Author Amy Maroney’s Miramonde Series tells the story of a Renaissance-era woman artist and an American scholar linked by a 500-year-old mystery. In Book 1, The Girl from Oto, the heroine of the series is born into a cruel 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, Zari Durrell, is a young American scholar doing research in Europe who discovers traces of a mysterious woman artist in several sixteenth-century paintings. 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.
Book 2, Mira’s Way, and Book 3, A Place in the World, follow both women on their respective journeys of discovery, danger, romance, heartbreak, and triumph—in settings that range from the Pyrenees mountains to the great cities of Europe to the rugged backcountry of Oregon. Along the way, Mira makes her mark as an artist, while Zari finds ever-stronger threads of connection to this female Old Master whose identity has been hidden in the shadows of history for centuries. When Zari finally solves the puzzle of Mira forever on the windswept Basque coast in Spain, she also unlocks the secrets of her own past.
In this interview with Amy, I ask about the inspirations behind the series, her research, and what she does when she’s not writing.
Q: Why did you choose to write about a Renaissance-era female artist?
A: During travels with my family about seven years ago, I was lucky enough to visit Oxford University. In a lonely hallway at Magdalen College, I stumbled across a sixteenth-century portrait of a woman that was attributed to a female artist. I was floored. After visiting many museums full of Renaissance-era portraits and learning about art history as a college student, I had somehow never heard of women Old Masters. But now, before my own eyes, was evidence that there were women painters in those days! I soon learned that because women’s work wasn’t valued, their paintings were often attributed to men or kept anonymous. I became obsessed with the lost stories of these women—and I resolved to write a novel on the topic.
Q: How did the modern narrative come about?
A: When I dug into the research, I developed a fascination with the field of art conservation. 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, science can debunk the opinion of an expert and reveal secrets and long-hidden truths about paintings. I decided my book would have a dual timeline to show a modern-day scholar uncovering clues about a female artist whose story has been buried for centuries.
Q: Why did you choose to write a series, and did you know in advance how many books would be in it?
A: When I began this project I sincerely thought I was writing just one book. As I progressed through the stages of research and writing early drafts, then working with an editor, I realized the story was much too long to fit in one book. I got rid of a lot of backstory about previous generations in the world I’d created, and I still had a weighty tome in front of me! I thought about tossing out the story of Mira’s early years, but it was too important to the development of her character and her relationships with the other key players of the historical narrative. Finally I reconceived the concept as a trilogy and haven’t regretted the decision. Honestly, I could keep going and write a fourth book, but I’m eager to get going on my next series. I will be putting out a series of short stories about various characters in the Miramonde Series world, though, for readers who yearn for more.
Q: Did you run across anything that surprised you while researching and writing the books?
A: So many things! I really love doing research and I tend to get quite bogged down in it, following paths through history—they’re like dark alleys with alluring golden light at the end, beckoning me back in time and promising me treasure. I got 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; the clash of paganism and Catholicism in those mountains; the culture of the pilgrims who made their way to Compostela despite all the dangers. I also loved learning about nuns and monks and the economic power of abbeys and monasteries during the late medieval and early Renaissance eras. I was gobsmacked when I discovered I could view 500-year-old documents on municipal archive sites in Europe. And don’t even get me started on Basque fishing and whaling traditions or the mysterious people known as the Cagots…
Q: What’s next? You mentioned a new series?
A: Yes, I’ve got a new bee in my bonnet and I can’t wait to dive into research for my next series. The heroine will also be a European woman artist from roughly the same time period as Mira, but she will have a vastly different background, goals, and motivations. I will not weave in a modern narrative for this series, so each book will be faster to write and somewhat shorter than the Miramonde Series books. I envision four books in the series…I guess that’s called a ‘quadrilogy’!
Q: What about when you’re not writing or doing research or publishing or marketing your books—how do you spend your time?
A: Being with family and friends is top of my list, and I love to read, hike, dance, and drink a perfect cup of coffee in the morning and a perfect cocktail in the evening (my definition of ‘perfect’ changes over time…currently it’s espresso and oat milk in the morning, and a Manhattan or Old Fashioned at night.) I’ve also been lucky enough to travel a lot in my life and I value those experiences deeply. Our younger daughter heads to college next year and while part of me dreads the empty nest, I’m also imagining time to get back to gardening, drawing and painting, and other interests that have been on the back burner while we’ve raised our kids. I’m also excited about attending more writer’s conferences and other events where I can get out of my writing cave and meet some of my author friends (like you!) in person.