Author Guest Post - Donna Russo Morin (and a Giveaway!)

Monday, April 13, 2009

Readers, please join me welcoming Author Donna Russo Morin who will be guest blogging here today! Her debut novel, The Courtier's Secret, a historical adventure from Kensington has just released.

About the Author (In the Author's own words)

Ironically, my first story was a romance. Oh yes, the numbers 2 and 4 were madly, desperately in love, but the pesky number 3 kept getting in the way. I was six years old. My mother still has the story, and others like it, folded neatly in a box, yellowing and crinkly. I turned eleven in 1969, the Summer of Love, and my writing turned to anti-war poetry and treatises on equality for women (I’d have burned my bra had they made one small enough to fit me).

I read all the time and I kept writing, even if only between the well-worn, splotched pages of a psychedelic flower covered diary. Oh the drama, oh the humanity. Surely such soul searing prose and gut wrenching poetry meant I was destined to be the next great American author.

In the mid-seventies, a new author took the book world by storm and I followed the King down the twisted, intestine-strewn path that is horror. I spent many years in this perverse world, the gore becoming tempered with mythical creatures as I discovered C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. (Years later two of those horror shorts appeared in critically acclaimed, if poorly read anthologies.) During these nebulous years, I also somehow managed to obtain a degree in Communications from URI.

In 1988 I read a book review on Toni Morrison’s Beloved in the Providence Journal and so stridently disagreed with it, I wrote a letter to the editor. To my astonishment he not only responded, he offered me an opportunity to be a reviewer. My first review was of James Michener’s Alaska and with it came a whole new venue for my writing. My reviews have appeared in the Providence Journal, The Milwaukee Journal, and The Hartford Courant. I’ve served on staff at Mystery Notebook, Inside Books (both now defunct), and where I also served as editor. I continue to write reviews for Foreword Magazine. This past summer I celebrated my sixtieth published review…but would I be forever the reviewer, never the reviewed.

It took me seven years to write my first novel--giving birth to two boys at the same time--a medieval fantasy liberally laced with horror. It sits in my hope chest still, though I still have ‘hope’ for it.

In the summer of 2002, I came down with what I thought was the flu. After two and a half years and more doctors than I care to remember, I was diagnosed with Lyme disease. Six weeks later, my father passed away from cancer. I retreated from the world and into my books and writing. I re-watched The Three Musketeers (1973 version) and remembered how much I loved it and all the Musketeer stories. I remembered how I wanted to look like Rachel Welch/Constance (who doesn’t?) but I wanted to be Michael York/D’Artagnan; he had all the adventures. The idea for my first book, THE COURTIER’S SECRET (Kensington), set to hit book shelves January 27, was born.

In it, Jeanne Yvette Mas du Bois is ousted from the convent for irreverent behavior, and returned to her family at the Chateau Versailles in 1682, the year the Sun King makes the palace the center of all French life. Jeanne must fight against an arranged marriage to an effeminate man of her father’s choosing. When disguised as a man, ‘Jean Luc’ fights with a small, dedicated group of Musketeers to save the life of the Queen. And through all her adventures, she fights for the true love of her life.

My second book, THE SECRET OF THE GLASS is about the glassmakers of Venice at the turn of the 17th century and is scheduled for an early 2010 release. As I sit here staring out at the snow covered farm land that abuts my home in North Kingstown, I’m dreaming of the next book and where in time I may end up.

Book Excerpt (The Author says :"This is one of my favorite scenes in the book. Jeanne’s uncle is giving her another secret fencing lesson in the basement of the Chateau Versailles. It really is the launching point for all of Jeanne/Jean Luc’s adventures.")

The Courtier's Secret Donna Russo Morin
384 p, Kensington, ISBN: 0758226918
"To retreat is not to be defeated, but to step back, once or twice, is to throw your opponent off his guard, oui?" Jules spoke from behind his headgear, his voice echoing against its hard shell as it echoed in the empty basement chamber.

Jeanne understood, nodded. She thanked the good Lord for her oncle this morning and these lessons that drove all the disquieting thoughts of the night before from her mind.

"Ah, oui. Then, en garde. Bon, bon." Her uncle acknowledged her proper form of the starting position.

