Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Teatime Ten: Vera Nazarian

Readers of this blog may know Vera Nazarian primarily through her Supernatural Jane Austen series, but what you may not know is that Vera is also an accomplished fantasy author and publisher.  Her press, Norilana Books, prints original Austenesque and fantastical books, as well as classic literature.

In 2006, she took on the task of preserving the legacy of renown feminist fantasy author, Marion Zimmer Bradley, by continuing to publish the Sword and Sorcery Anthologies, (which gave this authoress her first break!), the twenty-sixth volume of which will be available this November.  She's also a terrific graphic artist!

And somewhere in the middle of all this and more besides, Vera found time to sit down with us for the Teatime Ten!

Hullo, Vera!  I'm so glad you could make it for the Teatime Ten!  I'll admit that I've been a fan of yours since your work in Marion Zimmer Bradley's Sword and Sorceress Anthologies, but most recently you've explored the world of Jane Austen paraliterature. What drew you to join in the fun of Austen?

As someone who's been soaking in classics of world literature from a very early age, both in my native Russian and then later in English, I've developed a natural old-fashioned writing style which meshes really well with nineteenth century works.  Some might call it quirky, archaic, stodgy, unusual, unpalatable for modern readers, eccentric, plain weird - I call it "Vera Nazarian." And since I love Jane Austen, humor, and fantasy, I think I've found my perfect niche - reworking the Jane Austen novels into supernatural hilarious parodies, imbued with heartfelt true love and romance. 

When that zombies parody of Pride and Prejudice came out, I was actually fired up. The idea was great but the execution sloppy. I knew I could absolutely do better, because I was already one step ahead - I was a true fan of classic literature and Jane Austen, I wrote in the subtle period style with great facility, and I admired and loved the spirit of Austen, with every intention of retaining it in my mash-up, and without breaking out of character (something I think the zombies parody did poorly by being generally crude and ignoring all real Austen sensibilities, while going instead for anachronistic pop culture shock value). 

My primary goal in the Supernatural Jane Austen Series is to remain absolutely true to Austen in style and tone, while adding in the period-appropriate fantasy elements and enhancing and ramping up the already funny elements with a sense of sudden joyful mayhem - such as baboons on the loose in the ballroom alongside mummies in Mansfield Park and Mummies, the attacking Brighton Duck that terrorizes Bath and other neighborhoods in Northanger Abbey and Angels and Dragons (the duck is a recurring character that appears in each novel, and usually teaches the "villains" a lesson or two), the shape-shifting monthly curse that strikes all the gentlemen in Pride and Platypus: Mr. Darcy's Dreadful Secret (poking fun in the satire manner of "what if men could menstruate"), and many others.

Note also, my own original fantasy novels might include a more explicit treatment of sexuality and erotic elements, but here I remain true to Austen in the sense of period "propriety" - nothing in my Austen novels ever goes beyond a kiss, and even such is mentioned in perfectly chaste terms that Jane herself would not even blush to use. I realize that many other wonderful Austen sequel authors successfully employ various levels of sensuality, but I prefer to keep my own books absolutely Jane-safe.

In short, I believe that Austen's common-sense "gentility" with its sharp wit and delightful warmth and outlook on real life and relationships, works really well in juxtaposition with the fantastic elements of horror, myth, and fairy tales. Altogether, a recipe for delight!

Please do tell us about your latest Austenesque novels! What surprises can we find in store?

The Supernatural Jane Austen Series is moving along, with the third book coming very soon, Pride and Platypus: Mr. Darcy's Dreadful Secret, which promises to be both heartfelt, romantic and hilarious.

Here's an excerpt to whet your appetite:

"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that when the moon is full over Regency England, the gentlemen are all subject to its curse.

It is a peculiar monthly Affliction inducing them to take on various unnatural shapes—neither quite demon, nor proper beast—and in those shapes to roam the land; to hunt, murder, dismember, gorge on blood, consume haggis and kidney pie, gamble away familial fortune, marry below their station (and below their stature, when the lady is an Amazon), vote Whig, perform sudden and voluntary manual labor, cultivate orchids, collect butterflies and Limoges snuff boxes, and perpetrate other such odious evil—unless properly contained."

