Waking Isabella – Another Great Book by Melissa Muldoon
Melissa Muldoon is an artist, graphic designer and award winning author of the Studentessa Matta Website, a dual language blog, where she promotes the Italian language and culture. Through the Matta Website, she organizes small group language immersion programs in Italy twice a year in collaboration with Italian schools as well as private Italian language homestay vacations with teachers all over Italy.Waking Isabella is Melissa’s follows her debut novel Dreaming Sophia, published in 2016. In this new book set in Arezzo, Italy, readers are taken on another art history adventure. Waking Isabella weaves together several loves stories as well as a few mysteries, as Nora the protagonist, begins to resolve the puzzle of a painting, which has been missing for decades of Isabella de’ Medici — the Renaissance princess who was murdered by her husband.I posed some questions to Melissa about her new book!
1. What inspired you to write “Waking Isabella?”
The idea behind “Waking Isabella,” was inspired by several visits I have made to Arezzo, Italy and by the joust and the antique fair for which the city is well-known for. I was playing around with ideas of a mystery that would be uncovered, perhaps a long lost letter found in a drawer of an antique desk sold to someone at the Antique Fair.
But, specifically the idea of “Waking Isabella,” came to me last year when I was in Arezzo during a visit to the house of the 15th century artist Giorgio Vasari. He was born in Arezzo and the people of Arezzo are quite proud of this. As I was walking through Vasari’s house I came upon a painting of a beautiful woman. I was mesmerized by the portrait. When I discovered that it was a portrait of Isabella de’ Medici I was intrigued and wanted to learn more. Especially since Isabella is the daughter of Eleonora de’ Medici – a character in my first book!
When I got back home and started researching Isabella, I discovered all kinds of interesting things, about her life and how she was a very intelligent and gifted woman. She was brought up by the Grand Duke Cosimo I – her father – to be quite independent. But her waywardness also contributed to the plot to having her killed in a Medici Hunting lodge outside of Florence. After her Isabella’s father died, she had no one to protect her. At that point the men in her life, her brother the new Duke of Tuscany and her husband, tried to control her and cut off her inheritance. After she died horribly, hung in her bedroom…it is said that her ghost remained caught in the villa and people to this day say they have seen Isabella. They call her La Dama Bianca – the white lady.
Of course, my imagination was immediately piqued, and the idea for Waking Isabella came to life soon after that.
2. You explore several themes in your book. Finding and discovering beauty is an important part of the book too…what is your concept of beauty?
It is difficult to define what beauty means. It is different for each one of us. But over the course of time, it seems there has been some dominate authority that has tried to dictate standards of beauty. Today there are the fashion magazines that tell a woman how she should look and dress. Back in the 15th century all the way through to the 20th century there have been art academies and art authorities determining standards of beauty AND dictating how an artist should paint.
This also occurred during the 1930s & 1940’s during the rise of fascism. Once again standards of beauty were determined by ruling regimes. Hitler decided that modern art, for example, work by Picasso and other avant guard artists, even van Gogh was unacceptable. He tried to suppress various trends in contemporary art, Expressionism, Cubism, Surrealism, Impressionism, Dadism, artwork produced by Jewish artists….even jazz music – And other experimental art forms – calling it deviant art. If a painting didn’t meet his standards, he banned it, burned it or confiscated it. This forced artists to go underground.
So this becomes a theme in my book as well. Who has the authority to determine for another person what beauty means?
Back to your original question for me personally, I think beauty exists in many things. It can even be found in imperfect things. Beauty is all around us — in the way the light filters through the trees, or even a song we hear or the sensation we feel handling a smooth stone. Sometimes we just need to slow down and take the time discover and appreciate these things…and in this way the beauty around us awakened.
3. How long have you been writing?
I am the “Studentessa Matta” which means “crazy language student,” and for the past seven years, I have been writing a dual language blog in Italian and English to promote the study of the Italian language and culture. I am an artist and art historian and own my own graphic design business. In fact, I designed and illustrated the artwork for the cover designs of both my novels “Dreaming Sophia” and “Waking Isabella.” The blog posts I write are non-fiction articles, and about four years ago I got the idea to try my hand at fiction writing. My first novel “Dreaming Sophia,” was published in 2016.
As I was working on my first book “Dreaming Sophia,” I discovered that I really enjoy the process of fiction writing and creating new worlds filled with interesting characters. Inventing a story and weaving in historical details is a bit of a departure from the kind of writing I do on the Studentessa Matta blog – where I blog about language learning and Italian cultural anecdotes. So about mid-way through the first book I was already casting around for concepts for my second novel. Now I am embarking on the writing of my third novel.
