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:

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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

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:

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!

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!

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:


“Art in Historical Fiction Interview Series” now live at the Historical Novel Society!


Susan Vreeland’s upcoming release Lisette’s List (August 26, 2014) It’s now available for pre-order.

I’m thrilled to announce the first post of the two-month “Art in Historical Fiction Interview Series” has debuted! Author Susan Vreeland, preeminent writer of art in fiction, kicks off the series with her profound observations and reflections. Join us at the Historical Novel Society website each Saturday for an in-depth interview with a historical novelist who has explored the realm of art and artist in fiction. Where each writer shares fascinating details into this ever-growing literary niche.

For the Love of Art in Fiction click and read on… Art in Historical Fiction Interview Series featuring Susan Vreeland

And join the new Facebook group: Love of Art in Fiction

7 Favorite Historical Novels with Art/Artists

I love to read fiction with art and artists. Do you? Do you have some favorite titles to share here? Recently, author Susan Vreelend, preeminent writer of novels focusing and drawing from the visual arts, asked on Facebook for readers to submit titles of books that have what she calls: “art tie-ins”. After some weeks she amassed more than 100 titles! Art in fiction is a growing niche. I’ve been voraciously reading these art-based novels as this is also my passion in writing and reading.

My current top 7 favorites (and these are not in any particular order — I love them all equally but for different reasons, the numbering is for organisation only):

The Forest Lover Cover1. The Forest Lover by Susan Vreeland

“She sat very still, listening to a stream gurgling, the breeze soughing through upper branches, the melodious kloo-klack of ravens, the nyeep-nyeep of nuthatches – all sounds chokingly beautiful. She felt she could hear the cool clean breath of growing things – fern fronds, maple leaves, white trillium petals, tree trunks, each in its rightful place.”
― Susan VreelandThe Forest Lover

This one of my all-time favorite novels. The writing is gorgeous and evocative of the majestic Pacific Northwest of North America and 19th century Canadian painter/writer, Emily Carr — her painting, her struggle, her love of this special place — its native people and culture.


cascade_tpb cover2. Cascade by Maryanne O’Hara

“She knew better: when artistry seems most elusive is when you must focus, dig deep, and force yourself to think about how to give form to an idea that seems too vague to express.”
― Maryanne O’Hara

I really loved this story: tension on every page as you are plunged into the plight of the female painter. I could relate profoundly to the protagonist, I being a working visual artist for the last 20 years.



The Passion of Artemisia cover3. The Passion of Artemisia by Susan Vreeland

“I remember being disappointed when Papa had shown me Caravaggio’s Judith. She was completely passive while she was sawing through a man’s neck. Caravaggio gave all the feeling to the man. Apparently, he couldn’t imagine a woman to have a single thought. I wanted to paint her thoughts, if such a thing were possible — determination and concentration and belief in the absolute necessity of the act. The fate of her people resting on her shoulders…” ― Susan VreelandThe Passion of Artemisia

This is an important and fascinating story about Italian painter Artemisia Gentileschi. I wish for everyone  to read it and learn about her story and incredible paintings.


Portraits of an Artist cover4. Portraits of an Artist by Mary F. Burns

“I want to paint something that no one has ever painted before,” he was saying. I almost laughed at that — doesn’t every artist? We are all touched, however lightly, by the finger of god, and long to be gods ourselves, bringing forth new creations, and yet, so very few achieve it. Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Titian. We stumble in their footsteps, and wait at the closed door.” ― Mary F. BurnsPortraits of an Artist

I loved the writing and voices in this book, along with poignant and insightful reflections of what the artist thinks and cares about. It is a story about American painter John Singer Sargent.


The Agony and the Ecstasy cover5. The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone

“Talent is cheap; dedication is expensive. It will cost you your life.” ― Irving StoneThe Agony and the Ecstasy: A Biographical Novel of Michelangelo

I read this novel way back in 1993, while I was studying oil painting, ceramics and Italian art history — living in the blessed city of Florence, Italy. This is a classic and moving tale about Michelangelo.



Claude & Camille cover6. Claude & Camille by Stephanie Cowell

“Sometimes he dreamt he held her; that he would turn in bed and she would be there. But she was gone and he was old. Nearly seventy. Only cool paint met his fingers. “Ma très chère . . .” Darkness started to fall, dimming the paintings. He felt the crumpled letter in his pocket. “I loved you so,” he said. “I never would have had it turn out as it did. You were with all of us when we began, you gave us courage. These gardens at Giverny are for you but I’m old and you’re forever young and will never see them. . . .”
― Stephanie CowellClaude & Camille: A Novel of Monet

I cried at one point in this read. It is a touching and beautifully wrought story. The writing is exquisite and vivid: irresistible. I highly recommend this novel about French painter Claude Monet and his muse, Camille.

7. I’m currently reading The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro and loving it, but I’m not yet finished, so I will wait to comment!

My to read list: The Creation of Eve by Lynn Cullen, The Miracles of Prato by Laurie Lico Albanese, Lydia Cassett Reading the Morning Paper by Harriet Scott Chessman, The Painted Kiss  and The Wayward Muse by Elizabeth Hickey, The Hypnotist by M.J. Rose

Please leave a comment and your favorite Art in Fiction titles!

For more highly recommended books visit my blog page “Recommended Reading: Fiction with Art/Artist”