Art In Fiction

Viva Italia: An Interview with Laura Morelli, Author of The Giant

July 03, 2020 Carol Cram and Laura Morelli Season 1 Episode 2
Art In Fiction
Viva Italia: An Interview with Laura Morelli, Author of The Giant
Chapters
0:50
Welcome to Laura Morelli
1:27
Inspiration for The Giant
5:53
Creating the character of Jacopo Torni
8:35
Setting of The Giant in Renaissance Florence
11:07
Laura Morelli's background as an art historian
14:45
The Gondola Maker and The Painter's Apprentice
21:25
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22:17
Reading from The Giant by Laura Morelli
24:10
Laura Morelli's "Made In Italy" travel guides
27:55
Laura Morelli's online art history courses
30:20
Process for writing novels
32:22
Publishing advice for new authors
33:53
Marketing advice for new authors
37:01
The Night Portrait
Art In Fiction
Viva Italia: An Interview with Laura Morelli, Author of The Giant
Jul 03, 2020 Season 1 Episode 2
Carol Cram and Laura Morelli

Welcome to Episode 2 of the Art In Fiction Podcast! 

Laura Morelli is the bestselling author of four novels set in Renaissance Italy.  Her recent novel is The Giant, a compelling tale set in early 16th-c. Florence about the creation of the world's most famous sculpture--David by Michelangelo.

Highlights:

  • Inspiration for The Giant
  • The role of setting in Morelli's novels
  • Morelli's background as an art historian
  • The Gondola Maker and The Painter's Apprentice
  • Reading from The Giant
  • Made In Italy travel guides
  • Online art history courses
  • Process for writing a novel
  • Publishing and marketing advice
  • Morelli's latest novel, The Night Portrait

Press Play right now and be sure to check out Laura Morelli's novels on Art In Fiction.

Novels by Laura Morelli
The Giant
The Gondola Maker
The Painter's Apprentice
The Night Portrait 

Travel Books by Laura Morelli
Made In Italy
Made In Venice
Made In Florence
Made in Naples

Laura Morelli’s Website: www.lauramorelli.com

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Music Credits
The intro music is from Symbolist Waltz from the album Alive in Seattle and the ad music is from The Fever from the album Full Moon. Both pieces are composed by Gregg Simpson and performed by Lunar Adventures. Follow the links to download the full tracks.

This website contains affiliate links. If you use these links to make a purchase, I may earn a commission. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Thank you. 



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Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Welcome to Episode 2 of the Art In Fiction Podcast! 

Laura Morelli is the bestselling author of four novels set in Renaissance Italy.  Her recent novel is The Giant, a compelling tale set in early 16th-c. Florence about the creation of the world's most famous sculpture--David by Michelangelo.

Highlights:

  • Inspiration for The Giant
  • The role of setting in Morelli's novels
  • Morelli's background as an art historian
  • The Gondola Maker and The Painter's Apprentice
  • Reading from The Giant
  • Made In Italy travel guides
  • Online art history courses
  • Process for writing a novel
  • Publishing and marketing advice
  • Morelli's latest novel, The Night Portrait

Press Play right now and be sure to check out Laura Morelli's novels on Art In Fiction.

Novels by Laura Morelli
The Giant
The Gondola Maker
The Painter's Apprentice
The Night Portrait 

Travel Books by Laura Morelli
Made In Italy
Made In Venice
Made In Florence
Made in Naples

Laura Morelli’s Website: www.lauramorelli.com

Receive a $20 Amazon Gift Card when you sign up for a paid plan on Buzzsprout. Since 2009, Buzzsprout has been helping podcasters start and grow their podcasts. 

Music Credits
The intro music is from Symbolist Waltz from the album Alive in Seattle and the ad music is from The Fever from the album Full Moon. Both pieces are composed by Gregg Simpson and performed by Lunar Adventures. Follow the links to download the full tracks.

This website contains affiliate links. If you use these links to make a purchase, I may earn a commission. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Thank you. 



Buzzsprout - Let's get your podcast launched!
Start for FREE

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase, I may receive a commission at no extra cost to you.

Carol Cram:

Hello and welcome. I'm Carol Cram, your host for the Art In Fiction podcast. This episode is called Viva Italia and features my interview with Laura Morelli, the author of three arts-inspired novels listed on Art In Fiction. 

