Interview with Vera Nazarian
Nazarian is a multi-talented woman who not only writes, but also is an artist
and a musician a well. She sold her first short story to Marion Zimmer Bradley's
Sword and Sorceress II anthology just as she was graduating from High School,
and was published in numerous volumes of this series over the following years.
She has long championed self-promotion, and has several ideas and suggestions
for new writers.
of the Compass Rose (Wildside Press; ISBN: 1587155842)
first novel, Dreams of the Compass Rose (Wildside Press; ISBN:
1587155842) is forthcoming in May 2002.
The book has been described by Charles de Lint (The Magazine of
Fantasy and Science Fiction, February 2002) as a novel of
"...stately lyricism, a compelling and visionary voice that
speaks to the heart of the reader."
is also the cover artist for the book.
can find more information about Vera at her web site: http://www.veranazarian.com/
First, can you tell us about your unusual childhood, Vera?
I was abandoned by urban elves on the doorstep of an apartment in
Moscow, Russia, a mad changeling child wrapped in a blanket of leaves and
I was born in 1966, in the former USSR, the child of penniless intelligentsia
parents. My schoolteacher mother
had taught me to read early and introduced me to fairy tales of all lands and
cultures, and to ancient Greek mythology.
I was a six-year-old girl obsessed with the Homeric epics, knew
passages by heart, wanted to change my name to
carved functional bows and spears out of wooden sticks in the back yard of the
apartment complex and pretended to be an Amazon.
was also a very sickly child, and spent most of my time out of school
bedridden, and reading tons of books that my mother would bring me from the
library. I read the classics,
children's fantasies and fairy stories, novels of magic and ancient history --
all in Russian, of course. When
we left the USSR, I was just finishing up 3rd grade, and had just begun to
study English, my second language, at the same time as I was assimilating by
osmosis my other native language, Armenian (later in school in the US, I
studied Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, and German).
immigrated to Beirut, Lebanon and lived as refugees during the very beginning
of the Lebanese civil war, then lived in Greece, and finally were admitted to
the United States in 1976, the Bicentennial year. During my time as a refugee, I did not attend school since I
did not know enough Arabic and was illiterate in Armenian (those were the only
schools available), and instead my mother made me read an old borrowed
children's encyclopedia in English for over a year, in lieu of formal
schooling. Thus, I never finished
3rd grade and did not attend 4th grade.
Do you think your background has affected what you write?
yes. I feel like my head is a
cauldron of different cultures, East and West, all made familiar and
comfortable -- so much so that I cannot imagine not knowing a little bit about
everything all around the world. Linguistically I seem to have an innate
ability to understand roots of words from many languages I have never formally
studied, and to correctly infer meanings. Culturally it all mixes together
into an acceptance of many possibilities, an open-ended permanent state of
wonder. The concept of the
imaginary and the fantastic has been so firmly ingrained that only recently
did it finally sink in why some otherwise quite intelligent and educated
people do not enjoy reading fantasy or science fiction -- they really truly do
not think in such terms. Even
though they may have learned critical
thinking, they certainly have no background whatsoever in "wonder thinking." Difficult
to conceive, for those of us who are steeped in imagination, but there it is.
Dreams of the Compass Rose has an interesting premise.
I believe you call it a collage novel.
Can you tell us about the plot and what that term means?
of all, DREAMS is a weird book. And
I am not just saying it because I want to intrigue you. It is weird because I, the author, keep finding new
revelations, new aspects of wisdom in it every time I return to read it.
This has never happened to me before.
At most, I am done with a story and that's that, no more
"Aha!" moments. With
this one, it has a life of its own. It morphs before me, a kaleidoscope of fable and
philosophical concepts. And that
kinda freaks me out.
a nutshell, DREAMS OF THE COMPASS ROSE is the story of ...
well, many people. And it takes place in an ancient alternate world. In a sense,
it is one big fable about the nature of truth and evil -- notice, I don't say
"good and evil."
Compass Rose itself is a unifying symbol, a metaphor of life's directions:
Past, Present, Future… Alternate. The
Dreams and the characters populating them, all move along the four
temporal-spatial directions. And
with them, so do you, the reader.
might find it odd that I cannot really name a main character, but this is part
of the book's weirdness. I
suppose that Nadir is the closest to being a main character. He is certainly a personal favorite of mine.
Nadir, whose name means "the lowest of the low" because he
had no better name when he was first found as a young dark-skinned boy in the
gutter. Nadir is an angry, proud,
but honest little boy who gets himself in trouble and then into an odd state
of honor-bound slavery. The
relationship between him and the sadistic woman whom he serves for the greater
part of his life is a motif all throughout.
And yet, there is no fair way to single out any one character in this
tapestry of many points of view, personalities, places, times, and ethnicities
(most of the characters are non-white -- Nadir is black, and serves a woman
who is ethnically Chinese).
brings me to the explanation of the structure.
