Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Here's the awesome interview with Barbara Quick, author of Vivaldi's Virgins.

I am very happy to present to you the interview with a lovely person and writer Barbara Quick. As some of you know I got to virtually meet Barbara via my review of Vivaldi's Virgins and Ms. Quick's comment which I thought to be the most wonderful I have ever gotten from an author. This interview is a fruit of our hopefully growing reader/writer relationship. The answers are, in my honest opinion, absolutely fabulous, Barbara's personality shines through and her talent for writing is obvious in even such a short form. And she is also one of the gems among writers who appreciate bloggers too!

Reading Extravaganza: Thank you so much for this interview. I’m truly honored. I enjoyed Vivaldi’s Virgins and must say that your idea of writing about the music world is great. As is obvious for anyone who read your book, you love classical music just as much as writing. Which came first: your fondness for music or for writing?

Barbara Quick: Thank you, Lilly! I’m so glad that my love of music comes through loud and strong in my novel. I think if I’d been given violin or cello lessons at an early age, I might well have become a musician. As it is, with no formal training to speak of (apart from a year or two of piano and a few months of voice lessons), the closest I can get to music is to listen to it—and, most lately, to write about musicians.

I really felt that I was able to enter into the mind and heart of Anna Maria dal Violin while I was writing Vivaldi’s Virgins. It was an almost mystical experience: I listened endlessly to the music Vivaldi composed for her. In Venice, I pored over actual scores, with Vivaldi’s notes in the margins (and with corrections that Anna Maria—in those days before Wite-out®—actually sewed on from scraps of music paper with her own hands). And even though I had never played an unfretted stringed instrument before, I had the illusion of feeling what it was like for Anna Maria, cloistered inside the Ospedale della Pietà, with music the only outlet for her passion and longing.

Just lately, I’ve become engaged to a violist with the San Francisco Symphony—and he doesn’t even know what a joy it is for me to hear him practice, teach and perform. I talked him into giving me viola lessons, which I just started about a month ago. I practice every day—even though I know there’s no chance that I’ll ever get very good. I’m just happy when I don’t sound really bad!

RE: How difficult was it (if difficult at all) to create Vivaldi’s Virgins?

BQ: It took me three years to do my research and writing. I learned Italian—partly because I’d always meant to, but also because I knew that I’d want to talk to a lot of people, and consult a lot of written sources, that wouldn’t be available to me otherwise.

But I’d never say that it was difficult to “create” Vivaldi’s Virgins. Honestly, after I’d acquainted myself with the historical details and had spent some time in Venice, the novel seemed to write itself. Every day I worked on it was a joy. I cried while I wrote the sad parts, and laughed while I wrote the funny bits. And it was all I could do to write fast enough to get down all the dialogue I heard inside my head.

I wrote the entire novel in longhand, with a fountain pen. There are entire scenes that hardly changed at all from the first draft to the final published version. It was as if the whole book existed inside me before I ever started writing it down.

RE: I believe that writing is an art, just like composing beautiful music. It also involves a lot of work and effort. Could you tell me about your process of writing a novel?

BQ: I believe that the creation of art in any medium must tap the same parts of our brain—and maybe the same parts of what I guess is called the collective unconscious. The process is kind of counter-intuitive: you can’t “work hard” to get to that place where creation happens. You have to do something more akin to what happens when people meditate or pray.
In my process, I try to get quiet enough to become a good antenna—to hear the voices floating around me in the world, inside my head, and even carried on the wings of time (if you’ll excuse the cliché!). I don’t think of time as being linear, with both past and future inaccessible. The Ancient Greeks used to conceptualize the past as being in front of us—we can see it—whereas the future is always sneaking up invisibly from behind us, unknowable.
I think the string theorists are right, if I’m understanding them correctly: all of time exists simultaneously.

True creation, I think, is something that happens in a place of timelessness. We’re all familiar with the notion of “timeless beauty.” That’s what it’s all about, I think: artists step outside of time to do their work—and maybe that’s why it feels more like pleasure than work. I think everyone experiences that sense of timelessness when they’re making love and it’s really going well. You don’t hear anything. You don’t feel the passage of time. But when it’s over, you feel that you’ve partaken, in some small way, of the Divine.

RE: Now, a little something on a personal note. You mentioned to me that you had become engaged to a violist of San Francisco Symphony. My heartfelt congratulations to you and your fiancé! What I’m curious about is how two artists fare together. Does it make it easier as you understand each other’s creative spirits better?

