K. Hollan Van Zandt Tells All—and a Giveaway!

K. Hollan Van Zandt has always loved libraries, oceans, ancient history and migrating birds. Her mentor, novelist Tom Robbins, instilled in her an abiding love and respect for language.She lives in Southern California, and dreams of a home in Greece. Written in the Ashes, her first novel, took ten years to complete and has been optioned by Academy Award-winning producer Mark Harris of Agape Media Productions who won best picture for “Crash” in 2005 and plans to create a TV mini series with it.

K. Hollan Van Zandt’s website.

Leave a comment below for a chance to win a copy

of Written in the Ashes by K. Hollan Van Zandt!


It’s a real pleasure to welcome K. Hollan Van Zandt to Buried Under Books today…

cncbooks—Written in the Ashes has received some very nice reader reviews. Can you tell us a little bit about it?

Kaia—I wrote the novel to explore the loss of the Great Library of Alexandria, as well as the end of pagan practice as Christianity rose into power. We think now of “pagan practice” as devil worship and the like, but back then it included astronomy and mathematics. The sciences were all considered witchcraft by the early Christians. (And Hypatia, the first female philosopher and scientist was also the first woman to be branded a “witch”.)

There was a vast understanding of our universe already in place when the library was destroyed, which many people today are not aware of. For instance, Eratosthenes had measured the Earth’s circumference back in 300 B.C. – the loss of the Great Library today would be like the entire internet expiring overnight, never to be rebooted.

cncbooks—What made you decide to write in such a setting?

Kaia—I love the Mediterranean. As a novelist, you pretty much have to figure you are going to spend years of your mental life in one place, so you better love it. I love the history and the people and even the climate and botany and bird life of Alexandria and Greece, so my passion guided me in my writing.

cncbooks—How much of you is in your character, Hypatia?

Kaia—Hypatia is an extremist and a purist. During my twenties when I was writing the novel I was a vegan yoga teacher, and I was practicing yoga 2-3 hours every day. Sometimes meditating as many as 5 hours in a sitting. I was obsessive in my approach to finding a way out of my own neurosis, but equally obsessed with understanding and expanding consciousness—finding God, if you will. In my study of Hypatia, I came to a lot of personal realizations that the path I was on would not meet a good end. Hypatia denied her shadow- and lived an elitist spiritual life that excluded the grit and grime of the ordinary world. But this is a dualistic world. You don’t get good here without evil. You can’t plunge into enlightenment without calling up some pretty impressive demons. And so, I left my extremist life realizing it would be far better – and even a greater challenge, to live an ordinary and balanced life consciously. I have a child now. I allow for poo-poo. You have to!

All my characters were written as archetypes. It’s meant to be a mythic tale, a morality tale. Hypatia is the mind. Hannah is the heart. Alizar is the good conscience. Cyril is the neurosis who is ultimately brought to light. Tarek, the fool. It’s in their mingling that you get the wisdom of the story revealed. The readers who hate my book – and there are those who hate it – don’t appreciate the archetypes. They don’t understand that my story is actually a commentary on one’s own internal landscape. I’m a Jungian. You must read the story symbolically, not literally, to grok the deeper meanings. But if you read it literally, it is still a historically descriptive read. But I hope you don’t read it only that way.

cncbooks—Did you carry on conversations with Hannah while you were working on the story?

Kaia—No, actually, with Alizar. Alizar and I would take long drives up the coast to San Francisco together. He was fully capable of leaping out of his literary alchemical abode and carrying on with me. I asked him all my questions about the other characters in the story. “Why would so-in-so do that?” “What was Hannah thinking when…” etc. He was more than willing to cooperate, and became a beloved friend, if you could call him that. My next novel in the series is about him.

cncbooks—What was your favorite chapter to write and why?

Kaia—The burning of the Great Library, of course! My pen (yes, I wrote the novel longhand) could not fly fast enough across the page. I cried writing those words. My heart beat as if I could feel the heat on my own neck. And the words just kept pouring out hour after hour, day after day. It was a trance that lasted nine days, and I was nowhere but in Alexandria. I forgot to eat. I forgot to shower. I forgot to return calls. I called in sick to work. It was a delirium of love and pain and beauty. It was a fury of obsession, and I still relive it when I read those pages.

cncbooks—Is there one author (historical fiction or otherwise) who has really influenced your writing career?

