Thursday, September 21, 2023

Q&A with Victor Dixen



Victor Dixen is the author of the novel The Court of Shadows, now available in an English translation from the French by Françoise Bui. It's the first in his Vampyria series. Dixen's many other novels include Ascension. He lives in Paris and in Washington, D.C.


Q: What inspired you to write The Court of Shadows?


A: I was raised in Versailles, France, and I have always been fascinated by the castle. As a teenager, I used to spend a lot of time reading classic gothic vampire novels in the castle’s gardens.


Therefore, the inspiration to write The Court of Shadows stemmed from two deeply anchored desires: to write about Versailles on one hand, and to write about vampires on the other hand.


These two desires combined in one question: what if Louis XIV, the Sun King and longest reigning monarch in French history, discovered the secret of immortality in order to remain on the throne forever?


Q: How did you research the novel, and did you learn anything that particularly surprised you?


A: Having spent my youth in Versailles, I feel that the castle is a part of my life! I drew from all the memories of my numerous visits, but also from my extensive reading about the 17th century and the court of the Sun King.


As for historical research, I recommend the Dictionnaire du Grand Siècle (Fayard)—the bible on that period. For a lighter read, but a very useful glimpse of Versailles from the inside and right by Louis XIV’s side, I adore Le Roi-Soleil Se Lève Aussi (Philippe Beaussant, Gallimard).


For the dark period of the reign, I recommend the very well-done study, 1679-1682, L’Affaire des Poisons (Arlette Lebigre, Éditions Complexe). For the bright side of things, I turned to the English essay, The Essence of Style: How the French Invented High Fashion, Fine Food, Chic Cafes, Style, Sophistication, and Glamour (Joan DeJean, Free Press), which shows the ongoing fascination that Versailles continues to exert over us today.


Lastly, how could I not mention a literary marvel that I fell in love with, L’Allée du Roi (Françoise Chandernagor, Gallimard), an imagined autobiography of Madame de Maintenon, an ode to the Grand Siècle and its language!

Q: What did you see as the right balance between the history and your own alternative history of the period?


A: I’ve long been interested in the “Grand Siècle,” which, for many historians, goes all the way up to the death of Louis XIV in 1715. It’s an absolutely pivotal moment in our history, one that brims with paradoxes.


Seventeenth century history by itself is such an exciting subject, full of anecdotes, larger-than-life characters and conflicts. The added fantasy elements allow me to bring the drama one step further.


My rule was that I could let my imagination soar, as long as I remained true to the spirit of the Grand Siècle. As the name says, the Grand Siècle was all about the idea of “grandeur”: Greatness and immortal glory were the obsessions not only of Louis XIV, but also of all the courtiers, playwrights, artists of the time.


Q: How did you create your character Jeanne?


A: I tend to do a lot of research, worldbuilding, and plotting before I start to write a novel. But for me, characters are the most instinctive elements of a story.


I don't rationalize them too much: they come to me progressively, as if they were walking towards me. First, they are mere silhouettes, and then their features and psychology become more and more apparent.


That's how Jeanne took shape: an aloof girl with this striking gray hair. At the beginning, I didn't know why she had this particularity. But during a book signing in France, a reader came to me with a theory that I like. This reader told me: “Jeanne has gray hair because she is a morally gray character!”


Q: What are you working on now?


A: The Vampyria world fascinates me, and I want to explore it in all its corners - especially the darkest. I've planned to write 12 books in the series (four independent trilogies, each one set in a different continent, with different main characters). I am currently writing the second book of the second trilogy, in French.


I also explore the Vampyria world through other media: in France, we have published a fortune telling tarot deck (I use tarots a lot in my writing process), and a spinoff comics series from the point of view of the vampiric inquisition.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: The Court of Shadows is best enjoyed at night, especially under a full moon… at your own risk!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

No comments:

Post a Comment