"Who in their right mind wouldn't want to read a book by Mark Barry!" (Mary Quallo, St Louis)

"Who in their right mind wouldn't want to read a book by Mark Barry!"  (Mary Quallo, St Louis)
Coming next week - Carla Eatherington

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

An Interview with Catherine Jaime

Catherine Jaime

How Catherine had time to speak to me on the Wizphone from Huntsville, Alabama is beyond me! Historian, writer, bookshop owner and scholar -PLUS a courtroom trainer and mother to a dozen kids! 

But this extremely interesting woman and serious Leonardo de Vinci scholar was kind enough to take a break from her research for an hour to talk to us. Here's what she had to say!

Tell us a bit about yourself. Who are you? Where are you from? Are you married with children? Do you write full time etc.

Hi, I’m Catherine – wife, mom, teacher, historian, writer, traveler and bookstore owner, in whichever order you prefer. I currently reside in Alabama (in the southeastern part of the United States), though I’m not really from here. Home is wherever I am living at the time – I was born in Panama (when the Canal Zone still existed); I married a man who had been born in Mexico; and three of our twelve children were born in Germany.  

Twelve children?

That's right, twelve! Plus grandkids on the way! I travel as often as I  can – visiting Albania last summer soon after the birth of my first grandchild, and Italy last month to do research for my da Vinci books. I do not currently write full-time, though when I am done homeschooling my two youngest children in four years, I would certainly love to!

I don't know how you find the time to do all this! Assuming you do, what type of writer are you? methodical and disciplined? Or wacky, freeform and bingey?

I wear so many other hats, I just write whenever I can – while sitting at a soccer (NB: Football for our British readers - Ed). practice, in the car while someone else is driving; whenever I can grab a few minutes, I am probably writing about something. 

Soccer! Alabama Style!

I almost always have a notepad with me to take notes on, and/or a copy of the latest book I’m working on. If I forget either of those, I just take notes on my phone. When I really started writing more a few years back, I figured out that I could come home from a long day of teaching, put my feet up, and write for a couple of hours (when I had little energy for anything else). So at home, I am likely to be found at my favorite chair, working on a book on my laptop. 

I actually go back and forth between writing on the laptop and writing on a steno pad; it just depends on where I am. 

I coach at least two high school Mock Trial teams every year, and consequently spend a lot of time in courtrooms waiting for their trials to begin.  

You have Mock Trial Tournaments? That's amazing...

Mock Trial Champions 2011 - Tennessee!
Yes we do. And I write in the dull parts! I’ve written entire chapters on my legal pads while awaiting the beginning of a trial.

Tell us about your Da Vinci work. I've heard great things about your books.

Thank you, I hope you enjoy them when you get a chance to read them. About ten years ago I decided to teach a ten-week class on Leonardo da Vinci for our homeschool group.  

I really knew little about him at the time, just enough to know that he could make for an interesting topic for my classes! I started researching about two months before the classes started, and made myself take a break two months after the classes finished.

By then I had put together my first book on him – Da Vinci: His Life and His Legacy. I arranged the book the way I had taught the students about him, with chapters on Leonardo the Artist, Leonardo the Architect, Leonardo the Military Advisor, etc.  For the next six or seven years I taught short classes on da Vinci every chance I got. At the same time I put together a series of hands-on lessons that became my next non-fiction book on him, Doing Da Vinci for Kids

Da Vinci Primer on the way for kids

At that point all I had ever written was non-fiction, on Da Vinci and a variety of other mostly historical topics that interest me.  I hadn’t thought much about trying my hand at a novel until one summer when I was speaking with another novelist.  He suggested that if I wanted to write a novel I should write it on something I knew a lot about – and clearly da Vinci qualified.  

I went home and mentioned the idea to a couple of my kids, and one of them suggested I start right away.  I literally started that night, and a month later the first draft of my first novel was finished. It took me longer to find someone to proofread Leonardo the Florentine than it took me to write it! 

First fictional novel about Leonardo

As soon as I finished that book I was hooked on writing historical fiction (which is also my favorite thing to read, so I should have seen that coming!) A year later I finished my second da Vinci novel, Leonardo: Masterpieces in Milan, and my third Leonardo novel should be done before October is over. I would like to complete an entire series on his life eventually, but if I don’t pick up the pace, it might take me the rest of my lifetime to complete it!

Second fictional novel about Leonardo

Do you write in the first, second or third person? What's your favourite writing style?

So far I’ve only written one novel completely in first person, Failure in Philadelphia? That one is about the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and I tell it from the perspective of a British spy who is keeping an eye on the convention and the delegates there.  

First person just felt right for that novel.  I wrote another non-Leonardo novel, York Proceeded On.  That one is told from the perspective of the slave that accompanied Captain Clark on the Lewis and Clark Expedition. 

For the Leonardo da Vinci books I started in third person and will most likely continue to write those that way.  For the third book that worked out really well, because Leonardo was traveling with someone else, and I could more easily switch back and forth between the two of them. 

For future novels I will most likely see which way seems to fit the story best, though I can’t imagine it would be second-person. That seems like a really difficult way to set up a story, so I think I’ll be sticking to first and third!

My fourth book, Ultra Violence is written in Second Person Omniscient

Is it?

Yes, it is. The method has its critics.

I can imagine it does, Wiz!

