Tuesday, April 15, 2014


Although a current cable show depicts this great character in an amusing manner, the depiction is, in fact, so far from the truth, it makes one wonder why they even named him Leonardo da Vinci. But on this day, the anniversary of the legendary man's birth, what better day to pay homage to the true genius, the real...Leonardo da Vinci.

There are but a handful of people that have walked this Earth who's legacy is ever lasting. Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci, born today, April 15 in 1452, is just such a person, a child of humble origins, who would become not only a true polymath but the ultimate definition of a Renaissance man, a personage of great study and admiration, and a never-ending wellspring of inspiration.

The love child of a respected notary, Piero da Vinci, and a very young peasant woman named Caterina, Leonardo lived, for the first five years of his life, with his mother in the small hamlet of Anchino in the home pictured here, less than three kilometers from Vinci. When his mother remarried, his upbringing was carried out by his father and his stepmothers (Piero da Vinci had four wives altogether who gave him 15 children, the last born when Piero was in his sixties; Leonardo was his first born, before Piero ever married). Some biographies do intimate that Leonardo may have carried ill-feelings toward his mother, instilled no doubt if true, by what would seem as abandonment by a five year old.

Two curious myths are associated with Leonardo's childhood; their truth and their influence on Leonardo are worthy of wonder. The first took place when in the care of his mother; it is claimed that a bird or a kite (citations seem unable to agree on which) landed on the child Leonardo while in his crib. This event is intriguing when taken in conjunction with the young man's obsession with birds and flight. When a citizen of Florence, he would purchase exotic birds from the market place, take them into the surrounding hills, and release them, sketching them in flight. The concept of flight, and subsequent sketches of 'flying machines' would inhabit his journals for the whole of his life.

The most profound, early influence in the young Leonardo's life was, however, his Uncle Francesco. Sixteen when Leonardo was born, he was a member of Piero's household, a true countryman and lover of animals, a love he passed along to his nephew. Upon Francesco's death in 1506, he made Leonardo his sole heir. Ironically, genius more than likely had very little formal education due to his illegitimacy. His father would have ensured him some 'elementary' education, but Leonardo taught himself Latin, anatomy, and physics; he would practice autodidacticism for the whole of his life.

Leonardo's own journals, those he wrote throughout his adulthood, tell us of the second provocative event. When exploring the hills surrounding his father's country home, he discovered a cave. Though he was terrified by it--that some horrific monster lurked within--he could not restrain himself from exploring it, driven by a ravenous curiosity that would come to define him.

Whatever impression these events made on an highly intelligent youth, his talent as an artist must have made itself readily apparent from an early age. Tax records indicate that in 1466 Leonardo was more than likely living with his father in Florence--a move designed to put Leonardo in the realm of the rebirth and advancements of the artistic community there--in an apartment overlooking the city's main square, the Piazza della Signoria. That same year, when Leonardo was 14 years old, his father apprenticed Leonardo to the studio of Andreano di Cione, most popularly and still known as Verrocchio; his was one of the finest studios in the city, perhaps in all of Italy. Historical records indicate that in all likelihood Ser Piero was an acquaintance of Verrocchio; the hand of fate working with precision of purpose.

Yet Leonardo's artistic promises were, at first, somewhat bleak; in the custom of the era, he came to be apprenticed at a late age, nine or ten being the typical time to begin such work. But it did not take long for the talented and charming young man to make his presence known.

It did not take long, regardless of his late start, for Leonardo's remarkable talent to make itself known. Work produced by the studios of the era, though known by the name of the maestro, were carried out by the employees and apprentices of the workshop. It was in one such work that Leonardo's brilliance shined so brightly, it would, henceforth, be impossible to be denied. In Verrocchio's Baptism of Christ (pictured, 1472-1475, Uffizi Gallery), Leonardo collaborated with his master, painting the angel holding Jesus' robe. It was the most remarked upon, the most praised, segment of the painting. So much so that it is said Verrocchio never painted again. The apprentice had become the master. In 1472, Leonardo qualified as a master in the Guild of St. Luke, the guild of artists.

