Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Roxana Arama Interview - Extreme Vetting

Photo Content from Roxana Arama

Roxana Arama is a Romanian American author with a master of fine arts in creative writing from Goddard College. She studied computer science in Bucharest, Romania, and moved to the United States to work in software development. Her short stories and essays have been published in several literary magazines. Extreme Vetting is her first novel. She lives in Seattle, Washington, with her family.


Greatest thing you learned at school.
How to study independently: how to set learning goals, find my resources, stay focused, and measure results. As a writer, I’m always learning something, either craft or research, so being a good learner is important.

Beyond your own work (of course), what is your all-time favorite book and why? And what is your favorite book outside of your genre?
I don’t have an all-time favorite book because I change as I grow older, and what was meaningful to me a decade ago might not feel as important now. Becoming a parent made me think differently about what matters in life, and many coming-of-age books I once liked have changed their meaning for me. I no longer identify with the protagonist but with the guide or mentor. But there are still books I think about long after I finish reading them. A recent one was The Reckoning by John Grisham. It’s a complex book that brings together US history and the cultural struggles of post-WWII America. Even its title means different things as the story progresses. For a heartbreaking novel about the struggle for freedom and peace, I think of Daughters of Smoke and Fire by Ava Homa. And for a page-turner about human resilience and the awesomeness of science, I loved The Martian by Andy Weir.

What was the single worst distraction that kept you from writing this book?
I was laser-focused while writing this book, but trying to get it published hit obstacle after obstacle. The manuscript was ready in January 2020, but will be published in February 2023.

Has reading a book ever changed your life? Which one and why, if yes?
I love reading nonfiction books about how the brain works and about science in general. In many ways, the things I learn from them change my life in incremental ways. Sometimes the initial theories are proven wrong by later research, but neuroscience fascinates me and gets me thinking about my own life, my parenting, and my characters.

Why is storytelling so important for all of us?
I assume it’s in our DNA. In order to navigate reality, we need to tell ourselves stories about our world and our possible future. Children tell stories before they can even pronounce the words correctly, so it’s something we all do, from an early age. I can’t actually imagine what our world would be like without storytelling—and it’s funny that the act of imagining that scenario would also be…storytelling.

Can you tell us when you started EXTREME VETTING, how that came about?
I started working on my immigration thriller in October 2018, a few months after I heard the president of the United States speak at a rally where he compared immigrants to venomous snakes that should be crushed underfoot. Being the subject of dehumanization was horrifying for me. I wanted to push back against this harmful narrative by showing readers who aren’t familiar with our complex immigration system what it feels like to go through the process or be completely shut out with no path to citizenship. After 9/11, my green card application went nowhere for years, and I worked with different lawyers, so I was familiar with the lengthy legal process. Many politicians prefer to present a version of immigration that has nothing to do with reality but which motivates their voters in visceral ways. I wanted to bring some light to that subject, but in an entertaining way, so that’s why I chose the thriller format. Once I had the idea, I interviewed an immigration lawyer extensively and continued researching the subject until I finished my manuscript.

Meet the Characters
These are the four POV characters in my thriller, which takes place in Seattle, Washington, in 2019.

LAURA HOLBAN: She’s the protagonist, an immigration lawyer, single mom, and Romanian American citizen. As an immigrant herself, she guides her clients through a Kafkaesque legal system where overworked judges bound by quotas make life-shattering decisions in minutes. Her teenage daughter has a cold relationship with Laura because of the divorce and the vast cultural differences between their native cultures.

MASON WALTMAN: He’s the chief ICE prosecutor in Seattle, overseeing four Western states. He’s a dedicated father, who wants to be a better parent than his old man. He’s very good at catching undocumented immigrants and the people who help them, but he has a dark secret about his successful career.

EMILIO RAMIREZ: He left Guatemala in the 1990s after his family was murdered. He didn’t know how to apply for asylum in his first year in the US and has been living undocumented for more than twenty years, working hard and paying taxes. He is arrested at his American sons’ high school and thrown in detention, awaiting deportation. He becomes Laura’s client, while his perilous past catches up with him.

DAVID RAMIREZ: He’s an American teenager and Emilio’s older son, determined to save his dad from deportation. He convinces Laura to help his family, and he assists her investigation, sometimes breaking the rules. Once they discover a deadly conspiracy aimed at his father, he finds himself in mortal danger together with Laura and her daughter.

What is the first job you have had?
Software developer at a company in Bucharest, Romania, writing code for a US firm and being paid $200 a month.

What is the first thing you think of when you wake up in the morning?
Usually, the list of tasks I must accomplish by the end of the day. What meetings I have, what writing I can get done, what I need to do for my family.

What is your most memorable travel experience?
My first trip abroad in September 2000, when Microsoft flew me to Moscow for a job interview, soon after I graduated from the Polytechnic University of Bucharest with a degree in computer science. I had never flown on an airplane before, so being pulled up into the sky for the first time in my life was frightening but wonderful. Walking through the Red Square, the heart of Moscow and the source of so much pain for my country and all of Eastern Europe, was also surreal. Not to mention I had an interview to go through. From dozens of candidates, three were selected, and I was one of them.

What’s your most missed memory?
My maternal grandmother was a talented chef, managing a cafeteria at a steel plant in my hometown. She made the greatest desserts, and when she died, I knew I would never taste her lemon cake or her salty breadsticks ever again. I’ve never found anything similar in almost thirty years. But in my memory, I still taste the powdered sugar on the lemon cake, which she used to cut into diamond shapes, and I can still smell the lemon zest.

Have you ever stood up for someone you hardly knew?
In middle school, some older boys from the neighborhood brought a defanged garden snake to our playground to scare the kids at recess. Everyone started screaming, some kids ran into the school building to hide. But I knew the snake couldn’t be venomous, so I stepped up and asked to pet it. I totally ruined the bullies’ day, and they soon left. I guess at the time I felt it was my duty to protect the younger kids, as I was the chief Pioneer in my school (back in the old days in communist Romania, we were all Pioneers in middle school). Many years later, I found myself compared to a venomous snake, which made me want to contribute to the conversation about immigrants in my adoptive country. The best way for me to do that was by writing an immigration thriller.

Which would you choose, true love with a guarantee of a heart break or have never loved before?
I know how I should answer, but at this point in my life, where I’ve collected lots of heartbreaks, I’d opt out of true love if I could spare myself the pain. Heartbreak from love can come in two flavors: either being betrayed by my partner (in which case I would doubt the whole “true love” premise), or most likely something terrible happening to them. No, thank you. I wouldn’t want anyone I love to be hurt or die. I’d rather not have that connection than see someone I deeply love suffer. So, yeah, I guess I’m good without true love. With the time saved by not crying, obsessing, and suffering, I could travel the world or take up a healthy hobby.

An immigration lawyer fights to keep her client from being deported to the country where his family was murdered many years ago. Then she finds out the killers are coming here—for both of them.

Seattle, Washington, 2019. Attorney and single mom Laura Holban is an immigrant herself. Her client Emilio Ramirez was arrested at his sons’ high school and thrown in detention. When Laura files for his asylum, false criminal charges prevent his release. Someone is following his family, and an ICE prosecutor threatens to revoke Laura’s US citizenship. None of it makes sense—until Laura uncovers a deadly conspiracy involving ICE, stolen data, and human trafficking. Which puts her daughter and Emilio’s sons in imminent danger.

You can purchase Extreme Vetting at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you ROXANA ARAMA for making this giveaway possible.
2 Winners will receive a Copy of Extreme Vetting by Roxana Arama.

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