"Now, retreat." He ordered.

Jeanne's back foot began to lift off the ground as her front rolled to the heel, then quick and together they moved with a flash and she moved a step backward.

"Bien. Retreat, retreat." Jules gave the order for her to make the same move again, twice.

Back, back she moved. On the second step, first one foot moved and then the other, completely out of sync and Jeanne stumbled, sword arm lowering as she tumbled, leaving her body open to attack.

With an advance, lunge and thrust, three moves executed as a single dance maneuver, Jules brought the blunt tip of his foil hard against Jeanne's chest. Her head dropped, chin to chest, as she stared at the finishing point in defeat.

"You are dead, mon cher."

"Oui, mononcle, you speak the truth."

Jules removed his helmet, allowing his long curly white hair to flow freely down his back. Cupping it under one arm, he lowered his sword and closed the space between them with a few small steps.

"What vexes you, dear Jeanne? You are here but your spirit lies elsewhere."

Jeanne looked at Jules through the round holes of her helmet, eyes heavy with sadness and despair.

"My father has sealed my fate. He has arranged my marriage to Percy de Polignac, son of the Baron l'Haire."

"Percy de Polignac?" Jules mused, chin wrinkling in consideration. "Tall, string bean of a fellow?"

Jeanne smiled faintly. "Oui, you have him to rights, oncle."

"What can be so bad? One day and one night together, then you each go your separate ways, live your separate lives." Jules gave a natural shrug of his shoulders; such a marriage was so typical in their world.

"Lives? What life will I have?" Jeanne took a step toward her uncle with the same aggression as if they still dueled. "Floundering around, following in my husband's footsteps wherever they may lead. Watching while the insipid man does nothing to better himself or the world in which he lives."

Jules shook his head. "You should not have been born a woman."

"Perhaps, but I am glad to be a woman; I do long to feel life growing within me and to nourish that life into a grand human being. But why can I not have a more productive and satisfying life as well?" Jeanne rolled her eyes dramatically. "A female courtier has no real life, she has naught to do but be social. We play cards, listen to music, dance, attend the King's ballets and operas...and talk. Endless hours of conversation, mostly about each other or the King."

Jules looked behind him as if someone entered the small reclusive chamber. "You shouldn't say such things."

"Of course not," Jeanne responded bitterly, her arms flaying the air about her as her harangue continued. "The King even controls the words from our tongues. Heaven forbid anyone should talk of the condition of our country or its people. We would be on the King's naughty list for months if we did. No, men must talk only of hunting and horses while women are limited to scandal and frocks and nothing more."

Jules stepped to within inches of his niece. He tapered his eyes, searching into the holes of Jeanne's headgear, searching her face for something he found elusive.

Jeanne felt her skin warm under his intense stare and moisture formed on her skin under the heavy, padded protective gear she wore. She squirmed under his gaze. She knew she should be embarrassed by her emotional outburst but their words lit her anger and she refused to feel ashamed.

"Where does such deep satisfaction come from, mon petite?"

Jeanne touched her fisted, gloved hand to her chest.

"From here, mon oncle, from deep inside my very soul."

Jules brought a hand up to her shoulder, squeezing it with gentle reassurance. There it was, the depth of her fathomless sadness mirrored in the endless pool of her deep brown orbs.

"Then you leave me no choice." Jules lowered his hand and turned from Jeanne, striding toward the long, bulging bag of gear he brought with him to every practice.

Jeanne almost cried out, thinking he meant to leave, thinking he would never again partake in these lessons, her only respite in a life filled with disappointment and delusion.

"Non, bon oncle, non," she ran behind him.

But instead of putting his sword away, Jules reached into the well-worn canvas bag and pulled out a long rosewood box. The reflection of his smiling face shimmered on the deep, rich, highly polished surface.

"I was going to wait to give you this, but I think now is the time." Jules reached over and took Jeanne's sword out of her right hand and thrust the dark red shining box at her.

Jeanne accepted the gift in stunned silence, looking down and seeing her own confused countenance in its mirror-like surface.

"Go on, mon petite, open it." Jules’ smile shone wide beneath his white bushy mustache.

The box opened in half on smooth, silent hinges.