But it was during these years, that Leonardo suffered the most personal of tribulations. In 1476, two allegations of sodomy were made against Leonardo, that he and two other men, a goldsmith and a male prostitute—such as were often used as artist’s models—had been party 'to wretched affairs and to pleasuring, each to the other, who requested such wickedness of him.' Both charges were dropped, but for the next two years, Leonardo's whereabouts were not precisely known, though most agree he never left Florence. It is a prevalent theory that Lorenzo de' Medici, then the controlling oligarch of Florence and an extreme patron of the artist and profound Humanist, took the young, troubled artist into his home. Leonardo never married; there are no known romantic relationships with women. His most enduring allegiances are with men. In his own words, from within his journals, Leonardo denounced love as an interference in the life of a true artist.

In 1478, Leonardo received the first of his independent commissions; from then on, he was unstoppable. Sometime in the next year or two, he opened his own studio. All told, there are at least fifteen verifiable works by da Vinci, most of them paintings on panels but also including a large mural. There are an additional six disputed paintings and four recently attributed works. Leonardo never signed his work and their ascription is due to hundreds of years of scholastic study and specification. Though most widely known for his Mona Lisa and The Last Supper, my personal favorites include one which is thought to be his earliest complete work, Annunciation (oil and tempera on canvas, 1472-1475, Uffizi) for its use of spatial relation, its composition, and its color.

But by far, the work of Leonardo that most touch spirit is, in fact, an unfinished painting, a print of which hangs in my home, has done so for many years. Head of a Woman also known as La Scapigliata is dated in his mature years, near or during 1500. Now housed in the Galleria Nazionale of Parma, Italy, the first mention of it is within the Gonzaga Collection. In his rendering, I see the hand of a man who could see a person's deepest truths. In this woman's face, I found my own heartache--a companion in female tribulations, some one to share long, lonely nights filled with tears. In her swollen eyes, I saw my own and felt not alone.

Considered by many as the father of the High Renaissance style, one of Leonardo's most profound influences on painting was his introduction of the technique called sfumato, though he and his contemporaries did not give it this name. That was done by Micheal J. Gleb in his book How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci. The technique, one of four which defined the evolution of painting conceived in the Renaissance, used no distinct outlines to the subjects, they are blurred and blended together with the background by full brush strokes, giving the subjects a 'smoky' appearance. The literal translation of fumo in Italian is 'gone up in smoke.' Sfumato has since come to mean 'without lines or borders.' The proper use of the technique produces atmospheric perspective in paintings, an aspect previously not utilized, a facet and style of painting that would forever change the art, that took painting from the flat and lifeless renderings of the Middle Ages into the bursting with life Realism of the what we now call the Renaissance. Perhaps one of the best examples of Leonardo's use of sfumato is in The Virgin on the Rocks (oil on wood, Louvre, disputed dates between 1483 and 1490). Here visible is the mysterious and dreamlike mood the technique accomplishes: figures blend softly into the background, faces emerge from a muted environment, splashes of color become all the more vibrant.

In 1482 Leonardo abandoned Florence for Milan, whether from a lack of favor and commissions from the controlling Medici or for the want of different pastures. There he spent seventeen years--enormously productive years in the fields of both art and science--leaving only as the Duke Lodovico Sforza fell from power in 1499. But during those years, the Duke urged Leonardo onward, bringing out the best of the man, setting him to painting, sculpting, designing elaborate court festivals, weapons, buildings, and machinery. Leonardo's mind brought forth studies on geometry, mechanics, municipal construction such as canals, architecture from churches to fortresses, and yes, to flying machines. His workshop in Milan was a vortex of discovery and production as well as one of the most sort after homes for apprentices. It was here, in Milan, where The Last Supper was born and resides.

Leonardo left many an unfinished artwork, an uncompleted invention, abandoned and was thought, for a time, incapable of finishing what he began through some deficit of ability. But a study of him as a man finds instead one so full of ideas and conceptions, once the puzzle of one project was solved, if only in his head, the astounding intellect needed the stimulation of the next.

After the fall of Sforza, da Vinci traveled for many years, worked for a many and wide array of sponsors, including the despicable Cesare Borgia. His acquaintances included Niccolo Machiavelli and his travels took him as far as Constantinople. It was during these years that Leonardo's father passed and that Leonardo created the most enigmatic, most widely known painting in history, La Giaconda, or, as the world knows her, Mona Lisa.

