St. Martin's Press has asked me to answer a few questions, to add to their promotional material. The other interviews I've done are much longer, more in-depth, and will appear on other sites. This was meant to be read at a glance, so I kept my answers short and pithy.
St. Martin’s Press: THE MASTER OF VERONA, ten words or less.
David Blixt: Shakespeare’s characters meet Dante’s in early Renaissance Italy. Problems ensue.
SMP: Where did your ideas come from for the novel?
DB: The original idea came from a line of Shakespeare’s text at the end of Romeo & Juliet. From there on it was a blending of historical fact, Dante’s poetry, and Shakespeare’s people and events.
SMP: How did you come to combine so many famous artists' work-- you reference Dante and Giotto and Petrarch... and, of course, you have so many characters from Shakespeare-- in THE MASTER OF VERONA?
DB: When I was doing research on Verona, I discovered that the three men generally credited with starting the Renaissance – Dante, Giotto, and Petrarch – were all in the city at nearly the same time. Dante and Giotto were friends, and Petrarch went to university with Dante’s son. So, in combining characters from Shakespeare with these real historical figures, I was able to craft a novel as much about art as warfare, romance, and destiny.
SMP: How has your life influenced your writing?
DB: I’m an actor (member of the union and everything). So I approach writing with an eye to action and dialogue. If the story isn’t moving forward through one of those two avenues, I’m not doing my job. So there are a lot of deep discussions and a lot of action sequences – duels, races, battles, escapes. I’m at my best when there’s actually dialogue during the action.
SMP: Is THE MASTER OF VERONA the first book you have written?
DB: Yes and no. It’s the first serious novel I’ve tried to sell. I wrote a couple of others when I was much younger, but those were more to get me and my ego out of the way. Those novels are very much about me. This one is about the story I’m telling. I had to get out of my own way, and those early books – which will never see the light of day! – were my way of doing that. But MV is my first published novel.
SMP: What are your favorite books and authors?
DB: It’s a long list, but it’s topped by Dorothy Dunnett. Her Lymond series is the finest piece of writing I have ever enjoyed. Other favorite authors include Bernard Cornwell, Patrick O’Brian, Colleen McCullough, Neil Gaiman, Jonathan Carroll, Susanna Clarke, Robert B. Parker, and Dashiell Hammett.
SMP: What is your next project?
DB: There are a couple in the pipe. First there’s the sequel to MV, which is already with my editor while I work on the one after that. Then there’s an Othello series I want to write, which I’m doing the research for even as we speak. I’m also collaborating with some other actor/writers in adapting classic noir stories to the stage.
SMP: What do you want readers to walk away with?
DB: First and foremost, that man controls his own fate. It’s the central question of the novel. Secondly, I’d like them to go back to Shakespeare and Dante and see the real people who are supposed to inhabit their works. Today most readers get hung up on the poetry, and forget the characters. Romeo is much funnier than he’s given credit for being, and Juliet is far smarter than your average 13 year old.
SMP: To whom would you recommend THE MASTER OF VERONA?
DB: I’d like to see everyone reading it! But seriously, anyone who likes epic movies like Gladiator, Master and Commander, or Gone With The Wind – that’s my audience. It’s a big story, but it moves fast and hopefully keeps you at the edge of your seat.
SMP: How did you choose your title?
DB: I didn’t. We went around and around on the title. I originally wanted an Italian name, but was told it wouldn’t sell. Then my agent and I came up with The Greyhound Of Verona, based on a line from Dante’s Inferno. But my wife kept asking why there was a bus in Verona. So when my editor finally suggested The Master Of Verona, we all jumped for joy. It was perfect.
SMP: Anything else we should know?
DB: I mentioned my wife above. She and I met playing Kate and Petruchio at an outdoor Shakespeare festival. In honor of that, those two characters have a nice little cameo appearance in MV. But that was part of the fun - including all of Shakespeare's Italian characters, finding the crossovers between the shows and the links to history. Writing this novel was one long revelation, one that continues as I work on the rest of the series.