Thursday, January 14, 2016

Interview with author Marina Julia Neary

Author interviews are one of my favorite things to post which is why I am super excited to welcome author Marina Julia Neary to Flashlight Commentary.

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Welcome to Flashlight Commentary Marina. It’s great to have you with us. To start things off, I’d like to know a little bit about you. Where are you from? What is your background?
I grew up in Central Europe in a family of classical musicians, fairly privileged by those standards. My parents were not rich, but they were kind of famous – big frogs in a small pond, I suppose. Let’s just say, my “privileged” status didn’t really give me much protection from political persecution. I came to the US at the age of 13 on a refugee visa. I really don’t consider myself a member of any ethnic group. I joke that my DNA was altered by the Chernobyl disaster, so I’m not even sure if I’m 100% human anymore. I am definitely a corporate rat. I have a splendid day job in foreign exchange.

How would you characterize your writing style? What sort of themes are you drawn to? 
“Laughter through tears”, as a colleague of mine remarked. A very Eastern European / Jewish / Irish trait. Offensive dark humor is my trademark. Having grown up in an ethnically and ideologically mixed family, I am drawn to the question of ethnic strife. When people hear “ethnic strife” they automatically assume it’s a black/white issue. There’s plenty of prejudice and antagonism within the Caucasian population. My specialties include the Anglo-Irish and the Russo-Baltic conflict. 

I get a lot of grief from the liberally-minded readership for my allegedly callous, nonchalant and sometimes humorous depiction of abortion, rape, incest and cancer. I’ve been accused of “trivializing suffering”. The flip side of is sensationalizing suffering, shrouding it in melodrama.  When you write, you have to be true to your own worldview, not what’s currently acceptable in mainstream media. Some readers had beef with the fact that one of my characters, after being gang-raped by her classmates, curls up with a blanket and a stack of comic books instead of crying in the shower, rocking back and forth. It cracks me up when people tell me how a person should react to a traumatic event like that. 

Historic fiction is obviously a favorite genre of mine, but why do you think it holds so much appeal for modern readers? 
Not all readers of historical fictions are coming from the same place in terms of their motivations for picking up a historical novel.  There are people who tend to idealize the past and use historical fiction as an escape. Then there are those who want to learn from history. If more people read serious historical fiction that’s rooted in cold facts versus romantic fantasy, they wouldn’t be talking about “rape culture” and “war on women” in 21st century America. 

How would you describe your writing process? Where do you start and how do you get into the right mindset?
It’s not uncommon for me to “nurse” a plot or a concept for years, sometimes even decades. “Wynfield’s Kingdom” took 15 years to write, and only 6 weeks to sell once it was finished. “Martyrs & Traitors” , on another hand, took me 4 months to write. A 400+ page beast dealing with the Easter Rising in Dublin. The reason why it took me so long to finish “Wynfield’s Kingdom” is because I started writing it at the age of 15, when I had absolutely no background and no experience and, above all, no guidance or encouragement. Once you get your first novel out, the prospect of writing, submitting and marketing seems more … manageable.  You know what you are dealing with.  

Do you struggle with dialogue, research, plotting, character development, etc.? If so, how do you overcome it? 
It’s hard for me to write love scenes and keep a straight face.  By nature I’m very cynical person with a low libido, so when I read about “sweltering kisses” and “urgent desire”, I start cracking up. On another hand, sex scenes involving physical and emotional duress and manipulation come very easily to me. My own sensuality is not totally traditional. As a writer, I have not yet reached a point where I can depict love scenes through the prism of traditional eroticism. At least, people have commented that my love scenes come across as authentic, if somewhat disturbing.  

Many people, myself included, dream of publishing their stories. How and when did you know it was time to start writing professionally?
I never considered writing a major source of income. To be perfectly honest, I took the “throw against the wall and see what sticks” approach.  You stick your fingers in multiple cakes and pray you don’t get slapped.  

Navigating the ins and outs of the industry can be confusing for many. What was the most difficult hurdle for you as far as getting your work on the market? 
Three of my novels deal with the Anglo-Irish conflict. I’ve had many author friends tell me that I should  find a British or an Irish publisher to reach my core audience.  In theory it sounds like a reasonable thing to do. In reality, many British and Irish publishers don’t want to deal with an American author. There is a certain amount of xenophobia: “Exactly who do you think you are?” If you write romance or horror, the author’s nationality doesn’t matter as much. But if you write a hardcore historical novel about a particular ethnic group that’s not yours, you should be prepared for a certain amount of skepticism and resistance. I actually had my last Irish novel contracted by a publisher in the UK, and they ended up dropping me because they changed their mind on the account of me being an American citizen. I asked them specifically if that would be a problem, and at first they assured me that they only cared about the story.  Well, as it turned out, I was right.  They went back on their offer 8 months later, shortly before the projected publication. It worked out in the end. I gave my book to one of my existing American publishers. Still, that experience left a very unpleasant residue. 

Those of us in the book world understand writing the novel is only the tip of the iceberg. What tool or tools have you found to be the most beneficial in terms of advertising and promoting your work?
Apart of nagging and stalking my fellow writers and friends, often to the point of antagonizing them with my “check out my latest novel” e-mails, I have had luck approaching genre-specific publications that target the same audience I hope to engage in. Much of my fiction deals with military history, so various military publications are on my list. I hate to admit it, but I do “book swap” with other authors.  “You buy mine, and I’ll buy yours” type of arrangement. 

As an author, who inspires you? Who are your favorite authors and what are your favorite books?
I am inspired by my fellow authors whose books are published by small presses. Hats off to the founding editor and the authors of Penmore Press – the new landmark in quality historical fiction. 

Midnight in Paris is one of my favorite movies, I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but it centers on a writer who falls through time and meets many of his own literary heroes. If you could do the same, who would you want to meet and why? 
Gosh, many of my characters are real historical figures.  I would love to meet the real historical Bulmer Hobson and ask him what he thought about my depiction of him in “Martyrs & Traitors” and “Never Be at Peace”. 

In looking ahead to possible future projects, what subjects or historic characters interest you the most? 
I just finished writing a novel set in 19th century Lithuania, the land of my paternal ancestors. The Baltics have been overlooked by historical novelists, so I feel that it’s time to fill that niche.  It’s such a fascinating part of the world from the linguistic, political, religious, and artistic standpoints. A true melting pot of Slavic, Germanic and Judaic influences. 

What advice, if any, do you have for aspiring authors?
Don’t get bogged down by reading articles about how terrible the publishing industry is.  Try not to track other author’s Amazon rankings. I know it’s easier said than done. Yes, competition is healthy, but it shouldn’t become your focus. Otherwise you’ll never get anything finished. 

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"The spirits of Charles Dickens and Victor Hugo haunt this darkly compelling novel of the mid-Victorian underworld. Exhaustively researched, ambitious in scope and rich in period detail, King Wynfield is a harrowing tale of wretched poverty and desperate survival, of monstrous child abuse and atrocious acts committed in the name of science. Diana the wild robber maiden and her bandit lover Wynfield are larger than life anti-heroes destined to linger long in the reader’s imagination." – Eileen Kernaghan, author of Wild Talent: a Novel of the Supernatural

"Neary writes with unbelievable power, yet never loses her sense of emotional insight…. Wynfield’s Kingdom is truly an extraordinary first novel." – Tom Grundner, author of Midshipman Prince.

"Ms. Neary tells Helena's tragic story with an undercurrent of dark humor. "Never Be at Peace" will appeal to anyone who wants to learn more about Irish history and the real human beings behind the 1916 Easter Rising and its aftermath." - Kim Rendfeld, author of The Cross and the Dragon

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Marina Julia Neary is an award-winning historical essayist, multilingual arts & entertainment journalist, published poet, playwright, actress, dancer and choreographer. A specialist on the obscure works of Victor Hugo, she has lectured at the French Alliance. Her historical tragicomedy Hugo in London featuring the adventures of the French literary genius in England during the Crimean War was produced in Greenwich in 2008 and recently acquired by Heuer Publishing. A sequel, Lady with a Lamp: an Untold Story of Florence Nightingale, premiered in 2009 as a theatrical benefit for The Wyatt Foundation. 

In 2007 she was commissioned to collect and publish the memoirs of residents from an affluent retirement community in Stamford, CT. The project involved interviewing over forty senior citizens over the age of ninety. A new Connecticut-based leisure publication Norwalk Beat has recently brought her on board as a steady contributor. She focuses on the entertainment industry in Connecticut. Her poems have been accepted by literary journals such as Alimentum and The Recorder and First Edition (UK). After having her short story accepted by Bewildering Stories Magazine, she was invited to join the editorial staff. 

In addition to her writing career, Neary has a career in the performing arts. She has starred in several independent horror films shot in CT and NY. In the 1990s she has competed in various talent competitions in New England and placed second in Miss LaSalle beauty pageant. 

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