Removing Modern Filters - An Interview with K. Lynette Erwin

K. Lynette Erwin is the author of So Faithful A Heart: The Love Story of Nancy Storace and Wolfgang Mozart, published in December 2009.

When and why did you begin writing?
I began writing when I was in my early teens. I think the first short story I ever wrote was for my 8th grade English class. We were studying Greek Mythology and were asked to write our own tale based on the characters found within that tradition, incorporating their personalities, attributes and relationships. My teacher was so impressed with my story that she recommended me for the Honors English track when I entered high school.

When I was sixteen I began writing a love story about a couple in 18th century England. I don’t remember all of the details, except that the characters and situations were amazingly similar to those found in So Faithful a Heart. It’s astounding considering that I didn’t begin my research on Nancy Storace for another twenty-four years.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I would say that I personally considered myself a writer when I was in college. I wrote several short works and articles for various college publications and newspapers. I enjoyed writing on historical, political, and musical subjects.

What inspired you to write So Faithful A Heart?
In the fall of 1999 I began work on my master of music in vocal performance and pedagogy. I had already put in several years worth of research on Mozart, my favorite composer, when I stumbled upon some information about one of his favorite sopranos and his original Susanna in his comic opera Le Nozze di Figaro, Nancy Storace. I was fascinated by her story and astounded by the fact that despite the wealth of information about her, so little had been written, recently, of her. When I learned that many notable and respected Mozart historians believed that Mozart had been in love with her, and that there was evidence that he had written a series of letters to her that many believed to have been love letters, my interest was piqued. The chair of my graduate committee encouraged me to write my master’s thesis on Storace and her relationship with Mozart and I took him up on that advice. Years later, after traveling to Vienna with my partner, S. K. Waller to be featured in a documentary for Mozart’s 250th birthday, and putting in more background research into both Mozart and Storace, I felt compelled to write their story. It was as if Mozart and Nancy came to me and told me that I they had chosen me to write it. It was an epiphany, for lack of a better term.

How did you come up with the title?
The title is taken from a line in the concert aria that Mozart composed for Nancy as a gift in 1787, C’hio mi scordi di te…Non temer amato bene, K. 505. He composed it using obbligato piano—actually a duet for voice and piano—and played the piano part himself in her farewell concert in late February of 1787. The text is a lover’s lament over his forced separation from his love, and how, despite their cruel separation, his heart will always remain faithful to her.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
There are several messages in this novel that I believe are important, but I suppose that if I had to pin it down to the most important message, it’s that love transcends all manmade limitations. Human beings try to place all sorts of religious, moral, and ethical boundaries upon love, but two people can, and will, love one another, whether it’s within the scope of all the rules and regulations or not.

How much of the book is actual fact?
Well, personally, I believe it to be completely factual. It’s extremely difficult to pin it down to a percentage of what is fact and what is “fiction”. Of course, all of the love scenes and dialogue that take place between the characters are fictional. However, I based the structure of the story—timelines, dates, events, places, etc.—on documented facts taken from both Mozart’s and Storace’s biographies. There is nothing in this novel that couldn’t have happened, and any of what I have written as “fiction” could easily have taken place.

What was the easiest part of writing your book?
People will laugh, but the easiest parts of this book were the love scenes. Why? Because the emotions that poured forth from these two people for one another was so powerful and profound, those scenes literally wrote themselves.

What was the most difficult?
The most difficult technically was Nancy’s nervous breakdown on stage and staying within the 18th century’s limited understanding of human psychology and mental illness. The most difficult, emotionally, was the scene where John Fisher nearly beat Nancy to death with his fists. Domestic violence is horrible no matter the century in which it’s depicted.

What do you think your readers learn from your book?
I hope they learn that we cannot judge people from two-hundred years past by our 21st century standards, and that people are people no matter what time in history or culture they come from. Human beings have been plagued with the same difficulties and life lessons from the dawn of time. We return to this planet over and over again to learn those life lessons and to learn better how to love.

What books have most influenced your life most?
The first historical fiction novel I ever read was Gone With the Wind. I read it when I was thirteen years old, and in the course of about two years, I read it six times. I think that the strength and tenacity of the characters in the face of overwhelming tragedy were what stood out to me, and I often drew from their courage and strength, years later, when faced with the seemingly insurmountable difficulties in my own life. We should never underestimate the influential power of fictional literature upon our lives.

If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
I consider my partner, Steph, my mentor. From the first time I read her historical fiction novel, Night Music: The Memoirs of Wolfgang Amadè Mozart, I was struck by her ability to make her characters so real, so human, and so accessible emotionally that I could literally see them and even sense them around me. I got lost in their lives, in their story. Writing is about communication, and some writers allow themselves to get in the way of communicating by following too many rules of writing (things that publishers and editors demand these days), and they don’t allow the characters to come to life. Steph is one of the few whose stories are easy to believe because her characters are so real.

Are you working on a new book?
I am. Don’t ask me what it’s about yet, because I haven’t completely decided. I’m not sure that I’ll write another historical fiction anytime soon. I spent ten years researching this one and I’m not entirely sure that I want to spend that much time researching another one!

Did you learn anything from writing your book, and what was it?
I learned that writer’s block is only a lazy excuse. If you have a story to tell and you have the ability to write, then there is no excuse not to write it.

Do you have any advice for other writers?
Just write. Don’t get bogged down by the rules. Don’t worry about whether or not it’s “publishable”. You have a story to tell—tell it. Your editor will help you fix it later on.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
No, I was not uncomfortable writing the sex scenes in this book. So Faithful a Heart is a love story—a sometimes very torrid, passionate, and heated love story about two very passionate people. Although this book is an historical fiction and not a romance novel, the sex scenes are vivid because of the nature of the story. Without them it would be rather bloodless and flat.

Visit the So Faithful A Heart website
Visit the So Faithful a Heart weblog

The views and opinions expressed in this interview are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily represent those of Alla Breve Books. If you would like to re-post this interview, or any part of it, please contact Alla Breve Books at allabrevebooks@allabreve.org