I had the pleasure of interviewing New York Times bestselling author Sylvain Reynard about his new Florentine Series, debuting with The Prince on January 20, 2015. He was kind enough to provide some insight into the creation of The Prince and the Prince’s world, as well as a glimpse of what’s to come in The Raven (released February 3, 2015).
Your novels are incredibly detailed and thoroughly researched. Clearly, research is a labor of love for you. What was your favorite subject growing up?
Thank you for the invitation to talk with you, Sarabeth. It’s a pleasure to be with you and your readers. I’ve always enjoyed literature and history and any opportunity to combine them.
How did your passion for art, art history, history, and Italy begin?
It probably began with my family. Over the years, my interests have developed through my travels. I enjoy visiting museums. I enjoy reading about art and history. I’m always eager to spend time in Italy.
If you were hosting a dinner party and could invite any five people from any point in time, dead or alive, who would you invite and why?
I really like these kinds of questions.
Dante, Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky, Mother Teresa, and St. Francis of Assisi. I have no idea what kind of dinner conversation would emerge out of such a diverse group, but I think the discussions about literature, culture, religion, and history would be well worth listening to.
After writing a very successful trilogy of romance novels, what led you to venture into the world of paranormal romance?
The Florentine Series began with the city of Florence. The city is filled with alleys, and at night the dark corners and shadows seem to move …
Now that you’ve entered the realm of paranormal romance, which genre do you enjoy writing more?
Truthfully, I enjoy them both. But the paranormal world allows greater freedom for the imagination.
Some authors see vampires as a metaphor. I like to think of vampires as a narrative tool to explore history from a first-person perspective. What made you decide to write about vampires?
I’ve always been fascinated about the science fiction aspect to vampire transformations – how a vampire is made, what a vampire is, how they feed, etc. The series gave me an opportunity to develop my own answers to these questions.
In the Gabriel Series there are no traces of the supernatural (with the exception of a few very realistic dreams/visions), and with the Florentine Series you’ve created a whole new supernatural world that exists parallel to the human world. Your novella,The Prince, serves as an introduction to the Prince while we also get to see another side of the Emersons’ trip to the opening of their exhibit at the Uffizi Gallery. (We saw the mysterious Prince meet the Emersons’ in Gabriel’s Redemption) What inspired you to bring these two worlds together as opposed to writing a standalone series?
I have a slightly different take on The Gabriel Series. While it’s written as contemporary romance, there are supernatural elements in it if the reader chooses to accept them as such. It’s just that those elements can be interpreted without invoking the supernatural.
From that perspective, then, it wasn’t a stretch to delve more deeply into the supernatural in The Florentine Series. But my starting point was the way the city of Florence changes after sunset. I wanted to move from light to darkness and explore what was going on in the shadows and the hidden passages beneath the city …
With the release of The Prince, you create a new world that’s not simply a group of vampyres trying to blend into their surroundings, but a complex society with rules and a governance structure of its own. I’m always intrigued with the process authors use to build the canon that shapes these worlds. Can you talk about the elements you considered when creating this new world, and what factors were most important to you?
I read an article some time ago about world building, which I found extremely helpful. It reminded me that when you construct a fictional world, you have to pay attention to details. You have to think through various problems and their solutions. You have to be thorough.
So I wanted to be clear on what vampyrism is, how it occurs and how it works. I wanted to figure out what the connection was between sex and feeding and if a vampire could feel love. I was also concerned with the way vampires constructed their societies and why they kept out of sight.
Vampires (and vampyres) have been heavily featured in popular fiction, especially of late; Anne Rice, Deborah Harkness, Stephenie Meyer and Charlaine Harris have all created worlds in which their vampires coexist with humans. In some of these worlds the supernatural beings blend in and go unnoticed, while Charlaine Harris’ vampires have been “outed” and flaunt their preternatural prowess. The Prince lives in the shadows and has very few interactions with humans. He’s aloof and doesn’t seem to care about the human world around him inasmuch as human affairs don’t interrupt his life. (Until his stolen property resurfaces and Raven comes along…) Which elements of vampire lore were important for you to keep in your world?
I wanted to take much of the physical traits of the standard myth and incorporate them into my narrative, while allowing myself freedom to explore different social organizations and behaviours. So, for example, the covens I envision exist in cities for the most part, and they’re organized into principalities, not democracies.
I also believed it was essential to have an explanation for why vampires hadn’t taken over the earth and enslaved humanity. Something or someone had to keep them in check. As the Prince says, “Every predator is prey to something.”
