Recap of the 2015 Denver Historical Novel Society Conference panel-talk “Art and Artists in HF”


We love art. We love artists. We love art history. We write about art, artists and history. Art-based historical fiction is an expanding and exciting niche in the historical fiction genre. At this year’s Historical Novel Society Conference in Denver, June 26-28, writers Alana White (The Sign of the Weeping Virgin), Donna Russo Morrin (The King’s Agent), myself Stephanie Renee dos Santos (Cut From The Earth), Mary F. Burns (Portraits of An Artist), and Stephanie Cowell (Claude & Camille) came together to share our collective wisdom on how and what special challenges arise when writing about art and artists and what to keep in mind when delving into the world of the creative arts. A special thanks to the forty writers who attended our discussion. We hope each of you left with something to aid and enhance your stories!

Here’s the recap of the writing points we covered at the panel-talk:

edit Alana White

Alana White:  “Using art to advance the story in action and dialogue.”

In The Sign of the Weeping Virgin the setting of this historical mystery series is the Italian Renaissance when my protagonist, lawyer Guid’Antonio, conducts investigations for the powerful Medici family.  In the novel, the young ruler of Florence, Lorenzo de’ Medici, asks Guid’Antonio to investigate two mysteries for him. One involves a weeping panel painting of the Virgin Mary, the other centers on a missing girl. While there is considerable art in the narrative, it is Sandro Botticelli’s fresco of Saint Augustine that provides the clue to solve the mystery of the young woman who has disappeared.

Since this is a mystery, I wanted to “plant” the clue that enables Guid’Antonio to solve the riddle four times. While painting the “Saint Augustine” in Guid’Antonio’s family church, Botticelli overheard some young monks arguing among themselves. Amused, he recorded four lines of their dialogue at the top of the painting in the scribbled lines of a geometry book. (Restorers discovered the lines while cleaning the fresco in the relatively recent past.)

  • We see Sandro painting the lines at the top of the fresco:

Is Brother Martino anywhere about?

Brother Martino just slipped out.

Slipped out where?

Through the Prato Gate for a breath of fresh air.

  • Guid’Antonio has gone into the church to inspect the panel painting on the altar—the reportedly weeping painting. On the way out, he notices Sandro’s newly completed fresco on the south wall.  While Guid’Antonio sees the scribbles high up in the gloom, he cannot read the lines. “Guid’Antonio made out a fringed tablecloth and a couple of books, one leather bound, the other open to a page scribbled with a few odd markings and, hidden as it was in the shadows, a bit of text he could not make out.  Like his spirit, all the rest of Sandro’s masterful work was lost in a world of dark, and so he turned away.”
  • Very brief, but advances the mystery elements of the story. By now, Guid’Antonio—and we—suspect “Brother Martino” has something to do with the missing girl.
  • While Guid’Antonio is standing near the church front, his nephew and secretary, Amerigo Vespucci, swings the doors open, admitting sunlight.  At last Guido reads the dialogue.  Realizing Botticelli must know something about “Brother Martino,” he hurries to Botticelli’s workshop. Now close to the novel’s end, Sandro provides Guid’Antonio with the clue Guid’Antonio needs to wrap up the loose threads concerning the girl, and the mystery of the weeping Virgin Mary painting, too.

edited Donna Russo Morrin

Donna Russo Morin:  “Using specific artworks to reveal time period and/or social/political attitudes – to depict an art history advancement.”

