Interview with Steven J. Katriel, author of The Portrait of Alatiel Salazar

The Portrait of Alatiel Salazar is launching in June, from Immortal Ink Publishing

Synopsis:

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…

Where did your interest in ghost stories begin?

As a child, I had a recurring dream in which I was abducted by a witch. While this was terrifying, it was also instructive – the dreams taught me about the practise of fear, and how people are made frightened. It’s no great revelation to state that many of our adult fears are sourced in childhood – if anything, we haunt ourselves all our lives. We create our own phantoms – in my opinion – and I speak as someone who’s actually seen ghosts, so I’m no sceptic. There’s a definite symbolism, a very human interpretation, behind many ghost sightings. While this might sound rather mundane and unromantic in comparison with the notion of ghosts as something beyond human experience, it’s nevertheless poetic in itself and the inherent symbolistic nature of the phenomena certainly lends itself to fiction. If the varying tropes, clichés both of fiction and of common, real-life hauntings merely ‘reflect’ ourselves and our states of mind, it’s no less interesting to me than anything ‘other’.

To answer the question more directly, I’ve spent my life being petrified of ghosts, witches etc etc and yet fascinated too. I can’t even recall when or with which books my literary interest began; I would say, though, that oral storytelling was more important – the kind of dramatic, frightening stories that I guess most of us told as children. For example, friends of mine used to claim that a house on the nearby mountainside was the site of an entire family’s slaughter. The inhabitants kept the lights on all day and night, for some reason. Whether my friends’ story was nonsense or not, whenever the lights went out within that distant house, we didn’t hang around very long to see if anything might happen there…This, of course, isn’t a particularly scary tale but the telling of it surely taught me about instilling ‘atmosphere’ in a story – the mechanics and themes of such effective storytelling are clichés for good reason; they’re honed over time, theywork, and even if we sometimes laugh at them, the laughter betrays our fundamental unease.

 

Where does the title come from? How did you come to choose it?

The Portrait of Alatiel Salazar pays homage to Oscar Wilde’s famous novel (The Picture of Dorian Gray) – a major influence on my writing style – and also a superb book I recently read, Jeffrey Ford’s The Portrait of Mrs Charbuque. I enjoyed and admired both these works so much that I wanted my own to echo these titles and the general atmosphere of the two novels.

 

 

What are the origins of Salazar? Is he based on a real artist, or an amalgam of real

and fictional?

Cristian Salazar and his cousin Beatriz have a few things in common with the artist Salvador Dali and his wife Gala. The story of Salvador and Gala’s life together reads like a strange and sinister piece of fiction. Of course, the couple were nowhere near as wicked as my characters but what should really have been a tale of Dali’s genius, Gala’s ambition, and their shared success was instead tainted by madness, naked greed and immorality. Cristian and Beatriz possess those negative attributes but outstrip the their real-life counterparts when it comes to pure malice:

‘Allen spoke with sudden passion: “Look—people here know their place, and the value of silence. No matter who you ask, you’ll get the same response: ‘The Salazars are wonderful, Cristian is so misunderstood, Beatriz is a saint amongst women’—do you know what it reminds me of? The way that primitive people gave beautiful names to those they feared most of all—like the Furies that ancient Greeks called ‘the kindly ones.’”’

 

What would you say was the main drive behind the story of Alatiel?

My aim in creating Alatiel was contradictory – or so it may appear. I became weary of reading about crime novels in which the victims were ‘random’ women. These might as well have been faceless, mere token presences or statistics in a serial killer’s body count. And besides, in my view, the ‘evil genius’ who murders when he’s not at the opera, shopping for art in Milan or leaving cryptic but ultimately self-defeating clues does not exist in reality; anyone who’s had the misfortune to read Ian Brady’s The Gates of Janus ( a study of serial-killing written by a notorious murderer) would surely agree that his kind are the type who lack intelligence and sophistication despite their (mis)reading of Nietzsche, and their so-called personal philosophies.

So, I wanted to create a female anti-heroine (because I view women in general as more psychologically interesting than men) who is the weapon of vengeance for all her kind; in this case, she is ostensibly the lower-class young woman used and abused by artists who treated their models as mere playthings. Instead of making Alatiel an evil genius-type, I fashioned her as a ‘blank canvas’, allowing the male characters to interpret her beauty and personality in whatever elevated or sordid way they choose. But they are dreamers, and dreams end with the revelation of reality; and the reality is that Alatiel is a living, undead nightmare unfit for human company:

‘She led a charmed life in Daniele’s mind, in his lucid dreams, quite apart from any real life of her own. To him, his fair-weather devotion and her response to such were merely bittersweet moments in some imagined ritual of Courtly Love. Daniele’s Lady was, he felt, both his possession and an unattainable prize. He could not know that she only considered him as prey.’

 

May we expect to see a sequel to The Portrait of Alatiel Salazar in the future?

There will be a prequel, at least. I’m eager to explore Cristian and Beatriz’s history, the time when they lived in Catalonia, home of Basque witchcraft. There’s a story to be told about their upbringing, their baleful influence on those around them, and the reason for their departure to England.

Where can we find your work?

The Portrait of Alatiel Salazar will be published by Immortal Ink in June this year. Those interested can visit the Immortal Ink Publishing website and sign-up to be notified when the book is due to be released:

http://immortalinkpublishing.com/books.php?id=11

Alternatively, more details and chapter excerpts can be viewed on my personal website:

http://stevenkatriel.wordpress.com/

 



4 responses to “Interview with Steven J. Katriel, author of The Portrait of Alatiel Salazar

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