7 November 2017

Guest Interview with Laura Morelli, Author of The Painter's Apprentice: A Novel of 16th-Century Venice


New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

From the author of The Gondola Maker comes a rich tale of Renaissance Venice, a heroine with a lust for life
and love against all odds.


Today I would like to welcome award-winning historical fiction author Laura Morelli:

What moved you to start writing novels?

After teaching college art history and living in Italy through the 1990s, I wrote a specialty guidebook called Made in Italy that I sold to Rizzoli. After that, I wrote other books in that series, including Made in France. I’ve also published several city guides. With these guidebooks, my mission is to lead travelers beyond the tourist traps to discover authentic local traditions and artists, and come home with great treasures in their suitcases.

The story of The Gondola Maker, my first work of fiction, developed while I was working on Made in Italy. The living artisans I interviewed, whether makers of gondolas, carnival masks, or Murano glass, told me how important it was to them to pass on the torch of tradition to the next generation. I began to wonder what would happen if the successor were not able… or willing. The characters of the gondola maker and his son began to take shape, and I felt compelled to bring that story to life. Now I focus mostly on writing art historical fiction; I feel that’s what I was meant to do all along!

What did you learn from writing your debut novel, The Gondola Maker?


So many things! Writing fiction is completely different from writing nonfiction. I think it engages different parts of your brain. Understanding how to craft a novel was an incredible learning curve.

Then there was the publication process. I worked on The Gondola Maker on and off between 2007 and 2013. During that time, the publishing world turned upside down. I watched the emergence of independent publishing as a viable path. Being an independent-minded person and having experienced the ups and downs of traditional New York publishing, I was excited to take the indie route. Publishers Weekly interviewed me about the process of going indie, and you can read about it here.

How did this lead to your new book, The Painter’s Apprentice?

The Painter’s Apprentice is a prequel to The Gondola Maker, and is set during a real plague epidemic that spread across Venice in 1510. In the story, 19-year-old Maria wants nothing more than to carry on her father’s legacy as a master gilder. Instead, her father has sent her away from the only home she’s ever known to train as an apprentice to a renowned painter. Maria arranges to return to her family workshop and to a secret lover back home. But the encroaching Black Death—not to mention some conniving house servants—foil her plans.

In The Gondola Maker, the main character, Luca, is unmoored by a tragedy in his father’s boatyard, and eventually makes his way into the employ of a noted painter. In that painter’s boat slip lies an old, dilapidated gondola that Luca recognizes as a craft from his grandfather’s generation, made in his own family’s boatyard. He is compelled to bring the old boat back to life.

As I wrote The Gondola Maker, I began to wonder myself how that old boat got there, and why it was in such bad shape. The painter tells Luca a story about how the boat was wrecked by an evil boatman hired by his father, and how, after that terrible event, it had never been repaired.

The story of The Painter’s Apprentice began to formulate inside my head.

How did you research life in Renaissance Venice?

Most writers research a specific topic, then start writing a book about it. The research behind The Gondola Maker and The Painter’s Apprentice was a little different. Most of the research about gilding, painting, and gondola-making was already done in the service of my book, Made in Italy. But I soon learned many, many more details about Venetian life–bits about shoes, hair dye, colored pigments, parakeet sellers, costume renters, hat makers. It was easy to get sucked into the world of 16th-century Venice.


Research is one of my favorite things in the whole world! I have compiled a lot of my background research, images, videos, and other materials in a part of my web site that readers can access after they read one of the books.

Tell us about your writing process.

I sit down at my computer with a cup of tea at 5:00am, seven days a week. The first hour or two of the day is my most productive. Some days, with so many demands on my time, it’s all I get. A few years ago I started alternating with a treadmill desk set up across the room from a large Sony monitor. Walking, even if it’s at a very slow pace, helps keep my brain engaged. I typically have way too many documents open on my giant screen and I need frequent technical support!

For me, putting my first draft away for weeks or months is really critical. I turn my focus to another project for a while and just try to forget about the story. When I come back to my manuscript, so many things become clear that I could never have seen before. I know what I need to do next. I currently have four unfinished novels on my computer in first-draft form. At some point they will turn into books, but only after I’ve distanced myself from them for a while.

What advice do you have for writers wishing to become novelists?

I think it’s important to be very clear on what your goals are, whether you just want to hold a single copy of your book in your hand or shoot for a best-seller list. Only you know what you want out of the process. There are many definitions of success and paths to publication. Whatever your goals, writing a novel is a long game. Most people underestimate the time involved and the complexity of the task. I still do! I truly believe that this is the most exciting time in history to be an author. We have so many choices and unprecedented ways to communicate directly with our readers. That’s fantastic!

Laura Morelli
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About the Author

Laura Morelli holds a a Ph.D. in art history from Yale University. She has written for many national publications including USA Today and the New York Daily News, and has authored a column for National Geographic Traveler online called "The Genuine Article." She has taught at Trinity College in Rome and several universities in the U.S, and has spoken to public audiences across the U.S. and Europe. Find out more at Laura's website http://lauramorelli.com/ and find her on Facebook and Twitter @lauramorelliphd

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