Author Interview: Andrei Cherascu

2506410I’ve said before that one of the best things you can do as an indie author is network. Get to know other authors who are using the indie publishing model in a way that suits them. One thing we all know as writers is that everyone has their own story. It’s always interesting to get to know someone else and learn their story.

I discovered Andrei Cherascu on KBoards because I was drawn to the incredible cover of his novel, Mindguard.

Published in September 2014, the novel was chosen as SciFi365.net’s Book of the Year for 2014, an incredible honor for such a young book. As I got to know Andrei, I was actually quite surprised to learn that he was from Romania and that English is not his first language—he hasn’t even been to an English-speaking country before—yet he wrote an entire novel in English. However, Andrei tries not to dwell on that, wanting to be respected for his books, not his heritage.

Besides his fiction, Andrei also runs The Music and Myth, a blog devoted to jazz music.

One thing is certain, Andrei certainly has a passion for writing and a good outlook on the self-publishing business.

The Independent Author – Being that English isn’t your native language, what made you want to write an entire novel in English?

Andrei Cherascu – Even though English isn’t my native language, I’ve been speaking it for almost as long as I’ve been speaking Romanian. I majored in English at my hometown university and then got a Master’s degree in American Studies, so I was used to writing papers and dissertations and whatnot. I discovered I really enjoyed writing these essays, especially in English Literature. At one point, I was accused of copying a paper on the basis of “it’s too good to be written by a second-year student,” which is always a badge of honor for any undergraduate. It was a paper titled Who is the actual villain in Great Expectations? And I had a ton of fun writing it. I remember thinking that I wished I could actually do this for a living.

Subconsciously I’ve always known I want to become a writer. It just wasn’t something I ever seriously considered because it’s not something people usually do. You don’t become a writer, you become a financial analyst or a car salesman or a real estate broker. You get a nice desk job in some big corporation and spend your life working on projects and trying to reach monthly “targets” – a term I hate with a passion.

I always felt that a corporate life wasn’t for me but I went along with it like we often do with things that are “expected of us.” I can’t say I didn’t have fun at times, but I always felt it wasn’t what I should be doing with my life and especially my mind. I felt like I could never be the best that I can possibly be in that particular environment. After two and a half years I knew I had to give full-time writing a try while I was still young enough to afford to fail. So I quit my job, embraced the writer’s lifestyle and started working on a novel.

I enjoy writing in a foreign language precisely because it’s such a challenge. I also speak German and the first book I ever published was a collection of German poetry called Das Ende der Kindheit  (Childhood’s End) in 2004.

I have no interest in writing in Romanian. I scripted three issues of a comic book series in my native language, but I only did it because I was interested in being a published comic book author. It was sort of a bucket list thing. I used to be a huge comic book fan and collector so when the opportunity came to write the script for a series, I took it. Sadly, the series tanked after three issues because the team just couldn’t get along. Too many cooks. But it was nice that my family finally got to read something I wrote.

Writing in English, however, gives me a greater challenge and a considerably larger audience.

The Independent Author – What was the most challenging part about writing in a foreign language?

Andrei Cherascu – I think the biggest challenge is overcoming that anxiety that comes from constantly second-guessing yourself. I think my English is as good as anyone’s is going to get under these circumstances, but since I don’t live in an English-speaking country it will never be perfect – if there is such a thing. I’m always nervous that I might use this or that expression in a wrong way, something that will make me sound like Gloria Pritchett in Modern Family. It’s always the little things that give it away. For example, I wrote something about two characters having great chemistry “on the field” instead of “in the field.” Stuff like that. To my great relief, I’ve discovered it happens very rarely.

The Independent Author – How did you overcome that challenge?

Andrei Cherascu – I read a lot. I’m a voracious reader and most of what I read is in English so I’ve brought myself to the point where it’s no longer just a “second language.” I can “think” as easily in English as I can in Romanian.

Also, one of my best friends is American, and he’s also an English teacher.  He checks my manuscripts for such telltale inconsistencies. I’m hoping that, with the next one, I will have the funds to hire a professional editor.

