TERRY STANFILL’s first novel The Blood Remembers was published in 2001 and was a finalist in 2002 Independent Publisher Awards and 2002 Dorothy Parker Awards of Excellence. Her new novel Realms of Gold has won the Bronze Medal in Romance of the 2013 eLit Awards. Born Therese Olivieri in West Haven, Connecticut, Terry is a first generation American of Italian descent. She received a degree in English Literature with a minor in Medieval History from the University of Connecticut. Until joining Christie’s as an International Representative, she served as a director of the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, CA. She is an overseer emerita of The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens and a founding member and Life Trustee of Los Angeles Opera. For her efforts in fund raising for the restoration of San Pietro di Castello, the ancient cathedral of Venice, Stanfill was decorated by the president of Italy with the Ordine al Merito, Cavaliere della Republica Italiana, and more recently as Commendatore. She is vice president of Save Venice, Inc. and was a founder of The California Chapter of Save Venice.
Terry is married to Dennis Stanfill, former CEO of Twentieth Century Fox, and MGM. Their daughter Francesca Stanfill Nye, is a novelist and journalist. Their son, Dennis, is partner and managing director of HBDesign, Singapore.
We are honored to have Terry visiting with us today, and she brings along her fascinating wealth of knowledge and experience.
Hello Terry, thank you so much for coming in.
You dedicated Realms of Gold to your daughter, in memoriam. I am a mother myself and I feel you have to be very strong to have written this. Would you like to tell us about her?
Michaela Sara Stanfill, our daughter, was a brilliant girl who suffered from bi-polar disorder. After graduating with a B.A. from Harvard, she received a Masters Degree in Communications from Boston University. Michaela, (or “Cada” to rhyme with Michaela), was a professional researcher. My oldest, rarest articles on the Vix Krater are those she discovered at the Boston Public Library. After Cada died I went back to the idea of writing a novel about the Krater. I found that storytelling helped to sublimate my inconsolable grief.
Years before, I’d put together a sketch about the Krater, an immense bronze vessel (archaic Greek) from the 6th century BC. This was way back in 1994 after I came upon this virtually unknown object in a backwater museum in Châtillon–sur–Seine, Burgundy. Soon after, I wrote a very simple storyline and showed it to my editor, the late Alan Williams, retired Editor in Chief at Viking press. He liked my ideas but advised me to put them aside and concentrate on finishing my first novel, The Blood Remembers, which, like Realms of Gold, is also set in Italy and France.
When I returned to the idea of writing about the Krater. I abandoned the original sketch and found myself writing a completely different book—now Realms of Gold begins with a wedding in Venice and the opening chapters are from the point of view of Giovanni. And Bianca has developed into a much more interesting character.
Giovanni Di Serlo, by the way, is a character, an archaeologist, in The Blood Remembers. When he talks about the woman who went back to her husband in California, he’s talking about Rose Kirkland, the protagonist of the novel. Why not use him as the archaeologist in The Krater (working title), I thought. Many of my readers liked him and so I decided to “keep Giovanni going.”
Bianca has mystical visions of people from the past. Personally, I’ve had telepathic “contacts” with living people and “see” them—mostly when they’re in trouble—but they are not strangers or people from the past. Do you know a person with visions such as a “medium” or a “seer”, or do you have this ability? Please share your experience and opinion with us.
I too don’t know anyone personally who has a gift of prophecy—although I have heard of people in Italy who have this oracular power, handed down for generations to certain women supposedly from the seeresses and sybils of antiquity. As for myself, I do have some pretty good hunches every now and then.
For me writing is a mystical experience. I don’t work “on” a book; I work “in” a book. It all begins with my dreams. I have hundreds of pages in my dream-journal computer files and several pre-computer notebooks with dreams written by hand. When I write, some of the images loom large, and I use them in my storytelling. I, as a Jungian, believe that much of what we know and remember comes from the unconscious—and the deeper one goes into the unconscious by meditation or dreams, the more visual the storytelling. The back-story images in Realms of Gold are parts of actual dreams. Before I began my first novel I wrote poetry, and relied on those visual images. Most of Bianca’s ritual stories for the magazine were written this way. I guess you could call them visions—yes—the visions of my mind’s eye breaking through the layer of consciousness and called the imagination. I also believe that the story is already written in the unconscious and it has to be mined out from its depths.
Synchronicity, important in the narrative in Realms of Gold is also activated by digging deeper into the unconscious. I have had some startling occurrences that could never be merely coincidences.
Coming from a strongly matriarchal people myself, I like the independent women in your story. Who are the special women in history you particularly admire, and why?
There are two women who come to mind immediately—not so much women that I admire, but women who made a mark on the history of England, France and Italy, women who were in my area of research for my first novel.