For three years, from 1513 to 1516, Leonardo worked in Rome, ironically for Pope Clement VII, the son of the slain Giuliano de' Medici. It was in Rome that Leonardo took his anatomical studies to the extreme, doing so, as Michelangelo did in Florence, by dissecting cadavers. But the Pope looked unkindly on such a practice and forbade Leonardo to continue. The ever-reaching artist was ripe for the plucking by a powerful man obsessed with the best artists the world had to offer.

King Francois I (1494-1547, king of France from 1515 till his death) is, inarguable, the man we may look back to in gratitude for the museum now known as the Louvre, the once home of many a French king. So manic was Francois to have Leonardo, he granted da Vinci the station of Premier Painter and Engineer and Architect of the king. Francois' patronage provided Leonardo with a stipend and a manor house in Amboise, close to the Royal Chateau.

Leonardo brought Mona Lisa with him.

The relationship these two men shared was one of profound empathetic intellectual and cultural curiosity, a love of what could be and the ability to see the beauty in all that was. Even after suffering a paralysis in his right hand (possibly from a stroke), Leonardo continued to sketch and draw and teach, living well under Francois' care.

Leonardo da Vinci died on May 2, 1519 in his home in Clos Luce. Legend holds that King Francois was by his side, cradling Leonardo's head in his arms as the artist passed.

"There had never been a man born who  knew as much as Leonardo da Vinci," said Benevenuto Cellini, twenty years after da Vinci's passing.

What brought Leonardo the title of Renaissance man was his contributions to science, math, and architecture. He was a painter, sculptor, inventor, draftsman, musician, anatomist, inventor, and more, so very much more in terms of an example of the limitless possibilities of the human capability. As one of the great naturalists that ever lived, as a man who contributed to the betterment of all areas of life--especially in the realm of art--he is still revered and admired today, five hundred and sixty one years after his birth, deservedly so.

To this humble, striving artist, his inspiration--that from the smallest of seeds there may grow profound magnificence--will never be forgot, will forever be held in gratitude. I feel truly blessed to have him as a prominent character in my upcoming trilogy.

Happy Birthday, dear, dear unforgettable Leonardo!

(reposted from April 15, 2013)

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

To the Medici, Comes the Pivotal Cosimo

The journey into the lives of the Medici's has arrived at its most auspicious moment. Where previously but
handfuls and handfuls of people in the family could be unaccounted for, indeed unnamed, the growth of the family has come to a man for whom the information is endless. We come to Cosimo the Elder.

If Giovanni di Bicci de Medici can be accorded the true financial genesis of this astounding family, then it is Cosimo di Giovanni de Medici who forged it into the political powerhouse it would be, that it would remain, for the most part, for generations. It is Cosimo who set Florence on the path to becoming the jewel of Europe. But such a path was fraught with danger and intrigue as well as glory and rebirth.

Cosimo was born on September 27, 1389. Thanks to the enormity of wealth acquired by his father, as well as Giovanni's open and intellectually curious mind, Cosimo, and his younger brother, Lorenzo the Elder, enjoyed the very best education the late 14th/early 15th century could provide, an education entrenched firmly in the Classical Movement. Developed in the Middle Ages by Marinus Cappella, it was systematized during the Renaissance era by one Petrus Ramus. It was an education configured by the 'trivium:' the study of grammar, logic, and rhetoric; leading to the 'quadrivium:' consisting of arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. In the areas of logic, philosophy, and rhetoric, the curriculum was based, almost in totality, upon the teachings of Aristotle, Proclus, and Plato.It comes as no surprise, then, that Cosimo became a Humanist, one of the first in this era, one of the first to embrace this old/new way of thinking.

Humanism, in essence, values human beings, individually and collectively, over doctrine or faith. It could be argued that the resurgence of Humanism came from out of the Dark Ages themselves, where religious and clerical authority reigned supreme, preying on the fears of the uneducated wrought by the cultural and economic deterioration of the time period. But as civilization began to evolve once more, such fear-induced imposed authority lost its leverage, given way--giving light--to the reemergence of the Humanist movement.

