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."
Sunday, February 28, 2010
From Toronto Star --
Saturday, February 27, 2010
From The Associated Press --
Vampire author Anne Rice set to release video book --
By HILLEL ITALIE --
Feb 9, 2010 --
NEW YORK — Anne Rice is giving the video book a try.
The author of "Interview With a Vampire," "The Vampire Lestat" and many other favorites has agreed to terms with the video book company Vook on a multimedia edition of "The Master of Rampling Gate," a vampire story published in Redbook magazine in 1984 and set in an England mansion in the 19th century.
"Vook represents a very exciting combination of new technological elements, that I think is long overdo in publishing," Rice said in a statement released Wednesday by Vook. "I'm excited that `The Master of Rampling Gate' is going to have new life in this form, and cannot wait to see the finished product. I'm not sure that my mind can conceive of all the possibilities of this new form. I'm learning. And it feels good."
Opinions are still mixed among publishers and authors about video books, or vooks, with some calling them a gimmick and others saying new formats are needed for the Internet age. The product integrates text, video and social networking.
Vook, based in Alameda, Calif., has been producing video books for Simon & Schuster and the HarperCollins imprint HarperStudio and also making works out of public domain texts. Vook founder Bradley Inman says "The Sherlock Holmes Experience," based on two stories by Conan Doyle, has been downloaded thousands of times.
The Rice project begins "a strategic publishing relationship" with Rice's literary agency, Janklow & Nesbit Associates, according to Vook. No other specific writers were identified, but clients at Janklow & Nesbit include David McCullough, Edward P. Jones and the late Michael Crichton.
"They (Vook) came in about two months ago and showed us some of their wares. I think it's very interesting and I think the publishing world needs to really start looking for new ways to find readers," said Lynn Nesbit of Janklow & Nesbit, who said other writers at the agency expressed strong interest in video books, although she declined to provide names.
The Rice video book, which includes an author interview, will be released March 1 and can be purchased through the iPhone, iPod touch and other digital devices. The list price is $6.99.
Friday, February 26, 2010
From Hearld Tribune (Sarasota, FL) --
Titles become graphic novels --
George Gene Gustines, The New York Times --
February 10, 2010 --
Look! Up in the sky! It's a prose author moving a ton of graphic novels! Last month Yen Press announced that it would print 350,000 copies of a graphic-novel adaptation of "Twilight," the first part of the immensely popular vampire saga created by Stephenie Meyer. Now comes word from Dark Horse Comics that it will print 100,000 copies of a graphic novel by Janet Evanovich, the best-selling mystery writer, which will continue her "Motor Mouth" series of novels.
These are staggering initial print runs for graphic novels. More typical is a run of 20,000 to 25,000, which is usually enough for both the comic-book market and general bookstores, according to Milton Griepp, the publisher and founder of ICv2, an online trade publication that covers pop culture for retailers.
In August 2008, expecting a major sales bump from the film version of "Watchmen," DC Comics printed more than 900,000 copies of the softcover collected edition of the comic. According to Nielsen BookScan, which tracks bookstore sales, 733,000 copies of that edition were sold in 2008 and 2009 combined. More than 170,000 copies were sold in comic stores in those two years, according to estimates at ICv2.
In Evanovich's case, rather than an adaptation, "Troublemaker!: A Barnaby Adventure" will be the third installment of a series, after her best-selling "Metro Girl" and "Motor Mouth" novels. These revolve around a NASCAR driver named Sam Hooker and Alexandra Barnaby, a mechanic. This two-part graphic novel is being written with Evanovich's daughter, Alexandra, a fellow comic-book fan. The first part will be released on July 20 as a $17.99 hardcover. The second is due in the fall.
Thursday, February 25, 2010
From iVillage --
Katherine Heigl: Big-Screen Mystery Woman --
By: Donna Kaufman --
Feb 10, 2010 --
You know Stephanie Plum, right -- Italian-Hungarian, eats peanut butter-and-pickle sandwiches, has a tendency to crash cars? If you're nodding right now, then you've no doubt devoured a few of Janet Evanovich's highly entertaining mysteries, from 1994's One for the Money to last summer's Finger Lickin' Fifteen. Well, it's a good week for Evanovich fans: Yesterday, Columbia Pictures and Lakeshore Entertainment announced plans to make the first film adaptation of the New Jersey-based series, starring The Ugly Truth's Katherine Heigl as bounty hunter Plum.
Heigl's casting surprised many longtime readers, who were expecting somebody a bit more streetwise and a little less blonde (Plum is described as Italian-Hungarian in the books). On her Most Frequently Asked Questions page, author Evanovich says she's pictured Sandra Bullock in the role ever since seeing Miss Congeniality. The author also polled readers about casting Anne Hathaway, and Rachel McAdams' name pops up frequently on fan message boards. (Go here to see one enthusiastic fan's casting ideas.) All of these actresses are a more intuitive fit for the role of Trenton-born, fast-talking Plum. Still, the last actress officially attached to the movie was another blondie, Reese Witherspoon -- and we think Heigl, who showed off her ability to do broad humor in Knocked Up, is a waaaay better choice than the more subtle Witherspoon.
The movie will be based on the first Stephanie Plum book, One for the Money, and is on the "fast track" to being made. In the meantime, eager fans can pre-order the next book, Sizzling Sixteen, which hits bookstores on June 22.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
From PBPulse (Palm Beach) --
Inspector Wexford returns in style --
By Scott Eyman --
February 08, 2010 --
THE MONSTER IN THE BOX, by Ruth Rendell. Scribner; 287 pages; $26.
Inspector Wexford is older now, and, to his dismay, wider, but The Monster in the Box is no lighthearted farewell to a beloved detective.
Wexford is haunted by his very first case, in the middle of Sussex where he is still working. It was a strangling, for which a man was caught and sentenced, but Wexford has never believed they got the right man. He knows who the right man was, and he also has a gut feeling that the same man has strangled several other people years apart.
He first saw the man the night Elsie Carroll was murdered. The man was walking his dog, who was relieving himself against a tree. Most people will look away at policemen doing their grim jobs, but this man just stared at the young Wexford.
And then he nodded. It was the nod that convinced Wexford he was the murderer, that and the smug satisfaction in his face as he watched the police come and go during the investigation of that murder.
The man was named Targo. He loves animals and hates people, has a crab-shaped birthmark on his neck and cheek that he covers up with a procession of scarves.
All this backstory is communicated via long, mezmerizing monologues from Wexford, as he tells a colleague the story. Targo was never prosecuted because there was no evidence. Wexford knows he’s right, but he also knows he can’t prove anything and, in any case, it was all so long ago.
“The man began to take on the aspect of a character in a recurring dream, someone who has no existence in life but only in the dream, where he is vivid enough and haunting enough.”
And then, more than 30 years later, there is another strangling, and Wexford realizes that Targo is back, and very close indeed — taunting Wexford by murdering Wexford’s gardener, just to show that he can.
Rendell backs up this A story, which is totally compelling, with a B story that isn’t anywhere near as interesting. Given her great skill, there’s no doubt that the two stories will converge, but it takes a bit too long, although when the narratives do come together it’s in a surprising way, followed by a lovely surprise and appropriately chilly, major-chord ending.
Ruth Rendell remains among the three or four best mystery novelists alive — procedurals in layers, written through a deep knowledge of character and the endless human capacity for perversity. Wexford has been the protagonist of more than 20 of Rendell’s 50-odd novels. He’s an intellectual of sorts, but he’s a bulldog when it comes to his business.
This dogged, admirable character has the leaping instincts of Holmes combined with the resolution and decency of Watson — an Englishman straight and true, created by a modern master.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
From MinnPost (Minnesota) --
Speed chat with Julie Kramer about her next thriller at the Book Club Blast --
By: MinnPost Staff --
Feb 8 2010 --
Julie Kramer, former TV journalist and writer of best-selling thrillers, will talk about her forthcoming book at the Book Club Blast.
MinnPost: Tell us about your published work and upcoming book release.
Julie Kramer: I write a thriller series set in the desperate world of television news featuring a reporter named Riley Spartz.
My debut, “Stalking Susan,” deals with a serial killer targeting women named Susan, and was inspired by two St. Paul cold cases I covered as an investigative journalist for WCCO-TV.
It won the 2009 Minnesota Book Award, and was also a finalist for several mystery awards -- the Mary Higgins Clark, the Anthony, the Barry and the Shamus.
In my second book, “Missing Mark,” I take readers inside how newsrooms decide which missing people get publicity and which don’t. People magazine called it "a crowd-pleaser" with "smart dialogue and a fleet pace."
My latest book, “Silencing Sam” (Atria), comes out June 22. It explores the differences and similarities between news and gossip.
