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Monday, April 20, 2015

Award Finalist David Blixt

David Blixt is the author of seven novels, most recently The Prince’s Doom, the fourth volume in the Star-Cross’d series, which began with The Master Of Verona and continued through Voice Of The Falconer. The third volume, Fortune’s Fool, was Editor’s Choice for the Historical Novel Society in 2013. The Prince’s Doom is a Finalist for the M.M. Bennetts Award for Historical Fiction.

Born in Ann Arbor and now living in Chicago, David’s career began in theatre. Drawn to classical works, he’s traveled far and wide, performing Aristophanes in ancient amphitheatres, Shakespeare in re-creations of the Globe, acting and designing theatrical combat for national productions. In 2014 David won a Wilde Award for Best Actor In A Comedy for his portrayal of Algernon in The Importance Of Being Earnest.

To his surprise, Shakespeare became his life, to date appearing in over 75 productions in such roles as Macbeth, Mercutio, Benedick, Brutus, Orsino, Leontes, Iacomo, Berowne, and Oberon. He even met his wife on stage, cast as Petruchio opposite her Kate in The Taming Of The Shrew. After facing off against her again in Much Ado, Midsummer, and Macbeth, they finally gave in and wed in 2002.

It was while directing Romeo & Juliet that he was struck by the idea that started him down the writing path fifteen years ago – the origin to the famous feud. Originally meant to be a novella, David started researching Verona while simultaneously reading Dorothy Dunnett’s amazing Lymond Chronicles. Dunnett’s works not only inspired him, they gave him permission to think on a grander scale. Thus the Star-Cross’d series turned into an eight-book epic, combining all of Shakespeare’s Italian characters with the real people of Dante’s time to create a picaresque tale of romance, murder, politics, war, religion, and friendship.

The story begins with Dante’s son Pietro arriving in Verona and falling under the awesome sway of the city’s ruler, Cangrande della Scala. Young, brilliant, and ambitious, Cangrande means to have his due and more. But his plans are spoiled by the birth of his bastard heir, Cesco, who is prophesized to be even greater. Honest and loyal, Pietro is given charge of this wild, willful youth, and attempts to raise Cesco to be the perfect chivalric knight. Mercurial at heart, the boy has other plans. Everyone is waiting to see what kind of man will Cesco become.

The Prince’s Doom begins with Cesco having nearly reached perfect happiness, only to have the cup dashed from his lips. Bitter, he puts on a show of apathy, indulging all his baser impulses. Forced to marry, he gathers around him all the young knights of Verona’s court and begins besieging the city with riotous living, threatening to tear down all that Cangrande has built. For once, Pietro is grateful for the plots and schemes that seem to emanate from Verona’s very stones, hoping to draw his foster-son out of himself, restore him to sanity. But when the first body falls, it is only the initial bolt from a quiver of deceit, desire, and deviltry that threatens them all. After races, duels, sieges, confrontations, poisonings, horrors, epic swordplay and exotic locations, the question of Cesco’s character is finally answered.

David’s other series, Colossus, is set in the first century AD, covering the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem through the building of the Colosseum in Rome. His stand-alone novel, Her Majesty’s Will, is a light-hearted romp through Shakespeare’s lost years, casting him as an accidental spy alongside Kit Marlowe in service of Elizabeth I and her cunning servant Walsingham.

David’s play Eve Of Ides gives us Caesar and Brutus on the night before the assassination, in a dire conversation that leads Brutus to conclude that “it must be by his death.”

David continues to write, act, and travel. He has ridden camels around the pyramids at Giza, been thrown out of the Vatican Museum and been blessed by John-Paul II, scaled the Roman ramp at Masada, crashed a hot-air balloon, leapt from cliffs on small Greek islands, dined with counts and criminals, climbed to the top of Mount Sinai, and sat in Cangrande’s chair in Verona’s palace. But he is happiest at home with his wife and two children, weaving tales of brilliant people in dire and dramatic straits.

