Interview with Celebrity Cafe (StarsandCelebs.com)
Katherine Neville’s novels have sold millions of copies around the world. She weaves a line between historical descriptions and fantasy which have fans clamoring for her books and writings. In our interview Katherine gives a little behind the scenes view of her writing style and method.
DM) A lot of your novels deal with historical figures and other well known figures in fictitious settings. How historically accurate are some of these depictions?
KN) I try to be as historically accurate as possible. But there were still many mistakes in my first book (THE EIGHT, 1988) because I didn’t yet know a key rule of writing historical fiction: Go to the horse’s mouth. That is, instead of using histories or biographies, you should use direct sources such as memoirs, diaries, letters, and eyewitness reports. Luckily, everyone preserved such things during the French Revolution when THE EIGHT takes place. But my most recent book (THE MAGIC CIRCLE, 1998) begins in the last week in the life of Jesus, in locations all over the world. I thought I would be in trouble for direct historical sources but I was pleasantly surprised to learn that even the Roman legions and the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem kept detailed records of daily events. So I was able to describe with great accuracy Pontius Pilate’s dismissal and his return to Rome for trial for the massacre of Hebrew pilgrims on Mt Gerizim.
DM) How do the soldier’s descriptions differ from the biblical ones?
KN) There is no mention of Pilate’s massacre of Hebrews in the Bible. Indeed, after the initial washing of his hands in the Bible, Pilate’s reputation is whitewashed better than Tom Sawyer’s fence by many subsequent biblical writers. However, in historical fact, he was definitely not Mr. Nice Guy. The Roman archives do contain reports of his dismissal and subsequent trial by his peers in Rome. There’s another very interesting take on Pilate’s persona in Bulgakov’s Russian classic, THE MASTER AND MARGARITA.
DM) Did your research affect your spirituality?
KN) Definitely. I was already a student of Sufi and alchemy from early times. I studied Islam while living in North Africa in the early 70s, and Buddhism even before that. In fact, I’m invited to speak at the Sufi Symposium this coming December in Istanbul, Ankara and Konya, the week of the dervish dances, which should be really fascinating. I had long understood the importance to each individual of connecting the spiritual and material aspects of our lives. Even Socrates speaks of it. But I think what changed, as a result of writing The Magic Circle, in my attitude toward spirituality, is that I began to realize the extent of the schism we are experiencing in modern times–how much we need to connect these two aspects of ourselves and our reality–as earlier, more agrarian societies were able to do. In ancient times, you were consecrated to the service of a specific god even before you were born, and then trained from the age of six in what you were expected to do. Your religion followed you from the cradle to the grave, and all aspects of society helped support you through the difficulties of making each transition in work, marriage–even beyond the grave. We were connected to the cycles of nature, not just the rigors of science, technology, and survival. Thinking about how we can improve in those aspects has definitely helped me, as a former scientist, to adjust to the new millennium and, hopefully, to help others do so too, through my writing.
DM) Some of your readers have been described as almost a cult following. To what do you attribute this strong passion?
KN) I actually have a very interesting relationship with my readers. I’ve met thousands of them and heard from tens of thousands. A number of these have become close friends, because we have so much in common, starting with our way of viewing life and the world. And there are some readers in different parts of the world who supply fascinating tidbits of little-known esoterica to help with my research for future books. So this represents a real bonding with my work. If I had to pick the one thing my readers all have in common, it would be curiosity. They are curious about life, about history, about deeper meanings. And they are all a little too intelligent and probing to be described as a cult following. Unless you believe there can be a cult of independent thinkers!
DM) Do your fans suggestions help mold your decisions on what to write?
KN) Luckily, I’ve never had any of my fans suggest what I ought to write. I can’t imagine how anyone could attempt to write books like mine, or any books for that matter, based on other people’s suggestions. To the contrary, my readers, almost universally, encourage me just to keep on doing what I’m doing. The most often-heard plea from my fans is not to let publishers, scholars, reviewers, or anybody else make me change what I do, because it is unique. Young people, especially, tell me they have read my books over and over, and still found layers they hadn’t discovered earlier.That’s the greatest support any writer could ask for: that your readers really appreciate all the effort you have expended to make something meaningful but still entertaining.
DM) Of your three novels, which do you feel most accurately brought across the message you were trying to write?
KN) Believe it or not, I’ve never been asked that question. It’s really an important one, though. And though I love all my books–as one loves his children–in completely different ways, when you ask about which one most accurately brings across my MESSAGE, I would have to state without hesitation, THE MAGIC CIRCLE. MAGIC CIRCLE was not the first book I thought up, but it was the first book I tried to write as a whole book, back in the 1970s, when I was working at a nuclear site in Idaho, like my heroine Ariel Behn. I was working around forms of energy–solar, geothermal, hydropower, nuclear–and I saw transformation of matter into energy daily. For a long time I had worked around engineers and physicists, and I started thinking of all the research I had done on alchemy and transformation. All my books, including A CALCULATED RISK, 1992, deal with the relationships between spirit and matter. But how that relationship affects our personal and societal transformation–that was the kernel of the idea of THE MAGIC CIRCLE.
DM) Why do you feel that your first novel hit your message most accurately as compared to your others since then? Is there something innately more “honest” in one’s first novel?
KN) THE MAGIC CIRCLE was not actually my first novel; it was the first book I tried to write, however, I failed. It took me three tries–that is, two earlier finished books, and almost twenty years from conception–just to be able to put it down on paper. So I would have to say, in answer to your question, that it took a lot of honing of skills, plus a lot of muscle to get to the point where I could produce what I saw the way I saw it in my mind. When I finished writing MAGIC CIRCLE, I didn’t even read it–until months later, when we began the actual edit: I just sent it off to the publisher and told my friends: I will never be afraid of anything again.
DM) Did you ever think of writing a sequel to it?
KN) I think constantly about writing sequels to all my books. I definitely think of them as a continuum, like the Comedie Humaine or the Rougon Macquart. Maybe one day I’ll write an all-in-one sequel that will wrap everything up in a tidy bundle. But I doubt it. Life, like fiction, just keeps on happening!
Article Author: Dominick A. Miserandino
click here to see the online version.