One question fans frequently ask is, “What color will the next cover be?”
The answer? Red.
MP: Which writers or works have been the strongest influences on your own writing?
JK: I write what I know, which is television news.
I also write what I read, which are mysteries and thrillers.
Before I sat down to write fiction, I went back and reread the first books in series that I loved -- John Sandford, Linda Fairstein, Janet Evanovich, Sue Grafton, Kathy Reichs, Patricia Cornwall -- and tried to determine why the series flourished.
MP: What do you love most about living in Minnesota?
JK: Minnesota is such a literary community. Lots of bookstores. Lots of authors.
Sometimes people ask why so many writers live here (Vince Flynn, John Sandford, Louise Erdrich, Garrison Keillor, William Kent Krueger, Robert Bly, Tami Hoag -- even going back to the days of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Laura Ingalls Wilder and Sinclair Lewis).
Most folks credit cold winters. But I disagree. I believe talent breeds talent.
We have so many authors because we’ve had so many authors. When you look around and see other writers succeeding, you’re inspired to try.
If you live in an area where no one has ever had a book published, it seems an unattainable goal.
I’m grateful for the help I received as a debut author from some of my best-selling Minnesota comrades.
Monday, February 22, 2010
From Philadelphia Inquirer --
Leda and the swan rigmarole --
Reviewed by Frank Wilson --
Feb. 7, 2010 --
After hundreds of pages, you eventually do learn why a painter wielded a pen knife in a gallery.
The Swan Thieves
By Elizabeth Kostova
The best thing by far about Elizabeth Kostova's second novel is its basic story. Less fortunate is the manner of its telling.
First, the story: Robert Oliver, a painter of great talent and growing renown, has been confined to a mental hospital in Washington after a guard at the National Gallery stopped him from defacing a painting with a pen knife. The hospital is called Goldengrove and the psychiatrist's name is Andrew Marlow. Since his arrest, Oliver has stopped talking.
But he opens up briefly for Marlow, telling him that he did what he did for "her," who turns out to be "the woman I love." That, however, is neither his ex-wife Kate nor his ex-girlfriend Mary. Later we will learn, when Kate confronts her husband over a letter she has found in his pocket that she assumes is addressed to Mary, that the object of Robert's affection is dead.
The painting Oliver was in front of when he pulled out his knife is called Leda and is by a 19th-century French painter called Gilbert Thomas. Hanging beside it is Thomas' self-portrait.
Oliver clams up again after telling Marlow he can talk to anybody he likes, including Kate and Mary. Later, though, he gives Marlow a packet of letters written in French. These turn out to be a correspondence between two contemporaries of Gilbert Thomas, a woman named Béatrice de Clerval and her husband's uncle, Olivier Vignot. Both are painters, and Vignot exhibits regularly at the annual Paris Salon. Gilbert Thomas is mentioned from time to time, never flatteringly, in their correspondence.
Oh, I almost forgot: Marlow, who is a painter himself, provides Oliver with a full array of painting supplies, which he uses to paint and draw over and over again the same beautiful woman. Whether the image is from memory or imagination, no one but Oliver can say, and he's not talking.
Obviously, given a set-up like this, what the reader wants to find out is the reason Oliver attacked the painting in the National Gallery, the identity of the woman he keeps painting and drawing, and what any of this has to do with Olivier Vignot and Béatrice de Clerval. Rest assured, the reader does find all this out eventually.
But eventually is the operative word - which brings us to the manner of this tale's telling.
Andrew Marlow is the overall narrator. But there are chapters attributed to Kate (these, presumably, have been put together by Marlow from notes he has taken from his visit to her). Then there are chapters attributed to Mary (accounts written by her and sent to Marlow). Finally, there are selections from the letters between Olivier and Béatrice, and occasional chapters relating to their relationship.
Nothing ostensibly wrong with any of that, except that so little of it has to do with solving the mystery at the heart of the novel. Instead, it tells us more than we care, or need, to know about Marlow and his love life, Kate and her courtship and marriage, and Mary and her romance. We do learn a lot about Robert Oliver's physical presence: "I went to him and put my arms around him and caressed his head," Kate tells us, "the heavy curls, the massive forehead, feeling that surprising mind inside, the vast gifts I had always admired and wondered about." (We wonder about them, too, Kate.) And, just in case you weren't paying attention the first time, there's this: "When Robert came home from teaching, I touched his brown sweater and his curling, separating locks of hair, his stubbly chin, his back pockets, his calloused hands. . . . If I wasn't exhausted from the day, he touched me to keep me awake a little longer, and then I reached for his smooth, hairless flanks and . . . " - you get the idea.
Mary fills us in further with similar details. But none of it advances the story.
There is another odd feature. Gilbert Thomas, Béatrice de Clerval, and Olivier Vignot are all fictitious. But the book opens with two pages describing a real painting that hangs in the Musée d'Orsay. The book ends with us discovering that the woman in the painting had a connection to - the fictitious Béatrice de Clerval.
At one point, Mary writes to Marlow, "I think Robert was - is - a writer at heart, too; if someone had collected in order all those bits and pieces of his writing to me, they would have made a kind of short and impressionistic but very good novel about his daily life and the nature he was constantly trying to paint."
It certainly would have made a better novel than The Swan Thieves.
Sunday, February 21, 2010
From The Globe and Mail (Toronto) --
From Dracula to Impressionist art --
By: John Barber --
Feb. 07, 2010 --
U.S. novelist Elizabeth Kostova sold her debut novel, The Historian, for an astonishing $2-million and went on to earn even more for the publishers who put such faith in it. Catching the vampire wave just as it began building five years ago, Kostova’s contemporary retelling of the Dracula myth sold four million copies in dozens of languages around the world. Her new novel, The Swan Thieves, is just as big but quite different. Plumbing the psychological depths beneath the sweetness and light of Impressionist painting, it begins with an obsessed contemporary artist’s attack on a famous canvas in a Chicago museum.
How did it feel when The Swan Thieves reached No. 4 on The New York Times bestseller list the week it was published?
Putting it on the bestseller list is not my goal for a book, frankly. ... But I’m touched by this. It’s a very interior and rather quiet book, and those books don’t tend to climb on the bestseller list.
How does it differ from The Historian?
It’s a quieter book. The Historian was in many ways a very literary book in the tradition of Dickens and Wilkie Collins, but it has much more adventure and a questing plot, which does tend to pull in a wider net of readers.
Were your publishers concerned about you leading your readers in a new direction?
My publishers are wonderful because they have let me write what I wanted to. They’re wise enough to know that, with any author who’s not simply writing formulas – who’s trying to create something new – pressuring them to do something for market purposes almost always backfires. I can’t imagine working under those circumstances, actually.
But don’t they arise automatically when you sell four million copies of your first novel?
Yes and no. For me that happened accidentally. The publisher marketed heavily. It’s certainly not the reason I wrote that story. I wrote that story because I wanted to tell that story. I wanted the pleasure of writing my way through it.
The obsessive artist at the centre of The Swan Thieves attacks a painting in a museum. Did a real incident inspire you?
There wasn’t. It seems to happen pretty often, and it seems to have different causes. Sometimes people damage paintings or sculpture because they love it. They throw their arms around a statue in a fit of hysterical passion and it falls over. Sometimes it’s love, sometimes it’s raging at the academy and sometimes it’s mental illness – and probably often a cocktail. But there are a lot of good stories about those things.
Do you have a favourite period or genre in painting?
I do love the Impressionists, especially now that I’ve looked at them again, harder.
Your hero apologizes for liking the Impressionists.
He went through that cycle that a lot of viewers do, of burning out on the Impressionists for a while. We’re so overexposed to those images. There’s also a way in which they look tame and pretty after 20th-century art. And they also don’t reproduce very well. I also had that experience that my character Andrew Marlow had of going back to the Impressionists and realizing how stunning they are – how radical, how wild, how visceral the paintings are.
What are you working on now?
A new novel. I started it in November. I think it will be quite different from each of the first two in many ways, but again it will involve a lot of historical research.
Do you expect it will be another 600-pager?
I keep telling myself I should try very hard to write a novel of about 210 pages ... I don’t seem to be capable of it, but I keep hoping it will happen.
Saturday, February 20, 2010
From The Desert Sun --
Author Anne Rice switches from vampires to angels --
By: Bruce Fessier --
February 7, 2010 --
Unlike her vampire protagonists, Anne Rice is a sun lover.
The best-selling author, 68, has lived in Rancho Mirage since 2006, when she moved from New Orleans after the death of her husband, painter and poet Stan Rice, four years earlier.
Her Thunderbird Heights home is adorned with hundreds of ornate dolls from New Orleans and Stan Rice's art graces her walls.
