Interview with Victoria Nelson author of 'Romana'

I've been very fortunate to work with Californian author Victoria Nelson on a few projects, and I was delighted when Victoria asked me to do the artwork (following her design) for the cover of her novel Romana, which I know has been a labour of love for her over the past five years.

"Romana" by author Victoria Nelson, cover artwork by Kura Carpenter

Please tell us a little bit about yourself:

By profession, I'm a freelance writing and research tutor. I never thought of myself as a creative writer since I believed my talent was for research and writing about Literature. I surprised myself, however, when I began writing my first stage play, L. is forSayers, in 1998 followed by a screenplay, Jack Marlin, PrivateEye: The Case of the Barbary Blackbird, two years later, both of which I completed and self-published. 

The funny thing is that my family always told me my imagination and temperament would make me a good novelist, but I never bought it. Then, unexpectedly one day, in came the muse—it spoke and I wrote. In terms of Literature and storytelling, however, my research background proved to be providential since one needs to conduct a fair amount of research in order to write a credible, satisfying story. It also makes the difference in being able to show rather than tell. 

Looking back, I can see that I have always been involved in writing of one type or another, but I did not presume to think of myself as a writer, not until my family began using the term. For me, writing entails a lot of responsibility since words have a major influence on shaping people's worldview and influencing their actions.

"Jack Marlin Private Eye" filmscript and "L is for Sayers" play by author Victoria Nelson, cover design by Kura Carpenter

You mentioned that you write about Literature. Can you tell us a little more about it?

I am including here the titles of the articles I have published beginning with the most recent. I believe that when a person is drawn to the study of Literature, he or she wants to explore a variety of genres. I suppose this remark leads us to ask what is Literature? The simplest definition I can think of is writing (novels, plays, poems, essays etc.) that serves what Socrates has termed "The Good." I am especially interested in foundational works. In other words, I want to study the same books that served as the inspiration for my favourite authors. 

For example, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien were great fans of Rider Haggard whose work inspired the creation of Indiana Jones. I too am interested in Haggard and plan to write a piece on his dealing with subterranean themes.

  • "Dark Journey into Light: On the Road with Jack Kerouac." Saint AustinReview. (November/December 2014).
  • Burnett, Grahame, and Barrie: Neopaganist Idealism during a Golden Age.” Saint Austin Review. (March/April 2011).
  • Don Quixote: Madman or Mystic.” Saint Austin Review. (May/June 2010).
  • Teaching Ian Fleming’s James Bond Thrillers from a Catholic Perspective.” Saint Austin Review. (May/June 2008).
  • Walker Percy’s Love in the Ruins: Moving beyond Paradise to the New Jerusalem.” Saint Austin Review. (May/June 2008).
  • Rosemary Sutcliff’s Arthurian Trilogy.” Saint Austin Review. (December 2002).

What genre, and what is Romana about? 
The story is about a quest and is medieval themed rather than a strict historical account. One person put it very nicely when she said my book is more about how things should have been, could have been, rather than how they were. Yet, I believe we can't just say the Middle Ages was this and not that. History unfolds on a continuum and is being made as we speak. One of my favourite passages of fiction that best describes my own values and motivation for writing is from Tolkien's Return of the King where Sam sees the light of a lone star shining down on the smoking ruins of Mordor and
The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.
I believe the Middle Ages, in spite of warfare and politics, was like any other time in history—there is always a good side to people who, in spite of the times, retain their humanity and seek to defend and preserve it in others.

What type of Reader is likely to enjoy this story? 

Fortunately, I have had good success with people from all walks of life enjoying my story. I think one of the reasons for this is that I strive to make my writing accessible to everyone no matter their taste in Literature. My motto for writing is to make people feel good about themselves and the world they live in—in a word, to give them hope. I try to communicate this idea in everything I do ranging from editing students' papers to storytelling. 

Surely, people who are interested in the Middle Ages might relate more easily to the story, but I have written it with a diverse reading audience in mind. Books similar to Romana are the ones which have nurtured my own inspiration and whose authors have served as my mentors. Some of my favourite examples include C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Ian Fleming.

Where did the idea for the story come from?

Apart from an ongoing fascination with everything Medieval, some of the early chapters were inspired from RP gaming and my interest in swordsmanship. In the beginning, it was not my intention to write a book, then one day I realized I had enough material for a full-length novel. The ideas just kept coming. It was as if I was taking dictation from my characters. And I discovered that the more rounded the characters, the more animated and articulate they become. 

One of the most delightful things about creating characters is to hear the way they speak to one another. One asks a question and the other answers, and sometimes it happens so fast, I have to laugh and write fast to keep up with their antics. I also learn from them. When faced with a difficult task, I sometimes ask myself how would one of my characters handle such and such a circumstance. Lewis and Tolkien both shared that they wanted to write the kind of books that they themselves would enjoy reading. I believe my story has its roots in this same sentiment.

What was your favourite and least favourite part in researching for the novel?

My favourite parts of the research had to do with learning bushcraft and outdoor living. The Internet provided me with invaluable information on everything I wanted to know about survival in the wildness. It also enriched my outlook on life and fostered a more intimate connection with nature. As part of my research, I reread Sir Gawain the Green Knight, both Tolkien's and Simon Armitage's translations, paying close attention to the descriptions of the landscape and accounts of field dressing. In terms of hunting and field dressing, it was amazing to learn how little has changed over the centuries. 

I also read Hilaire Belloc's, The Path Rome which chronicles the author's walk from France to Rome and has beautiful descriptions of the people and natural landscape throughout.

I can't really say that I had a least favourite part of the research since I enjoyed the entire venture. The book itself was my own personal quest. But to be fair, there were some parts that were more challenging than others. The two most difficult challenges involved creating a variation in food and landscape. I remember once reading about how Ian Fleming's publisher told him that James Bond could not always be eating scrambled eggs, toast, and coffee, which was one of Flemings' favourite meals. This advice led to the books' more affluent (shaken not stirred) fare later on. 

For my story, I researched medieval cookbooks and films in addition to the literature of the time after which I added some touches of my own that I believed were entirely possible, and will continue to use in the second volume. In terms of varying the landscape, the work of creating no two sunrises or sunsets the same really took me to task.

Why did you decide to venture into self-publishing?

One reason I decided to self-publish was because I had been turned down multiple times or simply ignored by publishers for other projects. Looking back however, I am grateful since venturing into self-publishing has provided me tremendous scope for controlling every aspect of my work.

What has been the hardest part with promoting your work?

I believe one of the hardest parts of promoting my work is keeping one's mind on the task at hand while waiting for the book to sell. Equally difficult is the job of encouraging people to buy the book, read it and recommend it to their friends. When I really feel down about people not buying my books, I picture Miguel de Cervantes unjustly sentenced and sitting in jail, penniless, a family to support, and the author of one of the greatest books of all time. 

Aside from your question, let me add that when I first graduated with my masters in English Literature, I was at a loss for what to do next. I had been working as a private tutor, primarily for international students, which I still find very rewarding. Yet, I was in a kind of circling and hovering pattern trying to stay a step or two ahead of the bailiff. In desperation, I immersed myself in Cervantes' novel Don Quixote and had a revelation, a kind of inner vision; I saw my life as a puzzle floating around my head in a million pieces and reading Don Quixote brought all the pieces together in a beautiful whole. 

I believe this is what convinced me of the healing, life-affirming power of Literature and of wanting to promote my work for that purpose.

What tips would you give to others considering self-publishing that you wished you knew when you started?

The first tip is to make every effort to ensure that one's punctuation and grammar is correct since revisions can be very costly and compromise one's credibility. The second tip is to be careful of having too high an expectation. We all need some type of expectation and motivation to keep us going. I think that the greatest motivator for beginning and finishing a writing project is to believe with your whole heart and soul that what you have to say has some value. But it saves a lot of heartache not to have too high of an expectation that a book will sell. Unfortunately, writing is rarely the magic bullet for paying the bills (as a rule). However, I believe if we write for the love of the craft, and to help people to feel good about themselves and the world they live in, we begin to move on the right track.

Where can we buy your books?

My books can be purchased through and CreateSpace Direct, also in Oakland California they're availble at BlackSwan Books 4236 Piedmont Avenue.

And there's also a Facebook page for Romana.

Thanks so much for sharing your writer's journey with us, Victoria, I wish you (and Romana) all the best :)