May, 2023 Author Interview (make up date June 13th)
The Girl from Oto
By Amy Maroney
Theme: Travels in Time and Place
Author Bio: Amy Maroney lives in the Pacific Northwest with her family, and spent many years as a writer and editor of nonfiction before turning her hand to historical fiction. When she's not diving down research rabbit holes, she enjoys hiking, dancing, traveling, and reading. Amy is the author of the award-winning Miramonde Series, a trilogy about a Renaissance-era female artist and the modern-day scholar on her trail. Amy's new romantic suspense series, Sea and Stone Chronicles, is set in medieval Rhodes and Cyprus. To receive a free prequel novella to the Miramonde Series, join Amy's readers' group at www.amymaroney.com
Book: The Girl from Oto
A mesmerizing historical novel of Renaissance Europe. Two women. Separated by centuries. Linked by a 500-year-old mystery...
1500: Born during a time wracked by war and plague, Renaissance-era artist Mira de Oto grows up in a Pyrenees convent believing she is an orphan. When tragedy strikes, Mira learns the devastating truth about her own origins. But does she have the strength to face those who would destroy her?
2015: Centuries later, art scholar Zari Durrell unearths traces of a mysterious young woman named Mira in two 16th-century portraits. Obsessed, Zari tracks Mira through the great cities of Europe to the pilgrim's route of Camino de Santiago—and is stunned by what she finds. Will her discovery be enough to bring Mira's story to life?
A powerful story and an intriguing mystery, The Girl from Oto is an unforgettable novel of obsession, passion, and human resilience. Perfect for fans of Kristin Hannah and Anthony Doerr.
"Fast-paced, flawless storytelling." —Rose City Reader Reviews
The Girl from Oto is Book 1 of the Miramonde Series, a trilogy of historical mysteries about a Renaissance-era female artist and the modern day scholar on her trail. Read it today and embark on a thrilling adventure into the past.
Look for these themes in the excerpts below:
· The scene-setting – how each woman responds to the world around her
· Reacting to challenges – how characters are developed by the obstacles they face
· The mystery – how one story informs and builds on the other
Medieval historical thread narrative excerpt (Book 4, Chapter 8)
Mira adjusted her cloak again, trying to keep out the chill of dawn. Gaston wore an extra tunic and thick wool gloves, but his nose and the tips of his ears were pink. Fog obscured the road ahead. Somewhere behind them was another cart driven by Arnaud de Luz. Both of the carts were loaded with sacks of washed wool.
“This mist brings ill tidings, it does,” Gaston grumbled.
The mules balked. He cracked the whip over their backs and they plodded forward again.
“The week that Mother Béatrice passed away, God rest her soul, a thick fog came on,” he added.
“The fog comes when it wants,” Mira said. “The sun will burn a hole through it soon enough and then we will wish for a wisp of fog to cool us. Besides, we have no choice. If we want to join the mule train, we must make haste. The villagers said it already passed through Accous.”
While they rolled through the valley, she inventoried in her mind the supplies that filled the baskets under the bench they sat on. She had several oak panels made by Arnaud, pots of pigment, a supply bag filled with brushes, pencils, linseed oil, and rags. And in the satchel around her neck, the mortuary roll and the letter.
They were not long on the main road north when a gruff voice spoke up from the gloom. “Halt! Stop this cart at once.”
Two men appeared on either side of the mules. One held a dagger in his clenched fist.
“Give us your coins and be quick about it,” said the man with the dagger.
He was slight, with a sharp nose and ashy skin. His companion had a thick, doughy body and a shock of tangled yellow hair. Mira waited for Gaston to reply, but he said nothing. Glancing at him, she saw his face was twisted in fear.
“We have no coins,” she ventured.
The man with the dagger took a step forward.
“We’re no fools,” he shouted. “Give us your coins, and be quick about it.”
“We go to Nay to sell our wool,” she said firmly, jerking a thumb back at the cart they pulled. “We will have no coins until we sell it.”
The yellow-haired man edged closer to Mira. “You’re a bold one for a nun.” He fingered the edge of her cloak.
“Get back, in the name of God!” She ripped the cloak out of his grasp.
He faltered, his face uncertain. Then he sidled forward again while the other man walked around the cart, thrusting his arms between the heavy sacks of wool in search of other goods.
“You’ve truly got nothing but wool here.”
“As we said. Now let us go.” Mira willed her voice to be steady.
Where was Arnaud?
The slight man held up his dagger and pretended to clean his nails with it. “We must have something for our troubles,” he said.
“That’s right,” replied the yellow-haired man. “A little reward.”
He reached out a hand and put it on Mira’s skirt, then gave her thigh a violent pinch.
“Get off!” she shouted.
Gaston finally moved. He let out an unintelligible bleat, raised the mule whip and cracked it in the air.
“A feisty one is always better, I warrant,” said the man with the dagger.