Kaia—Tom Robbins has been my mentor for nearly 20 years. He is a humorist in the literary tradition of himself: some cross between zen and madness, writing always on the line that divides old age from juvenile delinquency. He gets me. We laugh about the shit the world is made of. He’s often referred to himself as an acquired taste. I think I may be following in those unconventional footsteps…

cncbooks—Who did you pretend to be when you were a kid?

Kaia—(Laughs) Looking back, I always pretended to be men, and I was fond of great detectives. I often pretended to be Inspector Clouseau or Sherlock Holmes. There were a tribe of Indians in our town once called the Chumash, and so a favorite game was of being a native—digging out a canoe, fishing, hunting. But then, I pretended to be animals and trees and rocks and things also. I would try and be invisible in a landscape to see if adults could find me. I was a great tree-climber. I suppose this all makes sense in retrospect. As a novelist, you are a shape-shifter and you must be able to put your mind into anything. I think I honestly believed until I was at least ten that if I stayed in the water long enough I would at some point sprout a fishtail. My costumes for Halloween included Halley’s Comet, a flying carpet, and Madonna. Sometimes I think I missed a career as an actor. I enjoy characters and the puzzle of being someone else believably.

cncbooks—Do you think social networking, blogging, tweeting, etc., are worthwhile promotional tools for authors or do they steal too much time away from career writing?

Kaia—Who knows, really. What I can say is this: Pynchon will never do a blog tour. J.D. Salinger would have sooner died than tweeted. I guess he did die. Norman Mailer said that the novel is dead. So these are the type who just didn’t need or want it. Purists. Then there are those writers who really enjoy connection. They appreciate a blogger like yourself who wants to invest some time and energy into a relationship with a story and with a writer, and who showcases it for others. The book bloggers of yore would have all owned bookshops, more than likely.

If you get stuck on even the idea of “promoting” your book, you are already underwater. And you will drown. Books have their own life energy. If they are worth reading, they are discovered and they live on. Period. Writers need to write the next book. What tree out in the field creates apples and goes on neurotically worrying about who will eat them? So I think writers have to find a way to satisfy their publishers, appreciate their readers, and most importantly find time to write. It’s not easy! I suggest living frugally or marrying wealthy….

cncbooks—What is the one place in the world you really want to visit for the first time and why?

Kaia—Thailand. The Thai keep elephants as pets! I want to play with an elephant. And the climate suits my constantly cold bones. I would adopt a Thai child if I could. Or an elephant…

cncbooks—If you were shipwrecked on an uncharted island with no hope of rescue, who is the one person, other than family, you would want with you and why?

Kaia—Cary Grant. Don’t you just love Cary Grant? Or Woody Allen. I would want to laugh about our predicament. But Woody would sunburn…

cncbooks—When that ship wrecks, you manage to save your four favorite books. What are they?

Kaia—Oh, God. You’re talking to someone with a personal library of over a thousand titles. Pause. I need to walk around the house and think… Ok, so, The Dictionary (Oxford English), Tarot ReVisioned by Leigh J. McCloskey, A Hundred Years of Solitude, and the biggest collection of Neruda ever published in both Spanish and English. I ache to memorize more of his poems.

cncbooks—What is in store for you? What’s happening next?

Kaia—Well, we have a big Hollywood director attached to the TV series of Written in the Ashes now. She is working on Borgia’s at the moment. So I have hope the project will find production. As for my writing, when my son, now an infant, gets a little older, I will travel to Isla de Tenerife in the Canaries to research the next novel in the Mediterranean Trilogy!

Kaia, thank you so much for spending a little time here today 😉


You have two chances to enter the drawing for an ebook copy of

Written in the Ashes by K. Hollan Van Zandt. Leave a

comment on the review of Written in the Ashes

posted on September 25th and then again

on today’s post. The winning name will be drawn on

the evening of October 3rd.

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