The Prince is a complex character. While he enjoys his power as a vampyre and his role governing Florence, he is also conflicted. “The Prince retained some vestige of a moral code…He possessed a moral code because he’d never been able to abandon aspects of the code he observed when he was human…More specifically, he did not take goodness from the world. At least, not intentionally.” (The Prince, p. 13) Can you talk about how you developed this character? Was he modeled on anyone in particular? Why was it important that he possess a moral code?
Part of the Prince’s biography and personal history explains why he has a code. But from my perspective as an author, I wanted to explore moral ambiguity in his character. On the one hand, the Prince is a villain. On the other, he has many admirable and you might even say virtuous qualities. He has moral rules that he follows and he imposes those rules on his citizens.
I think that makes him more interesting (and hopefully more compelling to readers) than a completely amoral villain.
He’s a creature of my imagination but he has features in common with several of the historical figures mentioned in the novel.
Whose voice is more fun to write, Professor Emerson or the Prince?
They’re both fun in their own way. But there’s something about writing the Professor when he’s offended or angry that truly gives me joy.
Are there any aspects of your personality in Gabriel or the Prince?
From where did you derive your inspiration for the Consilium? Will we learn more about the other council members and the mysterious Curia?
Yes, absolutely. As the series progresses, both the Consilium and the Curia will become increasingly more important.
I was trying to imagine what a wise ruler would do when he’s inherited a principality while at the same time human history (at least in the west) has long since moved past that institution. It occurred to me he’d try to include some measure of shared governance and so the idea for the Consilium was born.
As someone who keeps a copy of Machiavelli’s version of The Prince on her desk (I find it helps me deal with my students…), is that really Niccolo Machiavelli?! How did you come up with that?
I’m glad you noticed that. I was wondering if readers would pick up on it.
Machiavelli and his writings provide a lot of inspiration for The Prince and The Raven. Just as Dante guided The Gabriel Series, I wanted to choose a famous Florentine to guide my new series. For some time, I debated including Botticelli on the Consilium but in the end, he wasn’t as compelling a character as Machiavelli. And so, for fun, I included him.. But you’ve probably already picked up on the fact that the Prince and Machiavelli have their differences …
In early January you announced a project with Fifty Shades of Grey author E.L. James. Is there anything you can share about this project?
Last year, she and I collaborated on a short writing project. It was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed writing it with her. She’s a great friend and we worked well together.
It’s wonderful, as a fan, to see how you frequently interact with your fans through social media. You also use your platform as an author to promote charitable organizations that you support, which is incredibly refreshing and admirable. There are some pop culture “icons” (envision me saying this with a lip-curling sneer) that use their celebrity to promote their shoe lines or sell products. You’re very different. What are some of the ways you would encourage the people reading this interview to get involved in their communities? (Might I suggest organizing a blood drive in honor of The Prince?)
I’m in favor of organizing the blood drive. That’s a great idea. I tweet about the Red Cross and their services around the world because they do good work.
In order for community involvement to be successful and sustainable it has to come from the heart. Choose a cause you’re passionate about and use your gifts to support that cause. It’s that easy. Forced charity isn’t sustainable. But giving to an organization your respect and admire is. And your gift doesn’t have to include money. Most charitable organizations are in need of volunteers or gifts of talents and services. Give of your time and your talents because those are the unique way in which you can help your community.
Lastly, I want to thank you for writing books that are driven by so much more than sex. (Though parenthetically it must be said that your sex scenes are incendiary) I stand by the notion that your books transcend classification; they’re much more than simply romance or paranormal romance. Your erudite writing style entices readers into the world of Dante and the city of Florence. Can you recommend a few books for those of us who would like to learn more about the Prince’s world?
There are a lot of books about Florentine history and culture. You can read Vasari’s “Lives of the Artists, or Dante’s “Divine Comedy,” or various histories of the Medici family. I’d also recommend the works of Ross King, who wrote about Michelangelo and Brunelleschi.
There’s a great documentary about the Medici produced by PBS entitled “Godfathers of the Renaissance.” I recommend it.
Thank you so much for doing this interview, Mr. Reynard!
It was my pleasure. Thank you for inviting me and all the best to your readers, SR
Part 2 of my interview with Sylvain Reynard will be posted on February 3 to coincide with the release of The Raven.
To purchase The Prince, click here.
To pre-order The Raven, click here.