Some time ago, PhD student at the University of Bucharest in Romania and member of the Central European Association for Canadian Studies, Marilena Dracea-Chelsoi, contacted me with an interest in Romanian diaspora artists in Canada. We struck up a friendship through our collaboration and I met Marilena later at the Gaudeamus Book Fair in Bucharest where I celebrated the launch of my book there in late 2011. But I’m getting ahead of myself—as usual.
Here’s the spring 2011 interview with Marilena:
MDC: When I first came across your name on the Internet, I realized immediately that you have a certain Romanian descent. Could you speak a little bit about your roots?
NM: My father is Romanian; he grew up in Kovin and Beograd, Serbia. My mother is German, from Malente. After marrying in Paris, they immigrated to Québec, Canada. I was born in a small town in the Eastern Townships, the youngest of three siblings and with a propensity to read like my mother and tell stories like my father. My father was a poet, a historian and worldwide traveler, who never lost his passion for literature and writing.
MDC: You collaborated with Romanian magazines (Imagikon, for example). How did you become acquainted with them?
NM: They found me! Editor in Chief, Mircea Pricajan, contacted me and invited me to be part of their excellent magazine. And next thing I knew, I was helping them with their English and writing a weekly movie/book review. Imagikon was, at the time, Romania’s only all-English speculative magazine and I was proud to be part of that very cool endeavor.
MDC: Why did you choose the SF genre as the main way of expressing yourself? I read your book The Fiction Writer. Get Published, Write Now! It is a short course for those who want to write. However, I noticed that it was included in The Alien’s Guidebook Series, which is again sort of connected to the SF realm. Yet the book has many chapters that can very usefully be applied to other genres, as well, and the guide can be used by teachers during class writing lessons. So, why do you focus mainly on SF?
NM: I was always fascinated with science and eventually got my degree in ecology and limnology. In high school, my professor of English inspired me to investigate our humanity in literature through symbols, metaphor and imagery. Science fiction is an excellent genre for this exploration through the introduction of “the other/the unknown”. My ecological training also helped me as a world-builder. So, writing science fiction came naturally to me.
MDC: Was the guide inspired by your own career as a SF writer?
NM: Definitely. I brought much of my personal experience as a professional author to this guide in addition to using over a dozen other expert writers and editors, from science fiction and other genres of writing. I even used my own rejection letters in the guide!
MDC: I noticed that in Darwin’s Paradox you chose a Canadian setting – more specifically the Toronto of the future. This surprised me because I expected, in the future, to see less clear borders between towns, between countries…What’s your own opinion about globalization and the future of humankind?
NM: The huge city of Icaria-5, while set in former Toronto, Canada, lies in the jurisdiction of North-Am (which encompasses all of North America). In this world, cities—because they are so huge with nothing but wilderness between them—behave and operate somewhat like autonomous fiefdoms, with their mayors acting as “barons” who, in turn—if chosen—may sit on a government panel, the Circle. The governing body of the entire continent is actually not known by the public and I don’t reveal much of it in Darwin’s Paradox. Some of this is revealed in the prequel Angel of Chaos. I modeled the political structure loosely on the technocratic model, where scientists and technologists run the government. Regarding globalization, I think there are many practical challenges to a global government; based on our relationship with the environment and climate and reflected in our culture. People operate at the individual, family and community level and less so globally; this is why governments logically operate at these levels, too. Of course, if you remove these factors—many of which were removed through enclosed cities like the Icarias—then it is more possible to create a global identity removed from the distinctive characteristics of a locale.
MDC: At the end of the novel Darwin’s Paradox, Julie and Daniel have to leave Icaria and return to the heath in order to protect their unborn child. Was this a message to the people of today that no matter how much society technologically evolves, pure nature unspoiled by any human action is the best place for safety and happiness? The name Icaria clearly comes from Icarus whose attempt to fly succeeded only for a while and then failed because the wax on his wings melted. So, I thought that somehow any attempt to change the natural state of human beings doesn’t lead to a perfect…improvement, let’s say. Am I right?
NM: Yes, you are, and then some! I was definitely evoking the Greek myth of Icarus in naming the enclosed cities of North-Am and using this myth as a metaphor for our relationship with and use of technology. Icaria is also the name French philosopher and utopian sociologist Etienne Cabet gave to a fictional communist utopian community in 1843—a communal society based on liberty, equality and fraternity. So, Icaria is both of these and the book reflects the paradox and irony of an imperfect humanity “realizing” a utopian model.
NM: Well, of course Julie Crane and in-her-head AI, SAM, figure prominently in the prequel, which plays out as a fast-paced medical mystery-thriller in the enclosed city of Icaria-5. Readers learn about humanity’s relationship with technology and machine through Julie’s interaction with the AI inside her mind. We also find out more about Julie’s past as an orphan in the slums of Icaria, how she met Daniel, the future father of her daughter Angel, and other characters like the mysterious Gaia and Frank, Julie’s lascivious boyfriend. Julie’s relentless search for a cure to Darwin’s Disease leads her to a horrifying discovery that incriminates her in a heinous conspiracy to recast humankind. And, of course, we find out why Julie must flee Icaria at the end of the book.
MDC: You are involved in writing projects, in teaching courses in science and environmental education, you travel a lot and you have a blog THE ALIEN NEXT DOOR on which you discuss with your readers. What other projects do you have in mind for the near future?
NM: I am working with editors on revising two books for publication next year. One is a historical fantasy that spans from medieval times in Poland to near future Paris. I also have a space adventure trilogy coming out about a bad-attitude galactic cop trying to solve the mystery of a slaughter of a religious sect. A book of my short stories is also due next year. Of course, I continue to travel; I hope to get to Romania. A publisher in Romania is considering my fiction writing guidebook and I’m excited about touring the country with it. I am also actively teaching my online courses, doing workshops, and personal manuscript consultations and personal coaching.
The Spring 2011 interview was recently published on Academia.edu. You can go to this link to read the full interview, which appeared in Issue 6 on January 2012.
P.S. This interview was conducted in Spring 2011, so I’d like to give you a publication update on it—mainly, because so much has happened since then!
The historical fantasy that starts in medieval Poland The Last Summoner was released in July 2012 and has been an amazon.ca bestseller in historical fantasy for several months. The space trilogy I was referring to is The Splintered Universe Trilogy. The first book, Outer Diverse, was released in October 2011. Book two, Inner Diverse, will be released December 2012 and the final book in the trilogy, Metaverse, is scheduled for sometime in 2013. Natural Selection, my collection of short stories, is scheduled for release in spring of 2013.
In addition, I am happy to report that my writing guidebook The Fiction Writer: Get Published, Write Now! was accepted by Editura Paralela 45, who translated it into Romanian and published it in June 2011. I attended its launch at the international Gaudeamus Book Fair in Bucharest and finally met with Marilena! Editura Paralela 45 has picked up another of my guidebooks and is currently translating it for publication in early 2013. This guidebook is for diarists and journal keepers; it’s called The Journal Writer: Finding Your Voice. The English version will be released by Starfire in Spring 2013.