Wednesday, April 25, 2012


When I’m deep into my work for a new book, whether it’s in the research stage or the writing stage, I typically take only one day off a week. From the end of August until the beginning of February, that day is most frequently Sunday, not however, because of any religious practices, but because…that’s football day.

Yes, as a person of extremes, one of my favorite escapes from the heavy, old, and staid tomes that I love so much is the sweaty, scream inducing, adrenaline firing sport that is football. How stunned—wonderfully surprised to galactical proportions—I was when I found, among the history of Florence that I was investigating for The King’s Agent—the very sport with which I schedule my life around for half the year.

Giuoco del Calcio Fiorentino is, in translation and reputation, the Florentine Kicking Game. In Italy, it is simply called calcio, translated as ‘kick’. The game was born, where it’s played still, in the courtyard of the Piazza Santa Croce in Florence, one of the most visited squares in all of Europe, a rectangle anchored by the Basilica Santa Croce, where the most illustrious of Florentines are buried. But unlike most European courtyards, you’ll find no statues or fountains or shrines holding the place of prominence in the center, just one large open square that becomes a 50 by 100m sand covered pitch. The oldest documentation of the game appears sometime in the early 16th century, with the official rules published in 1580, but it’s accepted that the sport most probably began a few decades earlier, in the late 15th century.

Upon close inspection, calling this sport ‘football’ or a ‘kick’ game is an understatement; no, it’s a washed out understatement. Giuoco del Calcio Fiorentino is a combination of soccer, rugby, boxing, wrestling, and head-butting. These guys laugh at ultimate fighters. The object of the game is to score a goal by kicking, throwing or placing a ball in the opposing team’s goal area, one that spans the entire width of the playing field. The opposition to the objective? Twenty-seven other players that are ready, willing, and able to use whatever horrific physical obstructions at their disposal to stop it. What results is any number of one-on-one grapple bouts breaking out all over the field, brutal tactics employed to do whatever it takes to prohibit the other team from forwarding the ball toward the goal.

Historically, the game was played by aristocrats…counts, dukes and even former popes…and much of the violence on the pitch was a reflection of some off-field slight…a stolen girlfriend, a political backstab. The game and ill-feelings, having birthed such violence, has done very little to stem it, in fact, nothing at all.

As in those bygone days, the teams are formed within the four ancient quarters of the city: the (red) Rossi from Santa Maria Novella, the Verdi (green) out of San Giovanni, the (white) Bianchi hail from Santo Spirito, and the Azzurri (light blue) are from the quarter of Santa Croce. Though the sport took a two century hiatus, since 1930 a three match tournament has taken place every June.

Taking their well-being in their own hands, there are (ironically) eight referees on the course during the whole of the 50 minute-match. Their duty is to enforce no more than a couple of rules: there is no kicking to the head (yes, which means all other kicking of one’s opponents is allowed) and there is no sucker-punching (defined as a hit from behind). All other seemingly vicious maneuvers—choking, head-butting, and throwing sand in an opponent’s eyes—is fair game and necessary to score a goal (caccia).

With this my fourth book, but the second set in the land of my ancestors, and my current work-in-progress (a trilogy no less) set as well in the land of breathtaking landscapes and lip-smacking wine, I yearn to walk the rolling hills of Tuscany, to step upon the same cobbles as da Vinci and Michelangelo…and to watch a huge group of incredibly well-built men—naked to the waist!—try to get a ball past a goal line while surrounded by glorious historical buildings. For this particular historical novelist, it just doesn’t get much better.

One could make the case that I included this scene—this relic form of the game I love so much—as a bit of self-indulgence, and it wouldn’t be a completely erroneous statement. However, because of the timing of its appearance in the story it does so much to establish the character that is Battista della Palla, a factual historical character whom I like to describe as a patriotic plunderer and religious rogue, the male protagonist that steers the plot through all its incredible twists and turns. It reveals early on his eagerness to take risks, his ability to make split seconds decisions and the nerve to see them through. It puts him in the league with such men as Indiana Jones, Captain James T. Kirk, and Luke Skywalker.

