INTERVIEW WITH DAVID BLIXT
I am sorry for flying under the radar for so long, but I’ve been struggling with twin demons—that looming deadline for A King’s Ransom and what may be bronchitis. I am happy to report that I am finally on the mend and I have a new blog entry—an interview with the author, actor, and director, David Blixt. When you read the interview, you will be able to tell that David and I are friends—and that we share the same somewhat warped sense of humor. (I mean that in a good way, of course.) For anyone who has not yet read one or more of David’s novels, you are about to hit the literary lottery. Yes, he is that good. You can visit his website, but first I hope you read our interview below. http://www.davidblixt.com/
Your novel HER MAJESTY’S WILL is quite the comic romp, very different from the twists and turns of THE MASTER OF VERONA. But they’re both inspired from Shakespeare. Is that where your ideas come from?
Partly. I’m inspired by gaps in stories we all know, or think we know. For MoV, it was the origin of the Capulet-Montague feud. For HMW, it was the biography of Shakespeare himself, those lost eight years after he left Stratford and before he showed up in London. My Roman/Jewish series is the gap in the history of the early Christian church. I don’t want to tell stories people know. I want to tell stories that surprise people, flout their expectations.
You’re an actor. How much is theatre a part of your writing process?
It’s a huge influence, because it’s what I know. Most of my professional life in the theatre involves Shakespeare, so that’s what I know. He’s a great teacher for character, structure, and dialogue. His plots are rather dippy, but he’s a genius for motive and honest expression. Shakespeare also introduced me to my wife. So I owe him a lot.
What inspired you to write your first book?
THE HOBBIT, and DREADSTAR comics, which is a sprawling dark space epic. I was eleven years old, and imitation was the sincerest form of flattery, so it had giant spiders and a magic sword that lives in your soul. But my first real attempt at a novel was inspired by Jonathan Carroll’s SLEEPING IN FLAME. Romantic and disturbing all at once. I was nineteen when I read that, and it spurred me on.
Which novel is that?
The one that lives in a drawer. In fact, that’s probably a better title for it than the original – THE NOVEL THAT LIVES IN THE DRAWER. For all that it’s a dark time-travel romance, it’s actually the novel I had to write to get out of my own way.
What about your first work of Historical Fiction? What was the inspiration for that?
The basic story for THE MASTER OF VERONA was rattling around in my brain when I happened to read Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond series for the first time. It was her work more than anything that showed me the model I wanted to follow.
But the idea itself came from Shakespeare. There’s a line at the end of Romeo & Juliet that hints, maybe, sorta, at the origin of the feud. It doesn’t work theatrically, but I couldn’t get past the notion. Yet I was physically incapable of not telling that story. So I dove in and wrote a much more ambitious novel than I’d intended, involving Dante and Cangrande and politics and religion and war and honor and love. When I finished that book, I realized I wasn’t done with the story. Which is what kicked off the Star-Cross’d series.
You have a new novel out?
Yes, COLOSSUS: THE FOUR EMPERORS. It’s about Nero’s final year and the terror that follows, known today as the Year Of The Four Emperors. It’s available as a Kindle e-book now, and in trade paperback next month.
And then a new Verona book at the end of the summer?
That’s the hope. I’m terribly behind. THE PRINCE’S DOOM, fourth in the Star-Cross’d series. The first three are available on Kindle and Nook, with the trade paperback edition of VOICE OF THE FALCONER out now, and FORTUNE’S FOOL coming next month. The covers are breathtaking.
Speaking of covers, the cover for HER MAJESTY’S WILL is very funny. A twist on the ‘headless woman’ trend. Except when you look closely, it’s a man. Who designed it?
A wonderful artist and fellow actor by the name of Rob McLean. I knew exactly what I wanted from the cover, but it took Rob to make it real. He got photographer Paul Metreyon to come in and shoot the pic. I borrowed the Renaissance dress from Elizabeth MacDougal, and we stuck a wig on the very talented, very tall actor Matt Holzfeind. The photo-shoot was hilarious and joyful, and I think that comes through in the cover. I’m lucky to know so many talented people.
Is there a message in your novels that you want readers to grasp?
Someone recently said my books convey the message, ‘Life is pain, and then you die.’ I hope not. I’m a pretty happy guy. I’m both bothered and tickled when I see myself being compared to George RR Martin. I love it because I admire his skill at flouting his audience’s expectations. And I approve of his ‘no one is safe’ method. But his work is so bleak, there’s almost no relief. Drama is conflict, and so we thrive on trouble and strife. But there has to be some joy to punctuate the trouble, or else we’re just pummeling ourselves. And our readers.
To actually answer your question – no, I don’t think so. I just like to tell stories. History holds enough messages, and I want people to take away what they will.
You have a great deal of ‘child in peril’ in your Verona books.
