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.


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


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” 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?


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?


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?

Carolus-Duran_T - Copy

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: , website,  FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads, or read her blog posts at:

 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:  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:  To purchase Cupid and the Silent Goddess 


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


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.


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.

big German

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. 


“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.


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?


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: Facebook Twitter htts://

Book trailer:

To Purchase  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

PART 1 – Review of panel-talk “Art and Artists in Historical Fiction: The special challenges of writing about art and artists”

panel talk 2014 London HNS Conference

Patricia O’Reilly (far left), Michael Dean, Stephanie Renee dos Santos, Alicia Foster

Art and artists stories of bygone days transport us, prompt us to ask questions, to wonder, and to explore the time and places and enigmatic figures whose creations line museum walls and podiums today. Who were these creatives that’ve blessed the world with their enduring artistic visions and awe-inspiring works? What are the life stories inside and behind the glossy varnishes and layers of paint and glaze? What provoked an artist or group of artists to conceive of such masterful pieces? These are a few of the pertinent questions to ask and investigate when interested in writing historical fiction about art and artists.

panel-talkAt the London 2014 Historical Novel Society Conference, writers of art-based historical fiction Patricia O’Reilly (The Interview,Time & Destiny, A Type of Beauty: the story of Kathleen Newton), Michael Dean (I, HogarthThe Crooked CrossHour Zero, Thorn), myself (working title Cut From the Earth), and Alicia Foster (Warpaint) came together to discuss some key points to consider when writing about art and artists.

The points we addressed:

-Seeing and thinking through the eyes and heart of the artist

-How much artistic ‘process’ to reveal in scenes – when is enough enough?

The points we didn’t have time to thoroughly discuss:

-Use of artist spaces to depict action in story – moments of crisis and conflict

-Using specific artworks to reveal time period and/or social/political attitudes – to depict an art history advancement.

The Panel-Talk

Stephanie Renee dos Santos:  Beginning with the panel-talk’s first discussion point  — seeing and thinking through the eyes and heart of the artist — Michael Dean began our talk referencing his recent release I, Hogarth.

Michael Dean:  I have written four novels that deal with art:  I, HogarthThe Crooked CrossHour Zero and ThornI, Hogarth tells the story of an artist from the moment of his birth to the moment of his death from inside his head.  It blends Hogarth’s life and his art into one narrative – so sometimes the story of his life is what happens in his paintings. I, Hogarth also blends the style and the content, so it’s not my voice and not my writing style.  It’s Hogarth’s voice speaking in Hogarth’s style, reflecting Hogarth’s character.  In the scene I am about to read from, Hogarth is a very young man, early twenties. He is about to marry his beloved Jane Thornhill, who is a barely legal sixteen.They have eloped and are marrying against the wishes of Jane’s famous painter father James Thornhill. They get to the church and find another couple being married ahead of them.

This is Hogarth’s view of what he saw.

“The bride was an ancient crone in a thick ivory-white girl’s wedding dress and strange white chapeau arrangement dangling off her head, a thin-lipped smile of triumph masking a lack of teeth, and her wrinkled, flat breasts peeping out, like antique water gourds; half empty now but still strapped to the saddle after a long horse ride. 

Also, she lacked the full complement of eyes, the poor dear, having only the one.  This facilitated the groom’s gazing at the girl’s pretty maid, as she adjusted the ancient’s dress, on her blind side. This damsel bride was old enough to be the groom’s grandmother, but, I would have hazarded, rich. 

Conducting the ceremony, the Reverend Winter cast a glance our way, but the words gurgled on.  In fact, it occurred to me that if the Reverend Winter did not speed up somewhat, he would have to proceed seamlessly to the funeral service, as the bride looked ready to expire.” 


The Marriage

SRDS:  The passage brings to life in prose the visual story depicted in Hogarth’s painting “A Rake’s Progress V”, “The Marriage”, showing Hogarth’s youth, happiness and iconoclasm. Notice how Dean depicts what the artist sees, “…thick ivory-white girl’s wedding dress…flat breasts peeping…”. While Alicia Foster elucidated this point with an excerpt from her novel Warpaint that features four WWII female artists working from two different angles to aid the war effort:  the black propaganda side scheming against the enemy, and the home front artists with the task to rally the bull-dog spirit of the British populace.

