CINDY STOCKLER, AUTHOR OF THE "CALLIOPE"
CINDY STOCKLER - author of the CALLIOPE: THE SLAVE FROM ATHENS,
ALMA MATER, and OPERATION CAIPIROSKA
"I have these ‘scenes’, or ‘sketches’ in my mind, they´re like short dialogues between two people, something very brief, without any consequence, and I never imagine that is going to turn into something. They keep coming to my mind, though, especially in the quiet of the night (I don´t call it insomnia ‘cause that´s when I get my best inspiration)."
Tell us a bit about yourself – something that we will not find in the official author’s bio?
I knew that I was going to be a writer since I was 3 years old. Perhaps the influence of my family, for my parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles were always with a book in their hands or were always talking about this or that latest one they were reading. I still didn´t know how to read and write, and I would play on my own, sitting on a corner, getting one of my dad´s books, open it, and pretend that I was reading it. I still didn´t know that my grandmother on my father´s side had been a writer herself: she used to write articles for some magazines in the 1930´s and 40´s. One day, I was around 15 years old and had just finished reading a novel that had much impressed me for the pleasure of the reading and how good was the author´s style. I immediately told my dad this: I had loved that reading so much that I decided that that was what I wanted to do in my life: to be a novel writer. My dad was quiet, and said to me: “Wait here a minute”, and turned on his heels and went to his bedroom. I could hear him opening some doors and drawers, and then he comes back carrying an old, thick black paper folder. He said, handing it to me: “Here, take this, it´s yours! Go to see it on your own!”. I took the old, dusty thick thing with some loose leaves of paper coming out of it, and went to my room. As I opened it, on the first yellowed page I saw that incredibly elegant handwriting that read: “Here is the collection of all my articles that were published in the magazines …. and … , that my dear husband carefully and proudly collected all these years. I leave it to my only son as my legacy, and ask him to pass it as a legacy to that of kids who demonstrates to possess the penchant for writing”. You can only imagine the impact that the reading of that message had on me! It was as if it was sealed in that very moment: now I owe myself, my dad, and my grandmother to really pursue the writing destiny!
Do you remember what was your first story (article, essay, or poem) about and when did you write it?
As early as a pre-teen, at 12 or 13, I would handwrite little short stories to my classmates, in episodes, for them to read at home and then come back to me with their impressions. We were normally the characters in these little stories which were meant to be funny. My friends would eagerly wait for each next episode and their enthusiasm filled me with joy for writing more. That went on until I left school for studying Law. My first work in fiction, say, ‘semi-professionally’, was a script for a movie in a contest by some TV channel back in the 90´s. It told a fantasy story of a man in his late 30´s who had broken up with his girlfriend and for some days had to take care and try to find the parents of a little girl of 7 who had appeared at his office – it was precisely his ex-girlfriend, child-mode, and in those days she showed him how much we all keep inside of us the child we once were. In the end he discovers it was all a daydream he had by looking at a pic of his girlfriend at 7 which she had sent him, in an attempt to sweeten his heart back to her, which of course ends up happening. Turned out I had no idea that a movie script should follow some specific format other than merely being in dialogues. My story was immediately disqualified from the contest, and it lies in my drawer since then. It could have made a lovely movie, I guess…
What is the title of your latest book and what inspired it?
It is called ‘Alma Mater’, Volume 1: The Arrival. It´s the first volume of a trilogy, a fiction novel in whose background I tell the story of the foundation of the Academy of Law of Sao Paulo, in 1827, the first graduation course in Brazil - soon after Prince Regent Pedro, the son of Portugal King Joao VI, declared Brazil an independent country. As you know, Brazil had been a colony from Portugal for more than 300 years, but the Prince, a young man who had been brought up in Brazil (where the royal family temporarily took refuge as of Napoleon´s invasion of Portugal), the prince simply fell in love with Brazil and wouldn´t rest until its independence was finally achieved. ‘Alma Mater’ is set in 1914, at the charming Belle Epoque in Sao Paulo, and here and there goes back in time in order to tell about the Law Academy foundation and its stories, anecdotes, funny passages and important people who studied there. The inspiration to write it was the Law Academy itself, now called Law School of the University of Sao Paulo, where I graduated, and which, as we put it, gets in our veins and becomes a part of us!
How long did it take you to write your latest work and how fast do you write (how many words daily)?
As I still maintain part of my work as a lawyer, I have to divide my time and find a way to be free and un-stressed to sit and write. I have to leave Sao Paulo, where I live, in order to do that: I go once a month for 4 or 5 days to this small town in the countryside where I stay on my own at my place by a lake, cell phone off, and that´s where I let inspiration flow and then I write, like, 3 or 4 pages each day, sometimes more. I will normally manage to take a whole month off to stay there so that the novel will get a stronger impulse. My latest novel took 8 months to be finished, and I had to write the last chapters in Sao Paulo: I would go to the Law School Central Library (very inspirational, since I was precisely talking about it), so that my concentration wouldn´t get spoiled!
Do you have any unusual writing habits?
