My Blog: Artful Fiction

Cut from the Earth by Stephanie Renee Dos Santos

In Lisbon in 1755, a devastating earthquake changes the city forever. The months just before the event are the intriguing backdrop for Stephanie Renee Dos Santos’ vivid debut novel, Cut from the Earth. Closely examining the overlooked origin of the art of the figura de convite style of tilework, this richly detailed novel both arrests the reader with the sensory pleasures Dos Santos provides and compels the reader to continue on. A stunning blend of intriguing plot and lyrical language, this novel delights.

The figura de convite style of tilework,  life-sized, cut-out tiles of figures, welcomed visitors when they visited palaces, and were produced in the 18th and 19th centuries. They are only found in Portugal. Dos Santos says not much is known about the creator of the style, other than the initials PMP. Her novel imagines just who PMP was and what the creator’s life was like. The mere concept of the novel enthralled me, as I like mysteries, as I like the teasing out of things we have no way of knowing. I was not disappointed! 

Not only the artwork, but the tension between the Inquisition, the Catholic Church’s question to do away with any heresy against itself, and the Enlightenment, an attempt to bring reason and science to society, rather than being controlled by the Church, saturate the novel. It’s personified in the main character, Pêro Manuel Pires, a renowned Portuguese tilemaker, who is also dedicated to freeing slaves and hiring them in his tile factory. Unfortunately, this and the risqué designs of someone thought not worthy (avoiding a spoiler here!) of creating them brings Pires to the attention of the Inquisition, where his faith is questioned, and his livelihood and his very life are threatened.

Even the tragedy that strikes Lisbon is told with such force and detail it is as beautifully described as the tile making. Dos Santos immerses her reader into this world, both the time and place, knowing, like a good conductor, when to ask the horns for more, when to ask the woodwinds to back off. This novel is just stunning.

Interweaving charming scenes of family life with brutal scenes of the other side of society at that time, Dos Santos knows when to apply the pressure and when to relieve it. For instance, Pêro and his lovely daughters, Constanza and Isabela, view the display at a bakery shop: “Isabela lingered in front of a pastry shop, its pane filled with golden egg yolk custards and doughy delicacies of barriga de freiras, ‘belly of nuns.’” I find that so sweet and beautiful. The shops they pass are described in such gorgeous depth that you want to really be there. No, you think you are there.

The opening scene gives us this hint of cruelty: “Pêro glanced at his own right hand, to the stumped third and fourth finger, his mouth a tight white line.” We know this has been done to him, and we learn just how barbarously it was done.

When the earthquake strikes, it brings tragedy and leaves everything in jeopardy.

Combining rich historical facts and imagination where needed, Stephanie has created one of the most memorable books of the year, one I can’t wait to re-read. I long for the next installment.

Where Have All the Shipping Boxes Gone?

My REAL reason for writing this post is this amazing, perceptive, humbling review of Victorine by the fabulous Stephanie Renée dos Santos. “You get me; you really get me,” I wrote to her when she notified me that she had posted it.

Again, let me stress how generous and kind it is for people to review books. I met the amazing Stephanie over on Facebook in her group “Love of Art in Fiction,” where we discovered we have a common acquaintance. Small world. I enjoy her group so much.

So thank you, Stephanie. Thank you, thank you. I love it when the story of Victorine gets a boost. I want the whole world to know about her!

Oh, are the rest of you wondering about the title of this post?

I have SO much to say about purging our house and getting rid of carloads of stuff, me getting my shit together in general. (Maybe. Probably never going to completely do that. But I can try.) But I’m waiting until life slows down a tiny bit. (I’m in the middle of a career change. No, I haven’t stopped writing, but I have slowed my teaching to a drip and am happily in the book marketing world. (Not just my own books.)

Anyway, on this very rainy day I gathered three books I need to ship together to a contest. (Didn’t say I’d win, but you can’t win if you don’t enter.) I have mailers for books I send out to influencers, of course, and for autographed copies I mail out. But alas, while three books did technically fit into the mailer, it wouldn’t come close to sealing.

I wandered the house and garage looking for an Amazon box. While I spied a couple of smaller boxes in my writing room closet, that they have dates plastered all over them tells me that they are for records we are keeping, at least for the next seven years. Taxes, am I right?

