Here at Literary Labors we’re happy to introduce a new category today: author interviews. For our debut author interview I asked Beverle Graves Myers a few questions. Beverle is the author of short stories and mystery novels, her major work being the Tito Amato mystery series set in 18th-century Venice. Published by Poisoned Pen Press, Whispers of Vivaldi was released in January 2014 and is the sixth and final installment in the series. Beverle is also the co-author, with Joanne Dobson, of Face of the Enemy, a stand-alone crime novel set in New York City on the eve of World War II. Thanks for joining us today, Beverle!
I did it the hard way — started my writing career with Interrupted Aria, the first Tito Amato mystery. After two novels, I spent a year honing my craft with short stories. The stories grew shorter and shorter until I found myself having a grand old time with flash fiction. I’m convinced that if I’d experimented with flash fiction first, the novels wouldn’t have been so hard to write. The desire to write mysteries crept up on me gradually. It was a confidence issue that held me back for so long. I didn’t start Interrupted Aria until I was in my mid-40s.
What’s your favorite part of writing? Your least favorite? When you write, what do you hope will become the most favorite part of the reader’s experience?
My favorite part is the planning stage—research, world building, character building. Everything seems possible and limitations are few. As decisions are made, the work holds fewer and fewer surprises until I reach the point where it’s really a slog. That’s my least favorite part — the end. Of course, I always hope that my reader finds the end eminently satisfying.
For those who might not know him, could you describe your character Tito Amato? Where did he come from? If he were magically transported to the present, what would he be doing at this moment? If you could take him out to dinner and a movie, what flick would you want him to see and where would you go to eat?
Tito Amato is a castrato singer, a divo of the 18th-century opera stage, who lives and works in Venice during the last few decades of the Republic’s tumultuous decline. The castration forced upon him as a young boy could easily have made Tito a bitter man, but in his case, the physical violation resulted in empathy for anyone wronged by a repressive, uncaring society. A friendless stranger, the Jews of the Venetian ghetto, a Carnival dwarf, a wise woman of the Old Religion, a murdered servant whose master would like to simply to forget her — Tito seeks justice for all. If Tito were alive today, he would still be thrilling audiences with his unique voice — he sacrificed too much to do anything else. For a night out, I would take him to Jack Fry’s so that he could experience cuisine a la Louisville. The film is a toughie. I thought perhaps something to highlight the Italian-American experience, but then realized that Tito considers himself Venetian, not Italian. Films set in Venice are mostly cringe worthy when it comes to liberties taken with the geography, so that’s out. I finally settled on a film that could expand his horizons by introducing him to the wonders of the universe and our place in it: 2001: A Space Odyssey. That should be a real eye opener for him.
Do you have other ways of channeling your creative energies besides writing? Speaking of which, what is your creative process like when it comes to your books? Are you one of those people who can sit down and write entire pages nonstop or do you labor over each individual sentence?
Writing is now my only creative endeavor. I used to dance, but my body no longer cooperates. I wish I could describe myself as a writer that dashes off 10,000 words before lunch, but I’m not that person. I take a couple of months to create and fall in love with characters and their aspirations, another few weeks deciding on a workable plot structure, and many months writing. I must be fairly satisfied with a scene before I can move on the next. None of it comes easy.
Looking back on your career as an author, is there a particular moment you recall as being especially rewarding or exciting? On the flipside, have there been times when you’ve been discouraged? If so, how do you deal with discouragement and – forgive the cliché – do you have any advice for writers who might be struggling at the moment?
Part of the thrill of being an author is connecting with readers and other professionals. I recall a short story I did for Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine that concerned a teenaged Mozart evading his strict father and running wild in Venice during Carnival. Of course, murder ensued. An artist created a delightful, full-page drawing to illustrate the story — Mozart and another boy running across a bridge of black-and-white piano keys that appeared to span the Grand Canal. I was so touched. A wonderfully talented individual had grasped the nub of my story and created the perfect visual representation. Unfortunately, discouraging moments tend to occur more often than uplifting ones. For me, the most disheartening time was the two years my agent shopped Interrupted Aria. With each rejection, I lost a little more hope, but I remained tough and kept going. Persistence does pay off — we eventually found the right publishing home for Tito and good things have come from it. The struggle becomes easier if you truly enjoy the process of writing. If you don’t, you’re probably in the wrong place.
Since we’re dealing with clichés, what are your thoughts on the state of American literature? Are we doomed or is there hope on the horizon? What do you think about the current trends in the world of publishing?
This is a very exciting time in the history of the book. To me, the development of eBooks is right up there with the invention of the Gutenberg press, and it is turning the Big Five into dinosaurs. For good or ill? There’s no simple answer. While I’m encouraged by the expanding opportunities for writers, I’m also distressed by the low quality of many available eBooks and surprised at the drivel people will download in droves. It will all sort out in time, I suppose.
Are you reading anything interesting? Who are the authors you admire?
I just finished an interesting nonfiction read: The Power of Glamour by Virginia Postrel, a provocative look at the phenomenon that exposes our inner longings and shapes our life choices. On the fiction front, I’m looking forward to Raiders of the Nile, Steven Saylor’s newly published prequel to his Gordianus the Finder series. If anyone writes better historical mysteries, I don’t know who that might be.
Just out of curiosity, have you read A Confederacy of Dunces, our literary inspiration here at Literary Labors (and the Occasional Cheese Dip)? Do you like cheese dip, by the way? Is there a favorite recipe you’d like to share?
While I’m familiar with A Confederacy of Dunces, I’ve never actually read it. To make up for this regrettable lapse I’ll share a boffo cheese dip recipe.
Cheese Spread Cornell
1 ½ lbs grated Cheddar cheese
¼ tsp salt
¾ tsp dry mustard
¼ cup finely chopped parsley
2 Tb softened butter
Dash Tabasco and Worcestershire sauce
¼ cup tomato catsup
Enough good cream sherry to taste (I use Harveys Bristol Cream)
Mix salt, dry mustard, and parsley into the cheese. Work in butter. Add Tabasco, Worcestershire, catsup, and sherry. Work together until lumps are eliminated and the mixture is smooth and creamy. Chill. Garnish with thinly sliced scallions if desired. Serve with a delicate cracker.
Thanks for joining us today, Beverle!
Beverle Graves Myers combines a love of Italy, opera, and traditionally written mysteries in her Tito Amato novels featuring an 18th-century singer-sleuth. The latest title is Whispers of Vivaldi. Bev also writes short fiction that has appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Spinetingler, and Crime City Central (audio). Her work has earned nominations for the Macavity, Kentucky Literary, and Derringer awards. Bev and husband Lawrence have recently relocated from Louisville, Kentucky to southwest Florida. Find more about Bev and her books at http://www.beverlegravesmyers.com.