1. Tell us a bit about your family.
I grew up in Bucharest and Craiova (my grandparents’ city in Southern Romania), with long stints in NYC. I am an only child, but grew up being very close to two of my cousins. They are like siblings to me, to this day, and for that, I am very grateful. My parents are fun, worldly, and eccentric people who love reading, travel, food, and socializing. They brought me up very much in that spirit, and, although they encouraged me to embrace a more practical (read: safe and solvent) career, they also always made it possible for me to travel, and daydream in all sorts of ways. My grandparents on my mother’s side, and my grandma’s sister, were also very involved in my education. They were merchants, living with a lot of Southern flair, in a small city in Southern Romania, where time still has a pace of its very own, sweeter, and with more of a melody. My grandparents on my father’s side lived in Sibiu, one of Europe’s coolest cities to date, and my grandma was an English teacher. She greatly influenced my reading as a child and young adult. She was quite progressive, and she was not opposed to sharing a bodice-ripper with me, especially if it was in English. I think she helped my fondness for both fiction and the English language.
2. How do you work through self-doubt and fear?
Oy. This took years, and I am still working through my doubts and fears, though I have made great progress. I am also an artist. I paint. For many years, I did not do this at all, because I feared my paintings would be silly, and I would just waste expensive supplies. But I was always drawn to other artists, and in time, being around them helped me work up the courage to start painting again.
Writing, in a way, was easier, because it did not cost money, nor did it require studio space, or making a mess. Of course, my first attempts were clumsy, and I knew it. But I could write and re-write secretly, without showing anyone (except two friends, who luckily were better at pointing out the fun ideas than the clumsiness), for years. I also took to reading books about writing, and making small improvements over time.
What helped, is that at the beginning (while, of course, I dreamed of being published one day), I wrote mostly for myself, my story almost brain-candy formed of fantasy episodes that gave me the kind of thrills I enjoyed finding in the books I read.
3. What makes you happiest?
Little things. Painting a little bit each day. Writing a little bit. Rubbing my dog’s belly. Talking to my dad. Watering my garden and seeing a new bloom or a cute little ladybug on one of my roses. Walking on the beach. Sandal weather. A good lunch. Stuff like that. I think the key to a happy life is to enjoy the little pleasures.
4. What books did you love growing up?
As a kid, my favorite stuff were the stories my grandma told me. She made those up, flying by the seat of her pants. She has awesome imagination, and I loved getting carried away. Then, I started liking a particular Bambi book (which I was also, paradoxically, fond of ripping to shreds). I was briefly obsessed with the story of the three little pigs, and I must say, the illustrations in the book helped greatly. I hated a famous Romanian folk tale about never-ending youth, because it ends with death hiding in a trunk, and slapping the main character in the face when he opens it. Frankly, I still find that frightening now.
Then I became obsessed with the Three Musketeers. I read that over and
over again. I designed costumes for my rubber ducks (they were my favorite
toys – don’t judge!), and played elaborate games in which these were ladies at the French court. Some of my parents’ friends thought I was a weird child, but my mom was thoroughly amused. I guess my family understood early on that I’m creative, and that I might do some odd things.
When I was twelve, I became obsessed with a Young Adult German novel called “When Julia Turns Twelve.” I read it over and over again, and my mom became a bit concerned. She said I needed to try new things, not read the same book so many times over. She was definitely onto something, but to this day, I am a repeat reader. In fact, as soon as I get to Bucharest, I’ll look for “When Julia Turns Twelve” on my shelf. I’m not too old to read it!
5. Why do you write?
Because I would get really bored if I didn’t. As a kid, I entertained myself by daydreaming, thus making up all sorts of stories and scenarios. I still do this as an adult. Writing these down, and letting them develop, and play out on the page is so much fun!
6. Location and life experiences can really influence writing, tell us where you grew up, and where you now live?
I grew up in Romania, and my early childhood was divided between Bucharest, where my parents live, and Craiova, the small Southern town of my grandparents. Both these places have their own special flavor and rhythm. I love both, and was influenced by both.
My upbringing had a strong U.S. influence very early on. My mother’s brother had immigrated to New York, and as my mom was very close to him, she wanted to foster that connection and also for me to enjoy a childhood shared with my cousins, my uncle’s kids. They came to visit us in Romania for long summers, and I also got to go to New York quite a bit. It was a very interesting transatlantic childhood my parents offered me. New York City very early on started playing an important role in the constellation of places that felt like home to me. Later, I went to the U.S. for college, and stayed on for a Ph.D. in Political Science in upstate New York. For many years, living around the New York area, I considered my aunt and uncle’s place in the city a home-base of sorts. I never felt like I wanted to stay there (the longer I put up with never-ending winters upstate, the more determined I got to apply for jobs in the South), but the city made such a strong impression that it features prominently in all my writing so far. Nine years ago, I got my degree, and took an academic job in Texas. Life here is fun, sunny, and has its own unique flavor. But I’ve yet to write a Texas novel. I’m still not done processing my New York years.
7. Where do you get your inspiration from?
Mostly from my own daydreaming. Sometimes I like to imagine myself being different than who I am, or my life playing out differently. In a fictional scenario, you can give yourself the freedom to do things you would not do in real life, and see how these could possibly play out. One of my big fantasies is leaving. I have commitment issues, so, I always like to imagine myself quitting things, and just kind of bailing out. In fact, I have only quit three things in my life: yoga teacher training, doggie obedience school (It was boring! And my indomitable dog kept biting another dog’s tail, embarrassing me.), and a job as a tourist guide in Barcelona. Mostly, these are things that I could afford to take lightly, as I didn’t really need them. I already had a successful career and did not really need to be a yoga teacher, or a summer-time tourist guide. My dog and I were able to negotiate a happy modus vivendi without the training. But I always wonder what it would feel like to quit the things of real consequence, to just abandon one’s life and start a new one. Would it be as thrilling as my inner commitment-phobe imagines it might be, or would it be paralyzing and laden with regrets?
Liliana is the disappointing daughter of hardworking immigrant parents. She is a girl looking to be rescued from her own insecurities and bad decisions. Unable to afford rent in New York City proper, she is craving a life of luxury that isn’t hers, while subsisting on bagels and coffee. In desperate need of support - emotional and otherwise -, she clings to potential saviors, never bothering to question if the attachments she forms really fit her.
In a parallel storyline, her mother, Maria, is trying to reject all offers of help, especially those of her estranged husband, whose unexpected generosity forces her to revisit past mistakes she hasn't come to terms with. Enmeshed in her own drama, she doesn’t notice her daughter’s troubles until it’s too late. Desperate to keep Liliana from making a mistake that will alter the course of her life, Maria reveals her best-kept secret, a story so shocking it might have the power to jerk Liliana back to reality. It could, on the other hand, alienate her forever.
DOGS WITH BAGELS is a story about the American dream gone bad. It is also a story about mothers and daughters, about female friendships, the struggle to survive in one of the world’s most expensive cities, and women’s secret desire to have wild passionate sex with their exes. A cross between Bridgett Jones’ Diary and Sex and the City - with an accent! -, DOGS WITH BAGELS is as addictive as a trashy tabloid you can't seem to put down.
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Genre - Contemporary Women's Fiction
Rating – R
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