Read the complete first three chapters here. And coming in the next few months are:

Pagan Persuasion: All Olympus Descends on Regency - Ancient Greek gods start an apocalyptic war, and only the love of Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth can save Regency England from Olympic mayhem...

Emma Enchanted - The Woodhouse residence is infested with all of Faerie, and the Faerie Queen herself is out to make some supernatural mischief by challenging Emma to an unusual matchmaking contest.

Sense and Sanguine Sensibility - Behold—the long-suffering Dashwood sisters and the hilariously Twilight-like vampires and werewolves who love them...

Lady Susan, Succubus - A certain horrid, demonic, yet unbelievably seductive Lady Susan is more than she seems...

If the titles of the last novel weren't obvious, (very exciting - there's too little Lady Susan paraliterature!), quite a few of your Austen novels are firmly tongue-in-cheek - almost a parody of a parody of the recent rash of monster mash-ups. Besides the original Austen novels and the recent monster mash-ups, what other influences find their way into those novels?

I love classic Japanese monster movies, and the classic comedy mayhem of the Abbott and Costello monster movies - such as A&C meet Frankenstein and A&C meet the Mummy.  The fun begins when there is a long creepy-fun buildup as characters are gradually exposed to weirdness, first disbelieving and then trying to fit the supernatural into their worldview and give it a logical explanation where none of course is possible. And then all the elements of normal life collide with the supernatural weirdness head-on, resulting in an explosion of delightful fun. I strive to bottle that mayhem and infuse it into my Austen parodies.
As for other influences - well there's the entire Faerie, all the world's myths and legends, and all the shivery delight that is invoked by a sense of wonder and the immortal human imagination found in history and folklore.  Add to it a wacky sense of humor that cherishes the absurd, and there you have it!

Your Austen novels are published under your company, Norilana Books. What's the story behind the name...and the story behind this venture?

I started my independent publishing house Norilana Books (and its various imprints) in 2006, because I've been working for other publishers for the last decade or so, in various capacities, and accumulated experience and perspective on how to run my own small press.  Originally I started with reissuing classics of world literature in both hardcover and trade paperback, and then began to acquire modern reprints and originals from such authors as Tanith Lee, Sherwood Smith, Modean Moon, John Grant, the Marion Zimmer Bradley Literary Works Trust, and many others, under various imprints. I am proud to be publishing such anthology series as the long-running classic Sword and Sorceress, and the critically acclaimed Lace and Blade, Warrior Wisewoman, and Clockwork Phoenix.  Norilana Books has just celebrated its Five-Year Anniversary this August, with over 290 titles in print, and there are many exciting books coming down the pipeline - including the rest of my own Jane Austen titles. 

The name "Norilana" is a made-up word. I've spilled the secret recently - it's the name of a great and powerful sorceress and mysterious divine being in the very first (unfinished) epic fantasy novel I stared to write as a kid in junior high school. One of these days I might finish it, and then you will all find out more about Norilana and her magical wonder.  For now, I'm thrilled that Norilana simply means wonderful books by wonderful authors!

What is it like to be an author, publisher, artist and tech designer? How do you manage your time? What challenges have you overcome?

Great question! First and foremost, I have no life. I work in every spare moment and then I collapse and then I work some more.  I am very fortunate to possess the various skills and talents necessary to do everything, literally - from good-looking professional cover art, interior formatting, packaging, editing, and uploading files to the printer, to website programming, shipping of review copies to Publishers Weekly and other trades, bookkeeping, taxes, royalties, marketing, and every tiny little thing between. I've designed about 98% of the covers, and the only thing I can say with relief is that the anthologies - thank goodness - are all edited by other people.

You originally started writing in fantasy, being nominated twice for a Nebula Award! What overlap have you found between the two genres?

Fantasy already is, in fact, all fiction. In the grander sense, it constitutes all that is the product of the imagination. Even so-called mainstream fiction involves elements of fantasy to a great extent, and I simply choose to write beyond the edges of what we officially consider "real," to touch upon the other, the numinous, the "meta."

Recently, on your Twitter feed, you advocated a return to the true, good and beautiful in fiction - a sentiment with which I heartily agree. How is this exemplified in your works?

