I’m so excited to be part of the Passion Blue Blog Tour! I loved this book and I want everyone to read it. (You can read my review here.) Victoria Strauss has been kind enough to answer some questions, and I’m so thrilled to welcome her to my blog today. Keep reading, because after the interview you can enter to win a signed copy of Passion Blue as well as some cool Passion Blue swag!
“Be sure you know your true heart’s desire, or you may find yourself surprised by what you receive.”
This is the warning the Astrologer-Sorcerer gives Giulia when she pays him to create a magical talisman for her. The scorned illegitimate daughter of a Milanese nobleman, Giulia is determined to defy the dire fate predicted by her horoscope, and use the talisman to claim what she believes is her heart’s desire: true love and a place where she belongs–not likely prospects for a girl about to be packed off to the cloistered world of a convent.
But the convent of Santa Marta is full of surprises. There are strict rules, long hours of work, and spiteful rivalries…but there’s also friendship, and the biggest surprise of all: a workshop of female artists who produce paintings of astonishing beauty, using a luminous blue mixed from a secret formula: Passion blue. Yet even as Giulia begins to learn the mysteries of the painter’s craft, the magic of the talisman is at work, and a forbidden romance beckons her down a path of uncertainty and danger. She is haunted by the sorcerer’s warning, and by a question: does she really know the true compass of her heart?
Set in Renaissance Italy, this richly imagined novel about a girl’s daring journey towards self-discovery transports readers into a fascinating, exotic world where love, faith, and art inspire passion–of many different hues.
And now, please welcome Victoria Strauss!
Passion Blue tells the story of women painters in Renaissance Italy. I thought this was a wonderful idea for a story. How did you decide to tackle this subject, and what sort of research was involved?
I always planned to have an Italian Quattrocento setting, but the original idea for the book (which was suggested to me by an editor who’d read one of my other YA novels) was much more fantasy-ish, and involved astrology and the stars.
But you really can’t research Renaissance Italy without encountering the magnificent artwork, and as my research progressed I found myself pulled in a different direction. The astrology theme became mixed up with painting (I’ve always loved 15th and 16th century Italian paintings more than any others) which in turn became mixed up with my interest in the very few female painters of that period, who managed to carve out a place for themselves in a time when women had few options other than becoming wives or nuns. Giulia’s teacher, Maestra Humilità Moretti, is based on a real painter nun, who had a busy studio in Florence in the early 16th century. Over time, her work (like that of many of those early female artists) was all but forgotten. Fortunately, modern scholarship is starting to bring it back to light. Hopefully Passion Blue sheds a little light as well.
Research: I read a lot of books (a LOT of books). I’m lucky to live near a large university, which has a huge library where I was able to find nearly everything I needed. I also went to as many museums as I could, to immerse myself in Renaissance art. A local painter who paints in the Renaissance style let me spend some time in his studio. And of course, I used the Internet. It truly is amazing what you can find online. For instance, I know exactly how Giulia would have used an astrologer’s astrolabe because there’s a video demonstration on YouTube.
Your detailed descriptions of how paint is created and how artists worked during that time period conveyed a love of art. Do you have an artistic background?
Nope. I have zero artistic talent. I once had a therapist who wanted me to draw pictures of my dreams–after a while, she stopped asking.
But I do love art—paintings most of all—and I’ve always been fascinated by the technical aspects of painting. Renaissance painters did not usually buy things ready-made; a painter’s workshop would create not just the paintings, but the surfaces they were painted on, the tools the painters used, the paints they painted with (such as Maestra Humilità’s famous Passion blue), even the frames. It was wonderful to immerse myself in that world—to vicariously live a painter’s life.
I think that the creative impulse is similar, no matter how it expresses itself. Even though I could never paint the way Giulia can, I can understand her passion, because I have the same passion for my writing.
You use astrology as a device to help Giulia find her way in the world, and she is able to chart the stars with the aforementioned “astrolabe.” Why did you decide to add this element to the story?
As I mentioned above, astrology was originally supposed to be the main focus of the story. As my research mutated it into a story about painting and painters, I actually debated abandoning the astrology theme—I didn’t want the book to be overstuffed.