The Independent Author – Have you had any negative feedback for not having your book professionally edited?

Andrei Cherascu – Not at all, actually. I’ve done my best to have the work in as good a shape as I possibly could before publishing it. I went through the entire manuscript no less than five times. I’ve had four beta-readers, one of whom was my friend who is an English teacher. I’ve done everything in my power have it as close to a professionally edited work as possible. I haven’t had many reviews yet so the feedback is limited but so far people seem happy with it.

The Independent Author – What has the response been to people discovering you’re not a native English speaker?

Andrei Cherascu – Most of the time people have either been impressed that I write in a foreign language, or they just didn’t care – which is my desired reaction.

I did have one negative reaction, though. I had sent my novel to a reviewer for feedback and, when he saw my name, he questioned me about my nationality in what felt like a very confrontational way. I could tell that he felt I had no business writing in this language if I wasn’t from an English-speaking country. But generally, the reactions are either positive or neutral. I prefer the latter.

Naturally, I’m happy when people tell me they would never have known I’m not a native speaker, but I want them to enjoy my stories and articles without my nationality being a factor. That’s why I avoid marketing my book in my own country; I don’t want it to become a gimmick. I don’t want it becoming the story of “the Romanian writer who broke into the Amazon top 100” or “SciFi365.net’s ‘Book of the Year’ was written by a Romanian.” I don’t want people checking out my work just because of that. I’d like them to read it because it sounds like something they’d be interested in. If a fellow countryman stumbles across it and likes it that’s great, but I’m not going to play that card. At least not until I feel comfortable that my work is being judged on its own merits.

One of the reasons I write sci-fi is to distance myself from the whole issue of nationality and geography; in order to avoid those little revealing signs I mentioned before. Since I’m not interested in writing about my country, I feel like placing my action in the present-day US or England would run the risk of revealing little inconsistencies: “how do the toilets flush in the US?” – that sort of thing.

The Independent Author – Do you have any plans to visit an English-speaking country?

Andrei Cherascu – Yes, definitely. I just didn’t get around to it yet. I love traveling, but so far my travels have taken me to other places. I’d love to see England soon. And, as I’ve mentioned before, one of my best friends is American and lives in New York. I have many friends in the US who I’ve met either through my university or my work with The Music and Myth and I’d love to visit them one day.

Because of my country’s political situation and the necessity for a visa, a trip to the US would be a very time-consuming undertaking and I just never had the time to dedicate to it.

The Independent Author – What has the response been to the novel? Did it surprise you?

Andrei Cherascu – The response has, so far, been very positive. Whether or not this surprises me is a bit difficult to say. I think that, whenever you write something, you have to feel like it’s the greatest thing ever written. If you don’t, then you’re not doing it right. You have to be in love with your story and your characters in order for the readers to pick up on that energy.

While I was writing Mindguard I felt like it was the greatest sci-fi novel ever written and creatively, I approached it with the mindset that it will change the face of science fiction. I think that’s the best approach. You have to believe you’re writing something great, otherwise you won’t give it every last ounce of energy you possess.

Then you publish it and your ego is taken down a notch. You find that some people love it and you’re on top of the world. Then you discover that some people hate it and you’re absolutely devastated and you question every aspect of your existence. But then, if you want to remain in this business, you learn to live with it and you write the next thing and this time it will really change the future of literature, you know what I mean?

I was definitely surprised to have Mindguard chosen Book of the Year 2014, especially since it’s my debut work. It was an incredible honor and it gave me great confidence and energy for the future.

The Independent Author – How do you cope with any negative feedback?

Andrei Cherascu – I think whoever tells you they are not affected by negative feedback is lying. It’s normal to feel bad when someone pans a work in which you’ve put a lot of time and a good chunk of your soul. The secret is not to obsess about it. Especially in the beginning, when you don’t yet have many opinions, there’s a tendency to consider any feedback as “absolute.” I always try to remind myself that it’s not the case. Every bit of feedback, good or bad, is one person’s opinion. It weighs no more or less than another’s. Whenever I get bad feedback I try to take from it whatever I feel might improve my writing and if I feel depressed about it I remind myself that there are people who love it so it always balances out. I think it’s going to be a lot easier after the Book of the Year thing. That kind of official recognition certainly helps a lot.

