Interview: Vera Nazarian


Vision 8



Vera Nazarian


Lazette Gifford

Copyright © 2002, Lazette Gifford, All Rights Reserved


Vera Nazarian is a multi-talented woman who not only writes, but also is an artist and a musician a well.  She sold her first short story to Marion Zimmer Bradley's Sword and Sorceress II anthology just as she was graduating from High School, and was published in numerous volumes of this series over the following years. She has long championed self-promotion, and has several ideas and suggestions for new writers.   


Dreams of the Compass Rose (Wildside Press; ISBN: 1587155842)

Vera's first novel, Dreams of the Compass Rose (Wildside Press; ISBN: 1587155842) is forthcoming in May 2002.  The book has been described by Charles de Lint (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, February 2002) as a novel of  "...stately lyricism, a compelling and visionary voice that speaks to the heart of the reader."    

She is also the cover artist for the book. 

You can find more information about Vera at her web site:



Vision:  First, can you tell us about your unusual childhood, Vera? 

Sure.  I was abandoned by urban elves on the doorstep of an apartment in Moscow, Russia, a mad changeling child wrapped in a blanket of leaves and dandelion.         

Seriously, I was born in 1966, in the former USSR, the child of penniless intelligentsia parents.  My schoolteacher mother had taught me to read early and introduced me to fairy tales of all lands and cultures, and to ancient Greek mythology.  I was a six-year-old girl obsessed with the Homeric epics, knew passages by heart, wanted to change my name to "Athena," carved functional bows and spears out of wooden sticks in the back yard of the apartment complex and pretended to be an Amazon.     

I was also a very sickly child, and spent most of my time out of school bedridden, and reading tons of books that my mother would bring me from the library.  I read the classics, children's fantasies and fairy stories, novels of magic and ancient history -- all in Russian, of course.  When we left the USSR, I was just finishing up 3rd grade, and had just begun to study English, my second language, at the same time as I was assimilating by osmosis my other native language, Armenian (later in school in the US, I studied Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, and German).   

We immigrated to Beirut, Lebanon and lived as refugees during the very beginning of the Lebanese civil war, then lived in Greece, and finally were admitted to the United States in 1976, the Bicentennial year.  During my time as a refugee, I did not attend school since I did not know enough Arabic and was illiterate in Armenian (those were the only schools available), and instead my mother made me read an old borrowed children's encyclopedia in English for over a year, in lieu of formal schooling.  Thus, I never finished 3rd grade and did not attend 4th grade.  

Vision:  Do you think your background has affected what you write? 

Goodness, yes.  I feel like my head is a cauldron of different cultures, East and West, all made familiar and comfortable -- so much so that I cannot imagine not knowing a little bit about everything all around the world. Linguistically I seem to have an innate ability to understand roots of words from many languages I have never formally studied, and to correctly infer meanings. Culturally it all mixes together into an acceptance of many possibilities, an open-ended permanent state of wonder.  The concept of the imaginary and the fantastic has been so firmly ingrained that only recently did it finally sink in why some otherwise quite intelligent and educated people do not enjoy reading fantasy or science fiction -- they really truly do not think in such terms.  Even though they may have learned critical thinking, they certainly have no background whatsoever in "wonder thinking."  Difficult to conceive, for those of us who are steeped in imagination, but there it is.  

Vision: Dreams of the Compass Rose has an interesting premise.  I believe you call it a collage novel.  Can you tell us about the plot and what that term means? 

First of all, DREAMS is a weird book.  And I am not just saying it because I want to intrigue you.  It is weird because I, the author, keep finding new revelations, new aspects of wisdom in it every time I return to read it.  This has never happened to me before.  At most, I am done with a story and that's that, no more "Aha!" moments.  With this one, it has a life of its own.  It morphs before me, a kaleidoscope of fable and philosophical concepts.  And that kinda freaks me out. 

In a nutshell, DREAMS OF THE COMPASS ROSE is the story of ...  well, many people.  And it takes place in an ancient alternate world. In a sense, it is one big fable about the nature of truth and evil -- notice, I don't say "good and evil."  

The Compass Rose itself is a unifying symbol, a metaphor of life's directions: Past, Present, Future… Alternate.  The Dreams and the characters populating them, all move along the four temporal-spatial directions.  And with them, so do you, the reader. 

You might find it odd that I cannot really name a main character, but this is part of the book's weirdness.  I suppose that Nadir is the closest to being a main character.  He is certainly a personal favorite of mine.  Nadir, whose name means "the lowest of the low" because he had no better name when he was first found as a young dark-skinned boy in the gutter.  Nadir is an angry, proud, but honest little boy who gets himself in trouble and then into an odd state of honor-bound slavery.  The relationship between him and the sadistic woman whom he serves for the greater part of his life is a motif all throughout.  And yet, there is no fair way to single out any one character in this tapestry of many points of view, personalities, places, times, and ethnicities (most of the characters are non-white -- Nadir is black, and serves a woman who is ethnically Chinese).   