A review of The Prince's Doom by Jim Bencivenega, retired book critic for The Christian Science Monitor:

"'The Prince’s Doom', by David Blixt, is a colossal work. It gives focus to the world of 14th century Italy through the vantage and particularity of the kingdom of Verona. It represents an accomplishment of great historical labor and a feat of psychological imagination worthy of its finalist status in the MM Bennetts award.

"The intrigue generated by the complex genealogy of noble families and their decidedly frayed relationships raveling and unraveling makes for a great read.

"Bastardy is common amid a code of family and military honor that is both exemplary, cynical and hypocritical. The many plots and subplots are bound together by the force of political dominance and power in an ever relevant Machiavellian vein.

"Engaging this book was for me the literary equivalent of standing before one of the great cathedrals of Europe. From what vantage do I look up? Which door do I enter? And once inside how long do I pause and meditate at the many side chapels.

"At times, the tapestries of the over arching plot will tax the imagination. Youthful brawls, duels, battles, spying, even jumping from roof to roof by Cesco can come across at times as a bit much, until presented with the challenge of a 'goose pull.' Immediately, ones historical eyes widen. Throughout, and ultimately, the interests of families, not individuals, mercilessly drives human action."

Final judge Edd Morris writes:

"The Prince’s Doom merits ‘epic’: in terms of its ambition, inspiration, and also its world count. A less bold author may have clipped its wings: instead, the pacy tale stretches to many hundreds of pages, and I’m sure that loyal fans of the series are
clamouring for more.

"The sinuous plot speeds along thanks to spectacular dialogue, with witty repartee sparkling upon every page.

"Cesco - our protagonist - is a beautifully constructed character, and I enjoyed his flashes of tenderness to Maddellena against the backdrop of his violent self-rebellion. But he was by no means the only memorable individual. Buthanya was undoubtedly my favourite within the supporting cast: trapped like Cesco, but with her own methods of coping.

"Slick and sophisticated, it’s easy to devour The Prince’s Doom. Its success, of course, was written in the stars."


David’s Website is www.davidblixt.com
His Blog is http://themasterofverona.typepad.com/the_master_of_verona/
His Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/pages/David-Blixt-Author/22822113504
And his Twitter address is http://twitter.com/@David_Blixt
His books are available from Sordelet Ink. Visit www.sordeletink.com. Or visit Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or order through your local bookstore.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Award Finalist Steve Wiegenstein

Steve Wiegenstein is the author of Slant of Light and This Old World, the first two novels in an anticipated multi-book series. Slant of Light, published in 2012, was the runner-up for the David H. Langum Prize in American Historical Fiction, and This Old World, published in September 2014, is currently a finalist for the M.M. Bennetts Award for Historical Fiction. Both books were published by Blank Slate Press, a literary small press in St. Louis, Missouri.

Steve grew up in the Missouri Ozarks, the setting for his novel series, and worked there as a newspaper reporter before entering the field of higher education. He is an avid hiker and canoeist who hits the trails and float streams of the Ozarks every chance he gets.

Steve's historical fiction grows out of his academic fascination with utopian societies of the Nineteenth Century. He first became interested in the Icarians, a French-origin emigrant group that settled in the American Midwest from 1848 to the 1890s, and his interest spiraled out from there. The conflict of ideals and reality, passion and reason, and individual desires versus community welfare inspired him in creating his series; the Southern Literary Review called the first novel "an exciting and original take on the history of America becoming America, full of complex characters and rich, realistic dialogue." In their award announcement, the Langum Prize judges said, "At a deeper level it is also a meditation on the decline of order – social order, sexual order, and political order."

This Old World takes place in the years immediately following the American Civil War, when many of the soldiers returning home still harbored resentments or felt the aftereffects of battle, while others simply wanted to forget the past and return to their former lives. But the war has unbalanced everything and everyone. The characters must remake themselves in the postwar reality and try to reconstruct their old lives, loves, and ideals.

