Linda Lafferty and Andy Stone had their first date on the ski slopes of Aspen, Colorado. They were married in 1986 and still live in the Roaring Fork Valley.
Linda is the author of five previous novels that have been translated into several languages. Linda won the Colorado Book Award in 2014 and 2016 for “The Drowning Guard” and “The Shepherdess of Siena,” respectively.
Andy’s writing career began in Aspen in 1974, when he was hired as a reporter for The Aspen Times. He worked for the paper on and off over the next 35 years as a reporter, editor, columnist and, eventually, publisher. Along the way, he wrote his first novel, “Song of the Kingdom.” In 2016, after retiring from the newspaper, he wrote and published his second novel, “Aspen Drift.”
The following is an interview with Linda Lafferty and Andy Stone.
Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit.
What inspired you to write this book?
Both of us have a long-standing love for Caravaggio’s art, sparked (or at least enflamed) by an exhibition we visited at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence many years ago. Linda has published a number of historical novels, but when she began researching Caravaggio for a new book, she decided she wanted to include a contemporary story line as well. Somehow, in discussing her ideas (we are married), the idea of having Andy write the contemporary story emerged. Andy has published a contemporary novel set in Aspen.
Place this excerpt in context. How does it fit into the book as a whole and why did you select it?
Given the two story lines, we decided on an excerpt that includes portions of both.
The first, set in the Village of Caravaggio in 1577, is the artist’s first appearance in the book. He is a young boy, sitting beside the body of his father, who has just died from the Plague. It contains aspects of his brutal childhood, which shaped his deeply problematic character—but also gives indications of the artistic sensibility that will shape his life and the world of art.
The second portion, set in the present day, shows two of the main characters from this story line, in grave danger, having been kidnapped and imprisoned. But it also includes a painting—possibly a lost Caravaggio—that is at the center of this story.
Tell us about creating this book: any research and travel you might have done, any other influences on which you drew?
Sometimes it seems as if the research and travel are the best parts of our writing. Linda loves her research into the past. For all of her novels, she digs as deeply as she can in order to accurately recreate the world her characters live in. She works surrounded by research books and maps of all sorts. Sometimes, as she says, it can take a lot of digging just to have a character walk across a room and look out a window: What were floors like in those days? How were windows covered? Were there such things as window sills? It’s all a mystery she loves to untangle.
And the travel is a delightful part of that untangling. This book took us to Rome, Naples and Malta several times for weeks at a time, tracing Caravaggio’s travels during the last years of his life, which was also the path the characters follow in the contemporary story. We spent hours just standing and staring at Caravaggio paintings, many of which are still in the same churches where they were originally hung.
What were the biggest challenges you faced, or surprises you encountered in completing this book?
Perhaps the biggest challenge was fitting two separate and complete stories into the allowable space for one novel. Either story could have expanded to full novel length on its own—keeping them complete and coherent was an enjoyable challenge.
Walk us through your writing process: Where and when do you write? What time of day? Do you listen to music, need quiet?
We write separately. Linda works sitting in bed. Andy works at our kitchen table. Any time of day or night. We actually didn’t “collaborate,” in the sense of working together much at all. Since we both had done the research on Caravaggio’s life, we both knew the path the book would follow. From time to time we would briefly touch base to make sure we were setting scenes in appropriate places. Our real collaboration came when we had both finished our stories and needed to fit the two lines together—which turned out to be surprisingly easy. The alternation between the stories and chapters seemed to work out naturally for us.
What’s your next project?
Linda is currently working on a book about the “real” Macbeth—the actual king of Scotland on which Shakespeare based his (very non-historical) play. But we should note that since “Light in the Shadows,” Linda has written and published “Fierce Dreamer,” a book based on the life of Artemisia Gentileschi, a brilliant painter of roughly the same historical time as Caravaggio. In fact, she and Caravaggio knew each other—her father was one of Caravaggio’s best friends.