Laura Morelli earned a PhD in art history from Yale University and has taught college students across the United States and in Italy. She now teaches exclusively online. Laura's historical fiction has earned numerous awards as well as reviews in such publications as Writer's Digest, Publishers Weekly and Library Journal. Laura loves art, history and Italy, three things we definitely have in common. 

Welcome to the Art In Fiction podcast, Laura.

Laura Morelli:

Hi, Carol. I'm so happy to be here. Thank you for having me.

Carol Cram:

Well, thank you. I've been a fan of your work since I read The Gondola Maker a few years ago now, long before I started Art In Fiction. We'll talk about it more in a little while, but you have three novels listed on the site at the moment - The Gondola Maker, The Painter's Apprentice, and The Giant, which was just released. I'm so excited to chat with you today. We have so many interests in common, particularly a love of art and of Italy. So I want to start by talking about The Giant, which by the way has such a marvelous cover.

Laura Morelli:

Thank you. It has a very golden kind of aura around it. I was really happy with the color - it really kind of sums up Florence.

Carol Cram:

It's one of the nicest covers I've seen in historical fiction. 

The Giant revolves around the sculpting of Michelangelo's David, as seen from the point of view of Jacopo Torni, Michelangelo's childhood friend, and also a fresco painter himself. So can you tell us a little bit about why you wrote The Giant?

Laura Morelli:

The Giant is a book that was 20 years in the making, which is kind of crazy, but I started out with a book proposal for a book about Michelangelo's David and it was intended to be a nonfiction tale. The true story of the making and unveiling of the world's most famous sculpture is kind of incredible in and of itself. And the 500th anniversary of the unveiling of Michelangelo's David was coming up in 2004. And so I wrote a book proposal for it and sent it to my agent. We shopped it around to some publishers and one of the publishers got right back to us and said, this is a great idea, great book. Unfortunately, someone else got to it before you did

Carol Cram:

Darn. I hate when that happens!

Laura Morelli:

The book is Il Gigante by Anton Gill. It's about Michelangelo's David and it's a great book, but I think the topic was ripe in 2004, since it was the 500th anniversary. So I said, well, that's fine. No problem. I put the proposal away, started working on other projects. And years later I pulled it out and I thought, you know, this is such an incredible story. And it was just a story and a work of art that wouldn't let me go, it kept coming back to me. I kept thinking about it. I kept thinking, I want to do something with this story because it is so compelling. And at that point I was an art historian PhD in art history, teaching at the college level, telling the story over and over to my students, living in Italy for a while, you know, standing in front of the sculpture myself.

It was after I turned to historical fiction that I said, ah, this story is supposed to be a novel. And it was at that point that it all came together for me in the course of my research on the day that I came across a figure named Jacopo Torni who was by all contemporary accounts a friend of Michelangelo. And we know very little about him, we know just a few facts, which actually makes him a perfect protagonist for an historical novel because we know just a little bit, but not a lot. And so he's tantalizing because what we're told by Giorgio Vasari who's this 16th-century art historian is that Jacopo Torni was Michelangelo's closest friend, that he was lazy, that he liked to play practical jokes, that he was a pretty good painter himself, but it was hard to get him to get to work or finish anything.

Jacopo comes across as this kind of practical jokester, sidekick character. And we know that Michelangelo hired him as part of his team to work on the Sistine ceiling. So I thought what an interesting kind of friendship they must have had because Michelangelo by all accounts was this more kind of serious and intense personality. And I wondered what it would have been like, the push and pull of these two seemingly opposite characters together in the creation of two of the most pivotal works in the history of art - Michelangelo's David and The Sistine Chapel. 

And so that was really kind of what sent me down the path of writing this book. It was a difficult book to write, you know, it's actually difficult to get yourself in the mindset of humor in the past. That was something that I really grappled with. It was fun and it was also a big challenge to write about.

Carol Cram:

One of the things I really enjoyed about The Giant was how you get inside Jacopo's head. As you said, he was a bit of a ne'er-do-well and had a pretty severe gambling problem. He was also kind of a manic depressive, wasn't he? Or you portray him as a manic depressive. He's either up for four days or he's sleeping for four days. Can you talk about how you decided to portray Jacopo?

Laura Morelli:

There's a very interesting anecdote in Giorgio Vasari's biography of Michelangelo that describes the fact that Jacopo was always by Michelangelo's side, making him laugh. Vasari describes a really funny incident about how Michelangelo gets fed up with Jacopo, sends him out to the market to buy figs. And while Jacopo has gone to buy figs, Michelangelo actually locks him out of his house. But when Jacopo comes back, he realizes that he's the one who's been the butt of the joke. And he spreads the figs all around the doorway and yells and stamps off. 

