Today, I have the distinct pleasure of featuring Romanian author Marina Costa on this edition of A Perfect 10.
Please enjoy this special installment of A Perfect 10
If you want to check out past interviews, you can find them in the following links:
A.C. Flory, Steve Boseley, Kayla Matt, Mae Clair, Jill Sammut, Deanna Kahler, Dawn Reno Langley, John Howell, Elaine Cougler, Jan Sikes, Nancy Bell, Nick Davis, Kathleen Lopez, Susan Thatcher, Charles Yallowitz, Armand Rosamilia, Tracey Pagana, Anna Dobritt, Karen Oberlaender, Deby Fredericks, Teri Polen, Darlene Foster, Robert Rayner, C.C. Naughton, Sherry Rentshler, Linda Bradley, Luna St. Clair, Joan Hall, Staci Troilo, Allan Hudson, Robert Eggleton, Paul Scott Bates, P.C. Zick, Joy Lennick, Patrick Roland, Mary Carlomagno, Kathleen Jowitt, Michele Jones, J. Bliss, Maline Carroll, Alethea Kehas, Angelique Conger, Colin Guest, Rebekkah Ford, Andrew Joyce, Win Charles, Ritu Bhathal, Deborah Jay, Robin Leigh Morgan, Marjorie Mallon
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Writing usually energizes me. I am an economist, and working with words instead of numbers, and especially writing about times and places less known for the modern Romanian reader, matter a lot.
Do you ever write under a pseudonym? If not have you considered it? Why or why not?
Marina Costa is a pseudonym. My real name is Lelia-Elena Vasilescu. I have published on my maiden name (because I wasn’t married yet in 1999) a project management book, the first one in Romanian at that time. I have also other specialized publications under my real name, as I have a PhD in World Economics. The dissertation wasn’t published though.
My publisher said that a writer needs to have a short name, with something unusual and easy to remember. He suggested me something I didn’t like, and I chose Marina Costa instead, the name of a character I had written in my youth, which complied with his requirements and I loved it. Furthermore, I had already my social media on this pseudonym.
Does a big ego help or hurt writers? Why or why not?
A big ego always hurts, because it comes in the path of self-improvement, and it affects taking criticism too.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
Money spent on books needed for research.
If saying about my youth, I’d recommend the aspiring writers (and better if they can read Italian, as I don’t know if that was translated into English) “The Grammar of Fantasy” by Gianni Rodari. It is helpful for writing children’s stories, but teaches an aspiring writer how to think, how to find subjects… Ultimately, his advice can be adapted for fan fiction and for fantasy and world building too. In English I’d recommend Holly Lisle’s books, but I had what I could online, without paying, so it is not the reply to THIS question.
What does writing success look like to you? Have you achieved it?
I haven’t achieved yet writing success. Besides plenty of books sold and read, it would mean also interacting with the readers.
What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book? What sources do you use?
I research before and during writing the book, because besides researching for the basic things before beginning it (historical setting, specific names, clothing, traditions, buildings, culture, wars, etc.) one never knows beforehand that some more specific details will be needed to research later. I use books, movies and Internet sources alike. The fact that I can read in English, French, Spanish and Italian besides my mother tongue helps a lot in finding information. From Renaissance fencing manuals to how to treat a wound in a certain time period and place, and to specific music and holiday traditions, I have researched lots of things. My novels are historical fiction and adventure, but they are historically documented and the curious ones can read the footnotes as well (not sources like in academic papers, but explanations, summaries of historical characters and important places, such as the ones to hold battles or sign treaties, etc.)
How do you select the names of your characters? Have you ever regretted choosing a particular name? Why?
I like some names and it shows, being recurrent in my stories. You can find a Marina, an Andrea, an Alexandro and a few others in several stories I have written. If I had children, they might have got the Romanian versions of these names. But I choose other names based on names lists specific for the time period and nationality the characters are. Some are chosen based on my friends, relatives’ or acquaintances’ names, but it doesn’t mean that the character as a whole is inspired from them. In several instances, I took a name or a diminutive from a person I knew, parts of the personality of someone else – real person or character of a book or a movie – and I added my original touch too, so the resulting character might be a villain with a good person’s name, so the part with “be nice with the writer, otherwise she puts you in a novel and she kills you” isn’t valid for me. You can be nice and I still would use your name for a villain or for a secondary character who dies heroically in a battle.
I remember that I chose a secondary character’s name after a four years old girl with a blue dress, a blue balloon and blue eyes, running on the falaise on a holiday afternoon, hearing how her parents called her.
