Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Bohemia by Veronika Carnaby: Interview & Excerpt



In her debut novel, Veronika Carnaby picks up where the Beat Generation left off. Set in 1960, Bohemia chronicles a group of twenty-somethings who defy the "ideals" of a mid-twentieth century society to seek creative fulfillment. In the process, they spotlight the creative path that artists of all mediums tread, all the while depicting the challenges faced by youth in the decade that changed the world.
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 I took to the heart of the town by foot, passing by the shingled buildings, wooden cross bridges, and soggy, leaf-adorned porches of New England. I just loved experiencing the newness, tasting a wacky flavor, bursting with the spirit of suburbia, indulging in the evening sunsets, blooming pine trees, and piles of dried-up grass, something which just wasn’t readily disposable in the city. I made my way down Main Street, the area of Nashua that pulsated with small town energy more than anywhere else. To my left, a local vendor sold “true blue American cheese” for 40 cents per pound. To my right, a faux Native American that donned a full headdress and woven boots glared at the passersby with an eager look on his face that spoke, “I am here in my native country, my native land, no matter what. Take me away, but my soul is here to stay.” I felt a pang of encouragement after taking a seat on a bench next to it. People went about their daily routines, carrying bags full of groceries, riding bicycles with flowery wicker baskets, chasing after the rowdy squirrels that crossed their paths. I found myself amidst a splendidly tame environment that felt as if it would never succumb to the pressures of daily life, the intimidation from its larger metropolis cousins, no matter how many times it was jabbed with vicious intent. 
     Farther aside, a group of gals sat on a bench and from the looks of it, were deep in conversation about rehearsed choreography that was miraculously synchronized—nothing like our wild and spontaneous twist or boney moronie. I outstretched my ear to catch a word or two of their conversation. “Girls, make sure you move your right leg to the left and crisscross it with your left leg on the count of three. Take it from the top.” 
     They then demonstrated the Hully Gully and actually howled at the top of their lungs like four Billie Holidays at the same time. No accompanying musicians—they made their own music. I was astounded. There were four of them: Nora was the one with the dirty blonde ‘do tied over with a towel. She seemed the unofficial leader, followed by Paige, long-flowing fringe girl with long limbs to match. Whatever Nora did or didn’t approve, she would back 110% ,which often lead her into trouble. Then there was Edith, a squeamish broad who scrunched up her nose and squinted her eyes past her frizzy lion’s mane and looked like she was lived in her own little world beyond Main Street, beyond the state, and possibly the planet. And finally Arabella, a plump figure who tried as best she could to keep up with everyone, but obviously lagged well behind the other three when it came to creative contributions.“Hold on, hold on. I didn’t catch that very well. Let’s do it again,” she called out with a mouth full of crumbs. From what I gathered, they weren’t one bit talented when they were apart, but put them together and they were some hepcats, something to be marveled at. 
     I watched the group on from afar. “Great,” I thought to myself, “now that I’m on my own, perhaps I’ll nudge my way in and really dance this time—sing too! Ah, ah, ah, maybe, maybe.” I caged myself in the nearby bushes to prevent them from seeing my prying eyes. A half hour went by in studying moves and reassuring myself of all the good that would happen in the future when I joined in on their act, how all the pieces would fit together, how I’d finally achieve a state of completeness. I wasn’t sure if madness set in or if I was just plain coming to my senses, but after sitting among leaves and twine for what felt like days, the time came to come clean out of the shadows and approach them. 
     The day broke gloomy and imminent clouds appeared. While everybody scattered for shelter, I headed to the four girls sitting on the bench who had yet to notice the flurry of panic that these clouds brought on to bystanders. They were getting ready to leave and discussing where and when they were to meet again, which bus to take to which station, how much change they’d need to spend, and so on, when all of a sudden, “Tally-ho!” Edith pointed to me in hysterics. Slowly they all ceased whatever they were chattering on about, becoming but a mere paralyzed version of themselves.
     “Hi there. You looking for anyone to join?” I blurted out senselessly before I even introduced myself. I forgot that they couldn’t see me in the same way that I watched them from the prickles. Delirium took over. Nora looked me up and down, snarled her lip, and asked, “ What’s your name, honey?” She tapped her lacquered high heels on the pavement as the rest of them looked on from behind her shoulder. 
     “Valerie Freed.”
     “Shucks, of course! We could always recruit a new person in our group, can’t we Nora?” Arabella confided in Nora but only received a stone cold stare that must have pierced through to the core of her heart. Nora looked down, licked her lips, batted her eyelashes in a mean sort of way, and circled around me with her arms folded and her shoes clacking. She said, “Well, Valerie Freed. Show us what you got.” I did a little jig here, a bit of twist there, some hand jive, and ta-da’d! She was less than impressed. 
     “Sorry,” she said as she unfolded her arms and put her coat on, “we have no room for new members. Come on girls, let’s go.” She led the way off the bench and down the street, with their pretty ribbon-tied ponytails flopping back and forth. Edith, Arabella, and Paige trailed behind and looked half-confused, half-sorry for me. They disposed of me like a piece of trash. In a matter of minutes, I went from admiring and imagining what could be to standing deserted on the sidewalk and wondering what could have been. 


