Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Roxanne Veletzos Interview - When the Summer Was Ours


Photo Content from Roxanne Veletzos

ROXANNE VELETZOS was born in Bucharest, Romania. As a young teen, she moved to California where she began writing short stories about her native Eastern Europe, at first as a cathartic experience transitioning to a new culture, then simply to pursue what had become an unrelenting passion. With a bachelor's degree in journalism, she has worked as an editor, content writer and marketing manager for a number of Fortune 500 companies.
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Roxanne lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and two sons. Her debut novel, THE GIRL THEY LEFT BEHIND has been published in ten countries and is an international bestseller.

        
  


Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
For me, nothing is more rewarding than knowing my novel is resounding with readers, that it is touching their hearts. So much of what I write is based on my family history or is in some way linked to my heritage, so this for me it is deeply personal, deeply important. Above all, I’m always in awe of how books can connect us across time and distance, even across different cultures. One reader from Romania (my native country where my debut novel is also set) wrote to thank me for sharing with American readers what people of her generation endured in this tiny and little-known country. That message brought me to tears and has stayed with me ever since.

What inspired you to pen your first novel?
I was quite young when I found out that my mother was adopted—although it wasn’t until many years later that she confided in me the full details of her adoption. I remember her sitting me down one day, and tearfully telling me that as a toddler, she’d been abandoned on the steps of a building in late January of 1941, as a vicious pogrom had been unleased in Bucharest against the Jewish population. She also told me that despite her undying loyalty to the loving couple who adopted her, she’d tried for years to find a thread back to her biological parents, or at least learn something of their fate, with no results. As you might imagine, her story—and the story of my unknown family forced to leave a child behind amidst crushing violence—haunted me well into my adulthood, and eventually became the heart and soul of The Girl They Left Behind.

Tell us your latest news.
I’ve just found out that WHEN THE SUMMER WAS OURS will be published in Italy!

In your newest book, WHEN THE SUMMER WAS OURS; can you tell my Book Nerd community a little about the novel?
Set in Hungary during and after the Second World War and spanning into the years of cold war in New York, When the Summer Was Ours centers on star-crossed lovers Eva and Aleandro, whose chance encounter in the Hungarian countryside in the last days of peace sets in motion events that will echo through generations. While at its core this is a story of unrequited love enduring fifty years of war, occupation and revolution, it is also a story about belonging and displacement and seeking a way home, about reinvention and second chances, and the healing power of art and music in dark times.

What do you hope for readers to be thinking when they read your novel?
I hope they will be transported to a place and time in history still relatively unexplored in fiction, that they will smile in some parts and tear up in others, and discover some aspect of the past they did not know about. I hope, above all, that Eva and Aleandro, and their story of true love, will stay with them after they’ve put the book down. They have certainly stayed with me! Sometimes I re-read passages in the book simply to revisit with them. In a way, they feel like old friends now.

What was the most surprising thing you learned in creating Eva?
Eva, to me, was a complex character and became even more so, as she evolved throughout the book. At one point, I struggled a bit with the fact that, despite being able to reconstruct her life after the war and having a second chance at happiness, she was still so deeply haunted by her past. I especially questioned one decision in the novel which seemed to pull her back from all the progress she’d made into a precarious place. But ultimately, it’s what I loved about her, what I loved about Aleandro and Dora as well. They were strong, and flawed and vulnerable at times – and that allowed them to come alive for me in an organic, unforced way.

If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
Despina from my first novel, The Girl They Left Behind, and Dora, from When the Summer Was Ours. Both are nurturing yet very tough, both love with a full, unrestrained heart, almost to a fault. I think they’d find great comfort in each other, perhaps even confide the secrets they both kept so close to their hearts to protect those they loved. Oh, and I’m sure they’d exchange some darn good recipes over tea. Or sherry.

What was the single worst distraction that kept you from writing this book?
I’m not sure if I can quite refer to it as a distraction, but during the year of COVID, when I was working on the final draft of this book, my younger son who has some special needs was suddenly attending all of his classes on zoom, and I had to not only help him adapt to this new environment, but also to fill in some of the direct assistance he was accustomed to getting in class. It wasn’t easy to carve out chunks of solitary time, so I wrote late at night a great deal, when the house was quiet. Oh, and I think, once or twice, I wrote in my car on the edge of a bluff, overlooking the ocean.

What is something you think everyone should do at least once in their lives?
Something that seems inconvenient. Or uninteresting. It’s how we discover new, and often rewarding experiences. It’s like walking through a door you never knew was there.

Best date you've ever had?
I can’t think of precisely one, but probably in Paris with my husband. I suppose, however, that the city of love has that effect on everyone.

If you could go back in time to one point in your life, where would you go?
Before my husband and I had kids, we lived in the heart of San Francisco for nearly a decade. We are both city-lovers, both love museums and hole-in-the-wall restaurants, and old bookstores where we made a habit of spending several hours each weekend. Those lingering Sunday afternoons surrounded with books and no other place to go is what I miss most of that time. It seems in a way, a small luxury now.

Which incident in your life that totally changed the way you think today?
My father passed away in 2011 rather unexpectedly and it shook me to the core. Not only because we were very close, but because it showed me how fleeting life can be; how it can change in an instant. It was that experience that also made me realize the importance of embracing dreams –for me, it meant writing that first novel after many years of dreaming of it yet never quite having the courage. And it taught me gratitude.

What are 4 things you never leave home without?
My kindle. My reading glasses, without which I couldn’t even read a restaurant menu in 18-point font, and (hopefully) my phone. The fourth, I really can’t pin. Probably a lipstick. A small list, judging from the inundating mess that can be found in my bag at any given time.

Where did you go on your first airplane ride?
My first flight is seared in my memory, because it was also the very same one that relocated me and my family from our native Romania to California. I was only thirteen at the time, but I remember landing in Los Angeles, excited as much as disoriented, not yet quite grasping that the life we’d known was now fully behind us. That flight will always signify for me new beginnings, but good-byes as well, to places and people I loved, to everything familiar.

First Heartbreak?
I believe it was in late high-school. I was the girl sitting on the campus lawn at lunch with a homemade liverwurst sandwich and my nose in a book. He was the boy who rode a motorcycle to school every day. We weren’t destined.

Which would you choose, true love with a guarantee of a heart break or have never loved before?
Without a question, true love.

TEN QUOTES FROM WHEN THE SUMMER WAS OURS
  • “Eva, Eva. Her name was a destination across a vast sea he navigated without a compass.”
  • “How very awful, she thought, that the heart should so stubbornly attach to phantoms while everything real and true should subside under its tyranny.”
  • “Nothing has been fair in this terrible world and much has been sacrificed for those we love with no more than a wish that they should live now in peace.”
  • “Sometimes the bigger tragedy is not seeing what we already have, what is still here, within our reach.
  • “Time. Time had been his enemy, but also his friend. For had he not wanted to forget all these things?”
  • “Forever she would be caught between these two men, with the wheels of history, which took one away, then the other, tearing up the boundaries of her heart and her life. How messy love was, when it should have been simple, beautiful. How much damage it left in its wake.”
  • “That sun, so bright, so bright. Perhaps this is how death comes, he thought then, not in darkness but in a funnel of light.”
  • “War is war, and victims are not only to be found on the battleground.”
  • “There is always time for new bonds to form, always time, at the very least, for new friendships. Blood ties or no blood ties, in the end all that matters is our capacity to love.”
  • “I do know that the angels will be watching, and faith now is all we have.”
Meet the Characters
WHEN THE SUMMER WAS OURS is definitely a character driven story, and much thought went into crafting each person inhabiting the book. In fact, it took me quite a few revisions to truly understand them and be able to bring them into the pages in a way that felt natural. It was worth the effort! With each draft, I discovered things about them I never knew before, and those discoveries were key, because they ended up affecting the direction of the novel.

For example, Eva, in an earlier draft felt a bit shielded by her life of privilege, so I really needed to explore her dissatisfaction/detachment from her father and the pain of losing her mother in early childhood to make this deep connection with Aleandro and his Romani brothers living in a shanty town, believable. Aleandro as well, took some time to grow as a character. There was a scene that I added in the last draft which revisits his own childhood of displacement—of feeling connected to people more than a land—and that paid great dividends later in the novel when he decides to move to New York after the war in search of a new beginning. He is a man who believes unequivocally in new beginnings, of “writing a blank page” even when, as he says at one point, “it may only be an illusion.” Later we see how this mindset leads to those illusions being shattered, ironically when everything he has dreamed of accomplishing with his art is finally a reality.

And, Dora and Rudolf. My gosh, I fell in love with them both, right around the time when I let their inner strength take center stage, becoming not just a soft place for Eva and Aleandro (respectively) to fall, but a linchpin in their lives, their sustainment through hardship and loss, even at one point, driving decisions which Eva and Aleandro were too vulnerable to make in their own best interest.

Ultimately, through delving deeply into each character’s psyche and motives and imperfections, this became not just a story of romantic love, but a story of profound human connection and chosen family, and I think it rounded the novel in a satisfying way.

Hungary, 1943: As war encroaches on the country’s borders, willful young Eva C├ęsar arrives in the idyllic town of Sopron to spend her last summer as a single woman on her aristocratic family’s estate. Longing for freedom from her domineering father, she counts the days to her upcoming nuptials to a kind and dedicated Red Cross doctor whom she greatly admires.

But Eva’s life changes when she meets Aleandro, a charming and passionate Romani fiddler and artist. With time and profound class differences against them, Eva and Aleandro still fall deeply in love—only to be separated by a brutal act of hatred.

As each are swept into the tides of war, they try to forget their romance. Yet, the haunting memory of that summer will reshape their destinies and lead to decisions which are felt through generations.

From the horrors of the Second World War to the tensions of the 1956 Hungarian uprising and beyond, When the Summer Was Ours is a sweeping story about the toll of secrets, the blurred lines between sacrifice and obsession, and the endurance of the human spirit.

You can purchase When the Summer Was Ours at the following Retailers:
        

1 Winner will receive a Copy of When the Summer Was Ours by Roxanne Veletzos.
1 Winner will receive a $20 Amazon Gift Card
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14 comments:

  1. When my husband and I met on a blind date, August 1988.

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  2. It was only flirting at the beach, but so much fun.

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  3. I never really had a memorable one.

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  4. My first love my summer between junior and senior year.

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  5. Ah Louise, so gorgeous. We were just kids of course. Her dad hated my guts.

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  6. I was involved in a vehicle fire when I was moving into an apartment for summer courses at college. My future husband would take me on dates involving shopping so I could buy clothes to wear the next day since most of my clothes had burned in the fire!

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  7. "Memorable summer romance?" I saw this movie called "Grease" that had one.

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