Thursday, February 14, 2019


It’s a good question, one deserving a bit of skepticism. If you’ll allow me to share a couple of points of interest, I may just turn your incredulity into excited acceptance.

BIRTH: Once, Upon a New Time Book One is, in fact, the very first novel I ever wrote…twenty-eight years ago while carrying my first child. Back then, it was all one book rather than a trilogy, and it was over eight hundred pages long. I had been (and always will be) a great lover of fantasy, the pure escapism that comes with magical lands and strange creatures, a certified devotee of all things Tolkien and Lewis.

However, back then fantasy wasn’t nearly as popular as it is today and I wasn’t nearly the writer I am today. I pitched it about to agents and received polite, instructive rejections. My first son was born, then my second, and I started reading Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. I could see the writing on the wall well enough; it was a time when historical fiction was much more popular. And it suited my writer’s ‘voice.’

I set about learning the craft of crafting historical fiction. The research, the eras that ignited passion in me…a must to put that passion into my words.

I landed an agent with my first historical novel, and it was off to the races. My eight novels have garnered many awards, have been translated into five different languages, been well received by critics (one, The King’s Agent, which has paranormal aspects, received a starred review in Publishers Weekly), and my latest release, GILDED SUMMERS, an Amazon #1 Bestseller, has sold over 100,000 copies worldwide.

But I never forgot my first love or my first book. And what I had learned through the years of writing historical fiction and the intense research required to craft good historical fiction—the rebuilding of worlds of the past—showed me how to world-build far better than when I wrote the original fantasy book.

I became the ‘research.’ I studied mythological creatures, I filled notebook after notebook of every detail—even the most minute—of what my ‘world’ would be. I ‘created’ the source material required, as it is in historical fiction, to rewrite my fantasy novel. And during all those years, interest in historical fiction has waned while the popularity of fantasy has grown.

With this acquired knowledge and world-building acumen, the book became longer and longer in an age when publishers want smaller and smaller books (oh, technology and the demise of attention spans). I broke that enormous book into three parts, connecting them with an over-arching theme, and pitched. The publisher of GILDED SUMMERS loved it and acquired it. The Once, Upon a New Time trilogy, is my rebirth into the realm of fantasy.

The moral of my tale is this…fantasy and historical fiction are not as different as it would appear on the surface, and one should never, ever forget their first love. 

Tuesday, January 9, 2018


Not to be too mysterious, but for the real surprise, read all the way to the end!

It’s wonderfully atmospheric—I really got a sense of Newport, the glamour and the social striving, but also the class tensions and prejudices that exist. Ms. Russo is a lovely writer, with a real feel for her characters, especially Pearl and Ginevra. The question of why (cut for spoilers) immediately intrigued me. I enjoyed watching how their friendship evolved on even as it pushed up and against social norms of the time... There’s a lot to like here.

Russo is a skilled writer and her characters are accessible and likable; I was really worried for Ginevra, so the ending was very satisfying.The story surprised me. I think this has potential to be a commercial title—especially considering the recent appeal of Downtown Abbey and the like.

I absolutely loved the setting, and the author did a great job of evoking the mannerisms of the time and place.

I really fell in love with this: the stunning setting of Newport in the Gilded Age, inside looks into both the wealthy and their servants (neither fully happy), feminism, and the power of female friendship, and even a dash of romance. Pearl and Ginevra are strong, engaging protagonists, both as individuals and a pair. They are such fascinating characters ina fascination place and time...this world of the Vanderbilts and the Astors, of emerging feminism and the pull between independence and the expected notions of romance and family.

Intrigued? Ready for the surprise...these are all rejection letters. Yes, you read that correctly...rejections!

But I refused to hear no and I finally heard YES!

GILDED SUMMERS will be released in early summer 2018 by Creativia.

GILDED SUMMERS is an upmarket women’s novel with elements of domestic suspense/murder mystery, set in Newport’s Gilded Age.

Two girls, Pearl and Ginevra, grow up in the singular moment known as the Gilded Age in Newport, Rhode Island—one lives above the stairs, the other below. These two young women must decide who they want to be in this world, and survive what it takes to get there…even if it includes murder.

Surrounded by Astors and Vanderbilts, Pearl fills her days with teatime and shallow friendships, yearning for something more. A chance meeting with Mary Cassatt sparks in her a secret desire to be an artist, a “new” woman. Meanwhile Ginevra, fresh off the boat from Italy, finds her own dreams out of reach as she joins the unwelcoming household as a servant and seamstress.

Kindred souls, the girls become fast friends but must keep their friendship hidden from Pearl’s controlling and social-climbing mother. Each summer, they meet in a hidden spot beneath the weeping beeches to talk of art and life, their struggles to break the barriers of their lives, and to draw inspiration from the writings of Lucy Stone. 