Welcome Veronika!  Thanks for this opportunity to learn a little more about you.  Have any of your characters been modeled after yourself?
Yes. I admit that this is somewhat of a semi-fictional account of circumstances I’ve encountered in real life. Some of the characters are based on people I’ve known. Most of the scenes in the book do, in fact, stem from personal experience. Valerie Freed is somewhat of a reflection of myself and of the ups and downs I’ve faced on my creative journey. Her battle with finding her niche, chiseling her literary craft, and knocking down doors to get noticed is a good summary of the whirlwind road I’ve traveled up to this point. What excites me most, however, is that the relatability of the characters. Ideally, everyone who reads this book will be able to see a little bit of themselves in Valerie, Roxford, Emm, or any other character for that matter.


What do you find most rewarding about writing?
The fact that I can embark on a mental journey that transports to a magical place through the writing. That’s my definition of freedom, anyway. The only other feeling I can compare it to is listening to a beloved song. I’m convinced that the arts could be something of a higher power.


How do you react to a bad review of your book?
By this point, I’ve had my share of criticism and rejection. Fortunately, I’ve realized that it comes with the job description and that you can’t take it personally, because it’s business. You also can’t escape negativity, and that goes for any avenue in life. Everyone has their critics. Why should some foul word-slinging curb my ambitions? Besides, it’s all subjective, anyway. Just because one person doesn’t take a liking to the end product, doesn’t mean that nobody else will. At the end of the day, it’s about the reader’s take.


Is there a piece of advice that you have received that has really stuck with you? If so, what was it?
I used to conduct interviews with artists in the start of my career and I once asked someone, whose name I’ll conceal for privacy reasons, the same question. Her answer struck me and has stayed with me to this day. She said, don’t be afraid to reach for the impossible. You never know who’ll open that door you’re knocking on. That mindset has carried me through to this day.


Describe what it’s like to be an author in three words.
Difficult, fulfilling, introspective.


Beatles or Monkees? Why?
Ha! While I admire both bands immensely, I’d have to give this one to The Beatles. They’ve influenced my life and career probably more than anyone else has in music and in literature.

What books have most influenced your life?
If we’re talking about one writer’s catalog of work, that’d most certainly be Jack Kerouac’s. On the Road, Maggie Cassidy, The Dharma Bums, even just the letters he exchanged with Ginsberg, each and every work of his helps me grow as an author. That being said, I can’t narrow his work as my sole influence, since I’ve pinched a bit from many, many more that I couldn’t begin to list. And just when I think I’ve read it all, I discover something new to grow from. It’s a constant eye-opening experience.

Do you have any suggestions for beginning writers? If so, what are they?
When the world turns its back on you, for God’s sake, don’t get discouraged.


American author and poet, Veronika Carnaby, possesses a vintage charm that transcends well into her written works. Over the years, her Beat-style prose pieces have gained international recognition after appearing in such publications and functions as The Ed Sullivan Show, Empty Mirror Magazine, SESAC Magazine, SXSW, and the SESAC New York Music Awards, among others.  Today, Carnaby continues to infuse her writing with a poignancy and passion for 20th century culture, music and literature. Find out more and stay updated at her official website and official Twitter account, @VeronikaCarnaby.

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