Traci L. Slatton e-interviewed by Barbara Lingens (August, 2008)
Traci L. Slatton graduated from Yale University at 20 with a B.A. in English. She later received an M.F.A. in creative writing from Columbia University in 1988. Born into a Navy family, Traci spent her formative years growing up across the country – from Great Lakes, Ill. to Norfolk, Va., Olathe, Kan, Millington, Tenn. and Groton, Conn. At six years old, after reading her first big book, she knew she wanted to be a novelist. Her first book, Piercing Time & Space, earned praise for her meaningful marriage of science and spirituality.
In her debut work of historical fiction, Immortal, Traci takes readers to the streets of Renaissance Florence where a mysterious orphan who possesses healing powers explores his roots, befriends Giotto, Botticelli and Leonardo da Vinci and encounters growing religious persecution. In her research, she inquired deeply into the art and life of the Renaissance, a period when thinkers like Pico della Mirandola, Leonardo da Vinci and Marsilio Ficino were engaged in questioning the nature and relationship of science, art and the soul. In addition to the renowned Renaissance artists, Traci's interest in Renaissance philosophy, trade, science and political plotting - namely of the Medici - all converge in the setting of Immortal. The book was recently published in Russia and Poland and soon also will be available to readers in Spain, Greece, Serbia and Brazil.
Traci resides in Manhattan with her husband, Sabin Howard, a world famous figurative sculptor. Much like Luca Bastardo, the main character in Immortal, Traci hails from a family line of healers and has always sensed the supernatural in all things. For ten years, she operated a hands-on healing practice, working with people suffering from migraines, cancer, infertility, HIV, chronic fatigue and those in emotional and spiritual crises. Traci has three daughters, a stepdaughter and a pet Westie. She loves books, yoga, horseback riding and most of all, travel. The central joys of her life are her husband and children, her spiritual path and her writing.
Q: Immortal is set in Florence and covers a very long time span. What made you choose that particular time and place for the novel?
A: I simply love the work of Giotto and DaVinci. This love was one of the earliest inspirations for this story: I wanted a character who could meet my two greatest Renaissance heroes. Renaissance Florence is so rich and fertile that it can be a character in this novel--it's inextricably interwoven into the story.
Also, I am married to Sabin Howard, who is one of the foremost classical figurative sculptors working today. Think Michelangelo's work: that's what my husband's work resembles. Sabin is half-Italian; his mother is from Torino and he is completely fluent in the language. Because of his work and heritage, Renaissance Italy is alive and well. It's part of our everyday discourse. I was always interested in Renaissance art but it's become a passion because of living with Sabin.
I am also very intrigued by Florence between 1300 and 1500. It was an intense and extraordinary place, almost unequalled in history. Art, philosophy, learning, commerce, banking, and government were all burgeoning and concentrated into this small city, making it the center of Europe. Out of Florence radiated invention and innovation. One of the popes called it "The fifth element of the universe." Only Paris between the two world wars comes close to the fervor of creativity that was taking place in Florence during the Renaissance. It's a powerful time to write about.
Q: Tell us why you fashioned Luca the way you did. He could have been female. Or, instead of living many years as a young man, he could have been an older, wiser person. How did you arrive at the character of Luca that we meet in the novel?
A: I wanted a character who would meet and make an impression on my Renaissance heroes. Women were not citizens of equal status with men at this time, so it felt in my gut that the character was a male. He had to be the kind of man who could inspire love, lust, envy, admiration, and riveting hatred in other people. And he was going to face terrible challenges, so he had to have personal resources to help him through. And his suffering would make him humble and give him a hunger to love and be loved.
Q: Luca meets famous painters and politicians in his wanderings. How did you go about choosing these people? And why is it that he meets no writers or sculptors?
A: I chose historical figures with whom I feel a connection, figures who were meaty enough for me as an author to tear into and recreate. In fact, he does meet writers in Boccaccio and Petrarch. In early drafts, Luca befriended Donatello, but alas, the book was lengthy and my editor rightly argued for some cuts.
Q: The novel includes many aspects of life at the time, its art history, philosophy, the Inquisition, the Black Death. How did you manage to weave them all together?
A: Hard work, a fine editor, research, and five serious revisions!
Q: Besides the larger historical picture we get through Luca, we also learn about such topics as alchemy and the beliefs of the Cathars. How long did it take you to research this book and how did you go about it?
A: I read a million books (okay, maybe a hundred), searched on-line, spoke with friends and relatives with extensive historical knowledge (my husband Sabin Howard is a Renaissance sculptor and my father-in-law is a history teacher with a PhD), and I corresponded with, or spoke to, a couple of professors. I also like the History channel for shows on history! And we visited Italy several times, spending much time in the Medici chapel in Florence and the Pinacoteca Vaticano in Rome.
Q: Why did you choose to make the Silvanos evil throughout many generations?
A: They are a unifying force throughout the story that gives shape and cohesiveness to Luca's journey. They highlight that other unifying motif to his journey, his quest for love, human and divine, that is his education of the heart.
Q: Child prostitution is a difficult subject to write about and to present. Did you have any second thoughts about including this in the novel? Was it the hardest event to depict? If not, what was? And what was the easiest for you?
A: Part of what I wanted to address in this novel is the question, how do we find love, faith in the divine, and communion with the divine when the worst happens? So, for Luca, the worst happens over and over again. Is there anything worse than child prostitution? Perhaps only murder, rape, and war. All of these evils are still a daily part of the human experience.
Also, note that child prostitution is an on-going evil. Just watch those specials on TV about predators and child prostitution abroad. My heart aches for those children. And what happens to the numbers of children who disappear every year? Some of them are surely trafficked. Others are raped and killed. It terrifies and saddens me. How can we rid out world of this evil?
Q: Luca plays many different roles - orphan, companion, healer - throughout the story. Which do you personally relate best to?
A: Perhaps to the healer and the companion. I was a hands-on or spiritual healer for many years, and Luca gets to do what I always longed to: lay hands on and cure someone completely, even bring a dying man back to life.
I have four daughters, and in the best moments of parenting, there is a companionable aspect to it. There are moments when all the little stuff falls away, all the blah-blah-blah about messy bedrooms and parties and grades and allowances and health concerns, and my children and I are friends, laughing together. Even my little one sometimes sits and chats with me as if we were two good buddies. I treasure those moments.
Q: What are your future writing plans?
A: I am currently working on the sequel to Immortal. Luca has two sons he didn't know he had. One becomes an Inquisitor and the other an assassin. They look for him, find each other, begin as bitter enemies, fall in love with the same Cathar woman, and then end as close friends. In the end, one gives his life for the other.
Q: Any advice you could give to beginning novelists out there?
A: PERSIST! And know who to trust with your work.Find out more about Traci L. Slatton and her writing (both fiction and non-fiction), and read her Blog at TraciLSlatton.com.
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