Hello Everyone and a warm welcome to you. Thank you so much for stopping by last week. It was great to see you all and to meet many new friends. I can’t thank you enough for all the support you’ve given me for my book, ‘Awakened by Fate’. Down at the bottom is a Rafflecoptor that you can enter to win one of my prizes.
Today I am featuring novelist, Victoria Avilan. She is the author of ‘The Art of Peeling an Orange,’ ‘A Small Country about to Vanish,’ and now, a cookbook featuring 140 of her mother’s translated recipes. You are going to fall in love with her. Read on.
“You paint because an image burns a hole in your belly. I write because a story eats me alive from the inside and I’d go insane if I don’t. It isn’t my choice. I’d write if you, or the whole world, were illiterate.”
Anna Garibaldi – ‘The Art of Peeling an Orange’
Tell us about yourself.
My family was convinced that I studied into the night because my light was always on and the music played in my room. In fact, I lived a double life. When night came, I acquired magical powers and I could live in my imagination, painting, reading, and writing. I still live a double life, only now I live reality at night, as a nurse, and imagination during daytime.
What was it like growing up in Israel? Do you have a memory you’d like to share?
My memory of sitting behind my best friend as she played the Moonlight Sonata was so vivid—down to the smell of furniture polish and her mother’s voice—it inspired me to write my second novel, A Small Country about to Vanish. That book is a fictional answer to the question: What was it like to grow up in Israel?
Israel was my home and my family, still is and always will be. My life there? Imagine me in a big family with drama, intrigue, music, food and a lot of loud rambunctious laughter. Every holiday, every weekend, every birthday was My Big Fat Greek Wedding Israeli style. I had gazillions of cousins around my age, and not a dull moment. For alone time to be creative, I stayed awake at night.
My Delicious Life, my book of my mother’s translated recipes, includes a lot of vignettes from my childhood. Writing it was a trip in so many ways. Life was never boring in a family that wanted to know everything I did, everyone was part of the news, the frequent wars were very close and personal and everybody had a political opinion whether you wanted to hear it or not. Mostly I felt safe, protected and loved. As I wasn’t a hit with boys, I sometimes felt lonely, left out, frustrated, like every teenager regardless of country.
I was very tempted to call this piece, “My Delicious Life: the food that made me a lesbian,” but we thought better of it… This book is a gift to my beloved Ima on her 85th birthday and a tribute to her rich and beautiful life. For years Ima collected recipes and somehow that handwritten collection survived three children, four wars in the Middle East, five grandchildren, and a succession of household pets. Ima cooked for armadas, often with leftovers for the next day. In these recipes I venture to preserve the flavors and aromas of my insanely happy childhood among my food-loving and cheerful tribe. Rather than calorie counts, you get the sweetness of maternal love wrapped in dough and fried in sticks of butter, with lots of powdered sugar on top. To maintain the authenticity of the work, I have included Ima’s actual handwritten notes in the paperback edition. The idea to write it came on Ima’s last visit from Israel to Los Angeles, when she gave me and my friends cooking lessons that drew guffaws of laughter from all of us. That is nothing new. Losing it laughing with my mother for something totally stupid is the story of my childhood. The book contains vignettes of my early life and, as one of my reviewers noted, numerous conversations between Ima and me on the topic of: What quantity of ingredients does “some” or “more” or “a few” or “a bit” means. Bon Appetit!
Let’s talk about your book, ‘The Art of Peeling an Orange.’ What do you like most about it? How did the plot come to you?
One of my reviewers likened this novel to an on-going, long poetic orgasm… “Orange” started as an attempt to “sculpt” the perfect woman. I wrote a few first drafts, then it went into a drawer as a half-baked idea. I wrote A Small Country and started a third novel about a writing class.
After a few quarters in UCLA studying with my teacher and friend Claire McNab, I picked “Orange” up again with more of a clear idea what it should be. I gave my perfect creation, Anna Garibaldi, a fatal flaw, because life isn’t perfection.
In “Orange” I induce a dream state, a journey to the underworld, very different from that of Orpheus searching for his Eurydice. “Orange” is MY underworld. If you let me, I take you by the hand and lead you down to a land so magical, a land of absolute love, in which your emotions are made of colors. You are doomed and you are blessed and you don’t know which you prefer. If you walk down with me willingly, you will have an out of this world experience. But “Orange” isn’t for everyone. That’s how I wanted it to be.
What or who inspired you to write?
Books. Stories my mother told me and my brothers before we could read. Stories a beloved uncle used to ad lib and tell us. I’ll write about my Uncle Shlomo one day. Learning the magic of fiction from an early age. Learning to hold a pen and put meaningful words on paper. The love of language and languages. Obsessive, constant reading of books from the age of 6 or 7. I didn’t have dolls, I had books.
Tell us about your experience with the UCLA extension writers program? Would you recommend it?
We each have at least one big story in us, so if you wish to write, write. If you want to do it professionally, take an acclaimed writing program and do the grueling work. I was lucky to be introduced to the UCLA Extension by my dear friend, novelist and instructor extraordinaire Claire McNab. I took fiction writing classes from other teachers and learned from them all, but brilliant Claire became my mentor. I sat in her classes for years, drinking in every word, until she retired. Those classes elevated my writing to a professional level. Now Claire has retired from teaching. I still have a vision of her in my head, constantly directing my writing, correcting my grammar and ideas. A truly great teacher has that effect.
