Saturday, May 26, 2012

Book Review: The Portrait of Alatiel Salazar, a novella by Steven Katriel.

I have been presented the opportunity to read Steven Katriel’s novella, The Portrait of Alatiel Salazar as an ARC by Immortal Ink Publishing.  I knew it would be a great opportunity to do an interview with the author, but I never expected to fall so completely in love with the book and Steven Katriel’s writing style.

The Book:

Title: The Portrait of Alatiel Salazar

Author:  Steven Katriel

Personal Website:

Publisher:  Immortal Ink Publishing

Release Date:  June 2012


When Gabriel Holland’s beloved Helena vanishes from his life, he journeys to the home of disgraced artist Cristian Salazar, the man he holds responsible for her disappearance and the death of several friends. Once in the town of Carliton, Gabriel finds only malice and mystery in the tales told by the few brave enough to speak ill of Salazar and the sinister Cousin Beatriz. And within shadows, in the guise of night, walks Alatiel, the creature Helena has become. . . .

My Review:

The Portrait of Alatiel Salazar will take you back in time to the years 1879 through 1881.  Even Katriel’s writing style reflects this time period.  The characters are so deep and well written.  We bare witness as Daniele Navarro, an artist, falls in love with his muse Alatiel Salazar.  Their relationship bears strange in the society of this time period. 

We also are introduced to another artist, Julian Paradine and his sister Elizabeth Paradine.  Elizabeth is wheelchair bound, which is truly tragic as she was a very talented dancer.  Julian feels much guilt for his sister’s accident and also ends up feeling another guilt that leads to his destruction.

Matthew and Helena Graham are also introduced as brother and sister.  Matthew is an exceptional artist, and Helena is better at writing than art.  Helena can see that something isn’t quite right about Alatiel-- the woman who has acted as a muse for her friends.  She just can’t quite put her finger on it until it is too late.

The story then follows Gabriel Holland as he searched for answers for Helena’s disappearance.  He is lead to Cristian Salazar, who has a vendetta of his own.

If you liked The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, then you will love this novella.  There may be some similarities between the two, but The Portrait of Alatiel Salazar stands on its own as a wonderful piece of work that takes some of the themes seen in The Picture of Dorian Gray to a whole other level. Written in a style that will make you think you are reading something from 1881, the novella will keep you guessing and leave you wanting more from this author.  The creature that Alatiel reveals herself to be brings out an old kind of mysteriousness that only the classics can compare to.

The Interview:

Kayla Curry:   Can you tell us a little about yourself?

Steven Katriel: There's little that's interesting about me which is why I write outlandish fiction; real life is rather dull and pales in comparison to the imagination.

I'm from what was once called Great Britain but is now informally known as the Divided Kingdom. I'm a failed poet who now writes poetic prose. I'm one of many who wish that life was more like fiction - the plotting of my life is awry and I'm still working on correcting the errors.

KC:  What is your writing process like?

SK:  I always plan. A brief outline of a potential story is an essential element of my work, because I'm a rather disorganised person. So, I generally write a few lines detailing each chapter's ingredients and then spend ages perfecting the prose as best I can.

KC:  What has been your happiest moment related to your writing? The moment that made you say all the typing and brainstorming and research was worth it.

SK:  That moment hasn't arrived yet. Obviously, there have been highlights, but I won't be truly happy until I feel competent as a writer; and that only comes with experience. I'm enjoying the process of learning the craft.

KC:  Can you tell us a little bit about your novella The Portrait of Alatiel Salazar?

SK:  Portrait is a Gothic novella, a pseudo-ghost story and, at heart, a look at how we as readers identify with literary characters - perspective is as important to Portrait's plot as it doubtless was to the artists involved; I wanted to make the reader question who they side with - the heroes, heroines, the villains etc etc - and to wonder if the (fictional) realms of

good and evil are as black & white as fiction encourages us to consider them. My male characters are all flawed, morally imperfect, which made a refreshing change for me as I've long been tired of books in which women are practically faceless victims; my anti-heroine Alatiel is both "faceless" - in effect - and victorious.

The writing style or, at least, the characters' dialogue is old-fashioned and formal because I wanted this to contrast with their actions and yet complement the elegant nature of their violence - a contradiction which only fiction permits; real-life violence is abhorrent to me. Portrait's horrors, though not truly graphic or gratuitous, have a dark glamour, an artistic aura.

KC:  In The Portrait of Alatiel Salazar, we are taken back in time to the years 1879 through 1881. How did you research this time period to get all the details just right?

SK:  I did very little research, because I've a passion for Victorian literature and grew up reading Nineteenth-Century novels. The only genuine research I conducted was geared towards the subject of Basque witchcraft, as the Salazar clan are steeped in this. I discovered a striking coincidence - a Seventeenth-Century scholar named Salazar (like some of my characters) became known as "the friend of the witches" after his seductive words of wisdom brought a halt to the execution of those accused of sorcery; I found this suggestive. The long, infamous history of the Salazars - posited by me as kings and queens, so to speak, of the Catalonian witch cult - became very interesting to create given this authentic historical background.

