Computer troubles and the new year intervened but, here, at last, gingerbread and tea at the ready, is our promised interview with past-LCRW contributor Daniel Rabuzzi whose first novel of The Choir Boats, Volume One of Longing for Yount, was recently published by Chizine Publications. The Choir Boats is great fun: Rabuzzi’s characters are original and as the book leaves London behind the reader is off into a fresh and lively new world.
Daniel keeps a blog where he interviews artists and writers, reports on readings (and what he’s reading) and what he and his wife, wood carver Deborah Mills, are up to so it only seemed fair to put him on the other side of the paper:
Let’s start with the basics: how long did it take you write The Choir Boats?
Bits of The Choir Boats come from my journals and sketchbooks going back as far as junior high school. Then, one Sunday in May, 2002, I sat down to write my brother a letter and instead Barnabas, Sanford, Sally and Tom appeared in the house on Mincing Lane… quite unforeseen, I must tell you, but very welcome! I delivered final edits on the manuscript in May, 2009, so I needed seven years for The Choir Boats.
You live in NYC, why did you set the novel in London?
Ah, a great question…I think of NYC and London as half-twins: we have a Chelsea and a Soho, they have a Chelsea and a Soho, and so on (alike, and yet so very different). I have spent about a year in total in London over the past few decades: on business in the City, researching at the British Library, visiting friends, spending hours in the Charing Cross bookstores and at the V & A…and always tramping around the quirkiest precincts I can find– small streets in Lambeth or Maida Vale, a prospect from Chalk Farm, lanes in Whitechapel, and so on. Always I find in London a sense of secrets– some good, some less so– marshalled behind the facades, tucked away just around the corner of the mews…whereas here in NYC, what you see is usually what you get, for better or worse we are much more “in your face.” For me, fantasy is about sensing and pursuing the hidden, the secretive, so London feels much the better fit for converse with Yount. (Also, I fell in love in London with my wife and creative partner, Deborah Mills, who was at the time studying there.) Having said that, NYC makes a cameo appearance in The Choir Boats (as a waystation for Maggie and her mother), and might just play a more central role in later books about our world and Yount. Delia Sherman has certainly shown how effectively NYC can serve as a portal for fantasy in her Changeling books!
What kind of research did the novel involve?
I earned my PhD in modern European history…the research for The Choir Boats stems largely from my doctoral work on 18th- and 19th-century merchants in northern Europe. I often feel like Pierce Moffett, the idiosyncratic historian in John Crowley’s Aegypt Cycle, asking whether the world has more than one history. Or the protagonists in the works of Umberto Eco and of A.S. Byatt, hunting for clues in a rebarbative and ever-branching history.
You obviously love playing with language. Who are your favorite writers and what stream of fiction do you think influenced your novel?
Austen, Blake, Dickens, Hesse, Borges and Mann are deep influences, as are Meryvn Peake and Ursula K. Le Guin. Pope, Dickinson, Hopkins, Moore, Hughes, Heaney. Lately I have been reading Z. Z. Packer, Elise Paschen, Sarah Lindsay, Alice Oswald, Nathaniel Mackey, Andrea Barrett, Nnedi Okorafor. I especially like the writers I loosely call ‘the New Stylists”: Theodora Goss, Cat Valente, Sonya Taafe, JoSelle Vanderhooft, Sandra Kasturi, Naomi Novik, Susanna Clarke. “Neo-Romanticists” might be a better label, as their various uses of language evoke Endymion, Alastor, Tieck’s Fantasus and Novalis’s search for the blue flower. Greer Gilman and Ellen Kushner are the pioneers here, their wordplay (simultaneously lush and incisive) an inspiration to the most recent cohort. Sarah Micklem and D.L. Cornish are two other writers whose prose sings to me.
As the book goes on you include an increasing number of literary characters and play more with the idea of stories. Will these characters ever cross over from story to our world?
Yes, though precisely how is still being marinated in my night-kitchen. I do know that a certain Elizabeth Darcy (born Bennett) will play a minor but necessary role in The Indigo Pheasant, or, A Tax from Heaven, the sequel to The Choir Boats. Careful readers will recall that Elizabeth is a friend of Sally’s through Elizabeth’s City relatives.
A rich black tea with lots of milk and sugar, and gingerbread or almond cookies. The Dutch and Flemish make a ginger-cinnamon-nutmeg cookie for the winter holidays called speculaas that would be particularly appropriate.
Mmm. Thanks Daniel!