  • Civilizations are remembered, discovered, through their artists and their art.
  • There are certain eras where humanity made significant social/cultural changes. The Renaissance is one of those times.
  • The Italian Renaissance artists changed the very nature of their mediums.
  • The Renaissance signaled the reemergence, the ‘rebirth,’ of Humanism, the belief in the intellectual potential and overall experience of humankind. Art reflected Humanism, turning to more realism.
  • A perfect example is Michelangelo’s David. In this scene, my female protagonist in The King’s Agent sees the statue for the first time: It was indeed a giant; Aurelia guessed it to be taller than three men. When she studied the face, all of David’s mysteries were revealed. The face was, as she had heard, a bit large for the size of the head, but upon his features, she saw all of the fear, tension, and aggression the real David must have felt when attacked by the colossal Goliath. Wrinkles perforated his forehead, thick brows drawn together, with a scornful twist to his full lips; fearful, yes, but with an inner assuredness that all evil could be felled. There was great nobility to the man etched into immortality, a beautiful determination astounding the eye as well as the soul.
  • Art mirrored the turn from religious themes; were instead infused with sensation that paintings were modeled after real people/real life. In this quote, the male protagonist scours a painting by Carlo Crivelli:  The painting was a combination of hard angled buildings and gracefully rounded people. It projected a vanishing perspective, with Mary glimpsed in the foreground just through an open door, two men in the gallery beside the building, and others in the background, the success of the dimensions depicted, were a function of the perfect spatial and size balance of each person and object rendered.
  • This is the sort of realism that found its birth in the rebirth of the Renaissance.

edit Steph

Stephanie Renee dos Santos:  “Use of artist space to depict action in story – moments of crisis and conflict.”

I elucidated this point with excerpts (condensed versions shared here) from my forthcoming novel Cut From The Earth, the story of an empathetic Portuguese tile maker, Piloto Mendes Pires, who risks everything to save slaves and escape The Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 that ushers Portugal into a New Age. 

Example 1:  Chracter Conflict

The back alley door slammed open as Rafa picked up a large rolling pin, double the size of a baker’s.

In stormed Senhor Guimares, the owner of the nearby Red Clay Tile Factory. His dark mustache quivered on his flushed face.

“Where’s Padre Piloto?” he demanded.

Piloto peered down through the floor’s grid. He remained quiet, waiting to hear what he’d come for.

“Hand me the template,” Rafa said to Jawoli calmly. Rafa placed the 14 x 14 metal template on top of a flattened slab of clay, and began cutting tiles out with a knife.

“I asked a question you ignorant peças!” Senhor Guimares bellowed. “Where is the Padre!?” He shook his index finger at them.

Piloto cringed. He rushed to the stairway. How to deal with this man?

Senhor Guimares stomped by the kilns and over to where the men worked.

“Who’s in charge?” he demanded, his mustache now twitching. “Comer o pao que o diabo amassou! I’m speaking to you!” Sweat ran down his temples and dripped onto his pressed linen shirt, taut on his keg belly.

Rafa put the scoring tool down and stared coldly at the intruder. “Padre Piloto.”

  • This excerpt shows how one can use the artist space and materials to demonstrate and create conflict between characters, while allowing the reader deeper into the specifics of the artists world.

Example 2:  Crisis

A jolt shot through Piloto’s body, ejecting the tile from the tong’s grip. It shattered on the floor. He dropped the iron-tongs. They clattered upon the shards. Barrels of chalky glazes shook, their thick soups boiling over their rims, mixing paddles churning in the vats. The viscous substances ebbed and flowed down the sides of their holding containers: manganese-browns, copper-greens, cobalt-blues, iron-oxide oranges, creating an amalgam of colors on the ground.

Rolling pins fell off counters, and ricocheted end-on-end before congregating in a pile, next to the vats. Dried goat balls the size of peaches filled with liquid glaze vaulted to the floor, glaze paints squirting out their nozzle ends. Buckets of paintbrushes careened, the brushes scattering like plucked feathers. Work pedestals spun. Small glass jars of pigments vibrated across tabletops; others wobbled off, exploding. Water spilled from barrel containers, housing gooey slip used to join clay pieces, and formed puddles on the floor’s low spots. The holding tank of white iron-oxide cracked down the front, its contents oozed out. Stacks of clay blocks toppled, hitting the floor with loud thuds.  Pails of wires, paddles, anvils, and ribs shimmered off back shelves, while the shelves themselves threatened to pitch forward.

Piloto dashed from spot to spot, arms outstretched, catching items and picking up others.  He filled his arms.

What is going on?  

The earth heaved again, a second more severe shock, a violent undulating ocean wave.

  • This scene uses the visually unique and exotic tile making factory to recreate what it might have been like for a tile maker the fatal day of November 1st, All Saints Day, when The Great Lisbon Earthquake leveled Lisbon, Portugal in 1755.

edit Mary F Burns

Mary F. Burns:  “Seeing and thinking through the eyes and heart of the artist.”

