Monday, June 17, 2019

Interview with Melissa Muldoon, author of Eternally Artemisia (Giveaway too!)

Today, I am welcoming Melissa Muldoon to Essentially Italian in an interview that has this author talking about her books, her writing life and her passion for Italy, its language, art, and culture.

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LCR: Welcome to Essentially Italian! Your books all feature the journeys of regular women on their paths to self-discovery, whose stories parallel with the stories of some of the great Italian artists. As they are connected, by theme anyway, how would you describe your work? As a series? A trilogy? What is your goal with this collection?

MM: They say to write what you know best, and what I know best is art and Italy! I didn’t start out to write a trilogy, but as I was working on my third novel, I realized I had. Each book, Dreaming Sophia, Waking Isabella and Eternally Artemisia stands on its own, but still, there is a common theme that connects them all and that is—what draws a woman to Italy and why. In each book, I explore the forces at play that cause my protagonists, sometimes against their will, to follow the gentle tug and pull of Italy to make a life there, despite great odds.

Maybe this is because I’m always trying to explain my own “peculiar” fascination with Italy, the Italian people and the language. I have always felt an inexplicable hand pulling me to Italy, despite having no Italian heritage. Like all my female protagonists—Sophia, Nora and Maddie—sometimes I too feel like I have been persuaded by Italian artists and Medici princess’—even seduced by Tuscan ghosts from the past—who whisper into my ear, to learn the language and return home to Italy time and time again. So, perhaps like my characters, I too have lived another life in Italy—or perhaps several!

Apart from that, my goal with my books has also been to bring art history to life for my readers. I believe “art” can talk to you and there are stories to be revealed if you take the time to “listen.” I find it fascinating to contemplate the idea art endures, but people pass away and are forgotten. We have paintings and cathedrals created by artists who worked hundreds and thousands of years ago—all tangible proof that lives were lived in the past, people loved well had hopes and dreams and aspirations. Rather than let these forgotten historical figures and painters remain vague dusty statics in a history book, I want to reanimate their stories and make them real and poignant again for future generations.

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LCR: What is something you wish you knew when you started out?

MM: Writing a book is like aging a fine wine. It takes time and sometimes the process just can’t be rushed, despite my impatience and desire to hurry the story along. After completing the first draft, as excited as I might be about what I’ve set down in the first flush of writing, it is far from perfect. But rather than becoming discouraged, I must always remember my best work actually comes later during the re-writing and editing. That is when I can weave in the details and more masterfully embellish the scenes.

The second time around, I’m no longer feeling my way in the dark, and the story becomes richer and fuller because I am totally in command of the plot and know exactly where I am going with the story-line. Even in the final hours before publishing, I’m kind of in awe that I’m still writing amazing lines, that I never could or would never have written six months before. So yes, I must always remember, the story gets better with age.

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LCR: What does your writing practice look like?

MM: My writing practice is a long and circuitous one, and I devote hundreds and hundreds of hours to the process.

After finishing several weeks of initial research, I begin brainstorming a plotline and then write a detailed 100-page outline. When it is complete, I share it with my primary story editor. Given the green light the overall story makes sense, I begin the first draft following my detailed 100-page road map. I work non-stop, writing every day, creating a 100,000+ word manuscript. During this time, I allow myself to write fluidly in an expansive manner, trying to ride the creative wave that first inspired the story. After completing the initial draft, which takes about two months, I review it again with my original story editor (a female), as well as with another (a male). Based on the feedback I receive, I then begin the extensive editing and re-writing process, cutting out unnecessary information, adding useful details, fixing plot problems and refining dialogues until I finish the novel, which can take another six to eight months.

I write best late at night and early in the morning. Afternoons, I spend doing further research or going to the gym to exercise, relax and refocus my brain. Early evenings, after preparing dinner, I go for long calming walks with my two beagles. As I walk, I listen to Italian music and watch the sunset and the moon rise. I often leave the house tired and without energy, but as I walk and gaze at the stars, my mind subconsciously replays scenes and chapters, and it is during these walks that often I have my best ideas. I resolve plot problems or think of lines to write, and I rush home to open and capture them in the document that is always open on my computer. I am so energized at this point, the ideas just seem to flow out of nowhere, and I continue writing until the wee hours of the night.

