Amy Maroney | A fascinating journey through past and present

Today I’m thrilled to welcome Amy Maroney, whose brilliant dual narrative book The Girl from Oto has kept me company these past weeks. And I truly mean kept me company, for when immersed in her novel, the rest of the world disappeared. Just the escape I needed right now. Amy, thanks for coming, and looking forward to our chat. Here we go!

Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you building a body of work with connections or themes between each book?
My Miramonde Series (The Girl from Oto, Mira’s Way, and A Place in the World) is a trilogy about a Renaissance-era female artist and the modern day scholar on her trail. The books are meant to be read in order and culminate in a grand finale in the third novel. What resonates in all of them, though, is the theme of forgotten women artists finally coming to light—and underpinning that, the idea that history is full of silenced stories. I’m intrigued by the knowledge that for most of history, women’s voices have not been heard. Teasing out glimpses of these women in the historical record is a fascinating endeavor.
What kind of research do you do, and how long did it take you? The Girl from Oto and its counterparts Mira’s Way and A Place in the World took me more than five years to research and write. I really love research, following paths through history—I get sucked into mysterious alleys glowing with golden light, beckoning me back in time and promising me treasure.
While writing The Girl from Oto and the rest of the Miramonde Series, I got seriously obsessed with the medieval wool trade in Spain; the wealth created in Toulouse by the blue dye made from the humble woad plant; the independent communities of the Pyrenees, which self-governed during the era of feudal societies; and the clash of paganism and Catholicism in those mountains. Winding their way through all this history were the pilgrims who journeyed to Compostela despite all the dangers. Of course, I had to drill down deep into the Camino and stories of pilgrims. And don’t even get me started on Basque fishing and whaling traditions or the mysterious people known as the Cagots…
Then there was the modern narrative, following heroine Zari Durrell as she digs for clues about Mira in several 16th-century paintings. While my historical research was focused on reading and occasionally consulting academics, I relied more on interviews with professionals to study the field of art conservation. Through the fascinating people I met, I learned tricks of the trade and lots of lore about their world. Using x-rays and other tools, researchers can now see under the layers of paint in a portrait, determine the age of a wooden panel, and more. We used to rely solely on the ‘eye’ of an art expert to determine who actually painted a portrait. But today, conservators use science to debunk the opinion of an expert—and reveal secrets and long-hidden truths about paintings.
The series I’m working on now has brought me back into the world of scholarly articles and academic search engines. This time, I’m focusing on a family of artists who live on the medieval island of Rhodes in Greece, when it was ruled by the Knights Hospitaller.
What music do you listen to when you write? (Or don’t you?) I enjoy listening to music while writing, even more so during this era of COVID-19 so I can drown out the noise of my family and dog swirling around me. I tend to listen to inspirational soundtracks or nature sounds like thunderstorms. Lately I’ve been compiling a playlist on Spotify of my favorite writing music. Here’s the link if any of your readers want to check it out. Spoiler alert: it’s heavy on the Game of Thrones soundtrack, the haunting Godless soundtrack, Outlander for a bit of Scottish inspiration…and I couldn’t resist a dash of Poldark as well.
What’s the best thing a reader has said about or written to you? A columnist for a local newspaper wrote after a particularly difficult winter that a handful of books got her through it. One of them was my novel The Girl from Oto. Reading it, she felt transported to another world and completely immersed by the story. I carry that with me as I develop my next series in this strange new era of a global pandemic. Fiction matters to people in good times—and even more so during their hardest moments.

Quick Q & A:
Tea or Coffee?
Coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon
Dark or Milk Chocolate?
Dark all the way
When were you the happiest?
Traveling through Europe with my husband and daughters during 2011-2012 gave me a lifetime’s worth of happy memories (and wonderful research opportunities). I feel very grateful for the experience.
Favorite Children’s Book? The Silver Crown by Robert C. O’Brien plus the Dragonriders of Pern series by Anne McCaffery
Favorite Adult Novel? Sorry, I clearly can’t choose just one! Too many favorites. It’s currently a three way tie between Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett, News of the World by Paulette Jiles, and Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner. But I really love The Man from Beijing by Henning Mankell, too…

The Girl from Oto:

Two women, separated by centuries—but linked by a terrible secret.

The Miramonde Series tells the story of a Renaissance-era woman artist and the modern day scholar on her trail. In Book 1, The Girl from Oto, a girl is born into a ruthless and violent noble family; her mother names her Miramonde, ‘one who sees the world.’ Raised in a convent, Mira becomes an extraordinary artist—never dreaming she will one day fulfill the promise of her name.

Mira’s modern-day counterpart, American art historian Zari Durrell, discovers traces of a mysterious woman artist in a sixteenth-century painting while doing research in Scotland. Soon she’s tracing a path through history to Mira herself. But the art world ignores her findings, dazzled by a rival academic’s claim that the portraits were in fact made by a famous male artist. Obsessed, Zari tracks Mira to the ancient pilgrim trails of the wild Pyrenees—but will her stunning discoveries be enough to bring Mira’s story to light?

Amy Maroney lives in the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. with her family, and spent many years as a writer and editor of nonfiction before turning her hand to historical fiction. She’s currently obsessed with pursuing forgotten women artists through the shadows of history. When she’s not diving down research rabbit holes, she enjoys hiking, drawing, dancing, and reading.

Get The Promise, a free prequel novella to the Miramonde Series, and check out Amy’s blog here:
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Find The Girl from Oto on Amazon UK and Amazon US