But the astrology of the time was so interesting, and I’d done so much research, and I just couldn’t give it up. Renaissance astrology was completely different from astrology today—it wasn’t entertainment or superstition, but a genuine science practiced by experts who truly believed the stars influenced things on earth in a way that could be understood and predicted. Astrologers were trained astronomers; many of the major astronomical discoveries of the 15th and 16th centuries were made in service of astrology. The astrologer’s astrolabe that Giulia uses was a precise scientific instrument (similar astrolabes were used by ships’ navigators to steer by the stars).
So astrology stayed. It plays a double role: it’s the basis of Passion Blue’s fantasy element (Giulia’s enchanted talisman is based on Renaissance astrological magic), and it’s also a guide for Giulia as she makes real-world decisions—and mistakes, since she doesn’t always interpret the results of her star charts correctly.
I loved that Passion Blue has a strong and positive message for young girls about pursuing their dreams, but it is also a tale about accepting consequences for your mistakes. How do you think teens today will relate to Giulia’s circumstances?
Giulia is separated from readers by over 500 years of history. Her literal circumstances—a nobleman’s bastard forced into a convent against her will, who buys a magical talisman to change her fate–are completely alien to what teens experience today.
And yet human nature doesn’t change. The core of Giulia’s story is totally relatable. Like Giulia, many teens have limited choices, little control over what happens to them, and must struggle against huge odds to find and follow their talents. Almost everyone has had the experience of making a desperate or impulsive decision that sets off a chain of unintended consequences. Pursuing your dreams, facing up to your mistakes, are things that transcend time and culture. I think—I hope—that readers will see in Giulia a little of themselves.
You’ve published quite a few books, both for adults and young adults. Is there a particular genre or age group that you prefer to write for?
Genre-wise, I do prefer fantasy and history, and all my books are one or the other or combinations of the two.
Age-wise, I really have no preference. I love writing for all age groups. My YA books are shorter, and feature younger protagonists—but I don’t write them any differently than I do my adult books. It always irks me when people assume that writing for teens must be “easier” or “simpler” because of the younger audience. That’s not true at all, and I think most YA writers would say the same.
We’d like to get to know Victoria Strauss a little better! Can you tell readers three things about you that aren’t on your website?
I’m not sure I should reveal these!
1. I have two tattoos: a lotus and a tiger lily. I won’t say where they are, but when I was younger, I wore the kinds of clothes that didn’t cover them. Now that I’m older, only my husband and the ladies at the gym ever see them.
2. I’m related—very distantly, at the very tips of my family tree—to William Faulkner.
3. I’m a rock and fossil geek. I love gemstones, minerals, the way the story of the earth can be read in rocks. I collect rocks everywhere I go. If I weren’t a writer, I might have become a geologist.
OK, all three of those are really interesting! One final question: are you already working on your next project, and can you tell us what’s coming next?
I’m working on a sequel to Passion Blue (no title yet) which will take Giulia out of the convent and off to the beautiful, exotic and sometimes dangerous city of Venice. And yes, in the sequel, readers will learn the secret of the mysteriously luminous Passion blue paint.
Thanks so much, Victoria! It’s always fun to get a glimpse behind the curtain, into the life and mind of a writer.
Victoria Strauss is the author of eight novels for adults and young adults, including the Stone fantasy duology (The Arm of the Stone and The Garden of the Stone) and Passion Blue, a YA historical. In addition, she has written a handful of short stories, hundreds of book reviews, and a number of articles on writing and publishing that have appeared in Writer’s Digest, among others. She’s co-founder, with Ann Crispin, of Writer Beware, a publishing industry watchdog group that provides information and warnings about the many scams and schemes that threaten writers. She lives in Amherst, Massachusetts. You can find Victoria here: Website * Facebook * Twitter * Goodreads * Writer Beware * Amazon * Read an Excerpt of Passion Blue
And now for a GIVEAWAY! Victoria is kind enough to award TWO lucky winners with a SIGNED hard cover copy of Passion Blue and *swag* (a bookmark and a postcard). An additional THREE winners will receive a bookmark and a postcard. You can get extra entries, please see the form below. You can easily follow Victoria on Twitter and go to the Goodreads page by clicking the links above. Don’t forget to click the “submit” button when you’re finished. Good luck!