lives of three painters only as they impacted pure fiction.

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


La Côte Jalet, Camille Pissarro

SV:  Bits and pieces. Pissarro and [wife] Julie had seven children. Remarkably, five of them became artists. A leading spirit of the Impressionists, he was the only one who exhibited in all eight Impressionist shows. To speak of his determination, he suffered an eye infection and could no longer paint outdoors, so he painted through hotel room windows the busy urban scenes below.

New characters could have been inserted. For example, I discovered a Paris art dealer, René Gimpel, a Résistance fighter who was arrested and died in a concentration camp. He could have had him be Maxime’s friend.

There are some great quotes by my three artist characters that I couldn’t use. For example, amusingly Pissarro said, “God takes care of imbeciles, little children, and artists.” And this lyrical sentence by Cézanne giving life to fruit: “When you translate the skin of a beautiful peach, or the melancholy of an old apple, you sense their mutual reflections, the same shadows of relinquishment, the same loving sun, the same recollections of dew.” And Chagall’s lament and consolation: “Neither Imperial Russia, nor the Russia of the Soviets needs me. They don’t understand me. I am a stranger to them. I am certain Rembrandt loves me.” What minds these men had! I revere them.

SRDS:  Which famous artists are celebrated in the novel? And why did you choose to focus on the art and artists you did?


The Card Players, Paul Cézanne, Musée d’Orsay

SV:  The choice of artists was easy. Since the novel is set in both Paris and Provence, I chose two painters, Camille Pissarro who painted the areas around Paris, and Paul Cézanne who was born and lived in the South of France in Aix en Provence. The fact that they were friends who valued each other’s work sealed the deal. I imagine them to have made quips about being Impressionists, Pissarro calling themselves “the dear unwanteds” and Cézanne calling themselves “the great criminals of Paris.” In truth, Cézanne called Pissarro “the humble and colossal Pissarro” and “my master, mon bon Dieu.” In turn, Pissarro foresaw that Cézanne would lead painters to a new aesthetic, which he did: Cubism.

Certain paintings by each of them also prompted me to choose them. I recall seeing a Pissarro painting of a girl with a goat on an ochre-colored path by her vegetable garden. Although I have lost this painting, the cover painting, Côte Jalet comes close. All the cover designer needed to do was to paint in a goat, Geneviève. Another Pissarro painting convinced me that I had chosen rightly. Le Petit Fabrique pictured a rural paint factory where the ochre pigments from Roussillon were made into oil paint. What could be more perfect?

Cézanne’s landscapes around Aix en Provence displayed the countryside that I described and that so enchanted Lisette. When I discovered his three paintings of ochre quarries, he definitely fit in to my narrative.

As for Marc Chagall, imagine my surprise and happiness when I discovered that during the War and Occupation, he and his wife hid from Nazis in the closest village to Roussillon, Gordes, only nine kilometers away. Now I could give Lisette her longed for experience of being in the midst of art as it was being made. And his “Letter to the Paris Painters” expanded my story to reflect the larger threat to art at the hands of the Reich’s Chamber of Culture.

And finally, one Picasso study entered the story to fill the art historical gap between Cézanne and Chagall. Maxime, the art dealer in the novel, traces the connection thus: “The visible reality expressed through the handling of light and color of Impressionism–Pissarro–moved into the solid geometric shapes of Post-impressionism–Cézanne–to the modernism of distortion and Cubism–Picasso–and finally to the post-modernism of the expression of the invisible personal reality of dreams–Chagall.” And, despite the fact that their work was considered “degenerate,” they all fit into place in the most satisfying way.

SamRyu_SV 06 peach books EDITAbout the author: Susan Vreeland is an internationally known author of art-related historical fiction. Four of her eight books have been New York Times Best Sellers: Girl in Hyacinth Blue, The Forest Lover, Clara and Mr. Tiffany, Luncheon of the Boating Party, and  acclaimed novels,The Passion of Artemisia, Life Studies, What Love Sees, and Lisette’s List. She has received four times the Theodor Geisel Award, the highest honor given by the San Diego Book Awards. Her novels have been translated into twenty-six languages, and have frequently been selected as Book Sense Picks. She was a high school English teacher in San Diego for thirty years.

For more about Susan’s novels: Facebook:

700 WARWICKS-JULIETo Purchase Lisette’s List:

The Washington Post: “Love more. Love again, Love broadly. Love without reservation.” Review: ‘Lisette’s List,’ by Susan Vreeland – The Washington Post

Join us here next Saturday September 27th for an interview with Anne Girard, author of Madame Picasso.

