Friday, May 31, 2013

Interview with Of Fathers and Sons author Evan Ostryzniuk

Today Flashlight Commentary is pleased to welcome author Evan Ostryzniuk to discuss his latest release Of Fathers and Sons: Geoffrey Hotspur and the Este Inheritance. 

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To start things off, please tell us a bit about Of Fathers and Sons.
It is a pleasure to be here. The novel is the second in the English Free Company series set in the High Middle Ages. This time around, company head and wayward squire Geoffrey Hotspur gets involved in the struggle for control of the northeastern Italian city of Ferrara in 1395. Two members of the famous Este family are claiming the right to be the next marquis – 12 year-old Niccolo, the illegitimate son of the late marquis, and his uncle, the veteran captain Azzo. Of itself, such a struggle for power was the norm in medieval Italy, but what sets this particular conflict apart is how Ferrara finds itself in a strategic position for control of northern Italy. At the moment, a fragile balance of power is keeping the peace, but whoever controls this city will have a crucial advantage to dominate the region. 

In addition, as the title suggests the story examines the relationship between fathers and sons. Both Niccolo and Geoffrey are orphans; both are insecure because of their unfortunate provenance; both feel the weight of their real or adopted fathers’ legacies on their consciences. Much of the action revolves around how these orphan boys, having been cast in the political or literal wilderness, try to live up to their names in a hostile world. They have to grow up fast or be forsaken. 

Who or what inspired you to write this story?
I was inspired to write the English Free Company series by the remarkable intensity of life that I discovered in the late Middle Ages. An astounding number of events came fast and furious during this time, and so as a means of bringing this unique period to life, I set an orphan squire into the thick of it. Canterbury Tales was written at this time. As for Of Fathers and Sons specifically, I had wanted to explore the role of children in the 14th century, and the opportunity arose when the Este inheritance came at the right time in the chronology of the series. For those who do not know, Niccolo d’Este grew up to be one of the great men of the Renaissance, and served as a prototype for Machiavelli’s The Prince. In many ways, which my novel reveals, his character was set during those tumultuous months of war with his uncle. 

What research went into Of Fathers and Sons and what, if any challenges did you face in adapting your research to fiction?
Books. Lots and lots of books. I had to investigate many aspects of the Middle Ages in the broad sense and also make detailed studies of the specific events portrayed in the novel. I made sure to cast my net widely in order the gather in as much arcane knowledge as possible. I was trained as a professional historian, and so I know as well as anyone the immense amount of research needed to create a convincing narrative. I collected chronicles, academic studies, period letters and reports, pictures, jokes and tales, and even practical guides on how to perform the most basic tasks. For example, everyone knows what a suit of armor looks like, but how many people know how to put it on properly, from under garments to gauntlets? This is important to my novels especially, because several of the main characters are soldiers, meaning what they wear to battle is of critical importance. 

The greatest challenge in adapting my research to fiction was doing the dialog. Nobody spoke then as they do know, of course, but also the use of language was quite different. People of the Middle Ages possessed a verbal dexterity that would astound listeners today. They used many more natural metaphors and religious allusions than we do. Modes of address were determined based on one’s rank in society. The language had a specific rhythm, and so people would often speak in rhyme and alliteration. People of the Middle Ages also liked a good joke, and so a certain humor was embedded in language. So, I endeavored to include these nuances in the dialogs of my characters and yet make the language accessible to the modern reader. I employed some period terms and words, especially amusing curses, but all the time I had to ensure that the speeches were neither awkward nor stilted. And then there was the task of keeping as much modern vernacular out as possible without resorting to primitive conversations. I have a number of dictionaries to help with this. As well, each character must have his or her own voice! 

Of Fathers and Sons is a sequel to Of Faith and Fidelity. How does this book differ from its predecessor?
The books differ in events and themes. Of Faith and Fidelity is about a conflict between rival popes and how religious sentiment can color one’s decisions when fundamental beliefs are challenged. Of Fathers and Sons, although set just one year thereafter, concerns the purely secular struggle between rival branches of the same family for the Marquisate of Ferrara and examines the nature of patriarchal relationships. Also, the first book contains a lot of crises of conscience, and so many of the decisions made bore a heavy moral or ethical weight. In the second novel the characters are all trying to get ahead of the game and scheming for advantage. That is not to say that Of Fathers and Sons is light in tone; rather the stakes are different this time around. 

