With Other Writers, with your host, award-winning travel
writer and novelist, C.M.
It's a very special delight and an honor to have historical novelist
here at the other end of the Skype line. That's right, we're
talking on Skype.
I know Solveig from Washington, DC, where we're both members
of the Maryland
Writer's Association and we're both on the faculty of The
which is just outside Washington, DC, in Bethesda, Maryland.
right now I'm in Mexico City. I'm looking out the window at an
overcast sky and a big jacaranda tree full of bougainvillea.
Solveig, before I give you a proper introduction, do you want
to tell us where you are?
I'm at home here in Alexandria, Virginia, and it's raining outside.
I love the modern world that we can do this! I am just absolutely
flabbergasted by Skype and if you're listening to this
five years from now, that'll just sound incredibly trite
but right now, in 2011, it is exciting to be able to do interviews
I'm going to introduce Solveig, and I'm just going to read the
introduction from the back of her novel, Seal
because I know there's so much more to talk about. So I think
we'll just do a briefer introduction. But here's the introduction
in Iceland, Solveig Eggerz has worked as a journalist and as
a professor of writing and research. She tells folk and fairy
tales in schools and women's shelters, and writes and teaches
in Alexandria, Virginia.
for those of you who aren't too familiar with the geography of
the Washington, DC area, Alexandria, Virginia, if you were crazy
you could swim across the Potomac and you would be right there.
So it's practically within Washington, DC.
Seal Woman is a very unusual and very poetic novel. I'm
going to read you the description of the novel, actually not
from the novel itself I have my beautiful copy in my hand here,
but from the description on Smashwords, which is where you can
also get it as an eBook.
An extended description says, "Seal Woman is based on the
documented migration of 314 Germans from post-World War II Germany
to work on Icelandic farms. The main character, Charlotte, is
reminiscent of the legendary Seal Woman who must choose between
two worlds, the land and the sea, the past and the present.
"Haunted by the ghosts of her past life in Berlin, Charlotte
struggles to stay rooted in the life of the farm with her silent
farmer husband and her new children. Memories of the turbulent
Weimar Republic, the Third Reich, and the Holocaust interrupt
her daily farm tasks.
"Driving the story are two questions. Will Charlotte survive
her inner struggle? Will she discover the fate of her lost and
misplaced loved ones? Set in Iceland, Germany, and Poland from
1928 to 1959, this is historical fiction as well as a psychological
novel depicting an inner struggle for survival, as well as the
paths to healing."
before we launch into our conversation, I want to add here that
this really is a very extraordinary novel. It's very unusual
both in its subject matter and in the poetic quality of it, and
it's gotten so many wonderful blurbs that if I begin to read
them, we'll take up our whole time. But trust me, they're fabulous.
So go check Solveig's website, which is solveigeggerz.com.
here's an important thing. I knew you, Solveig, for a while before
I realized how to pronounce your name. There's a G in there.
So it's S-o-l-v-e-i-g-E-g-g-e-r-z.com. Okay!
So, well I'm delighted to have you at the other end of the Skype
I do want to say something about the pronunciation before we
go any further. Garrison Keillor on "Prairie Home Companion"
had a little sequence there where he talks with his mother. And
his name is Duane, and the mother calls and says, "Dwayyyne,
are you coming for Halloween," and he says, "No, I
don't think so because I have a date with Solvayy." And
I was so thrilled because he pronounced the name just right,
and this is programs from Minnesota, and so this tells me that
the Norwegians in Minnesota also pronounce the name correctly.
he repeatedly discussed Solveig, this mysterious woman who was
keeping him from
well, it may have been Thanksgiving, actually.
But anyway, the mother even was saying the name right.
it must be a source of endless frustration in Alexandria and
Washington, DC. My goodness.
Well, no. No. It's not English.
tell us, Solveig. This is just such an unusual background to
have been born in Iceland and come to Alexandria in the '70s.
Isn't that right?
a little before that. I had been in this country for six years,
also with my parents, when I was a child from age 7 to 13. So
it wasn't completely new to me.
I was born in Iceland and we lived there for two years, and then
my father was sent to England to work in the Embassy there. He
was a lawyer and he entered the Foreign Services at the beginning
of the Foreign Service in Iceland, and so he was in the Embassy
in London for five years and then he was sent to this country
for six years. And so then I came back later, much later, and
went to college here.
Ah, so you were really educated in the English language.
No, no. In the meantime I also went to boarding school in Iceland.
Boarding school and non boarding, so I spent four years going
to high school and received the baccalaureate at the end of that,
alone in Iceland separate from my family.
that must have been difficult. Did you have a lot of other family
in the area?
