Interview of Roxana Nastase by Vatsala Radhakeesoon

Roxana Nastase

- Vatsala Radhakeesoon

Crime and romance fiction have had a wide range of readership for many centuries. Born in Romania and now settled in Toronto, Canada, Roxana Nastase (also known under the pen name of Rowena Dawn) is a contemporary writer of those genres. She has also authored various English grammar books and is the editor of Scarlet Leaf Review and Scarlet Leaf Publishing House.
Here goes an enriching conversation with a humble, sympathetic and charismatic novelist of our time.

Vatsala Radhakeesoon: Please tell us about your early life, background and actual life?

Roxana Nastase: I’m part of a happy generation. We didn’t have iPhones or computers at the time but we had a very rich life. You know, parents usually think of offering more than they had to their offspring. Unfortunately, whenever I look back, I realize that I’ve failed in that expectation. Yes, my daughter has always had an iPhone and a computer and video games but she’s never had the richness of my childhood. I spent my early years between the capital, Bucharest, and a small town in the mountains, near Brasov. I grew up with a sister and two cousins and I had a lot of friends. Our early years were spent in crazy pursuits, either climbing the mountain or building forts in the snow or driving people crazy with our detective and spy games or playing Indians. All of us were crazy about reading and all those books brought up lots of new games and new ways of exploring the world. I was fortunate, very fortunate, and have had parents and grandparents that let us play and grow but who also demanded that we’d expand our knowledge. There were no boundaries in what we read and we were pushed to reading at a very early age, two or three years before going to school. We had nights of stories around the fire and discovered the TV very late, after the age of ten and even then, we wouldn’t spend more than half an hour in front of the TV. It’s true, at the time, there was little to see.
Looking back, I have to confess that I’ve had a charmed life: loving family, crazy friends, stern and informative teachers, a room full of books – literally a few thousands, and then the library.  I’ve met interesting people, had interesting experiences…not always pleasant, that is true, but fortitude makes us strong and helps us discover who we really are.  Most of the time, I like who I am, who I’ve become.

Vatsala : Which incident prompted you to become a writer?

Roxana : There wasn’t a specific incident. I liked telling stories and I was encouraged to do so. Ironic, I started with fantastic stories around the fire in winter, when I was around five and continued with poems when I was seven. I put them aside when I grew up and started writing prose. One of the little surprises of life, I suppose.

Vatsala Radhakeesoon
Vatsala : Is there any particular aspect of crime and romance that you enjoy bringing forth in your work?

Roxana: I like the mystery and intricate plots but they’re nothing without the people. I love creating characters. No one is ever 100% good or bad . What I like is the hero or heroine that is not snow white and not night dark, who has humor and strength, who can laugh at themselves and at the bad that life throws at them.

Vatsala: Who are your favourite authors/novelists and how have they impacted on your works?

Roxana: There are few. I love Antoine de Saint-Exupery, especially his writings about the pioneers of the air. I learnt a lot from him. I love Hemingway and B.G. Shaw, but also Twain. I love Eliade and Camus. I would say that all of them had a serious impact on me as a human being first of all. I won’t ever emulate their writing. I’d be a pale imitation, I am sure. However, no day passes
by without one of their phrases  coming  to my mind. They, and a few others, have a great deal  with the way I turned out and who I am dictates what I write.

Vatsala:  What are your main sources of inspiration that lead to the creation of characters and plots for your novels?

Roxana: Sometimes a mute scene on a very busy street, sometimes waking in the morning with a vivid image from a dream.

Vatsala:  Please tell us about the sequences involved in your writing process of detective stories and love stories?

Roxana: Oh, dear, that’s a problem. I don’t have a specific writing process. Sometimes everything starts with a memo here and there on my phone. When an idea bothers me enough, I start writing. Sometimes I can’t pursue that specific subject and I put it aside until one day something pushes me to go back and write. For instance, right now I have about eight books in the writing. I don’t make notes – I tried but I was so inconsistent that I abandoned the process. Sometimes I even have to go back and see what’s the color of the hero’s eyes for instance because I didn’t even bother to note it down. Sometimes I write in a rush and I review when I finish but most of the time, I go back to every chapter and review it a couple of times and then I can continue writing.

Vatsala: According to you , as a novelist what social, psychological effects and
transformation do such novels bring amidst the hectic lives that we have?
Roxana: I don’t know about others but a book can lift my mood and make me feel better. Whenever I feel a bit depressed, I read. Whenever I am in a dark place, I open a book. A story can make me happy or sad but nevertheless make me feel more human, if that’s possible. We might not want to admit it, but what we read has a huge impact on our personality. We are not only the product of our genetic heritage and environment but also the product of the stories that clutter our lives. I know people won’t admit to that, I usually don’t, but sometimes we emulate a character and sometimes that becomes a habit and in the end that becomes a trait.

Vatsala :  Your recently published novel is entitled A Suitable Epitaph and it has the blend of suspense, mystery and paranormal elements. Please tell us about the need to include a paranormal side in the story?
Roxana:  Don’t you ever wonder how it would be to be able to read minds or feelings? I do, almost every day and sometimes a few times a day. I’d love to have the gift and I am sure that human brain could reach that point. It won’t be possible for me because my concentration waddles but I am sure it will be possible for others. Getting back to the book, I wanted a detective with an advantage but I wanted to confront her with the impossibility of using that advantage. Leah is a strong but aloof woman, who lives for her profession only. Unfortunately, nowadays, that’s the case with most women, me included. We have to prove that we can and we prove that by sacrificing the rest. If a man can have everything, so should we. Leah already had a strong career but she needed to be off balance in order to make steps in another direction. Fulfillment in career is something great but it leads to a poor life if there’s no fulfillment in our personal lives. She needed to be shaken so that she could open her eyes upon what was missing in her life.

Vatsala:  Do crime fiction and romance fiction have common denominators and if so please can you elucidate on this?

Roxana: They can and they should. Romance is about two people developing a relationship and, most of the time, strong feelings. Now, crime is about feelings. Only strong feelings could lead to crime, even if the crime is the result of someone wish for money or power. There are feelings behind those two as well. Most of the time, though, crime is the result of jealousy, hatred, rejection or freak love.
That being said, I think that crime fiction and romance do have common denominators. They both rely on feelings and evolution of relationships. The difference is that one looks at those from the perspective of a detective, for instance, while the other focuses on the development of a love relationship.

Vatsala : Being the editor of Scarlet Leaf Review and Scarlet Leaf Publishing
House, how do you foresee the future of the writing and publishing world?

Roxana: Honestly, I have no idea. I didn’t create this press with a specific goal in mind. When I say that, I mean that I didn’t make a marketing study. I used to do those in the past but this time I said that I needed a leap of faith. Something was missing in my life and I pinpointed to a press.
I suppose the digital era will engulf the written word but I might be wrong. Human kind has always had an amazing power to astound me and I am sure it will do the same in this situation.
Vatsala: What advice would you give to young and emerging authors?
Roxana: Be true to your inner self. If you feel good with what you write, then you did well. Critics will always exist. It’s hard not to take criticism to heart (oh, how much I know that!!!) but don’t give up just because someone said something mean about your writing. Someone else will love it. Just write!

Vatsala: As an experienced teacher and author what message would you give to the world?

Roxana: I stopped giving messages some time ago. No one listens anyway. I would have liked to see people getting along, regardless race and religion and political color. I would have liked to see people respecting the environment – there’s one Earth only from what I know – another similar planet is too far to skip there when everything is ruined here. I would have also liked to see more kindness, less famine, more culture and less disregard for what the people before us created. I can only hope that they read and one verse or one story at a time, world might change.

Vatsala: We sum up this lovely conversation with an extract of your recent novel, A Suitable Epitaph:

The receptionist took her eyes off her monitor for a second and offered them a smile that could have rivaled Sybil’s. Leah didn’t need to bother and read Mark’s thoughts or feelings to know what he was thinking. His sudden gasp explained everything.
The man was spellbound. The young woman’s freshness and beauty surprised and awed him. Leah had to admit jealously that the woman delivered a serious punch to any man who was still alive.
That favorable impression lasted only one second. The woman gestured to them to wait and returned to her keyboard.
Now, it was Leah’s turn to be impressed. She couldn’t believe the receptionist’s gumption. She just glanced at them, smiled and then returned to her game. Leah was sure she was playing a video game considering how she used that keyboard.
“Miss,” the detective called out in a sharp voice and had the pleasure to see the young woman’s head snap up. “We don’t have time to wait for you to finish that game,” she continued harshly.
The receptionist narrowed her eyes but didn’t reply. She pushed the keyboard aside and with a cold smile now, she asked, “What can I do for you?”
Leah noticed that her willingness to help had turned as cold as the Arctic, yet she didn’t care. She didn’t care for the tinges of disappointment that came from Mark either. He wasn’t supposed to make conquests during work hours anyway.
“We need to speak to Daniel Alekseyev,” the detective replied with clipped words. The sunlight reflected in her green-bluish eyes and highlighted her coldness.
Still, Leah and Mark had to admire the receptionist. She didn’t seem impressed with the detective’s frigid appearance and kept a businesslike attitude. She matched Leah’s cold demeanor and inquired, “Are you having an appointment?”
The policewoman replied, “No, we aren’t. Yet, we don’t need one,” she added and her smug smirk disconcerted the young woman who seemed baffled for the first time. Leah was positive that no one had ever given her such a reply before.
“How come?” the younger woman retorted with belligerence after only a few seconds of hesitation and her self-confidence earned Leah’s respect.
She wouldn’t have expected to see such a young individual recover so fast. That girl was something else and Leah made a note to get to know her better if she had the chance. Meanwhile, she dug into her handbag and took out her police ID and badge.
Although the receptionist’s sudden curiosity and trepidation were palpable, the only exterior sign of her excitement was a slight dilation in her pupils. She nodded briefly and then she dialed an extension, her eyes always on the two detectives.
“Mr. Alekseyev, the police are here to see you,” she said in the most professional tone she could muster and Leah’s mouth sketched a smile.
“I understand, sir,” the woman replied to something she was told and disconnected the call. She looked at Leah and said, “He’ll be downstairs in a couple of minutes. Would you have a seat?” she waved towards the seating area near the far corner of the lobby where the sun played the various colors of the chairs and brightened the floor.
“We’ll wait here,” Leah responded and leaned onto the front desk bracing herself on an elbow.
She turned her head to the other corner of the lobby where a multitude of potted plants were competing for sunlight. The thought that someone got the things wrong and placed the flowers where the waiting area should have been crossed her mind.
A glance to Mark made her aware that he was trying to make nice with the girl at the front desk but he didn’t have too much luck. The young woman had already returned to the game on her monitor and stopped paying attention to them.
Leah mused when she perceived the man’s frustration but only for a moment. She reprimanded herself severely. Lately, she’d been out of sorts somewhat and started taking pleasure in seeing Mark suffer or make mistakes. That wasn’t something she should have been comfortable with and she frowned, angry with herself.

 – Roxana Nastase, A Suitable Epitaph

Vatsala: Thank you very much, Roxana Nastase for joining us on Setu.

Roxana: I thank you for this opportunity. As I said, people still have the power to amaze me

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