#AuthorInterview with Ivan Obolensky, author of Eye of the Moon
Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Kathy Stickles is talking with Ivan Obolensky, author of Eye of the Moon.
FQ: I have to say that I absolutely loved Eye of the Moon. There is so much in it that is appealing to me; mystery, romance, family dysfunction, a lot of twists and turns, and great characters. Can you tell us where the idea came from to write it?
OBOLENSKY: Thank you, I am so glad you enjoyed it. I had always wanted to write a novel, particularly one with a ghost story. The original concept was inspired by stories told by my father long ago over lunches at the St. Regis Hotel in New York. To amuse me and my siblings, he would tell stories about our ancestors, both recent and ancient. Alice Astor was his mother. She was a wealthy socialite, an avid Egyptologist, and a student of the occult. Aldous Huxley was a friend of hers. Her death came unexpectedly. My father reported that she had passed one night while reading an Egyptian Book of the Dead. As to which one specifically, he didn’t say. To me, that was most peculiar. In 1997, W Magazine had a feature about her, and the article hinted that she might have been murdered. I was not so sure of that, but the idea was intriguing, and I knew I had a subject and a theme worth writing about. The idea would surface and resurface over the years. Eventually, I decided I had to make the attempt and wrote Eye of the Moon.
FQ: I was raised in a small town in the Northwest Corner of Connecticut, and I spent a lot of time in the town of Rhinebeck, shopping, going to the fair, and so on. What made you choose Rhinebeck as the setting for your novel, and is the estate depicted in the book a real one or just something that you invented for the story?
OBOLENSKY: My great-uncle, Vincent Astor, deeded over a portion of Ferncliff to my grandmother as a wedding present. It was called Marienruh. I never called it by that name. To me, it was simply “Rhinebeck.” It was designed and built in 1926 by Mott B. Schmidt and still exists. Alice wanted a refuge, a place to put her feet up and read all day long. It had an extensive library on the first floor and a children’s library at the top, as described in the novel. It was a mysterious place, not only to me, but to many of the guests who visited there.
FQ: Robert the Bruce is a great “character” for the story. I adore his personality almost as much as I adored the human characters. Is he modeled after a pet you had personally or a complete invention?
OBOLENSKY: In a moment of madness, I purchased an English Bull Terrier by the name of Lisa. She was with me for eleven years. The breed is unique and very different from the American Staffordshire Terrier, or Pitbull, which can be aggressive. Lisa was nonetheless willful, stubborn, possessive, and jealous. Fail to pay her sufficient attention, and she would chew couches and chairs into kindling. She was also obsessed with tennis balls and the model for Robert the Bruce. The antics he gets up to in the novel are an accurate representation of hers.
FQ: The descriptions in the book are so vivid and perfect, in terms of the setting, the house, the fancy dinners, and so on. Is that something that you had to do a lot of research to create or something you were familiar with from your own past?
OBOLENSKY: I didn’t have to do a great deal of research since I had grown up in that world. More important to me was conveying to the reader what it was like to actually live that existence. Brilliance was demanded, but I was not always brilliant. Innate excellence is born only to a few. To most, it must be reached for, and that takes time, education, and purpose. As a writer, I used the sumptuous surroundings of Rhinebeck as a counterpoint to the tension and mental requirements necessary to function at that level of society at that time.
FQ: I really liked all of the characters, but I must admit that Stanley is my favorite. Do you have a particular favorite of your own in the book?
I’m glad you like him. In truth I really love them all. Each had something to say, and I listened.
FQ: One character we heard a lot about in the backstory, but never actually met in the present day, was Bromley. Is there any thought to writing a book about him and his life before we get to the present-day setting of this book?
OBOLENSKY: You’re in luck because Lord Bromley is the subject of book two, Shadow of the Son. There is plenty of backstory, and his presence is a wonderfully disturbing element. I hesitated writing about him because he seemed so evil. When I finally met him in the process of writing, what surprised me was his candor. He didn’t lie. Instead, he used a disarming forthrightness. This brings up a key point in how I write. The characters in my novels have their own voices. I don’t put words in their mouths. They put their words in mine, and then I write them down. It’s how we work together, and why I enjoy their company. They surprise me, and the reader is surprised as well.
FQ: I know that there is a sequel to Eye of the Moon entitled Shadow of the Son, and I have already ordered my copy. Can you tell us a little about the plot for the sequel for those who have not read it?
OBOLENSKY: I will be very brief because part of the fun of reading both novels for the first time is the surprises that crisscross and spring up as events move forward. The plot of the second is about what happens when Lord Bromley decides to visit Rhinebeck, invited, or not. Conflict happens almost immediately. Shadow of the Son moves right along and picks up soon after Eye of the Moon ends.
FQ: Do you have any plans to continue with a third book in this series, or is Shadow of the Son the last one for these wonderful characters?
OBOLENSKY: I am mid-writing the third, which takes place soon after the second ends. The tentative title is Dark of the Earthfor reasons that will become apparent once it’s finished. Each of the novels build upon the prior one, and what happens in the first novel is different when viewed from the perspective of the second. This happens in the third, as well. I do love the characters I created. They still have things to say, and in the third all are back again for another weekend at Rhinebeck. It will be finished by year’s end.
FQ: What suggestions do you have for other writers out there contemplating their first novel? Yours is, in my opinion, at least, an incredible success. Did you expect that when you first started writing, or was it just a hope?
OBOLENSKY: Writing any novel is a journey. I’ve written a blog or two on the subject and my newsletter spells the process out in more detail as I move along. (See: Advice to Writers – Ivan Obolensky and Five Things I Learned from Writing – Ivan Obolensky) For me, Eye of the Moon was a test to see if I could write a novel. I also made sure to write a story that I, personally, liked to read. I had high hopes but few expectations. If it hadn’t been for my wife who decided that it would be published even if she did it herself, it would never have seen the light of day. I was very lucky that I had someone who believed that much in me. Some may consider the result a vanity project, because a big-time publisher didn’t publish it, but I believe a story has its own life. It is created, and either it manages to get up and stand on its own, or it does not. A story can also take wing and launch itself into the world as if by magic. I’ve seen it happen. To me, writing a first novel, or any novel for that matter, is like setting out on a journey with no clear idea of the destination other than that there is one. Getting to the end isn’t easy, but ultimately rewarding beyond measure.
FQ: What is next for Ivan Obolensky?
OBOLENSKY: I’m working on my third novel and that is going well.