Which brings me to the explanation of the structure.  A "collage novel" is a term I coined to refer to a collection of standalone stories set in the same universe, that have common characters who star or play supporting roles, and "visit" each other's stories.  And yet, what makes this a true collage forming a distinct semantic entity (as opposed to just a random grouping of related tales) is that the individual stores, or Dreams, flow one into the other and shape a greater story meta-arc of meaning when read in order.  Not one takes real precedence, and all work together to form the greater whole.  And yes, there is an order of revelation, just as you would get with a traditional novel with chapters. 

But Charles de Lint said it best in his review of DREAMS OF THE COMPASS ROSE in the February 2002 issue of F&SF, where he calls it "a story-cycle in which we keep coming back to the same characters, except from different viewpoints and different times in their lives. It's set in a land of desert empires that never was, though it could easily be our world--far in the future, or deep in the past." 

The complete review can be found here:  

Vision: What genres do you write in, and why?  And would you like to try your hand at any others? 

At the moment I write primarily fantasy and science fiction, often with a healthy dollop of romantic tension, a drop or two of dark fantasy and erotica, and a sprinkling of mystery.  I've found that I have no interest in poetry, very little in "mainstream"  (which I find mostly boring and depressing, a genre of modern humdrum fiction without imagination or direction) and in fact am rather annoyed with the genre boundaries altogether.   

What I write is heroic hopeful fiction of the imagination, fables and metaphors that present the world as a multi-layered onion of realities, and my underlying eclectic philosophy.  I don't consider myself a storyteller so much as an interpreter of patterns; I explain the world -- to myself foremost -- using extended metaphors in story form. And although this might be considered anathema, I like to imbue all patterns with moral meaning.  It's fun to pretend that the world itself is really just an amazing slipstream story and all the real life details are simply plot points reaching forward to a logical resolution.  

Since I believe that fiction of the imagination in all its flavors -- also called speculative fiction -- is the only "genre" without boundaries, I see no reason to switch.  Fantasy is what one makes of it, and my make is to produce literature of hope.  I like how Sherwood Smith calls it writing the world not as it is but as it ought to be. 

Vision:  Who were your influences in writing? 

A better question would be to ask what were my conscious influences.  Because I think the sum total of my reading experience -- the classics, mythology, fairy tales, and all the fantasy and SF I have ever read, make up the subconscious foundation.  Place on top of it the exotic dark beauty of Tanith Lee's style, the in-depth analysis of Leo Tolstoy, the romanticism of George Sand, the earnest humanity of Marion Zimmer Bradley, the sophistication of Fyodor Dostoyevsky, the young wonder of Andre Norton, the wit and elegance of Oscar Wilde, the urgency of C.J. Cherryh, the nostalgic sorrow of  J.R.R. Tolkien, the layer magic of Roger Zelazny, the mayhem magic of Piers Anthony, the intricacy of Gene Wolfe, the spirit of Homer....  I need to stop, really. 

Vision: Do you think small press companies like Wildside are more likely to buy something unusual than the big publishers? 

Yes, small presses in general are more likely to buy niche-defying work from a new and relatively unknown writer, because they operate on a small scale and usually don't have all that much invested in any given writer.  Thus, their risk tolerance is greater. 

I submitted my novel DREAMS OF THE COMPASS ROSE directly to Wildside -- it has never been to any other publisher -- knowing that my best chances are to take the fate of this weird book into my own hands, since small press gives you a bit more control over production (for example, my own cover art) and promotion.  And in this case, there was also a modicum of excitement and curiosity, since I think that unlike most other small presses, World Fantasy Award-winning Wildside Press is in a unique and fascinating position, primed to take full advantage of the changing face of publishing.   Not to mention that it's currently behaving like an aggressive growth fund in a bull market, quickly growing, with nearly 500 books in print right now, with major distribution by Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and Bertram's (UK).    

If I had gone to a major traditional publisher first, it would have been a guaranteed waste of my time at this point in my career.  Big publishers say they love new groundbreaking work, and in some ways they do.  But usually it is after it has proven its marketability that you hear this long exhaled breath of secret relief.  And unlike the smaller and upcoming presses, they are not going to take chances with a Published Small Fry as readily on something as offbeat as my "collage" novel.  Maybe if I had been a known name like Robert Jordan, instead of a PSF, I'd get away with one weird book.   But only one. 

Vision:  Your earlier sales were in short stories.  Do you think that either the writing or publishing of those stories has helped your career as a novelist? 

I am a firm believer in cumulative effect and varied exposure.  Pro short story sales help tangentially, and at times they can be mentioned in cover letters.  But this is on a very limited basis.  Overall, a novelist career is a wholly separate beast, and unless you have won awards or some other distinctions with your short fiction, you basically start from scratch.  The only thing a short fiction sale can do is testify that you can write. And cover letters filled with semi-pro or lesser sales credits actually look naive to most New York major book publishers.  Keep that in mind before you mention those sales.    

Vision: Let's discuss promotion for newly published authors.  If you could give a person just three rules that they should do, what would they be? 

I give quite a few more than three rules in my upcoming Speculations article "Publicity And Self-Promotion Nouveau: Doing It With Class." However, the three I would like to give here are:  

1) Treat everyone in the industry as a fellow human being and potential friend first, anything else (editor, agent, publisher, potential Nebula voter) later.  

2) Information, more so than connections, is the thing of most value in the industry.  If you hold information, you become a desired connection yourself.  See how that works?  

3) Be persistent and don't be afraid to think outside the box.  This advice is similar to writing advice.  Writers already know to be persistent in sending out their work and accumulating rejection slips.  Now they need to realize that publicity and self-promo works the same way too.  You just do it on a regular basis, a little every day, forever and ever.  It's a good thing that you have some control over publicity, much more than you have over fiction sales.   

And the second part of the equation is, be creative and original in your publicity efforts.  Analyze what it is that you are promoting, your work's strengths and weaknesses and specific niche, and don't be afraid to try things that other people have not.  In fact, try a little bit of everything.  Yes, there is the danger of negative publicity, and no one really knows when things can backfire, but that's why you need to use your head and think ahead before you act.  Weigh your risk potential, and then go for it.  

I invite anyone who is further interested in this topic to subscribe to the Yahoo!Groups mailing list that I run, called Publicity And Self-Promotion For Writers: 

Vision:  And what would you tell them not to do? 

Don't be an asshole. *grin*  Don't be blind to facts.  Don't annoy/pester/tease/harass anyone who may be in a position to help you with your efforts -- bookstore managers, fans, con committees, fellow writers.  Although this planet contains over 6 billion humans, it really is a small place.  

Vision: What changes do you see as the role of authors in the upcoming years? 

Oh, where to begin....  In brief, I see a world of mixed media, a world of publishers scaled down and scaled up to a manageable mean, who handle traditional print runs, print-on-demand, e-books, audio-books, and any other media -- each publisher offering all of the above elements under their house imprints, and customized to fit the potential sell-through of any work of fiction or non-fiction according to well-analyzed factors.  I see Customized Publishing and the blessed return of the Backlist. 

I also see an even greater number of competent authors than now, all working in this more eclectic more fast-paced market, and struggling to keep up with all these newfangled publishing options.  The ones who get in on a good thing early, are the ones who earn.  The ones who are not afraid of being true to themselves are the ones who persist and find a solid place for themselves and their work. 

Vision:  Do you see the Internet as a good tool for upcoming writers?  How should they be using it, if it is? 

The internet is like money -- it depends on what you make of it and how you use it.  If you invest your online time wisely, you will discover so many things and opportunities that you will be surprised.  On the other hand, it's easy to fall into a web-surfing rut.  My foremost advice is to first look around and see where the people you admire hang out.  Then establish a strong online presence in at least one area, with the most passive being a website, and most active being a USENET or other newsgroup or electronic newsletter or online journal.  Chose the level of comfort that's right for your personality and time constraints.  But plan to make it a permanent regular activity, since face it, you are now a public persona, whether you like it or not, for the rest of your life. 

Vision: What about conventions? 

Everyone needs to go to a major convention at least once.   Then, if you decide this kind of thing is for you, the next step is to get to know the industry from all sides, fan and pro, and keep your eyes and ears wide open, and your heart ready to make friends. 

Vision:  Any words of wisdom for new writers? 

Persistence, as Ron Collins and Lisa Silverthorne always say, is the key to many things.  In other words, as Holly Lisle says, never ever give up on your dreams.  However, if you think you're in a writing rut, don't be afraid to start in a new direction. You are not being graded on this, you know.  Well, maybe a little, but not in a sense that really counts.  Where it really counts -- in your writing -- you can choose to listen to the good and bad estimation from others but only you can grade yourself.   

Vision:   What are your plans for the future?  What are you working on now? 

As soon as I turn in the final draft of LORDS OF RAINBOW, an epic fantasy and my second book, to Wildside later in 2002, I am going to be working on two rather ambitious projects.  First is PANTHEON, my near future political SF trilogy, which takes place in the same universe as my story "Rossia Moya" (which was on the Nebula Preliminary ballot for 2000) but somewhat later, in an Iron Honeycomb world (the Iron Honeycomb is a political iron curtain that has closed off all countries from each other and the rest of the world).  The second project is the Adventures of Ruricca NoOnesDaughter trilogy, a fantasy.  Both of these book series will be marketed traditionally to the big publishers.  

Vision: Any last things you'd like to cover? 

Just this -- always remember that you are ultimately in control of your writing but not in control of the industry -- even when things are seemingly going wrong, you have the power of choice in your own actions.  So the thing to do is to learn how to surf each trend and, like a wave, always flow back.  Good luck, my friends!