"Early Italian humanism, which in many respects continued the grammatical and rhetorical traditions of the Middle Ages, not merely provided the old Trivium with a new and more ambitious name (Studia humanitatis), but also increased its actual scope, content and significance in the curriculum of the school and university and in its own extensive literary production." (Paul Oskar Kristeller, Renaissance Thought II: Papers on Humanism and the Arts, New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1965, p. 178).

The Renaissance Humanist movement began in Italy, in the childhood homeland of Cosimo de Medici. It would come to define his actions, his very way of thinking, for good and for bad, throughout his life.

Cosimo's influence and accomplishments came easily and quickly. At the age of 26, he accompanied the Antipope John XXIII at the Council of Constance (the ecumenical council that ended the Three Popes Controversy--The Western Schism--by deposing one, accepting the resignation of another, and electing Pope Martin V). In the same year, Cosimo was named as a Priore of the Republic. He would never serve as Gonfaloniere (governor) as his father had; in fact, a Medici would not do so until well into the 16th century. But it did not mean Cosimo would not rule.

Upon the death of his father in 1429, Cosimo took over the reins of the family, a family already deeply mired in the a political schism taking place in Florence, one that had started almost a decade previous. The city was divided into two factions, one headed by Niccolo da Uzzano and one by Giovanni di Bicci de Medici himself. At the heart of the matter was the question: in whose hands did the true concerns of the city lay? It was, on the surface, a a split between the upper and middle classes, a push-pull that would last for nearly fourteen years. Like his father, Cosimo, though considered the wealthiest man in all of Europe, was firmly on the side of the lower classes, adopting the policy of his family by supporting the poor and lesser guilds over the tyranny of the wealthy families that ruled the city. But like most political controversies, more lay beneath what was clearly visible, and one issue often became an opportunity for more drastic maneuverings.

By 1433, Uzzano was dead and Rinaldo degli Albizzi had taken over the ruling of the opposing faction. The Albizzi's mistrust and jealousy of the Medici--their rise to power, wealth, and influence--was a painful sting to the long established Albizzi. Rinaldo took the opportunity of the schism to convince Bernardo Guadagni, the current Gonfalonier of Justice, to arrest Cosimo. For a time, Cosimo was held prisoner in the Torre d'Arnolfo, the tower portion of the Palazzo di Signoria, the government palace. Due to Cosimo's stature, his cell was nicknamed 'the little hotel.'

Though its inconclusive how long Cosimo remained a captive, he was able to turn imprisonment into banishment. But it was not necessarily by choice of those who held him. As legend has it, Cosimo was not released but rather escaped by bribing the cell guard with 300 florins and the Captain with 700, much to his amusement. He is reported to have stated that they were two of the stupidest men in history as he was the wealthiest man in Italy and would have eagerly paid tens of thousands of florins to obtain his release. Cosimo made his way to Venice (a horrific place for banishment, indeed), but
by October of 1434, with a new government, one much more favorable to Cosimo, he was returned. Then his true glory began.

The uncrowned king, the benevolent despot (such a contradiction in terms), though Cosimo never again held a political office, he did, in actuality, rule the city. As C. Hibbert quoted in his The Rise and Fall of the House of de Medici (1974, William Morrow), "Political questions are settled in Cosimo's house. The man he chooses holds office...he it is who decides peace and war...he is king in all but name."

As Cosimo's power grew, so did the depth of his pockets. Taking full control of the Medici Bank, with the help of brother Lorenzo, and all its branches throughout Europe, he eventually took over the management of the papacy's finances as well. His riches were not only in gold florins but in the form of bank and promissory notes payable to his bank in all the pivotal European financial markets. In 1462, his personal wealth blossomed yet further, obtaining from Pius II the Tolfa alum mines monopoly (alum at the time being imperative to Florence's major industry, that of textiles).

Palazzo de Medici
His power and influence fully established, Cosimo set about to make changes that would bring Florence to its greatness. He changed the income tax structure, altering it from a fixed rate to a graduated one, placing the heavier burden on the very wealthy (himself included; hmmm, sounds vaguely familiar). Poor citizens and middle class alike came to adore him all the more, especially when the funds were put to use in public projects that brought a better quality of life to ALL of its inhabitants. Cosimo used his own enormous wealth on neoclassical architecture (Michelozzo built the Medici palace as well as the Dominican convent of San Marco). He retained the already famed Filippo Brunelleschi to restore the dilapidated San Lorenzo Church. In Careggi and Fiesole, he built magnificent villas in the contemporary style and paid for the erection of cloisters in the latter village. But his munificence was not limited to construction alone...he founded the vast Medici Library--sharing it with the intellectuals of the age-- and brought plumbing to his great city. He served his dedication to Humanism by establishing an academy for Greek study, The Platonic Academy, an institution also dedicated to translating the works of Plato.

