Thursday, March 4, 2010

Guest Author -- Donna Russo Morin

In addition to writing and teaching writing, historical fiction author Donna Russo Morin has worked in modeling and acting since she was 17, and has worked in marketing and advertising for large corporations and small non-profit arts organizations. Her short stories, book reviews, and articles have been published in critically acclaimed anthologies, newspapers, magazines, and ezines nationwide. Her first novel, The Courtier's Secret, was published in February of 2009. Her second, The Secret of the Glass, released this week, March 1. (See PJ's review below.)  She is currently hard at work on her third historical fiction work, tentatively titled To Serve a King. Her goal is to release a book a year for the next twenty years. What an amazing goal! Please help us welcome Donna to The Romance Dish as she asks....

Who inspires you?

Like so much of life, the inspiration for my second book came to me when I was least looking for it.

I had always been a fan of Katie Couric through the many years she worked on the Today Show. So when she was appointed as the anchor of the CBS Evening News, I tuned in despite my typical aversion to television news programs, feeling a gesture of camaraderie and sisterhood for a woman trying to break boundaries. How could I know that just a few weeks into her tenure, a two minute story would provide me incredible fodder for my second book?

Hand-blown Murano Glass
It was a feature story about the glassmakers of Murano. While other countries were vainly attempting to imitate the artistry of the centuries old craft, few had come close to revealing the secret of the glass—the particular formula that made Murano glass so exceptional. Laced throughout the story were snippets of Murano glassmaking history. One point in particular caught and captured my imagination: for hundreds of years the glassmakers of Venice were virtual prisoners in their own land, captives of their government, a powerful republic determined to keep the prestige and the profit produced by the glass for themselves.

The percussion of inspiration in my mind was as loud as a foghorn blast in the middle of starkly still night. Within a half hour of viewing the story, I had a two page synopsis written, a complete plot mapped out about a young Murano woman who must somehow save herself while protecting the ‘secret of the glass,’ a phrase that would become the title of my second book.

Hand-blown Murano Glass
Other than what I had gleaned from the news, I knew little of Venetian history and that of the glassmakers, though I was enthusiastic to begin my research. Always a favorite part of the process for me, the subject matter would also take me to the land of my ancestors (of full Italian descent, I am but a second generation American as proud of the land of my antecedents as I am of my homeland). Having spent the previous year researching France for work on my first book (The Courtier’s Secret, Kensington, Feb. 09), I couldn’t wait for my time in Venice.

And there, between the pages that brought the old world to life, I found Galileo. I was unaware of how much time he had spent in the magical city, unaware how prominently the land figured into his story and he in Venice’s. I was astounded when I learned that, like myself, the professor suffered from a chronic illness. The more I read, the more convinced I became that, had the astronomer been privy to modern day medicine, his diagnosis would have been auto-immune, like my own. I found kinship in his tale of determination, one echoed in the story of the land itself and the people that had made it so unique.

It became a daily thrill to tell their story, to give breath to these marvelous characters. On every page are the words their inspiration gave to me.

Tell me who inspires you and why and enter to win a copy of my latest release, THE SECRET OF THE GLASS.


The Secret of the Glass
By Donna Russo Morin

At the dawn of the 17th Century, Murano glass-makers are celebrated, revered, and imprisoned by the Venetian government. Sophia Fiolario, the daughter of a glass making maestro, has no desire for marriage, finding her serenity in the love of her family and the beauty of the glass. She learns of its secrets at her father’s side, where a woman has no right to be. But the life Sophia loves is threatened and she’s thrust into the opulent world of the Venice court, becoming embroiled in the scheming machinations of the courtiers’ lives. The beauty of Venice, the magnificence of the Doge’s Palace, can only be rivaled by the intrigue and danger that festers behind their splendid facades. As she searches for an escape, she finds the arms of another, a man whose own desperate situation is yet another obstacle in their path.

Amidst political and religious intrigue, the scientific furor ignited by Galileo, and even murder, Sophia must do anything to protect herself, her family…and the secret of the glass.

And here is an excerpt from THE SECRET OF THE GLASS:

Time was running short; the glass was getting harder and harder to contort with gentle guidance. Already its form was a visual masterpiece, the delicate base, the long, fragile flute, the bowl a perfect symmetrical shape. Her hands flew, creating the waves on the rim, capturing the essence of fluidity to the rapidly solidifying form.

With a deep sigh, an exhalation of pure satisfaction, Sophia straightened her curled shoulders, bending her head from side to side to stretch the tense neck muscles, tight from so long in one position. She studied the piece before her, daring to peek at her father. In his glowing eyes, his shining pride, she saw confirmation of what she herself felt, already this was a remarkable piece…but it was not done yet.

“Now you will add our special touch, sì?” her father asked as he retrieved the special, smaller pinchers from another scagno.

