07 October 2012

Guest Blog: Kathryn Kopple

This week, we’re welcoming historical fiction author Kathryn Kopple, whose title LITTLE VELASQUEZ takes readers to 15th century Spain and the court of the united Catholic monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabel.Kathryn is here to talk about the novel and offer a copy to a lucky winner. Please leave a comment with your email address for a chance to win. Here's the blurb:
Five years of war between Castile and Portugal have come to an end.

A new queen, Isabel I, sits on the throne of Castile. Her consort, Fernando of Aragón, suspects that the child she is carrying is illegitimate. A dwarf by the name of Velasquillo journeys from the pestilent-stricken lands of Catalonia to the imperial city of Toledo in search of fame and fortune. He rises to the highest circles of power, where he learns what it means to sacrifice his will and dignity to the ambitions of great men and women.

Little Velásquez is a work of historical fiction set in 15th century Spain, and a tragic-comedic exploration of political intrigue, religious persecution, foreign conquest, and personal exile.

**Q&A with Kathryn Kopple**

How did you become interested in writing about 15th century Spain?
I have a PhD in Latin American Literature with a minor in Spanish literature. I felt confident that, knowing so much of the history and being fluent in English and Spanish, I could take advantage of sources in both languages. The writing of the novel, however, proved more difficult. How does one translate a very complicated period in history into fictional form? It was a lot of trial and error, but I kept at it because the period in which the novel takes place (the thirteen years leading up to 1492) changed not only politics on the continent but the world.

Where did your sources come from and was the research difficult?
The research was a joy for me. Libraries are some of my favorite places. But when you are dealing with the Middle Ages and Renaissance history it’s important to realize that much of what was written (the chronicles) are not history in the modern sense of the word. Chronicles are not necessarily objective; they are homages for the most part and easily romanticized. I wanted to actually show that in the novel. I also thought it important to list all of my sources—historical and current research. 

Why did you make Velasquillo, a dwarf, the central protagonist?
It was serendipity to discover Velasquillo, who is an actual historical person. I found him in footnote and I began to imagine what could have brought him to the court of Isabel and Fernando. Also, it was wonderful to write from the “fool’s” point of view, but difficult to try to keep up with a character who is quick on his toes, a wit, and also perceptive enough to recognize the dangers and intrigue of palace life.

This is your first work of historical fiction. What were some of the difficulties you encountered turning history into fiction?
 I’m a very slow writer, and it’s not surprising that the book took seven years to research and write. The novel went through dozens of revisions. Some early feedback I received from editors caused me to smile. Remarks such as, “You’ve done a wonderful job with historical detail but what about the story?” To which, I can only say that the history will take on its own life as story in the writing process. I was very lucky to have a source that broke down Isabel’s court in meticulous detail:  household documents, how many pheasants were served at dinner, how the court prepared for foreign dignitaries, religious rituals, and more.

What are some of your favorite historical fiction titles?
The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa is a gem, and I recommend it to anyone. I also admire the works of Luis Alberto Urrea (The Hummingbird’s Daughter and Queen of America). And then there are Latin American writers such as Alejo Carpentier, Gabriel García Márquez, Carlos Fuentes, and many others.  

Do you write only novels—or do you work in other genres as well?
I am a translator of Latin American poetry and prose, and I’m currently revising a translation of La liebre de Marzo (The March Hare) by the Uruguayan poet Marosa di Giorgio in anticipation of the publication of her complete works. I also write essays, book reviews, and poetry. The Threepenny Review recently included my poem “Sloth” in its 2012 Fall issue. I’ve also published poetry in The Hummingbird Review, Philadelphia Stories, Sleet, 322 Review and Danse Macabre, among other magazines.

What is your favorite part of the novel?
Finishing. After seven years of research and writing, I felt that I had finally crossed an endless finishing line—and I hope the book, with its historical details, larger than life characters, and tears and laughter will take the reader across the finishing line as well.

Thank you, Kathryn, and best of luck with Little Velásquez.

Find Kathryn Kopple on Facebook and Twitter
Little Velásquez is available now.