Last week, I reviewed Ana Vidosavljevic’s Flower Thieves. Today, I interview her about the process of authoring and publishing this debut collection of short stories that work as a memoir of her childhood in Serbia.
How and when did you get the idea of writing a memoir? How did it reach its current form, a collection of short stories rather than a single narrative with chapters?
I started writing the first story from the Memoir “The Man and the River” when my dad passed away. The adventures we had are some of my best memories, and I didn’t want to forget them, so I decided to write them down. Then, I did the same for my grandparents. I spent beautiful time with them. Unfortunately, both my maternal and paternal grandparents passed away. I wanted to keep the memory to all of them alive. Once I started writing those first stories, many other childhood memories woke up, and I couldn’t help myself but put them on paper. That is how “Flower Thieves” was born.
I have always loved writing short stories, and since I didn’t plan to write a memoir, just separate stories, somehow “Flower Thieves” got an unusual form – the form of a collection of short stories which represent the short segments from my childhood.
I started writing the first story from the memoir 5 years ago and the book was published in May 2020.
Did you use any published memoirs as a template or inspiration? What other memoirs / memoirists have you recently enjoyed reading?
I haven’t used any other published memoirs as a template or inspiration. However, some of my favorite memoirs are “The Diary of a Young Girl” by Anne Frank, “Barbarian days” by William Fennigan, “A Moveable Feast” by Ernest Hemingway, “I Know Why the Caged Birds Sing” by Maya Angelou, “Istanbul” by Orhan Pamuk.
How did you go about finding a publisher? What was the process of working with a publisher like? How much did the individual stories / the collection as a whole evolve during this process?
The publisher also has a magazine. It is called Adelaide Literary Magazine. One of my stories was published in that magazine. I saw that they had open call for book manuscripts and submitted initially my collection of short stories “Mermaids” and after that “Flower Thieves”.
The stories were not changed/didn’t evolve much. Simply, I had them already, submitted them, and after the editing process, the book was published.
How have your family and friends responded to reading *Flower Thieves*? Did they recognise themselves? How did you approach writing about people in your life?
I changed certain names but I guess people will always recognize themselves, so that was not the smartest way to address this issue. Hehehe. Well, I haven’t had any bad comments from my cousins/friends/family members/people mentioned in the book. Not yet. Some of them might not be happy that they were mentioned but no one has complained yet. I would be happy to hear their opinion though, even if they are not impressed by their “role” in the book.
What was it like revisiting your childhood? Did you find yourself seeing incidents or characters in a new light?
It was an overwhelming process, and it still is. As I mentioned before, many people who appeared in the book had passed away, and the memories brought not only smile and laughter but tears also. I think while writing “Flower Thieves” I experienced my childhood for the second time. This time I had a double role. I was an active member of all the events, I felt them, lived through them, but I was also an adult observing them from far away and making judgements. That is how they maybe got some new light, very subjective and emotional. So, I guess some events might have been a bit changed due to my emotional attachment to them and people involved in them.
At what stage did you finalise the stories that would constitute this collection? How did you go about writing each story within the context of the whole collection?
I had to stop somewhere. I could tell/write many more stories but I didn’t want to make readers tired of reading them. I still write them though, and who knows, I might consider making the second part of this memoir. This is just an idea. I am not sure I will do that. At the moment, I just write them down while my memory is still fresh. Well, not fresh anymore, but at least I still remember those events. It might not be the case in few more years. I am not getting any younger and my memory is not getting any better.
I tried putting events in a chronological order and I stopped somewhere when I was not a child anymore, when I started being a teenager. Of course, there are still many stories from my childhood that need to be written (some of them were after the book had been published) but I haven’t gone further into my adolescence. I am thinking about that period and I do believe there’s something from both cultural and personal perspective worth being read by others, but I am still not sure I will give it a form of a book.
*Flower Thieves* is a book steeped in local flavour. As an Indian reader, the Serbian settings and rituals described were totally new to me, yet I was able to understand and enjoy your description of them. Were you writing specifically for an international audience?
While I was writing certain traditional events, rituals and customs, I tried writing them as simply as possible so that international audience could understand them. I hope I managed to explain them well. Some of them might not make sense to other cultures because they are very local but that is how it works I believe in every culture. We often can’t make sense of other culture’s traditions.
There are many Serbian words/phrases, rituals, that were hard to translate, describe and explain but I hope I managed to express them clearly and effectively.
What has the reception of *Flower Thieves* been like? As a writer, what do you want readers to take away from your writing?
Most of the comments were very positive. But of course, many of my friends and family members are biased so I am not sure if they are honest. Some of the readers said that the book was easy to read, interesting, and compelling. I would like to hear more comments from non-biased readers though.
My aim as a writer is to transport readers at least during those hours when they are reading my books, to some other places. I want to make them take part in the events described in my book, I want them to feel the book characters’ emotions and grow empathy, anger, relief, happiness through different events described in the book. I want them to feel anything except indifference. And if I inspire them to do something beautiful and life-changing then, my job as a writer is successful.
You published both your books during the pandemic. Like everything else, publishing was affected by the pandemic, but there was also a lot of adapting and innovating regarding book sales, book launches, and book promotions. How did the pandemic affect your publication plans? What are some ways in which you have enjoyed watching writers and publishers innovate to keep things going?
The pandemic changed the plans for book launching and official event where I was supposed to be present, talk about my books, answer the question, etc. It never happened. There was no real book launching. Furthermore, all the book fairs the publisher was attending were cancelled and I had no chance to see how that part would go. But I am not sad.
There are pros and cons of publishing with a small press. Of course, not all small presses are the same. Your marketing and book sale depends a lot on you and your efforts. Some small presses are not as responsive and as proactive as you would like them to be. They are usually understaffed. And often, if they have a lot of writers, you don’t get the answers to your questions and concerns for a long time. But they usually try to market and support your book, in their own way, years after the book is released. It gives you time to think about new marketing strategies and try different approaches. It is some sort of marathon, not a sprint.
I am very happy to see that many writers started launching podcasts. There’s so much to learn from good writers. Also, the pandemic helps you educate yourself faster on new ways of promoting your books. You are stuck inside and you have time to explore the Internet and find out what’s new I the publishing/promoting world. I’ve realized how powerful social media channels are, referrals, book clubs, etc. I have learned a lot about promotions, growing audience, connecting with other fellow writers and helping each other. And there is a lot to learn.