Herod's Baquet by Donatello
But by far, Cosimo's greatest contributions, those with long lasting echoes resounding to this day, was his dedication to art and the support--both financial  and social--to those who created it. Ghiberti, Brunelleschi, Luca della Robbia, Donatello, Alberti, Fra Angelico, and Ucello...all early Renaissance masters...all artists supported by Cosimo. His love of art would be handed down to his sons and their sons, allowing for the emergence of some of the greatest artists the world has ever known.

For all his wealth, for all the lavishness he plied upon others--citizens of Florence as well as personal guests--Cosimo lived simply and quietly. He dressed modestly, worked long and hard, and never ate or drank to excess. His was considered witty and mild mannered, quiet yet exceedingly brilliant.

Upon his death on the first of August, 1464, a grateful and loving city decreed that his tomb be inscribed with the endearing title they had given him, Father of the Fatherland, Pater Patriae.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014


Photo by Lisa Chizuka 
They lived in the middle of the dust-ridden plains, two miles from anywhere, any house, any town. No trees relieved the landscape; no birdsong filled the air. Nothing surrounded them save a flat unremarkable line, where land met sky, for as far as the eye could see. Funnel clouds of dirt danced with mocking merriment about the ramshackle house, its clapboard shutters—once rich brown—were now nothing more than pale gray, crooked teeth.
            Mama washed laundry in the big copper bucket in the back yard. Not their own laundry, a course, the rich folks’ laundry. Them that came in fancy motorized vehicles that banged and popped, them that dropped their baskets at the edge of the dirt strip pretending to be a street, and went on their way without so much as a “howdy-do.” They returned at dusk, hand Mama a few dollars, and leave as quick as they’d come.
            Every now and again Jacob tried to talk to them, but they’d just look down their long noses at him and keep walking. His little sister Jessie never talked to them. Jessie never talked to anyone; not even Mama and Jacob. Not anymore. Not since daddy got to her.
            Scrunched down upon spindly legs and bare feet, Jacob stared at the small motionless pebbles,
those he saw with his mind’s eye as his marbles, in the circle he had drawn in the dirt at the bottom of the two rickety front steps. Grimy and gray in reality, their brilliant color rivaled their smoothness in his imagination-skewed vision. Most days he spent hours lost in the angles of this game, but today his mind was as scattered as the pebbles when he flicked them with his shooter. His cousin Howard was coming to stay for three whole days. He’d never met his cousin, never had someone to play with other than his silent sister for more than a few hours at a time. His stomach flopped with excitement. He heard its growl above the silence and the wind.
            By the time the wagon wheel’s rumble reached them, Jacob’s feet—washed every night before bed and prayers—were as filthy as the ground now tattooed with his footprints.
            “Mama,” he called out, his voice cracked to a squeak then swirled around the house on the unrelenting wind. “They’re here.”
            Wiping pruny hands on her faded calico dress, Mama came round the corner. She smiled at her son, at the excitement in his bucktooth grin, the spark in the dark brown eyes that looked just like hers. She put a loving hand on his shoulder and they walked toward the slat board-sided wagon. Mama looked over her shoulder, sending her smile toward Jess who sat on the porch in the tattered straw rocking chair. Her doll, perched face out in her lap, shared Jess’s vacant gaze. Jess hadn’t moved since morning; she rarely did.
            “Hey, Martha.” The large man driving the wagon doffed his straw hat as he pulled the horse gently to a stop.
            “Hey, Fred.” Mama looked up, shielding her eyes from the sun with a red-skinned hand.
            “Me and Gail sure do ‘ppreciate this,” Fred said, wiping the sweat and dust from his eyes with a worn, washed out green bandanna. "And don't worry none. Anyone who asks will think he's with his grandmother back east."
            Mama nodded; answering only with a tight lipped smile.         
            Fred turned his jowl-heavy chin over his beefy shoulder. “Come on, Howard, get on out.”
            The wagon bounced as a young blond boy jumped out the back. He stood, one hand holding a lumpy burlap sack, the other shoved deep in the slash pocket of his indigo overalls, his long legs reaching the ground many inches beyond the bottom of his pants.
            “Our pleasure. Be good for the kids to have some company,” Mama said. “How’s Aunt Clara?”
            “Still holdin’ on, far’s we know. We’ll let ya’ know more when we get back.”
            Mama nodded, lowering her head, and rubbing the back of her neck as she sometimes did. She gave Jacob a tender push.
            “Well, go on. Bring your cousin in the house.”
            Jacob shuffled forward, dragging his bare feet as if he hadn’t been waiting for this moment for days. As he walked toward his cousin, wondering why Howard was so much taller than he even though they were both twelve-years-old, he noticed a small drawstring bag hanging from around Howard’s neck.
            “What’s that?” Jacob asked by way of greeting, squinting up at the unfamiliar but not unfriendly face above him.
            “Marbles.” Howard replied.
            Jacob’s smile spread so far his dry lips cracked.
            “I’ll be back in a couple hours,” Mama said, pushing her once pretty blue hat firmly down on her head. “I’m goin’ to town to get somethin’ special for dinner, in honor of Howard bein’ here and all.”
            “Thanks, Cousin Martha.” Howard stood, nodding his long, freckle-covered face. “Mighty nice of you.”
            Mama smiled. “You two keep a good eye on Jessie, ya’ hear?”
            “What’s this one?” Jacob held a marble up before his eyes like a delicate treasure.