I always write my stories on a computer. I begin my manuscripts in Word, and then when the story is really solid, I lay it out in InDesign. Since I am a graphic designer and a visual person, early on I need to see my story fully formatted, to envision what it will look like printed. I also design and illustrate my own book covers and as I work on the graphics and set the type, I continue thinking about the storyline. Inevitably, reviewing the layout of my novel in InDesign, I see it and read it with new eyes, and this also helps my editing process.

I read and reread my manuscript countless times over and can continue working on it for months. But at a certain point, I have to tell myself I’ve told my story to the best of my ability and say goodbye to my protagonists and let them enter the world so that I can move on to my next idea!

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LCR: You are an artist, writer, designer, Italian language instructor – how do you express your passion for Italy through all your creative talents?

MM: In all my pursuits (from writing books, blogs, filming Youtube videos, to leading groups to learn Italian in Italy) my goal and my passion is to share with others the Italy I have come to know through my travels and personal experiences living in Italy. I want others to know the legends I have learned, the cultural curiosities I find so intriguing, as well as the history, the religion and the art. I want to paint a picture of Italy in words, to share the tastes, the smells and the sights that can be found in no other part of the world. 

I also want my followers to understand the joy one feels being in Italy, but more importantly, the pleasure and the generous response one receives from an Italian when he hears you speaking his language.

Italy is truly a magical place, one that I never tire of writing about!

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LCR: Artemisia Gentileschi is fierce! And such a relevant figure in today’s world! What are some of the things that stand out about her – what does she represent for all women?

MM: Artemisia’s story is an intriguing one, but the thing that truly sets her apart and why she was so successful in the end, was her passion for painting! She lived and breathed her art and practiced it from a very early age, perfecting her skills, learning from her father, other masters, even the painting instructor who raped her. Artemisia was an observer of nature—she studied her own body, painted from life and worked with esteemed scientists like Galileo to understand how blood flows through the body and from gaping wounds. She never stopped learning, and she never stopped painting—even during her darkest days.

And during her lifetime Artemisia suffered through many dark days. She lived in a male-dominated society and hence, because of her gender, as a young woman she lived a very restricted life, and her liberties were extremely limited by her father. She was kept a virtual prisoner in her own home, not allowed to venture out on her own. In her lifetime Artemisia endured sexual harassment and rape. She was lied to, abused, and subjected to a court trial when the man who raped her reneged on his proposal of marriage. It turned out he was already married to someone else and had fathered children by yet another woman. It was only during the trial Artemisia found all this out. After raping her the man coerced and blackmailed her into accepting his promise of marriage so he could continue having access to her bed.

In a very public trial Artemisia, attended by a jury of men, she was subjected to inspection in front of a judge and tortured with thumb screws to prove she was the one telling the truth as her rapist looked on untouched. She won her court case but left the courtroom in disgrace and almost lost her promising painting career. To save her reputation her father had plans of sending her to a convent, thinking no man would ever touch her since she was soiled goods. In the end, he bartered her off to a philandering Florentine man, and Artemisia was forced to leave her home town and begin life all over again in a new city. There she lived with a man she didn’t love or respect, and who stole her money. During her years in Florence, she also suffered several miscarriages

And yet, none of this prevented Artemisia from maturing into a strong, independent woman, a successful artist, and the first female to ever be admitted into Florence’s exclusive Art Academy. She painted for Kings and Dukes all over Europe and even in England. She surpassed her male peers because she developed her own unique style did not merely imitate the work of other men. It could be said she was one of the first to champion the woman’s movement, refashioning traditional biblical themes, repurposing them so that in her canvases, women become the center of the viewer’s focus. In her paintings, she demonstrates that when women unite and take control of their lives and their destinies, they become the heroes of the story.

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Monday, April 15, 2019

Drone Strike: An Anthony Provati Thriller by Joe Giordano (Book Spotlight, Author Guest Post and Giveaway!)

Today, I'm spotlighting Joe Giordano's latest release, the second book in the Anthony Provati Thriller series. My review will be posted later this month on Library of Clean Reads. I asked Giordano how he created realistic settings for his novels. Scroll down for his guest post on this topic and then enter to win a copy of the book!

Book Details:

Book Title: Drone Strike: An Anthony Provati Thriller by Joe Giordano
Category: Adult Fiction, 290 pages
Genre: Thriller
Publisher: Rogue Phoenix Press
Release date: April 15, 2019
Format available for review: ebook (mobi, ePub, PDF)
Tour dates: April 15 to 26, 2019
Content Rating: PG-13 + M (for graphic violent terrorist scenes, no sex, no f-words.)

Book Description:

Karim’s family is killed by a U.S. drone strike in Iraq, collateral damage. The Islamic State in the Levant exploits his rage, recruiting him for a terrorist attack on the U.S., and only Anthony Provati can stop him. Drone Strike takes you on a fast-paced adventure across the Mediterranean, into Mexico, finally arriving in the States. Drone Strike explores the psychological realities that seduce Karim to commit an act of terror, includes a love story between Moslem Karim and Miriam, a Christian woman he defends in Turkey and highlights the plight of Middle Eastern and Central American refugees.

To read reviews, please follow Joe Giordano's page on Italy Book Tours.

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Guest Post:

How I Create Realistic Settings for My Novels
by Joe Giordano

Realistic settings spring from both personal experience and research.

As a retired International Executive Vice President of 3M, I lived in Greece, Brazil, Belgium, and the Netherlands and traveled extensively, experiencing the cultures and locations around the world that appear in my writing. For example, my first foreign assignment had been as Managing Director, running a business in Greece, Turkey, the Middle East, and North Africa out of Athens. giving me first-hand experience with Mediterranean and Middle-Eastern people and most of the locations in Drone Strike.

With both Appointment with ISIL, An Anthony Provati Thriller, and Drone Strike, the just-published, second book in the series, a University of Texas class on Islamic history provided me with additional background.

Regarding Birds of Passage, An Italian Immigrant Coming of Age Story, my first novel, an historical fiction set around the turn of the twentieth-century, all my grandparents and my father were immigrants from Naples. They entered the United States during the Progressive Era. To learn about the environment they encountered, I took a graduate course on the period at the University of Texas and my research interest and term paper topic was Italian immigration. While Birds of Passage was not about my family, my experience growing up with immigrants allowed me to capture how they thought and acted.

Library research and the Internet are excellent sources for accurate details on settings without needing to visit or revisit a location. For example, I’ve toured both the San Gennaro Cathedral in Naples and St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, two sites in Drone Strike, and through Internet images, I refreshed my memory on features inside both churches. Street level Internet map applications allowed me to virtually walk around Bodrum, a Turkish city I hadn’t visited in years, another locale featured in Drone Strike.
Meet the Author:

As a former International Executive Vice President of 3M, Joe Giordano’s experience included running a business in the Middle East out of Athens, Greece. Born in New York, he’s had first-hand experience with the cultures and most of the locations in Drone Strike.

Joe's stories have appeared in more than one hundred magazines including The Saturday Evening Post and Shenandoah. His novels, Birds of Passage: An Italian Immigrant Coming of Age Story (2015) and Appointment with ISIL: An Anthony Provati Thriller (2017) were published by Harvard Square Editions. Read the first chapters and sign up for his blog at

Joe was among one hundred Italian-American authors honored by Barnes & Noble Chairman Len Riggio to march in the 2017 Manhattan, Columbus Day Parade.

Connect with the author: Website ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Pinterest

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Sunday, April 7, 2019

Writer Get Noticed! A Strengths-Based Approach to Creating a Standout Author Platform by Colleen M. Story

I'm kicking off the tour for Colleen M. Story's latest resource book for writers. My review will be up on my Library of Clean Reads later this week. Check it out!

