Interview with Dr. Melanie Covert, Author of “American Roma: A Modern Investigation of Lived Experiences and Media Portrayals”

I was scrolling around on Facebook one-day and I encountered the following video:


“Well, well,” I quickly said to myself, “this is a book that I must check out!”

I contacted Dr. Covert and asked if, after I read her book, she would like to do an interview on here.  I was glad to hear that she was indeed; found myself even more glad after I read her stellar book.

american roma

Leaving it 5 Stars, I described wrote on Goodreads:

“The degree of research which went into this book, along with Dr. Covert’s meticulous and constant sourcing of the material, is truly beyond impressive. Covert’s exploration of how both non-Romani society as well as some Romani traditions are decidedly not beneficial to women sets ‘American Roma: A Modern Investigation of Lived Experiences and Media Portrayals’ apart from many of the books written by fellow Roma rights activists, who often hesitate to touch on the latter issue with a fifty foot pole. How refreshing to see a more accurate view presented, one not concerned so much about the collective saving of face so much as cold hard facts, regarding the struggle for Romani female equality in the modern era. Also noteworthy to me personally is that, even after working in Roma rights for nearly twenty years, I learned several very important legal tidbits from this book pertaining to the history of the Romani people inside the United States that I had never read before in other books on the subject. I look forward to reading more from Dr. Covert in the future and heartily encourage academics with an interest in the Roma people to read this, a non-fiction book actually written by a Roma woman with a PhD.”

Melanie Covert Picture

1.      Hello, Dr. Covert. Could you please introduce yourself, including a brief description of your familial background and your professional resume?

I always cringe at introductions; it feels like the first day of school all over again and I am never quite sure I am giving out the right information. I hope to touch on all the areas your readers are curious about. 

I was born and raised in Georgia. I come from a Romanichal family on my mother’s side. My father, who was not Roma, died before I was born and I did not meet his family until my late 20’s (I am 33 now). I have three brothers. My mother raised us primarily on her own. I grew up around my mother’s family probably until my late elementary school years when our frequent moves became even more frequent and I have had intermittent contact with my extended family since that time. I have been married for 13 years to someone who is not Roma; we do not have kids, but we have lots of pets. I started working around the age of 14 and have worked since then. Coming from a single parent home where my mom was without a college education or strong work experience, it was instilled pretty early on that I needed to get an education and make a way for myself. I received my Bachelor’s degree from Kennesaw State University in 2008, in Psychology with a minor in history. In 2011, I graduated with my M.S. in Clinical Counseling Psychology which enabled me to become a Licensed Professional Counselor. And in 2016, I graduated from Georgia State University with my Ph.D. in Sociology, where I focused on race and urban studies. Since junior year of undergrad, I have been working for various universities. I have now been in private practice since 2012 and teaching at the university level since 2012. I am currently an assistant professor of Psychology at Brenau University. Here I teach intro sociology, cultural basis of behavior and other courses that help train future counselors. Lastly, I head up a young adult college and career group at my local church, I play three instruments and am very invested in my Netflix account. 

2.      Your book’s online price is listed at over $100.  When you wrote it, was your principal audience university academics, as the price suggests?  If so, how have they and fellow literary professionals reacted to your work?

Sadly, the author has no control over the price or audience. The answer to the question is: yes, the primary intended audience is academics, however that audience was chosen by the publisher. It was my idea to try to bring the text to a more widespread audience because I believe it has the potential to be a useful book for people outside of Academia as well. The cost makes that somewhat prohibitive, sadly, but I believe a paperback is potentially in the works. Also, people can request their local library or college library purchase the book for them. Over 50 universities world-wide have purchased the text for their collections, which is very encouraging! I have gotten some positive feedback from other academics and had a very promising review come out this year in the Journal of Romani Studies. I have also adopted its use in one of the courses on campus and the response from students has been so positive. It’s brand new territory for them in terms of racial and ethnic discourse. Otherwise, I would say the general reception has been… quiet?

3.      Your book makes it obvious that, first and foremost, you are a diligent researcher.  Exactly how long did it take to compile the data which fleshed out “American Roma: A Modern Investigation of Lived Experiences and Media Portrayals?”  What challenges were most difficult regarding organization of the facts that you found?

Thank you for the compliment! I was trained as a scientific, quantitative researcher so this was a shift for me in terms of the type of research but I do feel I brought that training into this work with me. It took about 4-5 years (wow, was it really that long!?) to collect all the information I found. That’s hundreds upon hundreds of hours. What many people outside academia might not realize is that every paragraph in a research paper written can represent days of research, compiling studies and ruling out studies. One sentence I wrote may represent a week’s worth of digging into literature and historical data to come to that one conclusion. The biggest challenge was, of course, availability of data. A lot of data exists on Roma world-wide… but in America? You are looking at texts that are decades old. I was combing archival newspapers at places like the library of congress. I cited unpublished graduate thesis and dissertation buried in various online databases. I watched entire seasons of shows just to analyze a 10 minute scene in which Roma are mentioned or discussed. I wasn’t quite starting from square one but maybe, I don’t know, square 3 in terms of compiling data, especially modern data. Every piece of data I came upon was often only a scrap and I had to piece those scraps together to make a cohesive picture. 

4.      There are other non-fiction books about the Romani people available online, a few of which you reference in “American Roma.”  To your mind, what sets your book apart from the ones written by your Romani rights colleagues?

There are other books available out there and I believe each serves an important place in the overall discourse. What I believe is unique to my book is that it is what is says it is: a MODERN investigation. 1. It’s current and 2. It’s a modern look at what it means to be Roma. Many of the older texts are a look at specific enclaves of Roma in one part of America. My text covers many places, many people and doesn’t define Roma by one set of practices, DNA, or geographical location. It doesn’t pigeon-hole Roma in to one way of life. We aren’t a stereotype and I believe the book highlights that.  Lastly, the book allows these individuals and sources to speak for themselves. The book is a platform for Roma narrative and history to stand on its own. 

5.      Your book explores many aspects of Romani history—(hate crimes, genocide, segregation, forced sterilization, slavery)—which are very upsetting to read.  Many don’t realize that writing about these topics can also have a profound effect upon the author.  How did you power through it and how did you decompress from the more stressful moments?

What an insightful question! It was tough to write the text. One of the chapters of the book starts with a news article about a Roma man murdered in front of his own kids by a police officer. That article alone caused me to take a break for a few days. Everything you listed and more left me with, I don’t know… almost an ancestral feeling of pain. It hurt to hear it. The interviews would impact me a lot as well. I make it clear in my introduction that some of the stories shared are about individuals related to me. One of the quotes in the book was about my grandmother, whom I sadly was not able to know for very long. The quote talks about how the way she was treated and the way her parents were run out of town for being fortune tellers was really hard on her because she wanted to assimilate, she wanted to fit in and be accepted in school. That quote would come up while I was sitting in traffic or at my desk. I would often take weeks off from writing when the information got to be too much. The encouragement to go on came from the idea that I was doing what was within my power to positively affect the community; leveraging my position in academia to give a platform for these narratives. It’s not everything but it’s something. The knowledge that these are narratives that deserved to be shared was also a factor that motivated me to continue. Decompression for me means spending time with people while we eat food, laugh, share ideas and stories, and watch tv together. A lot of terrible things exist in the world (I know this first hand from my role as a therapist) but there is good as well. Pausing for a moment to see it was a good way to decompress but even in doing so I had to recognize the privilege of doing so. Being able to “take a break” from being confronted with so much pain is not a privilege that all Roma world-wide have. 