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 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


A Year of Art in Historical Fiction! Announcement of author roster for the “Love of Art in Historical Fiction Series”

heartbookI’m thrilled to announce next Saturday begins the “Love of Art in Historical Fiction Series”, with an incredible roster of writers and their art-based books being featured throughout 2014 and into 2015. It is an august group of authors and a fascinating lineup of reads.

Again,the series (a continuation of the Historical Novel Society “Art in Historical Fiction Interview Series”) kicks off here next Saturday August 30!

Posting schedule for “Love of Art in Historical Fiction Series”


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


January 31 Heather Webb, Rodin’s Lover (new release)
February 14 Lynn Cullen, Dear Mr. Washington (art/historical children’s book new release)
February 28 Alyson Richmond, The Mask Carver’s Son
March 28 Maureen Gibbon, Paris Red (new release)
April 25 Lisa Brukitt, The Memory of Scent
May 30 Lisa Barr, Fugitive Colors
June 27 Lynn Cullen, The Creation of Eve
July 25 Andromeda Romano-Lax, The Detour

If I may, I’d like to suggest that folks read the featured author’s book prior to or during the month the writer’s interview is posted, as it will deeply enrich the meaning of it, along with the selected artworks and images. Reading the novel before or during the author’s post month will also put one in a position to pose questions to the writer while their interview is highlighted: Take advantage of this contact!

(To receive the monthly post in your email inbox, sign-up for my blog, the subscribe box is near the top of the right hand side column here on my home page)

For the Love of Art in Historical Fiction!

For information about the series for readers and writers visit:

History of Portuguese Tile: the “Figura de Convite”

fdec stairway

Firstly, what is a “figura de convite“?

figura de convite is an invitation figure made of  *azulejos, tiles. They’re life-sized tile cut-out images of a finely dressed nobleman or lady, halberdiers or a footman that were affixed to walls at the entrances of palaces, on stair-landings, and patios to welcome visitors during the eighteenth century in Portugal and Brazil.

* “Azulejo” is the Portuguese term for a glazed tile. The word comes from Arabic الزليج  “al zulaycha” meaning little polished stone, and is not to be confused with “azul”, blue, which it is often mistaken. It is true that there are many blue azulejos, and that can explain the confusion, but, historically, the first glazed tiles that appeared on the Iberian peninsula, brought by the Muslim Moors in the thirteenth century, were glazed in mainly hunters green, burnt sienna, and mustard yellow.

coupleThe figura de convite appeared in Portugal around the year of 1720. The innovation was the first time in the history of tile fabrication that the medium deviated from the square composition and embraced the outline of the cut-out, thus opening up a new world of tile designs. Its creation is attributed to the master tile maker who went by the monogram PMP, and whose life story has been lost to history.There’s speculation that possibly the artist’s initials were those of Padre Manuel Pereira, a clergyman and patron to a large tile making workshop (shop name unknown) in Lisbon. His disciples are thought to have produced tiles for palaces and churches all over Portugal and Brazil. But there is no exacting evidence and secure proof that he really is or was the famous monogram PMP…it’s a mystery of art history.


“Diamond Extraction” by Brazilian artist Carlos Julião 18th century watercolor

During the first part of the eighteenth century and up until “The Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755″, Portugal was at the pinnacle of its wealth and extravagance, arguably the richest European country during this time period, and all due to the gold and precious gem extraction from its colony, Brazil, and the slave trade from Africa.


Around the year of 1730, yellow detail work began appearing in the figures, mimicking the use of gold thread being used in cloth embroidery work, demonstrating the vast amounts of gold coming into Portugal from Brazil. It was also around this time that the powdered wig hairstyles of the figures began to visibly shift to a less showy display, recording the period’s shifting tastes.


Innovations of the figura de convite was ongoing with figures like this Roman centurion (left) and rare musical duo with a wiry dog (right).

"Enter My Lordship"

“Come in your Lordship”

Words of greeting were sometimes incorporated into the compositions, like this fellow whose beckoning:  “Come in your Lordship”. The art form of tile making flourished in Portugal during the eighteenth century with the country’s peerless affluence, and produced one of the greatest world-wide advancements in tile making: the figura de convite. 

two mock book jackets

Two “mock” book jacket ideas for CUT FROM THE EARTH

The figura de convite is one of the artwork highlights in my forthcoming art-based historical novel Cut From the Earth, a story of Portuguese tile and its surprising makers — The Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 — and the wisdom of nature to guide heal.

