Venice, 1745—an age of reckless pleasures, playful artifice, and baroque excess.
What led you to write historical novels?
I’ve always been fascinated by people’s life stories, especially people in distant times and places. I was drawn to history in college, not to the political aspect, but to learn what daily life was like for villagers who lived through the Black Plague or Parisians who struggled to survive the French Revolution. I dreamed of teaching by day and writing by night, but I was also interested in psychology and the forces that pushed people toward mystifying behavior. A stint in medical school and a ten-year career in psychiatry followed. Unfortunately, I found psychiatry more interesting in theory than in practice. It took a while to work back to my original dream of writing.
What has your career in mental health brought to your writing?
If everything is truly grist for the mill, I certainly stored up a lot of grain practicing psychiatry in a public mental health clinic. I took care of patients suffering depression, psychotic breaks, and paralyzing anxiety attacks, as well as simply coping with the stress of today’s world. Destructive family relationships were everywhere, so it’s no accident that my protagonist has a host of relatives that bedevil him at every turn. Each of my books has also ended up including at least one character that has a full blown psychiatric problem. My protagonist’s sister has Tourette’s syndrome, a condition that my 18th-century characters find deeply disturbing and mysterious.
Tito Amato is certainly an unusual sleuth. What gave you the idea to use a castrato soprano?
I fell in love with Anne Rice’s CRY TO HEAVEN back when it first came out in the 1980s, in her pre-vampire days. I always thought what a great mystery novel I could do with the same milieu—the castrato singers who were forced into unimaginable sacrifice to preserve their golden soprano voices and entertain the rich and powerful. The idea stayed with me even though it was a good ten years before I began writing INTERRUPTED ARIA, Tito’s first adventure. That decision also allowed me to indulge my longtime love of opera.
Venice, Naples, and Rome were the three great centers of early opera. No contest—Venice won! In the 18th-century, Venice had lost her lucrative trade routes and reinvented herself as the pleasure capital of Europe—the Las Vegas of the era. Foreigners flocked to the six-month Carnival and reveled in the anonymity its masks provided. Romantic pursuits and frivolity existed alongside the darkest intrigue. I couldn’t think of a riper setting for a murder mystery. And Tito was right in the middle of it all, because opera and its stars were THE popular entertainment of the day. His status as a castrato singer also gives him a unique perspective. He is both feted and marginalized because of his condition.
Have you been inspired by any particular authors?
For a long time, my favorite historical mystery authors were Elizabeth Peters and Steven Saylor. I love the way their sleuths, accompanied by friends, family and associates, grow and change throughout their series. I also enjoy learning about Egyptology and the ancient Roman Republic in a painless, enjoyable way. Lately I’ve been enjoying Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce series and the Dido Kent mysteries of Anna Dean.
Is there anything else you’d like to say to the readers of Unusual Historicals?
Only an invitation to get to know Tito Amato. You don’t have to be an opera fan or even a music lover to enjoy this series that now runs to six books. If you like well-plotted historical mysteries with an engaging sleuth and a vivid setting, give Tito a try.