Sunday, 8 January 2012

Blog Tour - Robin Wasserman author of The Book of Blood and Shadow

A big welcome to Robin Wasserman, author of The Book of Blood & Shadow, thank you for having us as a stop on your blog tour. Please tell us more about how you researched the setting for The Book of Blood and Shadow....

I’ll admit it: If it had occurred to me that writing a book set in a different country might necessitate the very glamorous-sounding “research trip” to that country, The Book of Blood and Shadow might have been set in Italy. (Come to think of it, if there’s ever a sequel…) But it’s a good thing it wasn’t, and not just because Prague turned out to supply the perfect physical setting and historical background for the story I wanted to tell. It’s also a good thing I decided that to really do the idea justice I was going to have to see Prague for myself (rather than just foraging libraries and Wikipedia pages for information). This is the first time I’ve ever done any kind of on-site research for a book, and so it’s the first time I’ve gotten a chance to see how firsthand research—how the experience and physical reality of a place—can shape, and sometimes completely re-form, the story you’re trying to tell.

I spent about a week in Prague, on a mission to experience the city as Nora (the main character in The Book of Blood and Shadow) would experience it, but also to scout out sites where Elizabeth (author of the 16th century letters that Nora finds) might have hidden her treasures. It was a strange way to move through a foreign city, simultaneously trying to soak in the present and the past, but Prague is the perfect city in which to do it.

My favorite passage in the book is actually lifted almost directly from an entry I scrawled in my little black Moleskine (feeling like an idiot for pausing at one tourist trap after another scribbling “deep thoughts” in my journal) while standing on the Charles Bridge, trying to capture the city’s strange layering of one era on top of the other:

That was Prague: a palimpsest. Dead eras like onion skins, one atop another, post-Communist on Communist on art nouveau on baroque on renaissance on late medieval on early medieval and on back to the original settlement, the angry bohemians and their warrior queen. Graffiti sprayed on gothic churches, cubist facades on renaissance palazzos, Lady Gaga tracks spurting from tiny speakers at the base of a baroque storefront housing a selection of nineteenth century style marionettes probably manufactured in China. It was a Picasso version of a city, all noses and elbows and foreheads jutting out at impossible angles, oil layered over newsprint layered over canvas, beautiful and terrifying at once.

Since I don’t actually speak Czech (which meant I effectively spent that week taking a vow of silence, because I was so embarrassed to speak to people in English and even more embarrassed to trot out my guidebook phonetic pronunciations of Czech), this wasn’t the kind of research trip spent in a library. Instead, I spent every one of the unusually warm and sunny days haunting the city, searching—and this was harder than I expected it to be—for sites that had been left pretty intact since the sixteenth century. I also took a “ghosts of Prague” tour, went to a concert of Broadway songs in a centuries-old synagogue, and sampled just about every pastry the city had to offer.

Along the way I discovered many things that threw a wrench in my plotting—like the fact that the famous statues on the Charles Bridge, which had played a big role in my descriptions of late sixteenth century Prague, weren’t actually built until long afterward. Or the fact that one of the landmarks where I’d intended to plant a Renaissance-era clue had been almost completely demolished in World War II, a perfect replica erected in its place.

But the trip also gave me some things I’d been missing, most importantly a setting for the most important (or at least most exciting) scene in the book: The Sedlec Ossuary, also known as the church of bones.

The interiors of this church are built entirely from the bones of the thousands who died from the plague.

Obviously there was no way this wasn’t going in the book.
I tried my best not to turn The Book of Blood and Shadow into a travelogue. (Though I wasn’t always successful: That’s what editors for. You can thank mine for the fact that there aren’t a hundred extra pages describing the old Jewish ghetto, an area I was so fascinated with I just couldn’t let my characters leave without exploring every corner.) But even though the book isn’t stuffed full of minute descriptions of Czech scenery, and even though while I was writing I barely looked at the million photos I took, I could never have written this book without those days I spent in Prague, breathing in the city, its sights and sounds and smells. I didn’t need to look at the pictures, because by the time I sat down to the computer, Prague was in my head. It was in my fingertips, and, if I did my job right, it ended up all over the page.

Now all I need is an idea for a book set in Italy.

Or maybe Hawaii…

You can read my review of The Book of Blood and Shadow HERE
The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman is published by Atom as a paperback original on the 19th January 2012, £6.99


Clover said...

I love this post! The photos of the Church of Bones is very eerie, and I laughed at the idea of standing a tourist stop scribbling in your little book :) When I went to Prague, I hardly said a word either, but it sounds like a really good time. And I loved the descriptions of Prague..

grace crawford said...

I've heard this book was a "YA version of the Da Vinci Code"! It certainly seems like it from the reviews I've been seeing. Thanks for the review :D I definitely have to pick up this book sometime!

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