But the author says, “I need those 360 sunny days per year.”
Rice wrote her last vampire novel, “Blood Canticle,” in 2002 after revitalizing the genre in the 1970s with “Interview With the Vampire,” the first in her “Vampire Chronicles” series.
She announced in 2004 that she would no longer write about vampires after re-embracing her Catholic faith. She's now an active parishioner at St. Francis of Assisi in La Quinta.
The petite, bob hair-styled San Francisco State University graduate recently released her first novel in a new “Songs of the Seraphim” series about an assassin who is literally reborn into different centuries as an agent of angels.
“Angel Time: The Songs of the Seraphim” was partly inspired by the Mission Inn in Riverside, she said, but it also was kindled by the welcoming desert environment.
Rice discussed her new book, her vampire novels, her faith and her love of the desert in a wide-ranging interview at her spacious hillside home.
The Desert Sun: Do you have a favorite time in history?
Rice: Ancient Egypt fascinated me as a little girl. There was a mummy that came to the New Orleans museum when I was a child. I remember seeing a little mummy in a box and being enthralled. I was very frightened by the mummy movies in the 1940s. They are terrible movies, but I can't watch them to this day.
Mythology is a bridge to metaphysics. Were you attracted to metaphysics?
Quite a bit. In “The Vampire Chronicles,” the earliest vampires were an ancient Egyptian queen and king, Enkil and Akasha. I tied it in with all the theories about cannibalism that E. A. Wallis Budge has written about in his books on ancient Egypt. I have devoured material on Egypt. I went up the Nile as far as Aswan. I wanted to take my son, Christopher, to Egypt to start his travels, but it was never safe enough to do that.
Did ancient Egypt start your interest in vampires?
I don't think so. Vampires for me started as a whim. I was thinking one day, what would it be like if you could get an interview with a vampire? I got carried away with it and I really was going on the memory of a black-and-white film I saw as a child, called “Dracula's Daughter,” which was a sequel to the Bela Lugosi “Dracula.” In it, Dracula's daughter is a tormented aristocrat and also a painter. One of her victims is a model and I just thought that was the most glamorous, wonderful character. This tragic, tormented aristocrat who was in fact sensitive enough to paint portraits.
Years later, I developed my own mythology. I discovered when I was writing those novels about vampires I could access feelings in a way I couldn't in any realistic novel.
Vampire writers today are taking the story in new directions. What do you think of the vampire fad?
I think it's just what you said. We have new authors taking it in new directions. People ask about it as if it's something independent of the authors causing it to be a good time for vampire fiction. I don't think it's that.
The concept of the vampire is a great concept, so it's not surprising that many different authors could go to that concept and write fascinating stories. Stephanie Meyer with the “Twilight” stuff really is repeating the basic theme of the Bronte sisters: a young girl fascinated by a mysterious older figure. She's made it a vampire that goes to high school, but it's basically an older man that's both protective and something of a menace. That's straight out of “Jane Eyre” and “Wuthering Heights” - the infatuation with Heathcliff, the infatuation with Mr. Rochester.
I don't know if she consciously did that, but she satisfied a huge demand and I think it's not surprising that young women have that fantasy because they live in a rather strange world in high school. ... They're in many instances ready for marriage, but they can't go out with an older man who can marry them and offer them a home. They're condemned to sort of sex playing. We're the only culture on Earth that's ever thought fertile young women should play at sex with unmarriageable young boys.
That wasn't your angle.
No. I was writing from the standpoint of the vampire. I wanted to be the mysterious, menacing one. I wasn't ever writing from the standpoint of the victim. If I brought a new twist, that was the twist.
It doesn't seem like the author of “The Vampire Chronicles” could have written “Angel Time.” What was your frame of mind as you wrote them?
A lot went into “The Vampire Chronicles.” It had to do with grief and pain and nihilism because that was 1976 when I wrote that first novel. I had lost my daughter to a rare form of leukemia and I think the book reflects a lot of grief - grief for lost faith. As a grieving person, and a guilt-ridden atheist, I could identify with that vampire from the darkness and longing. Then the characters took on life and the story took on a momentum of its own. But I think books always reflect something about you and your life, no matter how fantastic they may seem.
What was your inspiration for “Angel Time?”
I wanted to do the book for a long time - the idea of a person being recruited by the angels and going back in time and working for the angels. I've been thinking of it for years, really. It was just a matter of getting the time and thinking this was the time to do this. When I saw the Mission Inn, I thought, this is where it has to start. I was so taken by that place.
How did it develop?
I knew I wanted Toby (the assassin) to go back to the Middle Ages. Also, I was reading a lot of history. The 12th and 13th centuries are two centuries I didn't know much about and I came across the story of Little Saint William of Norwich and how the Jews were accused of ritually murdering (him). That later became a common accusation against Jews throughout Europe, but the first case was in Norwich. I don't for a moment believe the Jews murdered Little Saint William, but I thought, what is it like for these people to live with this kind of suspicion and tension? I decided to investigate everything about them. I thought, I don't want to take my hero back to the story of Little Saint William, himself. There's not enough room there for me to make a fiction, so I went to a later century and a similar accusation. What I wrote about was very probable.
Renewal of faith
How did you find Christianity after having called yourself an atheist?
I was brought up Catholic. For a long time, I had been believing in God and realizing I was no longer an atheist. But I didn't think it was possible to go back. One day, after a couple years of questioning a lot of things, I finally realized I believed in God. I loved Him and wanted to go back. I called a priest and went to confession and went back to church. It wasn't an easy thing to do.
What happened that day?
I don't remember anything happening except sitting at my desk and realizing I wanted to go back through the Catholic Church. A couple years later, I dedicated all my work to God. In a sense, I would no longer write any books as an atheist. “The Vampire Chronicles” are really books about atheism. The vampires are atheists. They don't have any sign from God that He exists and, in a way, they're about the miseries of that outlook. I couldn't write them any more. I couldn't enter into their universe. I wrote two books about Jesus Christ, both of which are novels. Jesus is a fascinating character to write about. Then I did “Called Out of Darkness (A Spiritual Confession),” a memoir about it all and then “Angel Time” to go back to this idea I had many years before. I was going to do it (in 1998) with the vampire, Lestat. He was going to be recruited by the angels to travel back and I could never make it work. I really didn't want Lestat to do it. I wanted a new mortal character to be traveling with the angels, but I just couldn't put it together.
Are you involved in local Catholic activities?
I go to Mass at St. Francis of Assisi and support the parish. I love Father James (McLaughlin), the pastor. As soon as I walked into that church I felt at home because it looks like Francis' church in a Tuscan valley.
Does the Coachella Valley inspire your writing?
Very much. The first thing any writer needs is a place to be comfortable and safe and it gives me that. The weather is especially good for my mind. Also, I like the beauty here - the crystal clear air and the mountains and the contrast - the oasis-like greenery of the valley and the brown of the mountains.
The concept of dualism is visceral here with the desert and the mountains, and that relates to other facets of life, like there's more than good and evil. That's a constant reminder.
I think you're right. It's a dramatic contrast. I really need that. I think I would go crazy if I had to live, say, in the margin of a big city where the squalor spreads out. It's disharmony that gets to me. What I love here is the harmony. I know it's an expensive harmony, but after living in San Francisco for so many years and New Orleans for so many years, I'm ready for the peace and quiet and the safety.
Friday, February 19, 2010
From The Montreal Gazette --
Elizabeth Kostova's The Swan Thieves: A painter's legacy --
By Ian McGillis --
February 4, 2010 --
Elizabeth Kostova made a big splash with her debut novel, The Historian.
Twenty years ago, when A.S. Byatt’s Possession achieved great critical and popular acclaim, a new hybrid sub-genre was born. A meld of postmodern narrative strategies, detective fiction conventions and art history, it’s a form whose permutations and combinations afford limitless scope, but also hold out plenty of pitfalls if not handled with great care.
Elizabeth Kostova made one of the biggest debut splashes of recent years with The Historian, a novel that took on the fact/fiction combo of Vlad the Impaler and Dracula. For her follow-up, she eschews the macabre for a more straightforward exploration of how the past – in this case, the legacy of an unjustly neglected female artist in 19th-century France – echoes in the present. The Swan Thieves’s sales, then, may hinge on whether sufficient numbers of readers find painters as interesting as vampires. Unfortunately, other issues may make that question moot.
The novel’s premise is promising enough. Robert Oliver, a highly regarded American neo-Impressionist, has been committed to a psychiatric hospital after attacking a painting in a museum. Highly reluctant to talk, he finds himself under the care of Andrew Marlow. A frustrated painter himself, Marlow quickly grows obsessed with why Oliver attacked that particular painting; he ends up stretching his professional ethics to near breaking point as he attempts to get to the bottom of Oliver’s psychosis, seeking out his ex-wife, an ex-girlfriend and other figures from Oliver’s past. The trail soon leads him to 19th-century Normandy and a romantically charged correspondence between (fictional) painter Beatrice de Clerval and her elderly uncle.
