Alexis Masters, author of The Gardens, travels extensively to the settings of her novels. She happily flies all over the globe and, as a lifelong meditator and devoted yogi, enjoys frequent “inner” travels as well. Alexis lives with her adorable toy poodle Ashton in Northern California, where she is hard at work writing a new international cozy mystery series under her pen name, AJ Masters. Drop by and visit Alexis at Amazon.com’s Author Central. Find her at Twitter.com/alexismasters and Facebook.com/alexismastersauthor.
Below is an interview with Alexis prepared for The Giuliana Legacy launch in 2000.
An Interview with Alexis
Can you tell us where you come from?
I was born in the heart of San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury and I graduated from high school during the Summer of Love, a time of enormous exuberance and vision, especially for those of us who didn’t get caught up in the drug scene. Free love wasn’t my scene either, but I suspect “All you need is love” instantly became my subconscious mantra, and in a sense, still is. I’ve spent most of my life right here in the Bay Area, where I’ve been blessed with ready access to the Human Potential and Goddess Spirituality movements since the 1970s. All of this colors my writing, dousing it with the qualities that characterize the era–optimism, innovation, mysticism, alternate realities, and concern for our environment. I’ve traveled abroad quite a bit in recent years and have never found a more beautiful region than Northern California. The stunning loveliness of Tuscany, where my novels about the Giuliana tradition are set, may be the one exception. Tuscany is physically very like California, only less environmentally exploited and overdeveloped. The more I come to know it, the more I love it.
How did you become a novelist?
I began writing early in life but seldom shared my work with others. After my first trip to Greece in 1982, I was determined to write a book exploring the Goddess Aphrodite. I pursued intensive research on the Goddess, plowing through countless archaeology reports, studying ancient writers and modern scholarship, visiting some fifty ancient sites of her worship all over the Mediterranean Basin. I now know I was searching for something that couldn’t be found in books or reports–call it the mystical kernel of her meaning to the people of ancient times, a meaning I sensed was very different from the shallow one we are taught today. But this knowledge didn’t jell and my writing didn’t really take off until I found the right genre for my voice. In 1990, when I first started my recently re-published novel, now entitled The Gardens (2017), I told my self it was “only for fun,” a little rest from my “real” work in history and theology. Immediately, though, I discovered an essential truth about myself: I am essentially a storyteller, not a social scientist or theologian. This discovery was very exciting,but it still took an act of will to call myself a writer, and several more years of hard work and perseverance before I finally felt comfortable calling myself a novelist.
What books have most influenced your life?
I have always been an avid and voracious bookworm, and I’m sure there are countless books that have influenced my writing. In fiction, I work in the tradition of Charles Williams, who wrote classic “metaphysical thrillers” during the 1930s and was one of the original Inklings, along with C.S. Lewis and Tolkien. Marion Zimmer Bradley also influenced me, especially with The Mists of Avalon, as did the extraordinary novels of Dorothy Bryant and Elizabeth Cunningham. The philosophers of Western philosophy played a huge early role in shaping my writing. During my twenties, esotericists like Annie Besant and Dane Rudhyar, the renowned astrologer and “modern Renaissance thinker,” influenced me powerfully. In my thirties, feminist scholars and thealogians including my dear friend feminist thealogian, Carol P. Christ, expanded the philosophic and political base of my worldview. However, the largest single influence on my work has been Paramahansa Yogananda. From the perennial bestseller Autobiography of a Yogi to the more recent God Talks With Arjuna, the writings of this ecumenical World Teacher and devotee of Divine Mother have illumined my path and brought me the most profound and lasting sense of personal transformation.
What music do you listen to while writing?
I love music–the Classics, the Beatles, Dylan and Baez, folk and ethnic music of all sorts, even some electronic compositons like Stephen Halpern’s and Brian Eno’s–but I find listening far too distracting when I write. I usually need silence to work effectively. Unless, of course, I’m writing a scene in which music is essential. There were some of those in The Gardens, one in which the villain, Gregor Danilenko, recalls Katchetourian’s Masquerade Suite and several inspired by devotional Cosmic Chants.
What books are you reading now?
My reading stack is tall and includes several works by Renaissance philosopher, Marsilio Ficino, and his contemporaries, books on pregnancy and midwifery, especially Jacqueline Marie Musacchio’s The Art and Ritual of Childbirth in Renaissance Italy and Peter Kingsley’s work on Empedocles, primarily In the Dark Places of Wisdom and Ancient Philosophy, Mystery, and Magic: Empedocles and Pythagorean Tradition, along with Women in the Classical World edited by Elaine Fantham et alia, Etruscan Life and Afterlife, edited by Larissa Bonfante, Ancient Astrology by Tamsyn Barton, and a delightful new book by Frances Bernstein called Classical Living, Reconnecting with the Rituals of Ancient Rome. In fiction, I recently finished Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent, which I enjoyed immensely and strongly recommend. I’ve never read any of Stephen King’s fiction, but I have to say that his new memoir, On Writing, is probably the funniest book I’ve read in years! I found it hilarious–I mean laugh till it hurts hilarious. At the same time I found it poignant, articulate and brilliant–a totally unexpected delight! ** I’m still reading these or re0reading them and loving them after several years away from my novels.