I do. Someday my children are going to read these books and wonder what I have against them. Especially as the character Cesco looks a lot like my son Dash. But I created Cesco a full six years before Dash was born. I’m saved by the clock.
What books have influenced your life most?
Dorothy Dunnett’s A PAWN IN FRANKENCENSE. Jonathan Carroll’s SLEEPING IN FLAME. Bernard Cornwell’s ENEMY OF GOD. Colleen McCullough’s THE FIRST MAN IN ROME. And THE SUNNE IN SPLENDOUR.
You’re cute. What book are you reading now?
For pleasure, I’m re-reading Christopher Gortner’s THE TUDOR SECRET in preparation for the sequel, coming later this year. I’m also back in the pages of A. M. Allen’s A HISTORY OF VERONA. That’s my one regret in becoming an author – these days I read so much more for research than I do for fun.
Do you have to travel much concerning your books?
Not nearly as much as I’d like. But I’ve been everywhere I’ve written about, with the exception of Avignon in FORTUNE’S FOOL. That was hard. I hate relying on pictures and written descriptions of places. I need to have my own impression of the land, the color of the light, the roll and pitch of the streets, the smell in the air.
What projects are you working on at present?
I’m finishing the aforementioned fourth Star-Cross’d novel, THE PRINCE’S DOOM. Then two more Colossus novels, WAIL OF THE FALLEN and THE HOLLOW TRIUMPH. After that comes the novel I’m dying to get to, the one that I’ve wanted to write for years but have finally figured out how. It’s about the Devil. I’m very excited.
And future projects?
I want to wade into another Shakespeare property and tackle Othello. I also have a vampire series in the back of my head. Right now I’m about five years behind my brain, and I’m just trying desperately to catch up. I hope I never do.
Part of the hold-up is theatre. This summer I’ll be on-stage playing Orsino in Twelfth Night at the Michigan Shakespeare Festival. While acting can inspire me to write, I can never actually write while I’m doing a show. That’s part of how I fall behind – I took a show last October, and it put me two months off my ideal writing schedule. But theatre feeds a different part of my ego.
Your ego seems very healthy.
Um, thank you?
Vampires, the Devil. You seem to want to genre hop.
My heart is in historical fiction, but there are occasions when I want to play in another sandbox.
What’s your favorite fruit?
To eat, grapes. As a flavor in drinks and whatnot, peach.
Have you ever been in trouble with the police?
Not in the United States.
If you were going to commit the perfect murder, how would you go about it?
I’d replace someone’s medicine with sugar pills, and wait. I’m very patient. It’s like reverse-poisoning.
And if they didn’t take medicine?
A good hand axe. Lots of heft.
What’s the best juxtaposition of life events you’ve experienced?
Being physically thrown out of the Vatican, and being blessed by the Pope. Two different days.
Sounds like a good story.
Back to acting – you’ve been stabbed how many times? On stage, I mean.
Once in the belly, once in the thigh. Once I thought I’d lost part of a finger during a swordfight on stage, but I only lost the fingernail. Lots of blood, though. I’ve had my nose broken onstage. As safe as we try to be, there are mishaps. And with swords, those mishaps can be pretty dramatic.
That’s disturbingly attractive.
Sharon, I’m married.
What do you consider your biggest failure?
All of them. I relive my failures constantly. It’s like my brain says, “Oh, we’re feeling pretty good, are we? Remember that moment in the second grade when you did this?” And I shake to my core.
What do you like to read in your free time?
Seriously. I’m a lifelong addict. I have well over 20,000 comics, all bagged and boxed. And now that I have an iPad I read comics on that, too.
Would you ever want to write comics?
I would. Like everyone I know, I have a killer Batman story. But mine does not involve the Joker. Or Catwoman. In fact, it’s a new villain, but features an old one. And suddenly we’re talking about a whole different part of my brain. Or maybe the same one. It’s all world-building, with familiar characters.
You seem far less attractive suddenly.
Does that mean you’ll stop undressing me with your eyes?
You’re really a child, aren’t you?
Yes. I discovered the things that made me happy as a child make me happy as an adult. I’ve just added sex, cars, and alcohol to the list.
What’s your favorite movie?
What’s your favorite movie that isn’t a cliché?
Nice. It Happened One night. Or Die Hard.
Which is pretty much what HER MAJESTY’S WILL is – a combination of It Happened One Night and Die Hard, with a smidge of Brokeback Mountain.
Ha! Yes. With some Hope/Crosby Road Movies thrown in for good measure.
Way to make a callback!
Thank you. Any final words?
Wait – does this interview end with my death?
If you keep this up, yes.
Then I’ll just say what an honor it is to be counted among your friends. And what an inspiration you are, a dynamo of great writing that it is impossible to hope to match.
And that talent is sexy, which makes you the Marilyn Monroe of Historical Fiction authors.
Excellent answer. Say goodnight, David.
April 28, 2013