This story brings to life what must have been kind of a torturous relationship or a relationship perhaps of frenemies. And so I wanted to kind of capture that a little bit, but I also find it interesting to imagine how people in past centuries dealt with things like mental illness, like addiction, like disease.

I've written quite a bit about the black death and the plague. I think it's fascinating to imagine how people in pre-modern cultures dealt with challenges such as pandemics and mental illnesses. And so it was just kind of my own working through that and fascination with it that I decided to try to take this aspect, this little tantalizing story that we had about Jacopo, and see how far we could take him in this story.

Carol Cram:

That's why the novel works so well because Jacopo is a full person. He's got his brother and a sister and he has all these problems. He also has a severe lack of confidence, which I think we can relate to particularly when one of your friends is Michelangelo and you're an artist too. So you really explored that very well.

Laura Morelli:

Thank you. I think anyone who writes or paints or creates is faced with comparison-itis at some point, I mean, it's just part of the human condition. And just imagine if your closest friend was Michelangelo.

Carol Cram:

That's right. Or as a writer, your closest friend is Shakespeare. I mean, I would never write a word.

Laura Morelli:

I think that's something that we as human beings can relate to.

Carol Cram:

And that's why the book works and why historical fiction is just so much fun because you can get into the skin of a person and you still get the story of how Michelangelo's David was created, but through this wonderful lens. 

The other thing I want to talk about is of course, the setting for the novel - Florence in the early 1500s. You do a really wonderful job of bringing to life, the sights, and particularly the smells of the city. When you are researching, how do you get yourself back into the Renaissance mindset when you're walking through streets that are now like a Renaissance Disneyland?

Laura Morelli:

Well, you know, the good news is that Florence still retains a lot of its character from the 16th century. If you look back, there's a famous map called the Coste della Catena, which is an historic map that shows what Florence was like in the days of Michelangelo. It's sort of a bird's eye view, and Florence really doesn't look that different today than it did in that map. 

The skyline of Florence is still dominated by the great egg-shaped red tile Duomo in the center. And some of the other churches still dominate the skyline. I think if we look beyond the storefronts of Gucci and Ferragamo and some of the other international luxury brands, it's not difficult to make that leap and imagine ourselves walking through the streets of Florence, particularly in the Oltrarno district on the south side of the Arno where today there are still a lot of artisans practicing their age-old trades of leather working and woodworking and frame making and paper making and bookbinding and all of those things that would have been going on in Michelangelo's day as well.

I spent quite a bit of time in Florence this past fall walking a lot of Michelangelo's itineraries. He grew up near the church of Santo Spirito where he's buried. His house is still standing. I worked on an audio tour and I walked the route of the unveiling of the statue. I really tried to immerse myself in that world and in his footsteps. And it helped a lot, I think, to kind of bring those sights and smells and sounds to life.

Carol Cram:

You do it extremely well. You really feel like you're in Florence at that time. The descriptions of Michelangelo's David are just stunning. I had to go and look at the pictures again, just to remind myself of how wonderful a sculpture it is. 

As you've mentioned earlier, you have a background as an art historian. So can you talk about how you made that transition from academia to becoming a novelist?

Laura Morelli:

I wanted to be an author for as long as I can remember. I used to staple pages together when I was a kid drawing pictures and writing stories. And when people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I always said I wanted to be a writer or an archeologist. So I'm actually very grateful that I ended up doing more or less what I set out to do when I was four years old. But when I was in college, I got really interested in art history and pursued a graduate degree. As much as I respect the academic writing conventions, and I respect all of the hard work that my colleagues in art history do, I felt a little constrained by the strictures of academic writing. 

And although I love the research, there was this creative impulse that still needed to be expressed. So when I turned to writing historical fiction, based on the stories of the history of art, I really felt like that was my true calling. That was really what I was supposed to do - to kind of marry the two. And so it's really been a labor of love for me. Like I said, I love the research and I still do a lot of academic research. I get a lot of great ideas from footnotes and scholarly studies. I mean, that's about as geeky as it gets, right?

Carol Cram:

There's nothing better than a university library. I write historical fiction as well and I love going into them, just the smell of them and of course footnotes are great. What would we do without them?

