Marina Fontaine is… not a French tennis player. So let’s not make that mistake, (Thanks Google and FaceBook for your screw-ups). She’s a writer, and Gabber and all around interesting person! Check our her books here on GoodReads, and here on Amazon, and she gabs at gab.ai/mashak99
- You grew up in Russia, what was it like for you and your family? What types of struggles did you endure?
I would hesitate to use the word “struggles” because the hardships of everyday life were so completely internalized. It only became obvious in retrospect, and by comparison with what is considered normal in the West, just how wrong the system was. I’m talking of the little things, like being able to get decent quality food, or reliable transportation to and from work, or hot water from the tap any time you turn it on, or medicine when you are sick. When you can’t rely on the basics always being there, it adds up, it takes up the mental and physical energy that could be spent elsewhere. Mind you, we were an equivalent of a middle-class family, living in one of the better-supplied cities. It wasn’t temporary. It wasn’t poverty. It was normal.
So you take people who already have trouble just getting to a physical comfort level, and then you add what most of us commonly think of as oppression. By the time I was growing up, the mass arrests and purges were already over. So pretty much keeping one’s head down was good enough. But what comes under that umbrella? Not asking questions. Not speaking your mind outside a very narrow circle of friends. Having very limited access to news and entertainment. There were ways around the last one (Voice of America was huge at the time, and samizdat books, and “unapproved” music), but again, that’s a lot of energy spent on something that should be taken for granted.
Also, just to get through life, more or less everyone had to break the law. The reason the country held as long as it did was from underground economy. So in theory, anyone could be jailed and any time. What better way to keep citizens in check?
I heard someone say not long ago that Americans move like free people, and it’s probably hard to understand unless you’ve seen how non-free people move. The day-to-day drudgery, the constant looking over one’s shoulder, being suspicious of strangers—it all adds up, and it does feel like physical weight. Or at least once it’s gone you realize it was there. I liken it to having a chronic health condition, being adjusted to it, and then having it fixed.
I suppose you can in fact calling this experience a struggle, just not the way people think of the word. It’s not glamorous or heroic or particularly interesting (unless you distill into a fictional story, and then it could be made interesting, in the right hands).
- What is the Russian school system like when it comes to encouraging reading and intellectual curiosity?
I can speak of the Russian school system now, only of how it was under the Soviets, and it was somewhat of a mixed bag. They were big on reading; everyone had to reach a literacy level and even to be able to read at a particular speed. They also taught grammar in a very formal way, much more formal that is done in the U.S. We had to memorize poems, which is not necessarily bad. It was a way to preserve the culture through generations. But on the flip side, they made reading into work. There was no choice of reading material, no free reading time during school hours. It was all outlining and memorizing and of course everything had to be put through an ideological filter on top of that. So while I loved reading on my own, I really couldn’t stand the language and literature classes. I did what was required because I was a nerd and had to get my straight A’s, but I hated it. If someone told me at the time I would end up writing book reviews for a hobby, and even become a writer myself, I would’ve called them crazy.
Now, there was space for intellectual curiosity in other subjects. Some kids got into studying historical battles, or maps, or even military tactics. In math and science you were encouraged to think; they were big on competitions for STEM subjects. There was still an ideological filter on science, to an extent, but not nearly as bad and there was a lot more room for independent thinking. But literature studies were much more controlled. It almost makes no sense, except I suppose the Soviets needed scientific progress, but not so much independent-minded readers and writers.
- What are the major themes you tackle in your work?
My favorite theme is finding hope in a dark world. Even though I write dystopian fiction, I don’t do it so much too just scare people of the possibilities, but to show that there is always a way to fight back and to find little moments of joy, no matter what the world throws at you. My characters live their lives as fully as they can, even as they struggle to stay free and survive. They form friendships, fall in love, some even have children. It makes for a more interesting story, but it’s also a way of preserving their humanity and giving hope for the future.
I also address the question of free will and individual choices. Whether I write heroes or villains, I always want to know what made them who they are. The choices are not as easy as they appear. Most people don’t want to risk their lives for mere ideals. They want to have a job, a family, a home; they don’t want their kids to starve. The insidious thing about an oppressive society is that you’re forced to give up your principles, sometimes your very humanity, a little bit at a time until it becomes almost impossible to come back. And the difference between thee hero and the villain is not always some inherent goodness or lack thereof, but the strength of character to make the right choices and avoid the traps along the way.
- What is your best advice to a struggling writer, someone who loves to write, but hasn’t made really any money at it yet?
Ha! That’s an easy one. Keep your day job, but don’t give up on your passion for writing. Most authors don’t become best-sellers overnight, or ever, so don’t think you need to reach a particular benchmark to be a real writer. If you feel you have something to say, go ahead and say it. You never know how your writing might touch someone and change their life.
