Interview with BookPleasures.com
Today, Norm Goldman, Publisher & Editor of Bookpleasures.com is pleased to have as our guest, JV Love author of The End of Sorrow: A Novel of the Siege of Leningrad in WWII.
Norm: Good day JV and thanks for participating in our interview.
JV: Hi Norm. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Norm: Could you tell our readers a little about The End of Sorrow: A Novel of the Siege of Leningrad in WWII and how did it come about? What motivated you to write the book? What is the underlying message or theme of the book?
JV: Good place to start, Norm. Shortly after Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in WWII, they encircled the city of Leningrad (known today, and also historically, as Saint Petersburg). Hundreds of thousands of German soldiers maintained a noose around the city’s neck, trying to starve and bomb it into submission. The Russians inside Leningrad never gave up though. They endured the siege for 900 days before finally breaking out. The End of Sorrow quite simply tells the stories of several characters caught up in this intense drama. The book is many things – a story of survival, a historical account of the siege and the fighting on the Eastern Front, a philosophical exploration of morality and death, but more than any of that, it is a love story. It is about two beautiful souls who fall in love, and then the war conspires to keep them apart.
The novel came about because I really liked the setting and wanted to write about it. For me as a writer, there is nothing more important than setting, as I believe the characters and the story all evolve from it. In honing my craft at Gotham Writers Workshop, The Writers Center, and the MFA program at The American University, I wrote short stories set in places that evoked strong sentiments: New Orleans in the sweltering summer, or Ukraine shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, for example. The characters of these stories came about organically because of the setting, and I did the same with this novel. For first-rate drama, how could you not love a story set in a beautiful, regal city where millions of people are trapped by a ruthless enemy, and the fate of a nation (and even the world) are in the balance?
As for motivation, I understand now – in hindsight – that I was meant to write this novel to work out some of my own personal demons. The story as a whole is very much a reflection of the journey I’ve undertaken in this life. I didn’t even know the ending of the book until I went on a five-day nature-based intensive retreat. I cried my eyes out on that retreat and came home with a new understanding of the world and my place in it. With that knowledge, I was able to write the story’s conclusion.
The End of Sorrow challenges the reader with several recurring questions, like:
- “What does it mean to be a man in a time of war? (ie, What defines masculinity during wartime?)”
- “Is violence ever a justified solution? On a personal as well as a national level, can violence ever achieve a successful long-term solution?”
- “Can one be a pacifist in a time of war? If so, how? Particularly in a war in which your own country has been invaded.”
Even though the book was written to be a page-turner full of surprises and climactic scenes, it also has plenty to say about politics, God and religion, and the power of one’s convictions to overcome anything life throws at you.
Norm: I know that one of the goals the Germans had in encircling Leningrad was to stop all outside supplies. They were largely successful in doing that, so how could people survive for 900 days without outside supplies? How on earth were they able to keep the Germans from taking the city?
JV: The answer to the first question (How could people survive for 900 days without outside supplies?) is that many did not. Over half of the city’s population perished during the siege, the vast majority of them during that first fateful winter of 1941-42. Snowdrifts reached the second stories of some buildings and the temperature routinely dipped to negative thirty degrees Fahrenheit. In addition, the city had no electricity, no running water, and no gas. The only thing residents could heat their homes with was a small, smoky wood-burning stove, and wood was anything but plentiful. At one point during that first winter, residents were dying by the thousands each day. The city was littered with corpses because there were so few able-bodied people to bury them. Starvation was rampant. People got so desperate they ate the glue that held the wallpaper up because it was made known that it was plant-based and thus edible.
Despite all this, the residents of Leningrad continued to produce tanks and bullets and stood their ground against the Germans. The only way they were able to keep the Germans from taking the city was their collective will.
Norm: I noticed on reading your bio that you have a strong affinity for all things Russian. How did this come about and why this strong affinity?
JV: Yes, I have long had a strong affinity for all things Russian, and I was told once that I had a past life as a Russian, but beyond that who knows? It all started in college when I had to take a foreign language to satisfy the requirements of my degree. I decided to take Russian because my political philosophy bordered on socialism at that time. Then, the more I learned about Russia (the Revolution, the history, the arts, the culture), the more I liked it. I fell in love with the idealism and romanticism that Russians are so known for. One of my favorite musical pieces was Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony, and when I started to read Russian literature, it was all over. My idols quickly became (and still are) Solzhenitsyn, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Turgenev. I love the depth of their writing. They not only tell amazing stories, but they really challenge you to think about the big questions in life. In graduate school, my fate as a Russophile was sealed when I met and fell in love with a beautiful Russian woman, eventually getting married and traveling to Ukraine and Russia to experience the culture first hand.
Norm: Can you explain some of your research techniques, and how you found sources for your book?
JV: I was fortunate in the setting I chose because an American by the name of Harrison Salisbury went to Leningrad right after WWII and chronicled everything that had happened there. It is an amazing book of history and is the authoritative source for info on the siege of Leningrad. I also found some first-person stories and diaries from that time that were invaluable, and fortunately all of these were available from Amazon. While working on my Master’s Degree, I learned to be meticulous in my research and this paid off for me in writing this novel. I’ve had many readers and reviewers comment on the details and authority with which the book is written.
Norm: In fiction as well as in non-fiction, writers very often take liberties with their material to tell a good story or make a point. But how much is too much?
JV: In general, I believe writers have an obligation to be honest – to not knowingly skew facts or stretch them beyond belief. I believe writers of Historical Fiction bear an even greater burden to stick close to the facts and events that history has recorded. For example, the famous composer Dmitry Shostakovich is a real-life character in my novel and I took pains to make sure my descriptions of his physical characteristics, mannerisms, and beliefs were accurate. If there is a body of knowledge about a historical figure, then the writer should stick to those facts. But if there isn’t much known about a historical figure, then I believe the writer is free to fill in the blanks.
Norm: Was writing The End of Sorrow improvisational or did you have a set plan?
JV: It was a bit of both. On the one hand, I did not allow myself to begin the next chapter until I had finished the one I was on. But on the other hand, I often didn’t know what was going to happen in the next chapter until I actually wrote it.
Norm: What's the most difficult thing for you about being a writer?
JV: For me, the most difficult part of being a writer these days is all the non-writing stuff you have to do: learning the publishing industry, shopping manuscripts, marketing, etc. I don’t enjoy those aspects of being a writer and (like pretty much every writer who’s ever lived, I think) would prefer to just focus on writing ;-)
Norm: Whom do you believe will benefit from your book and why?
JV: I really like this question because it’s one that’s not asked much these days. It’s common to ask who will be entertained by your book, to which there is a fairly straightforward answer (fans of WWII novels, fans of gothic lit, romance fans, thriller/mystery buffs, fellow Russophiles, etc). It’s less common to ask who will benefit from your book. When I was growing up, I found a lot of advice and inspiration in the songs I listened to. When I got older, I found literature gave me that, but on a deeper level. It was deeper because it examined in detail a particular aspect of what it means to be human – something drawn out over many pages and, usually, a significant time frame. I remember being mesmerized by Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. They spoke volumes about ethics, morality, suffering, and both the joy and angst of existence. I am very much inspired by the great Russian writers, and it is my hope that others looking, as I do, for books that have something to say about life will benefit from reading my novel.
Norm: How did you go about choosing a self-publishing company? Why did you choose to self-publish and what has been your experience of self-publishing?
JV: When I started shopping my manuscript to agents, I came very close to landing a top agent in a prestigious firm. The problem was that he wanted me to cut 30% and I just couldn’t do it. When I asked those who had read it if they thought it was too long, they all replied no emphatically. Most thought it could/should have been longer. In the end, I decided to self-publish so I could have full creative control over the book. Choosing a self-publisher is a fairly easy, though time consuming, process. You just compare prices, royalties, author feedback, and such. I have found that the hardest part in the entire self-publishing process is marketing. It takes a tremendous amount of time and resolve to get the word out about your book. But from what I hear, even authors with books put out through traditional publishing houses have to deal with this too. It seems that everything’s up to the authors these days – not only writing the book, but doing all the marketing as well.
Norm: What challenges or obstacles did you encounter while writing your book? How did you overcome these challenges?
JV: The biggest challenge I faced in writing my book was finding the time. I am a very slow, meticulous writer. I tried writing it in my free time, but after two years, I had eked out only three chapters. With my wife’s support (both financially and emotionally), I then quit my day job so I could concentrate on writing full-time. We made a deal that I would take one year off to write the book, and lo-and-behold after one year it was done! Needless to say, I work well with deadlines and I encourage all writers to use them in their projects.
Norm: What do you think of the new Internet market for writers?
JV: The rise of the Internet, the advent of eBooks and Print-On-Demand self publishing has dramatically altered the publishing landscape. While it has allowed many authors to be heard who might not otherwise have been published, it has also made the job of the reader more difficult. Book readers these days have a tremendous amount of choices when it comes to what to read, and they have to sift through a lot of stuff that isn’t so great to be able to find the “gems.” Overall though, I believe the Internet has been a tremendous boon to both book writers and book readers alike. Essentially every writer who really wants to can be published. And fans of genre and specialized fiction have more writers to choose from these days than ever. Marketing a book is also easier these days since the author can put up a website that has a repository of reviews, reader feedback, and trivia related to their books. This helps readers get a better idea of the book before they buy it. I know I’ve put a lot of time and effort into the website for my novel, www.EndOfSorrow.com
Norm: Do you have a local writing community or fellow writers that you look to for support and advice?
JV: There is an abundance of writers, writing resources, and writing communities in the metropolitan DC area and I made full use of them in writing my book. The advice I received from my fellow writers who read an early draft proved to be invaluable.
Norm: How can our readers find out more about yourself and your book?
JV: The book’s website has a lot of info (facts, photos, etc) on the city, the siege, and the Eastern Front. It also has sample chapters and more info about me. Visit it at www.EndOfSorrow.com
Norm: Is there anything else you wish to add that we have not covered and what is next for JV Love?
JV: Thank you for the interview, Norm. I enjoyed answering your questions. As for next projects, I’m working on a poetry anthology while I consider what my next writing project (fiction or maybe even non-fiction) will be. The End of Sorrow is available at Amazon.com, BarnesAndNoble.com, etc, and at most bookstores by special order. It is also available as an eBook from MobiPocket.com.
Norm: Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors.