How Can a Writer Have Success in Today's World?
An interview with Romanian writer Cristina Nemerovschi
‘Umm, is there any chance you brought 2 books with you?’
‘Yeah, you’re lucky. Here, my mum bought me this one, a week ago, right after the release. If you want to read it, take it!’
And this is how an interesting and soul-changing journey started, in a train to the seaside. I saw an opportunity to let my hair down and enter a different world during that seven-hours ride, but I never anticipated the thrill that I would feel while reading “nymphette_dark99” by Cristina Nemerovschi, a book that soon became my best friend in that whole train. I still don’t know why it was “love at first sight”. Maybe my soul just knew that I had to read it. To give you a little hint regarding the story-line of this book, I can say that the main character is Vicky, (not Victoria) a 13 year old girl who is trying to find her way back from Brasov to Bucharest and gets into a lot of trouble and she meets all kinds of people doing so. I read it, without stopping, in four hours, and at the end my heart was racing from all those emotions, from humor to sadness, to hate, to nostalgia and at the end hope, but at the same time I was already making plans for my homecoming and the day that I was going to the bookstore to buy every single book Cristina had published. By the time I had the chance to actually interview Cristina, I already felt like we were friends, and I knew all the characters from her books with their habits and manner of speech.
So now, allow me to, briefly, introduce you to Cristina Nemerovschi. She was born in Bucharest, graduated from the University of Bucharest, had her MBA, from 2006 to 2009 worked as an editor for Metalhead.ro. She has published prose, philosophy, literary criticism, essays, studies, interviews with cultural figures for magazines such as EgoPHobia, Tiuk !, Ateneu, Cultura, Subcultura, Accent Cultural, Sisif, Fiore Magazine. She uses the nickname Morgothya to sign her work. She has published 8 novels in 4 years.
Further, let’s get into Cristina’s mind. I had the pleasure and the honor of talking to her about her work, success, inspiration, critics and many other things.
What determined you to start writing?
It may sound a little prosaic, but perhaps the decisive reason was that at one point I had enough free time. When I started the novel "Sânge satanic" (Satanic Blood), I had graduated from the University of Philosophy, had taken my license, I had a master and was working on a dissertation on a very demanding topic, even exhausting. I needed a balance - to do something parallel, to relax and captivate me in another way, more artistic, a counterweight to the aridity and precision of analytical philosophy. In short, for two to three months, my concerns ranged between novel and dissertation, and it went well at both ends.
Beyond this supposedly prosaic reason that I had the time to write literature, I think that there also was the motivation that we all possess at a certain point in our lives, namely the fear that we may soon disappear, for good and all, and no one will really know what I was, what I thought and what I felt. My fear has resulted in a need to leave behind a "picture" of the time in which I have lived, with all the concerns, fears, riots, personal enthusiasms. I wrote frankly and freely, without actually wondering if there will be someone who will read all this stuff. It was, if you like, a message put in a bottle and tossed into the sea; I felt that I can do a pretty faithful portrait of a fragment of reality and that people be drawn to, feel as if they had lived it themselves.
How hard it was to get to the final form of your books?
It was not hard at all; I have a theory that the book is more valuable if it is left as close to its original form, as it "gushed" in the author's mind. I believe very much in the books that can somewhat write themselves, which guide you, instead of you guiding them, to make a million variations of schemes, lists of characters and so on... I also think that a book is a good psychoanalytic test for the author, that’s why the writing should be left as uncontrolled as possible. Passages of my books that I love the most are those where I am not sure why I said what I said. Naturally, my theory is not a call for authors to leave carelessly written books with ambiguities or clerical errors - you owe your manuscript to reach readers in decent shape; obviously, I also read my manuscripts ten times before going to print, but I try not to change the substance of the book, not to alter its own life.
