Today, I’m interviewing Kathryn Kopple who has written Little Velásquez, which tells of a dwarf who rises to the highest circles of power in 15th Century Spain, in the court of Ferdinand and Isabella. The book is now available on Kindle.
SARETT: What’s the source of your interest in history and historical fiction?
KOPPLE: As Shakespeare said, “What’s past is prologue.” No doubt, he meant that our fate is pre-determined. My sense of history is not quite as fatalistic, but the more we know about the past—the richer we become in cultural awareness. History is an excellent teacher.
SARETT: Given your interest in using history as a teacher, how much of Little Velásquez is based on fact? Was there really a dwarf named Velasquillo?
KOPPLE: Yes, there was a dwarf named Velasquillo. I discovered him in a footnote mentioned at the beginning of the novel. Of course, when it came to telling Velasquillo’s story, I didn’t have much to go on. Perhaps that is why I became so intrigued with him. I began to ask myself how he managed to gain the favor of two of the most powerful monarchs of the era. Those questions because the basis for the novel.
SARETT: It’s often said that truth’s stranger than fiction. In your archival research, did you encounter facts that you discarded because no reader would accept them as “true?”
KOPPLE: Not at all. I intentionally sought out the most interesting material. Otherwise, the book would a re-hash of everything that has been written before on the subject.
SARETT: There are many choices to be made in the tone of historical fiction. What tone were you were interested in creating and how did you go about achieving it?
KOPPLE: I wanted the book to have a comedic yet tragic feel. Velasquillo set the tone and the style. I spent seven years of research and writing, and throwing out one draft after another; had I not found Velasquillo, I doubt the book would have ever been finished.
SARETT: Little Velásquez deals with Isabella and Ferdinand, who allowed Torquemada to expand the power of the Holy Office (Inquisition), which ended with the expulsion of Jews and Moors from Spain. Yet, all in all, Isabella has received benign treatment by historians. What is your explanation?
KOPPLE: When dealing with the Middle Ages and Renaissance, it’s important to realize that much of what was written (the chronicles) are not history in the modern sense of the word. Chronicles are not necessarily objective; they are homages and easily romanticized. I wanted to show that in the novel. For this reason, I thought it important to list all of my sources—historical and current research. History, as the old adage goes, was made and transmitted by the victors. Given Isabel’s reputation as a queen determined consolidate her empire under Catholicism, it’s not surprising that many consider her a saint.
SARETT: On a personal note, have you ever been to Spain?
KOPPLE: The first time I went to Spain I was two years old. My parent’s, caught up in the 60’s social revolution, sold the farm (literally, we were living in Schenectady, NY on a farm), and, with my eldest sister and me, set off on a Hungarian freighter for an artists’ colony in Ibiza, Spain. We lived there for several years. When I was in college and graduate school, I would return to Spain. I’ve lived in Andalucia and Madrid. While there, I travelled as much as possible: Spain, Morocco, Italy—all through Europe.
SARETT: What are your current projects? And where can readers find more of your work?
KOPPLE: Before answering, gracias mil for having me as a guest and letting me share my work with your readers. It really is generous of you. As for projects… I have an essay forthcoming in an anthology Hablar Derecho on law and literature edited by Cide, DF. My story“My Beautiful Countess,” was recently published in The Hummingbird Review. I publish often with Danse Macabre (thank you editor Adam Henry Carriere) and, in their Cosmos issue online, you can find acrostics I wrote in honor of the Uruguayan writer Isidore Ducasse.
I am working up the courage to revise a novella titled Viking-horned Women. And I continue to write poetry, translate, and research.
SARETT: How would you describe your approach to writing?
KOPPLE: Recently, I posted on Facebook that some writers do so because they have rich fantasy life. I write for the opposite reason. My mind comes alive during the writing process.