           “Cat’s Eye,” Howard answered, his gaze flicking over his shoulder to Jessie, who still rocked in the fraying chair, her baby doll held firm but lovingly in her lap. “What’s wrong with your sister?”
            Jacob looked up at Jessie, at her pretty, vacant face, the brown eyes she shared with him and her mother, the tousled dirty blond hair. “She’s just quiet.”        
            “Whaddya’ mean quiet? Seems like she don’t talk or nothin’.” Howard took more marbles out of his bag. Jacob didn’t seem to mind talking long as he could look at the marbles.
            “No, she don’t…much,” Jacob replied, reaching out for the little gems hungrily.
            “How come?”
            Jacob shrugged. “Dun know for sure. She started talkin’ when she was little, but then…”
            Jacob’s gaze flicked up to his cousin’s curious face as his tongue twisted on the unspoken words.
            “Well, then we ran away from daddy. She ain’t never talked since.”
            Howard sat down on the puffy dry earth. “Why’d you run away from your daddy?”
            Jacob wondered if Howard had as many marbles as he did questions. “Just got too hard for him, I guess. He done take the hard out on us.... So we ran.”
            That was hard for Mama too, Jacob knew. He saw it in her eyes sometimes, like she was on the edge of a cliff looking down, not wondering if she’d fall, but when. Most times the look went away, especially when she looked at him and Jessie. No matter how tired or how hungry, she gave to them what they needed most, herself. She taught them how to play checkers with colored pebbles in squares she’d drawn on the floor. She read stories from borrowed books, acting out the parts and using different voices. And always, always, she loved them, delighted in loving them.
            Jacob raised his eyes back to his sister. “She’s a good girl.”
            Howard turned back to Jacob and shrugged. That seemed enough for him.
            Neither boy noticed when she stood up, crossed the porch, and descended the crooked stairs. When her shadow fell over him, Jacob jumped.
            “What the hell?” The words slipped out of his mouth before he could catch them. He worried if Mama heard, then remembered she wasn’t back yet. He watched Jess amble away toward the dirt street with slow, plodding steps.
            “Where she goin’?” Howard jumped up.
            Jacob didn’t answer, couldn’t. He stood and followed Jess.
            “Where you goin’, Jess?” He called, catching up to her with quick dust puffing steps.
            Jess kept walking. She seemed so small with her little feet and hobnobbed, skinny legs. Jacob wondered if all eight-year-olds were as small as she.
            “You all right, Jessie?” Howard walked beside Jacob, who walked behind Jess. The girl didn’t answer him either.
            A few feet from the street, Jessie stopped. Jacob and Howard stopped. The boys looked at each other. Silently they circled around the still girl to stand before her.
            Jessie stared straight down. Jacob and Howard looked down too. Jacob’s thin brows furrowed on his smooth, sun kissed skin. Where did the hole Jessie stood in come from? Had it been there before?
            “What’s wrong, Jessie?” Jacob asked, his thin whisper wafting away on the never-ending wind.
            Jessie’s head rose slowly. Her unblinking eyes protruded from her gaunt face as her lips fell
open in a gruesome gash. Her scream, when it came, shattered any peace that ever lived here.
            “IT’S COMING!”
            The days passed far too quickly and Jacob learned the sadness of separation at Howard’s leaving. His cousin promised to come again and bring more marbles, maybe even give Jacob some of his own. That night they played another game with Mama, he laughed so hard his stomach hurt. When Mama tucked him in bed, her love covered him as completely as the dry dust covered the earth and his sadness disappeared. He felt guilty ‘cause he never told Mama about Jessie, about her walk and her scream. He didn’t want to make things worse for Mama; he wasn’t sure she could take it.
            The pounding woke them up; it shook the earth beneath the clean, bare wood floor and quivered deep in their bellies. Jacob was afraid to move, he found only enough courage to open his eyes. Jessie lay beside him; her bulging eyes bore into his as if she’d been staring at him for hours, waiting. This time she whispered.
            “It’s coming.”
            Jacob bolted upright with a gasp. His Mama stood at the open door, her silhouette dark against the pale early morning light. She stared out at the distance, the tip of one rough skinned thumb stuck between her teeth. Jacob ran past her onto the porch. Small figures moved about on the horizon. Three wagons huddled around them, long poles—longer than any Jacob or his Mama had ever seen—stuck out the back. For hours they watched the men, watched as they dug deep holes in the earth and rammed the poles in them. The newly raised poles reached out from the earth, skeletal fingers beckoning to the heavens.
            One by one the men emptied the wagons and drove them away. One creaking conveyance roared toward them. Jacob ran out to the street, waving his hands until the man driving the wagon pulled up on the reins.
            “What you doin’ out there, mister?”
            “Why, we puttin’ in e-lectricity poles, boy. They bringin’ e-lectricity out here. And then something called tel-o-phones.” As if that explained everything, the man whipped the reins and continued on his way.
            Jacob ran back to Mama.
           “They puttin’ in somethin’ called ‘lectricity and telpones.” Jacob stood at her feet, looking up into her eyes. “Is it gonna be all right, Mama?”
            Mama looked down and Jacob saw it, that standing on the edge of the cliff look. But this time it was worse, this time the fear turned her eyes into dark shadowed hollows in her blanched face.
            She shook her head with the slow futility of denying inevitability.
            “He’ll be coming now.”

