(Read Part Six here
David Blixt is the author of the acclaimed The Master of Verona, which takes place in the early 14th century in Italy: the time of Dante, Giotto, and Petrarch; the very birth of the Italian Renaissance. It's an impressive debut and an extremely entertaining and intelligent novel.
MJR: How do you explain how you write so convincingly about a past you cannot yourself remember?
Blixt: I could say that human experience doesn't change, only the trappings and mores of society ? that research, married to empathy, will carry the day. But that answer doesn't address the fact that out of all the periods and all the locales, I am drawn to only a few: Republican Rome, late-Medieval/early-Renaissance Europe, and Home Front America. I often wonder why I'm not drawn to China, or Africa, or South America; why not the Victorians, the Ptolmeys, or Napoleon? There is, for me, a visceral connection, and I mean visceral ? it's deep beneath the skin, a truly gut-level pull to certain times and places that fascinate me. I write those periods because I know them better than any others. That knowing is not learned. It is felt.
I often make intuitive leaps that surprise me, ones of which I cannot trace the origin. Moreover, there are things I knew before I ever read them ? things I wrote about before I knew they were factual, because I knew they were true. The best examples are the Roman ruins under the city of Verona. I created them before I ever saw them, before I'd even heard of them. When I visited Verona and saw that they were real, I felt a mixture of vindication and awe ? where had that idea come from? I still don't know, and it's fruitless to question it. It's not something that can be counted on to write the novel for you, just trusted when it appears, and not ignored.
The Master of Verona was inspired by a combination of Shakespeare and history. The genius of Shakespeare is not in his plots, which were all stolen and are often ridiculous. The genius is how he inhabited all characters fully, giving them voices so their own, they become real people on the stage. It takes a remarkable empathy to achieve that ? and what is empathy but shared memory?