Author Interview: Delin Colón (Resputin and the Jews)

Who am I? Well, about an hour ago, I was the middle-aged ditz in the market who tried to pay for groceries by swiping her AARP card instead of her debit card. Last week, I was the editor so engrossed in her work that when the phone rang, I answered it with “Put me on your Do Not Call List,” and hung up. It was my mother.

Like most people, I come from a dysfunctional family which is not necessarily a bad thing because otherwise I’d have to take responsibility for my screw-ups. I always like to look on the bright side.

But I guess the appropriate response to ‘who am I?’ would be a description of what I do. I’m a freelance researcher, writer and editor. For my own amusement, I also do collage art. I’ve attended six different universities, having lived on both U.S. coasts (north and south) and in Montréal, with my undergrad work in French and grad work in Clinical Psych. I’ve worked in psychiatric settings, as a technical writer, and briefly as a disco Playboy bunny. I’ve owned a construction company and an agency that paired writers with jobs. The most interesting job offer I ever received was as a shepherdess on a sheep ranch in Québec. I currently reside in the peace and tranquility of a small peninsula in the Pacific Ocean in Washington state.

What compelled you to write your first book?

I first wrote Rasputin and The Jews: A Reversal of History after reading and translating into English the memoirs of my great-great uncle, Aron Simanovitch, who was both friend and secretary to Rasputin for a decade. If my ancestor had portrayed Rasputin in the same light as history, books and film have, I’d have thought little of it except for the fact that it is a lively account of the underbelly of Petersburg high society. However, Simanovitch, a Jewish jeweler and gambling parlor owner, also recounted many incidents of Rasputin’s aid to the poor, the ill and the minorities — most notably, the Jews who were denied most rights, by law, and were largely confined to The Pale of Settlement. With anti-Semitism as government policy, Rasputin’s actions were viewed by many as treasonous and, together with his equal rights and anti-war stances, the aristocracy sought to discredit him by attributing evil intentions to him. Their account became known as ‘history.’

I had originally intended only to publish my English translation of Simanovitch’s memoir, but I felt if I were to make my point, I needed to research my ancestor’s claims and the incidents he described, in addition to giving some background on tsarist Russia and its treatment of Jews, in order to place Rasputin in a broader historical context. After more than a decade of research, my first book, Rasputin and The Jews: A Reversal of History does just that.

What compels you to be a writer?

I have no idea why I’m compelled to write. Perhaps it’s the medium in which I best express myself. I just know I was raised being read to and reading avidly. It’s possible that the little artists’ colony I call my home town influenced me. Of all the artists I knew, the writers were the most appealing to me. I loved the idea of sequestering myself in a room with just the images and thoughts in my mind, and playing with words until they conveyed what I felt. I think the question of why I write is best left alone, lest any explanation impede the process.

Tell us a little bit about your book/s. What are their titles; which is your favorite if you have more than one, and briefly let us know what they are about.

Once I had published Rasputin and The Jews, I turned my attention back to my translation of Simanovitch’s memoir. I spent several drafts tightening it up, eliminating redundancies, and annotating the events and people he cited. Just two months ago, I published the first English translation of the memoir, under the title Rasputin: The Memoirs of His Secretary by Aron Simanovitch. It is the story of his time in Petersburg, with Rasputin, including Rasputin’s murder and its fallout. The book is written in the first person, in Simanovitch’s voice.

I can’t really say I have a favorite between the two books. They’re companion pieces. One is an eyewitness account and the other puts that account in a more global context.

Have you ever won any writing awards? If so, what?

Rasputin and The Jews: A Reversal of History has not only received glowing reviews, but has earned the following credits:

  • 2012 Readers’ Favorite Awards Finalist 
  • 2012 Sharp Writ Awards Finalist 
  • 2012 IndieReader Awards Finalist

Do you belong to any writing forums or organizations that have helped spur your career as a writer?

Yes, I’ve found Goodreads and LinkedIn particularly instrumental for connecting with other authors, learning of and sharing sources for promotion, and for obtaining reviews, as well as for simply chatting about writing and publishing.

Earlier in my career, I attended writing workshops which were useful for critiques, as well as for honing critiquing skills.

What type of music, if any, do you listen to while you write?

I can’t have any sound around me at all when I write. Anything that distracts me from my train of thought is unwelcome. That being said, I’ve been told that I generally don’t respond even to my name being called from eight feet away when I’m ‘in the zone.’ Either that or I’m losing my hearing, in which case it soon won’t matter if music is playing or not. If there is any music, it cannot have lyrics or those words will somehow wind up in my manuscript. And the music cannot transport me in any way, such as urging me to dance, daydream, drum on my desk, or do the armchair bebop.

Hey, let’s get morbid. When they write your obituary, what do you hope they will say about your book/s and writing? What do you hope they will say about you?

