4 Aug 2017

Interview with author of Give in to the Feeling, Sarah Zama

She calls it being true to herself. He calls it betrayal.
Chicago 1924
Two years ago, Susie arrived in America, leaving behind her little village in South China where spirits mingle in the mists of the rice fields and play at being human; where the expectations of a daughter are unimportant and ignored.
After her prospective husband dies, she is taken on by his younger associate, Simon, who gives her the carefree life of the New American Woman; the freedom to dress daringly and do things once only reserved for men–drinking, smoking and dancing with strangers. It’s an exciting life and she considers the loyalty Simon demands of her a small price to pay.
Until she meets Blood.
Blood offers Susie even more. He lets her speak her mind and listen to her heart. He gives her his loyalty and asks nothing in return. Through his eyes, Susie sees the golden cage she’s trapped in.
But Simon will never let her forget what she owes him. Even as Susie tries to deny her attraction to Blood, she understands it takes a lot more than daring looks and an attitude to be a New Woman. And while fighting off the bondage her loyalty to Simon built, she realizes that even here in Chicago, spirits can still trick you into believing they’re men.
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Hi Sarah! Can you tell us a little about your latest book.
Give in to the Feeling is a historical speculative novella set in Chicago in 1924. Susie, a Chinese immigrant, has been living what she considers a good life under the wing of Simon, who’s made some fortune managing a speakeasy in Chicago. Allowed to do things she would have never dreamed to do in China – like dressing like she wants, make herself up, dance and drink and smoke like a modern woman – it’s only when she meets Blood and his genuine interest for her, that Susie starts to realise freedom - true freedom - is an altogether different thing.
I like to say this is a historical novella because I did my best to recreate the 1920s world in an accurate way. But it is definitely a fantasy story too, because there are spirits and ghosts here.

What inspired you to write it?

It’s always difficult to answer such a question. When I devise a story (and I think this goes for every storyteller), the story and the characters are what counts. You just need to write that story, there isn’t a reason why. But when then you revise it, and revise it and revise it, themes and meanings start to emerge. And that’s what I suppose you mean by ‘inspiration’. It is something that most of times is hidden to the us writers until we don’t unearth it.
As for Give in to the Feeling, I’ve basically written it twice. Once, before I drafted the trilogy this story is linked to, and once after the trilogy was completely written. The first time, Give in to the Feeling centred around Susie and Blood’s romance and what they had to set themselves against in order to be together.
When I rewrote it four years later, after working with these characters all through that time, the story shifted on Susie and her search for her true self, and how this was triggered by Blood and his attitude toward her.
It was from the beginning a story of self-discovery, which is a theme very close to my heart.

Is it part of a series?
Well, yes. From the beginning, these characters were supposed to be part of a series of stories, though the way the project evolved isn’t what I first envisioned.
At the moment, there’s a trilogy of novels (I call it Ghost Trilogy) which I’m still working on and this novella, Give in to the Feeling, which is a prequel to the trilogy. But I truly love these characters, so I wouldn’t be surprised if I’ll end up writing about them again in the future.

If your latest book was made into a movie, who would you like to play the main characters?

May I choose whoever I want from any time? Because in that case I’ve already cast my characters and if you visit my website, you’ll find their diaries and their pictures.
Anna May Wong would be Susie. Anna was a diva of Hollywood in the 1920s and 1930s and the moment I saw her I knew she would be perfect as Susie. She had her same strong attitude and hunger for a modern life, but she was also still very attached to her parents’ Chinese culture (though Anna was born in the US).
Chen Kun would be Simon. He’s a Chinese actor and I don’t really know what stroke me about him, but as I was casting my characters I kept choosing him as Simon, from different photos and different places, so I figured there must be something there.
Rick Mora would be Michael. He’s a model and actor of mixed Apache and Yaqui heritage. I like that rim of sadness that is in his expression in his more recent photos. That is very much like ‘my’ Michael.
And Michael Jackson would be Blood. Young Michael Jackson had a wild energy elusively rimmed with melancholy that really describes Blood.
Do come visit the website and read who they are from their own voices.

What made you want to become an author?
Honestly? I don’t know.
I’ve started writing that I was nine and people has been asking me that question since. I haven’t been able to answer yet.

