Interview with Costi Gurgu

costi at the bookstore


by Jaime A. Geraldi

RECIPEARIUM is now published by White Cat Publications in English. This will bring many more book lovers involved into your diverse past, present and future works. You have graciously accepted numerous awards for your extraordinary writing. What are your hopes and aspirations regarding this new release?

First of all, this new release will bring Recipearium to the English speaking market, which is quite a big aspiration in itself. And through Recipearium I hope to open the hearts of North American readers to the rest of my fiction as well as to Romanian Speculative Fiction in general.

And second of all, I hope to win a few more awards. :)

Were you concerned that your voice or the storyline would change due to the translation? 

I didn’t do a straightforward translation; more like a re-write in English. And I do know that my voice changed with it; though hopefully not significantly. As for the storyline, it pretty much stayed the same, though I had to re-plot some scenes to make them more suitable to the North-American market. And there’s also an extra section at the end that will only be in the English version.

Some have said that RECIPEARIUM is the “new weird”. Most Sci-Fi novels are the pure essence of strange. What makes this tale different from the rest?

Several publishers told me that they hadn’t read anything like it, and therefore they couldn’t compare it to any other book. Yes, at first I wanted to thank them because they practically told me it really was an original novel, but only later I realized that they meant they wouldn’t know how to market it and sell it. They didn’t even know if it would sell, because nobody has sold something similar before.

When I signed the contract in Romania, my Romanian publisher also didn’t know how to market it. So, my editor decided to write and talk about it like any other book and completely ignored that one thing that made it different. He hoped that when the readers discovered it, they would already be hooked and therefore it would be too late for them to freeze in awe. J

It paid off. The story proved a success. Not only because of the awards and the numerous reviews but mostly because of the satisfied readers. One literary critic said in his Short History of Romanian Speculative Fiction that Recipearium is:  “the peak of weirdness in Romanian speculative fiction. Wrongfully judged and received by editors, some critics and some fans as a work of fantasy when for the following reasoning it is science fiction (…) Dare to contradict me, especially under new weird banner!”

So, as a conclusion, I won’t tell you what makes it different from the rest. I want my readers to discover it for themselves. And I promise you it’s not the kind of surprise that goes BANG! It creeps on you slowly.

Most readers already have established a wild imagination thanks to authors like you. How do you plan on conquering North America and win over this gigantic fan base as opposed to the Romanians who are already large supporters of your work?

Ideally, Recipearium is going to open a sea of possibilities for readers and authors alike. By knowingly breaking some hard rules in my novel with a compelling story that works, I will draw readers to crave for more.

My work introduces a European feel and mood to North American values and approaches. European Speculative Fiction is strange and different to North American readers. So, what I’ve done with some of my new stories is to bring Romanian subjects and themes to the American readership in a way that they can focus on the new ideas and mythologies in a style and structure they are familiar with.

I understand you have lived in several countries including Romania, England, and most recently Canada. How does your experience dwelling in dissimilar continents striving to adapt to different cultures serve as an inspiration to your novels?

The truth is that every new experience has been a cultural shock. Only by living and working in a country or in a city long enough, can you really immerse yourself in the local life. A very different experience than being a tourist.

I thought this applied only to me as I moved from a former Communist country to a Western society, England. But after three years in England, my movement to Canada hasn’t been as easy as I thought. English speaking country, yet so different from England in almost every aspect. I always blamed myself for having had a different background.

And then a Canadian friend of mine moved to England for a new job. His first message from there was an exasperated one; he shared that he finally understood how I felt coming to a different country and speaking a different language.

“What do you mean, different language?” I asked him. “You’re from Canada; you speak English.”

“Oh, no. I can barely understand them and they ask me to repeat myself continuously as my accent is too hard for them. My accent!!!” he replied.

With every new experience that I suffered and enjoyed, it has become more clear to me how it should be for those characters in SF&F stories who move to different planets, parallel worlds, foreign kingdoms or fantastic realms. Unless they’re there only for a week of sightseeing (which won’t make the book very interesting), the moving to a new place heroes should undergo the cultural shock born in the transition from their world to the new one.

Even if they moved to a colony of their homeland, the differences between the realms should be significant enough (as seen in the different cultures of England and its former colonies) to make the hero struggle to adapt.

Once you begin to develop a character or concentrate on world-building, do you find it to be a challenge to mold them into what is needed to direct the plot? Or, do you let the individuals take over and pave the way?

I always needed to plan a little. Lately though, I discovered I need even more planning. I’m now a firm believer that the main plot needs to be planned from the beginning.

But then, when I do my world-building, there are certain unforeseen aspects of the new world I create that dictate changes into my initial planning. They would add new dimensions to my plot, because a new world is always full of its own stories and facts that I need to weave into my main plot.

Same thing happens when I write my characters. Sometimes I’m well into my story and one of my characters proves to be more stubborn than me and takes my story into a new direction because she’s a bit different than I first conceived her, or because she’s evolved differently than I thought she would.

It’s good to plan from the beginning, but then the writer needs to follow the characters’ natural evolution, as well as melt the new world’s discovery into the main plot.

You have once been quoted to say that the reality is different between European and American genre writing. Could you explain or be more specific?

Sure. In my opinion there are two major differences.

The first one is of perception. In Europe we read fiction works by writers from over seventy countries from all around the world. That is over seventy different cultures in which their authors write stories without worrying that maybe a foreign reader would not understand a certain social, political or cultural event, or a certain attitude, habit or tradition.

Yes, maybe the South American characters act according to a different code of social conduct than Romanians, or maybe French characters’ attitude is strange for a Bulgarian reader, or Chinese motivations are weird to Greeks. But if the story or the characters are gripping enough, all those things don’t stop us from getting the underlying concept from the context and we just keep reading.

The stories we read can take place in real cities or villages from different and unfamiliar parts of the world. Usually the European writer doesn’t care that his readers may have never been in his city and he keeps telling the story as if all his readers are his co-nationals, or even his neighbours.

We embrace the exotic, the foreign, the strange, the unknown… the alien.

American editors have rejected translating huge names from European speculative fiction because they’re considered too strange and not easily understood by North American readers. Because the North American readership has read only North American genre writers for the past fifty years and they wouldn’t accept something different than an American way of perceiving reality and interpreting information. Something that may be too far from the North American system of values.

“But they’re readers of Science Fiction! I mean, they read Science Fiction or Fantasy because they want to be transported to different worlds. You mean that the American readers better understand a story happening on a strange planet or in the underworld, but they will find it difficult to follow a story happening in Bruges, or Warsaw?” I replied.

North American editors don’t appear to have that confidence in their readers. I, on the other hand, have that confidence. It has been proven to me over and over again, that the true SF&F reader, European or North American, is thirsty for new and exotic, and strange, and alien.

The second aspect is technical. It’s about the writing techniques, the story structure, the point of view approach, and so on. It’s an aspect I will not detail here. Suffice to say that while in North America a writer is supposed to write according to a certain and more strict system of technical rules if she’s to be accepted by professional markets, in Europe the editors don’t care if the writer abides by the rules or breaks them, as long as it’s good writing and the readers want more of that author.

Are there any more ideas or works in progress that we can look forward to?

Definitely. Many more.

I’m actually about to finish my first movie script. It’s a Sci-Fi Political Thriller loosely based on one of my novellas. It will certainly be a blockbuster. :)

And I just finished another novel. A Science Fiction novel with some traces of humor. It will have a lighter touch than Recipearium and it will be my first attempt at humor.

I also wrote a second story in the Recipearium universe. It’s called The Lost Tribe and it’s my second attempt at developing this world farther. The first attempt was the short story Secret Recipes published in 2013 in the anthology Tesseracts Seventeen. Secret Recipes happens exactly before the beginning of the events in the novel.

Right now I’m working on my first time travel story that I think will bring a new direction for this kind of stories. It is a subject that has fascinated me since I first read in 1978 The Overlords of War by Gerard Klein, an unusual time travel story that has certainly given a new direction to French Science Fiction in general, back in the seventies. With my story, time travel will become the new hot trend in the years to come. Just watch for it!

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