18 April 2011

Author Interview - Julian Gallo, Naderia

Maybe we are all deluding ourselves into thinking that life has any meaning at all. Perhaps we have to give it one, for ourselves” – Julian Gallo, Naderia.

The above line is one that permeates Julian Gallo’s second novel Naderia. At its core, Naderia is a search for meaning, a search that can occur inwardly and on a wider scale with or without the participant’s knowledge. Naderia is a journey, and the ever increasing and inescapable momentum propelling the characters forward is a defining theme throughout this novel. There is a destination but it may be one where the characters are no closer to discovering who they actually are or what life means to them.

Naderia initially focuses on the lives of Dario an American poet, Julia a Uruguayan painter and Antonio a Peruvian chef, all living in Paris far from their home countries. Like a family tree with many branches, all of the characters in Naderia are connected in some way, and the Butterfly Effect can emerge as softly as a summer breeze or as a destructive force of nature knocking the wind from anyone who stands in its way. It’s a simple role of the dice that leads the Uruguayan painter on a path towards the fundamentalist Muslim. The chef looking for a new life in Paris cannot escape the roots of his old one as he is relentlessly pursued by a woman he was simply once kind to. The poet takes a cultural road trip through Mediterranean Spain only to find that exploring his ancestor’s past doesn’t mean he can escape the demons from his own.

Whereas Gallo’s previous novel November Rust was character driven, Naderia focuses on the bigger picture and has a definite grandeur to it. This is a wide screen novel that explores religion, sexual and cultural identity, the search for a place in the world and above it all, the uncontrollability of life. It’s about how a seemingly inconsequential act to one person can forever change the lives of others. Naderia is an examination on the basic question of the meaning or lack of meaning to life. If the reader looks hard enough and keeps an open mind they may eventually find their own answer in this story.

Above all, Naderia is a joyously entertaining book and in some ways is a celebration of the journey of life. It’s an explosion of colors, cultures, humor and drama with an underlying heartbeat that drives the story onwards. This story can take the reader from the rainy boulevards of Paris to the sun soaked streets of Barcelona to New York where there is already another flight waiting to leave. There are some scenes in Naderia that should force readers to think about their own lives and the consequences their actions may have had on others, and for some this may be uncomfortable.

But there is no denying that Gallo has found his voice with Naderia and has crafted a multi-layered story that can well stand up to repeated readings.
Naderia is available through Amazon, Lulu and Barnes and Noble.

In this interview Julian Gallo talks about Naderia, the struggle of writing a second novel and independent publishing.

GC: So, gone are the experimental passages that peppered November Rust. Did you simply feel a more straightforward approach was necessary for the momentum of Naderia?
JG: This book took a long time to come into fruition. I finished “November Rust” in 2003 or early 2004. Almost immediately, I began working out the book that would eventually become “Nadería”. So for about six or seven years, I struggled with it mainly because I didn’t know which direction to take. I knew I wanted to do something different from “November Rust” and there were many false starts, many things that were written then abandoned. I was kind of at a loss. It was really a struggle of trying to figure out what kind of writer I wanted to be. Did I want to keep following the “Literary” route---which was what NR was attempting to be? I just didn’t know. Then I came across a novel by the Italian novelist Niccolò Ammaniti called “I’ll Steal You Away”.

Reading that book caused me to have an “epiphany” of sorts. It reminded me of the days when I was very young and I used to write without worrying whether or not the stories fit into any particular category, or whether or not they would be deemed “Literary” or “Mainstream” or whatever else. While reading that book, it struck me that the reason I was getting so blocked up was because I was standing in my own way and I needed to get out of my own way in order to move forward. I came to the decision that I wanted to write a good story, or try to, anyway, without all the gimmicks, experimental things or the worry as to whether or not what I was doing was “literature” or not. I’m in a much different place now than I was when I wrote “November Rust”. I thought it was time to do something different, something more straightforward. “Nadería” is my first foray into this new approach.

GC: There are about 10 characters in Naderia all with converging storylines branching out from three main characters. Was this intentional or did this occur as the writing progressed?
JG: It all came about through the writing process. When I started it, it was initially going to concentrate on the three main characters of Dario, Julia and Ana. The second half of the book was only going to be about Dario and his intended “quest” around the Mediterranean. Julia and Ana were going to disappear from the story altogether. When I reached the end of the first section of the book, I changed my mind and that was because of the introduction of the character Gloria. Once she comes into the story, the whole thing took on a different trajectory, one that I didn’t intend at all but I just went with it to see where it would take me. It was from that point on where I knew I had something very different from “November Rust” and it really helped me forge ahead.

GC: Gloria could have made for a humorous character but she soon becomes very dark. I found her an engrossing, infuriating and tragic figure in the book.
JG: Gloria was one of those characters that came up during the writing process. I was thinking that Dario has his issues he was dealing with, Julia certainly had hers, so instead of giving Ana the issue, I figured why not her love interest Antonio. What was he running away from? What was his deal? The idea of Gloria came to me as a way to have his past coming back to haunt him in a way. She was the physical embodiment of the place he was trying to get away from and put behind him. And you’re right, she is a very dark figure. Extremely so. Psychotic would be the better word for it. She’s the embodiment of total selfishness. She only cares about herself although she convinces herself that she is doing this out of “love” for Antonio. She’s single minded in her goal and nothing---not even her own child---is going to get in the way. The humor there is the fact that she would go to such extremes in order to satisfy her own desires, that she was ready and willing to do the things she does. And of course this throws a potential monkey wrench into everything Antonio desires: a new life, a new identity, etc. The humor I see in Antonio’s character is the fact that he’s trying to be more “European”, his desire to be the best French chef and all that but winds up working in a low grade South American restaurant, mostly cooking his native dishes. So in a way, it’s kind of like another hurdle for him to get over in his quest to reinvent himself. Gloria is his past coming back to bite him in the ass.

GC: All of the characters are on a journey looking for some form of meaning to life. How does this connect with the title of the book Naderia, which means ‘nothing’?
JG: Even though I wanted to do something different with this book, I wanted to keep my original intention in place, and that was to write a story about the whole notion of “meaning” in people’s lives. I wanted to raise the question, “Is there one, all encompassing meaning of life that applies to everyone, or is “meaning” something that we have to give our own lives? Not anything that hasn’t been done a million times before, of course, but I wanted to add my two cents to the discussion so to speak. So you have these three hapless individuals who are all on their own journey, each of them so wrapped up in their own shit that they don’t even know what they’re really searching for. They only think they do. They keep looking “outward” in order to find the answer that is something that I think is more “inward”. The title of the book comes from an interview I read with Jorge Luis Borges. In it, he got to talking about the idea of “Nothingness” and mentioned that, in Spanish, the closest word to “nothingness” was “nadería” and immediately I knew I wanted to write something around that and use that word as the title of the book. The word literally means “trifle; unimportant”. I loved the double meaning there so I wanted to explore that.

Also, in a time when many people often place a lot of importance on Literature in general---with all the raging debates about what is and isn’t literature---, I wanted to make the statement that what you hold in your hand is just a book. It’s just a story. It isn’t going to be something that was going to change the world. Very few books have actually had that impact, and lord knows this one isn’t going to be one of them. But to me, this particular story, wasn’t all that “heavy” to begin with. I tried to inject some humor in there---albeit a little black humor. It’s intended to be a good story, something entertaining while at the same time aiming to make the reader think about the point I was trying to make.

GC: Travel and different cultures play an important part in this book. I don’t think there are many characters who are actually from the country the story is set in.
JG: None of the characters are. All of them are from somewhere else. Dario is an American, Julia and Ana are from Uruguay, Antonio and Gloria are Peruvian, and so on. The setting of the book was really because when I began it, I had already set the story in Paris so I just decided to keep it. Of course, the story goes to Spain and New York as well. It was really just a way to reinforce the idea that here are a bunch of people who are “running away” so to speak in order to find themselves, again the idea that whatever meaning they are searching for is “out there” somewhere.

GC: There is a road trip from Paris through Spain that takes up a lot of the book. You went into a lot of amazing detail in setting the scenes on this trip. Did you undertake a lot of research for this?

JG: No, not really. That’s the funny thing. The 21st century offers writers a lot of tools they can utilize if they choose to do so. That particular road trip posed a problem for me because I never set foot in those places. I tried to figure out how I was going to pull that off and then two things occurred to me: YouTube and Google Maps. In order to really capture the atmosphere of these places, I went to YouTube and looked up videos of those who actually took this trip and videoed it. Believe it or not, it was there. So I was able to watch these home videos and get a sense of the landscape and the atmosphere. Google Maps came in handy with regard to how long the trip would actually take, what highways would be used, etc. The internet can be a very useful tool for any creative writer. Now a writer can do something like this whereas in the past they would actually have to go there to experience it.

Of course, it would have been much richer had I actually been in these places but since I wasn’t, that was the best I could do to try to capture it as realistically as possible. I’d been to Paris and Barcelona, so I was able to draw on my personal experiences and impressions there but as to the rest of the places, that’s what I did. Writers shouldn’t fear the internet but utilize it, especially if they are writing fiction. The world is literally at your fingertips. Some writers shun the internet as a distraction---like Jonathan Franzen---who once said that a “real” writer cannot produce any worthy fiction if they are connected to the internet. I emphatically disagree with this notion. I think it all depends on how you choose to utilize it.

GC: The road trip seems in a way to be the theme for all of the characters in the book. The trip is interspersed throughout and keeps a momentum going for the characters back in Paris.