A question for all historical fiction authors is: Do you have to be a (Fill in the Blank) in order to write about one as a character?  Lawyer, Doctor, Midwife, Artist?   No, but it helps if you have an affinity for the work that person does, and of course, you have to understand how that kind of person thinks, feels, sees, understands, communicates.

I learned enough about how John Singer Sargent painted—his style, his technique, his preferred media—to be able to realistically portray him in his studio and as an artist.  He was very expressive and entertaining for his sitters—he fed them, played the piano and sang, dashed around the room with a cigar in his teeth, laughing and telling jokes.

But away from the canvas, I learned from biographies, he had a hard time with words, found it difficult to express himself, a very private person, genial, kindly, energetic. He loved light and shadow, as most painters do, and having a complicated personality himself, he wasn’t averse to showing both the lighter and darker sides of his subjects.”

However, he denied that he consciously depicted the “psychological” state of his subjects, said he “merely painted what was before his eyes.” But even his closest friends said otherwise. If he simply accurately painted what he saw, then it must be that our feelings, our principles, our character and background and griefs and joys are written upon our bodies, because that’s what appear in his portraits, which is why ultimately, I decided to write my novel with fifteen different voices telling the story,  the voices of people who sat for portraits by Sargent, some of them dear friends, some one-time clients, but all providing different perspectives and clues as to who Sargent really was. As Oscar Wilde said, “Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter.” And Sargent definitely revealed himself through his portraits.

* A special thanks to Mary for creating our artsy book trailers for the talk!

(All except Stephanie Cowell’s which was made by her talented son!)

edit SC

Stephanie Cowell:  “How much artistic ‘process’ to reveal in scenes – when is enough enough?”

You cannot write truly and deeply about anyone’s work (be it laundress, cellist, teacher, or painter) without showing them doing their work yet you must be careful how you write this. I try to reveal the work of my protagonist in scenes in which he is also living his life.  In the panel, I read a scene where Monet has a fight with his wife, rushes off to paint to calm himself and loses track of the hours; when he comes back to his actual life, having been gone for a long time, he finds something bad has happened. So there is a contrast between the ecstatic, all-consuming hours of his painting and the relatively ordinary needs of the people he loves.  In the case of an artist, the art is indivisible from the person. But the language of any profession is unique to that profession and you can’t go so far into the way an artist works that you confuse the reader with terminology. You also can’t have so much of the creation of art that you lose the plot tension. But you can’t ever just say that someone is anything without showing how it affects everything, even the aches in his body. Painting ruled Monet’s life; if he felt it didn’t go well he would be in total black despair and you couldn’t go near him. So you have to show that. Art was so huge for him it was like being drunk; it affected everything in him and everyone to whom he was close.

For the Love of Art in Historical Fiction! 

To find out more about each author, their books, and to purchase their art-based historical novels: 

Alana White:

To buy:  The Sign of the Weeping Virgin

Donna Russo Morin:

To buy:  The King’s Agent

Mary F. Burns:

To buy: Portraits of An Artist

Stephanie Cowell:

To buy:  Claude & Camille

Join Facebook group “Love of Arts in Fiction”!

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 


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


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

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

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

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

Namaste. See you there!

Click here to see the conference program schedule.


Art in Historical Fiction Interview Series featuring Maryanne O’Hara

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

Click here to read



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


Art in Historical Fiction Interview Series featuring Alana White

my_cover Alana coverIt’s already week five of the Historical Novel Society “Art in Historical Fiction Interview Series”! This week’s feature author is Alana White and her historical mystery, THE SIGN OF THE WEEPING VIRGIN. The novel is set during the Italian Renaissance with a weeping painting at the center of the intrigue!

Learn about a real hidden poem found recently in a fresco, and many more fascinating details!

Click here to read!

The Artist’s Call, the Writer’s Calling

art of books“The Artist’s Call, the Writer’s Calling” debuted in the Historical Novel Review, issue 68, May 2014. There is a online reprint of the story available at the Historical Novel Society website for society members. I was inspired to write this article after an engaging exchange between author Susan Vreeland and I on the subject of art in fiction in the fall of 2013. I had visited her author Goodreads page and was deeply moved by a post, “Art in Fiction Part I”. A must read.

