Wednesday, August 29, 2007

New Interview: David Blixt, Author of Master of Verona

The Master of Verona is a rare breed. It is historical fiction that combines three different types of characters seamlessly throughout Blixt's debut novel. He could have rewritten the story of a few Shakespearian characters from different plays that sometime interact, or he could have researched and written about true historical personalities whose paths cross in good Verona. But Blixt does both of these things while also introducing his own characters. The final product is an ambitious novel that succeeds because of the author's attention to detail and passion about the characters.

The other I feel like I should note is that David Blixt is a nice guy. He's an easy conversationalist, something I knew from the moment that he surprised me by IMing me out of the blue followed by a fun, off of the cuff conversation. I think all of the attributes I have written about above can be clearly seen in the interview below.

Kelly Hewitt: What do you say to readers who may feel daunted by the detailed list of historical Italian characters, Shakespeare's characters, and your own? What advice do you have about tackling the large number of characters?

David Blixt: My advice, honestly, is to just ignore the Dramatis Personae entirely – that’s what I usually do. It’s a tool for those who like it, and a requirement from my editor. But to me, the leads of a story always introduce themselves. There are one or two characters that the narrative follows, whose experience is our own. Then there are the people they interact with most. If I’ve done my job right, by page 50 the reader should be feeling comfortable in the world, and by page 100 most the main players will be clear. One or two more can be introduced after that – a third of STAR WARS has passed before we meet Han and Chewie – but not too many really vital characters.

So, no need to be daunted. You only need to keep track of six or seven characters, the rest come and go as needed, and context will make their roles clear. The Dramatis Personae is a tool – and a conceit, as if you were reading a play.

Oddly, I don’t feel the same way about maps. I like maps in books, and refer to them now and again, just to get my bearings.

Kelly: One of the things I find most interesting is the mesh of characters that you write into the book. Were there any characters that you tried fitting into the book but just couldn't pull off?

David: Yes, absolutely. In streamlining the story (it was once a third longer), I took out a few references to Shakespeare characters that were clever and slyly written, but useless. Based on the text, the Duke from Measure for Measure is somehow related to Cangrande, and I had this whole scene discussing him and his eccentricities. It didn’t add anything to the story I was telling, so it’s gone. As is a scene with Shylock and one with Lucentio. All those characters will step onto the stage in later books – Shylock and Lucentio soon, the Duke much later on – but when they do it will be to move the story along, not as an attempt at cleverness.

But most of the characters that were cut were minor – Cangrande’s cook and butler had a long scene, one of Antonia’s copyists had a scene. These were slice-of-life bits, humorous but forgettable. They were a look at the leads from other eyes—but Point-Of-View was something my agent, the marvelous Michael Denneny, hammered me over, and he was right. The story is the experience of Pietro Alagheiri, Dante’s son. We may wander from time to time, just to be present at action he doesn’t witness. But it’s best to let the story tell itself through him.

Kelly: On a similar note -- why did you feel the need to Italianize the names of the Shakespeare characters in you book?

David: Two reasons, I think.

Firstly, they’re the historical names, used in the original sources that inspired Shakespeare. When Luigi da Porto invented the story of Romeo & Giullietta, he used the names of two real families famous for their feud as a kind of automatic context for his Italian audience. Shakespeare changed Montecchio to Montague and Capelletto to Capulet for his own audience, already familiar with the name Montagu – it’s a famous hereditary English title.

So, while the story of Romeo and Juliet is fiction, these were real Italian families, not inventions. Dante mentions them in his Divine Comedy . So, rather than anglicize every other name from the period, I chose to use the names from the works that Shakespeare based his plays upon.

The second reason is much more personal. I’m an actor who makes most of his living performing Shakespeare. I am all too aware that, as a writer, I am dealing with creations of a genius. Changing the names just a little allows me the license to see them fresh, not to either put his words in their mouths or keep them frozen on some kind of pedestal.

