Welcome back. Today, we’ll be chatting with Irina Shapiro who hails from Moscow, Russia by way of suburban New Jersey. Irina, do you mind getting us started by telling us a little about yourself?
- I emigrated from Russia with my family when I was twelve, and set about becoming a normal American teenager. It wasn’t an easy thing to do right after the Cold War since anyone from Russia was greeted with suspicion and mistrust, especially in Middle School and High School. I worked hard at being accepted, and eventually began to understand the culture and finally feel at home in this country that I’d dreamed about ever since I was a child.
I have an International Marketing Degree from Bernard M. Baruch College, and I’ve worked in Advertising and Import/ Export for years before writing my first novel. My writing has actually nothing to do with either my business background or my personal life. I love history, particularly British and Scottish history, and like to set my stories against the backdrop of political intrigue which never seemed to end in that part of the world. I base my heroines on myself to some degree, and what I might have been like had I lived in those times, but they are all unique women who bring something of their own to the character.
Sounds like you weave a little bit of yourself into each of your stories. How much of your work would you say is based from experiences you’ve had, or heard about?
- The Passage is based on actual events dealing with the Monmouth Rebellion of 1685. Of course, no one has time-traveled to the seventeenth century and lived to tell about it, but everything besides that is absolutely authentic.
- The story is based on actual historical events, but the heroine is a woman entirely of my own making.
Do you remember what sparked off your desire to write your first book?
- Pure desperation and a desire for escape.
- I began writing after I left my job in 2007 to take care of my autistic son. I suppose I always had a talent for writing, but it wasn’t something I ever explored, having pursued a career in business. Suddenly finding myself at home with a child whose frustration was even greater than mine, I needed a mental outlet, and it presented itself in the form of writing fiction.
- I just love stories, particularly stories with unpredictable twists and paranormal elements. I love time travel, restless ghosts, and memories of past lives which wreak havoc on the character’s present.
I can understand the desire to “get away” for a while into a world you’ve created. Do you think your experience working with your son, or the transition from business woman to full-time mother has influenced your writing style?
- I think everyone has a specific writing style, whether they know it or not. I do tend to write in the first person a lot. I think it gives me greater insight into the character, and allows me to make the reader privy to thoughts and feelings from within rather than describing them as an observer.
With the more intense viewpoint, do you ever try weave messages into your work for readers to find?
- My message is that we are all authors of our destiny, even if it doesn’t always seem that way. Every choice we make has a consequence, and until we learn to own our mistakes, we can never move forward.
That’s a powerful message, especially when things get tough. And, thinking of tough times, do you have anyone outside of your family who has supported you on your journey?
- I’ve found great support on Facebook. I have some loyal fans and my books have been frequently recommended in certain book-reading groups.
You speak of fans. That’s usually from someone who’s admitted they’re an author. Do you have a particular point in time that you look back at and say, “There! That’s when I became an author.”?
- It took me a long time to actually call myself a writer, but I guess if I had to pick a time, it would have to be when my first royalty check came in the mail.
Did you design the covers yourself?
- I did.
Are you at a point where you can share any current news or projects?
- Books 2 – 4 of the Wonderland Series were released in 2015, and I am busy working on Book 5.
- I am working on the last book of the Wonderland Series.
- Since I am on book 5 of a series, anything I share would make little sense.
“Wonderland” that’s an intriguing title. How did you come up with it?
- The Wonderland Series, of which The Passage is the first book, is a reference to Alice in Wonderland. My character literally goes down a rabbit hole, and finds herself in a world where nothing is what it seems and no one can be trusted.
With that reference, now I’m curious. What books would you say have influenced you the most?
- I’ve read everything from War and Peace to the Game of Thrones. I must say that one of the most memorable series I’d read was Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. Her books fired my imagination.
I’ll admit, that was not the type of list I expected. With the reference to “Alice in Wonderland” I thought that some of the fairy tales would be included. ::Grins::
From the list you did provide, would you consider any of the authors to be a mentor figure for you, even if you haven’t met in real life?
- I would love to be mentored by Diana Gabaldon. She has a unique writing style which is more like painting a canvas rather than telling a story. Every inch of that painting is filled with exquisite detail, the kind that comes from an incredible imagination and extensive knowledge of the subject.
I’ll agree – authors who can paint their work in your mind are wonderful to read. Are you reading one of her books now, or has someone else claimed that spot?
- I am reading The Lady of Hay by Barbara Erskine.
Interesting title. Will have to look that one up for myself. Do you have any new authors who have caught your attention, or are you still enjoying works from your favorites?
- It’s been a while since someone new caught my attention. I like books that are unique and very well written.
What about favorite authors? Anyone in particular that really captures your interest?
- There are many authors that I like. What strikes me the most about any author is their ability to weave a unique story and tell it in a language that flows and enchants the reader, transporting them a world which is vivid and realistic.
May have to point you at a couple I’ve recently discovered, if they’re in the right genres for you. That’s for another time, though.
As a full-time mother, do you see writing as your career now?
- I have tried to make writing my career, but I can’t predict the future. This is a pretty volatile business.
That, it definitely is. Especially with the changes that happen so unpredictably with retailers and how the wider readership reacts to different book types that come out.
In your own work, are there any challenges or lessons you learned along the way?
- The hardest part is making sure that my story is unique and engaging. I want to capture the reader on the first page, and keep them prisoner until the very last line.
- At times, I find it challenging not to borrow from something I’ve read or seen that had left an impression on me.
- I learned that my imagination is actually a lot more extensive than I ever imagined. Once I let go of my inhibitions, I came up with plot twists that surprised even me.
Well do I understand that surprise! Would you change anything in your work if you were to start over knowing everything you know now?
- I wouldn’t change a thing. I am very happy with the way it turned out.
That’s always a plus. Hoping one of these books to get to that point.
And, the most common question of all: What advice would you pass on to other writers who are not quite as far along in the journey as you?
- Be yourself. Don’t worry about what people will say or what their expectations are. There will always be critics, and they will be harsh, but if you listen to that inner voice, you can create something truly beautiful.
Again, something I fully agree with. Irina, thank you for stopping by. As we wrap up today, any last words for your readers?
- My books speak for themselves, and they have a great story to tell.
Irina, thank you again for stopping by. It has been a pleasure getting to chat with you, and I hope you enjoyed as well. I look forward to chatting with you again in a couple of days, and getting to know Neve when you come back.
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