That being so, there were many intermediate variants for my novels. What you read is now 98% exactly what I wrote. I did one thing before sending "Sânge satanic” to be printed, I have changed a little the order of the chapters. I feel like playing a little and, anyway, the novel is designed as a puzzle, every piece completes the picture, but it can sit in different places in the landscape.
What was the reaction of people who have read your books’ raw version?
The only people who read the first version, the raw fragments of the novel, were the editors from EgoPHobia - a nonconformist and highly acclaimed online magazine. They received them with enthusiasm, and I owe them so much, because I never had thought, until then, that my toy (the novel) would get published. It was simply a pleasure of mine, a hobby, and they encouraged me, they insisted, had therefore a very good response to those fragments; they said that my novel was much better than the other similar novels that recently appeared, which already had success both in public and literary criticism. I'm glad I listened to them!
Did someone tell you (with rational arguments) why they believe that what you write is totally crazy/ wrong?
With very, very few exceptions, those who react full of anger to my books fail to argue why. It is a good example of what is meant by "rage" - they feel fear and revolt against these books, but cannot say why, they cannot put the finger on their own wound. Funny part is that they have not even read them. They generally limit themselves to the synopsis, or what they’ve heard on the internet about topics of my books.
Some of them, bolder and more hardened, tried to make some kind of arguments, skating even more to ridicule. For example, two or three said that "Sânge satanic" was written because it will embarrass rockers, who because of the book, will be perceived by old people as young men who have uninhibited sex, attending concerts and consuming alcohol, even, ironically, wearing dark clothes, while, in reality, of course rockers are listening to modern music only sung by Angela Similea and walk the streets dressed in bonbon- pink PJ’s with Hello Kitty. Others said that novels such as "nymphette_dark99" are mentality hurting 13 years –old girls, who will feel obliged (!) to have sex at an early age with truckers listening to bad music. This kind of people really feel as if they managed to bring eligible arguments and, of course, any potential discussion with them is meaningless – they will never understand the concept of fiction, art, they have no idea that a novel is not a self-help book, a manual that tells you EXACTLY how to live. A book of fiction is written for you to like it, to enjoy it, to fascinate you, to broaden your imagination, inspire you, to encourage you to further read anything else, to make you ask yourself questions, to invite you to introspection and not much else. I do not think there are many teenagers who read the novel to find out how to remove someone's eye with a knife. For this there are plenty of specialized websites ...
What kind of messages did you want to send through the stories of the characters created by you?
They all transmit a message of obsession for authenticity and freedom. If you talk to any of these characters, he or she would tell you that the best thing you can do in this world is to live your life intensely, passionately, sometimes desperately, to look for your own path and not to stray from it, no matter what others say, no matter how hard it is sometimes. To discover what makes you happy; looking only for people who inspire you. Do not waste time and you do not waste yourself. Have no downtime.
I am very glad to see that in the messages I receive from readers I often found the idea that my characters have made readers to cherish their own lives; many have interpreted my books as a declaration of love to life, and not all life, but the one which is intense, real, that does not mean imitation, roads already traveled by others, masks. I think it's an interpretation very close to the truth.
My characters also transmit a message of rebellion. A rebellion against society, against clichés, superficial and empty shells. I think you cannot try to change everything around you for the better if you do not previously identify what bothers you, what's wrong. Revolt is good, it keeps us lucid.
Where did you get inspiration for these characters?
First, I was inspired by what I have lived; then, I was inspired by what people close to me lived. I think inspiration can come from anywhere, as long as you are open. Of course, imagination plays an important role; I do not think you can do memorable fiction without putting your imagination to work ... In addition, whatever you like while reading books, listening to music or watching movies that you love, puts an imprint on you and sooner or later, it makes its way into what you create.
I like to have that autobiographical core, personal, around which you build the whole picture. It can be built without it, of course, but I have not written yet a book that is just a product of imagination, without elements of my biography. When you write about yourself, you're more motivated, that's my opinion and what I learned from experience. And I write because I want to leave behind a message in a bottle, I want to read these books over time and remember how I felt during certain periods of my life.
