Wednesday, November 28, 2012


    I don't write erotic fiction. However, if I believe that a unique touch of eroticism will  add to the characters and  will enhance the emotional tension of a story, I don't avoid it. This is what I did with "A New Beginning", a short story that was accepted for publication by Skive magazine for the December issue.

    Skive magazine is turning nine years old in December and the issue will be "Erotica". The stories will be available for free online, on PDF.

     If I were to draw a parallel between my short story "A New Beginning" and previously published stories, I would have to mention the anthology "The Literary Lover". Most of these stories have an erotic touch that was related to the development of the characters and the plot. My favorite stories from this anthology are by Joyce Carol Oates ("Morning"), Laurie Colwin ("Frank and Billy"), Edna O'Brien ("The Love Object"), Richard Bausch ("Letter to the lady of the house") and Mary Gaitskill ("A Romantic Weekend"). I loved many of these stories because they felt real and the characters were complex and interesting. However, I read "The Literary Lover" long after I wrote "A New Beginning," so I believe the inspiration to write this short story came  after reading Maile Meloy's collection "Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It".

  How about you? Do you avoid eroticism at all costs? Or do you use it when it serves a purpose?

   Let me clarify something: "A New Beginning" is NOT a memoir. I need to state this clearly because a few days before this story was accepted by the editor of Skive Magazine, Matthew Ward, the editor of a different magazine wrote to me suggesting that I should submit it again to be published as a memoir. (If you are interested in stories based on true life experiences you should read "A Hospital in Latin America" and "Freedom is a Fragile Word").

  Happy birthday Skive magazine! Enjoy the read.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

An American expat in Argentina

   Battling cancer is a challenge difficult to endure, but dealing with cancer and poverty at the same time is an experience that nobody would like to imagine. Rick Powell is an American writer and an expat living in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He is living on the edge right now, trying to make ends meet while he fights his cancer. His friend Vivi Rathbon sent me this link to explain his situation.

  If you are willing to make a donation, you can visit this link. No amount is too little. You can also help by buying from amazon from his own website.
  My heart goes out to Rick at this difficult time. I hope he will get the emotional and financial support he needs to move forward and battle his cancer.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

An interview with Marius Hancu

 "Simon and Hiroko" is a novel about two people, from two different cultural backgrounds, who meet and fall in love. Their path is full of obstacles. Simon is an American professional photographer; Hiroko is a traditional Japanese dancer. Today I have the pleasure of interviewing the author, Marius Hancu. Marius Hancu is also the author of "Our Lives as Kites".

MH: Thank you, Julia, for your interest in my work and for the welcome.  It’s a pleasure to be present on your literary blog.  

Julia: Marius, how did you come up with the idea to write "Simon and Hiroko"?

MH: For one reason or another, the memory has its own strange paths, and it tends to travel back to where the body and the soul, to quote Auden, were once. I lived in Tokyo for close to two years. No wonder perhaps then that I return there many times in my imagination.  Part of my mind, part of my heart remained there forever. Let’s think about much more famous cases, say Lawrence Durrell and Alexandria, Marcel Proust and le côté de chez Swann, Henry James and the States. And, by comparison, how lucky must have been Henry Miller then, to be able to write in real time in the place in which he loved and lived — with no time travel — for such journeys are painful on the mind.
Some of my work touches on magical realism, and one still needs a hard core of reality for it all to breathe truth.  At least I needed such a core in my novels to date. Thus, I prefer to return to places that I know, at least to some extent.
As well, I was so imbued with the history and the reality of Japan and of the Japanese people, so full of it, at the time I left it, that this feeling had to externalize itself somehow, even though like many a writer, I had to recast Tokyo to my imaginings.
Then, just by chance, the experience of reading “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” by Haruki Murakami came in to reinforce my desire of wanting to write about Tokyo and Japan as a starting point in a love story.

Julia: How long did it take you to complete it?

MH: One year, plus another half a year for various revisions.

Julia: What were the main challenges you dealt with when you wrote about Simon and Hiroko?

MH: The most important one was to create the feeling of love between them.  Visible, palpable love. Only the readers can decide whether I managed.
Another significant challenge was balancing the two main characters with regard to each other in terms of allocated time, strength of character, attractiveness, strong and weak points. I didn't want the reader to favor one of them, as I very much wanted to present them as a powerful, passionate couple  — and most of the time a couple that is out of balance is not strong enough. You might remember the alternation between them toward the end of the novel — in terms of being featured in one chapter. That was part of this balancing gig.
Another difficult issue was how to present the Japanese characters speaking to each other. Unfortunately, in this day and age, bilingual novels are not quite in fashion — they never were — nor is my Japanese strong or subtle enough these days. The natural decision was to make them speak English, with short insertions in Japanese.  That left me with another difficulty, how to simulate in English the jargon of the Yakuza (Japanese Mafia) members. I created a limited English slang that might exist just in my imagination.
Another touchy issue: having decided that the two halves of the novels should have different tempos, I was confronted with the task of implementing that, as it required in the second part shorter clauses, more limited vocabulary, more active verbs, a certain bareness in terms of modifiers, while trying to hold on to the same voice and tone for the characters.

Julia: Do you feel, in any way, identified with Simon?

MH: Well, yes, I went myself to Japan from his world, so I could easily see his POV. However, I was just as much attached to Hiroko. Trying to understand her world had of necessity taken me there.

Julia: Did you miss the characters after finishing the novel?

MH: Serious withdrawal symptoms — yes.  It would have been difficult not to.  After spending a lot of my waking hours wondering what they would do next, it was difficult to cut the umbilical cord and let them fly away.   

Julia: How and when did you first discover your passion for writing?