We are now midway through the online follow-up series “Art in Historical Fiction Interview Series” at the Historical Novel Society,featuring each author who contributed to the print story.

For the love of Art in Fiction! Join Facebook group: Love of Art in Fiction

“The Sand Poet” debuts in Lalitamba January 8, 2014

Lalitamba 6One month from now, my prose poem “The Sand Poet” releases in literary journal Lalitamba.

“The Sand Poet” is a philosophical piece about communing, the reality of impermanence, and the experience of non-attachment. A poet writes daily upon a beach, creating works that are pertinent in their moment: writing not to produce lasting works, but as a spiritual act of being. This story reminds and encourages us to recognize our nature, which is nature, to live and experience each moment, to unite, to be, and to let go.

To purchase issue #6 visit

(A great Christmas present!)

Lalitamba is a bold and innovative journal for liberation.From page to page, you’ll find the writings of saints, wanderers, prison inmates, and award-winning novelists. These are the mystics of our generation. They challenge us to live and to love without hesitation.The journal includes fiction, poetry, essays, interviews, translation, and artwork. Lalitamba was inspired by travels through India. The name Lalitamba comes from a devotional song. It means Divine Mother.” – Poets & Writers

In Memory of All Saints Day 1755: The Great Lisbon Earthquake

Mocambo Lisbon

The Mocambo Barrio on the outskirts of Lisbon

On this day 258 years ago with the vast majority of Lisbon, Portugal’s population at church, earthquakes struck the city followed by tsunami waves and mass fire. The “Princess” of Europe’s capitals was destroyed. Today, the grievous day is often referred to as, “The Great Lisbon Earthquake”. I would like to send out a prayer to those who were lost on this day in 1755 and the subsequent months that proceed these horrific events.

All Saints Day 1755

Artist rendering made after All Saints Day 1755

My novel-in-progress, Cut From The Earth, strives to recreate Lisbon before the tragedies, while Portugal was at the pinnacle of its colonial wealth and at its height of artistic developments in tile making. I’ve tried to bring to life what it might have been like on this disastrous day, and afterwards — and what was lost forever.

The exact origins of All Saints Day are uncertain. Although, after Christianity was legalized in Rome by Emperor Constantine in 313 AD a common commemoration of saints and martyrs of the known and unknown began to appear in various regions and on different dates throughout the Church’s reach.


Fra Angelico Early Renaissance Italian painter

The primary reason for establishing a common feast day was due to the desire to honor the great number of martyrs, as there were not enough days of the year for a feast day for each martyr and many died in groups defending Christianity in the late Roman Empire. Therefore, a common feast day for all saints and martyrs seemed logical and appropriate. According to accounts, it was Pope Gregory III (731-741 AD) who dedicated an oratory in the original St. Peter’s Basilica in honor of all the saints and martyrs on November 1st in Rome, thus officiating the date.

pao do deus oven

pão-por-Deus (God’s bread)

All Saints Day in 1755 Lisbon was not only a day to attend mass, it was also a day to make offerings, to light candles, and was to be a day of placing flowers upon the graves of loved ones. In addition, it was the day when groups of children went door-to-door before mass with cloth bags or baskets to receive chestnuts, pomegranates, and little cake-like breads called pão-por-Deus (God’s bread) .This tradition of giving and receiving pão-por-Deus would become a vital link to survival for those that lived through the dreadful day and those that followed, as they fled Lisbon, begging for God’s bread in the countryside.

Today may we remember the saints and martyrs and all those who have gone before us, while we prepare for All Souls Day tomorrow, November 2. It is a good day to read your favorite saint’s story (whatever your beliefs and affiliations) and to remember those who’ve come before us.

Click here for recipe: pão-por-Deus (God’s bread)

“Sea Murals” debuts in American Athenaeum

FrontPorchCoverMy flash fiction work “Sea Murals” will print in the “Front Porch”  issue of literary journal American Athenaeum, in April, 2013.