A good example is Tybalt. I’ve played the role four or five times, and he’s pretty fixed in my head. Changing Tybalt to Thibault is perhaps a meaningless switch to the reader. But for me it is freeing. I always keep in mind the man he is going to become, but the name change is a permission to write him as he is now. Digression – while Tybalt is not an Italian name, neither is Thibault. It should be Theobaldo. By giving him a common French and German name, Shakespeare was making a point of excluding him from the rest of the boys, who have proper Italian-style names. It identifies him as ‘the other’ right from the start. I try to do the same)

Another example is Shylock. At the time Shakespeare wrote, Jews had been expelled from England, so his knowledge of them was spare. The speculation is that he heard a Hebrew word – shalakh – and Anglicized as best he could for the name of his character. The word itself means ‘vulture’ or ‘bird of prey.’ So it’s the name I’ve used, hoping that I’m honoring Shakespeare’s intent.

This won’t be true of every character, of course. Romeo is still Romeo, Benvolio is Benvolio. Petruchio, Katerina, Beatrice, Don Pedro, Antonio, Portia, Nerissa, Bassanio – they’re all perfectly fine Italian names, and they’re the ones that Shakespeare chose for himself. So, ultimately, I guess I am looking for both freedom and consistency in the names.

Kelly: You have said that your previous experience as a Shakespearean actor helped you to write a very active dialogue and it's something that I certainly believe you have accomplished. Were there any parts of the writing process that your background as an actor made more difficult?

David: Amusingly, my agent would tell you it’s the dialogue. I guess it’s a double-edged sword. I like to reveal information through dialogue – I think it has more impact than an internal reveal or realization. But Michael feels that I revert to dialogue too often, that I could be easily more concise if I summarize a conversation. I disagree, and we go round and round. There’s more dialogue in the second book, less in the third so far. It depends on the action. There’s a great deal of shared physical peril in the second book, and individual peril in the third. For dialogue to take place, you need more people. I’m not a fan of asides in novels.

Kelly: All right -- you have been hinting around at a book two, something to follow Master of Verona. What kind of information can you give Loaded Question readers about this next book?

David: Well, it’s complete and sitting on my editor’s desk. The title is in flux – we’re going back and forth between two – but it picks up eight years after MV, and deals with Cesco’s return to Verona as Cangrande’s heir. Nothing goes as planned, and very quickly there are plots and schemes that even have allies from the last book turning against each other. Romeo has an appearance, and much of the action takes place the night of Juliet’s birth. Pietro and Antonia are both older, more seasoned individuals, with their flaws and the wounds of the first book shaping their characters. And poor Pietro starts the novel with a papal interdict looming over him.

There’s also a race over the rooftops of the city and a great recipe for Golden Morsels.

Kelly: You certainly have a knack for writing and by looking at the national sales numbers, people have really begun to notice that. So what happens with the acting career? Do you still intend to do both?

David: I do, though more writing than acting, I think. It’s funny, the week before the book officially launched, I was opening Macbeth and Henry V at the Michigan Shakespeare Festival. So that week was rife with book-signings and performances both – it was great! Especially the signings after the shows, with the Festival selling my books right there in the lobby.

Part of the reason I can’t give up acting is that it’s where I discover new things. It was a line in R&J that prompted this book. It wasn’t until I was in a production of The Merchant of Venice at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre that I realized just how much my story could overlap the events of that show. And, having just directed Othello , I’ve conceived a whole other series of books based on that show (sadly, there’s no possible overlap in that show. The dates are rather specific).

But writing is my focus. It’s the only job I have that I’m not divided about. In rehearsals, I’m only 90% there – and most of acting is rehearsing, unless you’ve got a really long run, in which case your mind wanders even more. You can be onstage quoting the most famous speech in the world and be thinking about your laundry. It’s not always the case, not even close, but it happens.
However, when I’m writing, I never want to be somewhere else. Which tells me that writing is what I should be doing.

Kelly: Releasing a new book can be crazy. Has anything eventful happened at any of your book store events?

David: The only real surprise has been the numbers. For my first Borders event, they set up fifteen chairs. At five minutes to the start they had added forty-five and were scrambling to find more. The estimate was between eighty and ninety people, standing-room only. It was both thrilling and humbling.

I’m heading for reading/signings at a few colleges in the next month, and I’m looking forward to that, if a little warily. I used to teach drama for the Ann Arbor Public Schools, mostly to 2nd to 6th grade. Having college kids come up and tell me I taught them is a little disconcerting.