6.      “American Roma” explores in depth many anti-Romani laws which either passed or were almost passed in the United States.  Would you share a few of these with us?  In your own words, what impact do these laws have on the psyche of American Roma today?

The law most groundbreaking and eye opening for me in the book is discussed in the beginning of Chapter Three. The civil rights act of 1866 not only discussed the establishment of birthright citizenship for Black Americans by name, it did so for Roma under the more pejorative term “gypsy.” I discuss how President Johnson rejected the Civil Rights Act sending a letter to congress expressing his negative views of what they were attempting to do. This was a landmark piece of legislation for Black Americans, one that has historically underscored the role they filled in Amreican society, how they were viewed, how they were valued. To understand the need for this piece of legislation at that time and to understand that the President of the United States was against it is to understand that those included in this act, Black Americans, Roma and other minorities mentioned by name, were not on equal footing with mainstream society.  I believe Roma inclusion in this historical act is largely undiscussed and thus it is likely that the weight of this act in and of itself has not necessarily impacted the psyche of American Roma. The prejudice motivating the need for this act however and the pejorative social construction of who the Roma are have had a significant impact  on the historical psyche and everyday lived experiences. I believe also that the psychological impact comes when one internalizes the implications of this law. Without it, my great-grandparents, my grandparents, my mom, myself, would have no right to citizenship  by birth simply because we are Roma. When it becomes personal, it becomes serious.  The civil rights act of 1866  is a crucial act and historical moment for American Roma that helped to form my understanding of Roma lives from a legal and political paradigm from that point forward. 
A few other notable laws in the text included in chapter six discuss historical laws passed in states such as North Carolina and New York  that created both a traveling tax and license fee to conduct their business. Roma, cited as “gypsies,” were the only group identified specifically by their ethnicity. These types of laws directly impacted many Roma in their ability to make a living and, even more detrimental, created an “us versus them” dynamic. The outcome of this dynamic was prejudice, targeting by law enforcement, sometimes violence. For a Roma family, this may incite fear and a protectiveness against law enforcement or government that would be passed down generationally. Speaking as a mental health professional, this absolutely has a direct impact on the mental and emotional well being of the individual. Being rejected by your home state, your home country to the extent that laws are being passed directly targeting your ability to provide for your family or secure a place of residence is direct predictor of both individual trauma and intergenerational trauma. Laws such as these existed throughout the United States in the 1900’s until many were overturned as unconstitutional, though some remain on the books to this day.

7.      Your book focuses a great deal on the marginalization of Romani women, both within the non-Romani world as well as within the Romani community itself.  You seemed to emphasize higher education as one of the most pivotal means to escape this.  Would you care to elaborate?

I’m going to come right out and say I am a feminist. That carries a lot of meanings, but for me that means I am committed to lifting up the women around me any way I can. In doing a lot of my initial research, I was seeing many Roma women and Roma women’s needs and causes being pushed out of the bigger discourse. I read many articles by Roma women who were being confronted with the choice to be feminist or Roma but not both. I didn’t like that. My initial research actually started with women only. It wasn’t until the publisher encouraged me to include men that I expanded my study. I only examined a few dozen narratives so we can’t call my findings conclusive but I certainly saw a pattern of higher education as a vehicle for change in the lives of Roma women. Whether it was among my respondents or in other studies I read, higher education not only equipped these women to pursue careers that would otherwise be closed to them, but it also gave them exposure to new ideas, gave them the language and platform to advocate for themselves and exposed them to other Roma women pursuing lives outside of traditional roles. For many of these women, traditional roles, whether it be the freedom to work, expectations for marriage or individual rights, was a marginalizing or limiting place. Those are their words, not mine. Higher education allowed them to leave behind those limitations while, for some, holding on to their Roma identity and, for others, creating new identities for themselves. 

8.      For “American Roma,” you interviewed nearly two dozen subjects about their life experiences.  Was it difficult to find volunteers for this or was it your experience that American Roma want their voices to be heard?

It was very challenging to get participants most often because people stated that talking about their identity or lives as Roma was not something that was done. Some that turned me down have since come back and said they wished they had participated because if the older Roma aren’t willing to tell their stories then there will be a lot that is lost. Even those willing to participate were leery about speaking out about their experiences. I had to go through a vetting process with each one, talk about my background and family before they would agree to participate. Many confirmed multiple times that they would remain anonymous because they were afraid of how they would be perceived within and outside the Roma community. I believe Roma do want their voices to be heard but they want control over how its heard. Given a history of misrepresentation, this is understandable but I also think there is an air of mistrust that could discourage some Roma from joining the larger discourse for fear of repercussion. Just since last year I’ve become aware of many more rising scholars in the US who are focusing on Roma and my hope is that more and more Roma will engage with researchers. The more participants, the more power, that’s a statistical fact but I think it’s a practical reality. We need more scholarship on American Roma to raise Roma visibility in American academic circles. This cannot be done without Roma participation. 

9.   There has been some backlash from reviewers regarding your book, including the allegation that you are lying about being Romani and that the Roma you interviewed are similarly lying about their heritage.  What effect has this had on you?  Do you believe that the naysayers are sincere, actually believing what they claim, or do you interpret this is a tactic used to silence Roma women who speak out on issue of gender inequality?

This absolutely had a significant impact on me. On one hand, as I have already said, I get the mistrust. On the other, at a personal level, this was like a gut punch. I was very clear in my book’s preface my background and connection with the Roma community. I made it clear that I was not trying to claim to be more connected or informed than I was but I also made it clear that this is a part of my identity genetically, ethnically and, to a very minor degree, culturally. I had some fears even before the book came out that there would be this type of criticism. My research brought me face to face with a significant amount of gatekeeping. In fact, I talk about the lack of a singular definition of being “Roma” in the book. It’s hard to know where you stand when there is no standard measuring stick, but everyone claims there is.  But I certainly was not ready for the tone of my critics and it made me retreat for a time as I processed feeling rejected by the community that I was seeking to reconnect with. The criticism took a very personal tone from the color of my hair to accusations about my motivations etc. After a few short weeks of that, I retreated from public discourse about the book because the focus was on me and not the text. It’s a good piece of scholarship and a book that any writer would be proud of. I am proud that it is among the books out there that may inform someone outside the community about Roma or allow someone like me to learn more about their history and heritage. 

