Thursday, December 13, 2012

Interview with David Blixt, Author of Master of Verona

Today, I welcome David Blixt, author of Master of Verona and other books. 

1. What drew you to write a novel that combines Shakespeare, Dante and historical figures?
A confluence of inspiration, research, serendipity, and more inspiration.
The initial inspiration came a couple of lines in Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet that to me hinted (in the most oblique way) at a possible cause for the famous Capulet-Montague feud. Intrigued, I looked to Shakespeare’s sources, and found the opening lines from Luigi da Porto’s version:
“At the period when Bartolommeo della Scala, a gentle and accomplished prince, presided over the destinies of our native place, a fine and beautiful tract of country, I frequently remember hearing my father say that there flourished two noble but rival families, whose exasperation against each other was carried to the utmost extreme. The names of one of these was the Cappelletti, that of the other the Montecchi.”
With this, I was able to pinpoint a date for the story as between 1301-1304. At the time I was just thinking in terms of staging the play, not creating anything original. But as I read about this period, I was astonished to learn what was happening in Verona during the rule of the Scaliger family: Dante was in Verona, Giotto was in Verona, Petrarch was in Verona. The Renaissance was beginning, and Verona seemed to be the nexus. Especially interested in the Dante connection, I sat down with several translations of The Divine Comedy, and was shocked when he mentioned the two feuding families in Purgatorio. It was like the stars were aligning.
Another key influence at just the right moment, I happened to also be reading Dorothy Dunnett for the first time. The more I researched Bartolomeo’s brother Cangrande, the more I saw Dunnett’s character Lymond in him. I found the temptation irresistible, and started to write, relegating the idea of the feud to a subplot while I broadened the scope, tying the wonderful historic figure of Cangrande della Scala to one of Shakespeare’s most popular characters, Mercutio. 
So it was a case of inspiration leading to research, research in turn inspiring the story, and the stars smiling down.

2. Which character do you most identify with?

Hmm. When I was 19, I wrote a novel that lives in a drawer. It’s a time-travel romance, and it’s very much about me – how very cool I am, what a truly unique voice mine is. I’m glad I wrote it, and glad I still have it, and maybe someday I’ll even go back and do something with it. But most of all, I’m glad to have it behind me. That was the novel I needed to write to get out of my own way. Now I can just tell the story.
With that said, there are certainly elements of my lead character, Pietro Alaghieri, that I wish were me, and others that are far too much me. I don’t have his moral certainty, but I do have his insecurity. I don’t have his bravery, but I do have his sense of injustice. I would not want to be Pietro – he does not have enough of the scoundrel in him – but in many ways he’s a more admirable version of my better traits. He’s certainly fun to write, because he makes hard, valiant choices. His voice is very strong – that’s going to be the trickiest part of the fifth novel, leaving him behind.
If I identify with anyone, it’s a very minor character, Petruchio da Bonaventura. And even that is a cheat. While he’s not written to be me David, he’s the me I presented back when I played the role of Petruchio in Shakespeare’s Taming Of The Shrew. It’s an in-joke – I met my wife playing opposite her in that show, and so it was fun for me to put us both in the novel in these cameo roles, playing the characters we did in that play. I love Kate and Petruchio. The way we portrayed them, they actually are partners by the end of the show, and it made me smile to give them a happy ending. So few of my characters will get that…
3. Were there any scenes that were hard to write?
The hardest scenes are always the ones where I know what has to happen. Worse, those are often the scenes that inspired me to write the book in the first place. But by the time I get to them, they have no surprise in them for me. Those are the scenes I dread, push off, procrastinate writing. Whereas the best scenes are where I know the set-up and just let the characters breathe. I have the history, I have the personalities and goals, now let everyone interact. That was the true joy of the final scene of The Master Of Verona. It’s hard to believe it, but I had no idea the big reveal was coming. I was simply being true to the characters, and when the words started pouring out of their mouths, I was as stunned as any reader. If I ever believed in the idea of a Muse, it was in that moment.

4. Where will the next book in the Star-Cross'd series take readers?

While The Master Of Verona is very much a stand-alone piece, the next story arc covers three books, two of which are out now – Voice Of The Falconer and Fortune’s Fool (the third, The Prince’s Doom, comes out in 2013). These novels open up the world of Renaissance Italy a little more, with trips to Ravenna, Padua, Mantua, and Venice, as well as a long sojourn at the papal court in Avignon, France.
The focus is also split in two. As with MoV, we’re following Dante’s son Pietro as he continues to be the moral center in a whirlpool of deceit, violence, and injustice. But we also add young Cesco (Mercutio himself) as he grows into the character we all know from Shakespeare. There’s adventure and intrigue, but also a very Romantic depiction of first love, one that I took great trouble in crafting, wanting to get it just right. Through it all, though, readers should remember the series is called Star-Cross’d for a reason.
5. What will your next project be?
While I’m just now finishing the next in my series on the Roman/Jewish wars of the 1st century AD (the Colossus novels), the project I’m dying to jump into is actually a novel about the Devil himself. Ever since I read Dante’s Inferno a dozen years ago, I’ve had something I wanted to say, but I didn’t know how. Now I do, and I’m eager to put it onto the page.
I’m also getting requests for a follow-up to my silly Shakespeare-As-Spy novel, Her Majesty’s Will. I have the basic plot for that noodling around in my brain, but I’ll let it ferment a bit longer. After those, I jump back into the Star-Cross’d series, leaving Verona behind for the court of Edward III, the start of the Ottoman Empire, and the Holy Roman Empire. After that, I have an Othello series in mind. Then ancient Greece is calling. So many stories, so many choices.
Thanks again for letting me stop by. I’ll keep checking in – I’d love to keep the discussion going in the comments. While I try not to be spoilerific, I do enjoy talking to readers about the books, and both history and fiction in general. Cheers! - DB

About the Book

The Master of Verona (Book One, Star Cross'd Series)

Publication Date: April 23, 2012 | Sordelet Ink | 592p


Romeo & Juliet is the greatest love story ever told. And every story has a beginning.

A sweeping novel of Renaissance Italy, THE MASTER OF VERONA follows Pietro Alaghieri, eldest son of the poet Dante, as he’s caught up by the charisma and genius of Verona’s ruler, Cangrande della Scala. Pietro risks battles, duels, and murder to impress his new lord. At the heart of the story is an infernal plot against Cangrande’s bastard heir, and the rivalry of two friends over the affections of a girl. That rivalry will sever a friendship, divide a city, and initiate a feud that will someday produce the star-cross’d lovers.

Based on the plays of William Shakespeare, the poetry of Dante, and the history of Italy, THE MASTER OF VERONA is a novel of brutal warfare, lost friendship, and dire conspiracy, combining to create a heart-stoppingly epic journey into the birth of the Renaissance that recalls the best of Bernard Cornwell and Dorothy Dunnett.

About the Author

Author and playwright David Blixt's work is consistently described as "intricate," "taut," and "breathtaking." A writer of Historical Fiction, his novels span the early Roman Empire (the COLOSSUS series, his play EVE OF IDES) to early Renaissance Italy (the STAR-CROSS'D series, including THE MASTER OF VERONA, VOICE OF THE FALCONER, and FORTUNE'S FOOL) up through the Elizabethan era (his delightful espionage comedy HER MAJESTY'S WILL, starring Will Shakespeare and Kit Marlowe as inept spies). His novels combine a love of the theatre with a deep respect for the quirks and passions of history. As the Historical Novel Society said, "Be prepared to burn the midnight oil. It's well worth it."

Living in Chicago with his wife and two children, David describes himself as "actor, author, father, husband. In reverse order."

For more about David and his novels, visit
Link to Tour Schedule:
Twitter Hashtag: #DavidBlixtVirtualTour


1 comment:

  1. I've just started reading The Master of Verona after reading all the glowing reviews on this blog tour and I love it so far. I can already see the influence of Dorothy Dunnett (one of my favourite historical fiction authors). I've only skimmed David's interview in case of spoilers, but I'll come back when I've finished the book!