I had at that time lots of family in Iceland, so I stayed with
various relatives and then I was also in boarding school. So
I really wanted to go to Iceland. That was my choice, not my
So I can say I've spent six years in Iceland, but my family,
my parents, were both Icelandic, and it was a completely Icelandic
home in the sense that they were representing Iceland here, and
we had an Icelandic nanny, and we always spoke Icelandic at home,
and the house was always filled with Icelanders.
it was sort of like living in exile. We carried the country in
our hearts, so to speak.
So you were always within the diplomatic community
kind of have a sense of what that means because my husband was
not a diplomat but he was closely connected with the diplomatic
community, and he's Mexican. So we have our sort of little Mexico
in Washington, DC. Yeah, I know what you mean. Yeah, you don't
really feel that far from home when you have so many people from
there and you're always thinking about it. I guess it's different
than going to another country and just having a completely different
profession...I don't know, like trying to be a dentist or something
in Cleveland. [Laughs] Then it would really be a foreign experience.
you also lived for a while in Germany, isn't this right?
Well, my father was then sent to Germany after this post, after
the US post, and he was sent twice to Germany. First he was the
second man and then he was the first man. Later he became...I
mean, this was over ten years, and he later became Ambassador
to Germany from Iceland. But during this German period I went
to Iceland for four years. So I lived both in Germany and Iceland
during that time.
returning here. I mean, it sounds complicated but it's not really.
it's a bit of a hop, skip, and a jump on an airplane I guess.
Well, but so you also grew up learning German as well
and I went directly to a German school and did learn German.
Well now, what were the years that your father was in Germany?
Well, he was there until
he was in Bonn before the Wall
fell, and he left Germany in 1983, it must have been. I remember
my son was one year old and he was born in 1982. So yeah, that
was when he retired.
Ah, so he was there in the late '70s for a while then in that
Yeah, but in between he went home again to Iceland where he served
as Chief of Protocol for several years, and then was sent back
to Germany. So
Lots of back and forth.
back and forth.
what I'm getting at, though, is your novel has so much to do
with Germany. And I remember visiting Germany in the '70s and
early '80s, and what really struck me, what's always sort of
struck me is people of our generation
I'm assuming we're
pretty close in age, being born after World War II, it was still
so fresh. It was still so fresh a memory that I almost feel like
I lived through it even though I didn't. It was just so huge
for everyone involved at the time, and it's just impossible to
go anywhere without thinking about it.
Well, I'm older and I was born during World War II, but when
we went to Germany
so that was in the late '50s, the very
end of the '50s, and so I was still a kid then. But my father
was very interested in the war period and what happened to the
Jews and all of this whole dreadful history, and he talked about
it a tremendous amount and he was always interviewing people.
My father was a writer also, but he did it very much on the side.
I really inherited this powerful interest from him, I think,
in that history. It wasn't so much that I lived it, but yeah,
we were coming in still a short time since, because Germany was
still, well, hadn't nearly recovered in the late '50s. But as
I say, we just had this intense interest in the home and my dad
was always researching and reading about it, and then I went
off and started doing that myself.
this is something I've looked into for years and years before
writing Seal Woman. I really had researched Germany better
than Iceland by the time I wrote Seal Woman. Let's put
it that way.
it's an absolutely extraordinary juxtaposition, and even more
so to think, wow, it's true that German war widows were imported
to Iceland to work on the farms where they needed more labor
because so many people had moved to the towns or the cities.
But this juxtaposition of someone from this very sort of urban
and sophisticated and sort of very just crowded kind of life
and crowded kind of history, to come to an Icelandic farm. That's
I think it was a huge culture shock and most of those 314 people
were women, and as you say, they came from urban areas, and these
places, many of them were very, very primitive.
So that really stunned me, just thinking about that. And I had
seen a film about this about a woman who went to one of these
farms and how the two people there
there was a son and the
mother, and then didn't seem to be anybody else on the farm,
and nobody talked to her. That's what stunned me most about this
film, that there was this enormous silence, which sort of increased
the gap between the arriving women and the farmers.
the thing is that these women brought a tremendous amount of
culture. There was always culture in the countryside, everyone
knew how to read and they were deeply steeped in Icelandic literature,
but the German women brought a different kind of culture. They
brought their own songs, their own poetry, and they brought a
lot of hygiene. In their own ways they made a mark on the countryside.
They're highly regarded, these women.
is there a specific part... because in your novel if I recall,
it doesn't really say where this farm is. Is it just kind of,
which is an artistic choice I find really interesting and very
terms of the reality of what really happened with the women who
came, was there any particular part of Iceland that they came
they were all around the country. There were several on the western
fjords, so they could be in contact with one another. I talked
with some people who had known these women.
The novel actually is
many Icelanders actually recognized
it as being near Vik, which is the southernmost tip of Iceland.
It's a little village and there's a very beautiful countryside
around there, and the ocean is very wild there.
My father was born in Vik, so I've always been very interested
Iceland is something really that I've always had in my mind.
I've only been there once, but it's like the edge of the world
yet, and coming back to your novel, though, and yet without knowing
much about it, the little that I do know, what really strikes
me as how on the one hand it's so separate from Europe. It's
so isolated. I mean, just the realities of communication and
transport until very recently, really until the end of the last
century, made communicating with and getting to and from Iceland
very, very difficult.
But yet, at the same time, one of the things I was really amazed
to learn when I was last there, was that they had done all these
DNA studies and it turns out that Icelanders are very closely
related to the Irish and the Scotch, very Celtic.
And one of the things that really struck me when I visited, it
was actually kind of funny because I've been living in Mexico
for years where I'm just so used to always being the odd person,
I'm always the foreigner. They just hear me, they look at me,
I'm obviously not Mexican. In Iceland, everywhere I went people
thought I was Icelandic! They looked at me and started talking
to me in Icelandic!
you look sort of Scandinavian looking.
Well, genetically I'm Scotch and Irish, from northern Scotland,
so I thought, well that would make sense. But that was really
kind of funny to have people assume I was one of them when culturally
I'm very ignorant about Iceland, really.
could blend right in, you see?
Well, the language would be a problem. It would take me a while
to learn that.
Iceland is so unusual a place, and so for you having a sort of
a foot in several different cultures, the United States and Germany
and Iceland, you must have a very different way of looking at
Iceland from your fellow Icelanders because you have this different
I don't know. I've written two novels and both of them are about
Iceland. There's one now that's being promoted, or agented, and
that second novel I worked on for years and years. So I must
be steeped in something, a kind of yearning or some sort of deep
attachment that your average Icelander doesn't have because they
have Iceland. They live there.
they always say when we don't have something that's when we really
I was 13 we were living either in England or in the US and everyone
was always talking about Iceland, and we were Icelandic, but
we never went back. For 11 years, we didn't go back, and so maybe
this sort of longing was instilled in me during those years.
When I'm in Iceland, they recognize that I am Icelandic, but
they view me as the woman who lives in America, which is a different
person than the person who lives down the street.
must have been a very interesting experience to have your novel
I know many Icelanders read in English so they must have read
it in English, but also you had it translated into Icelandic
and you went back to Iceland.
Can you talk about that?
cousin of mine happens to be a professional translator and she
did a beautiful job with translating it for me. A number of people
had read it. My close friends had read it in English, but several
people had complained that they found it difficult to read in
English and so I knew that it was not going to have a wide readership
among Icelanders in English.
so together we translated it and I found a publisher last spring,
and just last week it was published, actually.
just last week. It is now physically a book.
It has been seen, and so I am going to Iceland now, the end of
this month and I'll be gone for two weeks, and my translator
and I will be promoting it. We've got nine meetings already organized
for promotional purposes. So this is going to be really exciting
and really scary.
so you're going to go all around the Iceland. Will you be mostly
in one place in, Reykjavik...
the gigs that we have are all in Reykjavik. I might offer it
in a nearby town, but December is not a really great time to
be traveling, so
believe it or not I have been to Iceland in December.
December! Oh, yeah, so you know what I mean.
dark, and the weather is very unpredictable.
weather was pretty heavy. Reykjavik is just like New York and
Washington and Chicago and Miami and everything of Iceland all
in one city, isn't that right?
So about half the population is right there.
that will be exciting. I had the impression that it had come
out earlier in Icelandic. So this is really the first
we finished the translation last summer, so not this summer but
this 2010. So this has taken a long time.
is this because the country's took such a blow with the crisis?
it always takes time to sell a book.
true! [Lauhs] Tell me about it. That's true. Some of you haven't
published a book often don't realize that one year from the time
you deliver it 'til it comes out is pretty much standard.
actually it took until this spring to find a publisher, and then
he has taken from then, from April until November, to produce
it. So that's what's been happening.
famously, has a lot of readers and a lot of book stores. I mean,
isn't it true that Iceland has more readers per capita than any
other country in the world?
that's the statistic and that's true, and books are a very favorite
gift, a very favorite Christmas gift. They are fairly expensive,
the hard cover books. So it's considered a fine gift to receive
a book. And right now, November, there's just a flood of books
coming out. There's huge competition in this Christmas market.
So that's what I'm going into.
but I'm sure you'll be very successful because it's an absolutely
gorgeously told and amazing story. And it's really, you might
even say that it goes into the heart of modern Iceland.
thank you, Catherine. I haven't figured out yet what my angle
will be because it will have to be different from the angle that
I use here. I can't exactly tell the Icelanders how to feel about
one of your main characters, Charlotte, is German. So this kind
you know, I kind of had a similar thing with my novel,
which is set in 1860s Mexico, and so a lot of people said, "Oh,
well you're an American and you're writing about Mexico. How
did the Mexicans take it?" And I said, "Well, many
of the characters in the book are Mexican, but many of them are
Austrian or French or American or Belgian." So I didn't
really worry about it, I just went in and told the story.
coming back to another connection between my novel and your novel,
which is this aspect of how when we tend to think of a country,
you know, like Iceland or Mexico or France or whatever, I think
we sort of... probably coming out of school where we have different
subjects we have to study, we sort of have this artificial bell
jar over the topic, like this is Mexico and it's all very
the reality is, foreigners have come in and come out and had
enormous influence on Mexico in many different ways, and Mexicans
also outside of Mexico. We can't really put this bell jar over
it. The reality is so permeable and so complex.
I get the sense that this is what's happening here where Charlotte
comes from Germany and really starts affecting everyone around
her in this community in Iceland.
and Iceland is really just the setting. For me, there's this
particular phenomenon that's going on and it could have occurred
It's just that it's the notion of carrying within you everything
that has happened to you in the past, and bringing it into a
new environment, and then having to deal with your daily life
while being haunted by everything that you're carrying around
inside of you.
since publishing this here and doing a lot of book talks here
in this country, I have sort of learned what the story is about
in psychological terms because people have told me that they,
too, have experienced this notion of carrying something around
I have people telling me how they carry Iowa inside themselves
all their lives, even though they never were in Iowa, but their
mothers were. That kind of thing.
not only that, but also the PTSD concept, the concept of having
suffered something and having had no opportunity to process it.
And of course now with our military engagement here, we talk
about this all the time in this country. But this happens to
all kinds of people. Always regarding military engagements and
wars, you have PTSD and this woman is coming out of that and
has never been permitted to talk about it. And so it's been dawning
on me that this is what it's really about. It's about
something else, too. I've been told
that it's a psychological novel more than anything.
so people can relate to it even when they have a very different
was struck in a couple things you said in some other interviews
about how you had looked at The Feast Of The Goat by Mario
Vargas Llosa, where he's looking at two different time periods.
In that particular book, the year of the assassination of Rafael
Trujillo in 1961, and then 1996 when the fictional character
wants to come get revenge. And then you'd also talked about Amy
Tan, the wonderful Chinese American novelist and the sense of
see, I'm looking for your exact quote... I have it in one of
your interviews. It was so interesting, about how the sense of
being a foreigner but yet not, kind of both, that tension of
understanding and being part and then not being part, or being
part of something different.
you know what? You're talking about Amy Tan and the person who
is from two worlds really, and she's one of these who carries
that world inside her even though she didn't spend much time
in her homeland.
And Junot Diaz is another author. And I heard Junot Diaz being
interviewed on this and he said, it's all right to be from
two places. It's all right to contain these things within you
and sort of straddle these two cultures, and to me that's
what a "seal woman" is. It's a creature who has this
dual consciousness, and that other world is so powerful within
her that it sometimes imposes on her here world.
then I'm thinking... this strikes me as the perfect segue to
go into talking about fairy tales, because of course "The
Seal Woman" is one of the most famous and moving fairy tales,
and it's also part of Irish fairy tale culture as well.
I think they're probably closely related, many of these stories.
So well I can't help but this is probably a terrible cliché,
but when we think of Iceland we often think of fairies and elves.
Can you talk about that? I'm absolutely fascinated by that.
Well, first of all the Seal Woman legend is a story I discovered
that exists in Ireland, Scotland, on the islands of Shetland
and Orkney, and in the Faroe islands. It exists on all these
islands where you have a hazy coast, where the visibility is
a little bit impaired, so that a farmer might mistake a seal
for a woman. And it sort of exists in the Iceland collection,
it exists in the Irish collection and the Scottish. So it's a
universal theme in certain places.
far as fairy tales are concerned, Ireland and Iceland both have
a tremendous belief in this other world. And since I lived in
England as a little child, I remember the fairies there were
little tiny people that were just in the earth somewhere. But
I had read since then that in Ireland the fairies are full-grown
people who live parallel lives, they're just not visible, and
that's what is similar to the Icelandic, and these are called
the hidden people, huldufólk. And anyone who's
been on a farm or walked around in the landscape believes in
these hidden people, because they come to you when you are alone
and you're not seeing very well and there's fog, and they want
to connect to humans.
that belief permeates the life of Charlotte's little boy, Henrik.
He has a good relationship with the hidden people and that is
to me a very appropriate scene because Charlotte was always living
in her mind with people that she cannot see but that are still
part of her life.
that makes a lot of sense. Yeah. It's so different, though, to
think of being
you know, here I am in Mexico City and then
when I'm not in Mexico City I'm usually in Washington, DC, which
are yes, cities. They're just so full of people and noise and
cars and airplanes and helicopters and who knows what kind of
things we can't see, like all the WiFi and the telephone and
the cell phone towers, and 27 microwave ovens operating in this
half a square mile or whatever.
to go out to the countryside in Iceland where there's just none
of that. That just silence. It just must be an amazing feeling.
silent and the weather is changeable and there's the visibility
issue, and then the landscape can be very dangerous so that you
can fall into a chasm or over a cliff or something like that.
And so this adds to that sense of hidden people living there
with you or perhaps helping you sometimes.
is sort of an esoteric question that for the Icelanders, is this
phenomenon something connected with what like in the US and I
think probably continental Europe we talk about the Astral World?
Astral? You mean related to the stars?
no. Astral, like the psychic world. Like when you go out of your
body, when you're dreaming and interact with this, that and the
other thing. They usually talk about that being the Astral World,
so it's sort of like this world that exists but it's not really
tangible. I mean, you can't see it or touch it or measure it,
but the sense that there is this Astral World, a world that we
might be a modern version of this, but certainly a part
mean, this is such an old view, and I'm not familiar with the
modern version of that.
But the faith is that there are a lot of things in the world
that you can't see. Just because we can't see them doesn't mean
they don't exist. And it's very short-sighted of us not to recognize
that. But as far as going out of body experience, I don't think
I'll go there because I don't know enough about that.
I did want to say that the Seal Woman fairy tale is a fairy tale
that I used to tell to children, and it always moved me very
deeply and in a very strange way, and so when I really started
telling it I had to be careful not to start tearing up over it
because it is so dramatic. And so I knew that there was something
powerful in this story.
there is. Well, there definitely is.
mean, the legendary story.
but both. The legendary story and your novel, it's really powerful.
you. You've been very, very generous in your praise, Catherine.
think you're going to have a really interesting and exciting
time taking the novel to Iceland. I think it's going to be really
wonderful, and I also think that, that kind of
speaking from the knowledge of my own experience, I think that
if I had written a book about just Mexicans, you know, having
a completely Mexican story, I think as an American writing that,
yes, I think I would have found some resistance. But I didn't.
I have not had resistance to my novel. I'm speaking of The
Last Prince of the Mexican Empire. I really felt an open-armed
welcome to it, and I think the reason is that it's a story about
Mexico that has so much to do with foreigners. It takes place
during a French Intervention.
I think that my guess is you'll probably have a similar experience,
a very open-armed welcome for this book in Iceland. I'll bet
a hundred million bucks on that, Solveig!
had such a good experience. I probably will not stress the historical
fiction part but rather the psychology of one woman. I think
I can go farther with that...
the history. Just the history alone is very interesting. I mean,
it's really an extraordinary thing. Three hundred-and-something
women may not sound like a lot, but I know that Iceland's very
small. I mean, the capital of the country, Reykjavik, which is
just huge for the island. Isn't it only about 300-something thousand
320 thousand or so. Well, most people do know about the German
women and most people either remember
Many of them are still
alive. I mean, they're in their 80s now, so this is very close
to everyone, the arrival of these German women.
Something that people are not as familiar with is, of course,
Germany, and what happened there between the wars. So I might
focus on that.
then also for a lot of younger people. I mean, I always felt
that in my generation, everybody knew what World War II was because
even though I was born afterwards, it was so fresh. You just
had to be completely clueless to not know what happened in World
But people born 10, 20 years after me don't really know. I mean,
even really basic things like what was the Holocaust, or who
started World War II, or why did Hitler do this or that. I mean,
they don't even know that, and you have to just kind of tell
and feel your way through also, to figure out what they want
to hear about.
Well, that's also true, what they're willing to listen to. But
yes, the stories get lost if we don't tell them.
have talked to so many different groups and it's really amazing
how actually the chemistry is different with each group. Some
people really want to hear about the Jewish experience, the period
between the wars, Germany, Poland, and others just can't get
enough about Iceland. So you kind of have to be flexible. [Laughs]
Let people take you.
that makes sense.
Before we wrap up, I know that we have a lot of listeners who
are writing students and other writers, and I know that one of
the most interesting things for writers right now is to talk
about what is happening in our crazy publishing world.
And like many writers, you have gone and gotten your book out
as an e-book and I'm looking right now at the page from Smashwords
for Seal Woman, and I see that you can download it as
a Kindle and you can also download it as an epub onto iBooks,
Nook, the Sony Reader, really almost most e-book reading apps
you can download the book if you go to Smashwords and just look
Woman by Solveig Eggerz, and don't forget to add that G at the
end of Solveig.
what is so interesting to me, Solveig, is that the e-books, wow,
they really do sell. I mean, right now in 2011, they are selling.
People are actually downloading them, and rather than competing
for shelf space in a book store and all that that implies, you
just got to get it up there.
And I'm looking at the tags. This is what's so funny. The tags
on your Smashwords page are World War II; historical; art; legend;
Iceland; Germany; herbal; and psychological fiction. So people
can I guess Google all those tags and bingo, they're going to
get your book.
Well, maybe they will. Who knows. [Laughs]
did you get it up on Smashwords by yourself?
I didn't. I'll just tell you exactly what I did. I chose Smashwords
because it seemed to be the easiest one to post onto, and I tried
and tried, did all these different things, I was wasting way
too much time focusing on this, and so somebody at Smashwords
said, "Well, we have a list of people who will help you
with this," for whatever, 35 dollars or 40 dollars, something,
and so I looked at the list and I saw the name of someone who
said he was the brother of the man who started Smashwords, and
I said, "That's the man I need."
so Brian, who's been very helpful, and he's still being helpful.
he got your book uploaded.
So for a small fee he handled the whole thing.
that's been a good experience, I gather.
I'm not aware of sales of the e-book, but anyway, I felt I should
place it there because a number of readers have mentioned to
me that they only like to do e-books.
I actually don't like to read e-books, I much prefer a real book,
but I've been very interested in doing e-books precisely because
I've had so many readers tell me that. And I had thought that
it would be the younger, very cutting edge technology kind of
people and I thought well, they're not going to read historical
fiction anyway, why should I worry about that? But it turns out
that a lot of older and middle-aged women who are big readers
of historical fiction, they don't want to buy books any more.
They just download them on Kindle.
isn't that interesting?
when people like that were telling me that they just got
everything on Kindle, I thought oh, there's my market.
course. Well, some of the travelers, people who travel a lot.
I know people who love books, they love paper books and they
have a house full of them, but when they travel they like the
Kindle or whatever their e-book version is so that they only
and I think a lot of us
I don't think I'm unusual that I'm
just literally ran out of space [Laughs] because I've bought
so many books over the years and I can't bear to let them go.
But then on the other hand as I say, I'm not a Kindle person
myself. As a writer, I'm fascinated and grateful that we have
this new way of reaching readers. But as a reader I want a book.
so do I. I'm an underliner and a highlighter, and when I teach
I like to pull books off the shelf and I just bring them in and
let people look at them. They read the first page or whatever.
I use books so much in so many different ways, way after the
Oh, yeah. I'm reading War and Peace right now
and I tried to read it on a Kindle because I didn't want to carry
the big, heavy thing around, and it was so frustrating because
I had to go back and forth more quickly than the Kindle search
feature would allow, and only a physical book will let you really
move around that fast. Maybe not as accurately, but
I congratulate you on getting it up on Smashwords. That is really
fantastic. So people can get your book on Amazon.com, they can
come to your website, they can go to Smashwords, they can go
to iBook. Hopefully they'll be in Reykjavik and they'll go to
the book stores.
book stores in Reykjavik are amazing. I've been in them. They
are really glorious. They are really, truly glorious.
Before we wrap up, though, there's one last question I want to
toss at you, which I think is going to be really important for
a lot of the people listening, which is: You are a published
writer, and what advice do you have for people who are writing
a novel or looking to publish a novel?
those are two different issues, writing a novel and publishing
I have decided that writing a novel is way more important than
publishing a novel. [Laughs]
I'm working on a third novel now and just solving the riddle
of how these characters interact and how this is all going to
work out, that is my big task.
You have to find an agent...
what I'm saying is I don't think people should be writing with
publishing in mind. If you only have publishing in mind, then
you're going to be losing a lot of the experience of really producing
something that you are happy with yourself.
The gap between these two is huge.
The book that I'm trying to sell right now I am rather happy
with, but it's very heavy on history and long on history and
I don't really want to change it. I don't want to commercialize
it more than it is. So, okay, I'm not being very practical, though,
but I do want to make this distinction.
if you want to publish, now if you're really interested in publishing,
get yourself an agent. Go to the different conferences. I found
mine at the American Independent Writers conference. I found
several agents there. I have gone through several agents, in
fact, and I have one now that I'm very happy with. But eventually
you will find one, and then eventually your agent will find a
There are many, many
what I've learned through my publisher,
who lives in Colorado, is that there are many, many, many small
publishing houses in the US. Every state has many, many publishers.
They are small publishers. It's not all located in New York,
in other words.
this is a vast and complicated world and it can be a delight
just to learn about this. But meanwhile, be honest in your writing
and take the novel where it needs to go rather than commercializing
it for sales.
I know, this sounds self defeating, but that's my belief.
your novel is one that I think will be read for many years.
thank you, Catherine. You're so kind and you've been so generous
with your compliments.
very true. It's very true, Solveig. I think that I often run
into this with my students. I think everybody wants to jump in
and publish and be famous, and we have this sort of big commercial
famous, I don't know... model of what does it mean to be "successful"
as a writer.
But I think one of the things that often gets lost is the commercial
fate of a book from the publishing industry's point of view is
really when it just comes out. You know that famous saying is
a book has the shelf life of cottage cheese [Laughs]. Which is
really true, I mean, in terms of actually getting it in a box,
on a truck, unloaded, and put on a shelf in a book store. It
really does have the life span of cottage cheese.
the difference though now is that when people can get books so
easily long after their pub date that I think we start finding
that there are books and I think your book is definitely
one of them that it has a long life because when people
come across a book like this, it's not just something to sort
of wow people in that three week span or less. It's really
a very fine work of art that is a very classic, timeless story.
I mean, it's set during a specific period, but it's timeless.
It's really timeless. I think people could read it 300 years
from now and still find something really wonderful in it.
I'm reading War and Peace right now.
I really am reading War and Peace, and I'm now
on like I'm on page 250, so I'm not even halfway done. But I'm
in there, okay?
for you, Catherine!
I get it. This is a novel that's more than 100 years old and
it's about 1805 and it's wonderful! It's absolutely wonderful.
So I think this is to me, a novel as Susan Sontag famously said,
"Is an education of the heart." It's really about how
can we live another life? We're literally... the novelist in
your novel and you're giving us another life. We get to experience
life from the point of view of someone else just so vividly
and so believably and so compellingly that we could never with
all our own imagination get there. We need your novel to do that
like this little time travel vehicle. So I think your novel will
be around for a very long time, and as a writer I'm excited that
we have things like Smashwords and so on to enable us to get
copies of these books so easily any time, any place.
Well, I think
the Smashwords and just the Amazon.com concept
as you're saying, we have the capability now of getting books
that are so to speak out-of- print, which of course now that
we do print-on-demand there's a lot less of that concept. But
this is a whole different world. There's just so many different
ways of getting books. But I applaud you for reading War and
Well, applaud when I'm done. I'm not done yet.
and Peace blog]
I loved War and Peace. I mean, for me it was a page turner,
years ago, but I didn't read it again.
There are people who read these classics repeatedly. Dostoyevsky's
books also. He's another one, Crime and Punishment. People
will read this more than once in their lives.
it is an extraordinarily thing to be transported into this other
world with people who seem so real, they seem so recognizably
human. Even if they're really exotic on one level, they're human
on another, and that
the details in Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky are so vivid that yes,
we believe that these characters existed and we believe that
we could be like this or we might know someone like this. There's
a universality there through all these wonderful details.
does it mean to be human? You know, they say the novel is really
about an exploration of what does it mean to be human?
yes. So now we are into the Renaissance, my favorite period,
and this thought, these thoughts are still very much with us.
But I have also sat in on your wonderful class that you taught
at the Writer's Center about, and where you were focusing on
the importance of details to bring a character alive, to bring
a story alive, make it credible, and that's what these classic
authors have done. That's why we're reading them again and again.
just thinking of your novel. You have so much amazing detail
in your novel.
some of it a little bit repellent, I know that.
just as the reality of the character and the reality of life
on the farm. I was just opening it to something about a calf.
I'm looking through your novel right now.
Listeners, anyone listening to this, go and get Seal Woman
by Solveig Eggerz. It's an amazing book. You'll be so happy reading
it. It's just like taking an exotic journey through time and
Solveig, are you going to be teaching at the Writer's Center
any time soon?
have a syllabus. I've been teaching elsewhere, so I've been developing
my course, and so I probably will be teaching in the future.
wonderful. If people go to your website they'll find your schedule,
The kind of course that I teach is focused on generating writing
right there in the classroom, rather than revising. rather than
moving towards perfection, really stress the creativity that
lives within all of us.
I just had taught a class at NOVA in Manassas with a group of
very young kids. Had a great experience. They all wrote and wrote
and wrote in that class. And that was really fun to see them
do that and to see them experience that creativity that they
we don't have so many opportunities in school, certainly to sort
of have free reign to do that.
we're always so busy telling people what is wrong as opposed
to celebrating this creative urge and this ability that resides
can relate to that because I know most writing workshops are
about critiquing, and I always tell my students, I think it's
valuable to take a class like that, or several like that, actually.
I took many like that myself and I think they really helped me.
But it's also very intimidating to have it all be about criticism,
and it isn't always the most helpful thing for people.
I actually don't teach critique. I stay away from it like it's
kind of like I'm allergic to teaching a critique because I feel
most people just need so much encouragement to just get it out
in the first place and let's celebrate,.
And I think when the workshop is well directed, at least in my
own opinion, people will actually do very good work. So I'm not
just celebrating things to be nice. It actually is
yeah. I've had that experience, too. But I do think also that
the critique is a healthy thing for the critic or the reviewer.
We learn so much from critiquing someone else's...
I think that's it. People think that critique is valuable when
it's their turn to have their story critiqued, and actually that's
not when it's valuable.
Oh, my God, it's so hard to see your own work. Oh, my God, it's
like criticizing somebody's baby! Your baby is really ugly! Forget
it. They're not going to listen.
been in classes where people have just burst into tears under
heavy criticism. So people are so vulnerable and this is such
a fragile, fragile thing that we want to encourage.
well I want to take your class! But I'm in Mexico! I hope I get
Well, don't let me sort of dump it on you, but just in casual
Well, I hope our
We've got to stop talking about this.
Well I hope our paths can cross again soon. I'm sure they will.
hope to see you soon, and I've got to commend you for this very
Well thank you. Well, I enjoy this.
This is such fun.
it is. It is!
Well, I'll do an official sign-off in a moment, but Solveig,
I think that we can learn so much from just speaking to other
writers and sharing our experiences with other writers. And I
think so often for so many people writing is very lonely. But
I think also that for people who are beginning writing, they'll
look at writers who have published and they kind of feel
think all of us do at some point, that you're like the kid with
their nose pressed up against the glass of the candy store, there's
candy in there. You get to be a published writer and you
get to be interviewed and you get to be on radio and TV and get
your stuff reviewed. And it seems like when you're a beginning
writer, it sometimes seems like you can't get past that glass.
You can see all the goodies in there, you can't get in there.
the reality is for those of us who have been published, it's
wonderful, but it's kind of ordinary, too. And then once you're
in there there's other stores and other things you want you don't
have, and it's just unnecessarily mysterious.
I kind of feel like let's just take the mystery away from that
and let's talk about what we're really doing. And I think it
was very important what you said about how, you know, focus on
doing a good book.
I remember when I was starting, so many people said that and
I thought oh, they're just saying that because they're published.
[Laughs] But now that I am published, I do understand that, that
you can waste a lot of time with worrying about getting published,
and at some point you get perspective and you say, you know,
what really does matter is the work.
And now that we're in this world where physical book stores and
newspapers don't play the same preponderant role that they used
tothey're still very important, but they're not the only
show in town.
is a very real thing that people can pick up and talk about a
book that's a few years old much more easily than they used to.
So the ones that are really worth reading are still going to
be around, so you don't want to rush something out the door just
to get published.
No, and you don't want to short cut, take any short cuts on your
writing, to short cut it into commercialism was the point I was
trying to make.
what commercial is really who really knows what's commercial?
I mean, I can tell you, War and Peace, that book would
not get past an agent in 2011. They would say, it's too long,
you need to cut it, there are too many characters. [Laughs]
Another War and Peace, you know! That's the most famous
novel ever! So go figure.
The person we know who would never be published today
is Thomas Wolfe with all that extra verbosity, he goes on and
on and on.
So you just have to do what's right for you and
had a following. He was very popular.
Another thing here, though, is that I'm in a writer's group that
I haven't been with them now for a long time because they're
very different from me, but this group that I have tangentially
been with is very oriented to publishing e-books and self-publishing.
And some of them have been very successful, and this really is
being viewed as competition for the traditional publishers. So
I will not knock that at all. I'm not into that, but I find it
very interesting and a very worthwhile competition.There are
reviewers who will only review books that appear online, so this
is a world of its own, that kind of publishing.
sometimes think more people look at Facebook than the New
York Times, and if you have the right friends on Facebook,
they might recommend some really good books for you.
Yeah. I'm spending a bit too much time on Facebook.
Who isn't? [Laughs] Now it's 2011. Let's see what happens in
2012. Maybe it'll be something else.
Facebook: Six Reasons Why I Deactivated My Account]
They'll have something else.
Solveig, thank you so much for giving your time and your thoughts.
Well you're very welcome, Catherine.
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