Yes, I even ventured in my darling’s music room on the hunt for boxes. It’s so clean, so orderly. I am proud to say I have solved some of his organization problems, and he worked very hard on it. (Music equipment takes up space!) Maybe he’ll let me post a pic again after we’ve repainted. But what didn’t I find?

I did not find a box.

One of my favorite books as a child was My Cat Likes to Hide in Boxes. My honey even bought me a copy a few years ago. I memorized it even before I could read, and my mom tried to gently explain to me that I didn’t really know how to read yet, but I had just heard her read it to me so many times that I knew it by heart. At four, I didn’t get the distinction.

Well, if we had any cats here (and we don’t), they would have been sorely at a loss for a box today, because I could find none.

That’s actually a very good thing. Too often either my writing room, hubby’s music room, or our (tiny) garage ends up littered with Amazon boxes. Not anymore. If we order something now, we promptly open it, break down the box, and put it in our recycle bin. This is partly because I spent a good hour breaking down and hauling off to the recycle bin a ton of boxes and cursing about how much I hated it as I did it recently. So we’re not going to get there again. It would have been a good practice to have done from the get-go, but creatives can be impulsive. We kinda pride ourselves on it. Now we pride ourselves on, apparently, having no used mailing supplies about.

Okay, truth be told I *did* save back the cardboard wrap that Barry’s latest comics came in, because he liked it so much and because I feel icky if I infantilize him and toss things behind his back. I trust that if he wants to keep it, he’ll find the right spot for it. Or, preferably, he will let it go when he’s ready. It’s not my business, even if I did tuck it into our partially full Bud Light box. (Those certainly won’t go to waste. And stop judging me on my beverage of choice. It’s not a good look on you.)

I want to tell you so, so much more about our house overhaul, but I need a couple of weeks. You’ll be here then, won’t you?

And once again, THANK YOU, STEPHANIE! Please, go support her post by reading her kind words.

Sneak peek — Stephanie’s quite the writer herself and she has a treat of an art-in-fiction novel,

Cut from the Earth, coming out in a few months. Trust me, you’ll hear more about it here. It’s wonderful!

Recording of “French artists in fiction: four lives, four authors”: France Book Tours webinar on May 8, 2021

Here’s the link to France Book Tours webinar I mentioned a while back with all the pertinent info about the featured authors and books. I, for one, truly enjoyed the experience, though I did have a cold! And warning, if you watch it, you’ll see that my head tilt game is strong here! (SMH.)

My thanks to Emma and my thanks and affection to my fellow art-in-fiction authors. I’ve found my tribe!

Many thanks, also, to those of you who showed up and those of you who signed up to see the playback. You’ll be getting a special thanks from me next week — sorry, there’s a birthday boy in my household to celebrate this weekend, so things are busy.

If you’re coming here from the webinar, welcome and I hope you will hang around and share in the conversation.

Also, on a more personal note, I made a thing!

I love cards and wee treasures, and after stewing and stewing, I decided to adopt this method of hanging my lovelies. I repurposed the frame from a faded art poster, spraying it with blue chalk paint. I strung it with wire (not as difficult as it sounds and I’ve had practice from entering art in art shows) and began digging through my box of sentimental items. The owl pins are from Japan. The feather is from Rome. (There’s a story there.) The pinecone is from China. The tiny canvas is from a professor friend. And cards, glorious cards! I intend to switch them out now and again. Since I have saved special cards for decades now, I think I have a few to get through. So if you have a place in my affections but don’t see yourself represented there, just hold on. You’ll get a turn.

A couple of the cards were handmade for me and Barry by his stepmom recently. They’re beautiful. (Barry said I can share his cards as well.)

Oh, and did you see my beloved finger puppets? I think I’ve just imagined another way to store my entire collection.

My original scheme (and I might do this some day still!) was to find a way to make a wall that is floor to ceiling “pockets” of glass where I can hang things that mean something to me.

You can call this current contraption of mine a glorified bulletin board if you want, but I would disagree: these items have their own space. They hang better. They’re not lost on a cork background.