Laura Morelli:

It's interesting because I think historical fiction readers come to the genre because they want to learn something, but they also want to immerse themselves in the past and really feel what it was like in a certain time and place. And so I find that the historical research is also really important to the reader. When I visit book clubs, they want to know did this really happen or what was that really like? And so I feel that my academic background allows me to have a firm framework, to pin the events and the setting on, and there is always a lot of information and there's a lot that we do know. 

And I try to use what we do know from the primary sources as that framework, but at a certain point, those pieces of historical evidence only take you so far. And it's the stuff that we don't know that I think is really compelling to us as novelists. I can almost feel it when I'm departing from the dock of what we do know out into the ocean of what we don't, and you kind of feel where the fact ends and the fiction begins. And that for me is just such a fun process to put that together.

Carol Cram:

Oh yes, absolutely. Now your other two novels are also set in Italy. The Gondola Maker and The Painter's Apprentice both take place in Venice, which is one of my very favorite places in the world.

Laura Morelli:

Mine too.

Carol Cram:

I was fascinated by all the detail you had in The Gondola Maker for how gondolas were made. So how did you do that research?

Laura Morelli:

I had written a book called Made In Italy. The first edition was published back in the early 2000s. The book has been out for 20 years now. It's in its third edition. And I spent a lot of time interviewing Italian artisans, people making things like not only Venetian gondolas, but pottery and wood and all kinds of things that you think of when you think of Made In Italy. And it was that research that I did for this nonfiction project that really became the underpinning for the novel The Gondola Maker

As I traveled across Italy from north to south and interviewed artisans in many different trades, I heard a consistent story, which was our job is to pass on our trade to our children and our grandchildren so that our trade will stay alive. We have to pass the torch of tradition. And after I heard this story so many times, I began to wonder what would happen if the heir apparent was not willing or able for some reason to carry that torch. And so the story of the gondola maker and his heir and their complicated relationship kind of bubbled to the surface. And that became the end of the nonfiction and the beginning of the made-up part that was really, really fun to write.

Carol Cram:

Because again, what you're doing very well is you're taking the history and then putting on a human story that could take place in any time. It's about humanity. You know, the father wanting to pass on his trade to the son or in The Giant, Jacopo wanting to take care of his sister. These are all human endeavors that we all know about and recognize. And I think that the fun of historical fiction is marrying those two. 

In The Painter's Apprentice, the plague plays a huge role. Tell me how it drives the narrative.

Laura Morelli:

Venice was really in the crosshairs of the black death many times over the centuries, in the days before antibiotics. In fact, the word quarantine has its roots in the Venetian dialect because a quarantena is a period of 40 days. And that's how long the Venetian authorities figured was long enough to figure out if someone was contagious or not. So they would quarantine ships that were coming into the Venetian harbor to make sure that no one was sick before they came ashore. 

But certainly plague was a harsh reality in pre-modern Venice. And we know that it took the lives of several important Venetian painters during the Renaissance. So that was sort of the spark of an idea there. And as I said, I'm always fascinated about how pre-modern cultures dealt with big challenges like this, but certainly it plays a very personal role in the life of the protagonist, Maria, who is the daughter of a gilder, meaning someone whose job it is to put gold leaf on paintings and frames. The Venetians loved things that were gilded during the middle ages and the Renaissance. And so Maria is the daughter of a gilder And, as gold is starting to go out of fashion, she is apprenticed to a painter. And then the plague comes in and plays a personal role in her life in this story.

Carol Cram:

This is very relevant today because now suddenly we're plunged back into that reality in quite a bit cleaner times, but still we are still experiencing it for the first time, which is kind of unprecedented.

Laura Morelli:

It really is. I wrote a story called Little Bird that takes place during the black death of 1348 in Siena. And it was published as part of an anthology of historical fiction about the plague. And it just so happens that one of the other authors who was coordinating this anthology pressed 'publish' on March 1st, 2020. Of course, we had been working on this anthology for months beforehand, and it was just such a bizarre thing that the book published on March 1st. 

If you want to check it out, it's called We All Fall Down. And it is a collection of stories from the middle ages through the 20th century about pandemics. So some people are loving reading about that right now. And some people don't want to touch it with a ten foot pole, which I can understand.

Carol Cram:

Well, I understand that personally, because my first novel takes place in the 1340s in San Gimignano and Siena. So of course the plague definitely plays a role. I was working on the sequel when the pandemic hit and I thought, you know, I just don't want to hang out in the 14th century right now.