4. What will your third novel be about?
As with the writing of my first book, “Dreaming Sophia” about mid-way through the writing of “Waking Isabella,” a new idea came to me for another book. It seemed to me a natural progression to create a third book in a quasi-type of trilogy. The three books are meant to stand-alone stories, but they have similar themes: how young American women find their way to Italy. In all three novels, I mix in historical themes with a story-line set in the present woven together with a bit of fantasy, as well as with large helping of Art History. In all three novels the Medici family also plays a significant part in all stories.
Specifically, my next book will be focus on the painter Artemisia Gentileschi. She was an important female artist of the Baroque era. She painted in the manner of Caravaggio, was uneducated, was raped by her painting instructor and faced many challenges in a male dominated society. But, Artemisia went on to become the first woman admitted into the Academia in Florence and had a brilliant career, painting for nobles, dukes, queens, and kings. The book will be called “Avenging Artemisia: because there is an art to revenge.”
5. Do you have any hobbies? Or name a quirky thing you have done?
When I’m not behind the computer designing or writing I’m traveling in Italy. One of the quirkiest things I have ever done during one of my trips to Italia is to go Zip-lining in Italy in the Basilicata. It was right before I was to lead one of my language immersion programs and one of my Italian friends convinced me to put on a helmet and strap myself into a zip-line harness and fly between to mountain peaks from Pietrapertos (altitude 1029 m) and Castelmezzano and back again. It is called “Il volo dell’angelo” — the flight of the angel. It was a fantastic experience and something I’d never even considered doing here in the States. I loved it! Italy has a way of opening me up to all kinds of new experiences!
On the Studentessa Matta language learning site you can find lots of free ways to practice Italian. Melissa writes both in Italian and English so you can flex and improve your communication skills – for free. Each week she posts about Italian language learning as well as fun and interesting stories about Italian culture.
For those of you who want to dive in a little deeper into Italian language studies in Italy, Melissa also organize small group language immersion programs. This year the programs will be held in Montepulciano and Arezzo. Please visit the Studentessa Matta site for more details: www.StudentessaMatta.com
Book Title: Waking Isabella: Because beauty can’t sleep forever by Melissa Muldoon
Category: Adult Fiction, 250 pages
Genre: General Fiction
Publisher: Matta Press
Release date: December 2017
Tour dates: Feb 19 to March 23, 2018
Content Rating: PG-13 + M (The story begins with violent rape and murder scene, touches on themes of miscarriage, murder, Nazi violence during war, adultery)
To read reviews, please visit Melissa Muldoon’s page on Italy Bok Tours.
Melissa Muldoon is the Studentessa Matta—the crazy linguist! In Italian, “matta” means “crazy” or “impassioned.” Melissa has a B.A. in fine arts, art history and European history from Knox College, a liberal arts college in Galesburg, Illinois, as well as a master’s degree in art history from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. She has also studied painting and art history in Florence.
Melissa promotes the study of Italian language and culture through her dual-language blog, Studentessa Matta (studentessamatta.com). Melissa began the Matta blog to improve her command of the language and to connect with other language learners. It has since grown to include a podcast, “Tutti Matti per l’Italiano,” and the Studentessa Matta YouTube channel. Melissa also created Matta Italian Language Immersion Tours, which she co-leads with Italian partners in Italy.
Waking Isabella is Melissa’s second novel and follows Dreaming Sophia, published in 2016. In this new novel about Italy, the reader is taken on another art history adventure, inspired by Melissa’s experiences living and traveling in Italy, specifically Arezzo, as well as her familiarity with the language and art. For more information about Waking Isabella and links to Melissa’s blogs and social media sites, visit www.MelissaMuldoon.com.
As a student, Melissa lived in Florence with an Italian family. She studied art history and painting and took beginner Italian classes. When she returned home, she threw away her Italian dictionary, assuming she’d never need it again, but after launching a successful design career and starting a family, she realized something was missing in her life. That “thing” was the connection she had made with Italy and the friends who live there. Living in Florence was indeed a life-changing event. Wanting to reconnect with Italy, she decided to start learning the language again from scratch. As if indeed possessed by an Italian muse, she bought a new Italian dictionary and began her journey to fluency—a path that has led her back to Italy many times and enriched her life in countless ways. Now, many dictionaries and grammar books later, she dedicates her time to promoting Italian language studies, further travels in Italy, and sharing her stories and insights about Italy with others. When Melissa is not traveling in Italy, she lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Melissa designed and illustrated the cover art for Waking Isabella and Dreaming Sophia. She also curates the Dreaming Sophia blog and Pinterest site: The Art of Loving Italy. Please visit the Pinterest page for pictures of Arezzo, the Giostra del Saracino, and all the places we go in Italy in both books. Visit MelissaMuldoon.com for more information about immersion trips to learn the language with Melissa in Italy, as well as the Studentessa Matta blog for practice and tips to learn the Italian language.