Sophia smiled with indulgence. Keeping alive the delusion for her father was yet another small price to pay him. The technique she would do next, the a morise, to lay miniscule strands of colored glass in a pattern on this base blown piece, had made their fabbrica famous. Since its release to the public, her father had reveled in the accolades he received over its genius and beauty. Her father had never, could never, reveal that the invention had been Sophia’s.

“Sì, Papa.” Sophia lay down the larger tongs, flexing the tight muscles of her hands. She gathered the long abundance of brunette hair flowing without restraint around her shoulders, unbound from its usual pulled back style, and laid it neatly against her back and out of her way. Taking the more delicate pinchers from her father’s hand, she rolled her shoulders once more and set to work.

Zeno hovered by her shoulder, leaning forward to watch as her long, slim hands worked their magic, as she wielded the pinchers to apply the threads of magenta glass, smaller than the size of a buttercup’s stem, in perfect straight lines. Dipping the tip of the tweezer-like device into the bucket of water by her side, releasing the hiss and smoke into the air, Sophia secured each strand with a miniscule drop of cool moisture.

“A little more this way,” Zeno whispered, as if to speak too loudly would be to disturb the fragile material.

“Yes, father,” Sophia answered reflexively, like a much said prayer’s response.

“It’s patience, having the patience to let the glass develop at its will, to cool and heat, cool and heat naturally.” Zeno chanted close to her ear, his voice and words guiding her as they had done since she was young. His muted voice small in the cavernous chamber; their presence enveloped by the creative energy. “As the grape slowly turns to wine on the vine, the sand and silica and nitre become glass on the rod. Ah, you’re getting it now, bellissimo.”

“Grazie, Papa.”

“Next you’re going to--”

The bang, bang, bang of a fist upon wood shattered the quiet like glass crashing upon the stone; the heavy wooden door at the top of the winding stair jangled and rocked. Someone tried to enter yet the bolted portal stymied their attempts. It was locked, as always when father and daughter shared these moments.

Zeno and Sophia stiffened in fright, bulging eyes locked.

“Are we discovered?” Sophia’s whisper cracked with a strangling fear. She shoved the rod into her father’s hands, dropping the slender metal pinchers on the hard stone floor below, wincing at the raucous clang that permeated the stillness.

“Can not be.” Zeno shook his head. “It can n--”

“Zeno, Zeno!” The urgent, distraught male voice slithered through the cracks of the door’s wooden planks. “Let me in.”

Parent and child recognized the timbre; Giacomo Mazzoni had worked at the Fiolario family’s glassworks since he was a young man, his relationship evolving into that of a dear and familiar friend. The terror in his recognizable voice sounded undeniable; the strangeness of his presence at such a late hour was nothing short of disturbing.

With an odd calmness, Zeno pointed toward the door. “Let him in, Phie.”

The dour intent upon her father’s wrinkled countenance told her he would brook no argument. Gathering the front of her old, soiled gown, she sprint up the winding stairs, glancing back at the wizened man who stood stock still, rod and cooling piece still in hand.

Sophia pushed aside the bolt with a ragged and wrenching screech. The door gave way the instant it was free. Giacomo rushed through the portal, pushing past Sophia where she stood on the small platform by the door. Clad in his nightshirt, a pair of loosely tied knee breeches flapping around his legs, he looked a fright with his short hair sticking out at all angles, and his black eyes afire with urgent fear. Flying down the stairs, he ran to his friend and mentor, grabbing him by the shoulders.

“They’re dead, Zeno, dead.”

Befuddled, Zeno stared at his friend, pale eyes squinting beneath his furrowed brow. “Who, Giacomo? Who is dead?”

“Clairomonti, Quirini, Giustinian, those who tried to get to France.”

“Dio Santo,” the words slipped from Zeno’s mouth, through the lips of his falling jaw. His legs quivered. With a shaking hand, he reached into empty air, groping for a stool. Rushing to his side, Sophia grabbed the wooden seat, yanking it forward and guiding her father into it by the arm.

Zeno looked to his beloved daughter’s face. Once more, their frightened gaze locked.

“They’ve killed them.”


  1. Hi Donna! We're delighted to have you join us today. I'm so glad you were inspired by that news segment because I loved your book! I've been to Venice and have visited a glassmaking factory on Murano. What you've described in your book is exactly what I experienced while sitting in an old building, watching this time-honored art taking place. The hunched-over men who blow the glass are not simply craftsmen. They are artists and the pieces they create are exquisite. Your words transported me right back to that place and into the hearts and minds of your characters. Thank you for a beautiful trip!

  2. Hello and welcome to the blog, Donna! We are so happy to have you with us today. Congrats on the release of SECRET OF THE GLASS!

    What a beautiful post. It has made me want to go to Murano and watch it for myself.

    My grandmother was someone who inspired me. She was such an amazing person and I miss her so much.

  3. Hi Donna! Your book sounds wonderful. Someone who inspires me is my sister. She had many setbacks in life and never gave up. Always putting on a smile and setting her shoulders under any task or challange. She's an excellent example, very brave and alweays loving. She makes me feel proud to be her sister and inspires me to keep going, no matter what.

