Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Real Author Interview with Oana

Born in Bucharest, Romania, Oana lived twenty years under the grotesque dictatorial regime of Ceausescu. She has worn many hats: translator, teacher and wildlife rescue and rehabilitation center worker. Oana lives in Phoenix, Arizona, where she devotes her time to her animals and to writing. She is an active member of Central Phoenix Writing Workshop. The Healings -- the hilarious story of a lonely man and his cat, traveling from “healer” to “healer” in their quest for wholeness -- will be soon released by ATTM Press.

The English Language Dream
How long have you been writing?
I have been writing since I could hold a pen, but my evolution as a writer is a little bit awkward. I have discovered myself as a writer relatively late. I started writing in high school and college, and in more than one language. But right after I finished college and I started working as a translator, I stopped writing. And I could not write anything for over ten years or maybe more.
After I immigrated to the US in 2001, I started having this strange dream. It was a recurring dream about my graduation and my Master’s degree. In my dream I was either refused graduation and sent back to study more, or I would discover that I had never been awarded my degree because of a missing exam. Regardless of the characters and the events from my dream the reason that prevented me from graduating was the same: I had yet to pass the English language exam.
That dream had haunted me. It was very powerful, in most cases I would wake up and run to the drawer where I kept my diploma to see if it was real and if it was there. And then, I could not understand it. English was not my major. Why would I have to go back to school for English? I studied Polish, Chinese, I had learned other languages as well, French, German and Yiddish, but English was mostly a communication tool. I passed English with flying colors. I had never thought of English as being the language I would choose to express myself in writing.
And then one day, it just happened. One afternoon in 2008, I joined the Central Phoenix Writing Workshop, I went to one of their meet-ups and I started writing. It didn’t happen overnight; it took me a few months to start writing as in writing and sharing my thoughts with other people. But if you think of it, overall it was pretty overwhelming. I joined the group in 2008 and my book will be released in 2010.
What was the most unusual thing you discovered while writing your book,The Healings?
The most unusual thing I discovered was the fact that the characters live inside your mind. Or they become you. And when you place them in a situation or another, you go there as well. By case-studying them we are simultaneously studying our own selves.
I think writers -- and generally speaking artists -- are very brave people. If you have the guts to reveal so much about you, this means you are at the point where you do not feel like hiding things from your self and others. The scariest lesson I have learned about people -- remember, I grew up under a communist dictatorship -- is that anything you say can and will be used against you. It’s a rule that applies wherever there’s a social group, but it became very obvious under terror.
The message a writer should send out there is a message of honesty, if you will. And of inner strength. If you are not afraid or ashamed of the imperfect being that you are, your words will have weight and true healing powers.
What makes The Healings stand out from the crowd?
Simplicity. I love keeping things simple. My character is honest and simple. His problem is that he tries to understand a world that is made complicated by people, societies, agendas. The truth is not easy to find, as it is often masked, covered, disguised, or sugarcoated.
But the way his message is delivered is simple as well. Short stories, short sentences. He is blunt sometimes, painfully blunt. As my friends would say, “Typically Oana.”
What is the purpose of writing sophisticated endless sentences, making the reader sleepy, except perhaps if your target audience suffers from chronic insomnia. Besides, times have changed, too. I have my coffee in the morning while driving to work and not on the porch indulging in the latest written Word of Wisdom. I wish I could but… So are my readers, so I am trying to show respect to them.
Another thing would be the fact that my main character is nameless and there are very few hints as to his physical appearance. Why? Because I wanted the reader to follow his mind, and not get distracted by irrelevant vanities. The man in “The Healings” is one of us. He can be any of us. I want the reader to be able to relate to him instantly, to be able to place himself in this guy’s mind. It is a journey into the universal mind and body, not into someone’s color of the skin, hair or eyes. His problems could be ours as well: family, education, politics, religion, poverty, love, success, loneliness etc.
His quest for what he calls Knowledge forces us to examine our own daily journey through life, the people we interact with, the things we learn… or not. By laughing at him, we laugh at our own human nature.The idea of the book is that we all need a break and some comic relief now and then. And the cat helps with that a lot. The cat is everyone’s favorite.
Are you a cat or a dog person?