"Sacré bleu!"

Jeanne's mind doubted what her eyes beheld even as they burst wide open in shock and pleasure. Upon the lush mahogany colored velvet lining the box's interior, laid a brand new sword. With her left hand she held the box still while with the right she retrieved the sword from its depths, handling it as tenderly as she would a new born babe.

"It is a Colichemarde." Jules announced proudly.

"Oh, good oncle," Jeanne whispered reverently, looking into the face of the dearest man she ever knew. "A Colichemarde! This must have cost you a thousand pistoles!"

Not only was the sword new, the first new sword she had ever possessed, it was of the newest, highly coveted style, the most popular type among Frenchmen at the moment. A strong parrying weapon with an agile point, it was perfect for double time fencing so in vogue of late. Heavy at the hilt, it was one-third size by the point, perfect for the now accepted parry-riposte method.

"It is perfect for your height." Jules said, shaking his head at the size of his niece. "So tall, five feet and four, amazing. As tall as most of the young men; certainly taller than us old ones. And you fight just as well, my dear. Come. Come let us try it out shall we?"

Jules retrieved his own sword, pulling on the hard headgear and taking his place in the middle of the room.

Jeanne turned the sword back and forth in her hand, delighting in the weight of it and the gold and silver pommel that fit so perfectly in her hand. She swung it left, then right, hearing the wonderful whish as it cut the air, the sound like a single, perfectly tuned instrument playing her favorite song. The control she felt on the smaller sword in opposition to the lack of it that she felt in her life.

She lowered the weapon to her side, unable to stop herself from glancing down to see it there so close to her body. With complete abandon, she ran across the room, threw her arms around the startled man, her headgear banging roughly against his.

"Dear, dear uncle, you are too good to me." Jeanne said, the front of her helmet pressed against his shoulder, her voice deep with emotion.

"You are pleased, dear one, yes?" Jules' own voice cracked.

Pulling just a smidgen away, their smiling eyes met through the holes of their gear.

"Magnificently so." Jeanne leaned forward another inch, helmet touching helmet, eyebrows rising in a mischievous tic. "Gardes vous?"

"Ha!" Jules yelled, pushing her from him, flashing into position as did Jeanne.

Steel hit steel in a resounding ching, Jeanne felt more powerful than ever with such a splendid tool in her hand, advancing step after step, moving her uncle around the room as if she controlled a puppet by its strings.

To the corner she brought him, now if she could just force him to--

"This way, Henri, quick!"

The shout came from outside their door and, on its heel, more shouts, grunts and the clanging of steel upon steel.

Jeanne and Jules froze, listening in wonder and confusion. Jules understood first and threw off his helmet. Running to the door, followed quickly by his niece, he threw open the portal.

In the wide, dim corridor, four darkly garbed, dirty and scruffy men attacked two Musketeers with brutal intent. No manners or polite dueling this, they slashed, thrust, punched and pushed with great ferocity. Grunting with effort and exertion, the two Musketeers fought with a sword in one hand and a dagger in the other to keep their outnumbering foes at bay, their arms swinging and stabbing so fast they were a blur.

One of the Musketeers found his back forced to the opposite wall, facing Jules and Jeanne who stood rooted in the doorway. With a jerk of his head, he lashed gold sweat sodden hair out of his eyes.

"Help us, for the love of God, help!"

Jeanne lunged out the door. Jules grabbed for her but found nothing but empty air.

"Corboeuf!" Jules swore and with a bounce on his feet launched himself into the fray.

Jeanne threw up her sword, intercepting a villain's thrash aimed toward the golden-haired Musketeer, successfully pulling him off so that the soldier battled only one foe. She fought with every iota of inner strength she possessed. No pretty form and thoughtful choreographed movements, just naked aggression and defense.

A hand wrapped itself around her heart, squeezing and clenching; it beat with erratic palpitations. Another hand found her guts and gruelingly twisted and constricted her intestines into knots. Jeanne wanted to double over from the pain of it. Sweat broke out on her smooth brow. Her opponent's sword kept coming, driven on in a relentless quest to sever whatever part of her it could find.

Concentrate, concentrate. Her brain ordered, speaking to her in her uncle's voice.

