To help generate some pre-conference publicity, the organizers for the Historical Novel Society's upcoming conference asked the presenters to answer a few questions about themselves and their writing. I'll be running four of those interviews over the next four Mondays, starting today with author David Blixt.
What got you first interested in historical fiction?
The audiobook of Colleen McCullough's THE FIRST MAN IN ROME, on a car trip with my dad when I was 18.
How do you find the people and topics of your books?
I look for gaps in stories everyone knows. Where was Shakespeare after he fled Stratford? What was the origin of the Capulet-Montague feud? How did the fall of Jerusalem lead to the building of the Colosseum?
Do you follow a specific writing and/or research process?
God, no. I'm a flibbertigibbet. I hop from book to book, collecting facts, until the story takes shape. I will say that it's the research that makes this job fun - it's as if all the hard work is already done, and I'm just filling in the holes.
For you, what is the line between fiction and fact?
I don't ever want to change the facts. But I'd love to change people's perceptions of the facts. Great example: for 1600 years after the death of Caesar, Brutus was a villain. Dante puts him at the bottom of Hell, in Lucifer's mouth alongside Judas as the great betrayers. Then along comes Shakespeare and with a single play he redeems the character of Brutus for posterity. He did not change the facts. He changed our perception of the facts. Motive is everything. So its up to us to craft characters whose motives are consistent within themselves, and who live and breathe in their time, without contradicting known events.
Do you have an anecdote about a reading or fan interaction you'd like to share?
Just that I love being cursed at when people finishing reading Fortune's Fool. That's been a lot of fun.
Where do you feel historical fiction is headed as a genre?
Hopefully in every direction at once. Personally, I'd love to see more classical novels, but I love reading about places and people I never knew existed.
Is there an era/area that is your favorite to write about? How about to read?
Rome. Because we are the Romans, and we're reliving the late Republican era right now. It's pretty scary, actually.
What are your favorite reads? Favorite movies? Dominating influences?
Dorothy Dunnett is, to me, the best. I love Sharon Kay Penman, Bernard Cornwell, McCullough, and O'Brian. And, of course, Raphael Sabatini. Movies? Casablanca, of course. Raiders Of The Lost Ark. The Thin Man. And every Looney Tunes cartoon from 1936 until 1960.
Is there a writer, living or deceased, you would like to meet?
Dunnett. Dumas. Sabatini. Oh, and Shakespeare, please.
What book was the most fun for you to write?
Her Majesty's Will, hands down. That was my romp. I was grinning the whole time.
Can you tell us about your latest publication?
Colossus: The Four Emperors - Nero's Rome, starting two years before his downfall, and going through the Year of the Four Emperors. Following Vespasian's nephew Sabinus as he tries to navigate those incredibly dangerous waters. So much was happening then, it's a whirlwind ride.
Thanks David! For more information about the HNS conference, please visit http://hns-conference.org/.