I know, I know, I should either buy colored clothespins or paint these. I saw colored ones, I did, but I want coral (I can’t get away from that color) ones. I wasn’t patient enough to wait until I’d painted them to hang this. I spray painted the frame yesterday, let it dry overnight, strung the wire today, and before I knew it, I was putting it on the wall and adding the cards. It came out so much better than I expected. And if you’re thinking of criticizing my juvenile owl stickers, just don’t. 🙂

I’m so happy with this that I am tempted to make another one for my writing room. I guess I didn’t say that this one is living in the kitchen. That might seem like an odd choice, but we’re running out of wall space, and it’s right over the small kitchen table where I sometimes eat breakfast and start my day with a cup of tea and my journal. What a nice sight to greet me. So many memories. So much love.

Is there something you’ve been meaning to do for yourself that would make you happy? Do it! And then send me a picture, if it’s that kinda thing.

Welcome to the World, Shh…It’s Our Secret!

Please help me celebrate the arrival of Lizzie Chantree’s latest book, Shh…It’s Our Secret!

Just in time for summer, ready for those uh-mazing sunny dunes days coming soon, this plum lands in my lap.

Shh… It’s Our Secret, is about a young woman called Violet, who is learning to accept who she is and trust herself throughout the book. She has low self-esteem, which isn’t helped by a domineering boyfriend, but throughout the story she finds her voice and decides to take a chance and share a secret she’s hidden for too long. The secret could change the lives of the café regulars where she works, and transform the town she lives in.

The story follows her journey of self-discovery and she has to pluck up the courage to leave a man who doesn’t appreciate her, rebuild her confidence and be true to herself. Can someone who shies from the limelight, step out of the shadows and show the world how incredible she really is?

Book Blurb:

Violet has a secret that could change the lives of everyone she knows and loves, especially the regulars at the run-down café bar where she works. After losing her parents at a young age, they are the closest thing she has to a family and she feels responsible for them.

Kai is a jaded music producer who has just moved outside of town. Seeking solitude from the stress of his job, he’s looking for seclusion. The only problem is he can’t seem to escape the band members and songwriters who keep showing up at his house.

When Kai wanders into the bar and Violet’s life, he accidentally discovers her closely guarded secret. Can Kai help her rediscover her self-confidence or should some secrets remain undiscovered?

International bestselling author and award-winning inventor, Lizzie Chantree, started her own business at the age of 18 and became one of Fair Play London and The Patent Office’s British Female Inventors of the Year in 2000. She discovered her love of writing fiction when her children were little and now works as a business mentor and runs a popular networking hour on social media, where creatives can support to each other. She writes books full of friendship and laughter, that are about women with unusual and adventurous businesses, who are far stronger than they realise. She lives with her family on the coast in Essex. Visit her website at or follow her on Twitter @Lizzie_Chantree

I’m a sucker for cafes of all types and those who work there, and for anyone in the music business. I, for one, look forward to reading this delicious book by this author I became acquainted with over on social media.

What are you still doing here? Go get yourself a copy! And tell me (and more importantly, Amazon and Goodreads)what you think.

Monet & Oscar: The Essence of Light

The fourth member of the quartet talking about our books on a webinar this Saturday, May 8, 2021 (register and learn more here), is Joe Byrd.

Joe Byrd’s debut novel, Monet & Oscar, is a sweet tale of an American soldier, Oscar Bonhomme, and his search for his father, a man his recently deceased mother has only hinted about. He knows his father was an artist, an Impressionist, but he has precious little else to go on.

When fate brings Oscar, a career gardener, the opportunity to become artist Claude Monet’s gardener through his mother’s friend, Georges Clémenceau, Oscar’s life blooms as profusely as does Monet’s garden.

Oscar, a man of great integrity and honor, wants so badly the regard of a man who is a most respected artist to him, but he wonders – could the man be even more than that to him? Could he be his father? Monet is in his declining years, and Oscar is his eyes on more than one occasion, helping him set up his canvases so they will be hit with just the right light. This seems a metaphor as well for Oscar opening Monet’s eyes to the possibility of their greater relationship – are they indeed father and son?

On a train to Paris, he meets and falls for Isabelle. Immediately after their brief rendezvous, however, she leaves him for America and plans to marry someone else for money, a man from a powerful family who can give her what she wants – her own art show in Chicago.

