Today I have the honor of hosting E.J. Bancesco! He’s an architect from Chicago that has a love for writing. Both his novels are set from his place of birth, Romania. His latest novel, The Scarf, is about a teenager that finds himself entangled in the Romanian Underworld of 1967 where he begins to discover there’s more to his great nation and unravels truths about himself. E.J. is now working on a new title, which you can read the first chapter at the end of the interview.
Tell us a little about yourself:
I was born in Bucharest, and have been in the US for 34 years. As an architect travel worldwide for work. Once a year I spend a month with my mother and by brother’s family in Romania. These return-visits are the both the groundwork and the reason for my two published novels. In the US I studied advance painting at SMFA in Boston from 1998 to 2003.
What inspired you to start writing?
Reading, without a doubt. Each amazing work of fiction I read stirred my imagination but awakened my critical thinking, as well.
Reading and the incredible strangeness of a certain place in the world. I will mention that in the answer to your next question.
How do you write? Do you plot? Or do you just go for it?
There is a point of departure for all my stories and it exists on the map of the world, in my memory, and of course, in my imagination. In its physical being it’s a riverside village in northeastern Romania; in memory is the cradle of my first life-lessons (triumphs, tragedies, etc.)
In my imagination it is the stage where everything my mind can fathom becomes a story.
And to finally answer your question: that point in the universe offers the plot—the layout of the story. Then comes the writing. So writing follows the plot until—we all hit that weird point—the writing takes off from the plot, and the poor plot must follow.
What are the first 5 things you do to prepare yourself for a day of writing?
First, I read a few paragraphs from the novel currently on my night table; then skim over old photos (related to the story); re-read what I wrote on the previous session; inevitably get caught in correcting some of that. And then of course, research as needed.
How long have you been writing for?
Since the high school years.
What was the first story you’ve ever written about?
The village I mentioned before, was unique in that several prominent aristocratic families had their estates there before the last king of Romania abdicated in 1948. I cannot imagine anything more fascinating for a teenager than manor halls haunted by the ghosts of the past. That’s what I wrote about when I started to fancy myself as a storyteller.
What do you find most challenging about writing?
Keeping a handle of the story structure.
What is something you wish you could tell your younger writer self?
Write and read everyday and do not dare call yourself a writer. Learn the craft!
This is something it took decades for me to absorb. I could have written many novels if I knew that knowing how to write is a craft and not a pastime.
How many stories have you written?
Before all that, I wrote several stories that are now lost.
Do you have any tips you can give other aspiring authors out there?
Read. Not what appeals to you as a person, for the person you are is not a writer yet. You must enter the high sphere of thinkers and creative artists and while that is never guaranteed, it maybe attainable via extensive reading—and understanding—of the most important writers in history.
Which authors inspire you most?
Tolstoy, Chekov, Emily Bronte, John Fowles, Anita Bruckner, Jules Verne, Scott Fitzgerald, Proust … too many to mention.
Tell us about your most recent work? Can you share an excerpt with us?
It’s a novel. Working title is Moon bites
Here is a chapter:
Cecilia had everything in that envelope: cash, train tickets, a pair of house keys, written instructions, advice, rules and warnings.
There was no point in protesting, for she was here handing me my walking papers, which meant, Vadim had given his blessing.
She must have told him that I couldn’t be trusted to live in Bucharest without supervision for three months, not after what I’d done last November. He may have suggested a summer camp, to which she replied maybe, maybe not, and perhaps reminded him that I would never thrive in a structured situation like that. Doubtless, Vadim recognized the truth in that, because he knew that disobedient wouldn’t begin to describe me. He may have demanded to hear more options, for although he had always shirked from knowing too much detail about my life, he had to have assurance of my general safety and wellbeing when decisions were made on my behalf. The distance he kept from me, as I later understood, was the life vest he had to wear while riding the wave of political favor.
So she promised him she will handle this. And as such she obtained his leave to do what she thought was best. Still, I am almost certain that he held her responsible for any undesired consequences. She—and this I know for certain—smiled right through his cautioning, hardly able to dull the sparkles of triumph in her eyes.
And so, here I was on that Friday in mid-June, glancing in the vestibule mirror once more, seconds before Cecilia Milescu would come to dispatch me to a realm I wouldn’t have—in a million years—imagined so complicated and scary, so marred with baleful history.
When the doorbell rang, I smiled at my reflection in the vestibule mirror and ruffled my hair before opening the door.
“Madame Milescu. Please, come in.”
“Good morning, Andrei!”
I let the imposing woman by, and gulped the perfumed air she brought in.
“You were talking to yourself, weren’t you?” She said. “Just now?”
“I don’t know what you mean,” I mumbled, watching her calves as she strode into the dayroom.
