Sherri Lupton Hollister

Welcome to Creekside Café, Anna Volkin. I understand you are a coffee fan like I am.

Anna: Hello, Sherri! Thank you for inviting me to this lovely talk. I’m thrilled to pieces to be here, in the Creekside Cafe with you, although it’s only a virtual meeting. Yes, coffee is my poison of choice. Espresso lungo. Black.No sugar. I can drink it at any time of day. Does that make me an addict?

Sherri: If it does, I’m right there with you, though I prefer a little cream in my coffee. I used low fat milk because of the calories but, oh, sweet delicious cream.

Anna and I met through The New Romance Café Facebook Group. We will be published in the spring anthology, Love in Bloom. This will be your first published story? You are new to writing, is that true?

Anna: Yes, writing is a new endeavor for me. Actually, I’ve never thought of myself as a writer or being able to write fiction until less than a year ago. It’s all new and shiny. Of course, there had been some attempts in my teenage years, but I blame those on my experimental phase rather than on a serious pursuit of writing. So I’d be safe to say I’ve been writing for less than a year – I’m not taking academic papers and specialty articles into account. 

That didn’t stop me from already having outlined a 7 book contemporary romance series – I know, I know, I’m not sure if saying this out loud is shameless bragging or terrifying stupidity. As well as this, I’ve plotted three more short stories (they would make a nice series with the one I’m about to publish) and I’m contemplating a PNR idea. 

Sherri: You mention academic papers and specialty articles; you have a profession that requires you to do other writing?

Anna: Yes, I am an MD, a medical doctor. I’m lucky enough to have my private practice, so it’s up to me to manage my work and writing schedules.

Sherri: Anna, tell us where are you from?

Anna: I’m Romanian, currently living in the capital city once known as Little Paris – Bucharest. I like to say that I was born on the “wrong” side of the Iron Curtain.

Sherri: What do you mean by the wrong side?

Anna: Because I am a citizen of the world – this is how I see myself, without denying or minimizing my roots and heritage. Nevertheless, the selective isolation and censorship my country was subjected to until the ’90s has definitely shaped our view of the world in a different manner. I am lucky, though: I had the tremendous chance to be exposed to both lifestyles and schools of thought (Eastern and Western) and gather deep cultural influences from both of them. Also, the upside of the aforementioned isolation was that our main entertainment as children born in the early eighties was reading – that was what you could do without television and video games, and I’m thankful for it. It has broadened my horizons in multiple directions and helped develop a strong sense of critical thinking.

Sherri: Do you have a favorite author or genre?

Anna: Until a few years ago, I tended to read indiscriminately. Having done my part with “heavy” literature, lately, I turned to “lighter” genres, as reading is a form of escapism as far as I am concerned. I’m most fond of fantasy, dystopian and paranormal. If there is also a romantic thread, that’s for the better. I’ve also caught up on my romance reading and I really enjoy it. I can’t name a favorite author – I’d feel like it would be unfair to all the stories I’ve loved. Actually, my reading is mostly about the stories than about the authors, and I’m really bad at remembering names and titles. 

Sherri: I’ve never been to Romania, I bet it’s lovely. Have you ever been to eastern North Carolina or the east coast United States?

Anna: No, I haven’t got the chance. It’s not on the other side of the world for me, but it’s pretty close.

*chuckling* 

Sherri: As a new writer, what is it that you enjoy about writing?

Anna: I love the freedom of it. When writing, you can explore different facets of your personality, different voices of the same persona. You can be both a horrendous villain and a fantastic hero. You can introspect. You can fantasize. You can push your limits. You can test hypotheses. You can empathize.

Sherri: I find I can do some of these same things when I read. Do you think reading helps you be a better writer?

Anna: Reading has the unbelievable power of shaping an individual. You become educated, cultured, and imaginative through reading. It’s one of the most powerful workouts for your brain – if you think of it as a metaphorical muscle. It forces you to covert the words you read into images and emotions, thus creating a very personal and intimate experience with that particular piece. I don’t believe in writers who don’t read habitually. As writing itself involves a lot of resources and skills that have to be so well practiced to the point they turn into reflexes. As a non-native English speaker, I find this particularly challenging, but, oh, my, I’m a sucker for a good challenge. Vocabulary, idioms, phrasing, world building, characters, relatability, and technicalities of the craft – you’re not born knowing those things. You learn them, even if sometimes you’re not consciously aware of it.

Sherri: Have you discovered anything you don’t like about writing?

Anna: Oh, there’s no such thing. But it sometimes feels overwhelming. I tend to dive headfirst in things, and now, writing seems the simplest part of an author’s work. But I’m learning every day.  That’s what I’m best at, after all. 

Sherri: I believe that no matter where we are in our careers, there’s still something new to learn. I write at odd times throughout the day, taking a few minutes before work, during lunch and late in the evenings. Have you discovered your best time to write?

Anna: I noticed that my most productive time is in the late afternoon. Unfortunately, I need complete silence and isolation to be able to write, and that is pretty rare.

Sherri:  What do you feel your writing strengths and weaknesses are?

Anna: I honestly have no idea. First, because I am my worst and most pretentious judge. Second, because my perception of my own writing is definitely different from the others’. One thing I believe in, though, is that people – and extrapolating, in this case, authors – have certain attributes. On one hand, it depends on themselves whether they turn those into strengths or weaknesses. On the other hand, it depends on the others whether those attributes are perceived as qualities or flaws. 

Sherri:  Do you have any other hobbies or interests? Do these show up in your stories?

Anna: Oh, this is another topic I could go on forever. I think my main interest is to know things. The more diverse, the better. I also have a very creative side, so naturally, architecture, design, graphic design, advertising and generally, visual arts are things I enjoy and topics I follow. 

I’m also a DIY-er. I love the feeling of doing things with your hands, though I tend to do more “masculine” projects. I own a serious collection of power tools, so you’d rather find me restoring a piece of furniture than knitting, but I don’t do it as much as I’d like because of the lack of space. I’m the nail beater, light bulb changer, screw screwer and so on in our home. 

I love dogs. We have two at the moment and dog shows and breeding is another one of my interests. It’s not a hobby per se, but maybe when I’m old and grumpier I’ll have my own kennel. 

I’m sure the things I love and know are showing in my writing – it’s the first rule for a newbie – write about what you know and love. But, as you are well aware, stories are not a 1 to 1 reflection of the reality. They, for sure, need to be plausible and relatable, but the beauty of writing is that you can take pieces and snippets from reality, add some wild imagination, bits of what ifs, stir them well, then mix and match. I like to think about it as a mosaic: little, identifiable, known elements, put together to create something new every time. 

Sherri: You have really leaped into writing with your pen at the ready. I’m excited to see all your plans. The New Romance Café has really opened doors for both of us.

Anna: The New Romance Cafe was one of the best things that happened to me in 2018. I met a lot of great people there – readers and writers alike. I’ve made a bunch of great friends – Liana, Suki, Thyra, and Miranda; together we’ve created The Grumpy Sisterhood: Romance with a Side of Grump, our joint authors’ group, where we hope to gather people with similar interests in romance books. And, of course, this is where I met you, and, yay! we’ll both be featured in the spring anthology coming out on March 8. 

Sherri: I can’t wait to read the anthology. I’m looking forward to reading everyone’s stories. Is your family excited about your being published?

Anna: I honestly think they don’t know what to make of it. *laughs* My husband is and has always been very supportive about whatever I wanted to do. We share a love for books and reading so my writing doesn’t look so far-fetched to him. I must confess, though, that he hasn’t sampled it yet. But he’s my to go partner for writing prompts and character development exercises. 

My daughter is still young and all she sees is my umbilical attachment to my laptop; I’m not sure she actually knows what I’m doing.

The dogs seem to be my biggest fans so far. They look at me in awe whenever they take a break from their favorite activity, sleeping. I’m not sure if the adoring look is because of my sparkling personality and writing or because they just need to be fed.

Sherri: I believe Love in Bloom is only the beginning. I would love to do another interview with you in a few years after you have published a couple of books.

Anna: Cheers to a great start! I certainly hope I’ll get the stories on paper soon and for sure, I’d love to keep in touch and chat about books: Mine, yours, other authors’.

Sherri: I hate to say goodbye but it’s getting late and even though it’s only a virtual chat, real life creeps in and work calls. It’s been so nice to have you at the Creekside Café and I hope someday, we can meet for real.

Anna: Thank you for this lovely meeting. The romance community rocks!

Don’t forget to check out our ebook, Love in Bloom. All proceeds will go to breast cancer research.

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