E. L. Van Hine is a scholar of English and European colonial literature, and a student of Western philosophy. She was born in Lowell, Massachusetts on December 2, 1959, holds a B.A. in English (Literature) from the University of Massachusetts at Fitchburg (1982), matriculated at Harvard University (Foreign Literature in Translation) and University of Massachusetts at Lowell, earning high honors from all of these institutions. She began publishing as a journalist in 1975 while still a high school student, and completed her first novel, ‘Princes of the East’ in 2000 after writing and publishing poetry for ten years. ‘Tourmaline’ is the first book in an omnibus series of police procedurals set in the 1980’s. The second book, ‘Killer on the Road’ is expected to be in print in spring of 2012. Other books in print are available on Lulu; ‘The Erotic Etudes’ (2005), as well as multimedia recordings of her poetry and songs.
Elin: Do your characters arrive fully fledged and ready to fly or do they develop as you work with them?
E.L : Yes, and no. From a sketch of a character, which is not much more than a name (the name is the first thing to come actually) the character emerges, with my fiction, through dialogue and through interaction with other characters. Then the scene and history emerges around them, because for me, the character, and his (I mostly write male chief protagonists, for reasons I now only later in my life fully understand); and I usually find out there is a historic frame and I start in on the historical research. History fills in the details as I research. That is how I wrote the first novel I actually completed, which encompasses 8 weeks in the campaign of Alexander into Asia Minor, the Anabasis Alexandri (Alexander’s March Up Country.) The name of the book is “The Confession of Alexandrus Basileus 334” which opens as he and Hephaestion have taken Troy and founded the first city of Alexandria, and he is confessing to his mentor, Aristotle, in a long letter. One might think Alexander is overdone, but at the time I wrote “The Confession”, Michael Crichton had not yet written the screenplay of “Alexander” and no film treatment had been done since the 1940’s; certainly none that addressed his bisexuality – the 1940’s portrayal from Hollywood was a strictly heterosexual manly hero, defying his well-known biography. I developed the book from its opening chapters through close readings of a number of sources such as “Anabasis Cyrae” by Xenophon, and Xenophon’s later work on Alexander, the “A History of My Time” which prominently conveys – after the end of Alexander III’s sreign, the Anabasis Alexandri” which first conveys the fantastical tale of Alexander spending a night of passion with a wild Amazon queen so she could give birth to more single-breasted Amazonian archers, since Alexander was very early known as the greatest warrior in the known world, and had been blessed by Artemis, goddess of the hunt. My Alexander is not anyone else’s Alexander, because I based him upon the various viewpoints his contemporaries, such as Arrianus, Xenophon and Kallisthenes (who was on Alexander’s Asian campaign and chronicled it), and fueled my own outline of him with their views – and of course, his dialogue.
Elin: When you aren’t writing, is there any other creative activity you enjoy? Have you ever written about it?
E.L : I attend classical music concerts (my preferred era is late Rococo and early Romantics, even some late Romantics, jazz and electronic music by Tangerine Dream). I also write poetry (I have written twenty volumes of lyric poetry in traditional forms and published three of them so far), I compose simple piano music and play the piano, when I’m not holding down a day job. I keep various blogs depending upon what mode of life I am in.
Elin: Do you have a crisp mental picture of your characters or are they more a thought and a feeling than an image?
E.L : I have a phrase and an expression and a name. They talk themselves into reality.
Elin: Villains – incredibly important in fiction since they challenge the main protagonists and give them something to contend with beyond the tension of a developing relationship. What sort of villains do you prize? A moustache-twirling nightmare or … ?
E.L : The scheming politician with some redeeming quality, who could go either way until justice inevitably catches up with (or fails to catch up with) him and he comes to a seriously bad end or is killed by my protagonist with extreme prejudice or put in jail for 10 years or more (depending upon severity of crime.)
Elin: “Had we but world enough and time” and no other commitments, is there anything you would write that you’ve been eyeing and putting off because it’s just too big a project? Anything else?
E.L : It’s been mostly a matter of money. I have a very well paying day job which I need to pay for my life and care for my loved ones both related and unrelated; and that is mostly allocated; but now that I have had a stable situation for some years now, I not only have some cash put by but I also have good enough credit that I am applying for a business loan. I have over 40 books completed in various stages of undress; it’s enough to keep editors and artists going for another 10 years just to get them finished, but I’ve been treating the writing as more of a hobby while I earn money. That time is coming to an end; if the SBA loan goes through I will pay for the services I need to get covers on and typos cleansed out of the manuscripts, and tightening of the dialogue. I am overconscious of quality, so every typo in print makes me wince; and so I hold on much too long. However I am very grateful that the first, or second, or fifth draft of my early books (I speak of “Princes of the East” and its uncompleted sequel “The Two Empires” as well as “Alexandrus” ) never got accepted when first submitted because the dialogue was horribly heavy-handed. Ten years later, I was able to cut and slash without sensitivity because I wasn’t holding on to precious phrases. So that is what I would do if I had unlimited funds. Keep picking at things as if they can be made perfect.