But before long, the realities of adulthood begin closing in on them. Accepting a “suitable” marriage proposal, Pearl tries her best to fit into her new role, while Ginevra begins to harbor feelings of jealousy and resentment. The two young women must decide who they want to be in this world, and survive what it takes to get there…even if it includes murder.

Going behind the façade of this glittering era, Gilded Summers is a gripping, richly detailed story of friendship, prejudice, and life-altering choices. The novel will appeal to fans of Downton Abbey and The Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood

As a born, raised, and still happy resident of Rhode Island, so many of my greatest moments took place on the island of Newport, and they still son recently married there. This book has been a dream of mine and I can't wait for this glorious place, these enigmatic people, and this intriguing tale to at last go out into the world.

Stay posted for more release information.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Writing Fun | Ep. 109 : The Competition with Donna Russo Morin

It was such an honor to be interviewed by Michelle Marie Dunton of Writing Fun. She asked some great questions which reveals a lot about the inspiration of my Da Vinci's Disciples trilogy, the truth of where the characters came from, and some hints about where they're headed. (And now everyone gets to see that yes, my children are correct, I am a cartoon).

Tuesday, June 13, 2017


Spend your summer in Florence!
Hang out with Leonardo da Vinci!
So thrilled to share this incredible offer!


Da Vinci’s Disciples Book Two
By Donna Russo Morin

All rights reserved

Chapter One
“Inspiration, when it comes, comes on its own terms.”

Specks of sand in a windstorm, eddying about, seemingly chaotic yet cohesive, unified within the calm, unseen core.
They stood apart in the vast crowd and yet together, a feat they had managed to accomplish ever since those fateful days. None could see them and know them as a group; society would frown upon it. Few of their number—in truth, but one—cared little for the caprices of society. Their truth had already rendered it specious. But if their truth were known—the deepest, darkest depths of it—they would all be dead, a brutal death at the end of the hangman’s noose.
The boisterous throng swirled around them, ignorant to the revolutionaries they stood beside. With the crowd whirled the music, the voices, the change in the wind. Some of the women wore jewels and ermine trim, others simple muslin. Only in their smocks were their ranks and wealth negated. They stood united by what they had done, by all they created, and all they hoped yet to create. Such brazenness, such daring, such criminal activity bound them in a way little else could. They were—now and forever—united as Da Vinci’s Disciples.