Kelly: I have been asking this question of many of the authors I interview, the readers of this site are folks who find their shelves loaded down with books, movies and CDs. What kinds of these things might one find loading down your shelves?

David: I am a media junkie.

Film: Mostly classic screwball comedies, modern action-films, animated classics, with a lot of TV series thrown in.

A few worthy mentions:

Classics: Libeled Lady, Casablanca, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The Thin Man series

Action: The Sea Hawk, Captain Blood, Master & Commander, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Die Hard, V For Vendetta

Animated: Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, anything Muppets, any Looney Tunes

TV: Jeremy Brett’s Sherlock Holmes series, Firefly, House, the new Battlestar Galactica, Deadwood, Sharpe’s Rifles, Horatio Hornblower

My recent obsessions have been Casino Royale, the Incredibles, and the BBC s ho w Life on Mars.

Music: Peter Gabriel, Tori Amos, Sting, Paul Simon, The Beatles, The Stones, The Nields, Moxy Fruvous, The Afrocelt Sound System, Benny Goodman, Peggy Lee, John Williams soundtracks, James Bond soundtracks

Audiobooks: Harry Potter, James Bond, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. Any old-time radio show, but mostly The Shadow, Gunsmoke, and Superman.

Books: Not including Shakespeare and research books – everything period by Dorothy Dunnett. Jonathan Carroll. Neil Gaiman. Bernard Cornwell. Patrick O’Brian. Raphael Sabatini. Tom Clancy. Ian Flaming. Orson Scott Card. Robert B Parker. Dashiell Hammett. Raymond Chandler. Ellis Peters. Stephen Saylor. Colleen McCullough. Robert Asprin.

Thanks for inviting me to play!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Book From the Past: My Favorite Young Adult Reads

I have been nostalgic today. I know, it's a terrible. But I was thinking about all the summers I spent as a young adult reading fiction that contributed to the kind of reader I would be as an adult. Below I have listed a few of my favorite young adult books -- fiction that I found a comfortable chair out in the sun and zipped through.

Island of Blue Dolphins by Scott O'dell

Scott O'Dell won the Newbery Medal for Island of the Blue Dolphins in 1961, and in 1976 the Children's Literature Association named this story one of the Ten Best American Children's Books of the past 200 years. I, of course, didn't know or care about any of that stuff when this book found it's way into my hands at the age of thirteen. O'dell's book was based on a story that inspired the author about a young Native American girl who was left behind by her tribe. In the book Karana, the main character, finds herself alone on the island her tribe once inhabited. She is forced to find her own food and shelter, to cloth herself, and make peace with the solitude of living alone on an island. I loved this story as a young adult because it provided a glimpse of native life that I had never seen. The book provides a strong female character with a knowledge of the land that I found magical. While preparing to write this list I found that O'dell wrote a sequel to Island of the Blue Dolphins, called Zia, in which two relatives of Karana set out to return her to her people. Needless to say, I ordered it.

The Pigman and The Pigman's Legacy by Paul Zindel

The book was initially written in 1968 by Pulitzer Prize winner Paul Zindel. The story folllows teenagers John and Lorraine who are generally unhappy. School is a bore, their parents are never pleased -- life seems meaningless. So John and Lorraine start pulling pranks on people in order to get laughs. The center of one of these pranks in Mr. Pignati, whom they later begin to call "Pigman". Soon after the older, overweight, and zany Pigman enters their lives, John and Lorraine begin to change and have new realizations about life and friendship. The thing I really love about this book was the alternate narratives in which John and Lorraine tell their story in every other chapter. The book also does a great job of detailing friendship, John and Lorraine kiss once and things become weird but for the remainder of the book their friends -- good friends.

The Pigman's Legacy is the sequel to the first book and is written in the same changes of narrative that made the first book so interesting to me. The story takes place four months after the Pigman's death, John and Lorraine are passing by their old friend's empty house when they discover that an elderly man has taken up residence in the abandoned home. John and Lorraine believe that the appearance of a strange old man in the Pigman's house is a sign that they must reach out to the stranger in an attempt at righting all the wrongs that occurred to the Pigman.

Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Green

So this one's kind of sappy. I remember laying the back yard during the summer and reading the book with awe. I suppose it was my first foray into anything with a romantic nature. Right before the train pulled into the station in Jenkinsville, Arkansas, Patty Bergen, our heroine, has a feeling that something exciting is going to happen. German prisoners of war have arrived to make their new home in the prison camp in Jenkinsville. Patty, twelve years old, meets one of the German soldiers when he comes to her father's store to purchase a hat. The soldiers are being use to pick cotton in the fields. Anton, Patty's German soldier, escapes from the camp where he is being held and makes his way to Patty's house. So you see what happens next, right? Patty falls in love, Anton seems to understand her better than anyone else. I hadn't yet read Romeo and Juliet and so the idea that two people who could never been together might fall madly in love was terrifying to me. I can say, however, that by the end of the summer I wished I had my own illegally escaped prisoner of war.

A Wrinkle in Time
by Madeleine L'Engle

This book, originally published over forty years ago, has a bit of everything -- family troubles, science fiction, magic, and a good dose of symbolic meaning. The book focuses on Meg Murry and her brothers, Charles Wallace who live with their mother. Their Father has been missing for years, supposedly working on a top secret government project. A strange visitor comes to the Murry house and spirits Meg, her genius younger brother Charles Wallace and friend Calvin on a dangerous multi-dimensional journey to fight an evil that has involved the entire universe. Its not just Earth that is at stake, but Meg's relationship with her father and younger brother - and her own ability to accept herself and the talents she possesses as well. Those who are great fans of the book believe that L'Engle's series, of which A Wrinkle in Time is the first book, is a precurser to later books like the Harry Potter series. At thirteen I enjoyed the book for its complexities, the way in which a science-fiction book also contained a story of family.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Hawaiian History: Strong Women Leaders

So I am on vacation, right? The beach is wonderful, time with the family is great, but I have still been blogging. That's what I call dedication. This morning I went over to a bookstore and picked up some great Hawaiian monarchical history books. I was struck by the number of powerful woman rulers the islands have had.

Here's a rundown of what I found and can't wait to read:

Kaiulani: Crown Princess of Hawaii by Nancy Webb and Jean Francis Webb

The islands were struggling to stave off foreign domination but still Hawaii became a territory and the monarchy collapsed. Kailuani, the book says, was a fairytale princess, raised in the enchanted Waikiki garden. She was involved as a beholder in the first formal Hawaiian coronation. But when the fate of the islands changed, so did Kaiulani's life. She faced years of exile and humiliation. This is the story of the only Hawaiian Crown Princess to become an American citizen.

Nahi'ena'ena: Sacred Daughter of Hawaii by Marjorie Sinclair

Nahi'ena'ena was in legend descended from the gods. This book, originally published in 1976, has become an important facet of the in the Hawaiian movement for a national identity. Nahi'ena'ena represented a larger Hawaiian hope for survival. Her name means "raging fire" and Nahi'ena'ena came to be highly regarded because of her social and spiritual rank. This Hawaiian princess found herself trapped between the traditions of her people and the invading influence of the west. She loved her brother, the Hawaiian King whom she was expected to marry.

Hawaii's Story by Liluokalani, Queen of Hawaii

This book, written by the Queen, is a deep and moving account of the tragic circumstances that eventually lead to her downfall. Liluokalani's writing is elegant even when when writing about when the Committee of Safety, operated by the Mission Party, orchestrated the downfall of the Hawaiian monarchy. The book allows and inside look at a terrible event in Hawaii's history.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Books Turned Movies: Fall Season has Many works Headed for the Silver Screen

Nothing makes me more nervous than finding out that a book I love is about to be turned into a major cinematic endeavor. Sometimes, I suppose, it works out but the majority of these situations don't turn out all that well. That being said, I am trying to be most optimistic about books turned movies, and for good reason. While looking at a listing of movies debuting this fall I noticed that there are a great deal of good books about to hit the silver screen.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Book written by Ron Hansen

Movie Starring: Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, and Sam Rockwell

This drama written by Ron Hansen stars the insanely overexposed Brad Pitt has Jesse James. The movie has been riddled with cuts, repeat screen tests, and test screenings. It was supposed to be released last fall but has yet to have been locked just one month before the release date.