A "collage novel" is a term I coined to refer to a collection
of standalone stories set in the same universe, that have common characters
who star or play supporting roles, and "visit" each other's stories.
And yet, what makes this a true collage forming a distinct semantic
entity (as opposed to just a random grouping of related tales) is that the
individual stores, or Dreams, flow one into the other and shape a greater
story meta-arc of meaning when read in order.
Not one takes real precedence, and all work together to form the
greater whole. And yes, there is
an order of revelation, just as you would get with a traditional novel with
Charles de Lint said it best in his review of DREAMS OF THE COMPASS ROSE in
the February 2002 issue of F&SF, where he calls it "a story-cycle in
which we keep coming back to the same characters, except from different
viewpoints and different times in their lives. It's set in a land of desert
empires that never was, though it could easily be our world--far in the
future, or deep in the past."
complete review can be found here:
What genres do you write in, and why? And
would you like to try your hand at any others?
the moment I write primarily fantasy and science fiction, often with a healthy
dollop of romantic tension, a drop or two of dark fantasy and erotica, and a
sprinkling of mystery. I've found
that I have no interest in poetry, very little in "mainstream"
(which I find mostly boring and depressing, a genre of modern humdrum
fiction without imagination or direction) and in fact am rather annoyed with
the genre boundaries altogether.
I write is heroic hopeful fiction of the imagination, fables and metaphors
that present the world as a multi-layered onion of realities, and my
underlying eclectic philosophy. I
don't consider myself a storyteller so much as an interpreter of patterns; I
explain the world -- to myself foremost -- using extended metaphors in story
form. And although this might be considered anathema, I like to imbue all
patterns with moral meaning. It's
fun to pretend that the world itself is really just an amazing slipstream
story and all the real life details are simply plot points reaching forward to
a logical resolution.
I believe that fiction of the imagination in all its flavors -- also called
speculative fiction -- is the only "genre" without boundaries, I see
no reason to switch. Fantasy is
what one makes of it, and my make is to produce literature of hope.
I like how Sherwood Smith calls it writing the world not as it is but
as it ought to be.
Who were your influences in writing?
better question would be to ask what were my conscious influences.
Because I think the sum total of my reading experience -- the classics,
mythology, fairy tales, and all the fantasy and SF I have ever read, make up
the subconscious foundation. Place
on top of it the exotic dark beauty of Tanith Lee's style, the in-depth
analysis of Leo Tolstoy, the romanticism of George Sand, the earnest humanity
of Marion Zimmer Bradley, the sophistication of Fyodor Dostoyevsky, the young
wonder of Andre Norton, the wit and elegance of Oscar Wilde, the urgency of
C.J. Cherryh, the nostalgic sorrow of J.R.R.
Tolkien, the layer magic of Roger Zelazny, the mayhem magic of Piers Anthony,
the intricacy of Gene Wolfe, the spirit of Homer....
I need to stop, really.
Do you think small press companies like Wildside are more likely to buy
something unusual than the big publishers?
small presses in general are more likely to buy niche-defying work from a new
and relatively unknown writer, because they operate on a small scale and
usually don't have all that much invested in any given writer.
Thus, their risk tolerance is greater.
submitted my novel DREAMS OF THE COMPASS ROSE directly to Wildside -- it has
never been to any other publisher -- knowing that my best chances are to take
the fate of this weird book into my own hands, since small press gives you a
bit more control over production (for example, my own cover art) and
promotion. And in this case,
there was also a modicum of excitement and curiosity, since I think that
unlike most other small presses, World Fantasy Award-winning Wildside Press is
in a unique and fascinating position, primed to take full advantage of the
changing face of publishing. Not
to mention that it's currently behaving like an aggressive growth fund in a
bull market, quickly growing, with nearly 500 books in print right now, with
major distribution by Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and Bertram's (UK).
I had gone to a major traditional publisher first, it would have been a
guaranteed waste of my time at this point in my career.
Big publishers say they love new groundbreaking work, and in some ways
they do. But usually it is after
it has proven its marketability that you hear this long exhaled breath of
secret relief. And unlike the
smaller and upcoming presses, they are not going to take chances with a
Published Small Fry as readily on something as offbeat as my
"collage" novel. Maybe
if I had been a known name like Robert Jordan, instead of a PSF, I'd get away
with one weird book. But
Your earlier sales were in short stories.
Do you think that either the writing or publishing of those stories has
helped your career as a novelist?
am a firm believer in cumulative effect and varied exposure.
Pro short story sales help tangentially, and at times they can be
mentioned in cover letters. But this is on a very limited basis. Overall, a novelist career is a wholly separate beast, and
unless you have won awards or some other distinctions with your short fiction,
you basically start from scratch. The
only thing a short fiction sale can do is testify that you can write. And
cover letters filled with semi-pro or lesser sales credits actually look naive
to most New York major book publishers. Keep
that in mind before you mention those sales.