BQ: Well, if he ever reads what I just wrote in answer to your last question, he’s really going to feel embarrassed!
Thank you so much for your congratulations—it seems like such a miracle to me that, after all this time, I’ve finally found my own Mr. Right. Wayne and I have a tremendous sense of mutual understanding. He’s not only a sublime musician, but a wonderful reader and writer as well. We each respect the other’s craft enormously. I love the fact that he’s as passionate about his work as I am about mine. I’ve never felt so well understood by another person. And I’ve never laughed so much with someone else before. We share so many tastes and interests that we’ve been savoring every minute of our time together.

RE: You have a new book, A Golden Web, coming out in spring 2010. Could you tell me and the readers a little bit about this new novel?

BQ: It’s funny, because I was convinced that I could never enjoy researching and writing another novel as much as I enjoyed researching and writing Vivaldi’s Virgins. But I actually had an even better time doing the work for A Golden Web, which takes place in early 14th century Bologna.

I found the story by accident, in the course of looking for some information about a female anatomist who lived in 18th century Bologna. It’s unclear whether the heroine of my novel, Alessandra Giliani, really lived—or whether her story was made up in the 18th century. But the story is so beautiful—and the details of it presented themselves to me so vividly—that it doesn’t really matter. I spent three weeks in and around Bologna in 2007, gathering historical details and local color. And then I wrote the book at what was for me lightning speed: from start to finish, including the research, the whole thing took a year. But the feeling I had while writing it was exactly the feeling I had while writing Vivaldi’s Virgins, except amped up, because of the time factor: every day of writing was a joy for me. I hated it when the book was over, because I had so enjoyed hanging out with the characters every day.

A Golden Web is set in a world where printing has not yet been invented but there’s suddenly a huge demand for books. The University of Bologna, where Alessandra goes to study—disguised, for safety, as a boy—was one of the first universities of Europe, along with Paris and Oxford. It was the birthplace of an information revolution as significant as the one we’ve seen in our lifetimes, with the advent of the Internet. Alessandra has a passion for learning—and will not let anything get in her way as she pursues her goals. She’s an inspiring figure for girls and women of any culture—and her story is filled with adventures and romance and is very satisfying, even though it ends in tragedy.

RE: Vivaldi’s Virgins is set in Venice, A Golden Web will be set in Bologna. Do you have a special connection with Italy? Or do you set your novels in the world of Italy because of the great artists it produced?

BQ: I’d have to say yes to both these questions. I do have a special connection to Italy. Everyone has always thought I was Italian, at least during most of my adult life. And when I started learning Italian, it was as if the language was in my mouth already. Somehow the wavelength of my antenna seems to be set to Italy. And, yes, Italy has produced so many sublime artists and scholars that I think I could spend my whole life and several others besides writing about them without ever running out of wonderful material. Wayne shares my fondness for all things Italian—and we’ve talked about living in Italy someday for an extended period of time.

RE: Is there a question you would love to answer but I didn’t ask?

BQ: I’d like to comment, as a writer, about what a wonderful thing it is that there’s suddenly a public forum for great readers like yourself—and a conduit for readers and writers to communicate directly with each other. Viva the Blogosphere! Publishers are all cutting down on author tours, which used to be one of the primary ways that readers and writers could meet face to face. It’s fantastic that the Internet is allowing readers and writers to stay in contact nonetheless—and maybe in an even more vivid way than before, since letters allow for a lot more detail than a brief face-to-face encounter. I love the letters I’ve gotten from readers—I’ve treasured them.

Writing is a lonely business (and not very well paid, for most of us). In my lowest moments, the beautiful, heartfelt letters I’ve gotten from readers have made me feel that all the financial struggle and uncertainty have been utterly worthwhile.
Come visit me at my web site


It’s almost completely devoted to Vivaldi’s Virgins now. You can download a podcast of Vivaldi’s music to listen to while reading the novel. And there’s a lot of background material, both in words and pictures, about Venice and the Ospedale della Pietà. I’m in the process of gearing up to work with a web designer to create an exciting interactive portal for A Golden Web, which is being published as a young adult novel.

Please tell your readers to keep buying books! They’re a very cheap way to experience the very best of what the world has to offer: new realms, profound emotions, exquisite landscapes, exotic locales, and even time travel!
Nothing less than civilization itself depends upon the devotion of readers to the books they love. So-called “mid-list” literary novelists like myself may be an endangered species!

Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity to talk to your readers, Lilly—and for asking such great questions!

And before I let you all go, here's a photo that Barbara took herself in the Salla della Musica in Venice which I think can help you indentify with the world of Vivaldi's Virgins. It's a fresco by Jacopo Guarana, which was commissioned by girls of the coro contemporaneous with Anna Maria--though from another of the Ospedale--who also modeled for the painting.