KC:  The relationship between Daniele Navarro and Alatiel Salazar reminded me greatly of the relationship between Basil Howard and Dorian Gray in Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. How do you view the relationships as similar and dissimilar as the author?

SK:  I have to admit, I didn't even think of Wilde's wonderful novel when writing The Portrait of Alatiel Salazar. There are, of course, numerous connections between Oscar's book and my own - even my title is homage to the book's influence on me and my writing - but Dorian Gray was far from my mind while writing. Portrait's world is really that of the Pre-

Raphaelite circle of artists, not Wilde's decadent types, and Daniele and Alatiel's relationship draws on the tragic real-life marriage between the poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his wife Elizabeth. But, it must be said, Oscar Wilde lurks in the novella's shadows and subtext, and informs the character of Cristian Salazar.

KC:  Your writing style brings me back to my favorite classic novels like Wuthering Heights, Dracula, The Count of Monte Cristo, and of course, The Picture of Dorian Gray.  What is your favorite classic novel and why?

SK:  My favourite novels are vintage Russian works but perhaps a more modern classic resembles The Portrait of Alatiel Salazar this is Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca, the magnificent ghost story...which entirely lacks a visible ghost. Instead, in that book, we are presented with "ghosts" that haunt the mind, the emotions and live on after death via their influence on the behaviour of others. Portrait's Salvació House only rivals the legendary Manderley in its capacity for tragedy; my Beatriz Salazar is perhaps the shade of Rebecca's Mrs Danvers; and Helena, the bonair heroine, is similar to the nameless protagonist of du Maurier's wonderful tale. But in reality, it's the whole aura and atmosphere of Rebecca that inspires me rather than its plot and players - subtle heartache amidst such splendid grandeur. Maxim de Winter, Cristian Salazar, the vampire king Dracula: all these characters speak to me of a ruined nobility, an insidious despair and the loneliness of those who cannot be understood by more human, more humane people.

KC:  Alatiel is portrayed as a sort of muse.  Is there someone or something that inspires you to write?

SK:  Not really, no, because I use practically nothing from my own life for my fiction. However I will say that B. Lloyd, the writer and artist, has been an invaluable support to me for a long time, and if anyone she is a muse of sorts. My book is dedicated to her with good reason.

KC:  How did you find your publisher, Immortal Ink Publishing, and what has it been like to work with them?

SK:  I enquired about the Immortal Ink submissions "window" and was fortunate enough to converse with The Forever Girl author Rebecca Hamilton (one of IIP's owners), someone I already knew as fine writer and an excellent editor; thankfully, things were quickly concluded from there.

KC:  Are you working on anything right now? Do you care to tell us a little about it?

SK:  There are several projects on my "to do" list: a traditional ghost story, a Gothic Romance, a Portrait sequel and prequel, and a Clockpunk/Steampunk book set in the court of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn which is a lot of fun to write.

KC:  When reading a book, what is your biggest pet peeve?  Something that just makes you say, “ugh!”

SK:  There are many basic elements of a writer's skills that I'm still learning, so I try to be patient with what I perceive to be the faults of other authors. I guess the one things above all others I find disappointing is the assumption that male characters should behave in generically-male ways, and females in typically female ways - I think intelligent people are far more subtle than that. I also think that the best books are written by women, so it was a pleasure for me to write as the female character Helena, to make her own writing (in Helena's journal) soulful and insightful. In general, my female characters have far more "depth" than their male counterparts.

KC:  What is something that pulls you further into a book?

SK:  The element of mystery, the parts in which we get to play detective - so to speak - and decipher clues the author has placed within the text. I'm not, of course, strictly speaking of crime novels but literary mysteries of all kinds - for example, I'm currently reading Hilary Mantel's Bring up the Bodies, a work of historical fiction in which the outcome is known to all (the execution of Anne Boleyn). Yet it's nevertheless a pleasure to detect the pointers which lead to the inevitable climax, to work towards comprehension of the players, their motives and techniques whether it be a seemingly minor piece of Court gossip or the words and deeds of the various self-interested factions. At the centre of the schemes lies Anne the Queen, a very imperfect person but, such is the skill of the author, we are led to empathise with Anne and not simply because she will suffer an untimely death. We even overlook the nagging truth that the Queen would have relished getting her revenge in first and executing her critics and enemies- including Henry's child, Mary - on a mere whim; this is true artistry and emblematic of the requisite talent which pulls a reader into a story.

KC:  What is the strangest thing that has happened to you in connection with writing?

SK:  A publisher I once dealt with suggested that I include dinosaurs in my Victorian Gothic novella, possibly to cash-in on Jurassic Park's success. Enough said...

KC:  Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

SK:  Have faith in your gift, and use your illusion.