Parry, parry, advance...thrust! The words became her subconscious prayer. Her arm screamed as the muscles twitched, but she refused to listen to that particular wail.

Retreat, jump, thrust, retreat.

Jeanne leaped and lurched as the steel foil led her about the space. Her bulging eyes flickered between the sword and the eyes of the one who held it, looking for the tell; the sign revealing where next he planned to flail it. There it was. She saw him lean justly slightly to his right.

Advance, advance, thrust!

She struck bone, she felt it. The jolt of collision juddered through her hands and up her arms, as if the man's life force escaped through her weapon and out her limb. Her arm froze as it pulled back from the thrust. At her feet lay her foe. She looked at his chest, where a maroon stain appeared, flooding the room with the fetid odor of blood, to her own torso, expecting to find the same such growth, to the tip of her sword, stained with scarlet liquid. Her rapid breath echoed in the hollowness of her helmet and her heart beat loud in her ears. She remained, to her vast surprise, unharmed.

I have killed and lived, she thought and such a thought sent her blood boiling through her veins. With a warrior's cry she turned to the villain beside her. For a second she watched as the scoundrel attacked the other Musketeer. The foe appeared stronger and much more skilled than the man whose life she'd just taken but she had tasted the puissance of spilt blood and she thirsted for more. With a stunning overhead blow and grunt of exertion, the miscreant staggered the Musketeer to the floor. A small, sneering smile appeared on the man's face as he stepped forward, raising his sword above his head, it's point aimed directly downward over his opponent's body.

Jeanne leaped into the space between sword tip and body, raising her own sword to deflect the downward thrust aimed to end the Musketeer's life. Sword locked with sword, muscles burst with adrenaline-driven strength, Jeanne pushed at her large adversary, holding him at bay for a few precious seconds, seconds in which the fallen Musketeer regained both his senses and his feet.

"OFF!" The King's guard screamed and somehow Jeanne knew. With shocking abruptness she released all force toward her opponent and took one quick step to her left. The bandit's mouth fell open in shock, yellow, ragged teeth gaping from the hole, his body frozen, poised forward as if falling from a precipice, finding instead the tip of the Musketeer's weapon. He continued to fall as the soldier drove home the sharp steel and together they dropped. The villain lay dead, the Musketeer's sword run completely through his heart, on top of the dazed but unharmed soldier.

"Off!" The young man yelled again but this time he spoke to the dead, heavy body as he shoved it off his chest.

Jeanne reached a hand down to help the Musketeer to his feet. The young man clasped Jeanne's shoulder in gratitude, the only thanks they had time for. Together they turned to help Jules and the other Musketeer still engaged in combat. But the numbers had turned and the strongest of the criminals lay dead, it was but a few thrusts of swords and a few short moments until the remaining two evildoers threw up their arms in surrender.

"Forsake your weapons," cried one of the Musketeers and the two nefarious men dropped their foils to the floor and stepped back, raising their hands in abnegation. At the same time Jules rushed to Jeanne's side, throwing off his helmet in his haste to ascertain her condition.

Jeanne's hand reached for her own helmet, but her uncle, roughly pushed the protective device back down as he narrowed his eyes with a small, warning shake of his head.

"Are you all right? Are you harmed?"

Jeanne answered with her own shake, realizing that to expose her sex would be to reveal their activities and condemn them both.

"I'm fine," she said, forcing her normally low female voice two octaves lower.

"You were brilliant." A hand slapped Jeanne's shoulder so hard she stumbled two steps forward. Righting her self she turned to the man behind her.

The golden-haired Musketeer stood with his hand thrust out in greeting. Without a word, Jeanne took it, only to find her arm pumped roughly and repeatedly.

"It would appear I owe you my life. I can not thank you enough." Keeping Jeanne's gloved hand in his, the young man made a deep bow. "I am at your orders, Monsieur."

Jeanne fought against years of training and instead of curtseying, dropped a small bow of her own. "It was my greatest pleasure," she said in her deep voice, almost laughing at the truth of the statement. The thrill of the fight thrummed loudly in her veins and her head buzzed from the surge of power she had experienced for the first time. Jeanne felt her uncle's intent stare as he stood stiffly by her side, but refused to even look his way.