Anyway, enough about us writers! What are your favourite three facts about Leonardo? Is there anything about the great man we won't know and really should?

1.    I am intrigued by the fact that he was an avowed pacifist and yet worked multiple times as a military advisor, including for the ruthless dictator, Cesare Borgia. 

Handsome devil and renaissance bad boy Ces Fab...er
In fact, Leonardo and Machiavelli actually worked for Borgia at the same time. Many of Leonardo’s sketches are for military weapons.

2.    One of the many things “Leonardo the Inventor” designed were locks, including one that I was able to see on my recent trip to Milan. When I was researching the Panama Canal I found out that his designs for locks were similar to what was used in Panama centuries later.

3.    Even though we think of him as a painter and a great artist, he spent little of his time painting. It seems that he often took on painting assignments just to help pay his bills. He preferred to use his time studying nature, dissecting human bodies (and animals) to see how they worked, studying architecture, and designing labor-saving devices.

The Enigmatic One. 

One other random note about him, he was never referred to as Leonardo da Vinci during his lifetime. I visited his birthplace while I was in Italy – he was actually born in Anchiano, a mile or two outside of Vinci. But he wouldn’t have been referred to as Leonardo da Anchiano, either. From my research, he was always referred to as Leonardo the Florentine, at least after he left Florence the first time - which is quite convenient, since that’s what I titled my first novel about him – without even realizing it at the time.

That's amazing, Catherine. Thank you for that!

You're welcome Wiz

Okay. Torquemada and his crimson cloaked henchmen burst into your living room as you type. The Inquisitor accuses you of being a daughter of Satan, and later casts you horribly into a deep dungeon to await your turn on the Rack. Your gaoler, however, is a kindly soul called Cedric and allows you three books, two CD's and a DVD to while away the time. What would they be?

The first two books I bought for my e-reader last summer were the Bible and the Complete Works of Shakespeare. Since the two of those would keep me busy reading for whatever remained of my life, I would probably only need those two.  

I mentioned to my 14-year-old daughter that I needed to come up with a third book, and she immediately said “Mauet.” Thomas Mauet wrote “Fundamentals of Trial Techniques,” which is a book we refer to often in our High School Mock Trial competitions.

Classic judge and jury
blockbuster - a must for Catherine's dungeon

For the two CD’s – Any CD by Mannheim Steamroller would definitely be one (I could listen to their music forever) and a dramatic reading of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  We’ve actually seen Dickens’ great-great grandson, Gerald Dickens, perform that a couple of times, and we listen to his or another performance every Christmas.

The DVD is an easy choice, my absolute favorite movie is Disney’s classic, The Happiest Millionaire.  It is a musical, and it is fabulous.  We watched it with my Dad a few years back, and I had never seen him laugh so hard. 

A writer and another creative type arrive on your doorstep with a bottle of Chablis and a bag of peanuts. Who would you like them to be and what type of food would you cook for them - or would you go out?

If the writer could be from any century, it would definitely have to be William Shakespeare.  I am almost as big a fan of Shakespeare as I am of Leonardo da Vinci!  

Billy S

When I’m not writing historical fiction, I’m teaching highschoolers that Shakespeare can be fun or I’m busy trying to turn Shakespeare’s plays into novels. Two down and way too many to go!

And he could bring anyone with him he wanted to, it really wouldn’t matter. We would absolutely go out – I cook as little as possible these days.  I’m sure he would get a kick out of Italian food, since he set a number of his plays in Italy, so I would take him to the nearest Italian restaurant!!!

And finally! What do fans of Catherine Jaime have to look forward to in the coming year?

The rough draft of my third Leonardo da Vinci novel is actually being edited as we speak - so that should be coming out very soon.  I’m still working on a title for that one, so I can’t give you that yet – but it covers his journey from Milan to Mantua and then on to Venice, where he’s been invited to come as a military advisor. 

Maybe I’ll get da Vinci novel #4 done by next summer – that one should include the painting of the Mona Lisas. (Yes, they are now debating whether he painted more than one copy of the Mona Lisa. I have my own theories on that, but you’ll have to wait for the novel to see what they are!) 

I have a small booklet on Exploring Da Vinci’s Last Supper that I need to update soon, now that I’ve traveled to Italy and actually seen his painting!  

Hopefully the second edition of that will be done soon. 
Catherine's Latest Work -out soon!

Those are the books I currently have in the works, though I usually come up with new projects as I go along (which is how I’ve gotten up to more than 70 titles on Amazon already!) 

That's astonishing, Cathy.

I try to keep busy! Also, I try to keep my personal website, www.CatherineJaime.com updated with my latest titles, but I think it is constantly behind. I think I need to hire a personal assistant just to keep up with those types of things!

Very distant Leonardo relative. Possibly
Catherine, its been an absolute pleasure to meet you and I wish you all the best in the coming year!

Thank you for having me, Wiz!

Stalk Catherine at:

Daughter of the King, Wife of One, Mom of 12
Homeschool Author and Speaker

E-books at www.Smashwords.com

Homeschool information at 


  1. Lovely interview with Catherine Jaime ... incredible to juggle that work load. Her non-fiction books on Leonardo da Vinci sound so interesting ... I wish her luck with all future projects, thanks for these fabulous interviews, Wiz.

  2. Great interview, especially the Cesare Borgia reference. Good job!


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