Let's discuss promotion for newly published authors.
If you could give a person just three rules that they should do, what
would they be?
give quite a few more than three rules in my upcoming Speculations article
"Publicity And Self-Promotion Nouveau: Doing It With Class."
However, the three I would like to give here are:
Treat everyone in the industry as a fellow human being and potential friend
first, anything else (editor, agent, publisher, potential Nebula voter) later.
Information, more so than connections, is the thing of most value in the
industry. If you hold
information, you become a desired connection yourself.
See how that works?
Be persistent and don't be afraid to think outside the box.
This advice is similar to writing advice.
Writers already know to be persistent in sending out their work and
accumulating rejection slips. Now
they need to realize that publicity and self-promo works the same way too.
You just do it on a regular basis, a little every day, forever and
ever. It's a good thing that you
have some control over publicity, much more than you have over fiction sales.
the second part of the equation is, be creative and original in your publicity
efforts. Analyze what it is that
you are promoting, your work's strengths and weaknesses and specific niche,
and don't be afraid to try things that other people have not.
In fact, try a little bit of everything.
Yes, there is the danger of negative publicity, and no one really knows
when things can backfire, but that's why you need to use your head and think
ahead before you act. Weigh your
risk potential, and then go for it.
invite anyone who is further interested in this topic to subscribe to the
Yahoo!Groups mailing list that I run, called Publicity And Self-Promotion For
And what would you tell them not
be an asshole. *grin* Don't be
blind to facts. Don't
annoy/pester/tease/harass anyone who may be in a position to help you with
your efforts -- bookstore managers, fans, con committees, fellow writers. Although this planet contains over 6 billion humans, it
really is a small place.
What changes do you see as the role of authors in the upcoming years?
where to begin.... In brief, I
see a world of mixed media, a world of publishers scaled down and scaled up to
a manageable mean, who handle traditional print runs, print-on-demand,
e-books, audio-books, and any other media -- each publisher offering all of
the above elements under their house imprints, and customized to fit the
potential sell-through of any work of fiction or non-fiction according to
well-analyzed factors. I see
Customized Publishing and the blessed return of the Backlist.
also see an even greater number of competent authors than now, all working in
this more eclectic more fast-paced market, and struggling to keep up with all
these newfangled publishing options. The
ones who get in on a good thing early, are the ones who earn.
The ones who are not afraid of being true to themselves are the ones
who persist and find a solid place for themselves and their work.
Do you see the Internet as a good tool for upcoming writers?
How should they be using it, if it is?
internet is like money -- it depends on what you make of it and how you use
it. If you invest your online
time wisely, you will discover so many things and opportunities that you will
be surprised. On the other hand,
it's easy to fall into a web-surfing rut.
My foremost advice is to first look around and see where the people you
admire hang out. Then establish a
strong online presence in at least one area, with the most passive being a
website, and most active being a USENET or other newsgroup or electronic
newsletter or online journal. Chose
the level of comfort that's right for your personality and time constraints.
But plan to make it a permanent regular activity, since face it, you
are now a public persona, whether you like it or not, for the rest of your
What about conventions?
needs to go to a major convention at least once. Then, if you decide this kind of thing is for you, the
next step is to get to know the industry from all sides, fan and pro, and keep
your eyes and ears wide open, and your heart ready to make friends.
Any words of wisdom for
as Ron Collins and Lisa Silverthorne always say, is the key to many things.
In other words, as Holly Lisle says, never ever give up on your dreams.
However, if you think you're in a writing rut, don't be afraid to start
in a new direction. You are not being graded on this, you know.
Well, maybe a little, but not in a sense that really counts.
Where it really counts -- in your writing -- you can choose to listen to
the good and bad estimation from others but only you can grade yourself.
What are your plans for the future?
What are you working on now?
soon as I turn in the final draft of LORDS OF RAINBOW, an epic fantasy and my
second book, to Wildside later in 2002, I am going to be working on two rather
ambitious projects. First is
PANTHEON, my near future political SF trilogy, which takes place in the same
universe as my story "Rossia Moya"
(which was on the Nebula Preliminary ballot for 2000) but somewhat later, in
an Iron Honeycomb world (the Iron Honeycomb is a political iron curtain that
has closed off all countries from each other and the rest of the world).
The second project is the Adventures of Ruricca NoOnesDaughter trilogy,
a fantasy. Both of these book
series will be marketed traditionally to the big publishers.
Any last things you'd like to cover?
this -- always remember that you are ultimately in control of your writing but
not in control of the industry -- even when things are seemingly going wrong,
you have the power of choice in your own actions. So the thing to do is to learn how to surf each trend and,
like a wave, always flow back. Good
luck, my friends!