Do you think it is important that teens read different reading than that recommended by teachers? Why?
It's very important, from my point of view. Nothing compares to the joy of discovering on your own a book in which you find yourself completely, one that can speak to you in your language, one that marks you for long. I have nothing against the readings given in textbooks, and I grew up with them, they opened my taste to read more, but I think everyone should understand that each generation needs different kind of reading, each generation has a different sensitivity. It is extremely important that adolescents feel on their own that literature is primarily a pleasure, not an obligation. My opinion is that school readings should be combined with the so-called entertainment the teens get through recommendations from their peers. It is very important that teachers of Romanian are open-minded and do not discourage teenagers trying to combine what is mandatory and what is optional and attracts them.
What books written by both, Romanian and foreign, authors would you recommend youth as must-read ?
It is quite difficult, on the one hand because there are many books published recently which are worth reading and, on the other hand, I believe that some books are meant for a certain type of audience - every time a reader of mine asks me to suggest other readings, I first try to figure out what kind of person he is and what he liked more in my books, and then suggest the title. Among the Romanian authors I would recommend Mircea Eliade, Mircea Cartarescu (and I was delighted to discover many young people who love these authors, I find it something exceptional) and I would also recommend the textbook authors such as Camil Petrescu, Mihail Sebastian, a lot of poetry – I think we should start with Blaga, Arghezi, Bacovia, N. Stanescu and then gently reach to what is being published today. I would advise to throw an eye over the Arven collection of books published by Herg Benet - this really should be a must-read; there are books fantasy, science fiction, horror, mystery, and even romance novels that clearly prove that in Romania we can write captivating novels with bestseller material. And they are perfect for teenagers.
Among foreign authors it is very, very difficult, because they write and publish a lot. I would advise them not to go past those “cult” books that have changed, each in its own way, the world or even a piece of it. I would recomand reading from Dostoevsky to Bulgakov and Nabokov and Salinger, from Miller, Bukowski, Cortazar and then Fowles and Oscar Wilde. Then not to avoid today’s literature, to taste and to retain only what they like, regardless of how others are cataloguing the books, good or bad. "Good" when talking about books, is what puts your mind at work, what changes you in some way. I have nothing against best-sellers that make waves among adolescents, on the contrary; I recently read John Green and Katja Millay and I liked them.
What do you think is the duty of a writer? What is the message books these days should send?
Maybe it will sound a bit strange, but I believe that the first duty a writer has to his readers is to write a good book. Somehow, not only the first duty, but only one. Once you have written a good book, the rest comes naturally, meaning that you will attract those readers who feel that they find themselves in your message, the worldview that you propose. There's also important not to cheat – not to present a world that does not exist, not to tell the reader that life is always pink, not to deceive. The simple fact that you wrote a good book, you will make the reader to ask questions, to think about his purpose in life. You'll wake him up. You'll change him. This is the definition that I give to myself to a good book: the book that changes you.
No need to give the reader tips and a life plan that he can follow with their eyes closed. More important is to challenge him. To make him look at what makes him happy and correctly identify what holds him in place and get rid of it.
A message that I think would be interesting and beneficial to transmit through books today...Probably make the reader understand the basics that exist beyond a fashion trend or another, one generation or another, that human condition that hasn’t really changed. I think this message would also give hope to those who don’t feel good in the era in which they live - after all, mobile phones, Facebook, Beyonce and ads on buildings are not the only reality; there are human aspirations, the rush after understanding the people around us, after assessment, the pain of unrequitted love, fear of death, sickness, failure. These are things that existed before today and will definitely will not cease to exist when we go out of the picture.
How do you think your books affect young people today? Do they help them?
Yes, I think they help them, and they tell me that every time we see or exchange messages on Facebook. For many people my books come in handy even in a very concrete way: they give courage to get out of suffocating relationships, to seek for soulmates, to tell those close that you love them, not to indulge in compromise, to seek their own way - some have told me that they have chosen different universities, they have made them do only what they wanted to. Others have quit corporate jobs and they grabbed artistic things: set up a band, they started painting etc.
