[interview with Şerban Andrei Mazilu]
by Ştefan Bolea
translation from Romanian by Dorina Burcea [MTTLC student] & Gianina-Aniela Câşleanu
click aici pentru versiunea română
1. You are in the forefront of a generation that will most probably turn its back to Romanian language. What do you win and what do you lose?
I truly hope you don’t believe that. I’m extremely bothered by the fact that even at the event that took place on the 9th of February – the so-called book launch, which was more of a presentation since Crux is not being published in Romania – things were misinterpreted. I’m not turning my back to Romanian literature and I don’t believe that English language is better than Romanian. Many people don’t understand… or better said, don’t want to understand that some things sound better in English. Just as many other things sound great in Romanian. This is one of the reasons why I decided to publish directly in English instead of waiting to be successful at a local level and then maybe receive an offer to publish outside the country. The second reason, and the most important, is that I want to make a living out of writing. If I had firstly published here (as I was planning to five years ago) I would not afford to focus on literature 100 %. To be successful in the US would mean the world and there are better chances to be read there than in Romania. Let’s be honest: the Romanian public is painfully small. Trust me, if ever that moment comes, when I can give up my job as a marine officer because I’ll be making enough money from writing, then I’ll also publish books in Romania, written in Romanian.
[© Andrei Voica]
2. Cioran believed that together with your language you also change your identity. Would you be a different author if writing in Romanian?
I started by writing in Romanian. It is my foundation; this is not only what shapes me as a writer but also what defines me as an individual. You’d think that writing is something you learn and that it’s a factor which could influence a person. In fact, we all have the potential to do certain things. Maybe you would make a great firefighter but you don’t know it because you have never tried it. I was lucky enough to discover writing and what was already inside me surfaced. I’m sure that what Cioran was referring to was the citizen’s identity not our character. Living in a different environment would clearly influence my personality. But writing in another language? No, I don’t think it turned me into someone else.
3. In English a rational or emotional choice? Do you feel an emotional connection to English or are you just looking to achieve success on a bigger market?
As I was saying in the beginning, it’s both. I have been told that my genre is Dark Fantasy, a style which loses some of its power when translated. I’ll say it again, there are things that sound better in English. In the same time, I also want a bigger audience but I’m not excluding the Romanian market.
4. How do profession and vocation go together? Do you have time to create when out at sea?
To be honest, I write much more when I’m at sea. I don’t know, maybe the environment there influences my creative process. Or maybe it is the fact that I feel more inspired when I’m tired – because it is a truly demanding job. Writing and sailing have nothing in common but I always manage to make the time, even if that means less sleep. It’s like in a marriage: if you truly love the other person, you make the time.
5. Eliade was dreaming in Romanian. In what language do you dream?
I don’t dream in a certain language, my dreams are images. My thoughts are images and that is why I’m very visual in the way I express myself. I master quite well both languages; they combine and help me write with ease. But what I imagine are images. I translate them into words and that’s how wonderful things come to life.
6. I confess I can’t wait to read your novel. What are you influences? What about authors you love?
I was asked before about my influences, but what they usually mean is what writers influenced me. The truth is I have never been inspired by a certain writer in particular. Of course, there are many I admire but I try to be original and not be influenced by anybody. However, there is a subtle but strong connection to Terry Pratchett, in the sense that I often like to put my characters in comic situations. But what truly inspire me are elements from movies and games. And I’m talking here about those little details that most people don’t notice for more than 3 seconds. For example, there is a scene in “The Watch” where Ben Stiller is shooting two guns while looking for shelter. It is meant as a funny scene but to me it looked more like a great moment that had more to do with action than with humor. I wouldn’t copy it, but I admit it inspires me to write something similar.
7. Your success story is inspiring. You transgressed a deeply corrupted editorial system that has usually no respect for young talent. “Kill all genius in the womb” would be the Dostoyevskian anthem of all the worn out dinosaurs in the system. What is your message for those who want to follow your example?
Once again I will seem arrogant… I MASTER English. Many think this about themselves and they are wrong. It is not enough to speak a foreign language well; you need to be familiar with the literary discourse of that language, with the meanings of some expressions which translated ad litteram would confuse a Romanian. Here, to give you an example, the expression “five o’clock shadow” which translated word for word would mean “a shadow at five o’clock” when in fact it refers to that shadow of a beard that a man has in the afternoon after shaving that morning. But since you mentioned the system, in Romania what you were describing applies to everything that is related to innovation, from the avant-garde painter to the education system. I bypassed the system on purpose because I knew what obstacles I would have to face. I worked in the media, I have friends in the music business and I earn my living as a marine officer – sabotage is everywhere because few are those who will support and encourage you to reach you full potential. But those few do exist. My advice? Look for those few, convince them and don’t give up on what you want. One thing is for sure: it’s IMPOSSIBLE to make it alone.
