Interview with Elizabeth Kostova,
Dec. 29, 2009
Interviewer: Rob Neufeld
Q: What is it like embarking on the debut of The Swan Thieves?
A: I’m struck by how different from The Historian it is…When I wrote The Historian, I had a lot of models in mind. I was re-reading Victorian novels and thinking about them, and about early Gothic novels, and re-reading Dracula. I had all these spirits nudging my elbow, and models of plot to follow. But with The Swan Thieves, I had to invent a form and language.
Q: Your father was a great story-telling influence for The Historian. From where else did you get your love of literature?
A: My grandmother (Eleanor Stephens Johnson) was a huge part of my loving books as a child and I’m very sad that she died before my writing career really became a career because I think that she would have been so pleased to see me having time to write, for one thing…Before I was fifteen, she read me all of Jane Austen out loud…She had a beautiful reading voice. She was a professional librarian, and she constantly shared her love of literature with other people…She was the first person who made me read mystery novels. She gave me really good ones—Dorothy Sayers and P.D. James and Ngaio Marsh—and insisted that they were worth reading. And I think that was great training for me as a writer to read those plots.
Q: How have the experiences with your grandmother affected your writing?
A: One thing I have thought about is that The Swan Thieves is in many ways a book about the love of young people for old people, and old people for young people. And I don’t mean that just in the sense of the love affair (names deleted for spoiler reasons), which has this unusual age difference, but also it’s a book about mentorship, and the ways that we learn from the people who are older. Older people have been hugely influential in my life. I think any young life that has the privilege of close friendship with older people is always going to be a much richer one, if those old people are wise kind of people. But people like my grandmother and my grandfather and Anthony Lord and many older citizens of Asheville were my training ground in life. They told me stories of their lives. I saw them struggle with dignity as they went into age. The Swan Thieves is in many ways a tribute to the process of aging and the people I’ve seen go through it.