I can’t judge the sincerity of the naysayers. I can say that those I interviewed are very sincere in their commitment to the community and have done much to advocate on its behalf. I guess it never occurred to me that someone would want to silence a Roma woman speaking about equality and yet I know this does occur within the community and certainly in policy and academic circles.  I think I may be very naive in that regard.

I still don’t understand why anyone would lie about being Roma. Historically, many people have lied to protect themselves against discrimination by saying they are NOT Roma. Where is the benefit in saying you ARE when you aren’t? I don’t get it. Since processing this backlash, I have spoken with a few Roma scholars and they have all had the same thing to tell me. They can’t control how people see them so they choose to focus on the important work they are doing, speaking out on marginalization rather than wasting time engaging with the naysayers. Their names and work are way more well known than mine so it was encouraging to know they had dealt with similar criticisms but they persist. 

10.   What future do you foresee for other Romani authors, such as yourself, regarding self-defining non-fiction literature, as opposed to how Romani culture and history has traditionally mainly been written by outsiders about us?

I hope a very bright future. I hope more and more books come out and that it becomes a widely recognized genre of its own. I hope people within the community will encourage authors and other creative producers to get their work out there. As more representation comes from within the community, I believe those who have been disconnected from their roots will be able to connect with it in a meaningful way and I believe the picture of Roma that is perceived by those on the outside will become more and more accurate. The goal is representation controlled by Roma but, as I discuss in my book, Roma are made up of a very diverse group of people and I hope to see that diversity celebrated, accepted and become a recognized part of what it means to be Roma. 

11.   What’s next on your literary horizon?  Do you intend to write more books on the subjects of Romani racial inequality, gender inequality, and general history?

I am actually currently working on a new book. While in the same vein, I will be shifting my focus to looking at housing, education, poverty and their connection to things like health and mental health. I will be collecting interviews again and my goal is to hopefully have some Roma representation in the book by including Roma authors and studies in my discussion and hopefully have some Roma participants but it will not be my primary focus as it was in my first book. My goal is to continue to make Roma representation a normative part of academic inquiry. We’re out here so let’s make Roma representation more than a niche thing; bring it in to mainstream attention as much as possible.

Dr. Covert can be reached at:

Melanie Covert, Phd, LPC, CPCS
Assistant Professor
Brenau University – Department of Psychology
Ivester College of Health Sciences
3139 Campus Drive, 212, Norcross GA

Interview with Kelli Pizarro, Author of “Shanty by the Sea”

