Summer read: Alumna’s novel will take you back in time

Let us give credit to the muse.

Lost in the City of Flowers book cover

2009 FIU alumna Maria Trujillo’s recent novel is geared to young adult readers but has developed a wider following. To up the educational value for new students of art history, the book includes a glossary of terms and Renaissance artists’ names.

No doubt, the combination of a magnificent imagination and 21st-century pragmatism helped FIU alumna Maria Trujillo write and self-publish a young adult novel featuring Leonardo da Vinci. But it was the muse that pushed her to do it and then held her hand along the way.

In 2011 Trujillo, who today coordinates educational programming for The Wolfsonian-FIU, heard a radio program on the topic of how artistic people wrestle with the muse. It was mentioned that singer-songwriter Tom Waits once complained that inspiration often visited him at inopportune times, such as when he was in the shower or driving. “I can’t do anything right now, so come visit me later,” was his answer, Trujillo recalls. That notion of controlling the creative impulse, of bending it to one’s will, resonated with her.

“I thought, ‘The next time I have a brilliant idea, I’m going to talk to it. I’m going to have a conversation with it.’”

A year later, while teaching elementary school in Gainesville—where she had moved to pursue a master’s degree from UF after graduating with a bachelor’s in art history from FIU—Trujillo got a visit from the muse. She saw a lot of children reading Harry Potter titles, but others gravitated to books about zombies, werewolves and vampires. The latter made her wonder: How might she use her passion for art history to expand youngsters’ interests? Her brilliant idea started to take shape.

“And so I had a conversation with it later,” Trujillo says matter-of-factly, “and I talked it through. All I had to do next was just do it, to use the words of Nike.”

The result: a 332-page volume that took her six months to research and six months to write. Lost in the City of Flowers is the fictionalized story of a modern-day 14-year-old aspiring artist from New York set against a historically accurate backdrop of Renaissance Italy. Time travel takes the protagonist to 1469, where she meets the teenaged da Vinci and other up-and-coming figures of the era.

Trujillo signs a book for middle-schooler Paul Zavaliy.

Trujillo signs a book for middle-schooler Paul Zavaliy.

Trujillo’s attention to the details and personalities of the 15th-century—she took care to portray all nonfictional characters as authentically as possible and even studied da Vinci’s notebooks to better understand him—comes in part from her personal acquaintance with Florence, Italy, the birthplace of the Renaissance. As an undergraduate she attended a study abroad program that had her practicing the techniques of the masters—how to apply plaster to create frescos, how to make brushes out of squirrel hair. She incorporated those experiences into the storyline.

“I really tried to keep the integrity of what was happening in Italy at the time,” the author says. “I tried to stay as true to history as possible.”

And while Trujillo diligently crafted her manuscript—not on a computer but with pencil and paper, in long hand—the muse steadfastly egged on her creativity. “I would sit down, and it would just flow,” she says.

When it came time to deal with the costs of self-publishing, however, the muse was less helpful than the Internet crowdfunding site Kickstarter. A former Air Force brat who early on developed a get-the-job-done attitude, Trujillo started her campaign after calculating costs for a reviewing editor, a designer to create the book’s cover and the printing and shipping of initial copies. (Amazon prints additional copies on demand as they are ordered, and an ebook is also available.) Friends and family helped her reach her goal of $3,925 and today, based on Amazon reviews and the turnout at a recent book signing, it appears that most of her readers are adults.

Trujillo is already working on the second book in her planned series of four, each focused on a different period in art history. And while she remains content to self-publish again, she doesn’t discount the possibility of a major publisher buying the rights.

“That’s the dream,” she says. “It definitely could happen.”

And with a powerful muse in her corner, why not.

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