"Do you train to be a Musketeer?" The soldier asked.

"It has always been my greatest desire," Jeanne replied huskily with complete and utter sincerity.

"Come, Henri, with must get these reprobates to the Bastille." The other Musketeer kept the two criminals in check by sword point and began to lead them back along the cement corridor.

"Oui, Antoine, I am right behind you." Henri raised a hand in acknowledgment but turned back to Jeanne. "To be a Musketeer is your wish, is it? Then I will make you my protégé. Meet us at the Café de le Oiseau tonight. I will buy you dinner and we will see what my friends and I can do for you. The Musketeers are always in need of a sword as talented as yours. Especially now it would seem."

With a rough, masculine cuff to Jeanne's shoulder, Henri made a quick bow and sprinted, sword still in hand, down the hallway, his majestic gray trimmed, royal blue tunic swaying as he went.

Jeanne and Jules stood together watching the cavaliers lead the criminals away. The drip of seeping moisture through a crack in the cement rang in the silence like the gong of a bell.

"You can not do this," Jules whispered, knowing his niece's thoughts all too well.

"I can and I will." Jeanne pulled off her headgear and threw it to the ground. Reaching up, she pulled all the pins out of her coiffure, allowing her hair to fall in waves to just past her shoulders, the loose chocolate brown curls twirling around her face.

"All the young chevaliers wear their own hair, not the periwigs." She turned to face Jules with hands firmly planted on her hips. "How many times have I heard that when I wear my hair down, all I would need is a mustache to look just like Raol?" Jeanne, insisted, referring to her older sibling.

"Oui, oui," Jules stammered, "but--"

"No buts, mon oncle, not this time, please." Jeanne grabbed the befuddled man by both shoulders. "If you love me, you will find me a mustache."

Thank you for that entertaining post, dear Author! Readers, your thoughts / comments are most welcome.

The Prize

A copy of this book will go to one lucky reader.

To Enter
  • Just leave a comment with your email address in the body of the comment itself telling me : What do you enjoy about Historical Fiction?
  • Please list your email address within your comment so that you can be notified should you be chosen as a winner. No email address = no entry.
  • The Author will be choosing the lucky winner.
For Extra Entries

Important: Please leave a NEW comment for each extra entry you do.

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Deadline   Midnight CST of April 27, 2009.

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51 People said

  1. I love historical fiction because it's the easiest for me to lose myself in. A good book will allow be to become totally transformed to that era while I'm reading and longing to get back to reading every time I have to put the book down!


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  3. I love historical fiction. ilike the clothing, the mannerisms, the social heirarchy, and the relationships between the sexes.

  4. I love reading historical fiction because I love history and it gives me a glimpse into the life, fashion, language, and thought patterns of that particular time period I am reading.

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  7. I've always enjoyed learning about the past. By reading historical fiction I can do that and enjoy a good story, too!
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  9. I love historical fiction because it is a link to the past & an escape from everyday life.

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  11. I love historical fiction because it totally takes me to a different time and place, I thought this would be my least favorite to read but ended up being one of my favorite! Please enter me in.
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  13. I like to read about a different time period and the story that could have been. I like to be taken to a different time.

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  14. i like that it swoops me up and takes me into a different era thanks for the giveaway minsthins(at)optonline(dot)net

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  16. I love historical fiction because, even when it's not entirely accurate, it gives me an idea of how people lived a long time ago and helps me see how much technology and quality of life have improved.

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  17. I would love to read this.



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  25. i get to go to a different time and place and learn HISTORY too

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  27. I am a history buff, so anytime I can add a little story to the knowledge I have of the past is a plus. It looks like a great book. Thanks for the chance

  28. You always learn new things

  29. Thank you for a great giveaway! I would love to win. I enjoy because it takes me back to a time I have never known.
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  34. I love historical fiction, because most contain some real history in them. I really like it when they describe the locations, and clothes of the period. They make me feel as though I am there, and experiencing everything the characters are.

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  43. I love history so it is only natural for me to like historical romances! Its a different perspective!


  44. I like everything about it.
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  46. Thank you all for your great comments and your interest in my book. The giveaway is now closed.


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