Book Details:

Book Title: Writer Get Noticed! A Strengths-Based Approach to Creating a Standout Author Platform by Colleen M. Story
Category: Adult Non-Fiction, 310 pages
Genre: Non-fiction Writing/Publishing
Publisher: Midchannel Press
Release date: March 2019
Tour dates: April 8 to 19, 2019
Content Rating: G

Book Description:

Stop feeling invisible and start attracting the attention you deserve!

Have you been writing for years, but feel like no one notices? Have you published your stories, only to gain a handful of readers? Do your marketing efforts feel like shouting into a void?

Veteran writer and motivational coach Colleen M. Story helps you break the spell of invisibility to reveal the author platform that will finally draw readers your way.

There are more books out there than ever before, and readers have many other things vying for their attention. A writer can feel like a needle in a haystack, and throwing money at the problem rarely helps. What does work is creating a platform that stands out, but in a sea of a million platforms, how is one to do that?

Writer Get Noticed! takes a new approach, dispelling the notion that fixing your writing flaws and expanding your social media reach will get you the readers you deserve. Instead, discover a myriad of strengths you didn’t know you had, then use them to find your author theme, power up your platform, and create a new author business blueprint, all while gaining insight into what sets you apart as a writer and creative artist.

Writers need readers to achieve their highest potential. Find your way to stand out, and let it lead you to the writing career that fulfills all your expectations and more.

In this motivational and inspiring book, you’ll learn:
  • Why simply improving your writing skills won’t take you where you want to go.
  • How discovering your strengths makes you a more effective writer and entrepreneur.
  • What you really want from writing and why that matters.
  • How to use the three-brain decision-making system to build a more successful author platform.
  • What truly motivates you and how to use that to propel yourself forward.
  • How to use the “find your author theme formula” to write a theme that fits your creative style.
  • How imposter syndrome can stall your progress, and how to overcome it.
  • Why risk-taking is critical to writing success, and how to make better decisions about the risks you take.
When you find the treasure that’s been inside you all along, don’t be surprised if it opens new doors you never thought possible.

To read reviews, please visit Colleen M. Story's page on iRead Book Tours.

Buy the Book:

Meet the Author:

Colleen M. Story is on a mission to inspire people from all walks of life to overcome modern-day challenges and find creative fulfillment. Her latest release, "Writer Get Noticed!," is a strengths-based guide to help writers break the spell of invisibility and discover unique author platforms that will draw readers their way. Her prior nonfiction release, "Overwhelmed Writer Rescue," was named Solo Medalist in the New Apple Book Awards, Book by Book Publicity’s Best Writing/Publishing Book, and first place in the 2018 Reader Views Literary Awards.

With over 20 years as a professional in the creative industry, Colleen has authored thousands of articles for publications like “Healthline” and “Women's Health;” worked with high-profile clients like Gerber Baby Products and Kellogg's; and ghostwritten books on back pain, nutrition, and cancer recovery. Her literary novel, Loreena’s Gift, was a Foreword Reviews' INDIES Book of the Year Awards winner, an Idaho Author Awards first place winner, and New Apple Solo Medalist winner, among others.

Colleen frequently serves as a workshop leader and motivational speaker, where she helps attendees remove mental and emotional blocks and tap into their unique creative powers.

Find more at her motivational sites, Writing and Wellness and Writer CEO, on her author website, or follow her on Twitter.

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Friday, February 22, 2019

Made in Italy by Laura Morelli (Book Review and Giveaway!)

Book Details:

Book Title: Made in Italy by Laura Morelli
Category: Adult Non-fiction, 161 pages
Genre: Travel, History, Art
Publisher: Authentic Arts Publishing
Release date: Jan, 2019
Tour dates: Feb 11 to March 8, 2019
Content Rating: G

Book Description:

Richly painted maiolica ceramics from Tuscany. Supple Florentine leather. The cameos of Naples and the Amalfi Coast. Parmigiano-Reggiano, the king of cheeses. Jaw-dropping glass from the island of Murano.

MADE IN ITALY takes you on a complete tour of the dazzling artisanal legacy of Italy, uncovering off-the-beaten-path destinations and one-of-a-kind, hidden workshops where everything from leather bags to gilded frames are turned out completely by hand, piece by piece.