Book written by Alessandro Barrico

Starring: Keira Knightley, Alfred Molina, Michael Pitt, Koji Yakusho

The director and producers of Silk, a love story set in the 19th century, were in disbelief when Keira Knightley agreed to sign on for the movie. They learned, however, that Knightley was a big fan of the novel. Silk is the story of an officer who is sent to gather silkworms in Japan and begins an intense affair with a concubine.

Into the Wild

Book written by Jon Krakauer

Starring: Emilie Hirsch, Catherine Keener, Hal Holbrook, Vince Vaughn, Marcia Gay Harden, William Hurt, Jena Malone

Into the Wild takes place in 1990 and follows Christopher McCandless, who abandons his DC, changes his name, and disappears into the Alaskan wilderness. After Sean Penn read Krakauer's best-selling biography he set immediately set out to buy the rights. Penn talks about the process of adapting the book for the screen and his goal to make sure that Christopher, the center of the book, not seem snotty or wreckless but as an individual engaged in a great spiritual journey.

The Jane Austen Book Club

Book written by Karen Joy Fowler

Starring: Maria Bello, Emily Blunt, Kathy Baker, Amy Brenneman, Maggie Grace, Hugh Dancy

The idea of this novel, and the movie, is that the members of a small book club start reading a Jane Austen novel and sudden see that their lives are mimicking the characters in Austen's books -- falling in love and then out again, starting new relationships. This romantic dramedy, based on Karen Joy Fowler's book, is the director, Robin Swicord's directorial debut.

Feast of Love

Book written by Charles Baxter

Starring: Morgan Freeman, Greg Kinnear, Radha Mitchell

The film version of this 2000 novel by Charles Baxter centers on Hary, a film professor who watches as the people around him experience an array of different situations that are sometimes funny, others devastating, and even still moving with meaning and love. The director, Robert Berton believes that making Harry, Morgan Freeman's character, the center of the movie was "a brilliant choice to make."

Reservation Road

Book written by John Burhnam Schwartz

Starring: Joaquin Pheonix, Mark Ruffalo, Jennifer Connelly, Mira Sorvino

Reservation Road is a dramatic novel published in 1998 and takes place in a seaside Connecticut town where a young couple is going through a messy divorce and another couple who have lost their son in a hit-and-run accident. Some very intense scenes occur when the two couples cross paths.

Love in the Time of Cholera

Book written by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Starring: Javier Bardem

Director Mike Newell is no stranger to directing movie adaptations of books, having taken the helm for 2005's Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. So when Newell heard that Novel Prize-winning author Gabriel Garcia Marques had sold the film right to his 1985 novel, he lobbied for a chance to direct. "I loved that book," Newell said. Turning a classic piece of Latin American literature into an English-language movie was difficult and the director admitts it was "very high risk. In a funny way, I felt from the beginning that I was bound to fail."

The Kite Runner

Book Written by Khaled Hosseini

Starring: Shaun Toub, Khalid Abdalla

The Kite Runner has been on the best-seller list for 124 weeks and counting. Needless to say, the movie has big shoes to fill. Director Mark Foster has said "I have tried to stay as authentic as possible to the culture of the people and capture the spirit of the story. He does understand the dangers associated with making a hugely successful and loved book into a movie. "If you disappoint the audience that has embraced the books," he says "you won't get anybody else.

The Golden Compass

Written by Philip Pullman

Starring: Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Dakota Blue Richards, Sam Elliot, Eva Green

The Golden Compass is the first book in a trilogy entitled Hist Dark Materials and is perhaps more controversial and darker that Harry Potter ever dreamed of. There has been concern that translating the fantastical and metaphysical scenes into film would be too difficult for even the most talented of cinema's graphic artists.


