I first met Val back in November 2021, at his Russian event at the English Bookstore Maastricht, and I'm delighted to be able to interview him about his work. Originally from the USA, Val spent some time in Russia as a young student. This experience inspired his fiction writing, but he has also explored memoir and travel writing. Here Val talks about how he began writing, describes his completed body of work and his plans for future projects.
Who/What inspired you to begin writing?
Although I had attempted to write down the harrowing experiences I had in Russia as a young student, those turned out to be false starts. I had neither a voice nor form. What I didn’t know then is that I was still living through the endgame of those experiences at the time.
In 2001, after reading Michael Ondaatje’s 'The English Patient', inspired by the form and structure of the novel, I tried again to put the stories, as unconnected as they seemed at the time, to paper for my mother and my grandmother, but eventually I learned it was to help me process it all. While I enjoyed Ondaatje’s story very much, I don’t consider myself a disciple of his, but feel that his prose was the spark to ignite the accumulated deadwood in my psyche to start the forest fire that is still burning inside of me.
Which authors do you admire?
· While I appreciate Hemingway’s (USA) talent, I do not admire him at all.
· George Orwell (UK) – for his bravery of speaking truth to power!
· Joan Sales (Catalunya) – for his vulnerability. He did not hide behind his writing.
· Jose Saramago (Portugal) –For not being afraid of the critics or his editors! The man won the Nobel Prize for Literature using run on sentences without punctuation.
· Liviu Rebreanu (Romania) – For giving his nation a voice that matched its identity.
· Taras Schevchenko (Ukraine) – His homeland was his muse. His language his protest!
· Alexander Pushkin (Russia)- for painting his world so effectively with words.
· Elmore Leonard (USA) – for his alchemy of turning cowboy stories into compelling literature.
· JK Rowling (UK) - for earning a billion pounds as a writer!
Have you been influenced by any particular books you’ve read?
My writing is a tapestry of the books I've read and the places they took me to. I wouldn’t dare point to one book specifically and say, “This book is the reason I am how I am today!”
What inspired you to write your books?
My mantra of “Peace through Proximity” is the muse behind each of my works, as diverse as the genres are. I want my readers to understand that the different cultures of the world are wonderful to experience, not something to be feared and/or avoided.
How many books have you written?
In total I've written eight books (up to Feb 2022):
Three fictional novels in the series 'The Deceit of Riches', based in and around my experiences in Russia in the mid-90s. ('The Deceit of Riches' (2017); 'From the Rooftops' (2019); 'October Revelations' (2021).)
One tongue-in-cheek, historically accurate mid-life memoir called 'The Tales of a Fly by Night…and other stories I never told my mother.'
Four short stories which I call “Urban Fairytales”, set in different European countries and cultures: 'Fate & Longing in Lisbon'; 'The Witch of Drontenburg', 'The Plucked Hen' and 'The Lucky Finn.'
Do you explore other formats e.g. poetry, short stories, graphic novels?
Yes. I think some of my most poignant writing are short poetry verses, but these won’t see the light of day until I’ve won the Nobel Prize for Literature and am dead and buried. My estate will release those after I’m gone.
Why did you decide to self-publish?
To build experience. To build a library. To entertain. To be read. To be understood.
What are you working on at the moment?
In 2022 I will try to produce four new short stories while I stew on a novel about Ukraine. Hoping that Russia won’t attack this year so I can go do some more research and interviews there.
What are your future writing plans?
To write a piece that stands the test of time and will be considered a classic in the future.
What do you enjoy most about writing?
Connecting deeply with people and places that I research and then passing that on to readers.
Do you have any particular writing habits or routines?
I am always taking notes about where I am, what I see, what I feel, funny happenings. These observations distill over days, weeks and always turn into poignant insights that season my finished product with a touch of reality, as they always find their way into what I'm writing at the time, making it a richer, blended product.
Do you have any tips for new writers?
I still am a new writer. I’ll have to get back to you in ten years with any accumulated advice.