Author Spotlight: Donna Russo Morin, author of Portrait of a Conspiracy, Da Vinci’s Disciples Trilogy (Book One)
IWIC: Tell us about yourself…
Donna: I’m an internationally published, award-winning author of six (soon to be seven) multi-award-winning historical novels. My passion for the written word began when I was a child, took on a feminist edge as I grew through the sixties, and blossomed into a distinctive style of action-filled historical fiction at a defining moment in my life. As a second-generation American of full Italian descent, I combined historical research with my genealogical studies, finding that my birth name (Russo) and my family roots are traceable to ninth century Florence…the very city in which the Da Vinci’s Disciples trilogy is set. As a 25-year professional editor/story consultant, my work spans more than 40 manuscripts. I hold a BA in Communications and an A.A. in English Literature. I teach writing courses at my state’s most prestigious adult learning center, online for Writer’s Digest University, and have presented at national and academic conferences for over ten years. In addition to writing, I have worked as a model and an actor with appearances in Showtime’s Brotherhood and Martin Scorsese’s The Departed. I live near the ocean I love in Rhode Island, the state in which I was born and raised. My sons—Devon, an opera singer; and Dylan, a chef—are still, and always will be, my greatest works.
IWIC: What got you writing?
Donna: I started writing since I could form letters. It is what I was born to do; of that, I have absolutely no doubt.
IWIC: Is there a message in your books?
Donna: I wished to pay an homage to the power of women united. Women bond in a much more personal way than men do. They can also be far more catty to each other than men. These books are nothing if not a deep look into the complexities of female relationships. As a child of the 60’s, the time of my childhood, when the entire world was challenged with the anti-war movement, the civil rights movement, and the women rights movement. I was greatly affected by it all. My opinions, which formed during that time, do seem to make their way onto my pages with great frequency, and Da Vinci’s Disciples is no exception. Feminism—or in this case, female ambition—is a defining theme of this book and the women who inhabit it.
IWIC: Tell us about your books
Donna: My work was starting to include more and more artists, especially those of the Renaissance. But, as I have done with all my books, I wanted to illuminate the period through the lives of women, women who dared to do the unthinkable. In this case, to be a part of the artistic revolution that came to be known as the Renaissance. At the same time, I was going through a horrific divorce that lasted years. If not for my female friends, I’m not sure I would have made it through. The Da Vinci’s Disciples trilogy is nothing if not an homage to the power of female friendships, a bond that is unlike any other. It is all there, both the good and the bad of how women are with each other, and what they can accomplish when they are united. And while the women are not based on actual historical figures, each and every one is based on actual women, myself included. Da Vinci’s Disciples, the trilogy, is the story of a secret society of women artists, under the tutelage of the great Leonardo da Vinci, who must navigate the treacherous life of 15th century Florence while trying to bring their artistry to the world.
Portrait of a Conspiracy: Book One – One murder ignites the powder keg that consumes Florence under the iron rule of the powerful Medici family. Amidst the chaos, five women and one legendary artist weave together a dangerous plot that could bring peace, or get them all killed. Seeking to wrest power, members of the Pazzi family draw blades in church and slay the beloved Giuliano. But Lorenzo de’ Medici survives the attack, and seeks revenge on everyone involved, plunging the city into a murderous chaos. Bodies are dragged through the streets, and no one is safe. Five women steal away to a church to ply their craft in secret. Viviana, Fiammetta, Isabetta, Natasia, and Mattea are painters, not allowed to be public with their skill, but freed from the restrictions in their lives by their art. When a sixth member of their group, Lapaccia, goes missing, and is rumored to have stolen a much sought-after painting before she vanished, the women must venture out into the dangerous streets to find their friend. They will have help from one of the most renowned painters of their era—the peaceful and kind Leonardo Da Vinci. It is under his tutelage that they will flourish as artists, and with his access that they will infiltrate some of the highest, most secretive places in Florence, unraveling one conspiracy as they build another in its place.
The Competition: Book Two – A commission to paint a fresco in the church of Santo Spirito is about to be announced and Florence’s countless artists each seek the fame and glory this lucrative contract will provide. Viviana, a noblewoman freed from a terrible marriage, and now able to pursue her artistic passions, sees a potential life-altering opportunity for herself and her fellow artists. The women first speak to Lorenzo de’ Medici himself, and finally, they submit a bid for the right to paint it. And they win. The very public commission belongs to them. But with the victory comes a powerful cost. The church will not stand for women painting, especially not in a house of worship. The city is not ready to consider women in positions of power, and in Florence, artists wield tremendous power. Even the women themselves are hesitant; the attention they will bring upon themselves will disrupt their families, and even put them in physical danger. All the while, Viviana grows closer to Sansone, her soldier lover, who is bringing to her a joy that she never knew with her deceased husband; and fellow-artist Isabetta has a flame reignited, sparked by Lorenzo himself; power and passion collide in this sumptuous historical novel of shattering limitations, one brushstroke at a time.
The Flames of Florence: Book Three – Il Magnifico, Lorenzo de’ Medici, is dead, and his now-exiled son, Piero, has brought ruin upon Florence. War and famine have tarnished and dulled the glittering city. Yet, the glory that is Renaissance artistry grows more magnificent, as does the work of the women known as Da Vinci’s Disciples. Now, they face their most dangerous challenge thus far, one shrouded in the cloak of a monk. From the ashes of war, Friar Girolamo Savonarola rises. Some call him a savior and a prophet, a man willing to overthrow tyrannical rulers and corrupt clergy, the Borgia Pope among them. Fra Girolamo is determined to remold Florence from an avaricious, secular culture to a paragon of Christian virtues. Many call Savonarola a delusional heretic, incapable of anything but self-serving fanaticism. When he sets out to destroy all secular art forms―literature, sculpture, paintings―Da Vinci’s Disciples call him an enemy…most, but not all of them.Savonarola divides the people of Florence; neighbor turns on neighbor. Within the Disciples―within their families―fissures slash them when Viviana devises a dangerous plan to save whatever they can of the city’s art from Savonarola’s bonfires. Who will reign triumphant? Will their families―plus their loves, friendships, and their art―survive the treacherous threat? Will the Disciples themselves―and all they’ve fought for and achieved―burn…in THE FLAMES OF FLORENCE?