Both men hauled Mira off the bench.
Standing up, Gaston found his voice. “Put her down! Give her back! Stop!” he roared. The black tip of the whip flicked the head of the man holding the dagger.
“Putting up a fight, are you?” taunted the man. “Come down here and show me your skills, then.” He waved the blade at Gaston.
The other man picked up Mira as if she were a bag of millet and lugged her toward the edge of the woods. She kicked at him and tore at his hair, screaming.
“You will go straight to hell if you abuse me, do you hear? You will burn in hell forever! For all eternity!”
She heard the crack of the whip behind them.
“Enough talk out of you.” He dumped her on the ground. His eyes went to the satchel at her waist. “What’s in your bag of goods?” he asked, his lips pulled back to reveal a set of mossy-looking teeth.
She struggled to her feet. He raised his arm to slap her and she kicked with all her strength at his knee. He bellowed in pain.
Mira slipped her hand under her skirt and found the smooth bone handle of her dagger. Before he could strike her again, she thrust the blade in the fleshy part of his thigh. At the same moment, an arrow lodged in his shoulder. He cried out and fell to the ground. She scrambled away from him.
Arnaud was striding toward her.
“Thank God,” she whispered.
Arnaud walked past her and pulled the dagger out of the man’s thigh, prompting new roars of pain. He wiped it in the grass and handed it to Mira, then dragged the wounded man back to the edge of the road. With Gaston’s help, he bound the bandits together back to back.
“Too bad there’s no room for you fellows in our cart,” Arnaud said. “Since we’ve no room to spare, you’ll wait for the bailiff here. Take comfort from each other ’til then.”
The wounded man moaned. “My shoulder! Have mercy. Remove that arrow, for God’s sake.”
Arnaud walked a slow circle around them. “The thing is,” he said, “the arrow keeps your blood in. If I pull it out now, blood’ll spurt everywhere. Once a hole opens up like that, it gets worse. Could be there’s a crack in one of your bones; could be your very marrow might ooze out and mix with your blood. Quite a steaming soup that’d be.” He let out a long, low whistle. “No, we’ll let the arrow stay where it is, doing a great service for you.”
“You devil.” The man let out an anguished groan.
“The devil is at work here, no doubt,” said Arnaud. “But he’s not riding on my shoulder.”
Gaston collected himself. “Robbing good folk on their way to the market before they even have a coin in their purses, it takes a special brand of idiots to do that,” he declared. He held out a hand to Mira.
“Thank you, Gaston.” She climbed back into the wagon, trying to ignore the wild thudding of her heart.
The wounded man peered up at her from the dusty roadside. “What kind of an accursed nun stabs a man?”
“What kind of a monster attacks a nun?” she retorted.
She had an urge to climb back down and stab him again, this time through the heart. The savage thought startled her. She tore her gaze away from him, staring resolutely ahead as the cart began moving again.
For the rest of the journey, the memory of her attacker’s horrible grin taunted her. She sat motionless on the bench, her arms clasped tightly around the satchel, consumed by the miserable awareness that she wanted more than anything to murder him.
Modern narrative thread excerpt (Book 4, Chapter 13)
Zari stood on the train platform in Pau, getting her bearings. It was a warm afternoon. Pigeons cooed in the stale air under the vast metal and glass ceiling. She slipped her arms through the straps of her backpack and trudged toward the main part of the station.
Somewhere in the crowd was Laurence Ceravet, whom she had only recently learned was a woman. She had assumed Laurence was a man; since they only communicated by e-mail until recently, she had no reason to challenge that assumption. But when she searched online for images of Laurence in preparation for their meeting, she realized her error. When Zari confessed, Laurence informed her that every French person named ‘Laurence’ was a woman. The male equivalent of the English ‘Lawrence’ was ‘Laurent.’
Zari spied a delicately-built woman standing at the end of the platform, her long brown hair pulled back in a loose bun. From a distance, Laurence appeared to be about Zari’s age. She was dressed in dark jeans, a crisp white blouse and a tailored navy jacket, and she wore high platform sandals. Zari felt self-conscious in her sensible walking shoes, but Laurence instantly commented on their utility, saying she had a similar pair for hiking herself. Close up, Zari saw the lines etched around Laurence’s eyes, the shadowy hollows beneath them. She was probably nearing fifty, Zari realized.
After dropping the backpack at Zari’s rented studio apartment overlooking the Place Royale, they walked to a café for lunch. Despite the fact that she managed to inflect her limited French vocabulary with both American and Spanish accents, Zari successfully ordered a Salade Niçoise and a Perrier. Laurence ordered a quiche and a glass of white wine.
All of the servers wore the same uniform: black pants, black shoes, white shirts, and long black aprons tied around the waist. Along with most of the other patrons, Zari and Laurence were crammed outside in the narrow strip of sidewalk delegated to the café. Inside, few of the tables were occupied.