Who would have ever thought I could use my beloved football for character development in a historical setting? Talk about having your sport and writing it too.

Friday, April 13, 2012


As my latest release becomes the topic of the blogger discussions, a common curiosity rises concerning the coalescence of historical fiction, Dante's Divine Comedy and the video game The Legend of Zelda. I'm thrilled that the majority of feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, including this from the Publishers Weekly starred review: '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.'

But for those who haven't read it, there is still that skepticism, that skewed look that begs the question: how. I can think of no better concise answer than to give an excerpt, a teaser, if you will. Enjoy!


Battista took Aurelia’s hand, gave it a squeeze, and stepped forward.

Beyond the egress, the groans became screams as air rushed at them, hitting them square in the face, pulling the snood from Aurelia’s head, lifting her skirts and Battista’s hair. Aurelia raised her arms as if to block out the sound…defend against the onslaught of wind. Battista squinted to see what lay before them. The walls of the chamber opened up, becoming a long rectangular room with what appeared to be no more than a black abyss awaiting them at the end.

Taking a few more tentative steps forward, Battista raised the lantern.

That’s when they saw them.

On each side of the room, statues stood guard alongside the walls, tall, pitiable giants. Of dark gray stone stained blacker with mold, their gnarled, open mouths cried out their pain. Whether men or women it was hard to tell beneath the hooded robes shrouding their faces…in the hopeless, helpless expressions they all wore. As the air pummeling them rushed through the statues’ mouths, it scraped against their jagged teeth, the contorted lips, filling the space with the sound of anguish itself.

Battista turned his face away, desolated by the statues’ song, the misery evading him body and soul. Upon Aurelia’s face, now wet with tears, he saw his own heartbreak.

“The sorrow of it.” She hung her head, now curtained by hair unbridled with the force of the wind.

“Don’t weep,” Battista begged of her, for he could not manage her sorrow as well. “It is not—”

She grabbed his hand, eyes bulging out at him.

“Weep. Weep,” she repeated with bizarre elation. “Il Commedia. Your copy. Give it to me,” she demanded. Her own leather-bound volume, that given to her by Giovanni, she had left in her large bag with Frado.

Battista pulled the book from his pouch and gave it to her, watching her as she urgently turned pages, bracing her back to the rushing air, preventing it from sweeping the light tome out of her hands.

Her page flapping held; her intense gaze rose to his face. “We are in Hell.”

Battista longed to laugh at the irony of it.

“‘Here sighs, complaints, and deep groans sounded through the starless air, so that it made me weep at first. I will be your guide and lead you through an eternal space where you will hear the desperate shouts, will see the ancient spirits in pain, so that each one cries out for a second death…’”

She read to him, though there was no need; they had come to the right place, as much as he may wish to deny it. But the first piece of the triptych would not be in this room; it would be folly indeed to think they could overcome this challenge easily.
He took her free hand as she tucked the book to her chest with the other, and led them forward once more.

The contingent of screaming statues led them onward, the expanding sound gaining momentum, an audible, devouring torture. Battista hunched his shoulders against the onslaught of sound and air, scrunching his face and eyes.

“Close your mind!” Aurelia yelled over the cacophony, repeating herself at his puzzled glance. “Close your mind to it. Put yourself…your being…in another, better place. You can do it, I know you can.”

She waggled the hand he held in his in encouragement and pulled him to a stop. In their stillness, he contemplated her words. Such a strange suggestion and yet he found his spirit taking flight, returning to his mother’s home, at the table with her and his sister, laughing so riotously as to bring tears to the eyes. He opened his eyes, thanking Aurelia with a smile, wondering yet again of her truth—and stepped forward.

Monday, April 2, 2012


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)!