A few years back, I met a Christian fiction author, Kelli Pizarro, online.  Graciously, she listened to my feedback, as a Romani woman, about her book “The Roma Road: A Gypsy Tale,” which dealt with the little-known (and historically factual) theme of Romani slavery in the UK.  At the time, “The Incomplete Ones,” my own book about Romani slavery, set in 19th century Romania was available, but doing poorly on amazon due to my sorry lack of promotion skills.  Pizarro and I wound up comparing a lot of notes about the strangeness of writing about an enslavement that most readers not only know nothing about, but would likely think absurd if it were spoken of in their presence.  
We became fast friends and, lucky me, some months back I was again allowed to read one of her upcoming releases: “Shanty by the Sea.”  Being Christian fiction YA, this was nothing like “The Roma Road,” which dealt with some very intense, tragic material.  Instead, “Shanty by the Sea” struck me as the sort of thing that a well-read grandmother might stuff in her grandchildren’s’ stockings at Christmas.
As I reviewed it on Amazon and Goodreads:
“The literary world, where eccentricity is as common as breathing, is a rough sea to navigate for a first-time author. Scarlett Cooper, desperate to achieve her dreams, is about to see just how quirky and competitive it can get. Pizarro’s tale “Shanty by the Sea” gently emphasizes to readers the importance of staying grounded, pacing yourself, and, above all, never giving up. All in all, an excellent read for today’s creative youth and equally enjoyable for an older crowd craving a sweet RomCom with a supportive, willing-to-listen male. As an author myself, I wish that I go could go back in time and give this book to my middle school self, when I first knew that I wanted to be a writer. I recommend it to parents whose young daughters have the same goal.”
The book happily wound up being picked up by Dragon Soul Press, as did “The Roma Road.”  Today, “Shanty by the Sea” debuts online, so it is only fitting that audiences receive some insight about how it was created.  AKA: Interview time!
1.    Hello, Kelli.  Can you give us a brief introduction, including details of your literary background?:
Hi there! I’ve written four novels, one novella, and a drabble accepted in an anthology. I chose the self-publishing route for the first four books, and consider them a huge part of how I developed my writing and writer’s voice. Once Dragon Soul Press picked up Shanty by the Sea, and also one of my previously self-published pieces, The Roma Road, I removed all my self-published works from publication to see what I may do with them in the future. However, though they are my first works and nowhere near as well-developed as the ones DSP has picked up for publication, I feel they are important parts of my journey to writing something worth being published.
2.    Your newest book, Shanty by the Sea, is soon to be released by Dragon Soul Press.  What things did you do to give the book its own unique flavor?  What kind of research?:   
Research for this book was both intensive and a grand adventure! I flew from Houston, Texas to Boston, Massachusetts last fall to spend a week scoping out the area and taking notes. My traveling companions and I spent a great deal of time in small New Hampshire towns, inspiring the town Scarlett lives in, and also Nauset Beach, Cape Cod, where the writing retreat in my book is set. I spoke to locals, visited Hammond Castle, walked Half Moon Beach, and ate at an amazing family-owned Italian restaurant in Boston that inspired La Famiglia Adesso Restaurant in my book. Seeing New England in the fall, taking train rides through the foliage, strolling the streets of Salem, and getting an overall feel for the area helped the book really come to life.
3.    This book touches a lot on the difficulties of a first-time writer, both in terms of finishing the first project and establishing one’s self in the professional industry.  If you were to sit down for a cup of coffee with Scarlett, your main character, what advice would you give her on both of these fronts?:
As far as finishing the first project goes, I would tell her to stop waiting until a page is perfect before moving onto the next. Just write the thing. When you get to the end, you can rewrite, edit, etc., but making time to write as often as possible is the only sure way to finish that first draft.  Establishing one’s self in the professional industry is a tough one. I can’t pretend that I’ve got a fool-proof answer for that. I could only tell her that there are a few key things that helped me tremendously: (1) Surround yourself by writing friends. This means supporting other authors, not competing with them. (2) Grow thick skin and don’t just take constructive criticism, seek it out. When sending your manuscript for a look-over by an editor, or asking the professional opinion of another author, don’t expect sugar coating. You can learn so much if you put your feelings aside. (3) Marketing is a skill to be learned. Don’t wait until your book is finished to start figuring out how you want to approach this. Build a social media platform that is fun for readers and other authors to follow, and be faithful to keep up with it. (4) When the time comes to send out those query letters to publishers/agents, set a goal. Determine to send a certain amount out each week and stick to it.
4.    One of the choice bits of comic relief in the book is Janet the Donkey–a lovely symbol of a blossoming writer’s struggles as well as means to overcome them.  What particular thing helps you when you hit a literary road-block, overcoming your own personal “Janet?”: 
Oh, Janet. Going along for the ride is sometimes the only answer. When things seem to be going haywire and I feel my writing is taking all the wrong directions, I read a book, watch a few movies, go on an overnight trip, or have a game night with my family. Though routine is necessary for progress, sometimes getting out of my routine is what breaks me out of a writing funk. When my works-in-progress don’t behave, I often have to let them do their own thing. I’ll write a few bad pages just to get the creative juices flowing. Once I know which direction I’m going, I delete the “junk” and get to work. Also, having a friend read a few chapters to get a fresh perspective is helpful. Riding a deaf donkey down a hill and hoping for the best is always an option, too.
5. A writing rule of thumb which, sadly, many don’t heed is that, only through talent, rather through deliberately standing in the way of other authors, one does not get a fan base for their own books.  Was this rule in your head, as well as how much it is ignored when you were brainstorming for your antagonist?:    
Yes. One thing that is a given in any industry is there are givers and takers. As an author, I’ve met both kinds. There are those who encourage you to be the best you can be by pushing you beyond your comfort zone and limits, and then there are those whose only concern is what they can get from you. Some authors won’t give another author, especially an up-and-coming writer, the time of day for encouragement. I’m not sure if it’s because they are afraid there is a low supply of readers and they don’t want to risk losing their own personal fan base, or they feel that they’ve reached a tier in the writing community that can’t be bothered by newcomers, but it’s no fun being on the receiving end of a dismissal. My antagonists in this book embody the attitude that some authors have: there’s only enough room here for me.
5.    At the writer’s retreat in your book, novice authors are made to dress and act the part of famous authors of times past.  Which deceased author would you most enjoy taking on the role of in Scarlett’s shoes?  And which would you least enjoy?  Why?:
Jane Austen would have been my pick. I’m a huge fan and think her costume would’ve been the most fun. Plus, Jane said it best when she wrote, “There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me.” As Scarlett, I would’ve found it fitting, given the extreme lengths her peers went to intimidate her. I don’t think I would’ve enjoyed William Makepeace Thackeray, because he wasn’t as sentimental an author as Dickens, or as attractive in a dress as Jane.
6.    There are many competitions, (such as the one in the book,) in which authors are invited to compete against each other for the prize of a book contract.  Have you ever participated in one of these?  If not, why not?  If so, how was the experience for you?:
I have not competed for a contract. It’s not to say that I wouldn’t if it was set up somewhat like in my book with the primary purpose of attending being the retreat itself. The entire experience would give all participants much to take away with them, and experience is worth a lot! If it was strictly a competition, I can’t say I would enjoy that.
7.    An unfortunate, but common, cliche which happens far too often in the chick-lit genre is that a woman’s love interest will overpower the original plot, with more focus being centered upon a potential partner than upon the female lead’s personal goals.  This same cliche is very seldom the case in books where the lead is a male.  When writing a RomCom with an ambitious female lead, did you have to make a specific point to avoid this trope?:
When writing Shanty by the Sea the primary goal wasn’t to have a romantic focus. However, I did struggle at times finding where this book fits when comparing it to others in its genre, because I didn’t want it to fall into the common pattern of ‘girl has a dream, girl meets boy, boy becomes girl’s new dream, and they live happily ever after, forfeiting the girl’s initial ambitions.’ Though Scarlett is a lover of romantic English literature and, at times, wishes she had a love interest of her own, this isn’t what drives her. I wanted to tell the tale of a relatable female who struggles to find that balance between providing for herself and chasing her dreams. It was never an option for her to abandon her writing to chase a romantic interest. I like to think the love she finds just adds warmth to the story.
8.    Shanty by the Sea is a book about an author seeking her first traditional publication and, as luck would have it, it is also your first traditionally-published book.  How does this irony sit with you?:  
It’s actually quite funny to me. I started Shanty by the Sea years ago. Its first name was The Write Retreat, and I wrote it by hand in journals. I put it on the shelf for a while, eyeballing it much like Scarlett does her manuscripts. I wrote four more books, then came back to it. Years had passed and I was still intrigued by the story. It was worth picking up again. I’m quite glad it was my fifth finished work because had I pursued publishing it first, I fear it wouldn’t have made the cut. I needed the writing experience to mold it into something I love. And to add to the irony, I got to travel to Cape Cod and have my own little writing retreat while finishing up this book. I feel it came full circle.
9.    Shanty by the Sea reads as very smooth, easy-going YA–rather remarkably so, given this is not a genre in which you have written before.  What was it like for you to try it out for the first time and do you intend to make a habit of YA?:
I think because historical fiction has been what I’ve mostly written, it was strange writing a story with a modern setting. I enjoyed it, but it did take a bit of rewiring in my brain. I’m pretty certain I’ll do more YA in the future, though I can’t say I’ll stick solely to one genre.
10.    Scarlett writes a darling little children’s story in Shanty by the Sea about a frog.  Do you intend to publish more children’s stories, such as this frog tale, in the future?:
I do intend to eventually write a series of children’s books focusing on another topic I love: childbirth. I am a labor and postpartum doula, and hope to put together a collection that will educate children on topics such as homebirth, waterbirth, pregnancy, and what to expect once a baby arrives. As for the frog drabble, who knows? It may make its appearance someday!
11.    Rumor has it that you are putting together a PG-13 anthology whose theme is coffee shop short stories.  Is this rumor true and, if so, are you still looking for authors?  How should those interested contact you?:
I am! I don’t have a deadline just yet, as my hands are pretty full with other tasks, but I hope to set to work on it no later than 2020 and publish by 2021. I am looking for authors who wish to contribute to the collection. Those interested can reach out to me on Facebook or via email:
12.    What’s next on the publishing docket for Kelli Pizarro?:
After Shanty by the Sea is released in August, I have another book due to release toward the end of the year. The Roma Road is one I’ve previously self-published, but Dragon Soul Press has picked up. I am excited to see it in print! I am currently working on a piece titled Blackwater’s Daughter. I can’t give away too much, but it will be set in both Antebellum and modern-day Louisiana. I hope to see this one finished by 2020.
And there you have it.  Subscribers, feel free to check out the release event for “Shanty by the Sea” this afternoon.
Be sure to follow Kelli on:

Interview with Author Simon Dillon

Simon Dillon 3


I first encountered Simon Dillon after the publication of “First Love,” a romantic fantasy anthology released by Dragon Soul Press.  My own story “The Rusalka of the Murashka,” to my mind, had scant chances of being accepted, I assumed initially.  This wasn’t a book that would take horror authors…or would it?  Well, yes, DSP was quite content to snag two of us.

Simon Dillon’s story, “Papercut,” I soon found, was one of my favorites in “First Love.”  Original and bold, it brings to mind a teenage version of The Neverending Story.  At the same time, it’s quirkiness repeatedly dissolves into something darker, which leaves readers with the impression that Carrie White’s mother might be dropping in on the main character at some point to say hello.

After “Papercut,” I discovered that, much as I suspected from his work’s general tone, Dillon is primarily a horror author and, at that, one of the best ones that I’ve had the pleasure to meet through social media and work with.  His book “The Spectre of Springwell Forest” is a true page-turner with a shock ending that, if it ever winds up with a film adaption, I will not be surprised.

I figured an interview would only be fair and so, without further ado, here it goes….

  1. Introduction, please?:  My name is Simon Dillon, and I’ve contributed a short story to a fantasy anthology. That sounds like an Alcoholics Anonymous confession (the first step is admitting I am a writer, or something like that). Anyway, my short story is entitled Papercut and it concerns a lonely teenage boy living with his overbearing Jehovah’s Witness mother. A mysterious girl made entirely of paper then appears in his dreams, taking him on a journey which changes his life. Papercut is my second short story published with a traditional publisher. The first was Once in a Lifetime, an existential horror tale that appeared in the anthology All Dark Places. My publisher, Dragon Soul Press, has also published my ghost story mystery novel Spectre of Springwell Forest. Prior to that, I had other horror/thriller novels self-published, including The Thistlewood Curse and The Birds Began to Sing. Although they are my current focus, I haven’t just written horror novels. My most “personal” (and relatively speaking successful) novel to date is entitled Children of the Folded Valley, a dystopian memoir about a man looking back on his life growing up in a mysterious cult. I have also published a few children’s adventure novels, including Uncle Flynn and Echo and the White Howl. I don’t typically write romantic drama, but my novel Love vs Honour is my one and only foray into that arena. It involves a teenage boy and girl from strict Christian and Muslim backgrounds respectively. To placate each set of parents, one pretends to convert to Christianity and the other to Islam, leading to inevitable dramatic complications.
  2. Your story, “Papercut,” featured in the Dragon Soul Press anthology “First Love,” focuses largely on Jehovah’s Witness beliefs.  What drew you to write about this particular religion?: I had heard from a few people who have been “disfellowshipped” by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and their stories struck a chord with me. I don’t come from a Jehovah’s Witness background, but I did spend my formative years in a cult which had a number of similar ideas and principles. The claustrophobia and isolation associated with both their stories and my own memories proved an inspiration.
  3. There is not a great amount of representation of Jehovah’s Witnesses within the fantasy genre.  What hurdles did you come up against mixing the two things?: There isn’t much out there about Jehovah’s Witnesses in any genre, although there is a very interesting recent film entitled Apostasy. That said, I didn’t really feel there were any hurdles as such, placing the Jehovah’s Witnesses in a fantasy tale. I am a big believer in “grounded fantasy”. It might sound counter-intuitive, but I believe fantasy often works best when it sits alongside dirt-under-the-fingernails realism. The film Pan’s Labyrinth is a good example, with the brutal realism of the Spanish Civil War contrasting with the girl’s encounters with the Faun. In my case, I tried to contrast the mundane and oppressive religious routine of my protagonist Gabriel with the (apparent) escapism that the Paper Girl brings. Of course, as in Pan’s Labyrinth, later in my story the two worlds collide.
  4. Personally, as a reader, I felt the story pointed towards encouraging young people to choose their own spiritual path in life; rather than necessarily accept what is prevalent in the household to which they are born.  Was this your intention?: That’s a very good way to interpret the story, and it is certainly what I personally believe. However, I wouldn’t say I set out to write the story with that in mind. I was more interested in writing a successful genre piece which would tug at the heartstrings a little.
  5. Whether or not the story genuinely falls into the fantasy genre seemed vague up until the very ending, given that a sizable chunk of the story is set in a dream.  When you were writing, were you always certain whether or not the dream would actually be a reality?: I never write any story without knowing the ending first. In fact, typically the ending is what occurs to me first, and I work backwards from that point. The shared dream idea, and the possible involvement of supernatural entities of ambiguous origin was foreseen from the outset. I enjoy writing stories that blur the line between dreams and reality. Some of this comes from personal experience. For example, a few years ago, my late father appeared to me in a recurring dream, trying to show me something that had happened to me in my past which I had forgotten. I didn’t want to see this incident, and when I refused, I would always wake up. Then one day I decided to go and see what he had to show me. I awoke the next day with what had been a repressed traumatic memory fully reinstated in my mind. I had perfect total recall of what I had repressed. It was extraordinary.
  6. Dream interpretation is a major theme to this story and you seemed very comfortable writing it.  Have you done so before?: Have I interpreted dreams? Or have I used dream interpretation as a narrative device? Funnily enough, the answer to both questions is yes. I have on occasion suggested possible meanings to one or two friends when they have confided in me about their dreams, not that I am an expert by any means. I find the mental, psychological and spiritual implications in dreams fascinating, and so yes, I have also written about them a number of times. Papercut is the most obvious example, but there are key moments in The Birds Began to Sing, The Thistlewood Curse and in one or two of my upcoming novels that also delve into this area a little. I’ve actually written one as yet unpublished novel, entitled The Deviant Prophet, which was entirely inspired by the dreamscape of my closest friend.
  7. Given the ending, was the main characters’ transformation into paper symbolic of the loss of faith or purely coincidental?: That’s an interesting and clever interpretation, and a part of me is sorely tempted to say yes. Alas no, it was a coincidence (but a happy one). I have used symbolism in a number of other stories – for example in Uncle Flynn, where the panther is symbolic of fear.
  8. Are short stories your preferred way of expressing yourself as an author or do you more enjoy writing longer pieces?: I generally prefer novels, but short stories are fun. Because they take less time, I am often more inclined to take risks with them. This year I hope to finally tackle a series of seven science fiction novellas which I have had planned out for some time. The novella format is something I have never tried, being a kind of halfway house between short story and novel, so that should prove an interesting challenge. However, novels remain my preferred format.
  9. What makes “Papercut” unique from your other work?: I wrote Papercut to be quite sweet and innocent, whereas a lot of my other writing is about the death of innocence. There are a few dark edges, and yes it deals in themes of religious oppression, but I wanted it to be hopeful and optimistic.
  10. What’s next on the literary horizon for Simon Dillon?: This year I’m hoping to contribute a short story to Coffins and Dragons, a Dragon Soul Press anthology about dragons and vampires. I have to confess I am not particularly interested in writing about either, but when my publisher said it would be good for me to join in with this one, I had a think and came up with a concept that I think will surprise people. My story is more of a satire, with human characters that are symbolic of a dragon and vampire respectively. Of course, it might be too off-brief to be accepted. We’ll see. However, I definitely have two more novels being released this year: The Irresistible Summons in July and Phantom Audition in October (the latter is an exclusive title reveal for you). Both are ghost story mysteries in the same vein as Spectre of Springwell Forest. After that I have several other novels already written that I’d like to unleash on the world, including another children’s adventure, another horror novel, an epic Arthurian fantasy romance, and a dystopian future shock drama that satirizes both sides of the so-called culture wars in America. I’m keeping tight lipped on those for now.