Oscar himself can’t seem to let go of his feelings for Isabelle, but when he meets the pregnant widow of a fellow soldier, he can’t help both wanting to protect her and being attracted to her, despite her unremitting feelings for her dead husband.

Fate steps in once again and tragedy cements his and Isabelle’s relationship in an unexpected way, despite the initial signs and Isabelle’s insistence that they will never be together again.

Not only does Oscar’s relationship with Monet become clear, but his future reveals itself.

Replete with twists, with lovely scenes that could be mini paintings themselves, Byrd leaves his reader both satisfied but also wanting to know more about his characters, in real life and in fiction. For those who love art and fiction, or who can’t get enough of Monet and his world, this is a don’t-miss novel.

And please pop over and see us this Saturday!

Loving Modigliani: The Afterlife of Jeanne Hébuterne

Art and love both complete us and make us incredibly vulnerable, so reveals Linda Lappin’s tender, excellent novel Loving Modigliani: The Afterlife of Jeanne Hébuterne.

Moving deftly between the intriguing first-person account of the ghost of Jeanne Hébuterne, an artist and the common-law wife of Amedeo Modigliani who jumps out of a window two days after he dies, the diary she leaves behind, and the tale of an art scholar, this book captivates.

Part romance, part mystery, Lappin’s use of the supernatural creates an effective window into the life of both of these artists as well as sparking curiosity about the painter Manuel Ortiz de Zárate.  An art student in the 1980’s who is researching Ortiz stumbles upon so much more. Which describes perfectly what this book does: it uses its unconventional mode of storytelling to explore the deeper issues of life.

Lappin’s novel succeeds in “resurrecting” the artist Hébuterne through imagining her afterlife.

Looking at the paintings Hébuterne left behind, it is obvious that she and Modigliani influenced one another’s work. That there is this lost painting, a work of the two of them, in this novel, means there is, besides the biological daughter, another child of the two: the painting.

If you’ve ever been ill advisedly in love or if you have a deep connection with art, you will understand why it seems impossible for Hébuterne to leave Modigliani and yet you will want to warn her away during her diary entries before it’s too late. Alas, since we open on her after her death, we know it is too late. This, too, keeps us reading.

Lovingly told with evocative detail, it is difficult to avoid spoilers for this exquisite novel, so I will just add that it’s a fascinating, fast-paced, deeply felt novel.

Linda is one of the four of us who will be talking about our art-in-fiction books on May 8. Take a look at that post and sign up if you haven’t yet. It promises to be a great session. I’m looking forward to “meeting” these writers I’ve been emailing with all of this time. I hope to see you there!

French Artists in Fiction: Four Lives, Four Authors

It’s been such an exciting yet busy time that I neglected to share the last two stops of my virtual tour with their wonderful reviews. I’m so grateful for reviewers who spend their precious time not only reading but reviewing books. So many thanks to these latest reviewers for their kind words, both Unabridged Chick and ShreeWrites. And thanks again to Emma for arranging the tour. Great job, Emma!

Every time a review goes up I feel I’m getting the word out about artist Victorine Meurent just a little bit further. I’m humbled that so many of you love her as much as I do!

A quartet of writers (including moi) have started a collaboration of sorts. First up, our Lilianne Milgrom, artist and writer, has written a post for Bonjour Paris featuring our four art-in-fiction books. Isn’t she the best? Learn more about us and our books by reading her excellent article.

But wait, there’s more: the four of us will be talking about our books on this webinar hosted by Emma of France Book Tours. This international event (we have registrants from six countries thus far!) will be held May 8, 2021, at 11 AM Central time, and is FREE, so please register here. (Photo below courtesy of France Book tours. And I’m in sore need of an updated author photo — I plan on that this summer.)

Featured speakers:
Lilianne Milgrom, author of L’Origine
Linda Lappin, author of Loving Modigliani: The Afterlife of Jeanne Hébuterne
Drēma Drudge, author of Victorine
Joe Byrd, author of Monet & Oscar

The above links will take you to each of our tour pages, which also has our Amazon book links if you’d like to purchase the books ahead of time. Actually, this is Joe’s book launch, but he’s graciously allowing us to crash his party. Please join us!