Laura Morelli:

Right, right. Absolutely.

Carol Cram:

I actually put it aside for now and started working on something else, but it's interesting how it will change how we write. I don't know if it'll change what we write, but it certainly is going to have an effect.

Laura Morelli:

I don't think that people in our generation have faced something of this scale, this epic, in our lifetimes; our grandparents maybe were swept up in World War II in whatever way. But many of us have never experienced anything like this. So I think so too, I think it will be interesting to see how it impacts those of us who write or paint or create music. It'll be interesting to look back at this time and see and understand what the impact has been.

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Carol Cram

Would you like to do a reading from The Giant

Laura Morelli:

Sure. I'll read the first page of The Giant. It's a very short passage and I think it sets up the relationship between Jacopo and Michelangelo. So hopefully it'll leave you wanting to read more. 

Excerpt from The Giant

It began on the day our hands reached for the same silver point pen in the dust-filled light of our master's workshop. I saw his fingers first, short and slight with knuckles too large for a 10 year old boy. He gripped the bone stylus. I gripped it too as hard as I could. 

The metal tip trembled in the air. My first thought was that my wide thick fist would win out over his smaller hand.

But when our gaze met, I saw only beady black eyes filled with fire. I let go of my grip. I hardly had time to console myself with the idea that I had let him have the pen, for our master announced a competition to see who could draw the best rendition of a Moses in silverpoint. 

We boys wanted nothing other than to please our master. We darted to our places in the workshop and each of us began to work. As grains shifted noiselessly inside the sand glass. I watched him, that black-eyed boy, he off to a dusty corner and hunched over his parchment so that no one could see what he had drawn. 

When the time was called our master circulated quietly among his pupils. Then he pulled the two of us by our sleeves to the front of the room, declaring a tie. That moment changed everything. We were friends, at least I thought we were then, but in my heart, I still wanted to beat that boy.

Carol Cram:

That's a wonderful setup for what then becomes this relationship that you explore in the novel. Thank you. It took me right back to reading it. 

I want to also talk about some of the other things that you do in addition to being a novelist. You have a wonderful website and I notice you have a lot of travel books. I'll make sure I put the address of the website in the show notes, but tell us a little bit about your wonderful shopping guides. I do some travel writing myself. I have a website for travel writing. So I really enjoyed looking through your guides. Can you tell us how you came to write them?

Laura Morelli:

Well, I was living in Italy at the time and I had just finished my PhD and I was excited to be living in Italy and go out and look at Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper and all of these masterpieces that were in my art history books. But I found myself living in a small village and there were no Leonardo da Vincis. There were no Caravaggios in my village church. Instead the village was filled with little artisans. Like, there was a cello maker and a shoemaker and another maker of wonderful artisanal cheeses. And then I hired some carpenters to make some bookshelves for my house and I thought, Oh, well, they'll just come, you know, in a couple of days and bring me some shelves. 

Well, no, they just didn't show for a long time. And I called them and called and they said, Ma'am, we're few, but we're good. 

Which meant I just had to wait. So ultimately they did appear. A truck pulled up in front of my house and I thought, Oh great. My bookshelves are here. Well, instead it was just a pile of lumber along with a three-man team composed of a grandfather, a father and a son. And over the course of the next couple of weeks, these three guys transformed the courtyard outside my house into an artisan workshop. And I was absolutely riveted watching what they did. 

Not only was the final result incredibly beautiful, but it was so fascinating to see how they worked as a multi-generational team. And I could really see that transmission of knowledge. You know, the son was the workhorse bringing in all the lumber, you know, the fathers sort of stood there and upbraided him, yelled at him all day to do it right.

And then at the end of the day, the grandfather who spent most of his day sitting in the courtyard smoking cigarettes would just come in at the end and he would tamp on the wood and check this and check that. 

And I thought, wow, this is really how it's worked for centuries. You know, this one generation is teaching the next. And I thought, that's a living tradition. It was nothing that I was going to find in my art history books, that had nothing to do with any of the works that I had studied for all of these years. And when my eyes were open to it, I started to realize that these artisans were everywhere in Italy and that no one had really paid any attention to them.

I thought, for a traveler to Italy to be able to witness that and discover it and understand the history and to be able to go home with something authentic in your suitcases, it's a fantastic immersive travel experience. And so I wrote this book called Made In Italy

Since then I've written some smaller guides - Made in Venice, Made in Florence and Made In Naples and the Amalfi Coast that lead travelers off the beaten path to come home with little treasures in their suitcase.

