An interview with author Marina Raydun
You self-published your first book, a compilation of two novellas, One Year in Berlin and Foreign Bride, earlier this year. What was your biggest challenge when you decided to take this route to becoming a published author?
I’ve always loved to write but deciding to put my work out there for the masses was not an easy decision to make. You put a lot of yourself into your stories, so of course you want your work to be well received. There is stiff competition out there, but self-publishing felt right—this route allows one to retain full control. So the toughest challenge, I’d say, has been deciding to finally take the plunge. The process takes a lot of work and commitment, given that you are completely on your own, but I feel it’s worth it. The only thing you can do is make sure that you put your absolute best foot forward; you cannot control the rest.
What advice would you offer to a writer hoping to self-publish their work?
Be hard on yourself and edit, edit, edit. There is a lot of great reading material out there and it’s not always easy to convince a reader to take a chance on your unknown name. Whether we like it or not, there is still somewhat of a stigma put on self-published books and authors. It is your job to do your best to stand out and give a quality product to a paying customer—your reader. To do that, you have to be your own toughest critic. Edit yourself, question yourself, and rewrite as much as you need to. You create your own deadlines so there is no need to rush at the expense of quality. Also, hire an editor/proofreader—it’s important to get a fresh pair of eyes to review your work because, eventually, you grow blind to your own mistakes and lose your objectivity.
One Year in Berlin deals with themes of family, isolation and Holocaust. What made you want to write this story?
One Year in Berlin was in part inspired by my own nightmares (though, of course, I’ve fictionalized them for publication). The subject of the Holocaust has always been of personal interest. I am Jewish and hail from Eastern Europe, so the subject of World War II has always hit a bit close to home. In addition, I majored in history in my undergraduate studies, mostly focusing on the Jewish experience.
In my life I’ve come across some Jews who still hold a personal grudge against all things “German”; at the same time, I’ve also met a number of young Germans who refuse to speak of their grand and great-grandparents and their involvement in the war. On top of these two extremes, there are some people who genuinely don’t understand what all the fuss is about given how many years have passed. Unfortunately, if there is no conversation, no dialogue, how can there be true forgiveness? How can we learn anything and make sure that such horrific things will never happen again?
I felt it was important to try to tell this story—to show the dangers of all three such positions, as set against a backdrop of a couple, a family coming from different worlds. On the other hand, this novella can be read entirely as a relationship piece—Rachael’s nightmares serving as a metaphor for her feelings towards her husband. I’ve had readers ask me which approach I prefer and the answer is “neither and both.” That’s a personal choice; I wrote it dually on purpose. Because I’ve been asked this a few times, I also feel it is imperative to stress that I am not Rachael. As opposed to Rachael, I was raised to know that “Nazi” and “German” are not interchangeable words. And I absolutely adore Berlin! It is one of my favourite cites in Europe (behind London, but stillJ).
You were born in the former Soviet Union and moved to the US with your family aged 11. Learning a new language must have been challenging; how has it affected your writing?
I think it makes me try harder. When I entered university in 2000, I had been in the country for over six years, having successfully completed two years of Advanced Placement English in high school. I had been getting excellent marks on my essays in my first semester of college English until I volunteered, in passing, that I am an immigrant. After that day, the same professor began to grade me harder, nit-picking my work; she even began speaking to me slower. After this experience, and a few like it, I’ve come to believe that it’s almost inevitable for people to treat non-native speakers differently. I think it’s something that happens subconsciously. I’m told that I have no accent (except a New York one, of course) and yet, I’m always afraid that my not being a native-speaker exposes me somehow. Perhaps it’s an insecurity but it’s an insecurity that makes me pay attention and treat words with more respect and care. I know that I might be held to a different standard because of my background and I try to do my best not to disappoint my supporters (and, as importantly, not to give sceptics any ammunition).
Is there a book that has particularly influenced your career as a writer?
In college, in a history class, I read a short story by Savyon Liebrecht—an Israeli author (the piece was translated from Hebrew). I was so captivated by the author’s clear vision of her characters, I immediately purchased the entire anthology of her work and have been a fan of her writing ever since. Her short stories and novels have been very influential in the way I think about my stories and approach my characters.
Which books are you planning to read next? Do you have any that you secretly suspect you’ll never get round to?
I just finished reading Night Film by Marisha Pessl, which I enjoyed very much. I have a rather lengthy to-read list, but currently, I’m planning on reading The Fire Witness by Lars Kepler, Early Decision by Lacy Crawford, and, being a big Bridget Jones fan, Mad About the Boy by Helen Fielding. As for books I’m unlikely to ever get around to at this point, I’d have to say the Harry Potter series. I know that such a statement might be considered a literary crime in our contemporary reading society, but if it hasn’t happened over the past decade…
I’m terrible for buying books and having piles of them lying around the house waiting to be read. How do you prefer to read: are you a Kindle addict, library regular or a paperback collect?
I used to buy books like a mad woman too, but once I discovered the convenience of a Kindle, I’ve been a devout convert. It’s just so much easier (not to mention cheaper) to check out many books with it. And, regardless of what it is you’re reading at the moment, you’re only carrying a light, slim little thing in your purse (instead of a tome that makes your shoulder grow numb from the weight).
I love books and like to keep mine as undamaged as possible. Do you have any pet hates about the way other people read or treat their books?
I’d be a hypocrite if I told anyone not to highlight or fold pages. If I have one rule, it’s this: please don’t throw books out; share them or donate them!
And finally, do you have any random/funny/bizarre stories about books to share with us?
The second novella in my book, which is called Foreign Bride, tells a story of an Englishman and a Russian woman he meets in the setting of Moscow’s “mail-order bride” industry. Weeks after my book became available on Amazon, I got a message (via Facebook) from an Italian gentleman, looking for a “foreign” life partner. It was probably spam, or maybe a blind stab in the dark by a man genuinely looking for a companion using social networking, but it was sure funny given the timing.
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