Written by Ian McEwan

Starring: Keria Knightley, James MacAvoy, Vanessa Redgrave

"It is the best script I have ever read," James MacAvoy has said, "It is a little hard to fulfill all that promise." As readers know, the book spans six decades and so to will the movie, leading to some worries about the amount of ground that must be covered to make the film a success. The director, Joe Wright, has pledged to stay as true to the novel as possible, within the confines of reasonable running time.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Beach Bound With Exciting New Books

Today I am off to Hawaii, Maui to be specific, with my boyfriend and family. (Wish us luck.) I plan on swimming, laying out in the sun and packing along some of the exciting new books I have been sent from publishers in the last couple of weeks.

The Russian Concubine
by Kate Furnivall, PB (June,2007) $15.00

This book was inspired by the experiences of Furnivall's mother who was a white Russian in China during the 1920s. Things get crazy in the life of the main character, Lydia Ivanova, when she falls in love with a Communist freedom fighter. This time period is marked by the rise of China's Communist regime, a period when no one was safe especially foreigners subsiding off of petty thievery to stay afloat, which Lydia is forced to do in order to support her mother Valentina.

I traveled to China a few years ago and was able to really immerse myself in the history of the nation. Since then I have been enamored by the writings of great Chinese historical authors like Anchee Min and Pearl Buck. So when it was time to pack (and yes I waited till the last possible minute) this book was most certainly included.

If I am Missing OR Dead by Janine Latus CL (April, 2007) $25.00

The subtitle of this book is "A Sister's Story of Love, Murder and Liberation" and it begins with the disappearance of the author's 37-year-old sister Amy. It turns out that Amy, who is a graduate student and a corporate employee has been living a "tough guy" that no body in her family had met. After a little prodding Amy finally divulges the fact that this guy is an ex-con. So when Amy goes missing, Janine has a pretty good idea that this no good boyfriend is involved. What follows is an investigation into Amy's disappearance and a reexamination of both girl's childhood and subsequent poor self images.

One need look no further than the blurb inside the cover to see that this memoir certainly packs a punch. I wanted to know the story the moment I discovered the book. Janine Latus, the author and sister, has spoken out nationally against domestic violence and with this book she has an important story to tell.

The Bestiary by Nicholas Christopher, CL (June, 2007) $25.00

Nicholas Christopher is a book lover. He spent five years traveling around the world, searching through universities, visiting libraries, talking with rare book collectors in order to write his fifth novel, The Bestiary. This is the story of a young man's search for a book that has been missing for 800 years. This missing book contains drawings of animals real and imaginary.

I have already cracked this book open and my first opinion is that Christopher is really a beautiful writer. The first five or so chapters are two to three pages in length, detailing the strange nature of the main character, Xeno Atlas, and his quiet, often divided, family. I haven't read any of Christopher's previous books but if The Bestiary is any indication of his style, I will be picking up the others any day now.

All three of these books are different. A tale of the rise of Chinese Communism through the eyes of two Russian immigrants, a memoir of heart-aching loss and personal discovery, and the story of a young man who sets out to find what could be one of the most important books in human history.

The most exciting thing?

I have scheduled interviews will all three authors. Not only am I ready to spend my beach days reading and relaxing, I will be thinking of questions and observations from these three authors.

So I am off to the islands with all three books packed away. Will I read them all? Probably not. But it's every book addicts dream to spend an entire vacation on the beach reading and I am gonna do my best to see how far I can make it.


August has been a good month for finding new and exciting books and authors. In addition to the three listed above I will be sitting down to talk with the following authors:

Karen Abbot author of Sin in the Second City. What do you get when you study a lot of whores, a couple of pimps, three senators, and a priest or two? This non fictional account of Chicago during some pretty naughty times.

Camille Deangelis author of Mary Modern. Okay so here's the deal: Girl finds grandmother's DNA, girl brings grandmother back to life. Grandmother want's grandfather and so they bring him back to life too. Sound like a pretty sticky situation? Sure is.

Peter Behrens author of The Law of Dreams. The paperback version of this highly acclaimed novel finally hits the stands on August 28th. A helpless young fellow from the ruined potato fields of Ireland is followed on his way to a New England horse ranch.

John Robison author of Look Me in the Eye and brother of Augusten Burroughs. Readers of Burroughs know that he has an older brother who as Asperger's Disorde. This is the elder brother Robison's account of growing up.

