|Photo by Sara Azoulay, The Observer|
Mary Bly is the author of the new novel Lizzie & Dante. She is a professor of English literature at Fordham University, and also has written many romance novels under the name Eloisa James. She lives in New York.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for Lizzie and Dante?
A: I’m married to an Italian, and we have taken our children to the island of Elba every summer since they were babies (including this summer, with their significant others in tow!).
One day we walked into a weather-beaten courtyard restaurant and ate one of the best meals of my life. Lizzie and Dante has echoes of my life throughout: I’m a Shakespeare professor, married to an Italian, who walked into the same restaurant that Lizzie does.
Q: As you noted, the novel is set on Elba, off the Italian coast. How important is setting to you in your writing?
A: Very! Elba is a quintessentially Italian island unlike, for example, Capri, which is fancy and caters to mostly foreign tourists. I dreamed up the book while sipping Elba wine, searching the black beach for sea glass, and lazing on the beach.
Q: You are a Shakespeare scholar, and you also write romance novels under the name Eloisa James. How do your various writing roles fit together?
A: Shakespeare plays wind through most of my books; for example, the heroine of my most recent historical romance, Wilde Child, cross-dresses to play Hamlet on the public stage. Romeo and Juliet forms the backbone of Lizzie and Dante: they are the quintessential couple who flung themselves into love against all odds.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story?
A: Love, whether for a month, a year, or a lifetime, is the right choice. Falling in love is the most important gift you can give yourself.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m writing a new historical romance called How to be a Wallflower that will come out in 2022.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I grew up on a farm in Minnesota and have never met a duke, nor danced in a Regency ballroom. My romances are pure escapist fantasy that take me around nine months to write.
Lizzie and Dante took four years because it was such a challenge to put parts of my life on paper. Lizzie, Dante, and Etta feel like members of my family now. I hope you love meeting them!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb