Interview with Smart Media New York

Alexandra Ares, where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I like to joke that so far I’ve had 3 lives. One in communist Romania where I was born, one in the gold rush of post communist Romania, and one in the post 9/11 'race to the bottom' in Manhattan, New York; first life gray, second privileged, third both hard and fun as well as often insane.

I grew up in Bucharest, where my dad was (and still is) a genius comic playwright with an overbearing, larger than life personality. Like any rebellious daughter, I didn’t want to step into his footsteps, so I started a very early career in television. In 1998 I moved to New York, which brought a fundamental change to my life, and in 2005 I started writing in English, after an experience described in my first, semi-autobiographic novel Dream Junkies. Like any (re)birth, it wasn't easy... So I belong to the rare species of European born authors who are writing in English as a second language, like Ayn Rand, Nabokov or Conrad to mention just a few literary titans that I admire. There’s a special sensibility, that you either HATE (especially if you'd rather have your characters good, bad, fun, or strong in a predictable way) or LOVE (an intensity and angst that are quite unique),
When did you first start writing?
In Romanian, I started writing at the age of 13. My first short story was a SF called Stranded In the Past. My best friend from school read it and said, Alexandra I think you’ll become a writer. I was surprised. Later, my debut collection in Romania (short stories and plays) was published under the title Stranded in the Past. And for a long time, after I had moved to New York, I was stranded in the past, in my Romanian past. Only in 2005 I started writing in English.
What's the story behind your latest book?
My latest book is MANHATTAN STORIES and it hasn't come out yet. It’s a collection of short stories about the lives of young European immigrants in New York.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
There’s paradox going on: in one hand it has become unreasonably hard to find an agent and get published by one of the big 6 houses (btw, in Europe you don't need an agent or any middlemen to be considered for publishing), on the other hand, whenever I go to Barnes and Nobles and Iook at the stand of new releases, there is hardly anything new that excites me... and not only me (in 2012 the Pulitzer commission refrained from awarding the prize to any new novel). I think editors are mostly looking for formulas, for what worked yesterday, celebrity crap, what won't upset anyone, and what is in 'political' fashion. Moreover, most books published by big houses are edited so many times by ‘professional editors’ that they end up sounding like they come from the same factory. I think it’s very confining both for authors and readers. Writing and art are about unfettered freedom. What happened to the mainstream painters who lived in the times when Van Gogh was cutting his ear unable to sell a painting? Nobody remembers them.

I must add that I am also published in translation at a leading publishing house in Europe, so there I'm not an indie author anylonger, although I started that way and "worked my way up".

And no, I don't plan on cutting my ear, nor any other body parts, although I've had my dark night of the soul. Today, the most daring thought is to cut my hair ;-)
What are the greatest joy of writing for you?
Creating a new world, exploring a new idea, telling an interesting story.
What are you working on next?
I would like to turn my novel My Life on Craigslist into a screenplay.
Who are your favorite authors?
American: Nabokov, Ayn Rand, Henry Miller, Charles Bukowski, Hemingway, Margaret Mitchell, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Chuck Palahniuk, Kurt Vonnegut, Tom Wolfe, Dorothy Parker, Jennifer Eagan, etc.

English: Aldous Huxley, Oscar Wilde, D.H. Lawrence, Somerset Maugham, J.K. Rawling…and so many others.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
The burning desire to have my hazelnut coffee :-)
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I am reading a lot, watching movies, strolling in Central Park, chatting with friends....trying to keep up with what is going on in the world. Oh, and I have an old passion for reading fortunes, divination, and other 'paranormal activities', something I touch upon in all my writings.
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
I read mostly ebooks, because I fly a lot to Europe and I like to travel light. I usually read the book description and the first pages. If I like what I read, if I am intrigued, amused, or seduced, then I buy the book and I don't care who published it. I think we are all searching for things that are on a similar wavelength with us, wherever we can find them, and we dismiss as 'bad' the ones that aren't. My personal theory is that there are books that have soul (e.g. The Night by Ellie Wiesel) books that have spirit (e.g. Sex in the City, by Candace Bushnell, all of Oscar Wilde) books that are only products, even great products (most New York Times Best seller list :-)), and books that are written for literary critics (most Booker Prize Books :-)). I like books from the first two categories, and if they happen to have both soul and spirit, it’s wonderful.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
I recall reading ‘Gone With the Wind’ at the age of 14 and devouring it in 2-3 days. As a child, I also loved the series of Winnetou by Karl May, a German novelist who never step foot in the US and yet wrote an amazing series about the adventures of an Apache Indian. I cried when he died! I was also a fan of Jules Vernes, Balzac, Huxely, Maugham, and Frank Herbert.
How do you approach cover design?
I am never happy with it! I live for the day to republish a better one :-)
What are your favorite books, and why?
Night by Ellie Wiesel, This Side of Paradise by Fitzgerald and The Heart of Darkness by Conrad are the most powerful books I ever read.
Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, it’s the most intellectually inspiring novel I ever read.
Lolita by Nabokov, it’s the best english literary gem I've read.
Gone With the Wind by Maragret Mitchell, the most fascinating I ever read.
Also Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk, Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence, the Portrait of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, and Razor’s Edge by Somerset Maugham.
Writing this list, I just know there must be hundreds of other books that are worth mentioning. Including of course, My Life on Craigslist and Dream Junkies which I hope are among the most entertaining :-)
What is your e-reading device of choice?
What do you read for pleasure?
Vanity Fair, and all the good horoscopes in ladies' magazines...
What book had the greatest impact on you?
The I Ching, the Chinese Book of Change, I discovered it at the age of 21 and it has become my main spiritual guide.
Describe your desk
I write at a shabby, white desk with a breathtaking view of the East River and Ryker Island, in my 31st floor apartment on the Upper East Side in Manhattan. You can say that I write and live in ‘a room with a view.’
Published 2013-08-31.
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