Art in Historical Fiction Interview Series featuring Alicia Foster

warpaintThis is week nine of the “Art in Historical Fiction Interview Series”, and the last post at the Historical Novel Society. From here on out the series will continue here on my blog.This week’s featured author is Alicia Foster of Warpaint, a story of secrets, subterfuge, betrayal, lies, manipulation, and the female artists that are called upon to outmaneuver the opposition in its many concealed forms during WWII in Britain. Enter the world of clandestine propaganda projects, and women painters working on the Home Front to rally the “bulldog spirit”…you’ll be surprised to learn what is really going on behind-the-scenes…  

Click here to read!

Call for Submissions: “Love of Art in Historical Fiction Series”

heartbookAll the author interviews have posted for the “Art in Historical Fiction Interview Series” at the Historical Novel Society website.The series has been hugely well-received by readers. Because of its popularity, and at the request from readers for its continuation, plus the fact there are so many excellent art-based books and authors who weren’t part of the two-month series and new releases yet to debut, I’ve decided to carry on the interviews here via my blog.

The last Sunday of each month I will feature an author with a succinct book review and interview, along with supporting artwork images.

If you have an already published or soon-to-be-released historical novel with an art tie-in that you’d like featured, please email me at stephaniereneedossantos@ to learn how to become part of the continuing series.

Submissions are ongoing and open to all Indie, small press, and traditionally published novels and authors.

Again, this is a continuation of the June & July, 2014 “Art in Historical Fiction Interview Series” at the Historical Novel Society, running under the new name:

“Love of Art in Historical Fiction Series”

For the love of art in historical fiction!

Art in Historical Fiction Interview Series featuring Cathy Marie Buchanan

the painted girls USIt’s week eight of the “Art in Historical Fiction Interview Series”, with one more author interview to debut on the Historical Novel Society website. This week’s feature author is Cathy Marie Buchanan of the bestseller The Painted Girls. It is a story of struggle, sisterhood, art of Degas, and the Paris Opéra. Buchanan has brought to life the unexposed shadows of the glittering grand Belle Époque era in Paris, exposing a tarnished world hidden behind glamorous stages and exquisite works of art.

Click here to read!

Art in Historical Fiction Interview Series featuring Stephanie Cowell

paperback coverIt’s week seven of the “Art in Historical Fiction Interview Series”, with two more fascinating interviews waiting in the wings for the upcoming Saturdays. This week’s feature author is Stephanie Cowell of Claude & Camille, the deeply touching story of French painter Claude Monet, his lifelong love of Camille Doncieux, and the Impressionists. This novel is art, passion, obsession, struggle — life. Cowell’s writing is fluid and beautiful like Monet’s water lily paintings, this is an endearing read, a story that left me in tears.

Click here to read!

“Yoga for Writers” at the Historical Novel Society London 2014 Conference


* As of 7/21/2014 the “Yoga for Writers” workshop has been replaced with a panel talk “Art and Artist in Historical Fiction” which I am also part of. If and when, a slot opens at the conference to resume the yoga workshop I’ll let everyone know. ~ Namaste!

I’m excited to announce that I’ll be leading an hour workshop “Yoga for Writers” on Sunday, September 7, from 11:00-12:00 am at the upcoming Historical Novel Society London 2014 Conference.

At the workshop, I’ll be sharing some of the obscure esoteric history of yoga, along with guiding writers through a sequence of poses to ease tensions in the body and mind, with the intention of creating the internal type of space that creativity likes to manifest into: calm, relaxed and centered.

Make sure to wear comfortable clothes, ones you can easily bend and move in. Also, bring your yoga mat if you have one or a towel.

Namaste. See you there!

Click here to see the conference program schedule.


Art in Historical Fiction Interview Series featuring Maryanne O’Hara

CWe are now in week six of our interview series at the Historical Novel Society. This week’s feature author is Maryanne O’Hara of the acclaimed novel Cascade. With tension on every page, this story of a 1930′s female painter who faces hard life choices to pursue her artistic dreams as her town faces extinction, stirs deeply one’s empathy and enlightens on the costs to create.

Click here to read



Cascade was just chosen as the Boston Globe’s 2014 Summer Book Club read! Join the disscusion: