Thursday, October 31, 2013



·         What is your book about?
“Journey to Jazzland” is a picture book for kids ages 5 – 9 that’s about a Flute named Windy who gets bored in Orchestra one day and wants to learn about jazz.  It helps teach kids about music in a very fun way.

·         What inspired you to write this particular story (and/or series)?
This story is basically about my experience with jazz and learning to play jazz.  I’ve been a jazz musician (with other types of performing music) for over 20 years.  My main goal here is to help bring back music to Elementary schools.

·         Are your characters in the book based on anyone you know?
I would say that Sly Guitar is based off a few jazz cats I know.  By that I mean musicians that play jazz guitar that actually talk like that (J)

·         Favorite snack when writing. 
 Anything chocolate related ;), but I do like a nice cup of tea as well.

·         Share the biggest hurdles in the marketing process. 
It’s been a little bit of a challenge to market this picture book, but it’s also a good thing that I understand how to use Social Media from our Renaissance Faires we do here in MA/NH area.  Since this book is for a different target audience (by that I mean jazz musicians, teachers and parents or folks that like jazz), I’ve had to tweak my marketing campaign a lot, and I’ve found different places where I can post about my book (like your blog for instance, so thank you for that) so that people can search for it on Search Engines (such as Google for instance).

·         Is there anything else you would like to say to your readers? 
I hope that you enjoy reading “Journey to Jazzland” and I hope that you read it to your children and your grandchildren and instill the love of jazz or just music itself.

·         Where can readers find you and your book(s) online? 
     Right now, my book is available on Amazon  and at my pal’s online store New England Peddler

About The Author:

Born and raised in Fairhaven, Massachusetts and attended University of Lowell (now University of Massachusetts, Lowell). It was there that I learned to love jazz. I have been performing jazz and other kinds of music for over 20 years, throughout the New England area. I live in North Reading, Massachusetts with my husband Richard, and my son Charlie.

Genre: Children's Book
Publisher: Flying Turtle Publishing
Release Date: July 1, 2013

Book Description:

Join Windy Flute, Spitz Trumpet and their friends as they travel to a legendary place where music is joyous, creative and free.


One day during an orchestra rehearsal, Windy Flute was playing a piece of music and her mind started to wander. Over and over, she had practiced this piece and played this piece. Feeling bored, she felt that she wanted to be a little different.
Then something special happened. She began to hear notes that weren’t on the page of sheet music on her stand! When she started playing what she heard, Windy realized these new notes made her feel better. The harmonies and the melodies were the same, but the music moved differently. Before she could figure things out, she was interrupted by a stern voice.
Excuse me, Ms. Flute, do you mind playing with the rest of us? Where do you think you are — Jazzland?” said Mr. Conductor, scowling down at her.
After the rehearsal, Mr. Conductor gave Windy a severe look and stomped off the stage.
Windy turned to her friends in the woodwind section. “What’s Jazzland?” she asked. She was still thinking about the good feelings she got from playing different notes.
It’s a myth,” said Mr. Bassoon.
That’s right,” said Mr. Oboe, “It’s a legend. It doesn’t really exist.”
            “I think it exists,” said Spitz Trumpet.

October 1 - Tour Kickoff at VBT Café Blog
October 3 - Review & Guest Blogging at Brooke Blogs
October 7 - Spotlight at Deal Sharing Aunt
October 9 - Guest Blogging at Indie Writer Reviews
October 9 - Interviewed at 4 Covert 2 Overt
October 17 - Guest Blogging at Lori's Reading
October 17 - Spotlight at Bookalicious Traveladdict
October 22 - Reviewed at Black Coffee, Brown
October 24 - Reviewed at Storytime Books
October 25 - Reviewed at
October 29 - Spotlight at BK Walker Books Etc.

October 31 - Review & Interview at Bikers With Books
October 31 - Reviewed at So Many Precious Books, So Little Time

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Renaissance Festivals: not so historically accurate but fun! By Gia Volterra de Saulnier

The Renaissance era had Royalty, Maidens, Lords, Barons, Jesters, Bards, Knights in shining armor and the Plague – all of which you can find these days if you or your family go to a Renaissance Festival in the United States, but you will also find modern things such as Turkey Legs (from North America), bathrooms and credit card machines.

The reason that Renaissance Festivals are so popular these days (and the most popular ones are in Texas and Maryland) is that people from today’s modern world can experience a time from the past.  They love to see the Queen up close for tea, they can experience something out of the ordinary.  Even as magical as most Festivals seem to be, most folks want to also have a good time.

These days with the advance of modern technology, it allows Renaissance Festivals to be found around the United States with such ideas as buying tickets in advance or having an ATM machine.  However, most Renaissance Festivals do strive to be from the past which includes the Attire (made from today’s seamstresses but with accurate patterns but made with a machine) and some instruments that you may see at some of these events, however, most of those instruments are rather expensive.

Some Renaissance Festivals around the United States have Guilds and rules that you must adhere to if you are a vendor, performer and especially if you are a cast member.  These rules apply mostly to Faires that have Royalty.

Still, for smaller events such as the ones we produce here in Massachusetts as much as we strive to be historically accurate, we recognize that most folks want to have fun.  We have pirates and Knights in shining armor battling it out and we speak in Ye Olde English or with an older accent that we hope guests can see up close and personal to get a grasp on what it may have been like in those times.  We also want to maintain safety and see some patrons (audience that come to our events) and playtrons (folks that come to these events dressed up in Renaissance Attire that are not part of the event) to partake in our event. 

Most merchants at today’s Renaissance Festivals make their own items by hand or have learned a craft from the past.  Almost all of the merchants not only make one of a kind items that you cannot find in a mall or in a retail store but they seek folks to learn about what it is that they do or make to appreciate the craftsmanship that comes from two hands.  Young kids can see some of these merchants do demonstrating up close to see how it was done.  It does take money to make these one of a kind items that no one else can make.  Therefore, most merchants these days take credit cards or have electronic devices cleverly hidden so that folks can buy these items.

It is a delicate balance between hand crafted goods and well-seasoned performers along with an amazing talented cast (and behind the scenes crew) to pull off a great Renaissance Faire or Festival.  We as performers (and producers) of these smaller events, we endeavor to interact with the folks that come through the gate so they feel like they are going back in time.  This way they can escape the modern world of today and go back to a time that was full of love, laughter and creativity.

Author/Writer of “Journey to Jazzland” 
Marketing Co-Coordinator 
Abbadia Mare Festival 

Owner of Renaissance Performers and Merchants


Friday, October 25, 2013

Inspire the Kids in Your Life to Meet Challenges with Patience and Persistence!

Inspire the Kids in Your Life to Meet Challenges with Patience and Persistence!
This inspirational tale of a Monarch butterfly and her meadowland friends is the second children's book written and illustrated by Bette A. Stevens.
  • Packed with action and adventure, this book is sure to entertain and inspire.
AMAZING MATILDA becomes discouraged when she is unable to fly during the early stages of her metamorphosis. But, this amazing Monarch never gives up on her dream. Encouraged by her meadowland friends, MATILDA learns that if she tries long enough and hard enough, she can do anything that she really wants to do. AMAZING MATILDA will inspire readers and listeners alike, not only to follow their own dreams, but to encourage others to do the same! Matilda

Bette A. Stevens received her B.S. in Elementary Education from the University of Maine at Orono before embarking on graduate courses in Curriculum Studies at Chapman University in California. Following a rewarding career in the business world at a Maine-based construction company, she taught in elementary and middle school classrooms in California and Virginia. She and her husband are now retired and living in Central Maine, where they enjoy trips to the coast and gardening when they're not renovating their 37-acre farmstead. They have two daughters and five grandchildren. Stevens enjoys gardening, walking, reading, writing, drawing, painting and sharing her stories and her home with others. Stevens has written articles for 'ECHOES, The Northern Maine Journal of Rural Culture' based in Caribou, Maine. Her love of children, of literature and of learning inspired her to write 'The Tangram Zoo and Word Puzzles Too!' She has used this book as a teaching/learning resource in the classroom with students of all ages. Stevens's second children's picture book, 'Amazing Matilda: A Monarch's Tale' was released in July 2012 on This creative tale of a Monarch butterfly and her meadowland friends was written to inspire readers and listeners alike, not only to follow their own dreams, but to encourage others to do the same.
"I love to walk and enjoy nature's beauty, whether at home or on the go. I'm passionate about the beauty in the world around me and enjoy jotting down notes and composing short poems. The coast is one of my favorite places to relax. I'm a nature collector: everything from seashells to birds' nests. When I was teaching, these treasures filled my classroom and provided inspiration for reading, writing and research. It was hands-on fun and excitement and I enjoyed every moment spent learning with, from and about my students. One thing I learned is that many children don't have an adult to read to them or listen to them read and talk about those books. Many of my blog and facebook posts will focus on how we can improve childhood literacy by reading to the children in our families and communities. My own childhood was filled with books and adults who shared and encouraged a love of reading. I've written some poetry and several short stories. I plan to write some adult fiction, including a coming of age story, and write reviews on some of my favorite books. I'll be sharing some of your stories, poems and tips on reading and writing, too. Let's have fun learning, living, sharing and loving language together." Bette A. Stevens
9/24/12 LINDA LOEGEL INTERVIEW excerpts:
Q: What prompted you to write "AMAZING MATILDA: A Monarch's Tale"?
Bette: As a prolific reader, and with some creative writing experiences in my new 'teacher toolbox,' I was hooked right from the start. Meld that love of literature with a desire to inspire students to be all they can be and you've got a brand new children's book writer: me, the author of AMAZING MATILDA: A Monarch's Tale, my second children's book. The teacher me wanted to integrate a story with core curriculum elements. A Monarch would be the perfect main character: as an indicator species and with Monarch habitat (milkweed) rapidly disappearing, it would be a great way for children to learn life science and environmental science concepts, all while enjoying an inspiring story. Monarch research was my first step. I thought the fit would be perfect because the challenges to be met in the natural world parallel the challenges to be met in the lives of the children. And so, I started to write and rewrite and rewrite... All of the tweaking was on the literary side of the story. I wanted it to be used to teach (model) the use of repetition, alliteration, metaphor and simile in writing stories. It was lots of fun and the first year I placed Matilda's story in a storybook format in a binder (no illustrations yet). I read it aloud and my fourth graders wanted to read it during their free time and make their own illustrations. We were raising silkworms in the classroom at the time. I continued to read the story aloud to my students (4th, 5th and 6th graders) over the years. During that time, I continued to make revisions and used those models as a teaching tool as well. As a retired teacher, I've had time this year to create the illustrations (pencil sketches and watercolor). My background in desktop publishing gave me the incentive to check the internet to find out about self-publishing. Voila! After more than a decade: AMAZING MATILDA, is now written, illustrated and published.
Q: What's next for you?
Bette: I recently started a blog and have been writing some poetry and short articles. Also, I have a short story (unpublished) that I want to expand into a YA fiction (coming of age in the 1950s and '60s) novel. When I read the short story to my fellow students in a creative writing class at college, they wanted to hear more. That's my next big project. I've already asked some Web friends if they thought this type of book would have an audience and I'm waiting for some feedback. I've also posted an article on my latest WIP (Work In Progress) on my blog. The working title is "Pure Trash." UPDATE: PURE TRASH, a short story for the Middle-grade/YA/Adult audience was published on August 12, 2013. This story is a pre-quel to the novel I'm working on by the same name.
Q: What is your advice to would be writers?
Bette: NEVER GIVE UP: You can do anything you really want to do if you try long enough and hard enough, especially with help and encouragement from your friends. (The theme of AMAZING MATILDA) The internet is such a great resource for connecting with other writers, readers, marketers, publishers. Join groups that fit into your niche. Then, connect with other writers and find out what they're doing. Read them, follow them, leave comments and ask questions. There is a wonderful world of encouragers on the Web.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Tangram Zoo and Word Puzzles Too by BETTE A. STEVENS

The Tangram Zoo and Word Puzzles Too!

 is a resource for multi-cultural and interdisciplinary studies in the classroom or at home. Integrates Math (measurement and geometry) and Language Arts (research and writing) for elementary and middle school students, while presenting a few historical facts about tangrams. Tangrams and word puzzles (rhyming riddles/poetry) encourage students to have fun while they're learning, and then to demonstrate what they've learned. Includes ideas for home/school projects. Tangram outlines, with rhyming riddles as clues, are even labeled for coloring for preschoolers. Hands-on fun for the whole classroom/family!

5.0 out of 5 stars Tangrams and riddles!!!
This book will keep anyone busy for hours. If you like puzzles and riddles this book will be great for you. Tangrams can be found in almost any toy store or department store; but, if you don't want to buy them this book can show you how to make your own out of cardboard. You rearrange the shapes to try to match the animal. The animal shapes are fun and the riddles are great too. Don't worry the answers are in the book so you will not get stuck trying to figure them out. -David M. Howard "Uncle-Dave" (Waynesburg, PA)

5.0 out of 5 stars Short, but good puzzles...The idea is very neat, as all 18 tangrams are animals. Looking at the picture and reading the riddle, you try to guess the animal... These were fun, so I wish there had been more pages. -Ocean Breeze

From the Author

"I've used The Tangram Zoo and Word Puzzles Too! in my own classroom with students from 4th through 8th grade. The Zoo... is a great resource for integrating research and creative writing into a math or science curriculum. One of the project ideas included in the book is for the kids to create their own tangram animals to add to The Zoo... Then, to research their creature creations and write their own rhyming riddles. My colleagues agree: It's hands-on learning that's creative and loaded with fun for everyone."  - author/illustrator Bette A. Stevens

About the Author

Bette A. Stevens received her B.S. in Elementary Education from the University of Maine at Orono before embarking on graduate courses in Curriculum Studies at Chapman University in California. Stevens taught 4th grade at Eastside Elementary School in Lancaster, California; was an ESL teacher in grades 6 through 8 at El Camino Middle School in Lompoc, California; and taught 4th and 5th grade Language Arts and Social Studies at Sonney Penn Elementary School in Woodbridge, Virginia. She and her husband are now retired and living in Maine. They have two daughters and five grandchildren. Bette has written articles for Echoes, The Northern Maine Journal of Rural Culture, based in Caribou, Maine. Her love of children, of literature and of learning inspired her to write The Tangram Zoo and Word Puzzles Too! Stevens has used this book as a teaching/learning resource in the classroom with students of all ages.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

PURE TRASH The Story by Bette A. Stevens

The year is 1955. If you grew up in the 1950s and the 1960s, you may be among those who like to recall those good old “Happy Days” of television fame. Even younger generations enjoy watching the old TV reruns to get a peek into what life was like back then. In this short story, Shawn and Willie Daniels are off on a Saturday adventure in search of trash to turn into treasure. It is going to be a great day. Shawn is sure of it. No school and no bullies to remind him that he’s not one of the crowd. This is a story about bullies and what it’s like to be bullied. It may redefine your definition of bullying. If you were a child who was thought of as “different” in some way, you know what bullying is about: torment, persecution, intimidation, to name a few of its synonyms. For Shawn and Willie, their difference was based upon the social status of a dysfunctional family and the alcoholism and abject poverty in which they grew up.



"This short story is filled with images and flavor only better provided by an ice cream cone...PURE TRASH gives the reader pause for thought, and I recommend it to the adult reader and the YA reader alike. " Kathryn Elizabeth Jones, author of fiction & non-fiction

"Shawn and Willie live in the woods. Their family doesn't have indoor water or a flush toilet yet, but they do have a TV. The boys plan a great day together. Activities on the agenda are straight out of the nineteen fifties.

   "On the other hand, the ugliness of human nature displayed here could be from any era, as the judgmental neighbors and degrading torments that come from others could take place in present time as well as way back then.
   "Young adults and Middle grade children will find this book to be an enjoyable quick read. Most children and adults as well can identify with the emotion displayed here. We have all felt the sting of degrading remarks targeted at us for no other reason than another wants to shower their meanness in order to satisfy their own judgmental spirit.
   "Find out how a wonderful day takes a few twists and turns, how others can destroy the joy in your life, but only if you allow them, and how those who have little can still rise above those who think they are superior.
   "Shawn and Willie are two delightful young boys who lift your spirits and let you know life is all in the way you look at it.
   "Written by Bette A. Stevens; this is a book near and dear to my heart.  I give it five ***** stars."
This book has been reviewed by Susan Hornbach, author of children's literature.

About the Author

Bette A. Stevens's photo.Bette A. Stevens is the author of two children's books: A children's activity book, The Tangram Zoo and Word Puzzles Too! and the award-winning picture book, AMAZING MATILDA: A Monarch's Tale. PURE TRASH, The Story is her first book for the Middle-grade/YA/Adult audience. This short story is a 1950s adventure featuring nine-year-old Shawn Daniels and his brother Willie. It is a prequel to her upcoming debut novel.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

POVERTY & PREJUDICE: Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow by Bette A. Stevens

Bette A. Stevens's photo. As a baby boomer that grew up in an average middle-class family in America during the 1950s and 1960s, poverty was not something I had to dwell on or even think about as a child or as a teen. For me, poverty was an unknown concept.

Poverty in America during the 1950s and 1960s was simply ignored in our wealth-burgeoning society. I was not alone in my ignorance. “[In fact, it’s been more than 50 years] since Americans, or at least the non-poor among them, ‘discovered’ poverty, thanks to Michael Harringtton’s engaging book The Other America.” (Twisting the Phrase “Culture of Poverty” Barbara Ehrenreich March 16, 2012).

The seldom acknowledged poor were mentally relegated to the ghettos and backwoods of American society. In reality the poor were right here among us. I know. They still are. I’ve met them and listened to their stories. I’ve written about them and am still writing about them.

I’ve encountered poverty vicariously through the stories of those who lived it. Some of my adult friends and acquaintances grew up in this invisible world―one where being poor was an accepted part of life for those who were there. They didn’t want to be there or ask to be there. It was just their lot. It was a tough way to grow up, but they made the most of what little they had. Some didn’t realize that they were poor, until someone from an upper class pointed out their obvious lacks. Some thought they were pretty well off, even a bit superior, when they met someone who had less. Some even took opportunity to lord their newly-discovered social superiority over those less fortunate. Regrettably, this ill-conceived notion of being superior to others continues to exist throughout the rungs of society’s class-based ladder.

What about the children?

As an elementary and middle-school teacher (currently retired), I have witnessed the direct effects of poverty’s aftermath on kids. What hit me the hardest was the way those who were among the “haves” would ignore, belittle or bully the “have-nots.” Don’t be disheartened, though. I’ve seen students, teachers, counselors, librarians, volunteers, administrators, parents, as well as church group and other community members who have made and are still making a difference in the lives of the poor and “different” among us.

How to make a difference?

Treat those who are different with dignity, respect and kindness. Get to know them in a personal way. Point out their strengths and talents. Encourage them to participate in activities and programs where they can showcase those strengths and talents. None of this can be done from a distance or simply by giving money to a cause. Of course, that is important, too. If we really want to make a difference, it’s got to be one-on-one. That could mean offering a smile, a friendly and sincere “Hi, how are you?” or a simply lending a listening ear.

Same old story?

 [N]ew study from The National Poverty Center shows that the number of U.S. households living in extreme poverty (defined here as less than $2 a day per person) more than doubled from 1996 to 2011. The number of extremely poor children also doubled during that time, from 1.4 million to 2.8 million. (Extreme Poverty Down Globally, Up in U.S., Lauren Feeney, March 7, 2012)

Since the 1960s, poverty programs have abounded. And yet, the poor are still with us. In fact, as we see poverty diminishing globally, poverty is ever-increasing in America. Meanwhile, not much has changed in society’s concept or treatment of the poor in their plight:

“Poverty, it seems, is largely invisible to middle class people in the United States. Their knowledge of the basic facts and insights mentioned above is extremely limited. Here the problem isn't research or pedagogy. It is clear enough how the Detroit Free Press or the Atlanta Constitution could present the basic facts about national or regional poverty on a clear and understandable form. Instead, the problem seems to be a cognitive version of myopia. The social circumstances that confront us up close, and that are likely to influence our basic interests, get our focused attention. But all too often, more distant social problems don't get a second look. And this seems all too often to be the case for poverty.” (Understanding Society, Knowing Poverty April 9, 2008)

Here we stand as a nation in 2013 still threatened by The Great Recession. For middle-class citizens, our immediate social problems revolve around the American economy and what we can do to make our individual lives better, or, at the very least, keep ourselves from spiraling downward into poverty. Still, we manage to hold the poor off at a distance. We surely don’t want to be counted among them.

A time for change?

Fortunately antipoverty programs are coming to the forefront in America once again. Journalist Greg Kaufmann (The Nation) shares some encouraging words:

“This past year I’ve had the opportunity to cover the antipoverty movement — and I do believe it’s a movement — it’s just a little too much of a well-kept secret right now.

“But I think in 2013, the people and groups at the forefront of antipoverty thinking and action are poised to reach a much wider audience, and gain far greater popular support.

“That’s in part because the movement is led by organizations and individuals who have been fighting poverty for decades, and they offer solutions that are grounded in empirical data and the everyday experiences of millions of working Americans and families.

“In contrast, the opposition to antipoverty reform relies largely on tired stereotypes, myths and prejudices — that low-income people are lazy and don’t want to work; that they only want handouts, or to live off of welfare; that antipoverty policies have failed; and, most recently, that we can’t afford these investments.

“But an economy that is short on opportunity and concentrates wealth in the hands of a few is coming into focus. The interests of low-income people and a shrinking middle class are converging — everyone wants fair pay, a shot at a good education and an economy defined by opportunity and upward mobility.”

Are poverty and prejudice indelibly linked to America’s future?
I think not. As a pragmatic idealist (Is that an oxymoron?), I plan to continue writing fiction (based on facts) that highlights the plight of the downtrodden, sparks awareness and inspires us to eliminate poverty and prejudice where we live right now. I believe we can and will make a difference―one caring human being at a time. There are stories yet be told. And many yet to be lived.

Bette A. Stevens's photo.Bette A. Stevens is a retired teacher and the author of three books: Stevens’s latest book, PURE TRASH is a short story about a nine-year-old poor boy’s Saturday adventure in rural New England during the 1950s, written for the YA/adult audience. Through PURE TRASH, the author explores prejudice, class division, alcoholism, poverty, injustice and bullying. This story is a prequel to her upcoming novel. Readers can find out more about Stevens and her books at



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Friday, October 18, 2013


A historical novelist, a writer of any sort really, is often blessed to visit the wonders of the world, the magnificent places available to set their stories, whether in person or virtually. The King's Agent is no different and I was thrilled to highlight the beauty of my ancestral homeland within the work. So as I take my leave of this blog--with many, many thanks to all--I leave you with the beauty of Italy as seen through the eyes of Battista and Aurelia.

The King’s Agent is many stories in one, with layers of both the tangible and of the spiritual, cerebral, and emotional. That it is an adventurous quest—a search for an ancient relic—is one of the most concrete facets of this multi-dimensional story. As a very visual writer, as an imaginative soul, I am fortunate enough to so immerse myself in the places my stories take me that my research becomes the airplane upon which my fancies take flight. This quest—this story—unlike any other I’ve written, took my on a journey I will never forget. I’m thrilled to have this opportunity to give you a glimpse into that journey.

The three major challenges of The King’s Agent take place in locations that resemble and symbolize the three canticles of Dante’s Divine Comedy…Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradise. We begin, of course, in Hell.

Dante Alghieri’s descriptions of his allegorical locations of Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise are considered, to this day, to be among the greatest ever written. So great, in fact, that visual artists, including the great Salvador Dahli, have been inspired by them since their inception. The illustration here shows the specific nature of Hell lying below a mountain top palazzo.

Though obviously fictional as I’ve depicted it, the Palazzo Prato, in actuality a sixteenth century palace, fits not only the geographical location perfectly but also provides the quintessential structural image befitting the worst level of Dante’s Divine Comedy. The Prato area of Italy (see map) is an ancient one, prehistoric in fact, with evidence of life since the Paliolithic times and later colonized by the Etruscans. Today it is a communal city and the Capitol of the Prato Provence. Between Dante’s words and the images found, it was an explosive combustion for my imagination to turn it into the setting for the Inferno.

The Roads Between: The Via Francigena is an ancient road between Rome and Canterbury passing through England, France, Switzerland, and Italy. It was one of the most important roads throughout the Medieval and Renaissnce periods as the path for pilgrims.

From the burning depths of Hell, we can but hope to earn our way to Purgatory, and such was the journey of Battista and Aurelia, the protagonists of The King’s Agent, so it is to Purgatory we now go. From the language and imagery of Dante’s Purgatory, I found my mind’s eye picturing an almost infinite cave maze. How astounded I was when I found the Caves of Pastene, in Italian, Grotte di Pastena.

Baron Carlo Franchetti discovered the caves in 1926 within the Ausoni Mountains and people began touring them less than a year later. The area in which they are located is considered one of the most picturesque of Ciociaria, where the inclemency of the geological events led to the formation of atypical landscapes…where bizarre forms of erosion and karst plains related to ancient lakes. The marvels of this underground world include beatific formations of stalactites and stalagmites, columns, lakes, thunderous waterfalls, and draperies of calcite. The room depicted in the picture, The Hall of the Weeping Willow, was especially awe inspiring as well as perfectly constructed to illustrate Dante’s words. The name of this hall was extracted from the center shape of a column vaguely resembling a willow created by a peculiar union of a stalagmite and a stalactite.