“Isn’t it breathtaking, dearest?” Natasia twittered to her husband, Pagolo, squeezing his arm with a plump hand in her zeal.
Tall and stick-like to Natasia’s round fleshiness, Pagolo Capponi shielded his slim, dark eyes from the midday sun as they watched the grand procession pass before them. “Yes dearest, splendid.”
Viviana tucked her chin down, hiding her motherly grin; so much had changed, and yet some things never would. Natasia may be married now, as she had so craved to be, but her girlish giggles had not abandoned her.
Viviana stood beside the couple and they beside Fiammetta and Patrizio, the Conte and Contessa Maffei, she with her face a blasé mask, he with bright spots of happiness on his round cheeks. Beside them stood Lapaccia Cavalcanti, simply attired as always, an ash walking stick in her hand. The widowed noblewoman held the arm of another elderly woman, a noble as well, down to her luxurious trappings.
On Viviana’s other side stood Isabetta and Mattea, both in their finest—if simplest—muslin, both with the kiss of the sun emerging on their pale cheeks.
Viviana was the middle ground between the ottimati and popolo of their group, the elite and the common citizens. She was a widow herself, that of a disgraced lesser elite, disgraced by his own hands, deceased by hers and those of the women near to her. She was as in limbo in life as she was between these women, not exactly knowing her place, not exactly knowing where life would next take her.
“About time things returned to normal,” Fiammetta grumbled. Viviana wholeheartedly agreed with her, which did not happen often.
“Thanks to Il Magnifico.” Viviana felt gladness for him, and all of Florence.
Lorenzo de’ Medici was not the man he had once been. The change came the day they murdered his brother in the great cathedral. It came when Lorenzo learned the murder was a conspiracy, with gnarled fingers that reached all the way to the Vatican. All goodness and light within him had been extinguished when he had avenged Giuliano’s murder in a massacre of near to one hundred men. He ruled darkly in the wars that followed, and in the years that followed those wars. What with the pope’s decree of excommunication upon Il Magnifico and all of Florence, the wars, and the plague, Florence and its citizens had suffered dearly in the intervening years. Lorenzo’s grief and anger had hovered over the city like an ominous black cloud. Today, at long last, he had allowed a celebration to take place. And what a spectacle it was.
            This Festa di San Giovanni, a celebration of John the Baptist, was unlike any the city had seen before. Under Il Magnifico’s rule, as every facet of life had become, it blazed with both pageantry and eminence.
“Florence dons her golden gown once more,” Isabetta said. “Would you look at that?”
One had no choice. Fifteen wagons drawn by fifty pairs of oxen filled the street, their clomping the air, the cheering of the crowd the ears.
The women leaned away from the heat of the many girandole, their wheels of fire in the shapes of ships and houses, their fires crackling, popping, and spattering the crowd with sparks.
Zigzagging their way through the wagons and platforms, the spiritegli hovered over all, their legs strapped to poles so tall they seemed to walk on air.
            A banner upon the lead wagon identified the edifizi upon the lead wagon: Lucius Aemilius Paulus. 
“It is his vanity,” Fiammetta said once more.
“It is his need to reassert himself,” Viviana argued with a whisper, not for her sake, but for Fiammetta’s; she had no wish for any to hear of her friend’s continued anti-Medicean attitude. There were those who shared Fiammetta’s feelings for the city’s ruler. Most hid behind a façade of Medici support, in dark corners and shadows, for their own purposes and pernicious agendas.
Lucius Aemilus Paulus was the Roman conqueror of Macedonia, from before the birth of Jesus Christ. His return to Rome, with overflowing bounty, had made him immortal.
“No doubt Il Magnifico wishes to make an identification,” Viviana raised her voice in concert with the rising roar of the crowd. “Lorenzo put much at risk to save our city, going to Naples, being held virtually hostage there for more than a year. His safe return, his success in saving Florence from further ravages of war—surely it is a bounty worth celebrating.”
“Humph,” was Fiammetta’s response.
“Indeed, Florence is reborn,” Mattea agreed with Isabetta. “Already women are wearing their finest again, and palazzos are being built. Yes, Florence is reborn. But can it be as if nothing ever happened? Can it be as it was before?”
Before. The word had a strange effect. Did they really wish for it to be so?
Viviana studied each face, watched as her friends’ minds traveled back in time with her own. Lapaccia had never regained her health since the days and weeks she’d hidden in the convent. She had become what she had never been, no matter her age… an old, frail lady. Her son, Mattea’s lover, wandered, hiding, the small price he paid for the small part he played in the conspiracy to kill Guiliano de’ Medici and the attempt to kill Lorenzo. Mattea’s longing, her fear was ever there upon her face, in her eyes that did not sparkle as they once had, upon lips slow to curve.
Isabetta in her widow’s weeds, her husband whom she had loved and nursed for years now gone, though not so very long ago. A badge of guilt hung heavy on that woman’s neck. But not nearly as heavy as one did on Viviana’s, for Isabetta had not been the instrument of her husband’s death; that part belonged to Viviana and Viviana alone. Was it truly wrong? No, she had never thought so, not for a moment. What she feared more was that she had killed something within herself when she killed him.
Fiammetta had slipped down the social ladder—an atrocity, in her mind, for staying on her perch was so very important to her. Her association with the Pazzi family—they who had led the assassination—had chipped away at her lofty standing. Watching her struggle to climb back up was like watching a child attempt to scale a mountain, a pitiable sight.
Only Natasia—sweet, young Natasia—had come away unscathed.
They had even lost their mentor, if only temporarily. They’d lost Leonardo da Vinci to the Duke of Milan, or rather his uncle Ludovico, who acted as regent for his eight-year-old nephew. The wars Florence had endured had left no one to sponsor him, which da Vinci needed in order to become the maestro of the studio that he deserved to be.
But something had happened, something glorious in the before. They had saved Lapaccia’s life, even Andreano’s, and they had created a masterpiece. It hung in the Palazzo della Signoria still, the towering building at their backs. It hung where the original masterpiece had hung and still no one knew the difference. The city and its keepers thought it a warning to all those who dare defy its leaders, most especially the Medicis, and so it remained upon its wall, an accusatory finger to be avoided. In truth, it was a living, breathing testament to the women’s growing prowess as artists. It didn’t matter that no one knew such beauty had come from their hands; at least that was what they told themselves.
Viviana looked to the sky, to the small prison at the top of the tower where she herself had spent a night. No one knew she and these women, Da Vinci’s Disciples, had rendered the painting that hung in that tower.
No, it didn’t matter. Or did it? The question had plagued Viviana more and more of late, as she searched for the same fiery purpose she had felt when helping to paint it. She now seemed to crave it, as the souse craved his wine.
Like her city, Viviana carried the scars of those days, yet like Florence, she too was healing. She closed her eyes, raised her face to the sun, and let it warm her. She let gratitude consume her, let the crowd and the cheering and the song and the laughter fade away.
“I purchased that chapel in Santo Spirito three years ago.” The words spoken by the resonant, lofty voice of a man, somewhere close behind her, broke through her reverence and shattered it. “Now I shall finally be allowed to have it frescoed.”
Viviana’s eyes snapped open like a shutter in a gale. Through the haze, she saw the man who had spoken, knew his face.
But more importantly, she saw it, the answer to what came next. 


Wednesday, March 8, 2017