What quickly becomes apparent is that, for a novel spanning three centuries and multiple perspectives, The Swan Thieves is sorely lacking in tonal range. Characters as diverse as a struggling young female art student and a melancholy bachelor psychiatrist are given essentially the same voice. Readers may well find themselves flipping back to a chapter’s first page to confirm just whose version they are meant to be reading. In a multiple-voice novel, that cannot be a good thing.
The same confusion applies to the elderly man and younger woman exchanging letters in 19th-century France. Even Kostova herself appears to recognize the latter problem, as the epistolary device is eventually abandoned in favour of a third-person account.
Marginally differentiated points of view aren’t necessarily fatal in themselves. One of Kostova’s avowed models, Joseph Conrad, was prone to them himself. But in order to work, they must at least feel emotionally plausible, and it’s awfully hard to accept, for example, that Kate, a proud and wary young woman, would so easily agree to reveal her innermost thoughts to a snooping doctor she has only just met. It’s also a stretch to believe that Robert, so self-absorbed and frequently callous in his treatment of the women in his life, would dedicate himself to the rehabilitation of a female artist’s reputation.
Which brings us to The Swan Thieves’ biggest problem: its central figure. Kostova intends to invest Robert with enigmatic depth, but by literally denying him a voice – we learn of him almost exclusively through the viewpoints of others – Kostova has effectively left a hole at the centre of the novel.
Structurally, too, things could have been tighter. A Mexican interlude, while introducing a crucial character, nonetheless feels gratuitous in its choice of setting, as if the author had been advised to let some literal sunshine in. Here, as elsewhere, readers with a fondness for romantic convention – surely a significant chunk of Kostova’s following – aren’t even allowed the payoff of a steamy love scene: at the crucial moment, the prim standards of an earlier epoch take over and the deed is demurely avoided.
Sentence by sentence, it should be said, The Swan Thieves is well written. Kostova is strong on the working lives of artists; her descriptions of paintings and how they are made resonate with felt details, and she conveys with nuance and sympathy the emotional state of an artist caught up in a creative compulsion.
Somewhere within The Swan Thieves, an appealing fictional biography may be struggling to make itself seen, but at least for now, Kostova’s best qualities remain obscured.
Thursday, February 18, 2010
From Pasadena Weekly --
Twice Bitten --
By Carl Kozlowski --
Author Anne Rice has spent much of her life in a highly public and creative quest for spiritual truth, making a fortune by writing stories rooted in indelible portraits of evil with characters who guzzle blood to survive.
Today, however, Rice is turning her considerable talents in a different but somewhat similar direction, creating stories in which angels and Jesus Christ — who Scriptures tell us also rose from the dead and has followers drinking His blood, not the other way around — are the heroes.
Rice will be signing her latest novel, “Angel Time,” during a free 1 p.m. Saturday event at Vroman’s Bookstore.
The book follows contract killer Toby O’Dare, who is assigned to commit a murder but is visited by a mysterious stranger — an angel who offers him a chance to save rather than destroy lives. When he agrees to take that chance, he is whisked back to 13th-century England, an era during which children suddenly die or disappear and accusations of ritual murder are made against innocent Jews — a dark world to which O’Dare is determined to bring light.
“Both vampires and angels challenge the imagination. You have to live up to a classic concept. With angels, they’re a creature who’s a messenger of God who comes from heaven,” explains Rice, a native of New Orleans. “So you think: what’s he going to sound like when he talks, what’s he going to say? It’s exciting to me to write about angel Malchiah and make him believable to my audience.
“We have to respect what they are. Angels are messengers of God and live in the presence of God, but over and over in Hollywood movies they’re made into sad figures who want to be on earth instead of heaven. My angels want to be in heaven. It’s kind of thrilling and very similar to writing about vampires.”
In 1976, Rice reached a professional pinnacle with the release of her first novel, “Interview with the Vampire,” an extremely dark exploration of some of the very spiritual questions Rice was faced with in her life. While writing the remaining 10 books in the vampire series, which went on to sell tens of millions of copies worldwide, she also wrote three erotic novels under the pseudonym A.N. Roquelaure.
But even as she eventually came to describe herself as an atheist and enjoyed great wealth and fame, Rice said she wasn’t truly happy. In 1998, she started to rediscover her Catholic faith and in 2004 announced that she would no longer write about vampires. Instead, Rice said she devoted her writing to “what the Lord wanted.”
“The answer to why I switched is my personal conversion. I didn’t really have the same worldview after that conversion,” Rice explained in a phone interview with Pasadena Weekly from her home in Rancho Mirage, where she moved to after selling her New Orleans estate during her conversion. “I didn’t have any more tales to tell with Lestat [the main character in the vampire series] because I now saw the world through different eyes and the vampires didn’t make a connection for me.
“Vampires were people groping for faith, living through darkness, and I personally found the change those characters were looking for,” Rice adds. “I came to the end of my quest. The last two [Lestat books] reflected the split in me and were written after I’d been writing in faith.”
Despite vast wealth and a happy 41-year marriage to Stan Rice, a lifelong atheist who died in 2002, the author now wishes she had never walked away from Catholicism.
“I went through a crisis at 18. I was at a secular college campus in Texas, away from my Catholic roots and had a whole host of new influences,” Rice recalls. “I rejected the faith of my childhood as too limited. I wanted to learn what the modern world was about. I ended up styling myself as an atheist, but was really agnostic.”
Rice ultimately decided to return to Catholicism, only now with a desire to devote her work to Christ.
“There was not a specific incident that sparked my return to the Church,” Rice explains. “I’d been thinking a long time and one day I made decision to go back and realized I didn’t need answers to all the sociological questions I had. God had the answers for what was the meaning of the Holocaust or why was there a Second World War, and that was enough. That burden was not for us. It was a release to let it go but it was also intellectual. Americans tend to believe in that story, that you turn towards or against faith due to tragic loss, but that never happened for me. They’re always casting my story in those terms, but it didn’t fit.”
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
From The Dallas Morning News --
Book review: 'The Swan Thieves' by Elizabeth Kostova --
By JOY TIPPING --
January 31, 2010 --
In a reading environment when it seems that every book jacket and promotion screams "relentless page-turner!" or "you'll stay up all night reading!," it's remarkably refreshing to come across an author who takes her own sweet time drawing you into the story.
Elizabeth Kostova does that gorgeously with The Swan Thieves, her follow-up to the faster-paced but equally contemplative debut The Historian, one of the best modern-day takes on Dracula to come out in the last half-century or so. To keep her readers enthralled in both books, Kostova relies not on improbable plot twists or end-of-chapter cliffhangers but on thrills that build across centuries and through the voices of a handful of indelible characters.
The Historian focused on the literary; with The Swan Thieves the author takes her obvious passion for research and lasting beauty into the art world. The book is, at first, narrated by Andrew Marlow, a Washington, D.C., psychiatrist who's treating Robert Oliver, an accomplished artist who's apparently had some sort of breakdown.
Oliver is arrested and put into a mental institution after attacking a National Gallery painting depicting the Greek myth of Leda and the swan, in which Zeus ravishes (some translations imply rape) Leda while in the guise of a gigantic bird. Leda also has relations with her husband that night, and later gives birth to two sets of twins, one set immortal (including Helen, who caused all that trouble in Troy) and one set mortal.
There is precedent for Oliver's behavior: In the 1700s, Louis d'Orléans, a member of the French royal family, for unknown reasons stabbed Correggio's 16th-century painting of the subject.
Marlow is brought in to find out why Oliver tried to slice the painting (by a fictitious artist), which is difficult as he refuses to speak. Just before going mute, however, the artist gives Marlow permission to interview anyone he wants about the case. That's a handy convenience, but it doesn't stop Marlow from eventually blurring, and in some cases obliterating, all sorts of ethical lines between the professional and personal.
As he investigates the case, Marlow becomes enthralled with the women who surround Oliver: his wife, his young student-lover and a long-dead (fictitious) impressionist artist named Béatrice de Clerval, with whom Oliver seems insanely obsessed. We hear their voices, too, as Marlow's inquiries lead him from D.C. to the small Virginia college where Oliver had worked to Paris, leading to a denouement that's deeply satisfying but that won't surprise anyone who's been paying attention.