Alicia Foster:  [This is from the point of view of character Vivienne who works for the covert black propaganda front.]

“A picture of the drawing Vivienne had finished that day came into her head, the design of a salacious cartoon to be printed on several thousand ‘greetings cards’ and dropped upon occupied Greece. The Greeks were being starved to death by their German invaders, and any protesters shot without ceremony. Black was trying to help loosen Wehrmacht fingers from their rifles. The German soldiers would, hopefully, stop to pick up the cards because Vivienne’s drawing would bring thoughts of sex to them, fluttering miraculously down from the sky: for a moment they could remember and imagine, escape from death, hunger, dirt and fatigue. But the lust would quickly turn – because of the details of the drawing – into fear as to what might be happening back at home, and they would find it difficult to fire with the same zeal. Or that was the idea, anyway.

To attract as many as possible, the ‘cards’ must fall from the plane like a shower of obscene confetti: their size, and the amount of printer’s ink used, had to be carefully controlled so that they remained light. Yet the drawing was complicated: it had to show a foreign interloper (swarthy of skin, large-nosed,obviously not a son of the Reich) taking advantage of a buxom young Hausfrau whileher husband was away serving at the front. The couple had to be entangled in a position in which you could see, immediately, what they were up to, but also exactly who they were. This was where it became tricky. Clothes were important, and the figures couldn’t be lying down, as one of them would be half-hidden.So, then, stand them up, problem solved. But how? A side view would be best, you could see both of them clearly. The setting had been obvious to Vivienne: it had to be the kitchen, the very heart of the home that the soldier husband was away fighting for. But then there was another problem: what should she include to indicate a kitchen, while not crowding out the central characters? Here, Vivienne had a moment of inspiration, remembering the Rowlandson prints thathung in their bedroom – tarts and lechers pictured in graphic detail using only line and a limited range of colours. Of course Vivienne couldn’t mimic the subtlety of his draughtsmanship and tone, not with the crude stuff she had to work with, but then there was to be no subtlety about her design. 

Against a yellow background, strong enough to catch and hold the glare of the Greek sun, Vivienne had outlined in black a stove with bubbling saucepans and a window with flowery curtains. A cat and a crying baby in a highchair (why not go the whole way?) were sketched in to either side of the lovers. A framed portrait of Hitler hung above them. And how the pair filled the space! Drawn in heavier black, the girl had been pushed over the kitchen table, her thick pigtails swinging with the movement, with at each end a pink bow, to match the colour of her mouth in an O of surprise and of her round doll cheeks, and then carrying the eye down to his cock, in the same colour (Vivienne made a tacit acknowledgement to Rowlandson:  he knew how to draw these things clearly). Her laced bodice was black, also her dirndl skirt; you took in her arched body straight away, and could see her skirt had been pulled right up over her waist. His clothes – a scumble of greenish grey –stood out against the yellow kitchen.”

SRDS:  Again, through this passage Foster like Dean takes the reader into the visual mind and shows us what this unique, specific artist thinks, imagines, is concerned about, and in this case, trying to achieve through her art. Where as I shared these two quotes to highlight how tile maker protagonist, Piloto, in my work-in-progress Cut From the Earth views his world…

cut from the earth“Piloto paused and admired the red geraniums of the yard and the surrounding hillside’s vineyard grape leaves turning from saffron to the color of claret wine.”


“Clasping the rosary’s cruciform, he glanced at the blue and white tile he’d made for his mother prior to her death. The tile called to him. He took it and swiftly admired its design, turning it over, and held it up to his nose inhaling its earth scent. Images of the varved clay deposit appeared before his eyes.” 

What’s important in each of these clips is you are seeing what is important to the artist, the color and changing hues that surround his world, the remembrance of an earth smell first that still imbues the tile he’d given to his mother, and then a visual image of where the clay came from to make the tile. Artist notice everyday details that other characters may not give any attention to in fiction.

