Q Connie, are you Hungarian?
A Nem. That is, no.
Q How did you get interested in writing about Hungary?
A While working as a music teacher, I learned about Zoltán Kodály’s influence in developing Hungary’s musical literacy. I was impressed and intrigued, and when my book The Orchestra in the Living Room needed a teaching character, it felt natural to make him Hungarian—and to name him Zoltán. In order to make Uncle Zoltán an authentic character, I did some research on Hungary and found myself fascinated by its turbulent history, especially during the twentieth century. There Hungary was, caught between Russia and Germany. And what fiction writer can resist a conflicted situation? The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to write about decent people trying to face the Budapest siege of 1945. I interviewed Hungarians who lived in Budapest at that time, and their compelling personal stories have kept me writing about the post-war period as well. I have tremendous respect for what these people and other Europeans of the same generation have lived through.
Q Seems like it would be fun to write a novel. Is it?
A Not unless you happen to get a kick out of carpal tunnel syndrome, rejection letters, hour-after-hour sitting, and revising the same #*@$!! chapter nine times. Novel writing is hard work and often tedious and frustrating. But it is also interesting and rewarding, and I love it.
Q What advice would you give to people who want to try writing a novel?
A This is a huge topic. Whole books have been written on it, many of them very good. Read two or three of them with a receptive mind and follow whatever advice you find helpful. Beyond the instruction you find there, I would offer an additional thought.
After all these centuries, the ancient Greek philosophers are still right: a work of art should reflect goodness, truth and beauty. Writing a novel is an artistic endeavor. A worthwhile story will lift up goodness, although it may do so in hidden ways. It will have the ring of universal truth, although the reader may not notice it until she reflects on the story after reading the last page. The prose and the theme will shine with an underlying beauty, even if the subject matter is achingly grim. A reader of your work needs to find the nourishment of goodness, truth and beauty, whether or not he realizes it; and if your story is void of those graces, you have left the reader empty. Perhaps the biggest challenge to any artist, myself included, is to become a human deep-hearted enough to produce redemptive art. I would urge all writers to consider this.