The End
(c) Donna Russo Morin 2007

Wednesday, March 12, 2014


From military child, to nurse, wife, and mother, and now to author, it's wonderful to welcome debut author, Marci Jefferson to the Writers' Study.

What is your favorite word?

What is your least favorite word?

What turns you on?

What turns you off?

What sound or noise do you love?
My children laughing

What sound or noise do you hate?
My children crying

What is your favorite curse word?
I don't really have one, but 'cluster f--k' makes me laugh

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
Could I make a living gardening?

What profession would you not like to do?I can't do anything involving a night-shift.

If heave or the after-life exists, what would you like to hear God, The Source (or whatever Deity you may believe in) say when arrive at the pearly gates?
"Welcome home"

In one sentence, please describe your latest release:
GIRL ON THE GOLDEN COIN is a novel of Frances Stuart, who rejected three kings and graced England's coins for generations as the model for Britannia. 


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Zu meiner lieben deutschen Leser!

Ich bin so froh, dass die Freisetzung von meinem ersten Buch, übersetzt in Deutsch, ist auf 18. März 2014 von CORA VERLAG. Im Spiegelsaal der Leidenschaft war eine Geschichte von meinem eigenen Fantasties als 16 Jahre altes Mädchen inspiriert, als ich zum ersten Mal den Film, Die drei Musketiere. Es wird immer einen besonderen Platz in meinem Herzen wie ein Märchen meiner eigenen Träume und als mein erstes Buch veröffentlicht werden. Ich hoffe, Sie werden es lieben, wie ich!

