IndieView with Tom Maremaa, author of Reykjavik

I mean, we had reached the point where mutually assured destruction (MAD) was the order of the day. Andrei Heilemann, the Soviet scientist who defects to the West, was my neighbor down the street, the colleague at work, the man whom I knew, not as a brilliant nuclear scientist, but simply a fellow I could depend on in a crisis, a good man, perhaps even a great man, yet a man with a past, a man with a vengeful brother, a man swept up in the torrents of history, caught in its dangerous cross-currents and multiplying dark forces. There can be no great art without passion, as Stein reiterated. Reykjavik relies on a confessional technique as a way of telling the story of Nathalie and Andrei’s lives. Good question. Every book is a struggle for life, and this one was no exception. I try not to force myself onto a story, compel its creation, muscle the prose. My wife is my editor and she’s fantastic: she has a keen eye for detail, mistakes, typos, illogic, lazy sentences, punctuation errors. My novel was an attempt to get to the “truth” of the Summit and how it affected the collapse of the Soviet Union, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the rise of a new class of ruthless oligarchs in the new Soviet Federation, oligarchs with global reach and command, why the new leadership in Russia felt the way they did when the Empire collapsed, the degree of resentment toward the West, toward the US as the lone global superpower, and why that mattered, why it was part of the motivation by the current leadership to divide the West, restore the Russian Federation to its former glory, all that retribution, moral equivalence, what-about-ism that you get hit with in the news today. Are your characters entirely fictitious or have you borrowed from real world people you know? That’s why I wrote the book. In the end, as readers, we come away from this richly detailed novel having experienced the world of love and geopolitics in ways we haven’t seen or felt before. You’ll be a carpenter who writes, a software engineer who writes, a travel agent who writes, a teacher who writes — rather than A WRITER. What made you decide to go Indie, whether self-publishing or with an indie publisher? Did you get your book cover professionally done or did you do it yourself? And were their consequences? Anything was possible, the world gone mad. How long did it take you to write it? For me, novels take on a life all their own if the characters won’t let go, and in this case, Nathalie and Andrei did just that. And the way a story is told has a major impact on how the reader experiences the narrative and whether it comes to life, whether it breathes and rings true. Professional. Do you have a marketing plan for the book or are you just winging it? It’s much more interesting to tell a story in the first-person as it’s told to that person, with multiple voices, and greater depth of character. Literary fiction is an endangered species. Over time, one of them will emerge and force itself into consciousness. Is that even possible? We all know how important it is for writers to read. It still boggles my mind. Against this backdrop, the elements of my novel began to come together. Only one out of ten works of fiction fall into that category and the numbers are declining. But there’s more to come, like Dylan’s chance encounter with his former teacher of Russian from Berkeley, a woman of remarkable intellect, a brash and brilliant woman, on the eve of the Summit. No chapter headings until much later, like after you’ve written the chapter. That’s 8 hours per day, 7 days a week for 6 months. What came easily? I had grown up with The Bomb, but not by any means loving it. In effect, there are many characters, as in real life, with first-person stories, all woven together in the narrative. Oh, yes. If yes, what gets the fingers tapping? Passion always dictates form. No. I’d been living with that for years as a young writer, and even now it stuns me when I think about it. Prose is about music orchestrated in paragraphs. But to me, the first-person technique can get boring very fast, because you have a limited field of view, the story is told through the eyes of a single person. The story of Nathalie and Andrei’s personal lives seemed important and needed to be filled in. Later, I’ll revisit the text and revise, revise, revise until I think I’ve got it right. Once launched, the missiles could not be stopped or return from their targets, the gravity’s rainbow of their paths impossible to change. Years ago, can’t remember exactly when. As a writer, you have a few choices, like third-person omniscient, second-person (the you narrative, I call it), and first-person, as you find in most novels these days. And lately, Bolano, Coetzee, Franzen. Before too long, the seeds broke through the fertile garden of memory and started to grow into what the novel was to become. Avoid the crowd of folks offering advice, any advice like this, even if it’s good. He would go after his older brother who defected to the West, and do it with a vengeance. Were there any parts of the book where you struggled? It came to me, rather than my getting it from someplace. I’m happy that she’s willing to take on my 100,000 word novels and iterate through them. You must ask the editor to step aside, leave the room, grab a cup of coffee, take a walk —   until you’ve got a draft that you can live with. Joyce, Nabokov, Pynchon. That’s how we evolve, how history plays out. As it happened, I had come to California in the 1960s for graduate school at Berkeley when Reagan was governor and lived through the Dr. About Writing
Do you have a writing process? Millions would be dead within minutes, the world literally blown to pieces. He would not rest. Where did you get the idea from? I kept digging and digging to find the missing pieces, the backstory, the untold events. I focus on characters and where they take me in the narrative. At the time, the world was teetering on the brink of Armageddon, a dangerous and perverse period in history, with nuclear missiles from the US and Soviet Union pointed at each other, within a time window of 30 minutes from launch. Does that make sense? My passion for this narrative took shape over a period of years. And then, seemingly on their own, the characters in the narrative began to haunt my dreams. I edit somewhere in between the first pass and the final pass. Intrigue and espionage play out — with devastating consequences — on the post-Cold War stage between America and the new Russian Federation. The seeds were planted a long time ago, drawing on my memories of Reykjavik back in the 1980s and the Summit in 1986, when Reagan and Gorbachev met to decide the fate of the world. Did you hire a professional editor? I have a playlist of music from a variety of sources. If so, do you do so extensively or just chapter headings and a couple of sentences? Don’t know that I have a good answer. Outlines are for writers who are focused on plot twists and turns. I knew something about Reagan, had followed his rise to power, and applauded his willingness to meet with Gorbachev and end this nuclear stalement. History unravels when the Soviet Union comes apart, unleashing a fusillade of dark, violent forces. There’s a 20-page passage in Joyce’s Finnegans Wake (Anna Livia Plurabelle) that took the master 1600 hours to create. Nathalie Campbell is the central character in the narrative, and as she came to me in my dreams, I began to see her as a kind of everywoman, an anima type, a woman you could not easily forget, a woman who kept you spellbound, a woman whom you could love yet not ever truly know, being somehow elusive, fleeting, magical, a woman with great depth and feeling, a woman of the world with many stories to tell. Are there any particular authors that have influenced how you write and, if so, how have they influenced you? Reykjavik puts it all in perspective, so you can see where it came from, how it evolved and morphed into our present situation in relations between East and West. That’s just the beginning of this rich and engaging family chronicle, with roots in Nabokov, Pamuk and Tolstoy, as recounted by the journalist — a novel that spans more than four decades of geopolitical turmoil and strife. I grew up speaking a half-dozen languages as a typical polyglot, like the central character in the novel, Nathalie Campbell, who teaches Russian in Berkeley and is enticed to work as a “translator,” if you will, at the Reykjavik Summit in 1986. It gave me some understanding of the “official” version of events, but nothing really below the surface. Astonishingly, the agreement hinges on a single word. When did you start writing the book? Can you really believe that kind of madness? And spiked with a bitter taste of family betrayals, geopolitical conflicts and memories, all starting in Reykjavik, in the land of ice and volcanoes. End of Interview:
For more from Tom, visit his website. And Reagan, to his credit, wanted to rid the planet of these weapons. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union was coming apart. How was she enticed? And her secret fling, which he later discovers, with a chivalrous Soviet nuclear scientist whose loyalty to his Kremlin masters is destined to come under fire. Dylan Rose, the probing, inquisitive journalist, appeared to tell their story, the story of a family caught in the crosswinds of huge geopolitical changes. As a young writer and journalist, I spent much of my time traveling, writing and reporting, stretching myself and learning my craft, and as it happened, my travels took me to various cities and countries depicted in the narrative. Unless you’ve grown up reading genre fiction, like mysteries or science fiction, you’ll be better off trying something that’s original, not genre. As a young journalist, he comes of age, and begins a quest that takes him to all corners of the globe. A lifetime, plus four years. Under the yoke of Soviet rule, people in Eastern Europe – in countries like Poland, the Baltics, East Germany – were growing more and more dissatisfied with the quality of their lives, restless now, hungry for freedom, resistant to the forces of oppression, all of that. Another character appeared, much later. Learn a trade, so you can make a decent living and not be dependent on your writing to pay the bills. The consequences, well, can be quite bad, as the younger generation, the youth of today, emerge and take power and control away from their elders, and set things right. A reader of literary fiction who appreciates works that aren’t genre, aren’t necessarily plot-driven, a reader who loves literature. I began living and breathing the lives of these characters, writing about them as if they were part of my family, sharing their lives with my wife, who later worked hard and brilliantly to edit the book and understand these characters, what made them tick, what motivated their actions, what made them real in the best sense of the word. Typically, I plant the seeds for a narrative based on characters that somehow take hold and want their stories to be told. But you can’t let the editor interfere with the first draft, with the initial burst of composition. I may have six or seven stories in the works. And of course, there had to be the resentment of the younger brother in the old Soviet Union, whose anger at the fall of Empire could not be underestimated or denied, the embodiment of all that happened when the Soviet Union crumbled and fell apart, and a new class of oligarchs emerged. Reykjavik: A Novel   takes us beyond the events of the Summit in Iceland, as we witness the fall of the Berlin Wall and eventual dissolution of the Soviet empire. They wouldn’t let go. Life will be much easier for you, and you’ll be more productive, you won’t repeat yourself and burn out. Oligarchs appear and take control. And again, passion dictates form. History pivots on the promise of the Summit while the Cold War leaders struggle to reach an agreement on limiting their staggering and deadly arsenals of nuclear weapons, with the world teetering on the brink of Armageddon. Share this:Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window) He must grow up and choose to follow the events of the Cold War, leading him in time to the Reykjavik Summit between Reagan and Gorbachev in October, 1986. Trust your instincts. Do you have a target reader? The entire narrative was a struggle because the lives of the main characters were filled with grief and loss, revenge and betrayal. Tom Maremaa – 23 December 2018
The Back Flap
Revenge is a dish best served … on ice. Strangelove period depicted in Stanley Kubrick’s movie with Peter Sellers. None of it came easily. Tom Maremaa’s daring, provocative novel begins on the day President Reagan is shot when Dylan Rose, a young rebel without a cause, undergoes a major change in life. We as readers land in Berlin on the eve of the fall of the Wall, in November 1989 (as I did personally), then beyond to the 1990s when the Soviet Union collapses and a new class of oligarchs emerges to rule and take power and grab the wealth of the country, which was enormous and ripe for the pickings. Once the characters and narrative began to take shape, they became real to me. Do you outline? And by whom? I tapped into those streams of memory and drew on my experiences back in Berkeley, California during the 1980s, a turbulent time, much anxiety in the air, tensions between East and West, and in Reykjavik, which became the center of my novel, and in Europe before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall. For historical purposes, I was able find the unclassified documents from the Reykjavik Summit, released in 2004 by the State Department into the public, and then review the many books and articles written on Reagan, Gorbachev and the Summit. Any advice that you would like to give to other newbies considering becoming Indie authors? That’s probably why I had to write the book. Your writing will be as true and deep as you’re feeling, said Gertrude Stein, when it’s running truest and deepest. He and Gorbachev met a number of times, culminating in the Reykjavik Summit, when they knocked heads to figure out a way to reduce, and ultimately eliminate these monstrous nuclear arsenals on both sides. Then, ask the editor to come back inside and sharpen her blue pencil. Yes, those are questions that my novel attempts to answer, although the reader must ultimately decide for themselves. Even now, having written the book, I still can’t figure her out. No outlines, never. They wouldn’t let go. It’s a technique that Sebald uses brilliantly in Austerlitz because it takes you inside the mind and experience of not just the narrator but the main character who tells his story to the narrator. Do you listen to music while you write? The story couldn’t be told any other way. Do you edit as you go or wait until you’ve finished? Your writing will thank you. For me, novels take on a life all their own if the characters won’t let go, and in this case, Nathalie and Andrei did just that. And yes, paragraphs are emotional, sentences are not. Indie is the only way to keep literary fiction alive, writing that is multilayered, complex, imaginative, character and language-driven. One night Nathalie Campbell appeared, then Andrei Heilemann, both professionals in their respective fields, one a teacher of literature and the other a nuclear scientist, pulled together by the forces of nature, or history, or some combination, their lives intersecting at precisely the moment in time when it mattered the most, when each had to give up something of themselves and change direction in life. Bless her! No, not probably. I strive to create paragraphs that ring true, like notes in a musical composition. About Publishing
Did you submit your work to Agents? Ultimately, the reader is the big winner because they’ll come to your work with fresh eyes and see the world as you see it. Was it a particular event or a gradual process? The teacher of Russian finds her life turned upside down in the years that follow, transformed forever. I like jazz, rock, classical, music that evokes a time and place in memory, music that inspires and touches the soul. You try to dig deep into the wellsprings of feeling and imagination, and trust your instincts when you sit down to compose. In the story we return to Reykjavik in 1996 to hear David Bowie perform, then later in the 2000s to visit the gravesite of Bobby Fischer, the extraordinary chess master who is buried in Iceland, and who beat Boris Spassky in 1972 in the chess match of century, and finally, we taste the consequences of revenge all the way up to the present. I began living and breathing the lives of these characters, writing about them as if they were part of my family, sharing their lives with my wife, who later worked hard and brilliantly to edit the book and understand these characters, what made them tick, what motivated their actions, what made them real in the best sense of the word. If so can you please describe it? I write to discover, not knowing what each sentence will be beforehand. Then, I simply become an instrument for allowing that story to run, spill out, move through time and space. I’ll go for a streak, then pull back, catch my breath, and see where I am. Get your copy of   Reykjavik from Amazon US or Amazon UK. Dedication to editing, learning to think like an editor, make every word count, as my editor at Morrow once told me – all of that is important. About the book
What is the book about? Probably not. I try to keep the critic at bay and allow the work to come to life spontaneously. Yes. I felt their struggles on every page of composition. Remember, poetry is essentially music put to words.