David Blixt author of The Master of Verona. A mix of Italian history and Shakespeare's Italian characters go head to head in this exciting debut novel by Blixt, a professional Shakespearian actor who credits his trade for helping him to write great dialouge.

Christina Baker Kline author of The Way Life Should Be. Angela Russo realizes one day that she's been gliding along in her career with little or no challenge involved. She's tired of failed blind dates and decides to place a personal ad. We've all known someone in this position, yeah? Angela meets a guy who's living in Mount Desert Island, Main -- a far cry from Angela's location in New York City. Suddenly the job goes kaput and without anything holding her down Angela heads for Maine. Crazy? Maybe. But it looks like Angela Russo won't be in danger of becoming the next crazy cat lady.

And about a dozen more! Stay tuned for more great interviews and book news.

Interview and Review: Nefertiti by Michelle Moran

I was really excited when this book first arrived because I do have a love for historical fiction. I had yet to find a historical fiction placed in Egypt that I could really get into. This is Michelle Moran's first book and I think she's done a great job. She has been successful at condensing complicated religious and political issues. I was at first worried that Nefertiti was too oversimplified and that the author was too careful. But writing a historical fiction based on Nefertiti and the tumultuous changes in religion is a tricky thing and I think that the author has played it safe in order to make sure that audience isn't lost. Moran has also successfully battled the urge to write a book about Nefertiti in which the Egyptian queen is portrayed only in a favorable light. We see, through the eyes of the timid sister Mutny, that Nefertiti was a jealous and vengeful monarch who cared only about her everlasting image.

In this new interview, posted at LoadedShelf few days ago, Michelle and I discuss what specifically drove her to write an ancient Egyptian historical fiction, the sequel to Nefertiti set to be released in 2008, and possible locales for future books.

Kelly Hewitt: I have to say first and foremost that I really enjoyed this book. It has some really great surprises and very rich characters.

Michelle Moran: Thank you. History has been very generous with its supply of unique characters- I merely tried to depict them as vividly as possible.

Kelly: What kind of knowledge did you have about Akhenaten, Nefertiti and the rest of the characters in your book before you began writing?

Michelle: Well, the novel writing process for me normally involves at least a year of reading and digging before I first put pen to paper. My trips to Egypt had also given me a pretty solid feel for the landscape and much of the archaeology. I make sure to have the plot and characterization laid out in some detail before I start to write. That way, with the pieces in place I can then focus exclusively on the storytelling. But every now and then an idea will suggest itself or a protagonist will surprise me, mid-story!

Kelly: The moment I finished the book I wanted to email you ask if you were going to write about these characters again. Do you think that you will continue
to follow this fascinating Egyptian royal family?

Michelle: Well, as it so happens, the sequel will be released by Crown during the summer of 2008. The family history of Nefertiti is not finished yet, not by any stretch of the imagination!

Kelly: The one thing that surprised me about your book, Nefertiti, was the fact that it is narrated by Nefertiti's sister Mutny rather than the queen herself. What kind of thought process went into that decision?

Michelle: I think one reason would be to give the story the balance and perspective of a more distant (and perhaps more trustworthy) narrator. Nefertiti was incredibly ambitious, and would likely have had no trouble lying or flattering her way into power. The historical Mutny, by contrast, didn’t seem to possess Nefertiti’s ambition, and so I felt that she made a much more credible narrator. With two such startlingly different sisters, however, there was bound to be conflict, and from that conflict comes what I
hope is an epic Egyptian tale.

Kelly: I have read that it was while working as an archaeologist that you decided you wanted to write a novel about Nefertiti. Was there something about the work involved that particularly inspired you?

Michelle: In one instance, our team discovered an Egyptian scarab- proving that the ancient Israelites had once traded with the Egyptians. Looking at that scarab in the dirt, I began to wonder who had owned it, and what had possessed them to undertake the long journey from their homeland to the fledgling country of Israel. On my flight back to America I stopped in Berlin, and with a newfound appreciation for Egyptology, I visited the Altes museum where Nefertiti’s limestone bust was being housed. The graceful curve of Nefertiti’s neck, her arched brows, and the faintest hint of a smile were captivating to me. Who was this woman, with her self-possessed gaze and stunning features? I wanted to know more about Nefertiti’s story, and from the months of research that followed sprung forth the outline of this novel.