It may sound like a contradiction, but I write fantasy of light even when I write what appears to be on the surface dark fantasy - by which I mean, I write all things imbued with ultimate hope. And yes, I believe in meaning, in the fundamental force of good in the universe. 

Allow me for a moment to wax wildly philosophical. The only genuinely logical belief to adhere to is what I call "Schroedinger's Agnosticism" - a logic-based recognition of the eternal possibility of one thing or the other, a kind of permanent random probability field of all possibilities present at the same time. Without an ordered universe, a pattern or plan, a constant, such a probability field will lose cohesion and collapse, because there would be no way to constantly maintain the fine exact balance of absolute unbiased probability recognized by science.  This to me indicates an ordered universe, and calls for a belief in the Positive Principle and in Cohesion itself.  It is the most subatomic basic notion that something holds all things together.

And what exactly is that something? Call it greater Reason, God, unified sentience, the fundamental altruistic nature of the human spirit, a mathematically perfect ordered universe - it is all the same thing. And it by its very nature is a source of reason and meaning. So I write stories of meaning which in turn gives birth to hope - an end reason for suffering and redemption and sacrifice and love. My characters are all instruments of what might be called "doing the right thing" - regardless of belief or faith or absence of such.  In the end they always follow the bright star of inspiration.  Read my Dreams of the Compass Rose, or the soon-to-be reissued monumental epic fantasy Lords of Rainbow, about a world without color, to see how I handle this theme.

What would you love to see come out next from the Austen community? How about the fantasy world?

In the Austenverse, I would love to see more focus on books other than Pride and Prejudice, and possibly new continuations of The Watsons and Sanditon.  Because after I am done with the Supernatural Jane Austen Series, I expect at some point to do this myself.

In the fantasy world, let's go back to grand heroic epics of light, and enough with dystopias for as change.  It's so easy to write in gritty milieus where murder and war and destruction are commonplace, such as the real world. How about we imagine some positive utopias instead?  Not the creepy Stepford Wives kind, but some real practical ones with people loving each other and genuinely working together, that will help us visualize a bright future? Seriously, how come no one ever wants to write a perfect world? A really, honestly good world, as we would like this world of ours to be?  Is it truly so hard to imagine?  Maybe so. Maybe that's the real reason for all the bad things within our control - we cannot imagine a practical good world, so we live in a bogged-down, tragic, sorrowful one.  After all, our imagination is what creates the patterns of the future.  Time we got a grip on it!

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

First, get to know the industry, and the people in it - both online and personally, if possible, by making professional contacts and attending events such as conventions and conferences. Try a good writers workshop at least once. Learn to handle constructive criticism and separate it from worthless criticism. Learn infinite patience, because literary submissions take forever. Do not rush into anything, including publication.  Read widely in all genres.  Maintain a social online presence. Write only what you genuinely love, and not what seems trendy right now - this may be the most difficult thing of all, since for many of us it takes half a lifetime to figure out what it is we love and want to write.  Learn the proper professional submission methods. Be polite, courteous, and professional. Learn about agents, editors, scams, the pros sand cons of traditional publishing and self-publishing (yes, this is new advice, because self-publishing has finally become a viable alternative, but only in some cases). Follow guidelines precisely. And never, ever, ever, ever give up.

What can we expect next from Vera Nazarian?

Oh dear, there are so many books and projects I have lined up. After the Supernatural Jane Austen Series (or concurrent with it), I plan to return to my fantasy roots and do Lady of Monochrome (sequel to Lords of Rainbow), Cobweb Bride, Airealm, and several others. Not sure which one will happen first, but likely one of these I just mentioned.

Thank you for everything!

And many thanks for the fun questions and for having me here!

Vera Nazarian is a prolific author, and owner of the publishing house, Norilana Books.  She hails from Vermont by way of California and Russia.  You can learn more about Vera by visiting her official site.

You can follow Vera on Facebook, Twitter, Google ++ and also find her on these sites:

You can also buy her books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashswords.

1 comment:

  1. Vera, I am pleased to find you here. I loved the preview of your upcoming projects.

    ReplyDelete