Sunday, March 09, 2014

Author Interview: Laura Morelli: The Gondola Maker

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Laura Morelli holds a Ph.D. in art history from Yale University, where she was a Bass Writing Fellow and a Mellon Doctoral Fellow. She authors a column for National Geographic Traveler called “The Genuine Article” and contributes pieces about authentic arts and travel to national magazines and newspapers. Laura has been featured on CNN Radio, Travel Today with Peter Greenberg, and in USA TODAY, Departures, House & Garden Magazine, Traditional Home, the Denver Post, Miami Herald, Chicago Tribune, and other media. She is also the author of the guidebook series that includes Made in Italy, Made in France, and Made in the Southwest, all published by Rizzoli / Universe. The Gondola Maker is her first work of fiction.

Your real name and pen name?
Laura Morelli

Please share some of the best memories of your childhood
I grew up on a farm in Georgia. It was a wonderful childhood, climbing trees, riding horses, playing in the barn with cows and chickens, fishing in the lake. There were not many kids around so I learned to be independent. I read everything I could get my hands on; the used bookstore in town was one of my favorite spots. I still remember the smell of it! I dreamt of writing books one day.

About your education
For much of my life I’ve been a professional student, attending everything from community college, state university, liberal arts college, and finally the Ivy League. I earned a B.A. in Romance Languages & Literatures from the University of Georgia, a M.A. in Art History from Tufts University, and a Ph.D. in Art History from Yale University.

What career did you plan during your education days
I started out as a studio art major (my poor parents!) but luckily I recognized my lack of talent early enough and changed to Romance Languages & Literature. It was when I had the opportunity to travel abroad as a teenager that the artistic traditions of the world began to lure me. One of my art professors in college once gave a talk about her research on a French painter, and I was totally riveted. I thought, “you mean you can really do that as a career?!” By my senior year in college I had decided that I would go on to pursue advanced degrees in art history, and would teach at the university level. I always had the idea that I would write books, and I had dreamt of writing a novel for as long as I can remember.

What languages you can speak and write?
Having lived in Europe for 10 years, my Italian and French are pretty good. I understand Spanish but am a terrible speaker of it.

What is your favorite genre and why?
I have always enjoyed historical fiction. I love it when an author can bring the past to life through sights, smells, sounds, and sensations. 

When did you start writing? What is the purpose of your writing?
I try to capture the excitement and passion I felt when I first discovered the history of art. Those of us in academia are trained to write in a specialized style that comes across as dry and dull, full of terminology that is inaccessible to all but those of us who spend many years studying the field. In the end, this kind of writing strips out the passion that is so inherent in the arts. 

Art history is the most fascinating subject in the world! I try to bring both the knowledge as well as the excitement of art history to my readers. 

Which of your work has been published so far? Would you like to share a synopsis of your work?
I’ve written three specialty travel guidebooks—Made in France, Made in Italy, and Made in the Southwest.

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. My focus in on cultural immersion through a greater appreciation of art objects and the people who make them.

The story of THE GONDOLA MAKER 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. I really wanted to bring that story to life.

Your favorite time of the day?
I do my best thinking in the morning.

Your zodiac/ sunsign?
I am a stereotypical Pisces: I tend to live in my own world inside my head. I “go with the flow” most of the time.

Your favorite food?
When I lived in Italy I learned to make authentic risotto from a group of elderly neighbors. It seems so simple, right? Just rice and cheese! But I learned several secret tricks to make it creamy and al dente. It is my absolute favorite dish. I make it for my family traditionally on Christmas Eve, but I enjoy it any time.

The last line of your autobiography would be…
A childhood friend once introduced me as someone who “rode horses and ate Grape Nuts before Grape Nuts were cool." That seems like a good epitaph, doesn’t it?


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