Kostova uses words exactly as painters use oils, laying down brushstrokes and tiny layers that at first seem disconnected and abstract, but that eventually coalesce into a glorious whole. She creates sentences that can send you pondering for hours: "Perhaps that is the reality of sin, to know the shape of the soul and feel it chafing inside the body." And in all 564 pages, there's not a single red herring: Everything, no matter how small a clue, fits perfectly into the image that's finally revealed.
The Swan Thieves will delight lovers of words – she is the most exacting grammarian I've ever encountered in fiction – but also may entice a good many readers into paying more attention to fine art. It made me want to run to the library and grab whatever I could find on impressionism and technique, to spend an afternoon at the Dallas Museum of Art looking more closely at the paintings than the guards would probably appreciate, and to learn the crucial differences between umber and sienna, Venetian red and alizarin crimson, violet and ultramarine.
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
From nwi.com, Munster, IN --
Author's love of art weaves intriguing mystery --
By Jane Ammeson --
January 30, 2010 --
Author Elizabeth Kostova is an expert at interweaving the past and the present, creating a Gothic-like atmosphere that compels the reader to keep turning the pages. Kostova, author of "The Historian," a New York Times bestseller with a unique take on the vampire legends of Eastern Europe, is now back with "The Swan Thieves" (Little, Brown and Company 2010, $26.99).
Psychiatrist Andrew Marlow likes to paint in his spare time and so when he is asked to become the therapist for Robert Oliver, an artist arrested for trying to slash a painting at the National Gallery of Art, Marlow is intrigued. But Oliver will barely talk to him except to give him a packet of letters dating back to the 1800s and written in French. They are the correspondence between two French impressionist painters and between the letters and Oliver's compulsive painting of a beautiful dark haired woman, Marlow becomes obsessed enough to start on a journey to determine what is haunting Oliver.
"I have loved paintings for a long time as a spectator not as an artist," says Kostova , a Yale graduate who then earned a master's of fine arts from the University of Michigan, in explaining one of the reasons why she chose to have art become the center of the mystery in her novel.
As in "The Historian," the central figure travels from place to place while unraveling the mystery.
"I was writing about places I'd been in the past for ‘The Historian' because I was too poor and too busy to travel," says Kostova, who reads French and speaks Bulgarian. "This time I deliberately went to places that I wanted to write about."
Part of her travels was based upon gathering more information for her novel.
"I have the desire to learn something well," she says noting that she talked to psychiatrists as well as art historians and also used the courses she's taken in art history in helping her write her book.
"After reading my book, I hope readers will share the pleasure of looking at paintings again," says Kostova.
Monday, February 15, 2010
From Winnipeg Free Press --
Kostova's fevered novel expected to age well --
Reviewed by Laurence Broadhurst --
The Swan Thieves
By Elizabeth Kostova
Little, Brown, 565 pages, $33
Elizabeth Kostova's fevered new novel is not a sequel to her 2005 groundbreaking bestseller The Historian. It will unjustly suffer if it is read as one.
But it is tempting to do so for several reasons. Both novels are about obsessions. Both are narrated by a variety of voices crucial to intricate plots. Both jump regularly between the studying present and the studied past.
Both use the ploy of found letters to enliven that past. Both are cheapish mystery mocked up as rich history. And both are tremendously long and dense.
Overtly, this second novel by the American art-school grad is at pains to announce that it is about art and lovers of art.
Everything about the book does this. The main object is Robert Oliver, a dark and quiet but charismatic, semi-wild artist and art teacher who commits the pivotal crime: in the National Gallery in Washington, he assaults a 19th-century French painting of a Greek myth (Zeus-as-swan and his human paramour Leda, who will mother Helen of Troy).
The main character is Andrew Marlow, a psychiatrist charged with decoding and recuperating Oliver, and a man who fancies himself an amateur artist.
At one point, at wits end to crack Oliver's persistent brooding and silence, Marlow even resorts to sketching him. The supporting characters, Oliver's damaged women and the late 19th-century circle of Parisians, are all artists.
They love painting, they paint, they talk about painting, they write about painting -- they are even painted.
The main victim and key in the mystery is that French painting, its story and its history. Even the cover of the book is a painting.
Marlow concludes that healing Oliver can only be accomplished by deciphering the motives for his powerfully ironic act. Why would a great, successful painter, a lover and teacher of painting, try to stab a painting?
His patient goes mute, giving him only the name of a woman -- not his estranged wife -- and some old French letters.
Marlow, a kind, middle-aged intellectual who is strangely single, puts on his Robert Langdon tweeds and sets out to take up the chase, now in Washington, now New York, now Maine, now North Carolina, now Mexico, and now, inevitably, Paris.
Those who read The Swan Thieves merely as either a manically anticipated sequel or a novel about art, or both, will be dearly disappointed.
They will complain that the art history is too contrived, that the artsy characters are stereotypes, or that the great girth of the novel is less an echo of the depth of Kostova's debut and more her belaboured writing-by-brushing.
They will even chirp that The Historian was a great novel, sold spectacularly to be made into a film and wonder if The Swan Thieves is less slow-cooked novel and more raw script.
But the book is not really about visuals. It is a long mystery by a writer who must have read Dan Brown but tired of his tiny chapters, awful characterization, campy dialogue and frenetic pace.
On a deeper level, though, the book is about a cleverly retold Greek myth. As so many Greek myths, it is therefore about gender, about age, about humanity, about memory and about truth -- about men behaving as women and women behaving as men, about seniors and juniors falling in lust and love, about beautiful children and ugly children, about wonders remembered and about creative lies.
It took Kostova a decade to fashion The Historian, an immediate smashing success. Only four years later comes The Swan Thieves, destined to disappoint now but to age well.
Sunday, February 14, 2010
From The Boston Globe --
Shame’: guilt grown large --
By Ed Siegel --
January 30, 2010 --
Neither of the two main characters in Swedish author Karin Alvtegen’s “Shame,’’ her latest mystery novel to be released in America, appears to have actually committed a crime or been victimized by one. But they’re so monumentally guilt-ridden about their roles in the deaths of family members that they walk around with the weight of the world on their shoulders.
SHAME By Karin Alvtegen
Felony & Mayhem, 304 pp., paperback, $14.95
One, Maj-Britt, has let that weight grow, literally, to epic proportions, to the point where she’ll suffocate if she sleeps lying down. It becomes clear that her overeating was triggered by her sense that she was at least partially responsible for the death of her daughter.
The other, Monika, a successful and attractive doctor, is ready to throw her whole life away after a colleague who takes her place in a car returning from a conference is killed in a subsequent crash. But that’s only part of her story. We learn fairly quickly that Monika also suffers because she feels responsible for a fire that killed her brother.
The chapters alternate between the two stories - Monika trying to atone for both her brother’s and her colleague’s death; the house-bound Maj-Britt making life a misery for the welfare workers trying to help her. As they descend further into depression and their wacko plans to redeem their guilt - or shame - it’s obvious that this isn’t Stieg Larsson territory. The characters in that Swedish writer’s mysteries might not be advertisements for mental health, but their abnormalities seem more, well, normal.
Alvtegen’s novels certainly aren’t for fans of traditional mysteries with tidy endings. Like Patricia Highsmith and Ruth Rendell, Alvtegen is more concerned with what motivates people to behave badly than with what the retribution will be for that bad behavior. “Shame’’ shares something else with a handful of Highsmith’s and Rendell’s genre-busting novels - we’re never quite sure whether a prosecutable crime has been committed by them until the end.
Because Alvtegen is so interested in character development she spends a good deal of time exploring how her characters’ personal histories shaped them and the bizarre behaviors that those experiences continue to foster. Maj-Britt, for example, is the daughter of religious lunatics who disown and damn her for marrying a nonfanatic. When their baby is born blind she becomes convinced that God has punished her.
Now you might well ask why you’d want to spend any time in Maj-Britt’s or Monika’s company. Alvtegen spends far too much time letting them chew the cud of their shame. “We get it,’’ you want to say, “stop telling us how miserable they are and get on with the story.’’
Nevertheless, “Shame’’ has its own rewards. The psychological games that the two characters play in both attracting and repelling other people have the shock of recognition. Maybe they’re not so abnormal after all? Maybe we’re not so normal? Alvtegen also dabbles in social criticism - how the media, as an example, add to the sense of paranoia about the world, “a general feeling of hopelessness’’; how religion adds to the woes of believers instead of alleviating them.
It’s a pretty smart package, all in all. By the end of this taut psychological thriller, the two characters meet, and Alvtegen offers each a way out of her misery that doesn’t feel tacked on. Will they have the insight, ultimately, to take that road? That would be telling.
While there is much to admire in “Shame,’’ Alvtegen’s prose can be overly stark - which, one suspects, is not the fault of translator Steven T. Murray. Despite that, Alvtegen, like Highsmith, mostly makes a virtue of her conciseness. After all you wouldn’t want anything to interfere with how close to the bone she operates.