This book includes instructions for getting a free copy of the companion guide, ARTISANS OF ITALY, with complete, continually updated listings of Laura's personally recommended shops and artisans across Italy.

Laura Morelli, art historian and trusted guide in the world of cultural travel and authentic shopping, leads you behind the tourist traps to discover some of Italy's most traditional arts.

Laura holds a Ph.D. in art history from Yale University and shares how, what, and where to buy; hints on recognizing quality and authenticity; and tips for bringing home the artisanal treasures of Italy in your suitcase.

My Review:
Reviewed by Laura Fabiani

Art historian Laura Morelli's passion about what she does is clear in the books that she writes. Although she's written two historical fiction novels, she's also written a series of non-fiction books: the Authentic Arts guidebook series, one of which is Made in Italy. She states in her book that "the goal of Made in Italy is to enhance your appreciation of, and, in some cases, introduce you to, the most typical, handcrafted products from each of Italy's 18 regions."

I loved reading through this book! Not only did I learn about the different artisanal products produced in Italy, but it stimulated in me a desire to visit these regions and see them for myself. I am planning a month-long trip to Italy in three years time to celebrate my 30th wedding anniversary and I will use this book to plan my itinerary. If you want to know how to shop well and find authentic items, this book is it. Morelli writes in the first person and her narrative is interspersed with her own personal experiences shopping. She liberally gives you tips on how to get stuff tax-free, how to pack, how to handle Customs for the items you are bringing home and how to ship stuff home.

For each of the Italian geographical zones she covers in her book, Morelli gives us a brief history of the area, what makes it different and unique from the other areas and what crafts they are known for, making this book interesting to read, especially if you love Italy, art and travel. Packed with current information and shopping tips, this guidebook is a must for lovers of quality artisanal products and Italian traditions.

Note: This book also comes with the updated downloadable shoppers companion book Artisans of Italy. It lists where to buy authentic Italian goods.

Buy the Book:

Meet the Author:

LAURA MORELLI holds a Ph.D. in art history from Yale University, has taught college students in the U.S. and in Italy, and currently produces art history lessons for TED-Ed. She authored a column for National Geographic Traveler called “The Genuine Article” and has contributed pieces about art and authentic travel to CNN Radio, The Frommers Travel Show, and in USA TODAY, Departures, and other media.

Laura is the author of the Authentic Arts guidebook series that includes the popular book Made in Italy. Her fiction brings the stories of art history to life. Her debut novel, The Gondola Maker, won an IPPY for Best Historical Fiction and a Benjamin Franklin Award.

Connect with the Author: Website ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Instagram

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Monday, February 11, 2019

The Chef's Secret by Crystal King (Book Spotlight and Giveaway!)

Book Details:

Book Title: The Chef's Secret by Crystal King
Category: Adult fiction, 352 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Atria/Simon & Schuster
Release date: Feb 12, 2019
Tour dates: Feb 11 to 28, 2019
Content Rating: R (for a couple of explicit, but loving, sex scenes (no abuse or rape) and minor curse words)

Book Description:

A captivating novel of Renaissance Italy detailing the mysterious life of Bartolomeo Scappi, the legendary chef to several popes and author of one of the bestselling cookbooks of all time, and the nephew who sets out to discover his late uncle’s secrets—including the identity of the noblewoman Bartolomeo loved until he died.

When Bartolomeo Scappi dies in 1577, he leaves his vast estate—properties, money, and his position—to his nephew and apprentice Giovanni. He also gives Giovanni the keys to two strongboxes and strict instructions to burn their contents. Despite Scappi’s dire warning that the information concealed in those boxes could put Giovanni’s life and others at risk, Giovanni is compelled to learn his uncle’s secrets. He undertakes the arduous task of decoding Scappi’s journals and uncovers a history of deception, betrayal, and murder—all to protect an illicit love affair.

As Giovanni pieces together the details of Scappi’s past, he must contend with two rivals who have joined forces—his brother Cesare and Scappi’s former protégé, Domenico Romoli, who will do anything to get his hands on the late chef’s recipes.