First of all, I’d like my epitaph to read “Old writers never die; they just submit.” I’d like my obituary to include the statement: “Her greatest epiphany was the irony of having taken acid in the 60s and antacid in her sixties, confirming her belief in Newton’s concept that for every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction.” I also wouldn’t mind it mentioned that: “Delin Colón was an activist who advocated the liberation of oppressed prepositions which had long been banned from freely ending sentences.”

Actually, let me rewrite that epitaph: It might have more impact if it simply read: “See you soon!”

Bring us into your home and set the scene for us when you are writing. What does it look like?

You’ll be sorry you asked. It’s not a pretty picture. The day begins at 5:30 a.m. when my internal clock wakes me for no other reason than habit. Coffee comes first. I’ll eventually consume the whole pot. I can’t bother wasting my time dressing, so pajama bottoms and a t-shirt are my working wear. By six, if I’m writing, I’m sitting at the dining room table surrounded by books and index cards. I write with a ballpoint pen on a legal pad. I feel closer to the work without a machine between me and it. There are dust bunnies under the furniture and a thin layer on counter and tabletops. (Perhaps you didn’t want this much detail.) The carpeting is crying out to be vacuumed but I’m told that a clean house is the sign of a dull woman.

If I’m editing or promoting my books, I’m at the computer by six, in the same outfit, but in my tiny home office surrounded by stacks of files, papers, books, bills and many sticky notes, some of which are illegible. At around 11 a.m., I’ll have a bowl of cereal to counteract the caffeine-induced gnashing of my teeth. Before I know it, it’s 5 or 6 p.m. and time to shut it down for the day. It’s not an interesting scene — fairly boring in fact — but it is disgusting, if you have that kind of quirky, voyeuristic tendency.

How long did it take you to write your most recent (or first) book? When you started writing, did you think it would take that long (or short)?

I first found and read the 1930 French edition of Simanovitch’s memoirs in the late 1990s. It took me about two years to complete the first draft of my English translation. Since I decided to publish my researched work first, I spent the next dozen years reading and taking notes. It took me another couple of years to write several drafts of Rasputin and The Jews which was finally published in April, 2011. Overall, it was fifteen years or so from the time I read Simanovitch’s memoir until I published my own book. Rasputin: The Memoirs of His Secretary came out two years later. I’d never have guessed both of those endeavors would take so long, but it was time well spent and I didn’t have a deadline.

What is your main goal or purpose you would like to see accomplished by or with your writing?

The primary purpose I’d like to achieve with both of these books, naturally, is for people to take a second look at Rasputin through the eyes of people who were not out to do him in, and to see how circumstances conspired to make of him a scapegoat for Russia’s ills. I have been in touch with Rasputin’s great granddaughter who tours Europe lecturing on the subject. She’s been appreciative of my efforts.

Is there any lesson or moral you hope your story might reveal to those who read it?

The greater lesson revealed in these two books is the adage that history is written by the powerful, not by the poor, the illiterate or the disenfranchised. History is a matter of perspective. The history of tsarist Russia from the point of view of the nobility is far different than that of the poor Jew who feared for his life in The Pale of Settlement. One has to consider the source.

It’s said that the editing process of publishing a novel with a publisher can be grueling and often more difficult than actually writing the story. Do you think this is true for you? How did you feel about editing your masterpiece?

While I am self-published, I don’t find editing grueling at all. I’m very big on it. My words are far from golden and I’m self-motivated to edit relentlessly. Generally, I’ll write at least a half dozen drafts, honing and streamlining, before passing the manuscript on to my editor, after which I’ll write further drafts, thanks to my editor’s discerning eye. It’s actually a part of the process I enjoy, kind of like a literary “Where’s Waldo?” I want to get the manuscript right, and if I’m not willing to polish my creation, I’m devaluing my own work.

Now that you are a published author, does it feel differently than you had imagined?

I had not imagined feeling any other way than I had been prior to publication. In the past, I’ve had poems and articles published in journals here and there. The printed copy gets placed on a bookshelf and life goes on. Having published two books was no different. I’m the same person I was before, so I’m not sure what would make me feel differently. Perhaps that’s because, for me, the actual process of writing and editing is the high point. It’s the time during which I’m most engaged in the work. The act of publishing the book is anticlimactic. At that point, the work and I are no longer one. We part ways except for the business end of promoting. Now that’s by far the most grueling part of the entire process: promotion.
Now, use this space to tell us more about who you are. Anything you want your readers to know. Include information on where to find your books, any blogs you may have, or how a reader can learn more about you and writing.

Rasputin: The Memoirs of His Secretary by Aron Simanovitch (translated and annotated by Delin Colón) is available on Kindle and in paperback at:
http://www.amazon.com/RASPUTIN-The-Memoirs-his-Secretary/dp/1484925858/

Rasputin and The Jews: A Reversal of History by Delin Colón is also available on Kindle and in paperback at:
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1461027756
The Real Rasputin is my website about the books: http://therealrasputin.wordpress.com/

Thank you so much for this opportunity, Michy. I’ve enjoyed this interview and hope readers will, too.

 

       
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