Freelance writer Ed Siegel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Saturday, February 13, 2010
From London Free Press --
By Joan Barfoot --
By: Ron Wynn, email@example.com --
29th January 2010 --
Just five more novels and Sue Grafton can retire the alphabet.
Starting with A Is For Alibi, Grafton has book by book worked her way through the ABCs of crime fiction, in cahoots with her protagonist, Kinsey Millhone. Occasionally a novel has faltered, but generally Grafton (and Millhone) have held themselves to high and satisfying standards.
And they do so reasonably well again in U Is For Undertow, a smartly complicated mystery - several mysteries, really - held together as usual by the often-dishevelled, contrary-minded and stubborn Millhone.
Despite the many years of her career in print, Kinsey never has to age much - she's 38 in U Is For Undertow, a novel set mainly in 1988, with back-references to events that occurred 21 years earlier.
So there's no bother with grey hair and creaky limbs, or with tools like cellphones, text messaging or DNA analysis - just the traditional foot-soldiering private investigator grind of asking a whole lot of questions and not giving up.
This time the case begins when a young man named Michael Sutton arrives at Kinsey's office with a strange story of seeing two men burying something in a back yard around the time of his sixth birthday, 21 years back.
He's now convinced that what he saw was the burial of a little girl who'd been kidnapped and presumed dead. A cop, intrigued by the tale but unwilling to reopen the investigation on the basis of Michael's vague childhood memory, has sent him to Kinsey.
Besides the difficulties of looking into such a long-ago crime, Kinsey learns that Michael has his own credibility problems, having wrecked his relationships with his family over false abuse allegations instigated by a therapist.
Still, when she tracks down the site of the alleged burial, police agree to dig it up - to find only the bones of a dog, complete with collar and tags.
That would end matters for most people, but Kinsey tracks down the dog's owner and its long-retired vet. She also learns that the dead child was not the only one kidnapped around the same time - another was restored to her adoptive parents when they paid a ransom.
Grafton's tale spins around families - men who were once unhappy boys, aging parents with unsatisfactory offspring, Michael Sutton's hostile siblings, and not least, her own recently discovered relatives who keep trying to bind her to them.
It's an interesting quirk - or comment - that a couple of the more stable former children, Kinsey included, were responsible in many ways for raising themselves, absent proper parents.
Grafton is given to plumping out pages with excess detail, and by the last 80 to 100 pages, the killers' identities aren't exactly hard to discern. But her characters are vivid and real, and their troubles and sorrows engaging.
Plus, more violent death and menace ramp up the suspense to the end.
Grafton has probably wondered a few times over the years what she was thinking when she set out to work her way through the alphabet, book after book, but even with five more letters to go, it's safe to say she and Kinsey Millhone have together created an honorable body of work.
Joan Barfoot is a novelist living in London.
Friday, February 12, 2010
From Belleville Intelligencer (Ontario, CA) --
BOOKS IN BRIEF --
By YVONNE CRITTENDEN --
January 27, 2010 --
Ruth Rendell brings back the inimitable Insp. Reg. Wexford in her haunting new crime novel. Wexford is in a reflective mood, both about his personal past and about an unsolved murder case which has bothered him for years. Long before, when he was a young policeman, a woman had been found strangled, and although her husband was a suspect, no one was ever convicted. Another strangling followed and Wexford was convinced that a strange little man called Eric Targo was responsible, although he had no proof. When Targo crosses his path again, apparently accidentally, Wexford is sure he is a psychopath who is taunting him. As Wexford tries to prove he's right, another case crops up, that of a Muslim family whom one of his officers is convinced have been involved in the honour killing of their daughter. (Doubleday)
From Belleville Intelligencer (Ontario, CA) --
BOOKS IN BRIEF --
By YVONNE CRITTENDEN --
January 27, 2010 --
Nora Roberts' best-selling romantic suspense novels tend to appeal to women more than men. However, her new story set in the wilds of South Dakota's Black Hills is a good adventure tale for all readers. A young woman called Lil Chance sets up a girlhood dream of a wildlife refuge for abused and abandoned animals. Her childhood love, Coop, returns from New York to help his parents run their farm nearby. Their romance had died years earlier and Lil is still smarting from the heartbreak it had caused her. Then she and her refuge become targets of someone hiding in the hills -- small acts of destruction escalate into more serious crimes. And when bodies of young women and a hapless male tourist start turning up, it's clear that Lil's own life is in danger. (Penguin )
Thursday, February 11, 2010
From Metro (UK) --
Elizabeth Kostova paints an impression of 1870s Paris --
By: Siobhan Murphy --
Best-sellerdom seems to have come as something of a surprise to American novelist Elizabeth Kostova.
Her first book, The Historian, became the fastest-selling hardback debut novel in US history. The blood-tingling, 642-page Gothic reimagining of the Dracula myth hit all the right commercial buttons: it was a historical thriller involving a dash across Europe and plenty of clues in old documents (ticking the Da Vinci Code box); and it came along just as the current bout of neck- rophilia was kicking off.
But Kostova, now 45, was blissfully unaware of all those spheres lining up: she’s not a popular fiction fan, it transpires.
‘It sounds crazy now but I wasn’t particularly aware of the whole Da Vinci Code phenomenon when The Historian came out,’ she admits. ‘I’d been working on my book for ten years and I don’t really read too much commercial fiction; I like fiction that has a very high standard of prose. For an adventure story, for instance, I like Robert Louis Stevenson.’
Bloodsuckers fare little better. ‘I’d never read much in the vampire genre – in fact, I was surprised to find myself writing anything to do with vampires,’ she says. ‘It’s myth and legend that interest me. I don’t really feel I have time to read genre fiction – that sounds snobby and I don’t mean it that way. But if I have the choice between reading some genre fiction and settling down with Bleak House… life is short, you know.’
Kostova’s follow-up novel The Swan Thieves, therefore, may rival The Historian for length at 564 pages but there’s nary a fang-tastic frolic in sight. This time, for our dose of history haunting the present, we’re transported back to France at the birth of Impressionism, framed by the linked modern-day story of a psychiatrist determined to discover why a famous artist has been committed to his care – even though said artist refuses to speak and just obsessively recreates the portrait of a mysterious dark-haired woman.
‘I wanted to write about a painter as I’ve always been fascinated by the way they work and how they see the world,’ Kostova explains. ‘I also had this idea, which is more of a literary experiment, of wanting to write a character built entirely out of other people’s voices, who in a way wouldn’t be allowed to speak for himself.’
Kostova acknowledges a debt to Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim for this second aspect – the psychiatrist, our narrator, even calls himself Marlow. To write convincingly about painting, however, was a challenge for which there are few successful examples to draw upon: the intensity and absorption of the creative moment is evocatively rendered here.
‘I worked very hard at that,’ she says. ‘I know a lot of painters and they were very generous in allowing me to watch over their shoulder and pester them with questions. And I did paint a little bit until I was about 15 or 16 – a long time ago but I still remember the smell of the oils and the feel of the brushes.’
Kostova summons up 1870s Paris partly through a series of letters threaded through the narrative, an increasingly intimate correspondence between two artists on the edges of the Impressionist movement. The epistolary element is an echo of The Historian.
‘Letters are such a wonderful lost art – I think it’s a great way to experience voices,’ Kostova says. And why Impressionism? ‘I found myself, like Marlow in the book, burning out on the Impressionists. We’ve had so many big exhibitions over the past 20 years and you see those images reproduced endlessly on tote bags, greetings cards, umbrellas… But I went back to them and had the experience Marlow has when he realises what remarkable views of nature these paintings are and how radical they were in their own era.’ Another chance, then – as with the Dracula legend – to reimagine what many take for granted.
‘I do keep kind of hoping I’ll write a novel that doesn’t involve so much research,’ laughs Kostova but you know she doesn’t mean it: she’s happy to admit that it’s important for her ‘to learn something new for myself with every book I write’.
And she has no intention of scaling down to short-story collections any time soon. ‘I think the long novel is, for many people, an antidote to the rush that we’re all in. It’s a comfort and a haven. For me it’s a very natural form because I grew up reading Victorian novels. And I think I’m just naturally long-winded.’
The Swan Thieves, published by Little, Brown, is out now, priced £16.99.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
From The Daily Vanguard (Oregon) --
Love, art and obsession --
By Wendy Shortman --
January 27, 2010 --
The Swan Thieves is an intriguing tale about one artist's inspiration
In Elizabeth Kostova's new book, influential painter Robert Oliver ruins his own painting hanging in the National Gallery of Art. Andrew Marlow, a psychotherapist, sets out to uncover the secrets behind the actions of the painter. In the process, Marlow unravels a story that reveals the artist's tangled love life.