When they sat down, Laurence immediately lit a cigarette. Most of the other people around them were also smoking.
“Our no-smoking laws,” Laurence explained. “One can still smoke outside, so of course everyone wants to sit outside. Even in winter.” She took a puff, then blew it away from Zari. It was a nice gesture, but they were getting full blow-back from smokers at surrounding tables. “People will not change their habits just because of a law.” She smiled.
“It’s so different in California. It’s hard to find a smoker there.” Zari’s eyes began to water.
When their food arrived, Laurence stubbed out her cigarette.
“Will we be able to see your painting this afternoon?” Zari asked.
She picked up her fork and contemplated the potatoes, tuna, tomatoes, and green beans on her plate. The salad was topped with a cluster of tiny, glistening olives.
“My painting is still in Paris. There are so many layers of paint to remove. It is taking longer than we expected. I hoped it would be here by your visit, but—” Laurence saw the disappointment in Zari’s eyes. “I am sorry.”
Zari dropped her gaze and busied herself eating each olive on her plate in quick succession.
“There was nothing you could do,” she said after a moment, regaining her equilibrium. “Your painting is such a big piece of this puzzle, though. I was looking forward to seeing the eyes.”
“I’ve seen photos of your painting, but I need to see it in person to truly know the answer. Do the subjects’ eyes have life in them? Do they have expression?”
Laurence took a sip of wine. “Yes. Their eyes look alive, as you say.”
“Have you seen that quality in Cornelia van der Zee’s other works?”
“No, but I never looked for it.”
“Do you believe Bermejo painted your portrait?”
Laurence shook her head. “There is no evidence to support that theory. I believe that my portrait and the one at Oxford were painted by the same person. And I believe that person was connected to Arnaud de Luz, the man who made the panels.”
“Have you learned anything else about him?”
“Just that he lived in Bayonne.” Laurence picked up her fork and knife.
“There’s something else I wanted to ask you,” Zari said. “Do you know anything about a convent called Belarac?”
Zari noticed that for every three bites of salad she ate, Laurence took one minuscule forkful of quiche. She was beginning to understand why French women were so thin. Smoking and not eating were a fast road to weight loss, if not to health.
“I think there’s a connection between the Fontbroke College portrait and the Abbey of Belarac.” She told Laurence about the ‘B’ on the spine of the book in the portrait.
“Some artifacts from Belarac are here in Pau, at the university’s archival library.”
“Really?” Zari mopped up the last drops of vinaigrette on her plate with a piece of bread.
“There are several documents. Books and manuscripts dating from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries—they were owned by a merchant family and donated to the university. I can show you tomorrow if you like.”
“I would love that, Laurence.” Zari felt a twinge of embarrassment. “I still can’t believe I thought you were a man.”
“Were you disappointed?”
“No.” Zari smiled. “I was just thinking about the assumptions we make based on names.”
“You have a very unusual name, Zari.” Laurence forked another sliver of quiche into her mouth.
“My mother’s people were Basque originally, from northwest Spain. They were called the Mendietas, which means ‘men of the mountains.’ And my father’s people were mostly French, although I don’t know much about them. It’s actually a long, boring story.”
“It is not boring to me,” said Laurence, as she gestured to the server to remove their plates, even though her quiche was only half-eaten. She lit another cigarette.
“Okay, but stop me anytime.” Zari leaned back in her chair, mouth-breathing. The scent of the unfiltered cigarette smoke nauseated her. “My birth name is Izar and my brother’s is Eguzki. They’re Basque names.”
“Yes, izar means star and eguzki means sun.” Laurence exhaled over her left shoulder and flicked her cigarette against the black plastic ashtray on the table.
Zari stared at her in surprise. “How did you know?”
“We can see Basque country from here, Zari. And my husband’s people are Basque.”
“Ah. Well, my mother was a hippie—do you know what that is?” Laurence nodded, her eyes creasing in amusement.
“Her birth name was Patricia, but she changed it to Portia. Naturally, when she had kids, she wanted them to have groovy names too. So she picked sun and star. My dad was just enough of a hippie to like the concept, but too much of a snob to want his children answering to the same names as all the other hippie kids. So the compromise was Eguzki and Izar. My brother ended up being called Gus because no one could pronounce Eguzki, and when I was a baby Gus couldn’t say ‘Izar’ and started calling me Zari.”
“There are Mendietas all around this area, Zari. Perhaps you will find some of your family.” Laurence ordered two coffees from the server and stabbed the tip of her cigarette into the ashtray. She exhaled at the same moment as a woman next to her.
Zari watched the two streams of smoke collide and form one intertwining column that seeped lazily upward, squeezing between the umbrellas that shaded the tables and vanishing into the blue sky.
“Maybe someday,” she said. “All I have time for right now is the mystery of Mira.”