It is a quirky yarn about doing things differently than others, living crazy and eccentric ideas, using art to create positive life results in a traditional Brazilian fishing village.

American Athenaeum is a cultural magazine that features fiction, poetry, essays, opinion, author book reviews, and other literary contributions. Each journal explores the world of words like a patron explores a museum—by offering a view of the past, right up until the present. We consider this journal to be a museum of artistic endeavors, filled with cultural appreciation and stories that not only teach, but demonstrate the frailty of the human condition.”  – Writers & Poets

To buy this issue, and for more information about  American Athenaeum visit:


Conflict: How I Came to Write CUT FROM THE EARTH

Conflict instigated the writing of Cut From the Earth. Real life drama. Family drama. Like good fiction riddled with problems that move the story forward, conflict, literally spurred me from my comfortable hammock, thrust me to sea in an open dory, rowing without life jacket along Brazil’s southern coast, and into writing a novel. Moments before leaving land  —  providence  —  I threw in the boat the book Your First Novel by Ann Rittenberg and Laura Whitecomb; a writing book that I had been packing around the world and had yet to follow its advice and instruction.

What conflict started a 40-day sea journey, the opening of that book, and pen to paper?

I was attacked by my husband’s younger brother  —  accused of lying and sabotage.

Why? Because I told the truth when asked by the brother’s, now, ex-partner, of any strange behavior I’d witnessed while she was away from Brazil in France. She being French and I being American, both involved with Brazilian fishermen brothers, along with my fondness for her, I told her the only thing I knew for sure about her partner’s actions in her absence:  How he had invited me into their place, late one night, while I sat at an open window writing as my husband slept nearby.

“Do you want to come in?” he had said suggestively with a devilish smile, looking to his door.

I knew he was drunk or under the influence of something, and I had heard it was not uncommon in Brazilian culture to be hit-on by brothers in the family; a show of one ups’em ship, the demonstration of ones prowess over another. So, I was not totally caught off guard by the invitation. I declined. I went to bed. In the morning I mentioned the incident to my husband, he shrugged it off as if not surprised nor threatened by it. I too did not take it to heart, but found it interesting from an anthropologically point of view. I left it at that. When I shared the story with my friend, I never thought I would become involved in their matters as nothing actually happened.  I had written the suggestive approach off as an ignorant drunken offer that could not be taken seriously.

But in a heated argument between the couple, the brother, in a fit of desperation, and I assume drunken or drugged rage, burst into our abode and accused me of lying and trying to ruin their already tainted love story. For their romance was singeing on hot rocks of a previous betrayal of his. Now, after reflecting, I am not surprised he reacted as he did when she brought up the incident to him, as I believe he doesn’t remember what he said to me that proposition night, nor was he aware of his body language because of his altered state. A novella style argument ensued, ending with me and my husband fleeing our small coastal town, to protect our relationship from their disintegrating one. And to actualize a long dreamed of trip of my husband’s   —  to camp and explore the little visited islands along Brazil’s southern coast.

We left the drama of the mainland and set to explore the uninhabited tropical islands.

The traumatic event thrust open the space for me to begin writing Cut From the Earth, a story that had been brewing for years. The moment manifest of long quiet days with nothing begging of our time but feeding ourselves, seeking out ancient hieroglyphics, and enjoying the peace and wild of the islands and sea. Idle time. Open time. Time without demands. Time without constraints. I wrote 70 pages of Cut From the Earth under swaying palms, by headlamp in our tent during tropical night storms, in the ion charged ocean mist as waves crashed on the island rocks, and at smoky fires repelling the swarming insects. The novel’s story came forth into the hot humid air as my own steam of the past events simmered. And the experience of rowing an open dory on the Atlantic, life jacket less, rang a tune of old sea times of my husband’s forefathers in the eighteenth century while they explored and settled the Brazilian coast: the time period of my story. Conflict, oh sweet conflict! How you prod and push us into ourselves and our dreams, forcing us forward, to look for solutions to our problems, for sometimes it takes an out-of-the-ordinary event to release us onto our desired path.

Conflict the substance of epic tales and the kick-starter for the realizing of Cut From the Earth.