What scene posed the greatest challenges for you as an author?
The scene that posed the great challenge was the confrontation between Niccolo and his uncle in the town hall in Bologna. Until that point, they had never seen each other, but Niccolo feared him all the same. Niccolo’s speech is a moment of catharsis, a turning point in the story, and so it had to be done just right or the house of cards would fall. The scene had to reflect many things within a short burst of text – the tension in the hall, Niccolo’s uncertain mood and insecurity, the location of the other players relative to him, and most of all his speech had to contain both rehearsed and spontaneous elements. It contains more theatrical than literary elements. In addition I had to reproduce the voice of a child on the cusp of adolescence who has the weight of the world on his shoulders yet has never spoken in public. It was a delicate balancing act, since I had to be very careful with the words, inject not just simmering emotion but shifting tones as well, while keeping the reader guessing as to where it would all lead. And all this in the absence of a detailed source. What the historical record shows is that both sides attended a peace conference in Bologna during the winter of 1395, which had a set of dramatic consequences. So, I had to extrapolate from these consequences, as well as from the anticipation prior to the meeting, the likely tone and content of Niccolo’s speech. 

If you could sit down and talk with one of your characters, which would you choose and why?
That is a tough question. I created each character so that he or she would be not only very different from any other by rank, skills and temperament, but also have their own unique histories and skeletons in the closet. However, if I had to choose, I would like to get to know Catherine the Astrologer a bit better. She comes across as the most worldly of the lot, and because of her outré social status, she must have a great many interesting and revealing stories to tell about where she came from and how she became so successful as an independent agent. Keep in mind that this was very much a man’s world, where women were broadly considered dangerous and inferior. Actually, I do know Catherine’s origins, but readers will have to wait until the next novel to find them out! And her profession gives pause to wonder. The practice of astrology during the Middle Age is one of those strange things that are difficult to account for. The Church was against the practice, for obvious reasons, yet many popes and kings kept astrologers on the payroll. Astrology was respected as much as suspected, and tangentially associated with witchcraft. Plus, Catherine seems to find herself at the heart of medieval politics time and time again. How is that? And why is she not married? Also, she keeps her (tarot) cards so close to her chest that it would be a challenge to draw her out. Geoffrey Hotspur, on the other hand, would spill all about himself at the drop of a hat. 

What do you hope readers come away with after reading your work?
I hope that readers will come away with a greater appreciation of the High Middle Ages. Not many authors write about this period, although in many ways it is more interesting than the better known Tudor or Roman centuries if only for the sake of its immense diversity of experience. The 14th-15th centuries represent the extremes of medieval culture, a transitional period that went a long way towards shaping the modern world. The weight of history is palpable at this time. 

I would also hope that the main characters make a strong impact on their readers, for I carefully sculpted them as representatives of this dramatic time. While they should be sympathetic figures, they should simply not fit in our world. I want those who crack open the book to find themselves drawn wholly into those raucous times. 

What is next for you? 
I will soon be starting the third installment of the English Free Company series: Of Crosses and Crescents: Geoffrey Hotspur and the Last Crusade. In addition, I will be writing a number of short stories and assorted vignettes showcasing the various members of the English Free Company. However, before that I will on virtual and real tours in support of the latest adventure. Of Father and Sons in paperback comes out in September.

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About the Author: Evan Ostryzniuk was born and raised on the prairies of western Canada. After graduating from the University of Saskatchewan with a B.A. in History and Modern Languages and an M.A. in Modern History, Evan crossed the ocean to do post-graduate work at the University of Cambridge, concluding four years of research with a doctoral thesis on the Russian Revolution. He then found his way to Eastern Europe, where he took up positions as a magazine editor, university lecturer and analyst in the financial services sector before rising in the ranks of the local publishing industry to become Editor-in-Chief of a popular weekly. Evan Ostryzniuk currently resides in Kyiv, Ukraine near a very large candy factory. He has travelled extensively, including the locations of his novels. Of Fathers and Sons: Geoffrey Hotspur and the Este Inheritance is his second novel. For more information, please visit Evan Ostryzniuk’s website.

About the Book: Geoffrey Hotspur, orphan-squire and ward of the powerful John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, longs to return home to France. Having fought in the ranks of the now disbanded papal armies in Italy, he finds himself penniless and stuck in a foreign land far from his native Avignon, with only a resentful and unscrupulous debt collector as companion. Above all, though, Geoffrey fears losing his place at court, and so he must make his way back to the halls of Gaunt or risk being forsaken by the only family he has known. Twelve-year-old Niccolo, the new marquis of Ferrara and heir to the strategic lands of the Este family, is under siege. His right to the throne is being contested by his uncle. Outnumbered and insecure because of his questionable legitimacy, Niccolo must gather an army of his own. When the paths of the errant squire and troubled marquis cross, their fates intertwine as each endeavors to take from the other what he needs.

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Check out all the stops on Evan Ostryzniuk's Of Fathers and Sons Virtual BOOK TOUR

Monday, May 27
Review at So Many Books, So Little Time
Tuesday, May 28
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Interview at Layered Pages
Wednesday, May 29
Interview at Flashlight Commentary
Review, Guest Post & Giveaway at The True Book Addict
Thursday, May 30
Review at vvb32 Reads
Friday, May 31
Guest Post & Giveaway at vvb32 Reads


Friday, June 21
Review at Luxury Reading

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