Interview with Frank Zajaczkowski, the author of Passage from England

March 3, 2015

He defines the place where he lives: “my so called paradise”. Indeed, the country of this talented author is really a paradise. He lives in Saint Thomas, a wonderful place in the Caribbean Isles. But the life of Frank Zajaczkowski (see the image), this is the name of the author we interviewed for Advicesbooks, has not always been so paradisiacal. Frank Zajaczkowski  is indeed the son of a former Poland veteran escaped from Nazi persecution.  For Frank, writing is to free himself from bad memoires,  above all writing to tell about the story of his life. This story became a successful biographical book entitled ” Passage from England, a memoir”.  But Frank Zajaczkowski is also a writer of travel and fiction and we are very happy to host him here to talk about the always wonderful craft of writing stories and books. This interview is very interesting, both for authors and readers, because it contains important tips and suggestions to manage the several challenges that surround the field of writing. As usual, the questions of the interview  are written by the journalist, blogger and reviewer Rosalba Mancuso, while the answers come from the same keyboard of Frank Zajaczkowski.

Rosalba: I know you wrote your first autobiographical book entitled “Passage from England, a memoir.” This is a deep and poignant story about your childhood and about the history of your family! But this is also the story about a journey from England across the Atlantic Ocean moving to America after the Second World War. When and why did you decide to write a memoir?

Frank: The story of my early years in America’s 50s and 60s as the child of post-WWII immigrants was always there for me to tell. Over the years, I’ve told bits of it— in poems I’ve published, in screenplays, and in various short stories. When my wife and I moved to (or perhaps escaped) to St. Thomas in the Caribbean, I created a website called My So-Called Paradise where I began to tell some of the adventures of this new journey. But still I was determined to find a way to tell the whole story in a fashion that integrated the various aspects of my present life with my early days in England and in America, what I call the mythic years that contain the deepest tincture of reflection. The adventures in St. Thomas, learning to sail in aquamarine waters, was the perfect environment and counterbalance to the very difficult years of my childhood in Los Angeles as my father’s increasingly violent alcoholism collided with the American Dream we’d hoped to find after leaving England. The memoir grew out of these various journeys and became Passage From England where the multiple aspects of the child and adult blend and enrich one another, erasing the demarcations of past and present to illuminate the climatic events of the complete narrative.

Rosalba: What is your experience in the field of writing?

Frank: I knew that I wanted to make a living as a writer by the second year of college. I was enrolled in the Ph.D. program at UCLA, intending to write and teach. It didn’t take me long to realize, though, that the life of a full-time professor, with the publish-or-perish whip over my head, was not a good choice for me. So I got a Masters instead and began teaching at local universities and city colleges…and writing. In my second year of teaching, I was approached to write the libretto for a classical opera based on the Phaedra myth, and suddenly I was getting paid to write and to teach simultaneously.

Rosalba: How long did you take to write Passage from England?

Frank: I remember reading that Picasso was once asked how long it took him to paint Guernica. He said his whole life. The writing of a memoir must take at least that long to germinate, percolate, and coalesce the elements of experience. To answer directly, though, the book took about two years to complete. During that time, I travelled back to my hometown, Lincoln, England for two months, living in a flat similar to the kind my parents rented when I was a young boy. That trip back to England was fundamental in recapturing the sense and sensibility of my very earliest memories, and these memories were the impetuous for writing the memoir.

Rosalba: Have you ever thought about writing a book in another literary genre? For instance a fiction?

Frank: Yes, I have written fiction. I wrote a novel called High Pocket, which is about a modern-day gold miner who risks everything in an attempt to retrieve a fortune in gold from an abandoned cavern two miles deep inside the largest gold mine in the United States, the Homestake Gold Mine in the Black Hills of South Dakota. I also wrote the libretto for a classical opera, Ode To Phaedra, that premiered at Opera, San Jose and was broadcast on Public Television here in the U.S., and recently inducted into the archives for Greek & Roman Drama at the University of Oxford. And I’ve written my share of screenplays that have been optioned in the Hollywood dream sequence. Last year, I finished a new novel that I’m currently editing.

Rosalba: What is for you writing?

Frank: In many ways the process of writing about my life or creating a fictional story whole cloth, are much the same for me. That’s because I see my life as real and as unreal, as literal and as symbolic, just as I do the stories, characters, and plots I create for screenplays and other story forms. That’s not to say there isn’t a difference in my telling the story of my life. There is, of course. I’m telling the life, in many cases, of people who are still alive; I’m revealing and exposing the life of family members whom I love and whom I’m going to see at the next family event. So, the difficult balance for me is to be absolutely truthful on the one hand about my view of the details that make up this story, or any story, while on the other hand being sensitive to the impact of my “vision” on my family. For me, writing is about trying to get at the truth as I see it, and revealing it in a way that might be appealing to someone else.

Rosalba: What is your dream in the field of writing? And What do you expect from your career as a writer?

Frank: I’ve been represented before by literary agents for book and screenwriting, and the dream there is a very common one, namely, publication or production and then readership or audience applause.These agents have been helpful and supportive, if not always successful. I took a significant break from writing a number of years ago before I started Passage From England, and I knew that the publishing world had changed dramatically in that time with the advent of the online phenomenon. My objectives, or dreams if you will, is still to write honestly and significantly. That is, to write about subjects and people, themes and events, in both realistic and symbolic ways. Using both style, form, and format to get at the truth about ourselves and how we behave in this world. Or at least my view of it.

Rosalba: I know you just came back home from a long journey to SE Asia. Would you like to write a new book about this journey?

Frank: I don’t have any plans right now to use the experiences of the trip as material for a new book. On the other hand, I’m sure those same experiences will influence any new projects I take on. Right now, I’m in the editing/rewriting stages of a new book that focuses on my teenage “hippie” years and my young adulthood, marriage, and beginning days as a writer. During this rewrite period, I’m still exploring different narrative techniques for telling this story, trying to decide what’s the best way to approach the material in a way that gets to the heart of it with as little “authorial” intrusion as possible.

Rosalba: I understood you like travelling very much!  When you were a child, has your journey from England to America influenced your passion for travelling?

Frank: I don’t think so. Perhaps the opposite in fact. I do travel a lot, it’s true. Much of the impetus for that comes from my wife’s desire to travel. Fact is, I like being at home, in my own space, my own town. Routine has a certain joy for me. Routine is also necessary for me to get my work done, my writing done. Travel, though thrilling and something I do enjoy (who doesn’t want to go again see the villages of Italy or the great cities of Europe, Paris, London, etc.?) is interruptive. I find it difficult to stick to my writing schedule when I’m on the road. I still write my blogs on Monday morning no matter where I am or what day it is, but other, longer works, often get put aside until I get back home.

Rosalba: What was the message you wanted to give your readers with your biographical book entitled Passage from England, a memoir?

Frank: Passage From England is an immigrant’s story…my father as a displaced person from Poland and my mother as a virtual refugee from England. For me and my brother and sister, our immigrant story was lived in Los Angeles in the 50s and 60s. When my wife and I left the United States and moved to St. Thomas, I felt like an immigrant all over again in the Caribbean. That sense of being the outsider, of looking for a home, of trying to find a safe harbor is what Passage From England is about. What I came to learn in my childhood, and to learn again in my adulthood, is that love and family make anywhere your home. The flipside of that, unfortunately, is that without those elements, no place feels like home…and never will for me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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