Marlow begins an obsession of his own as he tries to get answers from a mute Oliver who will only utter the words “I did it for her.” Being a painter himself, Marlow now finds himself bringing his work home, disrupting his own safe life, to discover Oliver's complex one.
Marlow discovers letters that tell the stories of chapters of Oliver's life that are both secretive and fascinating—from the story of Oliver's muse and undeniable obsessions for all of the subjects of his inspiration, to an overall theme of human psychological nature.
“Paintings are very personal, of course, individual expressions of vision, but they're also time capsules, especially as we get farther and farther from the time in which a painting was done,” Kostova said.
The book uses real and fictional pieces of 19th-century painters to set the backdrop for the painter's stories.
Kostova's book is a story of the relationship between love, art and history. It illustrates the way in which art can sometimes tell us history, and in this case, past stories of love.
“I've always had a ‘history’ feeling about paintings, as well as an aesthetic reaction,” Kostova said. “When I look at or into a painting, I feel as if I'm looking through a window into some aspect of history, even if the painting is actually contemporary.”
Always “a little envious” of the talent and process of painters, as Kostova discusses in the trailer for the book, her respect of the craft becomes apparent in her newest work.
“I can't remember a time when I didn't wish I could see the world the way visual artists do, as an experience of color, form, texture, and other visceral things,” Kostova said. “There's a certain removal about being a writer, a translation of the concrete world into a tape loop of words, that I think painters break right through.”
The Swan Thieves is the author's sophomore novel, following the widely acclaimed The Historian. Dealing with some of the same themes of obsession and history as her newest work, The Historian was a smash hit that has been published in 44 languages, with a Sony film being developed.
The Historian put Kostova on the map, as she blended factual pieces of history with fiction to create the story of a woman who follows her father’s footsteps in a search for the truth behind the myth of Dracula. In her search for clues, she unlocks secrets of her own past with an obsession much like Marlow's in The Swan Thieves.
The fusion of real artworks and Kostova's page-turning fictional storytelling make for a novel that will keep your attention. It may even bring up old questions about the connection between an artist's work and their own life, and how they sometimes seem interconnected. Or it may bring up other age-old questions of the way we as humans think about our own past.
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
From The Weekender (Pennsylvania) --
NOVEL APPROACH: Six feet under --
by Kacy Muir --
January 26, 2010 --
In today’s society, it is hard to imagine life without the technological advances that we have made. We have the ability to solve crime through methods of criminal profiling, DNA and ultraviolet testing. But, that of course is now, not 1985 when forensics was all but limited.
In Tami Hoag’s newest novel, “Deeper Than The Dead,” readers are introduced to Anne Navarre, a fifth-grade teacher who lives and works in Oak Knoll in the late 1980s. The town is two hours outside Los Angeles, and crime, as Anne implies, “ran along the lines of small-time drug deals, petty theft and vandalism.” In 1985, profiling is only in its beginning stages and not yet an accepted part of investigative methodology.
It is not until bullies chase two of Anne’s students that Oak Knoll is changed forever. Tommy Crane and Sara Morgan are led to a traumatizing find just outside of their school. After running and falling down a hill, Tommy finds his head has rested on top of a corpse.
The woman is partially buried, though some exposed body parts had been mauled, possibly by an animal days or nights before — “things came into focus: blood that had drizzled down her cheek and dried, a slash mark across one cheek, ants marching into and out of her nostrils.”
After the police are called to the scene, Anne witnesses what has happened. She sees the body and the children off to the side. Anne knows that the experience of seeing a dead woman so brutally dumped into the earth is traumatizing to her, let alone young children.
As Anne contemplates who could have committed such a crime, she worries how the image affects her students. Tommy is reserved about the situation and Sara is emotional but open. Anne soon realizes, however, that her relationship to these students is placing her that much closer to the same demise as this woman.
Vince Leone, one of the most notable FBI profilers, is sent from Washington to investigate further into the murder. It is not until more bodies and past cases are reopened to show that these murders are connected by a signature: all females — tortured, assaulted, and later killed, all the while their eyes and mouths are glued shut.
As Vince gets closer to unmasking the serial killer, a romantic relationship is established between Vince and Anne. Through their relationship, readers begin to understand more about Anne and how she becomes not only a teacher, but also a survivor.
While there is predictability about the identification of the serial killer, Hoag tends to allude to other characters in order to show that everyone is hiding something. Ultimately, however, I do not think any reader could expect an ending such as the one Hoag provided. It is not without warning that the reader understands the conclusion may be unsettling due to its lack of resolution. However, that is perhaps the best ending of all — one that we never see coming.
Monday, February 8, 2010
From Telegraph (UK) --
The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova: review --
By Judith Flanders --
25 Jan 2010 --
The Swan Thieves will leave its readers laughing, but for all the wrong reasons, says Judith Flanders.
Elizabeth Kostova’s debut novel, The Historian, was a smash hit, a vampire-romp that capered across Europe dragging its breathlessly giggling readers in its wake. The Swan Thieves, her follow-up, will also leave its readers laughing, but for all the wrong reasons.
Robert Oliver is a painter on the cusp of fame. He has it all: a beautiful and devoted wife, two lovely children, a job that leaves him time to paint. But one day he is found in the National Gallery in Washington, attempting to damage a painting of Leda and the Swan. Refusing to explain, he is sectioned, and put under the care of psychiatrist and part-time painter Andrew Marlowe.
A bundle of 19th-century letters in French is found in his possession, which Kostova drip-feeds to us before, rather bumpily, beginning their back-story: that of a French Impressionist painter who is caught between her husband and another love and the ultimate secret of her work.
As in The Historian, the reader is ferried about the world by the narrator to meet each new character — what was a charming device in The Historian now appears to be Kostova’s single method of plotting. The people in Oliver’s life each tell their share of the story to Marlowe in his attempt to solve the mystery of the artist’s breakdown.
This constant return to the beginning palls. Worse, all the characters share a level of pretentiousness that makes the reader want to slap them silly: the shrink can’t just peel an orange, no, he has to “feel a pang of contentment” as he solemnly admires the orangeness of his orange; his dream-girl in turn confides smugly, “In the end, I always act from the heart, even if I also value reason and tradition.” (As he ends up marrying her, one feels grateful not to have to share a breakfast table with either of them.)
The denouement is signalled a quarter of the way through, but, despite the characters constantly telling each other how clever they are, they have hundreds of pages to plod through before they reach the same conclusion, which makes them seem curiously thick.
And, as a final flourish, when the so-called mystery is unravelled, this obvious explanation is sufficient to ''cure’’ in an hour a man who has been disturbed enough to suffer elective mutism for a year: an insult to the mentally ill everywhere.
Friday, February 5, 2010
From Journal Gazette and Times-Courier (Illinois) --
BOOK REVIEW: 'Deeper Than the Dead' By Tami Hoag --
Review by Juanita Sherwood --
January 25, 2010 --
Tami Hoag writes a good thriller. Some of her earlier books were more romance-oriented than many of her current offerings, but this one offers a bit of both.
The book is set in 1985, before much of today’s crime-solving technology was available. The plot offers a saga of a community that is inhabited by an especially horrendous serial killer.
He kidnaps his victims and tortures them by gluing their lips together and their eyelids closed with Super Glue. He then destroys their eardrums by piercing them and proceeds to inflict pain on the victims. He eventually kills them and disposes of their bodies.
Previous murders committed by this disturbed individual had not been noted as similar by authorities until one was found buried in a shallow grave in a community park in Oak Knoll. The victim’s head was above ground, resting on a rock as on a pillow. The site was discovered by two fifth-graders taking a shortcut through the woods on their way home from school.
Educators will appreciate this book, as the teacher of the fifth-graders, Anne Navarre, is one of the main characters. Her relationship with her students and their parents, the parents’ relationship with their youngsters, and the involvement of the authorities who hope to solve the crime all seem true to life.
Some of the students in the class have problems of their own, some not quite as transparent as others. The behavior of one student is questionable from the beginning, but escalates beyond anyone’s expectations as the story progresses. Making matters worse is that his father is involved in law enforcement.
Other parents have issues that might seem stereotypical, but nevertheless, serve important roles in the story. One mother, for instance, seems cold-hearted and self-centered, but her son seems to be “Mr. Perfect.” Another mother’s son is timid and easily swayed by others.
One young female student’s mother seems to have a perfect life, but the stress of the situation with the kids discovering the body seems to shatter the pseudo-perfection.
The author has done a good job of portraying 10-year-olds, both in their personal lives and in school-related situations. It is easy to “feel” for them.
