I just noticed that an interview I have filled in some months ago never got to be published by the one who had requested it. Most likely, because I am not an English language writer. But I am posting it here, since it has been written and sent, therefore it exists, for those who want to learn more about me and my novels…
- What sort of career did you have before becoming a writer?
I am an economist. I have a PhD in World Economics (the dissertation being, in 1996, about the European transport policy). I have worked for a whole career in EU Affairs/ EU projects management. I have published several professional papers and 2 handbooks in the past (1999-2015). Actually, in 1999, I published the first project management handbook ever in Romanian. The others, at Uni and at postgraduate courses, were starting with 2000.
2. Was there a triggering event that prompted you to begin writing?
I have been writing for a lifetime. I don’t think there was any special event triggering it, just discovering that I can play with words and create worlds, not only with toys. I remember a story in first grade about a witch who flew over a man and turned him into a rabbit. And my first attempt at a novel was Western, in sixth grade, lasting 2 notebooks of 100 pages, handwritten loosely.
- Do you now write full time or part time?
I can’t say that I am writing full time. Can anyone, when there are enough things to do in the household? Or rather in the two households I am managing, since I am also taking care of my mother, who is 89.
Five of the novels I have written in high school and Uni had a literary value, so much later I transcribed them on computer, correcting, completing/ re-writing them and hoping that some day they might be published.
“The Wanderers of the Seas“, my debut novel, published in June 2016, had been written, in a thinner version, in my first year of Uni, in 1987. It got transcribed on the computer in 2002, and corrected, then it got some completions in 2009. The first 12 chapters of the first volume of “Lives in Turmoil“, my second novel, published in March 2017, were written in 1984, in the summer holidays between the tenth and eleventh grade. “Rightness’ Friends“, published in April 2018, was written, in a thinner version, in my last year of highschool. That got transcribed in 2007 on computer, completed and re-written. In 2017, it just underwent some editing and condensing for publishing.
I had the opportunity to meet an interested publisher in late 2015, at a literary presentation. We talked, exchanged e-mails, and I sent him “The Wanderers of the Seas”, which was the shortest among these three best ones, to tell me if it was any good. There had been a few months until he succeeded to read it, and he was enthusiastic about it. This is how I got to be published, and at the official launching of the book I was sitting like a bride, the happiest possible…
- What parts of the writing career do you enjoy the most/the least?
I like both researching and writing.
I don’t enjoy so much the marketing part, especially because what I am reading online is mostly valid for the English language books market and not valid for my country’s books market.
- What parts of your former career do you miss/not miss?
I had a fulfilling carreer, so I don’t miss it. I feel I did my duty contributing to the European integration of my country, in the specific fields I have worked for. And I brought it projects amounting to over one billion EUR in 23 years in this field, I have contributed to negotiating several international transport agreements…
- Do you have any regrets?
I regret a little not having had the opportunity to publish sooner. Also I regret being known more outside my country, ie by people who can’t read my novels, than inside. I would have wished to know book review bloggers from my country too, and get my books reviewed by them. I would have wished that electronic books were a thing in my country too (they aren’t much), and that I had the technical knowledge to upload my books somewhere online too.
- What advice would you offer other second career writers?
To keep writing, because if they like writing their stories, someone would surely like reading them. And not to be discouraged because they haven’t been a prodigy child, published at 15, nor because there are writers who make greater sales or more readers or more book copies. Everyone does as much as they can. Keep writing, because otherwise there will be nothing to be read… (And keep improving yourself by reading everything about creative writing you can find, while adapting them to your style. Because nobody can write YOUR story, only slightly different ones…)
8. What are the ‘magic ingredients’ that make historical fiction unforgettable and irresistible?
A proper description of the setting, based on strong research, compelling characters and an inciting narrative trip. Learning lots of things when you close the book and wanting to research more about that time – be it a folk dance (or a court dance) on youtube, a mentioned poet’s writings or a historical event on wikipedia.
I don’t believe in keeping the speaking and vocabulary of those times, despite the fact that some readers and writers swear by it. (I don’t believe in blatant anachronisms either, though. But there has to be a middle way). If we are writing today, we can’t keep the language of Shakespeare and have people understand our writing, even if it happens in the Tudors’ era.
What if it happens in Antiquity? They were speaking Latin or Ancient Greek, or Egyptian (which was not the Arabic now Egyptians are speaking), and our novel was written in French/ English/ Italian – whatever the writer’s mother tongue. So you’d better give us the athmosphere, instead of the way of speaking/ vocabulary of those times, in order to be read with interest. Yes, some specific words are to be given and explained – if in Ancient Rome, you can’t avoid mentioning the thermae, vespasianes, praetori. But you aren’t writing in Latin, neither in the phrase structures of that time. And if you add translating a book from the writer’s mother tongue to the reader’s (English-written books are translated in all countries, from Japan to Russia and Argentina), then the problem of the vocabulary adds to my point.
I was asked if, writing about Americans and Italians, but in Romanian, some expressions I used do exist in those languages. I replied that in those languages there is slang with a similar meaning, even if different in wording, and that for the Romanian readers, we have to relate to Romanian slang, because this gives the idea that the words were colloquial and not the most official ones. And that if we translate word by word, instead of the ultimate meaning, the results are strange and contrived, far from what we wanted to show.
9. In your opinion, what do the best historical fiction writers do to ‘get it right’?
Researching and filtering the information through the eyes of both the writer and the characters. Immersing the reader into the century and the setting of their choice. Not giving too many opportunities for … suspension of disbelief/ rule of cool, even if these are so fashionable now.
10. Are historical novels inherently different from contemporary novels, and if so, in what ways?
They describe different times, when people had different mindsets, and they have to be reflected as such. Not as many feminists and social rights fighters (accepted by most people around, instead of being shunned as dangerous, rare oddities) as the most recent novels show. They have to be understood in the light of their times, not in ours. Just be thankful that after the time travel through the book, to exciting adventures and different centuries’ mindsets, you return to your current, hot tap water and washing machine…
11. Do you see any particular trends in historical fiction?
American Civil War, Tudors and Victorian era in English language writings. Renaissance and World Wars in French language writings. Actually the two World Wars are very in fashion in any language. An opening which I salute to the Far East’s history (mainly Japan and China but also others).
I also see the trend of seeing history with modern eyes, instead of with the eyes then. And then it becomes something it was not – just a nice contemporary story in pretty costumes, with modern decisions and modern mindsets, and this new political correctness which… in my opinion, isn’t fairer than what was before, just more confusing, and alienating the contemporary reader from the historical mindset and motivations.
12. What aspects about the past do you specifically try to highlight in your novels?
I am writing the story of those who are too commoner to be mentioned in chronicles, but who are forging their silent path among historical events and participating persons who are mentioned in the chronicles. I am trying to immerse the readers in the setting, and critics had said that I write “cinematographically”. I am focusing on traditions (for birth, wedding, death, sworn brothers, etc), mindsets, folklore and public festivals, religious beliefs and superstitions, as well as on the main historical events of the time as viewed through the characters’ lens and biases.
13. What research sources and techniques do you use to ensure that conflict, plot, setting, dialogue, and characters are true to the time period?
I am from a small European country and I write historical fiction happening in several countries/ eras. I have used for research all kind of books, old maps, old descriptions (journals, letters, etc) and manuals, youtube movies, google maps, forums… Any possibility of research available, I use it! Many people hadn’t thought, when I told them, that youtube can be good for seeing places where I have never been, local festivals/ traditions, music, dances, sea battles from movies, duels, bullfights, various documentaries.