Carol Cram:

The books looks just wonderful. Italy is fantastic. It was so tragic this year that we couldn't go back, but next year we hope to go. And also on your website, I was fascinated to see your Art History Academy. My goodness, you've got so many amazing courses - the art of Michelangelo, the art of Raphael, et cetera. And I noticed you even have wait lists for most of the courses. Can you tell us a little bit about those courses?

Laura Morelli:

This is something I'm super excited about because there are a lot of people out there who love art history and want to learn, but they don't necessarily want to be in a classroom environment anymore. I have a lot of students who are well past college age, who aren't interested in taking exams or writing papers, and yet they love art history. They want to travel virtually. They want to continue their self-enrichment and education in art history. 

So I started putting a lot of my college courses online. And the first one I put online is about the art of the ancient Etruscans. And I thought, well, this is such an incredibly esoteric topic. I'm probably one of 10 people in the entire world who are going to be excited about this class. And I put it up and I was absolutely blown away at the response. People are so excited to learn about the ancient Etruscans, and I just couldn't believe how popular it's been. And so since then I've added some more classes and I love it because, you know, the students are there because they are excited to learn and they ask great questions and they really challenged me to go back and read things, see things in a way that I hadn't seen before. So it's just all fun.

The internet has provided such a great platform to be able to reach people who can access them anywhere, any time at their own pace. I have a lot of people who are older, who maybe are not able to travel anymore or not able to go where they want to go. They tell me that it's been a wonderful opportunity for them. And it's just been a lot of fun for me too.

Carol Cram:

It's very inspiring. I'm going to look more closely at your courses because you're doing something that is also very close to my heart. I'm not a teacher of art, but I certainly love art and want to write about it a lot, particularly in the context of Europe. 

So I want to talk a little bit about writing in general. How do you develop a novel? I know that's a very big question, but just sort of a little overview of the process you go through to get started on a novel.

Laura Morelli:

I think there are probably as many ways to get a novel done as there are writers - it seems that it's a very individual process. Personally, I'm a huge outliner. I know other people who don't, who just literally start with a blank page and start writing. I'm a very analytical person. I start with a fairly fleshed out outline. And I know where I'm starting. I know who the characters are and I know where I want to go. But within that, you know, it never follows the outline a hundred percent. I always take detours and things end up a little differently than I thought, but I do start out with a kind of a basic structure and basic idea of where it's going.

I like to go through a lot of drafts. I like to have time to put a manuscript away for a while and come back to it with fresh eyes. I know some people like to type 'the end' and then send it right out. But I really find that I like to have that time to put something away and come back to it. I have a couple of wonderful first readers, early readers and a wonderful editor. And I always really think carefully about their feedback. 

Carol Cram:

Do you have any advice about publishing for new writers?

Laura Morelli:

I think that you will want to decide whether you want to pursue traditional publishing or publish independently. They are two different paths, but certainly I think these days there's a lot more overlap and a lot more people pursuing both or pursuing some kind of hybrid. 

This year in 2020, I have The Giant that's just come out that I published independently. And then in September I have another historical novel called The Night Portrait that's being published by HarperCollins. So they're very different ways of bringing a book to market. They each have their pros and cons and there's no one right way or there's no one best way. It depends very much on the author and what you are willing to do, able to do, and excited to do, I guess I would say,

Carol Cram:

I think the thing that I like about the atmosphere now for writing is that we have choice. I'm a hybrid as well. I've published both ways.

Laura Morelli:

Totally. I totally agree. I mean, we live in such an incredibly wonderful time in terms of having choices and opportunities that we never had before. So it's a great time to be publishing.

Carol Cram:

It is. And actually, I didn't know that The Giant was independently published. So that means, of course you're doing a lot of your marketing. I think we have to market no matter what, but any tips about marketing for people who choose to publish themselves or even if they do it traditionally?

Laura Morelli:

Well, I think bottom line is either way, the marketing is on you.

Carol Cram:

Yes, that was a bit of a shock to discover that.

Laura Morelli:

It is true. And that was true before as well. I mean, I published traditionally with Rizzoli for my nonfiction books, back in the early 2000s before independent publishing was an option. And then as well, a lot of the marketing is up to the author. It can be a ton of work, but things have changed rapidly and they continue to change. So I would advise any new writer who is wondering what to do marketing wise to really start listening to podcasts and reading widely about what's happening because the landscape is changing. 