With luscious prose that captures the full scale of the sumptuous feasts for which Scappi was known, The Chef’s Secret serves up power, intrigue, and passion, bringing Renaissance Italy to life in a delectable fashion.

To follow the tour, please visit Crystal King's page on Italy Book Tours.

Excerpt from The Chef's Secret:

(Atria/Simon & Schuster)
By Crystal King
Forty-three days after he first laid eyes upon the most beautiful girl in the world, Bartolomeo had the good fortune to overhear the maids talking about a girl at the palazzo. Two of the serving maids huddled in the pantry near his post where he was prepping nightingales for the cena. When they mentioned the dress she had worn the night before, Bartolomeo realized the principessa was the object of their admiration.
One of the maids was a thin slip of a girl who served the cardinale’s sister. The other was a young woman who had caught his fancy for a time the summer before, but soon bored Bartolomeo with her empty gossip.
“She’s here from Roma,” the first said, awe in her voice. They talked of the girl’s extraordinarily wealthy family, of her famed dressmaker, and of how long it took to wrangle her curls each morning.
When they said her name, Bartolomeo had to put his knife down for fear of cutting himself. Oh, to know her true name! Happiness filled him like a carafe of fine wine. Her name, he thought, was like the taste of strawberries sprinkled with sugar. It was like the summer sun touching the petal of a freshly bloomed flower. That evening, when he gazed out his little garret window, he wished he could shout her name across the rooftops, but he could never say it aloud. To do so was too dangerous, for her and for him. He would take a thousand lashings for his Stella [Author’s note, this is a pet name that Bartolomeo has for her], but he could not bear to have her come to harm.
The next morning, Stella stopped Bartolomeo in the loggia. The sky was bright and the October air was still gentle and warm. He was readying to leave the palazzo to go to market when she approached. He was so startled to see her there he stopped in his tracks, mouth agape.
The princess was radiant in a red velvet gown, her hair piled high upon her head. Her beauty was staggering, her skin so clear, her cheeks ruddy and fresh. What a sight he must seem in comparison, with his own hair a tussle of wild waves, a grease stain adorning one sleeve. He hadn’t bathed, and he was certain he smelled too much like onions and ham.
She recognized his discomfort and giggled, in a way that immediately eased his fear. She gently touched his arm with one hand, and with the other she pressed a piece of paper into his palm. “What is your name?”
He looked around to see who might be witnessing the exchange, but there were only a couple of gardeners in the vicinity, none of whom paid them any mind. “Bartolomeo,” he said, gathering courage.
She released his hand and shared her own name. Bartolomeo’s heart sang as she repeated the word he had been turning over and over in his mind since the day before.  
“Please tell the cook how much I love his tourtes.”
Bartolomeo nodded his head vigorously.  “I will, madonna, I will.”
She dazzled him with another smile. “I liked the radish flower the best, though.”
She winked and turned away. He stood there, staring at the curve of her departing body, wondering what had just happened. He stared until she rounded the corner of the loggia. He was light-headed and it felt like he was spinning, like a little bird on a spit, fire rising all around it. The piece of paper in his hand was small and warm. He hurried out of the palazzo and down the cobbled street lining the adjoining Rio di San Luca canal.
When he was sure no one could see, he stopped and unfolded the little piece of paper.

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Meet the Author:

Crystal King is an author, culinary enthusiast, and marketing expert. Her writing is fueled by a love of history and a passion for the food, language, and culture of Italy. She has taught classes in writing, creativity, and social media at several universities including Harvard Extension School and Boston University, as well as at GrubStreet, one of the leading creative writing centers in the US.

A Pushcart Prize–nominated poet and former co-editor of the online literary arts journal Plum Ruby Review, Crystal received her MA in critical and creative thinking from UMass Boston, where she developed a series of exercises and writing prompts to help fiction writers in medias res. She resides in Boston but considers Italy her next great love after her husband, Joe, and their two cats, Nero and Merlin. She is the author of Feast of Sorrow.

Connect with the author: Website ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Pinterest ~ Instagram

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