Well, there you go.  Tomorrow is the launch of Dillon’s “The Irresistible Summons.”  I will be one of the authors introducing him, along with authors Kathryn St. John, Stephen Herczeg, Charles Reis, and Kevin J. Kennedy.

If it’s anything like the last book I won’t be able to put it down!


Follow Simon Dillon here:

Amazon Author Page:


Author Feature: Shree


I first encountered the author, Shree, when, alongside my two Romani rights short stories, she published her own piece in the number two best-selling short story anthology, “Flock: The Journey,” edited by Mahua Sen.

I long-promised Shree a review of her work there for this author feature, but when I found out that she had a book out, hey, I figured, let’s think big.  So I opened up her novella, “Silent Invaders,” and, not knowing at all what the story was about, got to work.


I found her opening, urging compassion towards the mentally ill, very apt and touching, particularly because my maternal family has a history of mental illness and I’ve seen the devastation that prejudice and the lack of treatment can cause.

Soon enough, I found that there was a lot more than that in her book which I would identify with.  In fact, there was a staggering lot there which rang personal bells—so much that I actually doubted whether or not I was going to be able to make good on my promise to her to give her an author feature.  This had nothing to do with her quality as a writer, but the fact that her book revolves around a female with multiple personality disorder—a thing which precious few know much about, largely because it is so surrounded in misconceptions.

But I do know about it.  In fact, I know a great deal about it because I’m the daughter of a psychiatrist who considered during the 1980s—the height of when MPD was being very popularly diagnosed in the United States—that the treatment of multiple personality disorder was his practice’s specialty.  And it was my father’s belief that it would improve the therapy sessions for one MPD patient in particular to have her child “personalities,” (also called “alternates,”) play with an actual child.  That actual child was me and these “play sessions” went on for years.  Consequently, I’ve been up close and personal with this particular illness in ways which had an indie film director once ask to buy my story so that he could direct it.  To which I said a resounding “no.”

Due to this familiarity with my father’s patients, one of my friends growing up was the daughter of a very kind woman who had MPD.  On the other hand, for many years—in fact, up until she died, I was stalked by that same homicidal MPD patient of my father’s that, for years of my childhood, used to stay at our house overnight three nights a week for, among other things, “play sessions.”

So, honestly, it’s not easy for me to read books on MPD characters.  From my personal experience, I’ve seen the MPD factor can so dazzle people that they begin to overlook who the person is underneath it.  The one patient I referenced, for example, if she were fully cured, would have continued being a very lovely lady.  The second one could have merged with all of her alternates and it would have made zero difference regarding whether or not she remained a cold-blooded psychopath.

Beyond this issue, there’s also the fact that a good many people, including serial killers, have falsely claimed this diagnosis trying to get themselves out of the hot seat regarding violent crimes.

And, even ignoring that, there are a good many people who were diagnosed with the illness, especially in the 1980s and early 1990s, whose cases were later disproven and attributed to pressure being applied on them by exploitative psychiatrists.  One fine example of that is a colleague of my father’s would diagnose children as young as three years old with multiple personality disorder—something which would not be tolerated today, but during the MPD craze was actually not uncommon.  (A perspective on this is that no one under the age of eighteen is allowed in the US to be diagnosed with being a psychopath, regardless of how much evidence supports such a diagnosis.)

I almost wrote Shree back, half-way through reading the book, and said, “You know, I’m really the wrong person to review this.  It’s not about you.  It’s not about your book.  Because of my experience, I can’t maintain a proper degree of distance.”

But I took a deep breath and decided to attempt to use this experience to my advantage.

MPD is not a typical mental illness in many ways.  Most likely, the most famous film to portray it would be Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho.”  Psycho is a well-done horror flick, sure.  It’s entertaining.  But, when the ending comes, the explanation behind the killer’s drive holds no water, psychiatrically-speaking, whatsoever.  The one thing that all psychiatrists who believe in MPD—(yes, a growing number do not)—agree on is that an MPD patient is built.  One doesn’t get it, like manic depression, via genetics—at least, certainly not exclusively.  (As the illness’ existence is debated, obviously so too is a genetic component.)  An MPD’s early childhood will be filled with extreme neglect and violence.  Psycho’s myth denies both, but Shree’s portrayal does not—in fact, very far from it.

Shree’s description of child abuse and the failure of the system to prevent it until it has past the point of no return is not only saddeningly accurate, but also reads like a how-to manual on the creation of a long-term mental condition.  The fact that a horribly abused child cannot be cured and their traumas erased by simple adoption into a good, loving family is also showcased.  This epitomizes the need for government assistance to abused children—therapy, so that the real people like Shree’s main character, Sana, would have had the care they needed to prevent things from progressing to the level that, for Sana, they did.

Would Sana’s revelation as being MPD be a shock to her adoptive family?  No, not at all likely.  With an illness like this, there are so many obvious signs to outsiders that they would have had to take note that something was wrong.  And those signs would be ongoing and extreme.  On the other hand, that’s assuming that the adoptive family was not only versed in mental illness, but also attached no stigma to it, in the first place.  To those who do not fit into this category, “denial” is a huge issue which has kept many who need help from seeking treatment for themselves or for their afflicted children.  Shree focuses a good deal on Sana’s kind-hearted, protective adopted mother, correctly portraying her with a highly-tuned degree of naiveté—the only way that it is at all believable that such a woman would have missed all the warning signs of such an intense level of mental illness.  The mother’s shimmering refusal to accept the full gravity of the situation, as well as how much treatment Sana truly needs and how much of a danger to the public Sana genuinely poses, holds up without fail to the very last page.  Seeing it through the mother’s eyesight, the gravity also will not penetrate the psyche of the audience.  This conveys, granted, a very unrealistic view of multiple personality disorder, but does so in a way which gives plausibility as to how no one noticed Sana’s plight and growing threat years earlier.

In short, if one is looking for an informed book on the realities of multiple personality disorder, from my experience, I don’t think that “Silent Invaders” is likely what you’re looking for.  The condition is extremely complex and this is a fast-paced novella, with a great deal of focus on the thriller genre.  But if you’re looking for a book which showcases societal failure towards child abuse victims, not only from a prosecution of perpetrator point of view, but also from a therapeutic one, Shree did a good job.  She shows how the damage is inflicted.  She shows how it is ignored.  And she shows that there are major consequences to deliberate ignorance and determined indifference.

So, now, without further ado, her interview:

G: Kindly please introduce yourself to the readers.