My books also help in another ways, they start a taste for reading. Many of those who read "Sânge satanic" searched the books from which were extracted mottos of the early chapters, one thing that I did not expect. Many began to seek other Romanian authors, it seems all great.
Most important, I think, is that it calls for introspection. A man fulfilled, happy, free from frustration is a man who knows himself. If you can, through a book, prompt someone to know more, it's a great achievement and great satisfaction.
How did readers / critics welcomed you when you published "Sânge satanic"?
I was welcomed unexpectedly well. I was a novice author, a publisher who was taking her first steps. For a while, a few months, I had no books in bookstores, you could just order online from the publisher's website. In addition, I had no idea how promote a book, so I have not done much. In these conditions, all the verve that arose around the book really took me by surprise. Readers were enthusiastic, and those outraged by title, language and subject unwittingly promoted it, talking obsessively about it. They helped my book to reach the public. Within a few months, the circulation of the first edition came out exhausted and the second was simply incredible. People send me messages with great love that I get terrible thrilled about and make me wonder if I really deserve them. They tell me how I changed their life through my books, they tell me what they feel, with a great deal of sincerity. Many messages leave me speechless and I often fail to say anything other than a "thank you" that seems very pale and impersonal compared to how they give me soul on the tray, but I hope they know that the "thank you" is said heartily and means something different to each of them individually. Though I receive messages from many readers, one element that I assign to each of them, I try to retain something of their personality. For me, every reader I speake to is unique.
Critics were placed at extremes: some have described the novel with an indescribable enthusiasm, others said it should not be read because it is immoral/ pornographic. My joy was that first ones really read the book, speaking, therefore, knowingly, while the second category had no idea how the cover looks, or how to spell the name of the author.
Why do you think there are so many people who are passionately criticizing you books?
Romania, unfortunately, is a country in which there is much hypocrisy. For example, on the streets we only hear swearing, and no one has the courage to riot, but we stop the reading at book fairs just because the author read a fragment of the novel in which appears the word "poop". There are a lot of people coming with this preconceived idea and a lack of understanding: why do we have "bad" things in books? Well, because after all, books reflect life as it is, diverse and cruel. Many rebelled against my books because they have learned that they considered some words obscene, harsh. They have not raised the idea that nothing is useless there, even those words express something.
Secondly, people are very afraid of change. Some of the most common accusations that I receive are the facts that: I am too young to be writing many books (not even true, I started at 30 years, not ... 14), I am a woman, I get dressed (allegedly) like a maverick, do not require advice from so-called experienced professionals writers. Many do not like the paradigm shift, for them the writer must remain dead, put on pedestal, well polished, no one alive with an account on social sites. Many criticize me because I want to "dethrone the great Eminescu". My answer is "what ?!". I mean, seriously, I never thought of dethroning someone. And I do not think that a writer can dethrone another. The more good writers appear, the more literature wins.
Who has the biggest share, those who love your books or those you hate them ?
Clearly, those who are fond of them are a lot more, and the number is growing steadily. Those who hate them are also very stubborn, they have their obsessions, do not give up easily. But they are slowly losing more ground. They become more pungent, ridiculed and, blamed, rightly, that you cannot have an opinion about a book that you've never read, much less to formulate a radical critique. In addition, I think you can’t compete with those who love them, because they recommend to others to read what they cherish.
What is your attitude towards criticism?
Unfortunately, I cannot take most of them seriously, no matter how much good will I have. People who criticize should be careful how they formulate an argument, otherwise it's moonshine ... For example, someone outraged said that "Romania will never come out of the crisis if there are books like "Sânge satanic", what does God think about Romanian peple?". What could you respond to it, and especially what can you use from such a „critic"? To explain that God does not read literature? That fiction is fiction, it has nothing to do with morality, that esthetic is one and ethic is different? They would say that you are arrogant and shameless, that's their classic answer.
