I met David Blixt first by telephone – he was answering some questions on historical fiction.
Then we met in person at the 2015 Historical Fiction conference in Denver – David was wielding a sword! David is also a Shakespearean actor who lives in Chicago. I’m delighted to have him on the blog today discussing how his fascination with Verona has inspired his novels.
‘In fair Verona, where we lay our scene…’
– Romeo & Juliet
At seventeen, hearing those words from backstage, I had no idea that the next twenty-five years of my life would be dominated by this northern Italian city. It was just a play, I was just an actor. True, Mercutio was a great part. But theatre is ephemeral. You breathe and it’s gone.
Only it wasn’t gone. Again and again I was pulled back to the play. Then Verona cropped up in The Taming Of Shrew, then in Two Gentlemen Of Verona. Padua and Venice appear too, but like me, Shakespeare always returns to Verona. So I started to ask why.
A professor once told me, “It doesn’t matter what you learn, so long as you learn to learn deeply.” I have learned Verona, deeply. True, a very specific wedge of Verona. Verona of the early Renaissance, the Verona of Dante and Petrarch and Giotto. The Verona of Cangrande della Scala. These people and times I have learned so well, they are as familiar as my own heartbeat.
Unable to resist, I set about to write. Blending history and Shakespeare, there’s so much to find! The Capulets and Montagues were real, did you know? Dante mentions them. If Petruchio marries Kate, it must be during a truce between the two cities, perpetually at war. Every discovery was a joy, every problem an opportunity.
Then there is Cangrande, Verona’s prince, a figure lifted straight from a Shakespearean Tragedy – a great man with the tragic flaw that will someday lead to his destruction. Knighted at the age of six, he once disguised himself in a city under attack to lure his enemies in. He would best you in the morning and feast you in the evening. Patron of the arts, general, humanist, tyrant, Cangrande was a man made for fiction, because his real-life deeds were too outlandish to be real.
As much as Cangrande drives the action, ultimately these novels are about a father and son, not related by blood but by affection and duty. The father is the best man I have ever written, while the son has every quality a father longs for – and fears. Pietro Alighieri and Cesco della Scala. A figure from history, and a figure from Shakespeare. Together they define my Verona: loyal and cunning, heartfelt and desperate, hopeful and cynical. Hilarious – and Tragic.
This year I revisited the first novel in the series, The Master Of Verona, to record the audiobook. Ironic. Being an actor made me an author. Now being an author has returned me to acting.
And to Verona.
Verona is where my heart is. I move on, write other books, visit other places and times. But I always come back to Verona. Because, as Romeo says, ‘There is no world without Verona walls.’
Below are a few readers’ thoughts on David’s novels.
The Master of Verona – “What a rip-roaring book this is!” says one reader.
Another reader says: “Dense, rich, and endlessly satisfying; like a top-quality handmade chocolate truffle that lingers on the palate.”
Here’s the audio version.
Voice of the Falconer – “If you haven’t picked up a Blixt book you are seriously missing out on an author with an awe striking sense of history and imagination.”
And also, “highly recommended for historical fiction readers, especially those who appreciate witty repartee, Italian history and political subterfuge.”
Fortune’s Fool – “As in all of his novels, Blixt has re-created the historical period with rich layers of detail, complex characterizations and breath-taking action.”
The Prince’s Doom – “Once you start reading it, you won’t want to put it down.” “David Blixt writes dialogue full of wit and humor, his action scenes compare with George R. R. Martin’s. The sword fights are so thrillingly crafted, with such immediacy, you hear the clash of steel and feel the straining muscles and scraped knuckles.”
Origin of the Feud – a newly released collection of essays on Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet revealing its history and inspirations, unlocking the hidden comedy in the famed Balcony Scene, and positing a never-before-heard origin to the famous Capulet-Montague feud.
Varnished Faces – David Blixt also has a set of short stories based on his Star-Cross’d series.
With so many options, you better start reading!
Many thanks, David, for sharing your fascination with fair Verona.
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M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, Nook, Kobo, Google Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.