Kelly: As readers we have gotten to learn about Egyptian history by way of your novel about Nefertiti. But you have traveled a lot in your life. Is there a particular area of the world or time period that you think that you'll write about in the future?

Michelle: Well, even after visiting 35-odd countries, one recurring feeling is that each has many tremendous stories still untold. The difficulty is in the choosing. Long term, I am drawn to the idea of a historical progression of linked stories, moving closer and closer to the present. My travel plans for the year include research trips to the Eastern Mediterranean (Greece, Turkey, Lebanon) which I view as a natural progression from my Egyptian series. That’s all I can say at this time, though, so watch this space!

Kelly: I am always interested in what books, music, movies fill the shelves of the authors I interview. What can what expect to find on your shelves?

Michelle: Having single-handedly kept Amazon in business for many years, I can honestly say that I’ll look at almost anything in historical fiction! Very few movies or music- it’s all novels, most recently Blood of Flowers, and The Last Duel. Add to that a pipeline of biographies and research fodder for the next few books: I try to plan 3-4 years ahead to give the stories time
to percolate!

An Introduction

Welcome to Loaded Questions with Kelly Hewitt. In conjunction with a series of interviews I have been doing for over the last year I have decided to begin this blog, a place where I will discuss the new and upcoming books sent to me by publishers, preview upcoming author interviews, and share my opinions.

It feels fitting to first discuss some of my most favorite authors. I am, as you will come to see, a great fan of historical fiction. I am currently working on my masters in Early Modern English history and I find myself craving a good historical fiction to balance some of the drier and less entertaining history books I consume on a regular basis. That being said, my favorite historical fiction authors are:

Hella Haassee, In a Dark Wood Wandering - Haassee is a living master. The real shame is that many of her novels have not been translated from her native Dutch. In a Dark Wood Wandering is a compelling and well-researched novel about the mad French King, Charlies VI and the royal family's struggle to gain power by the King's weakness.

Margaret George, The Autobiography of Henry VIII - Margaret's novels based on Cleopatra, Mary Stuart, Helen of Troy and others will always have a special place in my heart. These novels were among my first forays into historical fiction and really ignited an interest. Last year I had the chance to interview Margaret George. Read the entire interview here.

Pearl Buck, The Good Earth - A few years ago I traveled to China and spent quite a bit of time in Beijing discovering the amazing history of the city. I have to admit to having been a bit of a fool about Chinese history but I knew the moment that I stepped foot in the Forbidden City. Peal Buck has written amazing novels about China and India that offer a glimpse into the lives of Chinese farmers and the ways in which their lives changed. I think I really came to appreciate Buck after I began reading Sons and A House Divided, books that are part of The Good Earth trilogy. Buck's body of work still amazes me.

Anchee Min, Becoming Madam Mao - Like Buck, Anchee Min is an author I discovered after having returned from China. Her autobiography and historical fiction, which all take place during the Cultural Revolution, are absolutely fascinating. She provides a first hand account of the tumultuous revolution that took place in China. I am always actively looking for a way to reach Anchee Min to do an interview. If you happen to know her or an agent/publicist please let me know!

It isn't all historical fiction...

Christopher Moore, Lamb - Moore is one of the funniest guys around. I fell in love with his style the moment I began reading his book Lamb, about the thirteenth apostle, Biff, who is returned to the living in order to tell the real story of Jesus. He's zany, funny, and edgy. I recently did an interview with Christopher Moore. You can read the whole interview here.

Mary Roach, Stiff - Mary Roach's books are so good because she knowns very little about the subject she's tackling. In Roach's debut book she researched the curious lives of human cadavers and the even more curious things people do with them. Her second work follows the search for the human soul. Wherever Mary's going I am coming along. The audacity with which she approaches experts in the fields she studies inspires, the humor she uses when dealing with weighty issues endears. I just got an email from Mary about the next book (to be published this spring) that is about sex and the laboratory. I also recently interviewed Mary, the entire interview can be found here.

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