She looked around as if she hadn’t been there only a week before. “There’s dust, everywhere. Again. And you haven’t changed the water.” She pointed to the flowers on the dining table. Then she pulled a chair, sat down and placed her white, lacquered purse on the table before her. Her light wool ivory deux-piece with pale ochre trim and buttons conveyed her the deceptive air of a well-off housewife with modest imagination and a dull outlook on life. “They’ve wilted,” she added eyeing the flowers again, reproachfully.
I remained standing in the doorway. “Sorry,” I said. “I’ll remember next time.”
“Next time, next time…”
“I…” I faltered.
“What is it, Andrei?”
“I—I am in love with you.”
Her expression hardened. Moron, I castigated myself as blood rushed up to my cheeks. Fuckup. Stutterer.
“Your enthusiasm is seriously misplaced,” she said. “Each time I correct one of your slip-ups you invent a new one. When am I going to—”
“Sit down in front of me, Andrei.”
I complied, keeping my eyes down.
“I’m going out of town,” she said.
“For how long?” The blood ebbed from my cheeks.
“Until school starts in September.”
“The whole summer?”
“Yes. But we won’t leave you here all by yourself.”
“Are you taking me with you?”
“No. You’re going to Hatmani.”
“Hatmani? What the fuck’s that?”
“Language, Andrei,” her warning came sharp, and yet, a hint of amusement flew across her face. “Hatmani is a village.”
“Does he know this?”
“Victor? He demanded you leave Bucharest, yes, but—”
“But he can’t know where you’re sending me.”
“You know it. See?”
“But I’ve never been to a village,” I protested. “What am I going to do there for three months? Are you putting me to work on a cooperative? Is this punishment for what I just said?”
My chest tightened with suspicion. “Are you sending me again to some home for boys in the deep country?”
“Stop it.” She massaged her forehead with her perfectly manicured fingers; the flash of her cherry-bright nails sent a hum of desire through my veins.
When she spoke again her tone was softer. “You’ll stay with a very nice and caring elderly lady. Her name is Maria Asavetei.”
“But why are you sending me there?”
“You need new experiences.”
“What experiences? Cleaning stables and learning all about dung?”
“Spending the summer in nature instead of staying here alone in this swelter.” That’s what. I promise you, once you’ve seen Moldava you’ll always want to go back to—”
“Who is Moldava?”
“Don’t cut me off. Moldava is the most beautiful river in the country. With the whitest, finest sand beaches north of the seashore.”
“So where is he taking you this time?” I said, unable to keep the reproof from my voice.
She blinked. “I don’t like your tone, but since we’re in agreement with the Hatmani proposition…”
Agreement? You hypocrite, I revolted inwardly. You’re both a couple of fucking dictators.
“…with the Hatmani proposition,” she repeated, “I will tell you.” A rare sparkle of girlish glee lit up her hazel eyes. “Victor and I are going to America with the Prime Minister,” she announced triumphantly. (On June 26th in 1967, President Johnson met with Prime Minister Ion Gheorghe Maurer of Romania.) “For two weeks. We will spend two weeks in America.”
“Two weeks?” I exclaimed. “And you’re sending me to the Middle Ages for an entire three months?”
“Two weeks there,” she said faking a rueful smile, “and then to West-Germany. Also work delegation, too. After that Victor’s taking me to Sochi until September—for vacation.” She shrugged her shoulders. “Will be a busy summer, Andrei. It can’t be helped.”
I was speechless. She unclasped her purse and drew out a bulging letter-size envelope.
“Don’t trash the money,” she said brightly. “Make it last, for you’ll have no more until you’re back in Bucharest, in autumn. Here.” She pushed the envelope toward me. “There’s a round trip train ticket inside, keys, and your instructions. You leave Saturday night. And make sure you purchase and pack everything on the list.”
“Read the letter, Andrei. I must leave, now.”
Headed for the door, she turned and gave me a surreptitious smile: “You’ll find this summer most educational. Be obliging with your host and polite with everyone. And I’m warning you—don’t fight.”
She smiled, or thought she’d try, but instead she barred her teeth, looking less friendly than a menacing wolf.
“Don’t worry,” I hurried to reassure her.
Her grin softened. “Watch yourself with those village girls,” she added, “or any others you might encounter, will you? Precaution, yes? For if you do something that leaves a mark you know where you’re going in September.”
After she’d left, I pondered the meaning of her last sentence until my mind numbed.
More About E.J. Bancesco
E.J. Bancesco is a practicing architect, an accomplished fine artist, and a passionate writer. Born in Bucharest, Romania, he and his wife immigrated to the United States in 1983 and now reside in Chicago, Illinois.
Adrift is his first novel, published by All THings That Matter Press (http://www.allthingsthatmatterpress.com/) in July, 2016.
His second novel, The Scarf, was released in August, 2016, by Hyperborea Publishing (https://www.hyperboreapub.com/)
I simply loved interviewing E.J. Bancesco and hosting him on the blog today! Be sure to check out more about this great author. Thanks for stopping by! Questions or comments, feel free to leave them!