The first, Constance de Hauteville, the daughter of King Roger of Sicily, and the mother of the Emperor Frederick_II. Frederick was born in December 26, 1194, died in 1250. Constance became the wife of Henry VI, Holy Roman Emperor. When Constance was forty years old she gave birth to a son on her way back from Henry’s German kingdom to Palermo, where her ancestors the Normans had founded a great kingdom. Her son, who would one day become Frederick II (grandson of Frederick Barbarossa), was born in the public square of Jesi, near Ancona, in the Marche area of Italy. An elaborate tent was set up and any matron in the town could witness the birth of her child. Since Constance was over 40, she wanted to put to rest any stories that might arise if the birth had not been publicly witnessed. She also nursed her son to prove that she was indeed his mother. The image of this town square, with its great tent, eventually propelled the storytelling in The Blood Remembers. Years ago, long before I picked up the pen, it had become a vision imbedded in my mind’s eye.
The second historical character is Eleanor of Aquitaine; mother of King Richard the Lion Heart, and King John (of Magna Carta notoriety) was Queen to both Louis VII of France and to the Plantagenet Henry II of England. She lived a long life, and had enormous influence on the politics of Aquitaine, England and France. Eleanor was a patron of the arts. She brought with her the refinements of her beloved Aquitaine, poetry, troubadours, courtly love. Her daughter Marie, by King Louis of France was the patron of Chrétien de Troyes, and it is conceivable that Queen Eleanor was also Chretien’s patron, as well. Chrétien and his romance Le Conte du Graal (The Story of the Grail) is also an important part of the story telling in Realms of Gold...
One of the contemporary women I admire is the late Dorothy Buffum Chandler, who raised enough funds to build the three theaters of our Music Center, and who wisely engaged the very young Zubin Mehta to become the first conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in its new setting, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Buff Chandler was a very strong woman and it was hard to say no to her when she was so convincing about her mission. She raised millions of dollars for this great city which was bereft of a performing arts cultural center.
Another woman for whom I have a lot of admiration is the controversial writer, Camille Paglia, who is very strong in her opinions. I was impressed by her book, Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson (1990), her best-selling book of literary criticism. I admire Paglia for defending the canon of the western literature when so many colleges and universities want to abandon the classics and great writers throughout history.
Bianca Caldwell is quite a personality. How real are your characters?
My daughter was never far from my mind as I wrote. Even though Michaela is not Bianca, she had some of her characteristics. She too had a strong personality, definite opinions, and wasn’t the least bit shy about giving them. I know that she would have liked Bianca and she would have smiled at some of her descriptions, attitudes, little eccentricities—just as I’m smiling now as I write this for you. My characters are sometimes, but not always, composites. My mind is always at work combining the fruits of my imagination with people I know, or have known in reality.
Would you share the joy, the challenges, or your special experiences in regards to developing Realms of Gold and what has happened afterwards?
After The Blood Remembers was published I felt an enormous vacuum in my life, in my daily routine. After years of studying the Normans in South Italy I was suddenly without the dedication and the pleasure I derived from historical research. Because the Vix Krater had made such an impression on me on that day in 1994, I thought I might return to the idea of writing a novel about it. Before long I was reading everything I could find about the archaic period in Magna Graecia, the art, philosophy, about the early Hallstatt Celts, the many Celtic tribes in France. When finally I sat down to write in 2006, the historical detail was in my head, and the narrative flowed—especially on Bianca’s ritual pages. This was exhilarating!
The joys have come from the excellent reviews of Realms of Gold, and by the recent ward of a bronze medal (third place) in the romance category from the E-Lit Awards. The Blood Remembers, in hard cover, was first runner up in the general fiction category—Independent Publishers Awards back in 2001, it was also short-listed for the Dorothy Parker Award.
How did your love for history develop?
I can’t remember when I didn’t love history—especially ancient history—Greek and Roman in particular. I couldn’t have been more than six or seven years old when my Auntie Luisa returned from Italy with postcards of Pompeii and Herculaneum—how fascinated and terrified I was to hear the story of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. I read The Last Days of Pompeii by Edward Bulwer-Lytton when I was in my teens—and one of my favorite novels of the past decade is Pompeii by Robert Harris. When I was a little older I also became interested in mythology, a subject which interests me still. I also enjoyed The King Must Die by Mary Renault, a retelling of the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, as if it were reality—the works of Robert Graves, among them, The White Goddess, have been helpful. And of course, Jessie L. Weston’s From Ritual to Romance which I’d attempted to read when studying T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland as a freshman in college. I was far too young to understand why Eliot paid homage to her ideas.
Later on, at university, I studied Medieval history. Years later, the history of the Norman conquest of in South Italy was the subject of my research at the Huntington Library where I was a Reader.