For those worthy, for the best of us, the belief contends that Heaven awaits. But there too, Battista and Aurelia found a challenge. Therefore, my task was to find a place of great yet nonetheless imposing beauty. The Dragon Castle was the archetypal location.

Via Aurelia: The Roman Empire's Lost Highway: Constructed around the year 241 BC by the Roman censor C. Aurelius Cotta, the Via Aurelia was to serve Roman Expansion, swift military movements, and quick communication between Roman settlements. It resulted in a vast increase in trade among Italian cities and Rome. The road was quickly expanded to allow two chariots to pass and distances were marked with milestones.

The Castello della Dragonara is located on an islet of land in the province of Genoa, in the town of Camoglia. Though it has been the object of much study, even today its exact dates of construction are undetermined. Built into the side of the cliff at the center of the village, the castle was no doubt originally intended as a lookout and was certainly smaller than its current size.

Through the centuries the castle was used for defensive purposes as well and, as far as the validity of the documents allow, appears to have been enlarged and reinforced on numerous occasions. It was attacked on an equal number of instances, the most notable of which were conducted by Gian Galeazzo Visconti, the duke of Milan, and Nicolo Fieschi, both in the 14th centuries. The powerful fortress often served as a place of refuge for the villager during the many pirate attacks. Twice it was destroyed and twice it was rebuilt; always it rose up from the very tip of the shore, from the very edge of the cliff, to rise up to the heavens above it. When not in use as a stronghold, Castello della Dragonara was utilized as a governmental meeting house, not only by the rulers of the town, but by the government of Genoa.

I won’t, of course, reveal how Battista and Aurelia fair on this magnificent journey, that you’ll have to discover for yourself, but I can tell that these three amazing locations are not the only stops on their journey. There is the beauty of Mantua, the magnificence of Florence, and no Italian adventure would be complete without a stop in the glory that is Rome (and with Michelangelo as guide no less).

Yes, this book took me on a greater journey in a sense than any other I’ve written before. I am delighted to have shared some of the highlights with you. Buon viaggio e buono fortuna (safe journey and good luck)!

Thursday, October 17, 2013


"Russo Morin skillfully blends historical fiction and fantasy in surprising ways. She draws effortlessly upon influences ranging from Dante to Raiders of the Lost Ark, and the authority of her presentation makes the world she’s created come alive. A wonderfully action-packed ride through the lush landscape of Renaissance Italy." Starred Review, Publishers Weekly

To the casual observer, Battista della Palla is an avid art collector, or perhaps a nimble thief. In reality, the cunning Italian is an agent for François, the King of France, for whom he procures the greatest masterpieces of the day by any means necessary. Embroiled in a power struggle with Charles V, the King of Spain, François resolves to rule Europe’s burgeoning cultural world. When he sets his sights on a mysterious sculpture, Battista’s search for the elusive objet d’art leads him to a captivating woman on a mission of her own… Having spent her life under the controlling eye of her protector, the Marquess of Mantua, Aurelia longs for freedom. And she finds it in Battista. Together, they embark on a journey to find the clues that will lead him to the sculpture—a venture so perilous it might have spilled from the pen of Dante himself. From the smoldering depths of Rome to a castle in the sky, the harrowing quest draws them inextricably together. But Aurelia guards a dark secret that could tear them apart—and chance the course of history…

"Blending fact and fantasy, this fast-paced novel–can only be described as an articulate historical adventure... a fantastically written story with beautiful and eloquent prose." Historical-Fiction

"A rich background, historical characters that come alive and a gripping puzzle to solve, result in an unforgettable read. Award winning author Donna Russo Morin is a star among historical fiction writers." 
Single Title Reviews

"Russo Morin is a great storyteller who puts such detail, power, emotion, and beauty into her words...this novel is an action-packed and thrilling look into Renaissance Italy." 

"Filled with brilliant descriptions and dazzling details...a novel to savor and enjoy the richness that leaps off every page. Highly recommended!" 
History and Women

Battista della Palla, the lead character in The King’s Agent, was a real man, born in Florence in 1489. During his full and prodigious life, he spent many years at the French court, forming an unbreakable bond with King Francois I and his sister Marguerite, one predicated, in part, on their mutual love of art. What became of that friendship is a role Battista would accept as his own for the rest of his life, that of Francois’ art agent, instructed to procure work by the Italian masters that Francois craved at any cost. In exchange, Francois promised Battista his sword—his military might—should Battista’s homeland of Florence ever require it. Battista fulfilled Francois’ requests, most every one of them, most often by nimble pilfering when legal acquisition failed him. In consequence, Francois I and his art agent Battista della Palla could easily be touted as the men directly responsible for what we now call one of the greatest museums in the world, the Louvre. Therefore, with a valid logical syllogism, it can be said that this astounding collection, visited by hundreds of thousands of people every year, began with stolen art.

All of the above is true, but it is not the greatest controversy proposed in The King’s Agent. Not by a long shot.

In The King’s Agent, Battista is commissioned with yet another acquisition by the King of France, but this one is like no other. Even the directive itself—the message of instruction—is couched in vague language and dictates that Battista find him an ancient relic, one crafted in the age of the Greek gods, before the time of Jesus, a relic which, “is said to possess the power I need to reign victorious.” This is but the beginning of the most bizarre quest Battista and his banda (band of men) have ever endured.

The trouble begins with the path to the relic, one whose stepping stones are laid with clues in the great art of the age. The quest itself is many layered, one painting must be found, which will lead to a triptych—a grouping of three paintings that create a single image—that will then lead to the relic. The discussion and search for these paintings, leads the art connoisseurs (for thieves they may be, but art experts they were first) to an exposure of paintings unlike any others they have seen; paintings which include symbolism of unearthly life. As outlandish as the notion may seem, it is not one of my imagination’s
device, but one revealed to me during my research.

For the information in the remainder of this blog, I ask not belief, only the belief in possibility. I will not make a thesis on the support of ancient astronauts, but have chosen merely to accentuate works that may be used in evidence of such.

In an effort to stray from any spoilers, I will discuss the paintings highlighted in The King’s Agent out of context. To see how they affect the story, will take a reading of the work itself.

The painting that has, more than any other, sparked discussion among ufologists—and one of the first to make an appearance in The King’s Agent’s is Madonna col Bambino e San Giovannino (The Madonna with Child and Saint John). The painting hangs in the government palace in Florence—the Palazzo Vecchio—and is most often attributed to Sebastiano Mainardi. It is the image in the top left corner that is the most intriguing…the hardest to explain, an image that one might call an ‘air ship’.

Impressions to note when studying this painting include the man and the dog on the far hill, both with eyes attentively pointed upward toward the apparition. In an article written in 1996 by Daniele Bedini (an expert in Design Space and Space Technology, an instructor at The Royal College of Art (London), ISU (Strasbourg), and the IED (Istituto Europeo di Design in Rome) and published in Notiziario UFO, Bedini wrote, “we clearly see the presence of an airborne object leaden in color and inclined to port, sporting a "dome" or "turret", apparently identifiable as an oval-shaped moving flying device.”

In other journals, it is also theorized that the placement of Mary in relation to the two babies and the unidentifiable object is as a protector, to keep each from seeing and the other.

The next work is my personal favorite, not for its connection to the subject matter but for its composition and color. The Annunciation was painted by Carlo Crivelli in 1486. Unlike the hundreds, actually thousands, of other paintings dealing with the same theme, one of the most popular in all of religious art, Crivelli’s annunciation—by definition, the announcement by the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary of her conception of Christ—is committed not by an angel, but by a disc shaped object in the sky casting a beam of light down upon Mary on Earth. There is a great deal more activity taking place in this painting, people pointing at the main activity, and more cryptic symbolism whose meaning seems to have been lost. Crivelli’s Annunciation hangs in the National Gallery in London.

In The Bible and Flying Saucers (Avon Books, 1978) author Barry H. Downing wrote, “Where did this UFO come from, according to the Biblical account? The heavens were ‘opened' and the Spirit seems to have descended from this 'opening.' This idea of an 'opening' represents an example of the 'mythological' expression...The 'opening' represents an example of the Bible cosmology...The 'opening' suggests that in our 'three-decker universe' a 'door' leads from our world below to the world above where the angels live in heaven.”

Rows of round, hovering objects fill the sky in The Miracle of the Snow: Foundation of Santa Maria Maggiore by Masolino da Panicale, which hangs in the Museo di Capodimonte in Naples, Italy. The work was originally part of the altar painting for the Church of Saint Mary in Rome. It reminds me of nothing so much as an early Renaissance rendition of Orwell’s War of the Worlds. The painting depicts Jesus and Mary hovering above the Earth on a very solid type of cloud, lenticular clouds in fact, those that are flat and circular, and accompanied by an armada of the same type of saucer-like objects stretching back beyond the horizon.

The original legend of this painting reads that in Rome sometime in the 4th century, during the reign of Pope Liberius (352-366), both the Pope and the Patrician Giovanni Patrizio were visited by an apparition of the Virgin Mary during which she entreated them to build a church in her honor and that they would know the location of where the church should be when they awoke the next morning.

The next morning—a hot summer morning—on Esquino Hill, the outline of the church lay on the ground in snow. Despite the heat, the snow lines remained until the church was staked, when it quickly melted.

To reiterate, I did not want to reveal what part these very real works of art play in The King’s Agent in order to maintain the integrity of the unique story.

The amount of information on extraterrestrials, more prodigiously known as ancient astronauts, is overwhelming (and not just from those society might label as ‘quacks’, but from some of the greatest, most educated, intelligent, and reputed minds of our time). And though it plays a minor part of a complex story, the particular notion that evidence of alien existence can be found in profusion throughout the art of man throughout time, is but one of the inspirations in my writing of The King’s Agent, but without question, the most controversial of them all.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

It's Enigmatic King, Royal Mistresses, and Royal Cat Fights

“Russo Morin has created a wonderful heroine and painted a brilliant portrait of a neglected court.” -Publishers Weekly

 From her earliest days, Genevieve Gravois has known one fact above all: Francois I, king of France, is her enemy. Raised by her embittered aunt after her parents' deaths, Genevieve hasbeen schooled in things no woman should know: how to decipher codes, how to use a dagger and a bow, and how to kill. For Henry VIII has a destiny in mind for the young girl--as his most powerful and dangerous spy. When the time is ripe, Genevieve enters the magnificent world of the French court. With grace to match her ambition, she becomes maid of honor to Anne de Pisseleau, King Francois's mistress. Yet neither the court--which teems with artistry and enlightenment as well as intrigue--nor Francois himself are at all what Genevieve expected. And with her mission, her life, and the fate of two kingdoms at stake, she will be forced to make deadly decisions about where her heart and her ultimate loyalties lie.

