Friday, June 11, 2021

Mary Bly

Mary Bly is a New York Times bestselling author under the name Eloisa James, and chair of the English department at Fordham University. She lives with her family in New York City, but can sometimes be found in Paris or Italy. She is the mother of two and, in a particularly delicious irony for a romance writer, is married to a genuine Italian knight.

Bly's new novel is Lizzie and Dante.

From my Q&A with the author:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

My working title was “Elba novel,” because the novel takes place on the island. It became Lizzie and Dante when I realized the characters mattered more than the island. I hope readers grow to love all three.

What's in a name?

Lizzie is an American name, and Dante is clearly Italian. Dante’s twelve-year-old daughter is called Etta: an unusual name for an unusual girl.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

Not much. I began my first novel at the age of 8, describing my heroine is “incorrigible,” a quality I wanted to emulate. By my teen years, I was used to shaping heroines who were bolder and more incorrigible than I.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

I jumped into my characters’ lives to describe a transformative summer vacation, so I began with Lizzie on the ferry approaching Elba. The ending was far more difficult to write. Given Lizzie’s cancer diagnosis, I wanted readers to focus on her decision to fight the disease, not the moment when she passes away, so the book ends with the vacation and then skips to an epilogue years later.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

I have written historical romances for years (as Eloisa James) though I’ve never danced in a ballroom or met a duke. But like Lizzie, I am a Shakespeare professor who has weathered cancer and married an Italian man. I have drunk Elba’s fizzy wine, watched children fishing for jellyfish, and read Terry Pratchett on the beach. I can’t keep a tune, but if I could, I would sing hymns and Dylan with Lizzie.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Lyrics from Monty Python’s Holy Grail were inspirational, along with lyrics by Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. One pivotal meal is modeled on an scene in the film Parent Trap. And Ruby quotes a key phrase, "I think it’s really dangerous to seek personal fulfillment through romantic relationships” from The Incredible Jessica James.
Visit Mary Bly/Eloisa James's website.

The Page 69 Test: Lizzie & Dante.

--Marshal Zeringue