Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Interview with M.J. Neary

I’d like to welcome, Marina Julia Neary to Layered Pages today. A self-centered, only child of classical musicians, Marina spent her early years in Eastern Europe and came to the US at the age of thirteen. Her literary career revolves around depicting military and social disasters, from the Charge of the Light Brigade, to the Irish Famine, to the Easter Rising in Dublin, to the nuclear explosion in Chernobyl some thirty miles away from her home town. Notorious for her abrasive personality and politically incorrect views that make her a persona non grata in most polite circles, Neary explores human suffering through the prism of dark humor, believing that tragedy and comedy go hand in hand.

Her debut thriller Wynfield's Kingdom was featured on the cover of the First Edition Magazine in the UK and earned the praise of the Neo-Victorian Studies Journal. After writing a series of novels dealing with the Anglo-Irish conflict, she takes a break from the slums of London and the gunpowder-filled streets of Dublin to delve into the picturesque radioactive swamps of her native Belarus. Saved by the Bang: a Nuclear Comedy is a deliciously offensive autobiographical satire featuring sex scandals of Eastern Europe's artistic elite in the face of political upheavals. Her latest Penmore release, The Gate of Dawn is a folkloric tale of conspiracy and revenge set in czarist Lithuania.

Tell me about your premise. 

Saved by the Bang is an autobiographical satire and certainly a change of pace for me. I gained moderate notoriety as an Anglo-Irish historical novelist.  Even though I don't have an Irish or English strain of DNA in me, I have been writing about the Anglo-Irish conflict. My readers have been nagging me to write something autobiographical, so I gave them what they wanted. Don't tell me I didn't warn you! As one of the readers mentioned, this book is "not for the faint of heart".

Describe Gomel, Belarus.

Gomel is a waterfront Central European city founded by at the end of the first millennium AD by Radimich tribes - East Slavic people notorious for their flashy jewelry. Gomel took a beating during WWII - like most of Belarus. Much of the original architecture was obliterated, and the city had to be rebuilt from scratch. Among the surviving landmarks is the Paskevich Palace and a gorgeous Orthodox Church. The city is very green in the summer and very white in the winter. All four seasons are clearly fleshed out.

The city mascot is a bobcat. It's on the city crest! 

 The Paskevich family palace

The river front park

The music academy where the illicit affair develops

A coveted housing development

Gomel also was affected heavily by the Chernobyl disaster.

Most of the events described in the novel take place in Gomel, but some take place in other cities like Minsk (capital of Belarus) Smolensk (Russia), Gurzuf (a resort in the Crimea), Vilnius (capital of Lithuania) and New Canaan, Connecticut.

What is the mood that Maryana conveys and how does this affect the story? 

Throughout the novel, Maryana is portrayed as a victim who does not really behave like one. In a way, she is a magnet for hostility and she derives sick pleasure out of it. Maryana was the name my father wanted to give me, but my mom had a fit. She thought it sounded to quaint and folksy. When you hear "Maryana" you think of an anthropology major who wears a long skirt with tennis shoes and writes a thesis on the matriarchy within pagan Slavic tribes. My mother opted for a more cosmopolitan Marina. When you think of Marina, you see a multilingual interpreter prancing around in patent leather pumps. Maryana conveys the sentiment of self-mockery. I don't know how else to describe it. The girl revels in her suffering and gets inspiration and sick pleasure in it. She is a professional victim. 

How do you/or talk about how you flesh out the moment of greatest sorrow in Maryana? 

Given that the girl is a professional victim, she makes most of every opportunity to be miserable. She's a magnet for antagonism. As a writer, I find that understatement is a powerful tool. I try to avoid hand-writing and wailing and keep the diction matter-of-factly, not sensational or melodramatic. In one of the scenes Maryana gets kicked off the gymnastics team for developing a crush on a female teammate. She gets a hearty beating at the park for her dual transgression: being Jewish and a lesbian.

Describe a humorous scene in your story. 

I realize that not everyone shares my sense of humor, but I believe that humor and tragedy go hand in hand. It has to be obscene, and awkward.  In Saved by the Bang there is a scene where Maryana is her older cousin are on their way to Vilnius to sell their grandmother's famous cranberry-and-vodka marmalade. They are both heavily made up and decked out in finest Polish denim. They get pulled over by the cops, who assume that the two girls are child prostitutes taken to the city. Maryana's alcoholic uncle Alexander spends some time explaining to the law enforcers that the girls are not being sexually exploited, they were just experimenting with cosmetics.

What is the Crimean Sanatoriums? 

Oh, so glad you asked. The Crimean Peninsula was a sought-after vacation site for the Soviet hot-shots. Most people could not afford to travel there and stay on their own dime. If you kissed the right behind, or if you were in a position of influence yourself, you could get a travel voucher - a room at a resort, a beach sticker and a basic meal plan. One of the most enchanting places was Gurzuf, a Tartar village where Asiatic, Slavic and Greek folklore combined. In Gurzuf there was a military sanatorium. It was utilized by military officers. During the 1980s, while the USSR was engaged in a conflict with Afghanistan, there was an influx of wounded soldiers who came there to recover. My main character, Antonia, strikes a brief platonic romance with one of such soldiers. 

Crimean sanatoriums

This is the Goddess of the Night fountain. Thousands of couples have kissed in front of that fountain. It's like Juliet's balcony in Verona. It has the same romantic connotation. 

What are the different emotions you had while writing this story? 

Revenge, revulsion and sick amusement. You have to realize, I have very mixed feelings towards my country of origin and my former compatriots. There is no warm and fuzzy nostalgia. There's a fair amount of anger that I'm still trying to work through. I turn that anger into humor.

Any conspiracies in this story?

There is no conspiracy per se, but there's plenty of corruption. The extent of damage was covered up by the authorities. The deformed children born as result of the radiation leakage were swept under the rug. I wanted to share a few pictures from my home town. I took American and British journalists to expose the full extent of the damage. So as you can see, the tragic and the mundane exist side by side. You have a gorgeous historical park with flower beds, and just a few miles away, inside a clinic, you have children with severe birth defects and radiation-related cancer. I want my readers to see these images.