Name one of your all-time favourite book covers?
This is a bit tricky, because taste changes over time and the way to make covers also changes over time. But I’d say that one of my favourite covers at the moment is the one for Varjak Paw by illustrator Dave McKean. It’s figurative and abstract at the same time, with a fantastic contrast of colours and a strong sense of speculation even in the very recognizable subject. Beautiful.

Name one book that made you think 'wow'? Why did it have such an effect on you?
Reservation Blues by Sherman Alexe. It’s a beautiful novel with multiple levels of meaning and I was mesmerised by Alexie’s ability to hide meanings into different story elements, but also give the reader the means and possibility to decode those meanings.
It made me think very deeply to many aspects of life which the novels touches upon and made me look at them in a way that I never truly considered.

Who, or what, inspires you?

In general? People who use their abilities to help less lucky people. Of course there are bright example of that (I consider Martin Luther King jr one of the most remarkable men who ever lived), but we all can do it, and very often with very little effort. Sometimes a kind word or act may do the different for someone else and it really cost us nothing.

Where is your favourite place to write?

I like writing in cafes. When I’m home, I like to have perfect silence when I write, but there’s something in the atmosphere of cafes that inspires me in spite of the noise. Whenever I can, I go to write in cafes. There are a couple in my town that I love.

What is your favourite movie that was based on a book?
L.A. Confidential. I love that film. But you want to know the funny thing? I did read the book, and I didn’t particularly like it. The film is much more cohesive, in my opinion, and maybe a few of the actors were custom-cut for the part, I don’t know. I just know that it looks perfect.

Who is your favourite author (s) and why?
I’ve already mentioned him, he’s Sherman Alexie, a true wizard storyteller if I ever met one.
There’s something in the way he creates characters and situations, in the way he uses words and especially in the seamless way he merges reality and spirituality that I’ve never encounter in any other author, not even Neil Gaiman, who comes really close.
This is the kind of stories I want to write.

If you could have a dinner party with any authors from any time in history, who would you choose and why?
I would want David Gemmell to be there at all costs. I have a great debt with him, since I believe he’s the one that taught me to write. I discovered him and eagerly read almost all of his novels in the moment I was evolving as a writer, in my early 20s. Because I fell in love with his scant style, his grim but loyal characters, his realistic fantasy novels, I started emulating him as best I could. I can still see things I’ve learned from him in my writing, even if I’ve moved now to a different kind of storytelling. I know I’ll always have this debt toward him.
In the 1990s, I wrote to him many times and he even answered me a couple of times. I wish I had the possibility to meet him at least once.

Tell us a random fact about yourself.

I love animals. I wish I had many pets. I only have a tomcat – Apache - but I love him so much that I think he makes up for all the pets I’d like to have!

Tell us something interesting about the area where you live.
Verona is a beautiful city, though it’s me saying so. She can offer 2000 years of history, no surprise she’s a UNESCO Heritage Site.
My region, Veneto, was once the site of the Venetica culture. The Venetici were a pre-Roman population and the peculiar thing about them is that, contrary to all the other pre-Roman cultures who lived in what is now Italy, they were probably never conquered by the Romans. Because the Romans were fighting the Celts in this area, just like the Venetici were, it has been speculated that the Romans preferred to ally with the Venetici and join forces against the common enemy, rather than fight two different enemies at once.
The Venetici are a very mysterious population. We know very little about them, but what we know is rather fascinating.

Sarah Zama was born in Isola della scala (Verona – Italy) where she still lives. She started writing at nine – blame it over her teacher’s effort to turn her students into readers – and in the 1990s she contributed steadily to magazines and independent publishers on both sides of the Atlantic.
After a pause, in early 2010s she went back to writing with a new mindset. The internet allowed her to get in touch with fellow authors around the globe, hone her writing techniques in online workshops and finally find her home in the dieselpunk community.
Since 2010 she’s been working at a trilogy set in Chicago in 1926, historically as accurate as possible but also (as all her stories are) definitely fantasy. She’s currently seeking representation for the first book in the Ghost Trilogy, Ghostly Smell Around.
In 2016, her first book comes out, Give in to the Feeling.
She’s worked for QuiEdit, publisher and bookseller in Verona, for the last ten years.
She also maintain a blog, The Old Shelter, where she regularly blogs about the Roaring Twenties and anything dieselpunk.
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1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much for having me on your blog, Suzy. I greatly enjoyed the interview ^_^

    ReplyDelete

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