- As a prolific author of books that test the endurance of the human spirit in the wake of social, political, and military upheaval, you’re no stranger to trauma and crisis, both real and fictional. What draws you to literature as a meaningful form of exploration and expression?
I’ll be totally candid. My relationship with humanity is very polarized. People either love me or hate me. I have strong, unpopular opinions – a tendency I inherited from my biological father. Given that I spend many hours in the office, I have to watch my tongue to avoid getting fired. (I have expensive tastes, and I need my lucrative day job to keep the latest couture in my closet and Botox in my forehead). But, writing fiction provides an outlet for my venom. Literature gives me a license to be sarcastic, callous and offensive.
- You were born in Eastern Europe and migrated to the US at the age of thirteen. How does this background and transition inform your cultural and artistic sensibilities?
I’ve accepted the fact that I’m going to be an outcast no matter where I go. I’m never going to be one of the “girls”. I don’t have the stereotypical “Russian soul” – if there is such a thing. Nor do I buy into the whole “American dream”. My night vision allows me to see through the labels and gimmicks. But I am going to sit on the bleachers, observe this grotesque tragicomedy called life and write venomous, sexy prose. As I mentioned before, I have enough detractors and enemies on both sides of the Atlantic. Most of my novels have one thing in common: they touch upon the issue of ethnic conflict. I grew up in an ethnically, religiously and politically conflicted family. My birth father was a Polish nationalist and a cafeteria Catholic. My mother was a Russian-Jewish deist (who later converted to Orthodoxy) and a strong supporter of imperialism. In her mind, big fish eats small fish. She saw nothing wrong with Russia usurping the adjacent nations and stomping out local culture. My parents are a living proof that two people can have great sex and want to kill each other over ideology.
- Your books are published by Penmore Press. Can you share your journey to and experience of publication with us?
Michael and I go back to the days when we both were authors with another press, so we are familiar with each other’s work. Last year he decided to launch his own press, leaning on his knowledge of the industry and his connections to authors. It’s really humbling to have the support of such an accomplished and imposing figure. He is a Scot by birth and a soldier by vocation, so he doesn’t subscribe to the whole American PC trend. His talent, his intensity and ageless unapologetic masculinity will send shivers down your spine. He’s an old-fashioned seasoned warrior and literary connoisseur in one.
There are many publishers who won’t touch raw material like rape, amputation, abortion, sex with minors. He’s always been very supportive of my candor. As a soldier, he’d seem some pretty gruesome sights, so he doesn’t get bent out of shape easily. There’s nothing prudish about him. He’s both ruthless and mischievous and totally politically incorrect. He’ll take on material other publishers would shy away from – as long as it’s handled tastefully and convincingly. He labels Penmore as publisher of “world stories”. He publishes works that deal with events and issues of global significance.
- You describe Saved by the Bang: a Nuclear Comedy as ‘an autobiographical satire featuring the Chernobyl disaster.’ Can you tell us how you manage the feat of linking epic tragedy with satire?
When you think of a balanced meal, you don’t think of bread sticks with pasta, or steak with bacon. You want flavors to complement and highlight each other. Tragedy and comedy interact with each other in a similar fashion. Crying at a funeral is predictable. Now, laughing at a funeral – hysterically or maliciously – now that’s more interesting. I actually went to a pediatric cancer ward following the Chernobyl disaster. I do remember that ugly Mickey Mouse drawing on the wall. It was both creepy and funny. Teenage patients who had weeks left to live making smutty, sexy jokes. Laughter lives in the most unexpected of places.
- What aspects of being a writer do you find most challenging, and what aspects come relatively easily?
Nobody likes marketing. With so many self-published books priced at 99 cents coming out every day, it’s easy for the readers to get overwhelmed and disoriented. Unless you already are a bestseller published by one of the Big Five, it’s hard for you to stand out. You have to constantly think of new ways of branding and distinguishing yourself. Are you another Philippa Gregory wannabe? Does your novel feature another headless woman on the cover?
- Tell us about The Gate of Dawn, which shares similarities with your other work in terms of setting, but deals with a different era of history.
The Gate of Dawn is set in 19th century Vilnius, which used to be one of the major cities of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. In 1880s it was under the control of the Russian empire. The paternal side of my family comes from that part of Central Europe. I spent my summers at the estate formerly known as Raven’s Bog – a haunted, misty village, where the swampy soil is filled with blood and secrets. Again, ethnic and religious conflicts lie at the core of it: Christianity versus paganism, Russian culture versus indigenous Baltic traditions, urban industrial versus rural.
- You get to the end of your life, and there to escort you through the tunnel to the light beyond and show you around is a philosopher / author / artist / scientist / celebrity you’ve always revered. Who is it, and why him/her?
I hope there is more than one! I have a list of literary heroes and idols. If I had to pick one, it would be Victor Hugo, the icon of French Romanticism. I actually do have a telepathic connection with him. He taught me that horror and beauty can coexist.
- How do you see your career as an author developing?
I cannot talk about my career without talking about the industry as a whole. And I’m not saying that I’m going to start writing formula romances with happy endings. The state of the publishing industry will determine how my work is received, how it’s packaged and marketed. Trying to keep up with the trends at the Big Five is like chasing a moving target. One day vampires are in, and tomorrow they are out. The line between “in” and “out” is incredibly thin and fluid. I’ll continue exploring the subjects that are of interest to me and writing fiction that’s authentic.
A self-centered, only child of classical musicians, Marina Julia Neary spent her early years in Eastern Europe and came to the US at the age of thirteen. Her literary career revolves around depicting military and social disasters, from the Charge of the Light Brigade, to the Irish Famine, to the Easter Rising in Dublin, to the nuclear explosion in Chernobyl some thirty miles away from her home town. Notorious for her abrasive personality and politically incorrect views that make her a persona non grata in most polite circles, Neary explores human suffering through the prism of dark humor, believing that tragedy and comedy go hand in hand.
Her debut thriller Wynfield’s Kingdom was featured on the cover of the First Edition Magazine in the UK and earned the praise of the Neo-Victorian Studies Journal. After writing a series of novels dealing with the Anglo-Irish conflict – Brendan Malone (2011), Martyrs & Traitors (2011) and Never Be at Peace (2014), she takes a break from the slums of London and the gunpowder-filled streets of Dublin to delve into the picturesque radioactive swamps of her native Belarus. Saved by the Bang: a Nuclear Comedy is a deliciously offensive autobiographical satire featuring sex scandals of Eastern Europe’s artistic elite in the face of political upheavals.
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