  4. Hi, Donna! We are so happy that you could join us today. Even before I read PJ's review, I've been looking forward to reading your book!

    We lived in Italy for 2 years--my husband was in the Navy--and I loved our trip to Venice! Although it was snowing and absolutely freezing, it gave the already beautiful city a magical feel. We went to the island of Murano and marveled at the artistry of the glass makers. I brought home a lovely vase from there--I was determined to have at least one piece--but some of the pieces were thousands of dollars!

    My father-in-law's parents both came from Italy, so it was especially memorable for my husband and children to live in the land of their ancestors for a brief time. It's a wonderful country, and we look forward to going back sometime.

  5. Hi Donna! I'm inspired by my mother who was willing to take a chance on love after her first marriage failed and not only married a man who lived in a different part of the country but willingly transported herself, my sister and I across the country to be with him. My parents just celebrated their 40th Anniversary. I've always loved looking at Venetian Glass and love my glass earrings.

  6. Donna, your books sound great! I went to Murano this past July. It was fantastic. Unfortunately, it was such a hot day the blowers weren't working but the shops were fantastic. One shop owner brought us upstairs to see his "private" showroom because my dh was talking with owner about the stained glass panels that dh makes. I just wish I could have bought more!

    I used to live near Corning Glass Works and saw their demonstrations of glassblowing. It's is awesome to watch. Good luck with your books!

  7. Hello Everyone,

    Thank you so much for the warm welcome and the wonderful review. Your comment, PJ, that my book transported you to a place you've already been warms my heart. More than anything, I hope my work is portal to other times and places, allowing my readers to travel while in their comfy chairs.

    How I envy all of you who have experienced this city for yourself and how heartening it is to hear how many of you find your inspiration in your families. My two sons, young men now at almost 20 and almost 17, show me ever day what is worth working for.

  8. Hi Donna!
    Your book sounds so good. ^^ A person that inspires me is actually a fictional character. Lorelai Gilmore from Gilmore Girls has been my inspiration since i started watching the shows years ago. Lorelai can stand on her own two feet and had fought and worked hard for the life she lived. I love how strong of a woman she is. Not to mention the humor she lives her life daily by. ^^


  9. My Mom inspires me. She is simply the best person I have ever known.

    Donna, your book sounds very interesting. Congrats on the release.

  10. Hi Donna! I love the story behind your inspiration for The Secret of the Glass! Very interesting!

    My sister Andrea has always been an inspiration for me. I can always talk to her about anything and she's always there to listen and provide great advice. Plus, she got me hooked on romance novels. ;)

  11. Ooh my Donna, that excerpt from your book was beautifully written. And what an interesting story. So tragic that a glassblower was a prisoner because of his … or her? … talent. My parents have several pieces of Murano glass that they bought in Venice many years ago. Gorgeous. The colors and the craftsmanship are unsurpassed by anything I’ve ever seen.

  12. Like many of you, my family members have Inspired me. Especially my oldest daughter and my son. Of course my youngest inspires me too … She is a suburbanite-moved-out-to-the-country sixteen year old girlie-girl. This year she joined the soccer team . Her coaches are dedicated, hard working, and … well I thought that I was good at inspiring people to try their best … but
    Last night my DD got back from practice covered in mud. Her blond hair looked brown. Her mascara was smeared , and her hands… Filthy!
    “What the heck happened to you,” I asked.
    She looked at me with a sheepish grin, “Umm every time we messed up we had to do push ups… In a corn field. I learned pretty quick not to mess up!”
    OMG I laughed so hard tears came to my eyes. Do you know what they put on corn fields in the fall? Fertilizer. Aka … cow manure! I’m not sure who is more Inspiring. The coaches for coming up with such a devious coaching tool. Or my DD.

  13. Great story Julie. We would all push a little harder when faced with such...motivation!

  14. Hey Donna! We are so happy to have you here today!

    I have to say that I have always been a fan of Katie Couric. Any woman who could put up with the stuff she did with Gumble has to be a strong woman.

    Hmm, inspiration comes from so many different things. My kids, the flowers in bloom, a smile on my dear mom's face. Too many things to name.

  15. Tell me who inspires you and why ?

    My 3.5 yos son inspires me most. The look on those innocent eyes, and the way he sees the world. makes me believe that every new thing is a great thing not something to be afraid of :)

  16. Hi Donna, both the review and excerpt here have my interest. I like both the glassmaking and astronomy aspects, different and intriguing. I read the Glass-Blowers by DuMaurier many years ago which I liked a lot and learned a little more about glass-blowing.

  17. I have heard so many good things about this book. I can't wait to read it.
    I admire craftsmen in general. It takes a special talent to take the raw materials they use and turn them into beautiful pieces. The blacksmith, woodworker, quilter, basket maker, jewelry maker, the list is a long one.
    I hope the release is going well.

  18. What a fascinating story.

    My daughter is my best inspiration. She is always pushing me to try new things that I wouldn't even dream of.