MH: I guess it was by reading the greats, in my case poetry by Apollinaire, Lorca or Montale.  I was so exhilarated, that I decided to try myself the experience. It was initially poetry, then I decided for prose. Still later, I thought it would be fun to write a three-hundred-pages long novel. The process of physically sitting me down for doing it took quite a while. Years.

Julia: What are you working on now?

MH: A shorter novel set, this time, in a place that I have never visited.  This should be easier on the mind, as it does not have to bring in the play of present any old circumstances or people.

Julia: What do you enjoy most about being a writer? And what is the dark side of being a writer?

MH: For the first, the high of being creative, from forging small circumstances and scenes to spinning off entire worlds. For the second, one of the worst is the isolation you need to achieve in order to put just several valid words on paper.  No surprise then that Philip Roth, a master, has grown fed up with it all.  Still, let all of us writers achieve a small part of what he has.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Saints and Sinners

   Edna O'Brien's writing is bold and straightforward. Her sentences are charged with layers of meaning, but she does not keep us guessing. She does not mind telling us information and, at the same time, she crafts each story like an artist, selecting the precise words for each sentence as if they were the brushstrokes of a painting that depicts vivid landscapes and characters in realistic situations, with endings that satisfy my expectations. By the time I finish reading them, I feel content. Through the eleven stories of this collection, Edna carries us to both rural and urban Ireland, London, and New York.
    "Two Mothers", an autobiographical story, reveals the ambiguity of the relationship between the narrator and her mother, showing two opposing aspects of it. Edna O' Brien starts out with the image of a dream in which her mother's hand is on a razor, and she sees her face "swimming" towards the narrator "to mete out its punishment". When they lived together, mother and daughter were close but not intimately connected. Her mother did not understand her daughter's compulsion to write; she was even horrified at the thought of her daughter becoming a writer:
    "She insisted that literature was a precursor to sin and damnation, whereas I believed it was the only alchemy that there was." Edna dives into her childhood and makes her mother jump out of the page: "She had beautiful hair, brown with bronzed glimmers in it, and blue-blue eyes that held within them an infinite capacity for stricture. To chastise one she did not have to speak -- her eyes did it with a piercing gaze. But when she approved of something, everything seemed to soften and the gaze, intensely blue, was like seeing a stained-glass window melt."
    There comes a time when the narrator vanishes from her mother, or perhaps from her lack of acceptance. Then her mother starts a copious correspondence. "She who professed disgust at the written word wrote daily, bulletins that ranged from the pleading to the poetic, the philosophic and the common place." The narrator postponed the opening of these letters for many years. This is a story that made me cry, for I was able to empathize deeply with both characters. When she finally opens her mother's letters, there is a hint of intimate connection, and secrets are revealed.
   "Sinners" is about the lonely life of a woman, Delia, who uses her house as a bed and breakfast place during the summer months. Edna transports us to her solitary existence, providing details about the workings of Delia's mind. Confined to her routine, Delia has forgotten the little pleasures of life and becomes a person who sees a sin behind any act that does not look conventional.
   "Shovel Kings" is the story of an exile who migrated from Ireland to England. A transitory return to Ireland makes him come to the realization that he no longer belongs to Ireland...nor to England.
   "Manhattan Medley" is an imaginary letter a woman writes to her lover. Her musings bring to my mind the poem by Neruda that says that "Love is so short, forgetting is so long". This woman, however, did not forget her lover and there are witty reflections that I savored and enjoyed reading more than once. The nostalgia she infuses into this story is powerful. "Even if I lingered here, there, or anywhere it would still run its course, in letters, in longings, and the whet of absence."
  "Send My Roots Rain" is also about love and longing. A woman is waiting for a poet at a coffee shop and, while waiting for him, she reminisces about  past  relationships.
  "Old Wounds" is about family relationships and conflicts between relatives.
  "Plunder" is the story of a conventional family living in a rural setting who is attacked by soldiers.
  "Black Flower" is about the relationship between a prisoner and a woman who volunteers to give art classes at the prison.
   Edna O'Brien is not afraid of revealing the pain, the misery, the longing and the love of the characters, and, at the heart of her stories, she unveils the frailty of human nature, its naked vulnerability and isolation.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

A chemistry of thoughts...

  I've never met this woman, but I know I could spend hours talking about life with her.
  Let me explain myself. Have you ever felt connected to a writer who happens to enjoy the same writers that you enjoy? Soon after I finished reading Joyce's book, I wanted to read a writer I had encountered in a couple of short stories from two different anthologies. When I read her short stories I experienced some kind of kinship of spirits, a chemistry of thoughts. For this reason, I felt compelled to explore more of her work. I went to the local library and, after browsing her books, I borrowed her short story collection Saints and Sinners.
  Before I started her stories I flipped through the pages and found an interview to her; the first sentence I read from it was, " I would love to have met Joyce, preferably in the evening hours when bottles were opened ". The first book she bought was about James Joyce. I am talking about Edna O'Brien. Yes, she raved about Joyce, and then explained he had a rival in her affections: Anton Chekhov. About Chekhov, she said, "Like Shakespeare, Chekhov knew everything there is to know about the heart's vagaries and he rendered the passion and conflict of men and women flawlessly."
  I cannot agree more with her when she said, "I would be much lonelier on this earth without literature, and I might even have gone mad." She ended up the interview by saying that literature is the big bonanza, and writing is getting down on one's knees each day and searching for the exact words.
  I am engrossed in her story collection "Saints and Sinners" now, and I will be writing an essay about it once I am done. Here is another fabulous interview to Edna O'Brien, done by The Paris Review, about the art of fiction.
 By the way, this is my view from the kitchen window, a wonderful sight I cherish every morning while having breakfast...