Janet Skeslien Charles recently made her debut into the world of publishing with her novel, Moonlight in Odessa. Moonlight in Odessa was chosen by Publishers Weekly as one of the top ten debut novels of Fall 2009, Book of the Month by the National Geographic Traveler (September), and awarded the 2010 Melissa Nathan Award for Comedy Romance. In addition, the Foreign language rights have been sold in Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Italy, Brazil, Iceland, Romania, Serbia, Taiwan, Denmark, and Spain.
1) Was the road to publishing your novel, easy and fast, or long and difficult?
The journey to publication is usually challenging. I know some people put their rejection slips on their walls, but I have always preferred to focus on the positive and move on to the next batch of query letters I send out.
It is hard to put yourself out there and share your work with total strangers. Rejection is never easy, but as I mentioned in my article on query letters, you want someone who will love and champion your book, and it is definitely worth the time and effort to research who sells your genre and to make contact with them.
2) What surprised you about the publishing industry once you became published?
Everything! I’ve loved working with my editors and publicists and feel very lucky to be with Bloomsbury.
3) What has been your favorite author experience so far?
My favorite experience has been to receive letters and e-mail from people who enjoyed my novel. It is so kind and generous of people to take the time to write.
4) What has been the hardest thing so far as an author?
To let go of the novel. I would still be fiddling with sentence structure and making changes if I hadn’t had a deadline to hand it in.
5) What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Don’t give up. Keep writing and improving, keep making contact with other writers at workshops and conferences, keep researching markets, keep sending out your work. The difference between a published writer and an unpublished one is simply persistence.
6) When you’re writing, what must you have next to you?
My notebook and pen. A cup of coffee with lots of milk and sugar or Earl Grey tea. And I really need to be alone to write. Far, far away from the Internet…
7) What do you when you’re not writing?
I was writing on my own for five years, which meant that I worked at home and didn’t have colleagues. I decided to take a part-time job as Program Manager at the American Library in Paris as a way to meet new people. These past few weeks, I have been learning the ins and outs of an exciting job.
I enjoy spending time with my family in Montana, and my husband and I enjoy talking walks and bicycling in the city.
8 ) Tell me about your novel, Moonlight in Odessa?
It is about a woman who will not settle. Daria knows what she wants and she goes for it, even when times and choices are difficult.
My favorite review sums up the book this way: “This darkly humorous debut explores the world of eastern European mail-order brides and the men who finance them. Daria, a savvy, warmhearted but standoffish secretary in Odessa, Ukraine, fears that her boss will fire her after she refuses his sexual advances. So to keep him busy (and to keep her job), she sets him up with her shallow friend, Olga, who promptly turns on Daria. Fearing imminent unemployment, Daria takes a second job at Soviet Unions, an Internet dating service that connects Western men with available Ukrainian women. As Daria, who is fluent in English, bridges the language gap between the women and foreign men, she wonders if she will ever find true love. The endearing and forthright Daria is the perfect guide through the trickery and sincerity of chaotic courtships and short-order love. Meanwhile, her own romantic life swirls between a sweet suitor in California, a Ukrainian gangster and her manic boss. The teetering dance between humor and heartbreak burns through this tale that takes place at the intersection of love and money, East and West, male and female.”
9) Why e-mail order brides?
In Montana, where I am from, I met several foreign women who met their American husbands through international marriage brokers (IMO) such as www.loveme.com. I also translated letters from Russian women to Montanan men. The men’s letters were very romantic (Do you enjoy going for walks in the moonlight?”), while the women’s letters were very practical (“Can you provide for my son and me?”).
I lived in Odessa, Ukraine, for two years. Two of my good Odessan friends married American men they barely knew, and their marriages were difficult ones. As estimated 10,000 foreign women who met men through IMOs enter the U.S. each year. I wanted to talk about this phenomenon. The first “mail-order brides” arrived from England in 1620. They were called Tobacco Brides because when they married, their husbands, colonists in Virginia, reimbursed the cost of the voyage with 120 pounds of tobacco. “Mail-order brides” continue to arrive in our country every day, and I wanted to show some of the challenges that they face.
10) What was it like living in Odessa, Ukraine as a Soros Fellow?
I loved my time in Odessa, and my novel is an ode to Odessa. The people were so kind and friendly. The beaches and architecture were gorgeous. The food was delicious. You can see some recent photos here and here.
Being a Soros Fellow was an eye-opening experience. The Soros Foundation paid for my plane ticket, health insurance, and rent stipend. I taught English full-time at a local high school. My salary was $25 per month, while my rent was $100 per month. This explains why you see several generations of families living in the same small apartment. My coworkers didn’t have health insurance, or any kind of insurance for that matter. They lived with constant instability. All most all of the people I knew had second jobs, which is why the novel is called Moonlight in Odessa.
11) You’ve lived in Paris for over ten years. What it’s like?
Paris is a beautiful city and I have enjoyed much of my time here. There are days where everything goes right – you have the perfect meal, the sun is shining, you see your friends. And days where everything goes wrong – the post office loses a package you were really waiting for, you miss your family, your internet stops working yet again. Many people think that Paris is perfection, but like anywhere, there are great moments and frustrating ones.
Right now, the government is trying to raise the age of retirement from 60 to 62. To protest, high school and college students block their schools with garbage bins and anything else they can find. Many people are on strike, including students and the people who work for the train system and metro system, which means that people who want to go to work or to school are unable to. Workers at ports and oil refineries are also on strike, so people are worried about being able to fill their gas tanks. Hopefully, the strike won’t last much longer.