Patricia O’Reilly:  Artists, their thoughts and their work process are integral to my historical fiction titles Time & Destiny, A Type of Beauty, the story of Kathleen Newton and The Interview. For the Historical Novel Society Conference panel-talk, my focus was on art and the artist in The Interview.  

The prime character in The Interview is Irish designer and architect Eileen Gray (1878-1976). The works she is best known for are: The Destiny Screen (which earned her international fame in 1913 and again in 1972), apartment at rue de Lota (which brought photographers and journalists from America), and E.1027 (regarded as one of the most iconic houses of the 20th century).

Every fiber of Gray’s being was devoted to art – even when she was in the throes of her passionate love affair with nightclub singer Damia:  despite being out at clubs until the small hours, she rose early to work at her drawing board.  After WW 2 she returned to Paris, lived on a diet of potatoes and designed by candlelight.

Gray’s art embraced lacquer work, painting, photography and architecture. My research confirmed that it was harder for women artists to make a name for themselves and that they are undervalued in art history. Eileen Gray was no exception – to the extent that knowing the resistance to business women she named her gallery Jean Désért (a common first name in France and Désért for her experience of sleeping in the desert).


The passage below from The Interview shows Gray in artistic action on The Destiny Screen, and the second paragraph the effect the creation has on her.

“When she transferred the silhouettes of her three male figures from paper to screen, the colours evolved in a trance-like state of certainty that left her in no doubt. The background was a burnt orange-red of mysterious shadings and shadows; the corpse was a muted grey; the other two figures were a rich blue.  She finished the front of the screen by highlighting the figures with the merest shiver of silver; on the reverse side she created an abstract composition of vigorous swirls.

Hers was a project slow in execution and long in creation but one which gave her the greatest of pleasures. Sometimes during the small hours of the night, alone in her workroom, lacking sleep, eyes blurring and focusing with difficulty, sustaining herself on squares of chocolate and cigarettes, it felt as if this screen was her life’s purpose, as though from birth this had been mapped out as her destiny.”

SRDS:  This is yet another excellent example of the artist’s mind and heart at work as she reflects back on one of her greatest and most famous work the lacquer screen “Le Destin”, “The Destiny Screen”.

This concludes this post “Part 1:  Review of panel-talk ‘Art and Artists in Historical Fiction: The special challenges of writing about art and artists'”. Next month I’ll post Part 2 of this recap, addressing the second question we discussed at the 2014 London Historical Novel Society Conference:  How much artistic ‘process’ to reveal in scenes – when is enough enough?

Stay tuned!













Love of Art in Historical Fiction Series featuring Anne Girard & Madame Picasso

9780778316350.inddWelcome to month two of the “Love of Art in Historical Fiction Series”. It’s my pleasure to introduce Anne Girard, author of Madame Picasso (debuted August 26th). 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 may have had on him too, which I really enjoyed speculating about. Madame Picasso is a love story en par with Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera’s, Camille Claudel and Auguste Rodin’s, where love and passion sparked form and recorded it in masterful works of art.

Let the heart pursue its desire, let the paint ooze from the tube, let the brush sweep across the canvas, read on and learn how love galvanized great works….involving a woman Picasso called his ‘Ma Jolie’

Stephanie Renee dos Santos:  How did you discover Madame Picasso’s protagonist Eva Gouel and her relationship with painter Pablo Picasso? What drew you to her story over other muses of Picasso’s?

Eva Gouel

Eva Gouel

Anne Girard:  I discovered Eva’s story, initially, as I began my general research into Picasso’s personal life. I had gone in looking to make my novel about Picasso and his first significant love, Fernande Olivier, a woman who still figures very prominently in Madame Picasso, curiously enough. But the fact that Picasso was pulled away so powerfully from her by his feelings for Eva made my original idea not worth pursuing, in my mind. I needed to write about an epic love affair, that is always what inspires me, and Eva and Pablo most certainly had that. He gave up an established life for her, many of his friends, as well. He did go on to love again afterward, and to cement his own poor personal reputation through the years, but in my novel, I attempt to show a slice of young Picasso, yet only on the cusp of major stardom. He was still open, still vulnerable, at that point with his heart. I hope I succeeded in showing that.