Ludwigs XIV

Frankreich, 1682: Die eitlen Rituale von Versailles treiben Jeanne schier zum Wahnsinn! Um der tristen Etikette am Hof Ludwigs XIV. zu entfliehen, lernt die junge Hofdame heimlich fechten – und mischt sich gelegentlich in Männerkleidern unter die Musketiere des Sonnenkönigs. Als „Jean-Luc“ verkleidet kämpft sie kühn an der Seite des hübschen Henri – als Jeanne lässt sie sich leidenschaftlich von ihm umwerben. Doch je näher sie dem stolzen Musketier in beiden Rollen kommt, desto schwerer fällt es ihr, das gefährliche Doppelspiel durchzuhalten. Und plötzlich sieht sich Jeanne inmitten einer Verschwörung, die ihr alles zu nehmen droht, wofür ihr Herz schlägt …

Lesen Sie, sich vorstellen, viel Spaß!


Wednesday, February 19, 2014


It is an indisputable fact, pronounced by many and for many, many years, that Florence was the cradle of the Renaissance. For the Medicis, coming to power at the same time as this artistic revolution begins, they were of an open, intellectual and cultured sensibility, able to not only ‘see’ what was taking place, but to relish it, to nurture it. As a companion to the ongoing Medici series, there then must be posts to celebrate the preeminent artwork of each generation.

When last visiting with the Medicis, Giovanni di Bicci de Medici (1340-1429) had brought the family to the true beginning of their power, doing so through the expansion of the banking enterprises. But he used the family’s growing wealth not only to serve the Medici, but to foster the spectacular art being created in his beloved city. Here are but a handful of those works.

Born Lorenzo di Bartolo (1378-1455), Ghiberti was a sculptor is best known for the creation of the bronze doors of the Baptistery of the Florence Cathedral. But perhaps a more startling example of his work—startling in the exquisite example of the Renaissance movement, are the second set of doors he created. In his own words, “In this work I sought to imitate nature as closely as possible, both in proportions and in perspective... the buildings appear as seen by the eye of one who gazes on them from a distance.”

In the work of Taddeo Gaddi (1290-1366) are glimpses of the changes to painting that are about to occur. Born in The Angelic Announcement to the Shepherds is part of a cycle of work entitled Stories of the Virgin. The first glimpses of ‘perspective’ of clear in the placement and sizing of the shepherd and the angel.

Born Piero di Giovanni (1370-1425) the artist who would be known as Lorenzo Monaco was a true contemporary of Giovanni di Bicci de Medici. Although his work does not embrace the new techniques to come, its inclusion of multiple characters lays a path that would be followed. In his Adoration of the Magi his use of brilliant colors and multiple saints is clearly in evidence as is the total absence of geometric perspective that would soon come to not only define the brilliance of the artistic Renaissance, but which would change the very path of artists to come.

Monday, February 3, 2014


A former attorney; a dedicated, passionate mother and wife; Sophie Perinot, author of The Sister Queens, pays a visit Inside the Writers' Study. 

What is your favorite word?  

What is your least favorite word? 
“real” (it implies a level of smugness and judgment that drives me mad)

What turns you on?  
Smart people and intelligent discussion.  I was saying “smart is the new sexy” long before Irene Adler said it in the new Sherlock.

What turns you off?  
Bigotry of any type, especially when accompanied by certitude.  People who are overly certain of anything much can’t be very bright.

What sound or noise do you love? 
My children’s voices.

What sound or noise do you hate?  
The sound of a cat vomiting somewhere.

What is your favorite curse word?  
A French phrase my host mother taught when I was studying in Switzerland as a college student -- allez vous faire foutre. I use the common F-word more but love this phrase most.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? 
I won’t know the answer to this until I become obsessed with “what’s next”

What profession would you not like to do?  
Law.  Been there.  Done that.  Wouldn’t go back.

If heaven or the after-life exists, what would you like to hear God, The Source (or whatever Deity you may believe in) say when you arrive at the pearly gates?  
“You worked hard and did the right thing when no one was looking.”

In one sentence, describe your newest or most recent release:
Like most sisters, Marguerite and Eleanor were rivals. They were also queens.

Read more about The Sister Queens and author Sophie Perinot here!