And by the way, I firmly believe that a day job is a necessity, at least until you get so big you have no time for it. It grounds you in the real world and gives you new potential material on a daily basis, whether or not you realize it.
Fro anyone in need of true inspiration on the subject, check out John C. Wright’s essay Your Book of Gold. Some of my writer friends have it printed out and hung on their walls. It’s just that good.
- Which direction do you think publishing is going in the future? Will self-publishing or hybrid self/company publishing be the future? How would the financial failure of a store like Barnes and Noble affect that dynamic?
I think the hybrid model is probably the most viable one, a combination of self-publishing and small to medium press, at least for most authors. With the days of large advances and strong marketing support being largely over for all but the smallest fraction of authors, there is little reason to give up rights and creative control to what are essentially corporate bureaucracies. Now, I don’t see big publishing houses going away, necessarily, but their share of the market has been steadily declining. It will settle at some new equilibrium and will probably stay there, at least until the traditional business model changes.
Barnes and Noble frankly has been not much more than a glorified toy store/coffee shop franchise for a long time, so I don’t see store closings having much effect on the business. I’d like to see what Amazon has in mind when it comes to having brick-and-mortar stores. It would be nice to have bookstores that actually are about books and carry a good variety of genres and authors, but it might be too impractical for modern times when more and more people prefer to read on electronic devices.
- You run an alliance for conservative and libertarian authors. Tell me how this came about and what you hope to accomplish with it?
Call it a result of constructive anger. After bouncing around several readers’ groups on Goodreads and seeing overwhelming left-wing bias among not only members, but the supposedly impartial moderators, I decided to start my own group. I called it Small Government Book Fans Club, and I began recruiting fellow conservatives (and libertarians) who I thought might have shared my frustration.
At some point decided to take the group over to social media, so I approached Kia Heavey, who at the time was already a published author with some connections in creative circles, and we started Conservative-Libertarian Fiction Alliance on Facebook. Originally, we just wanted a good place to hang out and talk good books without being shouted down by Progressive thought police (and for some members without risking their livelihood for coming out as conservatives). But as we added members, we realized we could also serve as a place for creative folks to network and help each other become more successful. Right now we have a combination of authors, editors, bloggers and artists in addition to just people who want good stories unfiltered by the traditional PC-bound gatekeepers. We do monthly book promotions for members, have a yearly Book of the Year Award, and just this year we started an independent website where people can just drop by for updates and check out a curated list of freedom-friendly fiction.
Our long term goal, in short, is to win the culture war against the Progressive Left, and have fun in the process. Not only do we have talent, we have truth on our side. All we need is a voice, and CLFA aims to be one of the outlets to make sure we are heard, loud and clear.
- Do you find that most writers are liberals (because it seems that way to me) and how does that affect your relationship with them, as I know you are politically closer to the right.
I don’t know if most writers are liberal, or it just seems that way because generally speaking conservatives tend to keep their opinions to themselves while liberals just assume everyone (or anyone who matters) agrees with them. Conservatives are more subtle about inserting their worldview into fiction, in part because they feel that story should always come first, and in part because they might be fearful for the damage liberal gatekeepers, including reviewers, might do to their careers. There is no question that traditional publishing is dominated by liberals, which of course is the case with nearly all American cultural institutions, so a conservative will have a harder time making it. But with the growth of self-publishing and independent publishing houses, it’s changing and more people feel free to create art that is true to their beliefs.
As to the second part of your question, my circle of creative friends is self-selected since I met most of them through my groups, so we have enough overlap of political views to get along. (Conservatives and libertarians do get into spats, but in the end we are all moving in the same general direction.) I do hang out in a couple of fan forums dedicated to specific writers, and for the most part in there we agree to disagree and still have fun because we are united by our love of good stories and don’t let politics get in the way.
- And while we’re at it, what are your political views? How would you classify yourself, and what issues are most important to you?
Aah, if you asked me even a year ago, I would simply call myself a conservative. I was never fond of the label because it implies a lack of daring and creativity, but it was an easy answer. Now I’m not so sure. There are too many people nowadays, especially in the chattering class, calling themselves conservatives with whom I don’t want to be associated in any manner :cough: George Will :cough:. So for now, I’ll just stick with placing myself “somewhere on the right” and leave it at that. “The Right” as a whole, needs to sort itself out and clean up their various corners better before I put a specific label on myself. And here I’m not referring only to Alt-Right, who are a relatively new movement that’s still defining itself, but to the mainstream Right as well. At a minimum, anyone who voted for Hillary, no matter what rationalization they provide, shouldn’t be called a conservative. If we can’t even agree on that, there’s a definite classification problem going on.
