With the Thanksgiving holiday over, I’m wondering who got stuffed, you or the turkey? Maybe both? I certainly did, with an excellent meal and wonderful time spent with family. The nice thing about the holidays is that we all seem to make extra efforts to spend quality time with people, near and far. Which is a perfect segue to my next interview with Raluca Barbu, who formerly lived in faraway Romania, but now lives in the US. She also loves and has written about travel in her latest book, American Vacation: 12,000 Miles Into the Wild West. Enjoy the interview, you might even learn a little bit of Romanian!
About the Author
Raluca Barbu was born in Pitesti, Romania. She studied and became a perfectly functioning and responsible adult in Cluj-Napoca. After having uprooted her whole life, she is presently living a second life in the United States of America.
Raluca has been writing since her teen years when her biggest dream was to publish a book. Just one. She still writes, twenty-five years and five published books later.
Who or what inspires you to write?
What inspires me to write has always been my appreciation for life, whether I realized it at times or not. Life, and the ripples it makes around any of us, is what has been urging me to write.
Why I must write is the subject of many of my essays and subliminally a character in two of my books. Writing is witness. It is me alone in front of a blank page. Then, a few sentences later, it is me and a story of thoughts or sensations, ideas, and new concepts brought to light. In the end, it is me and the witness of my mind, me in two different forms of existence. Writing is company as well.
Writing has the power to transform a random night into a metaphor, into a sensation, only because a writer saw something else beyond the darkness. Writing is art.
Writing is therapy. So many times I survived because the page in front of me took my pain away and stored it safely between the covers of the past. Through a magical shift, once named, the hurt is passed onto the page and leaves room for courage.
Writing is proof of life. I forgot so much of what happened to me over the years, I even forgot the intermediary versions of who I used to be, but my writing is proof of all my history and becomings.
All of those things are so true about writing, but I could especially identify with writing as therapy. It’s a healthy way to process what has happened in our lives and the emotion that goes along with it. What is the best thing that has happened because of your writing?
Amazing things happened to me in the United States after publishing my fifth book, American Vacation: 12,000 Miles Into the Wild West. I have always been alert to any cultural opportunities in the area where I live, and that paid off in unexpected ways. For my travel book, I took professional photos of the visited places. This allowed me to participate in an art exhibit in my town called 4th Fridays at the Dole.
The first time I joined the competition, a photo I had taken in Yosemite National Park was the event winner. And because of winning the grand prize in a photography contest, a nonprofit organization looking for a photographer for the Honor Flight they were planning, offered me the gig. This way, I spent four days in Washington DC documenting the entire trip for fifty or so veterans while visiting all the emblematic landmarks in the capital. Apart from visiting a city I had not visited before, I met some amazing people, I learned about veterans in this country, their contribution, the way they are seen and appreciated nationwide both by fellow citizens and by the state—something I have never experienced in my home country.
Congratulations on winning the grand prize in the photography contest! It sounds like the Washington DC trip with the veterans was an incredible experience. What is the most difficult thing you have experienced about writing or publishing?
The endless rejections is the answer to this question. The wait and the “no” after each completion of a new manuscript is what almost wore me down. The entire process of pitching the book to publishing houses, the silences or refusals, is, I believe, the hardest part of being a new author or writing in a new genre and having to change publishing houses. There’s a lot of turn-down before the “yes” we’re hoping for, as authors.
Submitting a book or proposal to agents or publishers can certainly involve a lot of rejection. I’ve read about numerous authors getting books rejected dozens of times before finally getting accepted and then going on to become bestsellers, and that process can take years. Was there anything didn’t you do during your writing or publishing journey that you wish you had?There is one thing I regret not doing more while I was in my home country and that is connecting with other authors. I don’t know why I believed that being a writer was a solitary endeavor through and through, but I was wrong. There is so much to learn from other authors’ experiences and from their company alone. They can also help each other out and draw attention to each other’s hard work.
Yes, connecting with other authors is so important, and enormously helpful and comforting! Do you have a publisher and/or agent, or are you an indie (self-published) or hybrid author?
I suppose I am all of the above as I have published most of my Romanian books in a traditional manner, with a publishing house and an editor, with sales and promotion being handled by them and with me showing up for book launches, events, and book festivals they would arrange for me. Having moved here, no longer having my fan base, and with my native language traded for English, I had to start from scratch and take everything into my own hands, such as editing, publishing, marketing, event booking, and so on. It is hard work, but as long as I asked questions and wasn’t afraid to try new approaches, people have been helpful and all sorts of doors opened in front of me.
It must be a huge challenge to start your writing career over again, especially in a second language. Huge kudos to you for taking it on! Which genre(s) do you like to write in, and why?
Real life and its true stories are what I am drawn to; therefore, my writing so far has been about my life and my experiences – nonfiction, memoir with splashes of fiction. More so, the writing itself has been my way of thanking life for everything it has been sending my way ever since I can remember. I have this philosophy that says, “Life never forgets to surprise me.” This is my mantra, if you will, whenever I feel overwhelmed by life and, so far, it has never let me down. In other words, true experiences are as far as I have looked for inspiration when it comes to writing. On occasion, I referred to fiction to better incorporate the truth into a romanticized plot.
