Sunday, February 28, 2010

Additional Interview with Elizabeth Kostova

From Toronto Star --

Author turns from Dracula to painters --

By: Vit Wagner --
Feb 10 2010 --

Elizabeth Kostova received some valuable advice in 2004 when the rights to her debut novel, The Historian, were purchased at auction by U.S. publisher Little, Brown and Company for the phenomenal sum of $2 million – and it didn't have anything to do with how to invest the unexpected windfall.

"Several experienced, published writers told me that it's a really good idea to get started on something new right away, partly so that whatever you begin to write feels entirely your own," she says .

As it turned out, The Historian, a narrative steeped in Dracula folklore, charged up the bestseller lists after its 2005 publication, eventually selling nearly four million copies in 40 different languages. Who knows what effect the hoopla would have had if the author had waited before plunging back in?

"I know this will sound a little cavalier, but I wasn't concerned with expectations," says Kostova, 45, who was raised in Tennessee. "I wasn't writing for an audience or a market. It is the kiss of death for any literary writer to start worrying about those kinds of things.

"The Historian is an odd book that combines a lot of different elements, so I didn't really know if it would even sell. And my publisher has never pressured me to do anything other than write what I want to write."

Kostova, talking on the phone from a hotel room in Montreal, is on the road promoting her newly published second novel, The Swan Thieves, another mystery of sorts but this time having nothing whatsoever to do with vampires.

The story centres on the relationship between Robert Oliver, a successful painter apprehended while attempting to stab an Impressionist painting in a Washington art gallery, and Andrew Marlow, the psychiatrist who tries to uncover the motive behind the assault.

"I've had a very warm reception from readers," says Kostova, who will read Wednesday at Harbourfront Centre's Brigantine Room on a program with fellow authors Rabindranath Maharaj and Beth Powning. "Some of the response has to do with readers who loved my first book, but a surprising number of readers have come up to me and said that they haven't read The Historian but are interested in what this book is about. It's been gratifying to meet a lot of people who love painting."

Virtually every character in the book, including the psychiatrist Marlow, is either a painter or aspires to be one, even if only as a weekend hobbyist.

"I know several artists and they were generous about letting me interview them and watch them paint," she says. "One artist I know let me go with her on a landscape painting excursion, where I could hang over her shoulder and ask why she was making particular decisions."

Kostova surrendered her own artistic aspirations – at least in the visual realm – at about the age of 15.

"I realized instinctively that I had no talent. But I still remember saving my allowance to buy oil paint, which was expensive, and I still recall the smell of the paint and the wonderful names of all the colours."

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