Q&A With Laura Morelli

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Q&A With Laura Morelli 

Tonight’s Q&A is with USA Today Bestselling Author of Historical Fiction Laura Morelli. Laura Morelli’s novels are “The Gondola Maker,” “The Painters Apprentice,” “The Night Portrait,” “The Giant: A Novel of Michelangelo’s David,” “The Stolen Lady,” and coming June 6th 2023 “The Last Masterpiece”. Laura also teaches art history classes online, and has been a columnist for National Geographic Traveler, and Italy Magazine. That’s a pretty impressive list. 


Q: Laura, when did you realize that your calling was to be a writer?


A: For the first seven years of my life, until my little brother was born, I was an only child. My parents read to me constantly. I used to cut out paper, draw pictures, write stories, and staple them together. I loved the smell of books, the feel of holding them in my hand. When you grow up in the South, you are enveloped by stories. My father and my grandparents were great storytellers. I feel incredibly fortunate that I got to do what I envisioned for myself at four years old. I did take a long detour into the world of art history, but eventually the urge to write creatively rather than academically called me back.


Q: What fascinates you about writing historical fiction with art as the focus? 


A: Art history is really about stories and people. Sometimes, truth is stranger than fiction. Those stranger-than-fiction stories make the best nonfiction. Other times, stories, or pieces of stories, are lost to history. And for me, that’s where imagination takes over, and fiction begins.

Today, everything I write revolves around art history. For me, the history of art is an endless font of inspiration. When I began to see the opportunity to marry fact and fiction, I knew I had found my niche.

I think historical fiction readers come to the genre to immerse themselves in the past. They don’t want an information dump. They don’t want to read a textbook. They want to feel what it was like to live in a certain era and place. They want to smell it, touch it, see it. Art objects become part of this sensory experience—and sometimes they become the heart of the story.


Q: “The Night Portrait,” is a dual timeline from 1492 Milan and then to Munich during World War II. The Monuments Men was mentioned with getting the stolen art back from the Nazis. I definitely plan on reading your books. Have you seen the movie The Monuments Men that came out a few years ago? I doubt the movie is as accurate as your book. 


A: Yes, I have seen the movie and read Robert Edsel’s wonderful books. If you want to learn more about the true stories of the Monuments Men and Women, I recommend the fascinating and important resources of the Monuments Men and Women Foundation. There are so many incredible first-hand accounts.


Q: What advice do you give to anyone wanting to write historical fiction? What advice do you give to anyone who struggles with writer’s block?


A: Writing fiction is a long, long game, especially if you choose historical fiction. You just have to keep going, no matter what. I don’t know any historical novelist who isn’t completely immersed in their topic and era of research. That immersion, after all, is one of the biggest rewards of writing historical fiction.

I have struggled with writer’s block in the past. A few things could cause it. If you’re not sure where the story is going, you can sometimes feel stuck. In that case, it pays to invest some time in fleshing out an outline, and in getting clear about the ending of the book so you know where you’re going. Other times, “editor brain” gets in the way of “little kid telling a story brain,” and you can get bogged down. You have to let yourself play as a writer. Writing a book is really hard work, but if it’s not also fun, then there are many easier ways to make a living.

Q: Are you writing a new novel now? If you are can you reveal a little bit about it?

A: Yes–I’m working on two at once! One of them is a multi-century epic with multiple points of view. The other is a linear story that unfolds over a few months with one protagonist. Both novels are inspired by real stories from the history of art that are too strange and wonderful to make up.


Q: You were a columnist for National Geographic Traveler and Italy Magazine. What was it like being a columnist for them? What is a columnist exactly? Is it the same as a journalist?


A: Back in the heyday of print magazine publishing, most magazines had regular contributors who weren’t on staff but who brought a specific expertise or angle to the publication. Today, it still means that as a writer, you have a regular deadline and a regular space in the publication dedicated to your content. Writing content to a regular deadline is a wonderful experience for writers—and there’s no such thing as writer’s block. I think that’s why so many journalists turn into great novelists.


Q: If you were to write a completely different genre than historical fiction, which genre would it be and why?


A:I grew up devouring books in the suspense, thriller, and horror genres. I read widely outside of historical fiction but it’s still my favorite by a long shot and I can’t imagine writing anything else.

Q: Does Hollywood have the rights to any of your novels?


A: Not yet! Do you know anyone?


Q: How do you gather research for all your novels? I know for historical fiction there’s a lot of research involved. Does it ever get frustrating at times?


A: Never frustrating, always fascinating. The trick is not to get lost down a rabbit role for too long. I always start with primary sources—things written at the time. For the Italian Renaissance, there are so many great primary sources! My personal favorites are legal accounts. Sometimes the laws are so weird! And consider that laws are only made when someone does something considered egregious at the time; it really helps you understand what a culture valued and what they condemned. 

When reading primary sources, it’s interesting to consider what people choose to focus on—and what they omit. I also find the cadence and tone of the language important for framing the book’s setting and the characters’ mindsets.

For me, the fun of historical fiction is taking the facts as far as they go, then realizing there’s a whole lot of stuff we don’t know. It’s like putting together a complex jigsaw puzzle with a bunch of missing pieces. You make up the rest.