In preparation for this call, I have been reading Linda and Joe’s books, and wow! And you already know I’ve read and loved Lilianne’s book, as I reviewed it a few months ago. I can’t wait for you to meet these books and these wonderful authors.

If you’re a fan of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch or the books of Susan Vreeland (how she is missed), this is a webinar for you. Hope to see you there!

“If art is for us all and about us all, why isn’t it by us all?” — Victorine

Today’s blog stop takes us to Bookish Ramblings. The headline of this post is a quote from Victorine the reviewer pulled out. I thought it fitting for today. Please stop over and enter the book giveaway and leave a comment. And many thanks to Bookish Ramblings!

Book reviewers are so important to books! They are unpaid warriors who read for the sheer love of it and sometimes a free copy of a book. By the time they read it and review it, they’ve invested hours. I don’t take that lightly. So thanks to everyone who has reviewed my book thus far!

The Railway by Edouard Manet, featuring Victorine Meurent.

I posted the above painting because I said today’s stop, as in on a blog tour, as if on a whistle stop train tour…:-) Too punny?

Happy Palm Sunday!

Thanks to What’sHerName Podcast for mentioning Victorine‘s painting Palm Sunday today on social media. Where was my brain? (Reading Joan Didion essays and filling out a fellowship application, that’s where. Oh, and emailing the dearest friends. Wait, I feel a You’ve Got Mail reference coming on… “Don’t you love email?” Yes, yes I do.)

There are so many lovely observations to be made about this painting by Victorine Meurent, Edouard Manet’s favorite model — the subtle colors (some of my fav), the knowing-yet-innocent model, the composition…

I could go on, and maybe I should. Maybe I will, another time. But as it’s past seven and my dearest is waiting so we can choose a movie (small screen, but still), I won’t go on tonight.

But do tell me your thoughts on Palm Sunday. It was her first rediscovered painting, and I thought it would be the only example of hers I would have as I wrote about her. You can imagine with what care I studied it.

Enter a Giveaway! Two Wonderful Victorine Shout-Outs Today!

Thank you so much to two sweet souls for helping get out the word about Victorine Meurent. First up, my gratitude to Amy over at Locks, Hooks, and Books. Please read her marvelous review of my novel, Victorine, and don’t forget to enter the giveaway while you’re there.

Okay, I have to share a sneak peek of her heartfelt review: “I loved being transported back in time to mid nineteenth century Paris. The historical details were so fascinating and vivid, I felt like I was right there taking in all the sights of the city.” Thank you, Amy. That warms my author’s heart.

Over on Instagram, Crystal Z. Lee, author of the vivid, vibrant Love and Other Moods, posted a fabulous photo and review of Victorine. She said I can share them over here.

“I gravitate towards books that transport, and Victorine–a historical literary novel–takes readers to France in the 19th century. It’s the story of a trailblazing female artist who defied the conventions of her time.”

“We know the woman on the cover of this book, even if we aren’t familiar with her name, Victorine Meurent. Her face and body had been immortalized by artist Edouard Manet in his world famous paintings Olympia, The Picnic In Paris, etc. I took several western art history courses in college, and remember seeing Manet’s work at the #museedorsay on my numerous business trips to #Paris later on. In Olympia, the nude model’s gaze is arresting. She makes you want to know more about her. But at the time, a woman like her received scant respect nor recognition. Her modeling for #Manet made his works world famous, but history hardly paid any attention or credit to his muse. Until now.”

“This book is truly a treasure just for the fact that author Drema Drudge’s thorough research uncovered Victorine Meurent’s forgotten paintings, and one of them is published for the very first time in her book.”

“If Victorine had lived in today’s era, she would’ve been celebrated; she overcame the odds of poverty, war, sexism… and went from being an artist’s muse to an artist in her own right. But because of the times she lived in, she was shunned, shamed, vilified. Still, she unapologetically lived for her art, for her love and passions.”

“This gem of a novel is for art aficionados, history buffs, francophiles, and anybody looking for a riveting read on a forgotten heroine.”

Wow, thank you, Crystal. I’m incredibly grateful for both your review and the creative, beautifully composed photo. My heart is full.

Thanks to both of these bookish, kind women for getting the word out. I truly appreciate it!

P.S. If you want a free historical fiction story from me, join my newsletter and I’ll hook you up!