8. Will your book be translated into Romanian or into other languages?
I don’t know. That was not in my plans. It’s not something that I thought about or necessarily want, for that matter. I think I’d like it; in fact I would feel honored to have written something worth translated. But as I was saying, I’m afraid that that certain something which makes Crux so special in English would be lost in a translation. This is the pressing question right now. I don’t know yet… But I’m sure, if it happens, you’ll find out.
9. In Romania, your novel will be available as a “hard copy” or only as an e-book?
The book is available in both formats. All you need is a computer and an internet connection. Crux can be bought directly as an e-book or if you want the paperback, it will be delivered to you by mail soon after making the order. Right now it is available on all specialized websites.
10. Will you turn to other literary genres or do you plan to continue with prose? Do you have any plans regarding a non-fantasy novel or a nonfiction book?
Crux is only the first book in “The Angellove Society” series which includes six books (two trilogies). There is a project I’ve started when I began writing Crux – a detective/mystery novel, but I don’t know if I’ll have time for it in the next months. But I do have a project together with Andrei Marc, the designer of the cover, regarding a graphic novel. The project is set to start in the fall if he gets in at the University of Arts in Bucharest. We would then be working together in the same city – as he is now still in high school, in Oradea – and I think the result would be amazing.
11. You recently launched your novel in Bucharest. Will there also be a book launch in the States?
It wasn’t in fact a book launch but a presentation. I wanted to come up with something new, something special and I did. It just happened that Deea (my agent) and I had the unfortunate idea of calling the event a “launch”. A book launch implies collaborating with a publishing house, having a contract and Crux being available on the shelves of bookstores in Romania. This was a celebration of the world-wide launch of the book and, for those who know me better, a celebration of my 30th birthday which will happen in two days from now. A trailer was screened (something that was never done before in Romania for a book), there was a message from our publishing house in the States and a few books printed with the help of Horia Ursu (Millenium) were given away. But it was NOT a launch. A book launch did not take place in the States either and none is scheduled; a book launch without the author would be a bad PR move. But we balance it out by concentrating on the promotion of the book, especially on reviews which have been great so far. Receiving four stars out of five it’s really something and I’m extremely happy to see that the book is so well received. However, I’m sorry that the Romanian bloggers who attended the so-called launch, did not understand what it was all about and were left with the impression that all I wanted was to show off…
12. Have you had the opportunity to work with an editor or was the first version of the manuscript flawless?
From what I know, Crux reached at least a dozen publishing houses. Probably Deea could tell you more about this but what I know for sure was that none of these publishing houses rejected it. WE were the ones who chose the publishing house and decided to go with WheelMan Press because they bound themselves by contract to open the door for us for a collaboration with movie producers. I’m happy we chose them because both Tom and Greg, the two managers at WheelMan, are extraordinary people, true professionals and that was exactly what we were looking for. The final version of the manuscript had already been modified based on the text analysis and the special proofreading that it had went through – it had been checked by people at Allwrite Publishing to see what worked and what didn’t and based on the feedback received from them I had made the necessary modifications. From my point of view, the version that reached the publishing houses could truly be considered flawless.
13. Do you see a movie or a TV series based on the future trilogy? If that were the case, would you like to be the one writing the script?
I would prefer a big budget movie. There are amazing images in Crux (as you will see for yourself) and fantastic characters, and this deserves all the necessary attention. A TV series could be made for The Angellove Society series and we are in fact thinking to create something like this through a series of stories. Probably in the near future… Yes, it would be an honor and a great happiness for me to turn the book, the series, the concepts in a movie or a TV series. I don’t know if I would be the one writing the script but I would definitely have a consultant role. Nothing concerning this project happened without my approval – in the same way I wouldn’t agree not having a say regarding my creation when it came to this type of project.
14. Do you have any role models when it comes to Romanian speculative fiction authors?
No. I’m sorry, but no. I’m sure there is potential there but as I said before, I don’t think SF&F can be taken seriously when written in Romanian. It just doesn’t sound as good to me. I’m not an antinationalist but to me it is like seeing a police man doing ballet in the middle of the street. It doesn’t fit. Or maybe I just haven’t read the right things…
15. What would you choose between glory and excellence?
It’s a funny question. If I write in English it is exactly because I believe you can have both. We Romanians have the bad habit of bringing down our people of value and then recognizing their worth postmortem. I’m an idealist but not to such an extent as to be satisfied with recognition while I can’t afford to buy a cup of coffee. I want them both, and if that means enjoying glory before excellence, then so be it. I’d rather reach a good status and then have enough time for excellence. If successful enough I plan to invest a lot of time and money into charity. To give you an example! I was involved in what happened two years ago with the Letea horses; I can’t even remember the number of times I went from Constanta to Urleasca to Bucharest and back again and struggled like crazy to help those animals. Unfortunately, the result was insignificant. I wouldn’t hesitate to get involved in this type of events and act to prevent situations like this if I had the necessary funds and the social status that would allow me to have a bigger impact.