My guest today is Puerto Rican writer Alexandra Roman, author of The Valley of Inspiration, a young adult fantasy/adventure novel set in Egypt. In this interview, Alexandra talks about her life, her novel, the importance of reading for young people, and her working habits, among other things. I hope you'll enjoy the interview!
Welcome to my blog, Alexandra! Why don’t you begin by telling my readers a little about yourself?
I am a mother, wife, friend and a writer. I think that sums it up! Even though my passion is for the sciences, in which I hold a Bachelors Degree from the University of Puerto Rico in Natural Sciences;, when I got pregnant I decided to raise my child and have a career change. That’s how writing went from a pastime to full time in my life, alongside motherhood. Since I loved fiction the most and it was the one I leaned towards in the books I read, it was natural that my writing focused on fiction.
I started writing poetry in high school, essays-which I love writing- in college and short stories after I graduated. Some of my work has appeared in the Australian webpage Soul Food Cafe, La Prensa (a newspaper in Chicago), and magazines like Better Homes and Gardens (yes, I also have a passion for gardening). My love for the written word has also got me into writing plays, two of them have been brought to the stage by local churches, “El guerrero del Señor” and “La dama de Israel: la historia de Judith”.
When I’m not with my family or writing, I work with a youth catholic group for which I have been part of for fifteen years. They are part of my inspiration and some of my fans.
Were you an avid reader as a child? What type of books did you enjoy reading?
Yes, I was and still am! That’s how I fell in love with the written word, by devouring books. The books I enjoyed were mostly fiction, especially those with a damsel in distress and a handsome prince to save her. But it wasn’t until my mom presented me with a most peculiar gift, when I was in middle school, that I actually realized I was attracted to fiction. The book was title “Las mil y una noches” (One thousand and one nights) and this book was the seed that began my writing career.
Tell us a bit about your latest book, and what inspired you to write such a story.
The story came to me in the form of a question, while I was caressing my huge pregnant belly. Where would I go to find my inspiration if I ever lose it? The answer came as the question did: a valley. From there I started my research and writing the first draft, putting together all my ideas and slowly giving it form and body.
THE VALLEY OF INSPIRATION is a fantasy-adventure novel for young adults. In it the reader explores the mythological Egyptian world through the eyes of Nailah, a young forger of words, who after the death of her father, a famous author and her inspiration, enters a depression that inhibits her writing. The recent discovery of a tomb in the Valley of the Queens, gives hope to Nailah, for the hieroglyphics narrates the journey of a young prince poet, who became one of the most acclaimed poets of his era.
Accompanied by her best friend and an Egyptologist, she travels to Egypt to find the Valley of Inspiration, but first she must find the followers of the ancient Egyptian religion who have lived in anonymity for centuries and are the only ones who may lead her to the valley. Armed with the sacred symbol of the Egyptian religion that will help her find the followers, Nailah undertakes the adventure of her life. Through The Valley of Inspiration-a magical journey to the land of Pharaohs and Egyptian gods’ world-this novel takes us to understand that sometimes we need to lose our sources of inspiration, to realize that we are able to achieve our goals if we believe in ourselves.
How would you describe your creative process while writing this book? Was it stream-of-consciousness writing, or did you first write an outline?
Long and hard! This book took a lot of me, maybe because it is my first, but still it went to lots of changes in the course of six years. Just when I thought it completed, something came to me that forced me to go back and rewrite. I was very satisfied when I finished it, for I knew it didn’t need any more changes.
I usually don’t do or use outlines, I do sometimes. For “El Valle de la Inspiración”, I actually used outlines for the chapters to know where I was heading with it. What works for me is what you called a stream-of-consciousness. When an idea arrives I give it wings and go with the flow. Sometimes I even let it simmer for a while, so it can evolve into something more. That’s when you might find me daydreaming, lost in another world and not paying attention to other things. Well, that’s the life of a writer!
Did your book require a lot of research?
Oh, yes! Since it is based on Egypt and the Egyptian religion is, in some way, another character in this book, I had to do lots of research. I like doing research; it’s encoded in me as a biologist. I did a lot of research in college for most of my classes, so it comes naturally and the experience in college helped me with this book; made it easier. I found lots of interesting things while researching, which helped develop some of the characters and the scenery. This is very important for I tend to be very descriptive. I like my readers to feel part of the place the scene is taking place at that moment, so they can have better understanding of the characters.
Who is your target audience?
Young adult is my targeted audience. It’s a good audience that enjoys fiction in its own way. Nowadays teenagers are reading more and more fiction, which is really good. Campaigns towards reading are very strong these days, for myself I can say they are working. I see it with the teenagers I work with in the youth group at church. They love fiction and it is very attractive to them, they are becoming voracious readers and fiction is a reason for that and I want to be part of that. Reading should always be encouraged in our young society, for in it they learn to mature.
What will the reader learn after reading your book?
Trust in yourself. Sometimes we need to lose ourselves to find out who we really are, and what we are capable of achieving.
What type of writer are you—the one who experiences before writing, like Hemingway, or the one who mostly daydreams and fantasizes?
A little bit of both. I experience and daydream and fantasize… I even dramatize what my characters will do to experience what they are feeling, so I could put it on paper knowing exactly what they are going through.
Agatha Christie got her best ideas while eating green apples in the bathtub. Steven Spielberg says he gets his best ideas while driving on the highway. When do you get your best ideas and why do you think this is?
I have not eaten apples while in the bathtub, I don’t own one, but I have gotten my ideas while in the shower and like Spielberg while driving. Sometimes I take my baby boy putting him in the car and drive around town, an hour before my girl comes out of school, so I could explore better an idea or concept I’m working on. It works, really, for your mind is relaxed and that’s what you need to develop it. Looking at nature helps me too, I enjoy going on trips through the island to be relaxed; nature does that for me.
Do you get along with your muse? What do you do to placate her when she refuses to inspire you?
Yeah, we get along most of the time and when we are not I give her space. When my story is on a stop, that I’m not able to go forth with it, I just step away from my desk to let her relax. She needs her time and when she is ready she’ll let me know, and we gladly go back to writing. But I’m very careful with this, I don’t let her procrastinate too much for I keep in mind the story we were working on. Is a trick I have, we are relaxing doing our everyday duties, but we cannot forget why we are relaxing or doing our responsibilities.
How do you divide your time between taking care of a home and children, and writing? Do you plan your writing sessions in advance?
When ever I had the time, I took it for writing the story, especially when my daughter started school. That time was bliss, for I could develop a writing session and I was in peace. If an idea came on a weekend, when both my husband and daughter were home, I scurried away and started writing until they asked for my presence. It is hard to be a writer and take care of your family, but it's satisfying knowing you are doing the things you love and giving them the time and care they deserve.Thanks, Alexandra!