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

Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso

AG:  Ah, well, one could not write about Pablo Picasso, at any stage of his life, without including it. It was the source, I would say, of at least half of his passion, and he worked in many mediums, not just painting. Directed by his father, an artist himself, Picasso began painting at a very early age, and quickly surpassed his father in talent and skill, and there is where I believe it became cemented into his DNA. To his father’s credit, he recognized that talent in his own son (not easy considering Spanish machismo in the early 1900’s) and he was a huge supporter of Pablo’s work, moving his entire family to Barcelona so that Pablo could attend a prestigious art academy. Granted, he was not the best father role model, a particularly notorious lady’s man himself, but he did influence his only son, most certainly.

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

Picasso's Rose Period which occurred while he was with lover Fernande Olivier (left). Cubist period “J’aime Eva” (right).

Picasso’s Rose Period which occurred while he was with lover Fernande Olivier (left). Cubist period while with love Eva “J’aime Eva” (right).

AG:  I have always admired artists and particularly the complex nature of Picasso’s work, his many periods and styles.  Each, in its way, so ardently reflected the struggles and phases in his personal life as he moved through them. What I discovered was that Picasso often left behind clues in his work, regarding things, people, moments, that had affected him. I loved searching for those clues as I researched and wrote. I used them as well to try to get into Eva’s mind a bit, then to try to help convey her heart, and also his.

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

AG:  I was blessed, as I know any historical author would be, to have been granted access by Yale University to the original letters and post cards back and forth between Eva, Pablo, and Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas. To look at Eva’s hand-writing once I had already fallen in love with her as an author,  the words of a woman who left so little else of herself to the world, (sometimes with Picasso tossing in a casual, loving comment atop their exchange, once even a little drawing over her text) told me more about what existed between Eva and Picasso than biography ever could. To this day, I have, and treasure, my copy of their letters, which cease with one from Picasso to Gertrude the day after the end of things with Eva. His penmanship had changed from a tight, ordered cursive to a wild, scrawling hand… Now that in my mind, adds to the notion of an epic romance. And I am very happy that I could read them in the original French!

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

“Ma Jolie”

“Ma Jolie”

AG:  The message I took away is that, to some artists, writers, and poets, their medium becomes the embodiment of their emotions, a needed place to put them when explanations are not enough, or even appropriate. The work becomes a snapshot into that world at the moment, and also a permanent piece of their history. It certainly was that for Pablo Picasso, I do believe. Even though many people don’t care for some of his styles, or understand them, it is my opinion that he lived his happiness, and his sorrows, through his canvases, and he left those as a legacy to the those who stop long enough to see what was behind even some of his Cubist works.

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

AG:  Art is a visual accessory to a story, so I think it helps give a novel more dimension for readers.

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

AG:  One thing that fascinates me still is that, prior to moving to Paris, Eva was engaged to marry but never did. It was a strange puzzle piece that I uncovered, one without any context, and I wondered if that was the reason she escaped her suburb for the city. But we shall probably never know.

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

largeAG:  I am drawn to all novels that tie art and fiction together and I’m so happy to see so many of them doing well in the market place. That means we are not alone in our passion for 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?

AG:  While I am enormously proud of a novel I wrote as Diane Haeger, called The Ruby Ring, about the love affair between the Renaissance artist Raphael and his Margherita, my next novel up is about the early life of Jean Harlow, entitled Platinum Doll. Although I do intend to set a scene with her in an art gallery, keeping my love of art in fiction, any way I can!

Diane 043 (2)Diane Haeger, who currently writes under the pen name Anne Girard, holds a Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology and is the award-winning author of 14 novels, both historical and contemporary. She has moved back and forth through time, from writing about the lost love of William Tecumseh Sherman, to crafting a series set in Tudor England, entitled “In The Court of Henry VIII”.


For more about the author’s novels visit: and

To Purchase Madame Picasso

Join us here next Saturday October 25th for an interview with Yves Fey, author of Floats the Dark Shadow.

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


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. Also, a hearty congrats to the runner-ups.

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, Conn Iggulden, Lindsey Davis, 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 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)


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 (despite the fact I hope to be traditionally published and have the publisher’s art department work out a fantastic book jacket!)

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.