S: First of all, thank you for this interview opportunity, Galina. After completing my Masters Degree in IT, I have worked as an IT professional in UK. But I was always fascinated by my mother’s writing skills and her storytelling talent. As a kid I tried my hand in essays and poems for school magazines. I really loved the experience when my teachers and classmates patted my back with appreciation of my job. That encouraged me to write more. I had been writing poems, articles and short stories in local magazines and newsletters regularly and finally when I moved to USA, I decided that this is what I really want to do in my life.

G: What prompted you to write about multiple personality disorder?

S: Good question! “Silent Invaders” is my debut novel (or novella, if you want to call it). And there is a real story behind the written story 🙂 . Writing about multiple personality disorder was not my first call. Actually, one of the very talented and critically acclaimed directors of the Indian Film Industry, Mr. Jaideep Chopra requested me to write a crime thriller with a female lead for his upcoming movie. He gave his own ideas on how he was visualizing his film on silver screen and then completely relied on me to shape up the story. I was honestly nervous as it was a huge responsibility to live up to his trust on me. During that time one of my very close family members was suffering from serious depression issues and I was trying to deal with it. Unfortunately or fortunately that situation had sparked my imagination to go wild and think about a plot based on mental illness, and eventually MPD cropped up in my mind.

G: What kind of research did you do in order to prepare for this book?

S: No doubt the topic was difficult and sensitive to handle, as I was playing with several layers in the same story. My main focus was on to make the narration and the characters as credible as possible. Hence I had to research not only on mental illness, but also on the various therapies, professions and procedures involved in the story. I did a few real life case studies while I was voluntarily working for children and elderly people in UK. I think those experiences have helped me to write more realistically about the incidents in the story.

G: There is great debate in the psychiatric community as to whether this condition does in fact exist at all, perhaps because females, (at least, in America,) are over nine times as likely as males to be diagnosed with it. Do you care to weigh in your personal opinion regarding this controversy…as well as why the numbers are so disproportionate regarding gender?

S: Honestly I would rather answer this question entirely from my point of view and the very little experience I have in dealing with mental illness. I cannot debate on whether the condition of MPD actually exist or not, but, I have personally known people who have hallucination problems. When they hallucinate, they do not shift from their personal being, although they talk about a completely unknown scenario in a very believable fashion which has in fact never happened or maybe happened with someone else. Their appearances transform completely when they go through this phase. This is seriously scary. And yes clinically several data exist that personality disorders are more common in women than men although the reasons are not clear. I personally opine that women are more vulnerable to depression due to numerous obvious reasons and if there is no awareness, acceptance or help at the initial stage, mental illness might take a threatening shape.

G: Does your book promote the concept that those suffering from multiple personality disorder are also violent? Why or why not?

S: My book is entirely a work of fiction and it does not promote anything other than a message that people with mental illness need empathy and help and it requires to be treated like any other known diseases.

G: Does your book promote the concept that urges towards homicidal violence can be cured via modern therapy? Why or why not?

S: As mentioned earlier this book is a work of fiction rather than a tool to promote any opinion. In my story the homicidal violence resulted as the domino effect of several incidents which happened in the past. Hence I considered modern therapy to be a major solution. In a nutshell, to me investigating the root cause behind any condition is very important before resolving the method of treating it.

G: The homicide victims in your book are mainly sex offenders/ child abusers. Did you write their killer’s character more as a vigilante or a compulsive killer? Why?

S: The killer’s character in story is more of a compulsive killer, again portrayed as horrid consequences of child abuse and molestation.

G: To you, what most sets your book apart from others which have used multiple personality disorder in murder mysteries/ thrillers? What gives yours that personal edge?

S: Ah! I like that question… 🙂 . I feel there are quite a few things which give my book a personal edge:

  1. i) Although the setting of the story is in England, the characters of the story belong to multi-cultural backgrounds, and their different lifestyles add extra shades of colour.
  2. ii) Despite of handling some dark topics like hate crimes, child abuse and mental illness in the story, it has a lot of informal family drama, which give the story a very natural flow and enable the readers relate themselves with the characters.

iii) I have also purposely chosen “easy to read” style of narration.

  1. iv) Even though the story is of crime thriller genre, this book is my humble endeavour to spread awareness to support and help people with mental health issues.

G: Is criminal psychology your preferred genre to write in?

S: This is the first time I tried to write this genre and I must say I have enjoyed.

G: What was hardest for you during the writing process?

S: As I mentioned earlier, the topic was not easy to handle. But the most difficult part was to create the plot realistically, combine and connect all the layers logically and of course weave the mystery intriguingly.

G: What are some positive messages that you would like for your book to convey to the general public regarding mental illness?

S: People suffering from mental illness are human beings like you and me. The illness is like any other known disease. All it requires are awareness and acceptance. The illness can be diagnosed and can be either cured or improved by accurate therapy, support and compassion.

G: What advice do you have for other authors who are trying to tackle forms of mental illness in their work?

S: I don’t consider myself qualified to advise other authors. But I can share a few pointers from my experience – e.g. put yourself in the sufferer’s shoes to fathom the depth of agony, be sensitive yet neutral and realistic while writing on such heavy topics.

G: What’s next on the publishing docket for Shree?

S: There are a few projects in the pipeline, but the ones worth mentioning are a collection of Bengali Poetry & Ghazals which will be released very soon and a collection of English short and micro stories. And the exciting thing is “Silent Invaders” is probably next in the queue to be filmed by Mr. Jaideep Chopra.





Seeking International Romani Female Writers

Romani Flag

Roughly a year and a half ago, I quietly put the word out that I was looking for Romani female authors who would contribute to the first annual Romani Feminist Anthology.

What is the purpose of this anthology?  To give Romani women from across the globe, from different backgrounds, the opportunity to have their struggle for racial and gender equality heard.  But, more than that, to use their literary superpowers to help those in our community who cannot articulate their hardships.

Writers will not be paid for their entries because all the book’s profits–yes, 100%–will be going to a Romani charity.  The authors selected will each have a vote as to which charity will be the recipient of the funding.

Stories must be a minimum of 1000 words and a rough maximum of 6000.

Those currently contributing to the anthology are actress Mihaela Dragan, novelist Glenda Bailey-Mershon, blogger Jessica Reidy, myself, Diana Norma Szokolyai, and Damaris Solis.

With any annual project, the first one is always the hardest to get off the ground and the time has come to cast a wider net.

Romani sisters, will you write to make the world a better place?

Romani brothers and allies, do you know someone who would be interested?

Please message me here on my blog or at:

Author Feature: Suresh Chandrasekaran


I first encountered Suresh Chandrasekaran online not long after the release of his satire, “A Dog Eat Dog-food World.”  Many of my Facebook friends were pouring in with rave reviews for the book.  I put it on my to-read list…but, as with many other bibliophiles, my to-read list spans from floor to ceiling.  Like a customer at the DMV, “A Dog Eat Dog-Food World” wound up in unfortunate limbo there.  Meanwhile, on its end, it sprawled comfortably on the best-seller list and continued raking in four and five-star critiques, currently averaging at 4.5 stars on Amazon and 4.56 on Goodreads.


