Posted on October 5, 2023 at 8:00 AM by Sadye Scott-Hainchek
Today we're interviewing Avellina Balestri, a historical-fiction author and editor based in Maryland.
She has published two books: Saplings of Sherwood, a Robin Hood retelling novel (the first of a series-in-progress), and Pendragon’s Shield, a collection of poetry.
She also is the editor-in-chief of a literary magazine, Fellowship & Fairydust, and has written for over thirty other print and online publications.
SADYE: What have been the most surprising, rewarding, and challenging parts of your writing career?
AVELLINA: I was pleasantly surprised by how communal the writing process can be when working with editors who have helped me to improve my stories. I firmly believe that fictional voices are improved upon by having real voices woven through them, and working with others on a project inevitably creates an overlay between the real and the imagined.
Watching this come into being deeply rewarding, as was being able to read reviews from those who have read my work and said they were able to relate to the characters either because the characters reminded them of people they knew or revealed aspects of their own personalities.
A character who most commonly received this reaction in my Robin Hood retelling novel Saplings of Sherwood was Roger Cavendish, the son of a Norman lord who is the main nemesis of the Robin’s family. He is a very complex and multifaceted character and something of an antihero (subject to fluctuation as the wider series of The Telling of the Beads continues), and many people seem to have identified with the way he struggles to overcome his demons and work through his problems.
Some commenters even remarked how they cried over certain parts of his story, which does contain its fair share of tragedy. Being able to strike that type of emotional chord is the highest compliment not just to me but to all those who helped me bring the story and characters into being.
In terms of the most challenging part of the writing process, it would definitely have to be the process of doing the hard edit work for the second draft.
When you end up finishing the first draft, you often end up incredibly drained by the exertion. You want to close the book, hit “publish,” and move on with your life (and other stories you likely want to tell.) But then you know in your heart of hearts you need to go back to the drawing board.
SADYE: What period of history would you most like to travel back to, or which historical figure would you most like to meet?
AVELLINA: As a freelance historian who has written both historical fiction and nonfiction, I may not exactly want to travel back in time (I’d probably perish speedily with some of my health conditions!), but in terms of research and interest, my favorite eras are the Middle Ages, the Tudor Era, and the Long 18th Century (roughly 1688-1815).
My main interest is in British history, which has such a wealth of memorable stories and characters to delve into across the centuries. When I was young, I would print out online biographies of famous, or even little-known, Britons from different eras, and this inevitably set my imagination into gear with so many stories worth telling and retelling.
There are definitely characters I think it would be amazing to share a conversation and meal with. Quite a few of them feature in my American Revolution trilogy in progress, All Ye Who Pass By.
My fascination with redcoats includes General John Burgoyne, General Simon Fraser, General Thomas Gage, Major John Pitcairn, Major John Andre, and Major Patrick Ferguson, General James Wolfe, Sergeant Roger Lamb, and many more.
In addition to military men, I am drawn to religious figures, especially Catholic heroes of England, such as St. Thomas More, St. Edmund Campion, and Fr. John Gerard.
SADYE: What has been the most touching or memorable piece of reader feedback you’ve received?
AVELLINA: I received a review of my Robin Hood retelling novel Saplings of Sherwood from literary critic, author, speaker, and teacher Joseph Pearce on The Imaginative Conservative. Some particularly kind excerpts include:
“If Robin Hood ever walked the forest in flesh and blood and not merely in romanticized spirit, he would have walked in the sort of world which Miss Balestri paints for us. This is as near to the real or legendary Robin Hood as any of us is likely to get. For this alone, we owe a debt of gratitude to Miss Balestri.”
Given how many Robin Hood retellings have come into being even in modern times, this type of recommendation is moving to me. …
Another review I greatly appreciated was the one from my writing/poetry teacher, Michael J. Hoover, who has been a literary influence on my life since I was fourteen. An especially gratifying excerpt runs as follows:
“Avellina Balestri's exceptional character and plot development, as well as her command of dialog and setting technique, pique readers' unslaked curiosity to turn pages, draw her audience into an empathetic experience to more fully understand the human condition, and gift them with keener tools for personal reflection.”
This also touched my heart, both because of my personal respect for the commenter, but also because of his emphasis upon the “empathetic experience,” something I strive to create through multifaceted and humanistic character portraits.
I want us to not simply goggle at the oddities of a past era, but to feel intimately connected with our predecessors who shared so many of the same universal experiences as we do.
SADYE: What message or theme would you like readers to take away from your work?
AVELLINA: I am a Catholic Christian, so there is a spiritual undercurrent in all my writings which holds together in a cohesive whole. Much like J.R.R. Tolkien, I believe that writing is a form of subcreation, in which we participate in the original creative act of God through telling stories. ...
I hope that my readers find these themes to be organically woven into the settings, characters, and plots, instead of coming off as ham-fisted proselytizing. But I also hope these stories haunt the reader in the best sort of way, with a sense of what C.S. Lewis called “the numinous,” that transcendent yet immanent presence that shakes us out of slumber and causes us to see the world with the newly consecrated eyes of what Tolkien called “sacramental imagination.”
SADYE: What advice, as relates to your writing career, would you give your younger self?
AVELLINA: Keep checking out those dusty tomes and microfiche files on interlibrary loan. Keep jotting down all those nerdy history facts in your notebooks from Wal-Mart. Keep up your passion for those rare things most kids your age find dull. They’ll come in handy someday.
All those hours typing up random strands of stories from days of yore will come back around as a blessing. Souls from the past, and the tales they wove, are in your destiny, and you, it turns out, are part of their destiny, keeping their memory alive well after their deaths.
Follow your heart when it comes to telling the stories that you believe matter, the stories that say something about what it means to truly live. Tell the tales that you want to be told, that have inspired or cheered or moved you through your hardest times.
Don’t worry about being niche; embrace it! Last but far from least, entrust absolutely everything, including the creative process, to divine providence.
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Categories: Author Interview