add Anka to the “family” the characterization becomes even more diverse. Did you
find yourself struggling at all to switch between the various character voices?
The switch in voices was made relatively easy by the fact that I knew the characters of Anka and
Theodor so well. They are based on people and experiences which greatly shaped me as a young
person. Before I ever put pen to paper, the characters had long existed in my mind, and I had carried
on lengthy conversations with them. Admittedly, the earliest draft was written as two separate
stories from opposite perspectives, which I pieced together after. But by the third draft, switching
from one voice to another came second nature.
2. Since it is mentioned in the long book synopsis I don’t think it is a spoiler to mention
that Anka is mute. It’s an unusual character trait for a protagonist. How did you
decide to write a mute protagonist and what is the symbolism behind this trait?
Anka’s story, that of a young woman in exile, is strongly influenced by my wanting to write my own
version of the heroine journeys I loved as a child. In those stories, muteness was often a central
motif (Hans Christian Andersen is especially known for this). The process of finding one’s ‘voice’
is a powerful symbol for a woman’s self-actualization. Perhaps this is why, as an introverted child
and immigrant, I associated with it so closely. Writing a character who is speech-impaired is not
a light choice and carries with it a certain responsibility, but on a psychological and practical level,
it seemed to serve Anka’s story. And although Anka remains speech-impaired throughout the
novel, she learns to relate and communicate to others in significant and emotional ways. She finds
her ‘voice’, which I feel is much of what her journey is all about.
3. There are thousands of books on the market that relate to World War II but you
took a different approach by writing about a London refuge for those who fled the
war. What inspired you to take this route as opposed to more traditional perspectives
on war-torn Europe?
The old adage is ‘write what you know’, which obviously is not always the easiest task for writers of
historical fiction. Especially when writing about such an extreme period in history as World War II.
An author is responsible to readers who still remember that time. There must be absolute emotional
authenticity. I have always been keenly aware of the war, having grown up in Germany and having
continued to study its culture well into graduate school. The German-Romanian part of my family
was also greatly affected by its events, which I tried to pay homage to by the setting and circumstance
of Anka’s origins.
However, what I learned throughout my life about the war made it abundantly clear to me that I
could not do this very raw and tragic subject justice. So much of what happened then is beyond what
I could imagine or recreate, because it is in its essence unimaginable. I know many other writer of
my generation have set their novels in World War II with much success. I leave it to them. I would
not presume to add anything new or to use it as a vehicle for flexing my creative muscle. My interest
lies in the aftermath of things, in the way experiences resonate, in beginnings and in hopefulness.
4. A photograph of Trafalgar Square, London (dated 1901) served as the novel’s cover
art (a copy of which is included in your amazing giveaway). How long did it take you to
settle on this image for your cover and why did you ultimately make this decision?
The cover originally was going to be an image similar to a portrait from the Romanian painter
Grigorescu, which shows a young woman’s face in a red kerchief set against a black background.
The title of the book, which remained the same for almost nine years before I changed it on the final
draft, was “Bearing Still Lifes and Landscapes”, with the story focused much more on the events in
Vienna and Romania. Over time I I realized that this detracted from the forward motion of the plot.
Once I redirected my focus to the ‘present’ in London, with Vienna and Romania as flashbacks or as
novel excerpts, I also changed the name to “Gibbin House”. The house is one of the main characters,
after all. Serendipitously, my mom had this original stereoscopic photograph of Trafalgar Square
and suggested I used it for the cover. She thought it hints at both the British setting and the early
Century time frame of the story. I think she was right.
5. What is the most valuable lesson you learned while researching, writing and
publishing Gibbin House? Any regrets?
The most valuable lesson I learned was to trust my instincts. There are infinite ways to say one
thing, and not trusting your choices can lead to endless overthinking and editing that often sucks the
life and immediacy out of your writing. If something feels right, leave it alone. I’ve compared early
drafts with the final one, and it’s amazing to see that the portions of prose I wrote without forcing
them are the only ones that remained unchanged throughout each incarnation of the novel.
If I have any regrets about “Gibbin House”, it’s that it took so long to write, I was impatient to put it
out there and did not plan a promotional strategy. As a self-published author, I should have devoted
at least a couple months to spreading the word, getting reviews, etc., before releasing the book. But I
suppose that’s all part of experience. I’m looking forward to getting things right with my next book,