In addition, I look with some skepticism at the action of criticizing oneself. I think that criticism is only meaningful if you know very well the potential of the one you are criticizing, you are familiar with how he creates and feels - only then you are entitled to say: „don’t do it this way, do it different”. As long as you don’t know my personal history, motivations, tastes, it is absurd and ridiculous to give me advice on my own creation. Not to mention that you are not obligated to consume my work. You have the option to ignore it, to behave as if it did not exist. I cannot change if ordered, and I have no interest to do so.
Who are your competitors?
Honestly, I have not even thought about it before, it's interesting that you ask. I think that perhaps other writers, but I do not see them as a competition, but rather as an addition. I'm friends with all Romanian writers I like - the living, of course. When one of them announces a new book, I am as excited as I am when I finish one! As I said before, I do not think a writer can remove other public preferences. The more good authors we have, the audience will feel the challenge of trying more and more, to test different styles.
What do you think attracts young people to a book?
They appreciate it when a book speaks their language, if a book is written in an attractive language that lacks any unnecessary embellishments. If a book achieves topics that concern them: love, death, maturity, friendship, alienation, individual-society conflict. A book that is written well, has a story, a conflict, memorable characters. Being a book that they will proudly recommend further.
What qualities should a writer have in order to "catch the public", but, at the same time to help people in some way or another?
It's very difficult to answer, I dont think there is a recipe. You must provide a lot of what you are, do not be afraid to show vulnerability. Do not wear masks, write about what you know and love. Be sure there is a reason to write before you hit the road.
In Romania, at least, the work of a writer does not end after the book hits the bookstores - then the second part starts, I don’t even know how to summarize...the words that best express it are "to be there for your readers ". To make releases, discuss with fans, tour, give interviews, keep a blog and a Facebook page. That's why you have to be very sure that you have a strong motivation to write. There are many obstacles: you will not make money from writing in the early years; you will be attacked and slandered, and perhaps you'll receive death threats. Parents are upset that you wrote stuff too bold and they will forbidd you to come visit. Old friends will think you're crazy and you’re running after an impossible dream. But one day you will receive a message from the first reader who will tell you that you've changed his life. And that will make it worth it.
In which category do you think your books belong?
I think my books are part of an apparently paradoxical group: they can offer only an esthetic pleasure, as pure literature is supposed to be, and at the same time, they can make the readers look for themselves, so they bring something practical, something positive.
How can the success of a writer be measured?
Here, the writers who have many favorable reviews will answer that success is measured by the critical acclaim and readers opinions. Writers who are in the charts will tell you that it is more important to make people buy your books. I believe that success is undeniable when people stop you on the street and start crying from emotion that they are actually sitting next to you. And when time passes and your books are increasingly loved. These are real benchmarks, beyond bias.
What are your wishes for the future? What do you think would mae you stop writing?
Just like the first day when I started my first book, I write primarily because I like it very much, because just by writing I can fiind myself in a certain state. I like how I feel when I write - I hope not to sound too selfish! But I also write due to the fact that i have readers, because I know that they can make the world not necessarily a more beautiful place, but more real and less hypocritical. For the future I want to have the same mood for writing, to be able to write as easy as I am right now, never to make it a chore, an obligation. I would stop writing if i would not like it as much. But I don’t think it will ever happen!
What other books are you preparing?
I already have in mind a sequel to "nymphette_dark99", named "Vicky, not Victoria". In spring I will divulge a plan that will strike many - it is about some books that I have kept secret until now, so stay close by, it'll be fun. I also had an idea for a hot erotic crazy thriller, that will totally please the fans of "Sânge satanic", but it's just beginning. I'm currently trying not to throw all my energy in a new book, I want to reserve some time to promote "Papusile", to make as many book-launches and meetings with readers as I can.