The Independent Author – You mentioned that you took an opposite approach to becoming a full-time writer, quitting your well-paying IT job in 2012 to follow your dream. What was the reaction of your friends and family?

Andrei Cherascu – Mostly surprise, bless their hearts! I’m extremely fortunate to have a very supportive family. I would never have been able to do this without their love and support. They believe in me and they trust me and that’s what motivates me.

Whenever I feel like giving up (which happens sometimes, because the nature of creative work is very taxing) I think of these people who believe in me and have the confidence that I can do something great with my life. So I pick myself up, dust myself off and carry on with even more determination than before. I do it for them as much as I do it for myself.

I’m also blessed with a small but very loyal group of friends who have never told me I’m crazy even though they probably thought it.

The Independent Author – How difficult was it to cope with the loss of an income?

Andrei Cherascu – It was definitely the most difficult aspect. But I didn’t just jump head-first into full-time writing. I had it planned for a long time and it felt like the right moment to pull the proverbial trigger.

I was 27 at the time and I felt like I should be doing this while I’m still young enough to start anew, in case it didn’t work out. My wife and I made the decision together. She has truly supported me above and beyond the call of marriage. We’ve always approached every aspect of our lives as a team. We’ve never done anything without the other’s complete encouragement and it made all the difference.

My wife, Ioana, is a dentist. We waited until her career reached a point where she could comfortably become the single breadwinner for a while and only then did I quit my job. We had to make certain sacrifices and it hasn’t always been easy but we’ve managed to make it work.

We’re also lucky to be living in Romania, because the cost of living is smaller than in other countries. Paradoxically, I could have never pursued writing on a full-time schedule if we were living in the US or England or some other place with a better economy.

The Independent Author – Did you find ways to diversify your writing income?

Andrei Cherascu – I did take some translation work and some online writing gigs but most of the money came from Ioana. We had also managed to save up some money before. Like I said, we went into this prepared.

The Independent Author – Would you do it again?

Andrei Cherascu – Without hesitation.

The Independent Author – What would you do differently?

Andrei Cherascu – It’s a bit hard to say what I would do differently because everything I’ve done has led me to where I am now. I think one thing I would definitely try to do differently is to summon up more confidence in myself.

Especially in the beginning, I’ve had a hard time adapting to the new lifestyle. The first two weeks after quitting my job were great. I enjoyed being at home, being alone, and having time to think and create. I couldn’t believe that I was actually living my dream. But then, after a while, I started having nightmares and panic attacks. I’d keep waking up in the middle of the night thinking, “What the hell have I done!?”

I actually quit my job right as I was being offered a promotion, so that made the decision even harder. I kept thinking, “Maybe I should give this job another six months.” In the end I decided that I didn’t want to live with regrets. I didn’t want to end up a 70-year-old man looking back at his life and wondering what might have been if he had given it 100%. I didn’t want “what if” plaguing me for the rest of my life. But it wasn’t easy and for a long time I kept second-guessing myself. It slowed down productivity. I should have owned up to my decision and shouldn’t have looked back at all.

The Independent Author – Any advice for indie authors?

Andrei Churascu – In as far as I’m qualified to offer any advice, I’d tell any indie authors to try and not second-guess themselves. I know it’s hard but always try to own up to what you’re doing 100%. Don’t look back. Be very aware of what you’re looking to achieve. If you like writing as a hobby, that’s fantastic, you can have a lot of fun and it’s really one of the cheapest hobbies you can have (I should know, I’m a hobby photographer and it’s expensive as hell). But if you want to make it a career you have to treat it that way. You have to treat it like work, not like a hobby.

Also, try to compartmentalize your brain. Keep the part of your mind that handles the marketing aspect away from the creative part. Write without thinking about selling. Then sell without thinking of writing. Trust me on that one!

 

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