It has not been obvious to me, until recently, that each of my books have been a tribute to the main stages and events in my life:
Surviving young adulthood – My City Within (Orasul din viata mea, only in Romanian).
The fictionalized version of my ten-year corporate career – The Corporate Man – a novel (Corporatistul, only in Romanian).
The complexity of motherhood and the joy of witnessing how a baby steadily and stubbornly becomes a walking, talking human – Selfie In the Mirror: When a Woman Becomes a Mother (Selfie in oglinda: Cand femeia devine mama, only in Romanian).
A collection of essays published in the span of five years on ralucabarbu.ro – Writing Therapy (Terapie prin scris, only in Romanian).
The trip of a lifetime – American Vacation: 12,000 Miles Into the Wild West (Vacanta americana. 20,000 de km in vestul salbatic, both in Romanian and English).
I can’t wait to read American Vacation, since it sounds like we have had some similar traveling experiences and have written books about them. Do you outline your books before you write them?
Yes! When getting ready for a new book, I first set out to create the frame of the story, meaning the chapters, the tense I’ll be using, the characters, and the outcome. Then, I move forward to elaborating each chapter so that I have a big picture of the entire work, and only then I begin writing.
I think I need to try harder to outline my books before writing them, but so far I’ve been unsuccessful in that approach. How do you define success as a writer?
People reading my books, resonating with the story or characters, finding answers in their pages, and recommending them to friends is what rewards me for my art. Coming from a small country with its own particular language, both fame and fortune for a writer is never really achievable. Not like it is here or in any English-speaking country. But I did feel as successful as ever when I had venues full of people at my book launches, with press and local TV stations present, giving autographs, and being asked to have my picture taken. However, apart from all of this, having writing in my life is what I treasure most about it, and knowing that at any point I can sit down and lose myself in a new page.
That’s so impressive that you had press and TV stations at your book launches. Not many authors can say that. If you could have lunch with any author, who would it be?
This is a question with a different answer depending on when I am asked. Back in my college years I would have said Mircea Eliade. Then, a few years later John Fowles would have been my choice. After I had moved here, and started reading American authors, Barbara Kingsolver was the answer. Now, I would have to say Andrew Sean Greer. He has brightened this year end for me with his truly brilliantly smart and funny Less, and Less Is Lost. I guess I would love to find out if he is just as smart-funny in real life and if humor comes spontaneously to him in real time too. Life is so much lighter with writers like him.
I saw Andrew Sean Greer speak at an author event years ago after he published The Confessions of Max Tivoli, and I can tell you that he was very funny in real life. I’ve just added Less and Less Is Lost to my reading list. I see Less won the Pulitzer Prize, so it must be an entertaining caper. Tell us about a great adventure you’ve had.
After I turned forty, I packed the bare necessities, took my daughter by the hand and moved to the United States of America with my husband. I left everything familiar behind and basically started a brand new life on the other side of the world. This was three-and-a-half years ago. I switched my Romanian off and my English on (“living and breathing through the bulky apparatus of a second language,” as Andrew Sean Greer said in Less Is Lost), made new friends, began a new career as a programmer librarian, learned new rules of the road, new recipes, holidays, customs. I’ve been adapting my former knowledge to new situations. Overall, my perception of myself and of the world in general has sharpened. Having traveled most of Europe and maybe half of the American states gives me the vantage point from where my new life looks really good. I feel comfortable here, though I don’t yet feel at home. My constant feeling is that I’m in the midst of an ongoing adventure because I am always learning something new, visiting a new place, facing a new challenge, meeting new people, and trying to approach things in a different way than I am used to.
Starting a new life in a foreign country is certainly a great adventure and you seem to have done it well. Hopefully you will soon feel at home, in addition to feeling comfortable, in this country.
Raluca, thank you so much for sharing some of your writing and life journey with us! Readers, you can find out more about Raluca and her books at her website: https://ralucabarbu.ro/. You can find Raluca’s books on Amazon, BarnesandNoble.com, and Google Play Books.
American Vacation is the result of one man’s generosity and one woman’s eagerness to give back after having been gifted a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel 12,000 miles into the Wild West for 45 days, through 7 types of natural landmarks, from 260 feet below sea level up to 14,000 feet of altitude. Together, they hiked 170 miles across 33 national, state, and tribal parks discovering iconic places and corners of paradise hidden deep within the North American landscape.
Starting in The Land of Lincoln, they crossed 18 states, at times asking themselves whether they left the earth and landed on a different planet.
Immerse yourself in Raluca’s vivid pages, and you will see wild America through a foreign writer’s eyes who deeply appreciates the beauty of the land, and the way it is respected and preserved by the authorities and visitors. You will laugh and empathize with the author whenever she has to overcome her fears and limits, like climbing down rugged rocks in Spooky Gulch, reaching the summit of Mount White, or simply breaking down with exhaustion and overheating in Arches National Park.
Readers, what kind of fears and limits have you overcome? Let us know in the comments!