Yes, I do! You see, as the most interesting passages of a story will simply ‘pop up’ in my mind out of nowhere, at any moment, any place and any circumstance, I have to keep some message papers and pen at hand all the time, so that I stop whatever I´m doing and write down those inspiration words. Sometimes it´s just a phrase, or just an expression, a name, and sometimes it´s whole long passages. If I don´t write them down immediately, if I leave to do it later, the thing will simply disappear from my mind! And it can be when I´m taking a walk, when I´m shopping for groceries, when I´m arranging the flat, etc. Sometimes there´s nowhere to lean, it doesn´t matter, I stop there, get whatever paper I find and my pen, and clumsily write down as I can. I keep a folder with all of these ‘scratches’: paper napkins, street leaflets, empty envelopes, pages from magazines, etc. The best passages of my novels are in those pieces of paper all messed up in that folder! But the very, very best inspiration moments are in the middle of the night: I will wake up at 3 in the morning with the most interesting passages, whole dialogues, heart-throbbing conversations or narratives in my mind: I always leave a blank page and pencil by my bedside to write them down, sometimes I don´t even turn the light on to do it (and that´s why at night it has to be a pencil: once I didn´t turn the light on the wrote things by pen – only to find the next morning that half of it had been written on the bedsheet…).
Is writing the only form of artistic expression that you utilize, or is there more to your creativity than just writing?
Yes, unfortunately, writing is all I can do… Wish I could paint, or do embroidery, or do some kind of hand craft – people are so talented and do such wonderful things! But I´m absolutely devoid of any talent there.
Authors and books that have influenced your writings?
I was very much influenced as a teenager by a novel for young people that I read in my teens (I mentioned above in the first question), called “Cazuza”, by Brazilian author Viriato Correa. The story of this boy called Cazuza and his family in the late XIX century in the north of Brazil. I remember I was so touched by the story, but mostly, by the pleasant way the author wrote, the pleasure it was reading his style, that it was there I decided I wanted to be a novelist.
Later I became an avid reader of classics, Brazilian ones, like Machado de Assis, but mostly French, British and American classics. I loved Zola, Maupassant, Flaubert, Henry Troyat. And the Brontë Sisters, and Jane Austen. But if I have to pick up one name, it will definitely be Dostoievsky, and if I have to pick up one of his novels, it will be Brothers Karamazov!
What are you working on right now? Anything new cooking in the wordsmith’s kitchen?
Yes, I´m thrilled because I´m writing my first thriller! As usual, I have the whole story on my mind: beginning, middle, some details, thrilling passages, and climax and end! But what I love is that, as I begin to write a new novel, I don´t know myself where exactly it is going to go, so it´s a surprise to me, too! It´s, as you can expect, a story happening in today´s Sao Paulo, going about in cemeteries, with dark and unusual situations…. And yet also meddling with the top luxury and celebrities and good-looking people of the day…
Did you ever think about the profile of your readers? What do you think – who reads and who should read your books?
I´m normally very happy because my readers vary from all ages, all styles, gender, profiles, etc. From teenagers to their grandparents, people will equally enjoy my novels, my kind of writing, the things I write about, and the way I tell my stories. I don´t shock anyone with any dubious descriptions or situations, and yet my characters are not saints, they go through everyday common circumstances, like anyone does. And I don´t have any pretension for deep psychological or philosophical approaches, nor any literature expertise. My aim is that the reader has a good, pleasant time reading my stories!
Do you have any advice for new writers/authors?
I will always tell people who tell me they would like to write: just sit and write! Don´t worry whether you write well, if people will read it or enjoy it, whether you´ll get published, whether you´ll make money out of it. If you have the feeling for writing, enjoy the pleasure of it, first of all! Find your time and your place, go saving your writings in a folder you can reach easily in your computer: each line you write is precious, and you don´t know what´s going to become of it, but it is there! The rest, is your work´s destiny, not yours!
What is the best advice (about writing) you have ever heard?
Follow your instinct, let your inspiration flow!
How many books you read annually and what are you reading now? What is your favorite literary genre?
I will normally read one book a month, so it will be around twelve books a year, depending on the year: when I´m working on my own novels, the research it normally requires is so intense, that I will dedicate to it 100%. But when not, it´s more than a book a month. I´m now reading ‘D. Pedro II, the Untold Story’, by Brazilian author Paulo Rezzutti. It´s about the last monarch of Brazil, Pedro II, who was taken down from power in 1889 and the Republic took place. He is considered by many people one of the most magnificent Brazilians of all time, a very simple man, much ahead of his time. He spoke 23 languages, 17 of them fluently. He traveled the world in order to learn more and was an enthusiast of new technologies and inventions. He met Graham Bell in the USA and was one of the first people to believe and encourage him with the telephone. In his trip to the USA, he was so popular, so friendly, so simple and charismatic, that he got 14 thousand votes for President of the US in Philadelphia – as the people at the time could vote in anyone for President. A millionaire lady from the south of the United States, very much unhappy with the defeat of the South in the Civil War, asked D. Pedro II that he would annex the south of the USA to Brazil, to which he responded with a double emphatic: “Never! Never!”
But my favorite literary genre are fiction novels, more precisely period novels.
What do you deem the most relevant about your writing? What is most important to be remembered by readers?
What I would like most to be remembered about is the style of writing: that my writing is pleasant to read, that the language is a little sophisticated but at the same time, soft and easy to follow. That one begins to read my novel and won´t feel like stopping it. That it´s as if I was there, telling them the story through my own lips.
What is your opinion about the publishing industry today and about the ways authors can best fit into the new trends?
I think that story-telling is an all-time favorite with peoples. Whether books, movies, audiobooks, paper books, or e-books, people of all ages will always enjoy hearing-seeing-reading some story, whether fiction, fantasy, biography, etc. So, no matter what new technologies may appear, story-tellers will always be there. And as for books specifically, I think that the real reader, the orthodox and addict reader, will still prefer the book in paper, to feel it in his or her hands, the smell of the book, the touch of the pages, the form of the fonts. That said, I think that other trends are marvelous: audiobook, depending on the circumstance, is a delicious way of getting to know a story; and the substitution of the paper by a screen can be a fantastic solution, depending on the case.