Sometimes I scold myself for not being more knowledgeable about American history. I feel somewhat redeemed after reading David McCullough’s John Adams, then 1776, and more recently, The Greater Journey, his book about great Americans, writers, artists, and scientists in Paris in the 19th century.
On your work and writing. Who would you say have been the most influential authors or historians in your life? What is it that really strikes you about their work?
Ernst Kantorowicz, who, before he became a professor at Princeton, published (in 1927) the first complete monograph in English on Frederick II, King of Sicily and Holy Roman Emperor. He clears Frederick of all contradictions and portrays him as a genius, a precursor of the Renaissance, who was advanced in law, science, art, architecture, philosophy. He spoke many languages including Arabic and Hebrew.
I bought this biography in Blackwell’s in Oxford, where Dennis (my husband) was a student. Years later I could find no other book on Frederick II in the English language. And it was this book, and my fascination with Frederick II, that became a seminal influence, and my novel, The Blood Remembers was the ultimate result. Kantorowicz portrays Frederick as “the genius and master of all times and eras before and after him.”
Certainly John Julius Norwich was a great influence with his two books on the Normans in South Italy and Sicily—The Greater Conquest and The Kingdom in the Sun, his volumes on Venice and Byzantium. Although Norwich claims not to be an academic, he writes with historical accuracy and clarity, in his own inimitable voice, making his books a joy for the layman to read.
Chrétien de Troyes was an important influence. Chrétien, as I mentioned earlier, was a court poet to Marie of Champagne, and Eleanor of Aquitaine. It was Chrétien who first mentioned Camelot, describing it as a place on a hill, by a river, surrounded by forests, with plains beyond. I make good use of his description in Realms of Gold! Chrétien was also the first to write about King Arthur and his court.
Jesse L Weston’s provocative words from her landmark book From Ritual to Romance, referred to Chrétien de Troyes and especially his romance, The Story of the Grail.
“It is most probable that the man who first told the story, and boldly, as befitted a born teller of tales, wedded it to the Arthurian legend, was himself connected by descent with the Ancient Faith, actually held the Secret of the Grail, and told in purposely romantic form, that of which he knew.”
The subtitle of Realms of Gold: Ritual to Romance is my tribute to Jesse Weston.
Thanks, Ia for your provocative questions. Thanks for reading through this. I hope I haven’t gone on too long!
It’s a great honour to have you with us Terry. Thank you so much for your precious time!
And readers, I hope you have enjoyed meeting Terry Stanfill. Following is my review of her intriguing book, “Realms of Gold.”
A Memorable Journey to an Ancient World“Realms Of Gold”, reviewed by Ia Uaro
Author: Terry Stanfill
ISBN: 978-0615 657 547
There are several layers of stories inside this story and intelligent readers with interest in historical mysteries and the intricacies of ancient arts would be intrigued by how the plot unfolds.
At Vix in Burgundy in 1953, Archaeologist René Joffroy unearthed a huge krater, a vessel used for the mixing of wine in ceremonial rituals, in a tomb from 600 BC, along with the remains of a woman of great importance.
In July 2007 archaeologist Giovanni Di Serlo attends a cousin’s wedding in Venice and meets Bianca Caldwell, an American art writer who depends on her visions for guidance as she writes about ancient objects and their use in ritual.
Bianca is obsessed with the mystery of her great grandmother Nina Evans, especially being in Venice, because this never-married Nina had returned from a 1902 Venice holiday pregnant.
Giovanni doesn’t think much of Bianca’s looks and her abysmal fashion sense, however he is kind to her and tells her about his latest archaeological work.
On the plane home to New York, Bianca receives inspiration that connects the Vix Krater with medieval poet Chrétien Troyes and King Arthur’s Grail. On her arrival home, her flat has been broken into and vandalized by the Mafia group Sacred Crown United, but nothing is lost.
Bianca continues to receive visions about strongly matriarchal peoples, and in her mind eye she sees the life events of the Lady of Vix, Zatoria, from her childhood with her storyteller mother and her travels with her spiritual-teacher father, Zalmoxis. Bianca also sees visions of Nina, and what had happened to her in Italy in 1902.
Giovanni invites Bianca to visit his dig of the lost city Sybaris, and Bianca connects her visions of Zatoria with his scientific findings of the origin of the Vix Krater. To understand more about their findings, these two set off to follow Zatoria’s journey from Sybaris to Vix in France.
The author’s fantastic imagination combined with her thorough knowledge of the artifacts lead us to the ancient world as we follow Zatoria’s journey from Olbia to Sybaris, to Vix. Terry Stanfill shows us these places and how their peoples had lived, what they had used and what mattered to them. And at the same time the real-life plot gets thicker as tomb-looters and underground art smugglers emerge, and romance blossoms.
This book isn’t for everybody but may hook avid mystery readers, who will lose themselves in learning intriguing new knowledge. A wonderful experience.