Today’s a special weekend post, an interview with Oksana Marafioti, author of the recently-released memoir, American Gypsy. I met Oksana through my awesome, brand-new literary agent, Brandi Bowles, because Brandi also represents Oksana. Oksana’s book sounds so good, I had to introduce her here. First, though, a description from the book, cribbed off Amazon (there’s more, so click the link for a full description):
Fifteen-year-old Oksana Marafioti is a Gypsy. This means touring with the family band from the Mongolian deserts to the Siberian tundra. It means getting your hair cut in “the Lioness.” It also means enduring sneering racism from every segment of Soviet society. Her father is determined that his girls lead a better, freer life. In America! Also, he wants to play guitar with B. B. King. And cure cancer with his personal magnetism. All of this he confides to the woman at the American embassy, who inexplicably allows the family entry. Soon they are living on the sketchier side of Hollywood.
BH: What is it about your book that you think will grab readers most?
OM: I think, maybe, the promise of the Romani culture revealed. Despite a Gypsy’s popularity in literature and media, most know very little about us, and what they do know is often distorted by stereotypes.
OM: My most earnest message is that family is important, no matter who you are and where you come from. Family is the fountain of youth, the holy grail, the ultimate wonder of the world. We are all bruised by our pasts, but anger and cynicism are poisons passed on, by example, to our children. If we, as children, suffered abuse, we, as adults, have a chance to save another from it. Our culture may dictate rules and traditions, but never who’s worthy of love. And weather we admit it or not, every one of us yearns for one thing, and one thing only: To be accepted. So when we look into the eyes of a stranger who may not speak our language or know our way of life, before we make a judgment against them, we must always remember to see in those same eyes a mother, a father, a sister, a brother, sons and daughters, loved ones. Family and tolerance are the essential ingredients of happiness.
BH: What’s the most helpful writing advice you’ve received?
OM: Figure out the ending, first! If you have it, your characters will gravitate to it and your story will unravel.