JG: I suppose the “road trip” is also sort of symbolic of all the characters personal journeys. In a way, each one of them is on their own personal “trip”, reaching out blindly in order to find their place in the world. Dario literally goes on a road trip for his search, while for the others it’s more personal.

GC: There are no clear cut conclusions to this novel, there are a few loose ends and yet the ending is satisfying, as with all great books you need to make up your own mind.

JG: I’m glad you think so. I worried a little about that ending at first. Originally, there was a more conclusive ending to the book. Originally there was another seven or eight pages that sort of “wrapped up” certain things but when I was doing the rewrites for it, and I came to the part where the book actually ends, I thought it would be a good stopping point. I don’t know why but it felt stronger to me than what I originally had. I also thought that if the readers become invested in the characters enough, it would make them think about them more, wondering what came next, what would come next; not exactly a “cliffhanger” ending but something that doesn’t tie everything up in a neat little bow, mainly because rarely do things in life have such conclusions. Things happen, go one way or the other without any rhyme or reason sometimes and we never really have that sense of closure. I didn’t intend to have the “answer” to the questions the book poses.

GC: How do you feel your voice has grown since November Rust to Naderia? I can see a significant difference in the writing style between the two books. This one does feel more assured and confident for some reason.

JG: I don’t really know. I hope so. If it seems more confident it’s probably because I decided while I was writing this book that I was no longer going to concern myself with some of the trappings that comes with “literature”. There’s always been this huge divide and huge debate over what qualified as “literature” and what doesn’t. I understand that argument to a degree because there are such great, meaningful, powerful novels that have been written over the course of time that are truly works of art. But there are also a lot of really good books with really great stories out there that many wouldn’t consider “literature” because it’s either popular or it’s genre or whatever else. Not everything is meant to be “literature” it really depends on your own tastes. My tastes tend to run more “literary” but I enjoy some of the more popular and genre fiction too.

GC: Nadeira is more story driven than November Rust.
JG: This particular book was meant to be more story-driven, more character driven, so I decided I was going to strip away all the “trappings” so to speak and just try to write a good story. This book was influenced as much by Stephen King than it was by Hemingway or any of my other favorite writers. Lately, I’ve broadened my palate so to speak as far as reading goes. I’m reading everything from literary to popular these days. In my mind, there is much you can learn from all of it. What to do and what not to do. But in the end, it is what it is and ultimately, it’s the reader who will decide what you did is crap or not. Once it’s out there, you lose control over how people will react to it. Some will like it, others won’t.

GC: You are part of the Independent Author Network, what are the benefits of using this site?
JG: There’s been huge benefits from the Independent Author’s Network so far. Since becoming a part of that, and utilizing the social media along with it, word has spread about this book much further and quicker than I ever imagined. The whole network is very supportive and are really into the whole idea of independent publishing. It’s already sold a hell of a lot more in the past few months than “November Rust” has in the last five years. It’s not a stunning amount by any stretch of the imagination, by industry standards it’s extremely paltry, of course but for independent authors it isn’t a bad start. I’m just trying to get the word out about it and hopefully people will find it interesting enough to want to take a chance on it. It’s available in a lot more outlets than “November Rust” was, that’s for sure. I’m very thankful and appreciative of those who have bought it and read it so far. The reaction has been good so far and of course, that’s pleasing. It sort of validated what I thought about it to begin with because, as you know, every writer always has their doubts about their own work.

GC: Naderia has only been out for a few months now, what’s next on the writing front?
JG: I have another novel completed. This one brings everything back home. It’s set in Queens, New York in the early 1980s and it’s about how there were some people during the early part of the Reagan years that were still being left behind, despite all the optimism surrounding the times. It’s set in that time when things were still pretty bad, coming off the Carter era. It’s the 80s before it became “The 80s”. Those looking for that “80s nostalgia”---Culture Club, Madonna, Miami Vice, etc---are going to be disappointed. The story takes place before any of that happened. Reagan hadn’t yet lived up to the promise that those who voted for him had hoped for. It was still touch and go, really. The story mainly centers around a group of teenagers but like, “Nadería”, it’s a multi-protagonist story with converging story lines.

GC: You’ve now written two novels, are you considering the agent/publisher route?
JG: Every time I think about looking for an agent and shopping it around to publishers, I get confronted with the usual horror stories about how difficult it really is to get published by a major publisher. I never even submitted “Nadería”. I had planned to do that one on my own right from the beginning. So if I do go that route, I’m sure it’s going to be quite an experience. I’ve never done that. Just as an aside, independent publishing is a growing trend these days. It’s beginning to lose that stigma that the only reason why an author self-publishes is because it wasn’t good enough for the major publishers. In a lot of cases, I’m sure that’s true. In my case, it was just a matter of control over the material, to be able to have it exactly how I wanted. Naturally, there are pros and cons to this approach. I guess I’ll have to think about it more. In the meantime, I’ll keep promoting “Nadería” and keep working on the new novel I'm writing at the moment.

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