Entering into the mix are two other main characters. One is Tony Mendez, local detective, who had been to classes at the FBI Academy on the latest information regarding crime-solving techniques. There he met an instructor with whom he “connected,” Vince Leone.
Sometime after Mendez’s time at the academy was over, Leone was mugged in a parking lot, where he was shot in the head. The bullet fragmented and some of it was in places that doctors could not remove without causing extensive damage. He suffered effects from the fragments, such as physical weakness at times and headaches on occasion.
Mendez contacts the FBI for assistance when he realizes that similar killings have occurred in nearby communities. The FBI is backlogged with cases, but Leone, who is still on leave due to his wounds, decides to travel to California on his own to offer Mendez assistance.
There, Leone’s personal life will take a change for the better. Many of the other characters, both young and adult, will meet challenges as the story progresses.
After the identity of the killer is revealed, the reader may find that it was not totally unexpected, but other clues seemed to implicate another. This is typical Hoag: misdirection; tense, startling situations; and a bit of humanity at its worst.
This is a good read if you like thrillers. It also illustrates how much technology has improved and currently aids in solving crimes.
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
From The Toledo Blade --
Author Laura Lippman talks about the job of writing --
By COLETTE BANCROFT --
January 24, 2010 --
"Always throw away your first line."
Novelist Laura Lippman says that is one piece of advice she planned to give students at the Writers in Paradise conference here.
"Just this week I've been reading Anna Karenina, she says, and was intrigued to discover from the book's introduction that the famous first line of Leo Tolstoy's novel "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way" wasn't the original opening line.
"It was the second sentence, 'All was confusion in the Oblonskys' house.' I happen to think that's a better opening."
Lippman knows something about writing first lines. She has published 14 novels, 10 of them about series character Tess Monaghan. Like Lippman, the quirky, independent Tess is a former newspaper reporter; unlike her creator, Tess became a private eye. Lippman, 50, wrote her first seven novels while still working at the Baltimore Sun but now revels in writing fiction full time.
She is teaching for the fifth time at Writers in Paradise, which was co-founded six years ago by bestselling author Dennis Lehane (Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone).
Lippman and Lehane have been friends since meeting at a writers conference in 1996. "We're the same generation in terms of our publishing careers. We're part of a like-minded group we don't take ourselves seriously, but we take the writing and books seriously."
The novelist's life is usually a more solitary one. She does most of her writing in a coffeehouse near her Baltimore home. "I like the buzz," she says, because it reminds her of the newsroom.
Her usual spot is next to the children's play area, and one day a kid was throwing a tantrum right next to her as she tapped way at her keyboard.
"The manager said, 'I don't know how you can work.' I said, 'Hey, I worked at the Baltimore Sun. This is not the first time someone was screaming and crying while I was working.' "
Besides, she says, she gets more work done than she would at home. "Home is the procrastination palace. If you're a stay-at-home writer, it's 'Oh, the laundry.' Pretty soon it seems like the right time to be cleaning the baseboards with a Q-tip."
Lippman is speaking by phone not from Baltimore but from New Orleans, where her husband, television writer-producer David Simon (The Wire), has been overseeing filming of his upcoming HBO series, Trem.
"Yeah, I'm kind of getting that whole get-out-of-winter thing." She likes New Orleans but says she doesn't think she'll ever write a book set there. "People are lining up to write about it. New Orleans has no shortage of champions. Baltimore needs me."
Her last novel about Tess, like Lippman a Baltimore resident, was Another Thing to Fall, published in 2008. The same year, she wrote a serialized novel for the New York Times, The Girl in the Green Raincoat, in which Tess has a baby. It will be published as a book, although a date hasn't been set.
"I'm really kind of glad for the time to think about it," Lippman says. She expects to write about Tess again, but it will mean "writing about a significantly altered universe. If I hadn't had her have the baby, I think I would have had to end the series."
Lippman's most recent book, Life Sentences (2009), is a standalone novel. "I had never written a book about a writer, and I wanted to do that." The writer is Cassandra Fallows, author of two bestselling memoirs and a not-so-successful novel. She returns to her hometown of Baltimore (of course) to research a nonfiction book about a former schoolmate whose baby mysteriously disappeared. The self-centered Cassandra discovers that her childhood friends and family members have read her memoirs and don't remember things the way she does with some shocking repercussions.
"I also wanted to write about a deeply unpleasant person," Lippman says. "My agent said about Cassandra, 'You know people will think this is you.' That was liberating to me. I thought, I'll make her even worse."
One theme of Life Sentences is the consequences of a writer's use of other people's lives. "It's an issue for all novelists," Lippman says, noting that one of Tolstoy's inspirations for Anna Karenina was a local woman who threw herself under a train. "He even went to her autopsy."
Her books are always based on a true crime story to some degree. "People ask me, 'Did you get permission to write about that?' I know it sounds kind of cold, but I don't need permission. But I understand why they ask."
Lippman turned in the revised manuscript of her next book three days before Christmas. "After spending a year in the life of Cassandra, I wanted to write a novel about a happy person."
She says she expects readers to think the inspiration for I'd Know You Anywhere is the Elizabeth Smart case, but it's not. "I'm being very veiled this time about what inspired the book. It's a not very well known case of a killer who raped and killed all his victims except one.
"I thought, the one left alive wow, what happened to that person?"
In Lippman's novel, after being attacked as a teen she grows up to become a "happy, secure, centered" woman who keeps her past a secret from all but a few people - until the killer writes her a letter from Death Row.
"Cassandra wrote books that book clubs read. I wanted to write about the person who's in the book club, sitting there with her glass of white wine talking about the book."
Monday, February 1, 2010
From The Observer (UK) --
The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova --
By Lisa O'Kelly --
24 January 2010 --
Elizabeth Kostova's first novel was breathtaking, but can she match it with her follow-up, asks Lisa O'Kelly
Where do you go next when your first novel turns out to be the fastest-selling debut in American literary history? That was the challenge facing Elizabeth Kostova after The Historian (2005) sold 2 million copies in hardback, knocked The Da Vinci Code off the top of the of the New York Times bestseller list and went on to be translated into 44 languages. A clever, if somewhat soapy, retelling of the Dracula myth, The Historian flattered its readers with its aura of academic seriousness and set the stage for the current wave of vampire chic.
Kostova's new novel, The Swan Thieves, keeps the gothic motif going with its themes of art, madness and obsession. It's another historical thriller (of sorts) which swaps the eastern Europe of Vlad the Impaler for 19th-century Paris and the birth of impressionism.
The set-up is intriguing. An acclaimed artist, Robert Oliver, has been arrested for attacking a painting in the National Gallery in Washington DC, a version of the myth of Leda, the Queen of Sparta, in which Zeus took on the form of a swan to rape her. Oliver is committed to an upmarket private institution where he comes under the care of Dr Andrew Marlow, himself an aspiring painter, who is especially good at working with difficult and creative patients. Marlow is said to be able to "get a stone to talk", but he only manages to elicit a few initial words from Oliver, who then goes completely silent.
The rest of the novel is taken up with Marlow's quest for information about Oliver's past. Back and forth across America and the Atlantic he goes, in search of the artist's former wife, his lover, his paintings and colleagues, looking for facts to unlock his mind and reveal not only why he attacked the painting but why he continues to paint over and over, from memory, a mysterious, dark-haired woman.
The novel's historical element is introduced through translations of old letters Oliver let Marlow see before he went silent. These turn out to be the increasingly intimate correspondence of two minor 19th-century impressionist painters, Olivier Vignot and Beatrice de Clerval. How did the letters get into Oliver's hands? And is there a link between them and the mysterious beauty of his paintings?
Slowly, the answers become clear. But it takes almost 600 pages and too often Kostova's unnecessary attention to detail overwhelms the story: an account of an otherwise irrelevant summer painting school where Oliver first encountered his lover, Mary, spans nearly 80 pages. This wouldn't matter if we cared more for Oliver and his problems, but while his silence makes him an intriguing patient, it makes him a less than compelling fictional character. Despite being set in a psychiatric hospital and narrated by a shrink, the novel never takes us far enough inside the artist's head for us to feel terribly interested in his psyche.
It might have helped if Kostova had given Oliver the chance to tell his own story. Instead he is the sum of others' accounts of him - and these accounts are monumentally unflattering. In fact, the novel often reads like a study of the male creative ego and its complacently assumed right to indulge itself whatever the effect on those who love and support it. But Kostova doesn't properly question this. Instead, she romanticises art and artists.
Interestingly, Kostova writes about the past with more assurance than she does about the present: the letters between the impressionist artists are the best part of the book. But Marlow's task lacks the urgency to keep us interested and the revelations, when they eventually come, fall desperately flat.