It changes very rapidly in terms of what's working today versus what's working tomorrow. But, you know, having said that, that really pertains to specific marketing tactics or advertising or whatever, but the basic tenet remains the same, which is these days you want to just reach the reader directly.

And we never had that opportunity before the internet. Our books would show up in bookstores and we had no direct access to our reader. I mean, today, you just want to reach your reader directly, whether that is through your own social media, whether that is through advertising, Amazon or Facebook or BookBub, whether that is going to your local literary festival and sitting in a booth or speaking at a local organization, you really want to figure out where your readers are and reach them directly. That's kind of the general idea.

Carol Cram:

I presume you do all of those things in order to connect with your readers.

Laura Morelli:

I've tried all kinds of different things. I just think it's fabulous to have a community of readers and get your mailing list in place, if you don't have it there already. I primarily communicate with my readers via my mailing list. And you have to remember that as wonderful as Amazon and Facebook and these large platforms are, they don't belong to us. So we only control our own communications through our own lists. So anyone who's looking to publish and reach their readers, you're going to want to incentivize them to join you on your email list above all.

Carol Cram:

Yes. And I see that you do that by offering a free story on your website, which I think is very smart.

Laura Morelli:

It's worked out well, actually, it's really helped to bring in the readers who were interested in the type of work that I write. So I recommend it.

Carol Cram:

I think I'm going to borrow that idea, actually. So I'd like to end off by talking a little bit about your new novel, The Night Portrait, which is due out in September. And I see that it's a dual-time novel set in the Renaissance in Italy and in World War Two. So you could tell us a little bit about it?

Laura Morelli:

The Night Portrait is about the portrait of The Lady With An Ermine by Leonardo da Vinci. 

It's a picture of a beautiful young woman holding a white creature in her lap that looks something like a ferret. And the woman in the painting is generally believed to be the 16-year-old pregnant mistress of the Duke of Milan Ludovico Sforza.

She was an object of desire in the 15th century. And that was the reason why the Duke hired Leonardo da Vinci to paint her. But what's really fascinating about this portrait is that it became an object of desire and obsession again in the 20th century. And it fell into the hands of Hans Frank, who later became known as the Butcher of Poland.

He was Hitler's governor in Nazi-occupied Poland. And when he was captured by the allies in 1945, this portrait of Cecilia Gallerani, Leonardo da Vinci's subject, was one of the last things in his personal possession. And so it fascinated me to think about this work of art being an object of desire over a period of 500 years and having traveled all over. 

You won't believe where it went and how many places it ended up over those 500 years. I mean, it's truly a miracle that it survived at all. My goal with this book was really to make this picture at the center at the heart of the story. And it goes back and forth between the creation of the portrait and then its theft in the 20th century. And it again is one of these incredible, true stories where fiction just sort of fills in the gaps of what's already an amazing true story.

Carol Cram:

Fantastic. I'm looking forward to reading that. When it comes out it'll definitely be listed on Art In Fiction. 

Laura Morelli:

Thank you. And you know, one of the characters in the book is one of the Monuments Men, and I was fortunate enough to bend the ear of Robert Edsel who's the founder of the Monuments Men Foundation. And he helped me with a Q and A at the end of the book. That's really fascinating in and of itself. So anyone who's interested in that whole history of Nazi art theft, and then the recovery of those works of art after World War Two will want to pick up the book to read the Q and A because it's very interesting.

Carol Cram:

Oh, that's fascinating that you got to talk to him. Don't you love interacting with experts? I found them so helpful.

So thank you so much for joining me, Laura. This has just been a fabulous conversation.

Laura Morelli:

Well thank you for having me. I really have enjoyed it. 

Carol Cram

Thank you for listening to the Art In Fiction Podcast. Please check the show notes for links and be sure to visit Art In Fiction at www.artinfiction.com to find your next great read while you're there. 

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Welcome to Laura Morelli
Inspiration for The Giant
Creating the character of Jacopo Torni
Setting of The Giant in Renaissance Florence
Laura Morelli's background as an art historian
The Gondola Maker and The Painter's Apprentice
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Reading from The Giant by Laura Morelli
Laura Morelli's "Made In Italy" travel guides
Laura Morelli's online art history courses
Process for writing novels
Publishing advice for new authors
Marketing advice for new authors
The Night Portrait