Elin: When you have been writing a scene, have you ever scared yourself/upset yourself so much that you decided to tone it down a bit?
E.L : I completely slashed out the entire sex content of my gay erotica novel that already had a following. I am speaking of “The Tales of Greenlea County” which is recent historical gay erotica/police procedural (what a combo!). I did this at the behest of an editor who was a prudish git and it caused me to get incredibly shy and paranoid about what I had written with such confidence in 2006-2007. And after much soul searching and consultation with the gay men who were the most loyal readers, and the straight women who were a close second, I reverted to Draft 4 and closed my eyes and published. I haven’t regretted it. But it very much limits my publication choices if I were to go to commercial publishing – I had an offer on a fantasy hetero novel – which is good as it is, 15 years in the making in fact – and the editor of Untreed Reads said “I loved the story but I can’t publish it with the sex in it.” It was the most mild erotic content I have written. I think once again I am ahead of the sensibilities of most readers; but I don’t know for sure.
Elin: Of all your characters, who have you enjoyed writing most – least – whose voice was the most troublesome to catch?
E.L : I enjoyed writing Alexander the most, his sense of self-righteousness was monumental. He had Ares on his side – it was hard to argue with him, and I wish I had that kind of confidence. I wrote the book in exactly the time period covered by the novel – 8 weeks.
I enjoyed writing Saheris (“Princes of the East”) the least because his early life is very similar to my own and his tragedies and traumas are analogies of similar situations I was in as a child. And I had to vary his point of view because he goes from age 3 to age 15 in the space of 230,000 words. Every scene that featured Saheris was himself at a different age and maturity; and I got his timeline and biography mixed up several times, and I had a lot of challenges imagining what kind of vocabulary he could use at the age of 5 or 6. It helped having very small children around during that time because I couldn’ t have accomplished it otherwise.
Elin: What are you working on at the moment?
E.L : Two things, “In the Empire of Hermes” which I had started right before my auto accident in fall of 2009 and never finished – it is set in the world of Saheris and Princes of the East; and the 25th book in the “Greenlea” series which I have been working on since shortly after that accident, “The Runaway Deputy” which is now standing at 110,000 words.
Elin: Could we have an excerpt from your latest release please?
E.L : From “The Death of a Mad Composer” (2012)
Early in the modest growth of my opus, at the beginning of Fame, I was moved to make dedications, at first to those I loved and respected. Politics, then, consisted of making dedicatory remarks to those who commission a work, those who make it financially possible to compose it, or to perform it when it is aborning. This is the first level of Politics, and even Beethoven in his excellence, was moved to do so.
However, if Beethoven were in some way compelled in his art, then how could it be, after Napoleon proclaimed himself Emperor of his newly conquered Europe, that Beethoven were able to simply slash out the dedicatory line and rededicate it to the Austrian king? Because,
The music was not to the end of Napoleonism. It was inspired by the Wellspring, and the only Political part of it, was its dedication. As was my own, though I admit to inspirations and insights that were instilled by thus and such vision of beauty, from time to time, by a youth who struck my eye with bright, bold passion, who reminded me passingly of my Schiller. I find myself thinking, how fiercely I regret, this morning,turning Charles away. If he knew, if he only knew… but dying is a serious business and one may not simply insert Romance in the midst of death – it is not done! not even in the late Romantic forms!
I must be about my dying, forthwith!
But this cannot be the same level of Politics, for myself, for Schubert and Beethoven. Schubert in hiscomplete mastery of all things musical, as by Nature Itself, or by the caprices of the Wellspring, was perfectly able to say “You like this key? then you shall have it in this key” for a blushing youth leaning over his piano who abashes him with bold and hungry stares. And he composes, right there at the piano, an F minor impromptu. I can if I squint, see the graceful shape of that youth who was the sensual form of the inspiration heaven gave to Schubert the night he wrote that impromptu! That is not corruption, but rather an inspiration, as though the meditation upon a natural beauty which evokes desire, reflects a higher desire.
Perhaps a better key could be selected by the Angel, but why should it not be? Perhaps the youth was an F minor youth. I would not know…