“5 Stars! A fast paced read with a clever and tenacious protagonist, I found it hard to put down! Any fan of historical mysteries will love this exciting read by Donna Russo Morin!” -Passages to the Past

 “Well written and intriguing, Morin proves that she is a contender in the wildly popular historical fiction genre.” -Luxury Reading

“In the onslaught of historical fiction novels on the market these days, Ms. Morin’s latest stands out for its individuality and breathtaking detail.” -RomRevToday

Francois I
The spark of initial inspiration for my third book, To Serve a King, came from the hedonistic and turbulent life of the king of France, François I; the second, from the mistresses who enflamed his court. Two women of great beauty, elegance, intelligence and charm, yet they hated each other with a breathtaking passion and dedicated most of their considerable conniving talents towards harming the other.

Anne de Pisseleau d'Heilly
Born in 1508, the daughter of a middling nobleman (until his offspring became the king’s mistress, of course), Anne de Pisseleau d’Heilly first appeared at court as a maid to the king’s mother, Louise of Savoy, in 1522, but it was not until François returned from years of imprisonment in Spain that the woman caught the young king’s eye, his lust, and his heart. Francois’s infatuation with Anne consumed him and it wasn’t long afterward that he dismissed Francoise de Foix, his official mistress for a decade—though it would be another two years before Francoise gave up the fight for his affections and left court. Foix had no chance to outshine the woman who would one day be deemed as “the most beautiful among the learned, the most learned among the beautiful.”

From the moment they met, Anne and François became inseparable; she ruled his court and his heart and helped François give birth to the French Renaissance. From the first time Anne entered court on the arm of the charismatic king, she became its queen, if not in truth, then in spirit. She was forever by his side, even at his wife’s coronation. The meek and dowdy Eleanor of Austria, unlike Princess Diana when it came to Camilla, had no choice but to accept her husband’s lifelong mistress.

Diane de Poitier
In opposition to Anne’s brilliance, Diane de Poitier’s beauty was one of refinement and elegance, an understated and haughty beauty of an athletic disposition. The daughter of the Seigneur de Saint Vallier, she was married—at the age of 15—to Louis de Brézé, a grandson to King Charles VII, a man thirty-nine years her senior, a decrepit and grotesque man with a hump. And yet Diane did her duty by him and bore him two children, both daughters, though her heart never truly followed. Any warmth between them froze and cracked like thin brittle ice when, in 1524, her father was accused of treason as an accomplice in the seditious acts of the Duke de Bourbon, accused by Diane’s own husband. Convicted, his head on the chopping block, Diane’s father’s life was spared in the end. Many at the time believed the king’s clemency was awarded in exchange for a night of shared passion with the man’s daughter. Diane had saved her father but anything between her and her now elderly husband withered, much as he was soon to do. After his death in 1531, Diane would forever wear black, in later years accented with white, as the color of her mourning. But perhaps, one might hypothesize, it could also be envisioned as the color of her freedom.

Henri II
How truly to the other extreme then, did Diane travel to become the thirty-eight-year-old lover of the nineteen-year-old son of the king? Correspondence between Diane and Henri anchor their affair in 1538, though there was much to his behavior toward her which smacks of infatuation and obsession long before then. Ransomed to the Holy Emperor at a tender age by his father’s defeat upon the battlefield, Henri returned to France a sullen young man. Diane, already returned to court a widow, was put in charge of teaching him the ways of a courtier. She did her job with utmost efficiency. Propriety and decency be damned, their need and love for each other would brook no constraints. Henri’s marriage to Catherine de’ Medici was no deterrent either; the women would share his affections as they shared a grandmother.

As with the ‘celebrities’ of our own time, rumors of these two fierce and passionate women abounded; but in many cases, the genesis of the gossip began with the other. Did Anne have affairs other than that with the king? Probably. Did Diane spread the conjecture of such extra-curricular activities with lip-smacking pleasure? Undoubtedly. Was Diane ever held an arm’s length apart in the court of François because of her inappropriate relationship with a much younger man? One would undoubtedly believe it to be so. Was the ostracism enhanced by the machinations of Anne and her cohorts? Most assuredly.

Their bickering and squabbling knew no bounds, stretching far across the trivial and into the realms of politics and religion, each in turn influencing the kings with whom they shared a bed, pitting father and son against each other in their efforts to be the ‘queen’ of the court. The historical fact of these turbulent women makes any historical fiction almost pale in comparison and yet their skirmishes lend layers of inspired sub-plots.

The lifelong—decades-long—dedication of these mistresses to their ‘kings’, their collusions and thirst for preeminence and power did not, ultimately and unfortunately, allow them to end their lives with the same glory and splendor with which each lived by the side of their lovers. Each died a lonely death far from the elaborate courts they graced. But, if the ties of the heart bind us long after these bodies are cast aside, then perhaps Anne and Diane are with their men still.