I do like the cultural libertarian movement, in part because people in it are so fearless and there is a level of joy to it that is missing from mainstream politics. I also believe that if this country is to be saved, it would be by rediscovering free thought and free speech. Everything else will flow from there because whatever problems we have (and there are admittedly many) we will never solve them if we are not allowed to openly discuss or sometimes even name them.
For the issues, aside from free speech, gun rights are very important to me because the right to defend yourself is fundamental, and as the saying goes, the First (Amendment) is protected by the Second. Also, immigration control, both legal and illegal is crucial to make sure that people who come into this country are not only decent human beings (vetting for criminals and potential threats is such a no-brainer it’s not even funny), but also that they are ready and willing to become Americans and accept our values. I feel safe in saying it as an immigrant because somehow nowadays it’s considered beyond the pale to expect that people assimilate and become productive members of society. Again, it should be a no-brainer, but that’s what we get with PC police running rampant and not allowing reasoned discussion. Hence my statement above regarding free speech and dealing with issues by naming them first.
- Your latest book The Product released on October 11 of this year. Tell me a little about it, what is the story and what types of ideas do you tackle in the novel?
The Product is a dystopian novella set in an extremely bleak world that values conformity and discourages long-term human connections. There is a “something” that helps people become more awake and lift their spirits. Naturally, it’s a danger to the system and highly illegal. The plot revolves around the dealer of the Product getting caught, and his friends working to save him.
Unlike my first novel Chasing Freedom, which is set in a very plausible future U.S., The Product is much more stylized and addresses more universal themes. What price would you pay to come awake? Is it even a good idea? And once you make that decision, whom can you trust? Whom can you love? Can you afford to give your trust to anyone, knowing the cost of guessing wrong is prison or death? How do you have a romantic relationship when every time one of you goes out the door might be the last time you see each other? So I’m taking a typical dystopian scenario and making it really personal. It does have enough action to satisfy thriller fans, but there is food for thought as well.
- If faith important to you? Where would you say you are religiously? Does it influence your work at all?
Faith is absolutely important to me, both as a person and as a writer. I am Jewish by birth, but growing up in an atheist country had no understanding of religion, it took me some time to come to it. I am only partially observant, but I am definitely a believer and have a lot of respect for people who make more of an effort to observe more closely. I also don’t like the trend, both in Judaism and in some branches of Christianity, of people trying to water down the rules and requirements to make it more accessible or modern. The big thing the religion provides (or should, anyway) is a sense of permanence, the knowledge that there are unchangeable truths. Tweaking things to appease political correctness or accommodate people who find it too difficult to observe doesn’t make religion better; it makes it less reliable, subject to a vote, if you will—the opposite of what it’s meant to be.
Faith is a significant theme in my fiction. In Chasing Freedom, even though religion is suppressed, some of my heroes have been exposed to the concept, whether by parents or by learning, and it affects the choices they make (for example, they tend to be more respectful of the value of life and don’t like to kill even their enemies unnecessarily). In The Product, the world is further gone in terms of oppression, so only the remnants of religion survive in the general population—prayers and some rituals, but they still serve as a source of comfort and strength. I think most dystopias are missing out on the fact that religion in some form never really goes away and can definitely be a part of what inspires the heroes to go on.
- You are into pro-freedom literature. Can you give the readers a few books they can start with when it comes to looking for books that are big on freedom or the themes surrounding it?
Well, there are always the classics, like Heinlein and Rand. I know Rand ha a reputation as a horrible writer, but it’s a matter of taste and allowing for the fact that she did not have great editing help. I think once you get past the style and heavy messaging, the underlying stories are quite good and timeless. Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is a libertarian classic, so that’s a must.
From the modern authors, Sarah Hoyt’s Darkship/Earth Revolution series has very strong pro-freedom themes. Gen LaGreca is an Objectivist author in the mold of Ayn Rand, only with better writing quality. She has three stand-alone books: Noble Vision, A Dream of Daring and Fugitive from Asteron. Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series is very liberty oriented (he’s also an Objectivist). Dean Koontz has many libertarian and conservative themes in his writings. John C. Wright’s Golden Age trilogy is an amazing space opera that’s very individualistic at its core (his more recent books are on the conservative side with strong religious overtones, but also great and anti-PC as well). That’s just a sampling off the top of my head. Visit CLFA group or website, and you’ll never be lacking in freedom-friendly reading, that’s for sure.
- What inspires you?
Simply put, I’m inspired by my love of this country and what it means not just to us, but to the rest of the world. I want to make sure the freedoms and opportunities are still there for my children and grandchildren to enjoy. Dystopian stories are fun to write, but I don’t want my kids to live them. So you could say I’m driven a little bit by fear of losing what we still have, but also by hope that we can win back the culture and preserve our freedoms in the long run.