NeitherI am an animal person, period. I have worked with many species, both domesticated and wild. I have been observing animals and people since childhood. Animals taught me very valuable lessons as to our instinct-driven behavior. I know, I know, many people, especially men rush to assure me that they are not animals. I find that hilarious to say the least. But, if you want to learn more about how I feel about the animal side of humans, read The Healings.
What projects are you working on at the present?
I am currently working on a memoir titled “Romanian Rhapsody.” It is a book about those “magnificent” twenty years spent under the rule of great terror and stupidity. It’s not a grim book -- after all, I am here and I have retained my sense of humor -- but rather a different perspective on achieving personal freedom and rising above hell. Believe it or not, it can be done. The hardest part is not surviving and escaping, but coping with the aftermath. And for some of us, the aftermath can last for a very long time, or it can last forever.
Will the "mechanical" standards of writing hold? Grammar, sentence structure, etc.? Does it matter? Why or why not?
I have always said that a writer is born a writer. To me, things are pretty simple. One can or cannot write. Of course grammar, punctuation etc. are important as a general value. As a writer I admit that I admire originality and a little bit of playfulness as well. Some very good folks can and will play with the language, nothing wrong with that. Language belongs to everyone and no one. Words even migrate from one language to another -- why wouldn’t they, they don’t need an immigrant visa to become citizens and settle in. Let’s not become fanatics and attach ourselves emotionally to every comma and every word. Always remember that the “object of your desire” might be replaced in a few years with another one. Who knows, maybe fifty years from now, there will be no commas, bored users -- read: the real owners of the language -- will replace them with a pause or a star. Having said that, I have also seen writers locking horns over mechanics, and not once. With all due respect, at some point it is ridiculous. We are not defending a certain purity of expression, we defend a form. And beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
As long as the message is delivered correctly, I could not care less for such existential issues, as: “Colon or… semi-colon?” So, moderation, moderation, moderation. When I am unsure, I always ask my editor. Why? Because he knows better than me, that is his job, and I truly respect his knowledge. I don’t want to hold two jobs. Being a writer is more than enough for me.
The long way from manuscript to print. How did you find your publisher?How did I find my publisher? This is a story that need to be told. When I read at the writers’ meet-up what was to become the opening chapter of The Healings, my now-friend and writer Kenneth Weene ( author  of Widow’s Walk and Memoirs from the Asylum) looked at me and said: “I like it. Keep writing. A year from now you’ll have a book.” I looked at him in great surprise. Back then I had no intention to write a book. No, I rephrase: I thought I wasn’t capable of writing a book. Then Kenneth stopped going to the meet-ups -- personal problems, working on his books -- and he showed up again right when I delivered the last chapter. He then looked at me and asked: “What are you going to do with this? Where are you going to submit it?” I replied: “I don’t know.” “Why don’t you try and submit it to my publisher, see if they like it? It is a great publishing house and I love working with them.” Which I did. And they liked the book, and here I am. I am very grateful for meeting Ken. It’s just one of those life situations. I call him “my guardian angel in publishing.”
I think there must be strong chemistry between you as a writer, your editors and your publishers. It’s not just the book itself. It’s not just the writer. It is a greater work. I was lucky to get both, awesome editors and an awesome publisher, which is ATTM Press.
How do you feel about ebooks vs. print books and alternative vs. conventional publishing?
The written word has a power that not even writers are aware of at times. I think of my words as arrows. Once released, you cannot take them back. And yes, they can kill too.
The word will have its strength and deliver its message regardless if it is delivered electronically, on paper or even scratched on a wall or rock.
I am not afraid or concerned about the future of the format; I am rather curious to see the future of the audience. Will people still read tomorrow or they will switch to other forms of enterntainment such as movies or shows, that require less effort on their side?
That I am curious to see.
How did you get to be where you are in your life today?
That is a hard question. Where am I? I don’t know. Had I known, I wouldn’t have written The Healings. But wherever I am, I got here through hardship and a very scary hard-to-predict twist of events. At some point in my life, I was thrown financially and emotionally at the very bottom of the bottom. It was a very abrupt landing, it involved a lot of traumas. But, being who I am, I took my time and looked very carefully at the situation and the people who were around me, as a whole. I have discovered that, oh well, the overall outcome of that ordeal was a tremendous personal growth. Sounds ridiculous, but it gave me a totally different perspective on who I was and where I was going. For the first time in my life I knew exactly where I wanted to be. In my writing, that is.

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