Steve lives in Columbia, Missouri, where he works as the associate dean for academic affairs at Columbia College. He loves to speak at libraries, civic organizations, and other groups as part of the Missouri Humanities Council's "Show-Me Speakers Bureau." His short fiction has appeared in the Southern Humanities Review, Nebraska Review, Louisiana Literature, Beloit Fiction
Journal, and elsewhere. His next novel will continue the same themes in the same setting, but will take place in the late 1880s, with future novels planned for later years as well.

Jim Bencivenga, a retired book critic from The Christian Science Monitor, writes:

"Since I did not read its predecessor, I came to This Old World, by Steve Wiegenstein, only on the terms inside its covers.

"It is a heart rendering tale in a time of personal and national trauma. Such lasting wounds. Such healed wounds. For Wiegenstein, the war that divided a nation is but background. The hopes and anguish of common people, and more pointedly aspiring women, dominate this book. Utopian hopes, racial hopes, and especially gender hopes play out. The cadenced voice, the agricultural pace of the characters colloquial, regional dialog, is the blood flowing through the veins of the narrative.

"The civil war and the Ozark mountains hold near mythic status in the American experience. Wiegenstein populates these myths with flesh and blood characters literally or psychological bathed in the blood of battle. Home, family, children – identity – are overwhelmed. He is true to the hymnal inspiration used in the title and which echoes on every page: 'This old world is full of sorrow, full of sickness, weak and sore —If you love your neighbor truly, love will come to you the more.'

"I couldn't help but connect the psychological and emotional moods of this narrative work with poems by William Butler Yeats. Both Yeats and Wiegentein embed the worn and known facets of their nation's pivotal rebellion/war as spiritual heft for the human hearts animating their writing.

"Yeats's sentiment about humanity's connection with God in 'The Circus Animal's Desertion': 'Now that my ladder's gone, 
I must lie down where all the ladders start.
In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart,' is where 'This Old World', begins. Things indeed fall apart in the widening gyre of the Civil War. And, much more than in Yeats, the women of 'This Old World' (one advantage of a novel over a poem or hymn) are given full voice to speak.

"I am convinced Charloette Turner would more than hold her own should she sit down with Crazy Jane to lecture the Bishop. By voice, example, and especially sincere doubt, Charloette lectures us throughout. Want to know how common folk from a proto-typical American locale not only 'survive, but prevail,' as Faulkner would have it? Read 'This Old World'."F

Final judge Edd Morris writes:

"This Old World Undoubtedly a novel I’ll return to, This Old World grabbed me from its opening chapter. For me, there’s a humanity - and an understanding of people and communities - at the very heart of this novel, which makes it simply irresistible.

"I adored the interwoven, intensely personal tales set against a backdrop of political upheaval: exploring the difficulties of rebuilding in a world wracked by poverty and distrust.

"I loved the device of each chapter being told through the perspective of a different individual: and the characters sparkled. For me, every figure was brilliantly realised:

"Marie, who 'had thrown her life away; she had done it her own damn self.' Tyler; and the masterfully-drawn Flynn. In terms of language and literary skill, This Old World left me breathless. The prose was remarkably deft: Angus’ body 'bobbing to the surface, eyeless and accusing.'

"In terms of language and literary skill, This Old World left me breathless. The prose was remarkably deft: Angus’ body “bobbing to the surface, eyeless and accusing,” the quick-fire dialogue; the way that the words which made Tyler begin to slowly escape him.

"A beautiful and brilliant book."

Steve's Website

Blog

Publisher's website

Facebook

Twitter: @swiegenstein

Book availability: Available at all independent and chain bookstores. Electronic versions available at Barnes & Noble.com, Amazon, and the Apple Store. Also available directly from Blank Slate Press or from Steve's Facebook page.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Short List

In order of submission, the finalists for the M.M. Bennetts Award for Historical Fiction are:

This Old World by Steve Wiegenstein
The Prince's Doom by David Blixt
Lusitania REX by Greg Taylor

Congratulations to the authors on these three outstanding novels! The winner of the $500 prize will be announced at the HNS Conference Saturday Banquet, June 27, 2015.