What other authors do you follow?
I read all genres and styles. Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Ann Patchett, Philip Roth, Margaret Atwood, Virginia Woolf, Milan Kundera, Lillian Faderman, Shirley Jackson. Each one of them has a shrine/shelf in my library. Mine and my wife’s that is. My favorite Israeli authors are Amos Oz, Lea Goldberg, Etgar Keret, I could go on and on.
What inspired you to become a Registered Nurse?
Nursing school was a bet with someone who said, “You can never be a nurse, because you are too disorganized.” My mom said, “If a sick person asks for a glass of water, he’ll die by the time you get it.” My mother would ask me to do something and I’d say, “Just a minute.” Then I’d go back to what I was doing and forget all about it because my head was in the clouds. I can’t be a nurse? Let me show you. So I went into nursing for the f**k you. I stayed, because it became my second nature.
I finished nursing school because I finish what I start even if it kills me. I stayed for the love of making things better for a sick baby and because I became good at what I did. Nursing made me part of an amazing group of people who could laugh and cry and take care of others and each other. Nursing forced my feet to touch the earth.
Oh, and I had a crush on my school nurse…
Having your experience at Children’s Hospital, would you ever consider writing a children’s book?
If I do it will be a post-apocalyptic dystopia YA sci-fi, in which the grown-ups are the goodies for a change and the kids are evil little shits. The book will have a lot of sex scenes rather than fade-to-black love scenes. It will be banned by educators, which will make it all the more interesting and desirable for the young readers who will download the kindle version and read it in secret under their school desks. The book will become a cult favorite and a bestseller made into a soppy gazillion dollar flick by Steven Spielberg.
But, no. Nothing for children planned so far. Regarding kids, I love them dearly, I save babies’ lives for a living in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, and I would have made an awesome mother, but instead of kids, I was lucky to be given the gift of time to live in my imagination. My kids are at least one dog at a time, all rescues, all very loved by Tracey and myself.
Does Queen Mocha, your dog, hang out with you when you write?
I can’t relax and write unless I hear her snoring next to me.
What is a favorite thing to do in the South Bay of SoCal? What it is like living near the ocean?
Take a rainy day, barefoot beach walk. Come home covered in sand. Make coffee or a cocktail, depending on the time of day, and sit by the computer to live my parallel world and write fiction. I know I should get out more, but I hardly ever notice what other people like to do, unless it involves making a lot of noise. Then I put on my noise canceling earphones and fly up to my planet. When Tracey and I have a day off together, we are quite happy to spend it in each other’s company, eat all day and binge on a favorite TV show.
What type of music do you listen to?
I prefer opera, (Callas and Angela Gheorghiu) but I love all music and no music at all, as in complete silence. Hypnotic electronica helps me go deep into my mind and write while forced to do other things, such as driving to work. Since I don’t have time to sit and read and I will die without fiction, my favorite music is actually a great reader narrating an audible book, any genre. I have a list of hundreds of books I want to read/hear.
Where would you recommend taking friends out to enjoy an evening together?
To the opera, theater, my table for dinner.
What was the last movie you saw in the theatre?
Spielberg’s “Ready Player One.” Don’t start me on that film. I read the book twice, back to back because I fell in love with its main character, his obsession with the 80s pop culture, his underdog status and his dealings with bullies. Wade reminded me of Harry Potter, as the way he deals with his disadvantages elevates him from the crowd of rich bullies and works in his favor. I know a two hour movie can’t get the entire inner story, but Spielberg’s movie—while great on special effects—misses the meaning of the underdogness and instead focuses on the heartwarming friendships. Fake heartwarming gives me indigestion.
What is your favorite thing to bake?
Cookies melt my heart, yet I’d rather mix cocktails.
What is next for you?
A mind f**k noir novel that’s been polluting my head for the last 25 years. It won’t leave me, just like ‘The Art of Peeling An Orange.’ The story is vodka clear in my head and now I’m testing and trialing different ways to tell it. I may take years to figure it out, so I’ll probably publish my short stories collection first.
I had to stop writing all fiction for one year and write/produce ‘My Delicious Life’ as a gift for my beloved mom’s 85th birthday. I promised her a cookbook and I’ve actually had great fun with it. The cookbook also made me new best friends around the world, who served as my consulting chefs and helped me cook, bake and photograph dishes.
Be sure to check out Victoria’s links. Click below for more exciting news and happenings.
I want to thank Victoria for stopping by. Next weekend, I will be interviewing author Nico J. Genes (The Reverie Series). I’ve read both books, and they are fun and heartwarming. You are going to want to meet her. She will also be giving hints about her new forthcoming book, debuting soon.
I wanted to also mention the Rafflecoptor. All you have to do is click on the link below to be entered for a chance to win one of our prizes, including a signed paperback of ‘Awakened by Fate’ and a gift card. So tell your friends to come over and enter.
Until Next Time,
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