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Interviews with Alessandra Gelmi

Bestsellers in Modern Fiction, Barnes and Noble UK Interview with Alessandra Gelmi, author, Who’s Afraid of Red, A Story Cycle in Three Parts, endorsed by Joel Siegel of "Good Morning America Television" as "BRILLIANT," and The Reverend Desmond Tutu as "Historically Important" and winner of four national awards including a citation from the National Federation of Press Women.

Q. What prompted you to write W.A.R.?

A. I saw a special on TV that described some horrific happenings in Rwanda. This TV program aired in April of 1997; about a genocide that began in April of 1994. And I thought to myself, My God, why hadn’t this event been giving adequate press when over 800,000 people were killed within a window of three months? The genocide barely made the six o’clock news in Washington, D.C.! I am a journalist by profession (report about art and cultural) but I had been thinking about writing fiction, I wanted to write a novel, something of literary value. (I think it was T.S. Eliot, or was it Ezra Pound, who said literature is “news that stays news”), and so my idea was to invent the characters and their personal situations but place them against an accurate historical context. I wanted to humanize the events, so it wasn’t just the facts but the facts as they impacted people with names.

Q. Can you give me a plot-line?

A. Girl meets Boy. Girl finds out Boy’s secret involving another Girl. You have to read the book to find out what happens next. I won’t spoil it for you. Basically it’s the story of Two Girls and a Guy, the intersection of three hearts. Three people searching for ultimate "TRUTH," that elusive dream.

Q. How long did it take you to write Who’s Afraid of Red?

A. Usually a year is the time it takes to write a novel. It took me five years. And it is only 125 pages! But the research was exhaustive, and since I didn’t actually spend time in Rwandan, I had to immerse myself in the feeling of the tragedy and the geography and spiritual climate of the place. I read everything written about the genocide, and the country, and I think on balance I began to understand the seemingly impossible predicament my characters witnessed. As for it being 125 pages, I caution my readers to read a page a day. The book is dense. And it was important to me that every sentence was perfect poetically. There were whole afternoons I’d devote to one sentence!

Q. Is Who’s Afraid of Red ultimately a positive story?

A. It is what it is. Life is full of suffering. My new book titled Ring of Fire, which will be released in early 2009 and is a collection of verse based loosely on Dante’s Divine Comedy, explores the many faces of suffering. There is a book by Victor Frankl, a Nazi war camp survivor, titled Man’s Search For Meaning, which opens wide this issue. I’m interested in how people cope with evil, how the proverbial bird can spring from the wasteland. There are plenty of theological questions posed by my three characters and that is a journey I invite the reader to take with me. Leon, my protagonist, is a former divinity student who suffers a crisis of faith after witnessing the Rwandan Genocide. Some readers have called the book a love story. Let’s put it this way, it’s not your typical love story, but it certainly examines the notion of love.

Q. Has your book been translated into different languages?

A. Actually the distribution arm of my publisher is pretty good. I see the book advertised in Japanese, in Dutch, in French, even Greek! But to answer your question, no. It would be nice if someone would publish a Spanish version since Spanish is spoken and read by so many in the world. I’m lucky; Who’s Afraid of Red has won five national awards in the United States. It only makes sense that someone secures the international rights.

Q. And a movie. Is your book fodder for a movie?

A. I’ve had one Hollywood veteran, Nick Mancuso, interested in adapting it for the screen, but we have yet to ratify a contract.

Q. Who would play the leading man and leading lady?

A. You know my feeling is, in the acting world, there are so many powerful “unknowns” with enormous talent. Sure Angelina Jolie would make a great Sylvia, (an art professor who lives in Washington D.C. who falls in love with Leon, the former divinity student turned war correspondent). But I think there is enough raw talent lurking about in hidden places to sustain Oscar winning performances should the book get made into a movie. You have to dream big, no?

Q. Who are your favorite writers?

A. The Latin Fabulists! Carlos Fuentes, Mario Vargas Llosa, Borges, Jose Donoso. Also Dostoyevsky, I appreciated his Crime and Punishment. I like his deep concern for the pain of the innocents, and his primitive Christianity. I like C.S. Lewis, though he isn’t an easy read at all. Ditto, Italo Calvino. With these guys, as a reader, you have to do the work. Oh and Salmon Rushdi, he blows me away with his prose, not to mention his soul.

Q. Your writing habits?

A. Basically when I’m working on a book. I start writing at around noon and finish around five. Every day. If I’m out of shape (in terms of focus) I have to recondition myself to take just one cigarette break and just one phone break. You know, I really don’t have the metabolism for a writer. I would much rather be out meeting people, talking, laughing. The last thing I want to do is be chained to a desk for five hours. But God gave me the impetus to write, and you know what they say, "When God gives you a gift, he also gives you a whip which is intended for self-flagellation only!"