If I regretted choosing a particular name in an instance, I changed the name after having written the novel. For example, in a novel I haven’t published yet, I used the name Vanessa because I had been told it means Venetian, and it was appropriate, in that case, for the daughter of an estranged Venetian. But I learnt later that it wasn’t true, it had been invented by Jonathan Swift. It is not Italian and not appropriate for the time period the story happened. So, at the end of the novel, replace all and turn her into Vittoria.
I also did it for a Mary Ann which didn’t seem right for a foreign girl… and at the end she became Marion, slightly more exotic. Again, select all and replace.
What is the hardest type of scene to write?
I’d say a sex scene, and one of the reasons why I merely suggest them when it is the case. I write for young adults mostly, and I am surveying my language. I liked the most when I suggested a wedding night with a few verses from the “Song of Songs”.
But in historical novels, any scene is difficult to write if you haven’t done enough research. I can write only if I can see first the scene in my mind in order to describe it. And sometimes I was stopped by not seeing well, yet, what they had on their tables at the feast or what work the sailors were doing during the storm. The answer was back to research, then back to writing with the image fresh in your mind.
If you could have dinner with four people, living or dead, who would they be and what would you want to ask them?
My preferences would change from a day to another. One day they would involve people who had changed the world, among which young Malala Yousafzai, Indira Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Toussaint L’Ouverture.
Another day they would involve some of my favorite writers, and I would ask them advice for literary success. Those would be Sir Walter Scott, Alexandre Dumas Sr., Victor Hugo and Karl May.
What platform has brought you the most success in marketing your books?
The publishing house’s periodic magazine, “Literary Arena”, the semestrial book fairs and the reviews other writers published in various literary magazines. I would say also the Facebook page helped some. Not having e-books (because they aren’t sought in my country, here paperbacks are important) the most usual advice found online about book promotions don’t apply to me, being mostly focused on e-books.
About Marina’s Books:
I don’t have purchase links, as my books aren’t available online (and my books aren’t in English anyway, but in Romanian, my mother tongue), but the link to my social media are:
My debut novel’s title can be translated as “The Wanderers of the Seas“. It was launched in June 2016 and it happens in the Viking Era. It is based also on one historical theory of the years 1950s-1980s that the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent who had taught them a lot of things, described as blonde and bearded, with whom the Conquistadors had been mistaken, might have been Viking. So my characters, after a whole saga (a Byzantine young woman happening to be in a convent in Venice while her father was travelling, gets kidnapped by the Vikings, follows them on an island in now Norway, then, as her master gets killed in a local political intrigue and his defenders get banned, she follows them in their quest for a new homeland), end in now Mexico, with the Nahuatl. Sigurd, the ship captain, turns to become there Quetzalcoatl.
The second novel, launched in March 2017, in two volumes, can be translated as “Lives in turmoil” (Part 1 – “Bloodied lands“, Part 2 – “The New World“). It starts in the Napoleonic Era, in Italy under the Jacobine revolutions – “Liberty, equality, fraternity, democratic republic” (therefore the title of the first volume – the lands are bloodied by the wars). For my character, the fights stop with the battle of Novi, in the summer of 1799, when she is taken prisoner. She succeeds to escape, but she has to lay low ever since.
When the Revolutionary Wars turn into dictature with the self-appointment of Napoleon as first consul, she and her fiance decide to emigrate to the US, the only country who had preserved the democratic values. (hence the second volume’s title). There they go west, with a convoy of Venetians, and settle on the shores of the Mississippi river (Venice, IL exists now too, and it is a part of Greater St. Louis, being just across the river from St. Louis). They make new friends there and they erect their village, with the name of the Serenissima Reppubblica they are deploring (The Republic of Venice being given by Napoleon to the Austrians in Campo Formio Treaty in 1797). They witness the Purchase of Louisiana, the development of Saint Louis (in parallel, but in quicker rhythm than their village). The second volume ends with Lafayette’s visit in 1825, making Roxana and Luigi, now Mayor of Venice, Illinois, reminisce their lives and fights in Italy, and with their firstborn son, now a young man in his early 20s, returning to Italy, together with other sons of settlers of Venice, to fight on the side of the Carbonari, exactly how their revolutionary parents had fought in their youth for the same ideals.
There will be a third volume too, a sequel with its own conflict, which can be read also separately, titled “Other turmoils of life“, that I am working at during this NaNoWriMo season.