I soon became more aware of Chandrasekaran’s work because, in my favorite writer group online, “For Writers by Authors,” he served as an editor and a judge for their periodically-published UnBound Emagazine.


When I wrote an author feature for Karthik Lakshminarayanan’s story, “Bellary,” featured in the three-story anthology “Sirens Spell Danger,” I noticed that Chandrasekaran had written the first installment, “Femme Fatale,” in addition to being the book’s editor.  So I figured, hey, let’s finally check this well-known writer out.  “Sirens Spell Danger” was rated 4 stars on Amazon and 4.07 on Goodreads.


Reading “Femme Fatale,” I was struck by his versatility.  This tale was many things, but satire certainly wasn’t one of them.  The storyline takes place almost entirely over the course of twenty-four hours, so there’s really not a lot of room for me to comment without giving the plot away.  But, to me, it read very much like a film, with the goal being to rapidly make the audience’s adrenaline peak and stay consistently peaking until the last few pages…rather like machine gun bullets being fired.  In that, Chandrasekaran was successful.

Now, without further ado, a brief discussion with the author himself regarding the story and his current literary plans:

G: Kindly please introduce yourself to our readers.

S: Addicted to books since the age of 8, writing was what I wanted to do with my life but the need to earn a living took me through a chemical engineering degree and, later, a management degree from IIM-Bangalore. Having decided to quit by 40 to write, after saving enough to keep the wolf from the door, I did live up to that plan of quitting, only to suddenly develop cold feet about writing. A decade spent on trekking later I eventually did start writing, first with a blog –  Life is Like This. The blog received a measure of popularity, even getting listed in the Top 100 Humor blogs of the World by a feed aggregator. Then, I co-wrote and edited an anthology of Crime Stories – Sirens Spell Danger. At this moment, I also have a satirical novella – A dog eat dog-food world – the paperback version of which was published by an indie publisher while I retained the ebook rights.

G: In addition to your spy tale “Femme Fatale” in “Sirens Spell Danger,” you are the author of the satirical best-seller “Dog Eat Dogfood World.”  Which genre did you prefer to write in?

S: Humor, I find easiest to write – the narrative part – but it is the toughest to conceptualize a story in that genre. Add to that the fact that it is the least appreciated genre and that enthusiasm for writing (at least for me) is feedback-dependent, I’d say that, currently, I am more interested in writing fantasy or crime. If, though, I get a good concept for writing humor, I’d probably enjoy the writing of it the most.

G: When an author writes in two different genres, this has the ability to showcase their literary range.  Do you have any intentions to put forward books that do not fall into either of these categories and, if so, what new category would you write in?

S: My first published short story was Drama, I’d say, though it was published in a Romance anthology. My current works in progress are in fantasy and Drama.

G: Do you foresee yourself releasing a full-length novel of the same type, either in genre or on the theme of espionage/ terrorism, as “Femme Fatale?”

S: I daresay that I’d write up to the upper end of the novella word count, at best, when it comes to humor. The fantasy I am working on is a full-length novel. I do have a concept or two in mind for the crime/espionage genre but nothing concrete as yet.

G: There are many cautionary tales of alcohol-related hookups.  What did you do to give the dangerous siren at a bar scenario a unique edge?

S: In Femme Fatale, it was much less an alcohol-related hookup and more a susceptible male being propositioned by an alluring woman for a one night stand. Even in the modern day, in India, an attractive woman propositioning a man for a one night stand is rare enough to give a unique edge for the Indian reader. AND, I suppose, sufficiently interesting still for the Western reader without necessarily being unique.

G: In “Femme Fatale,” you really don’t wait too long before your main character is knee-deep in the clutches of severe brutality.  What emotional tools do you use to get yourself into the mindset to effectively describe violence?

S: I find that I am normally in the head of my POV character when I write – something I discovered about myself only when I started writing. So, it was relatively easy for me to see all that as really happening to me (AS that character) and capture his reactions. If THAT character had been different, the way the violence got written would have been different as well.

G: “Femme Fatale” is extremely fast-paced, rather like an action movie.  How much of a challenge was it for you to maintain that atmosphere?

S: One of the things that did worry me as to maintain that breathless pace, especially maintaining the tension of the story while still maintaining a semi-humorous narrative tone. It was a tightrope walk to not allow the humor to convert the story into a spoof AND at the same time maintain the tone that was appropriate to that character.

G: To your mind, what makes women like your siren so hard to resist, either in real life or literature?

S: In THIS tale I made it relatively easy – conventional beauty and all the right buttons that release hormones in men. Hard to resist women, as in seduction, can come in various shapes and sizes, really. With some it could be an aura of aloofness, with other a grace of carriage, and of course with some the conventional idea of attractive curves and the rest. I do not think there is any formula to it.

G: Do you intend to organize or participate in any more anthologies any time soon?

S: Not really. Anthologies are a difficult sell for one and, for another, if it is multi-author, you find that every single reader likes some and dislikes some purely on differing tastes even when ALL are well-written. So, you actually neither get a good readership nor valid critique.

G: If not, why?  If so, what kind of themes would you like to work on the next time around?

S: I have written why I do not intend participating in anthologies above, so I shall explain why I do not want to organize any more. Leaving aside the issues I outlined above, I have other problems specific to organizing. I am a stickler for deadlines and unforgiving of lapses. I also am too keen on having the tales polished to the T and keep asking for rewrites. It is a wonder that Karthik and Radha (Sawana) are still my friends but Karthik can tell you how demanding I get. I find the whole process too stressful and, since I am the sort who does only one thing at a time, I’d have to shelve my own writing for that period. At least currently I am unwilling to do it.

G: What is next on the docket for Suresh Chandrasekaran?

S: As I mentioned earlier, I have a fantasy novel and a collection of Drama stories in the works. The first draft of my straight retelling of Greek Myth – first book of a potential four – is ready and I shall probably get around to rewrites on that after I finish the first drafts of these two.


Suresh Chandrasekaran may be followed on his blog:




Interview with Author Kelli Pizarro

Some years back, I published a book about a 19th century Romani female slave in Eastern Europe.

At the time it came out, it was, to the best of my knowledge, the only work of historical fiction on this subject published in the English language.  Some assumed that I would feel proud for breaking the glass ceiling, but, in actuality, I only wondered, when millions of Romani women, over the course of centuries and in so many different countries, were subjected to slavery…why weren’t other historical fiction writers tackling this issue?  Wasn’t it dramatic enough?  Heart-breaking enough?  Interesting enough?  Why were authors continuously ignoring it?

Last week, I came across the recently-published book “The Roma Road: A Gypsy Tale” by Kelli Pizarro and I found that the subject material was finally, at such long last, being addressed by someone else.  The time period, country, and circumstances were different in many ways from my own book, but, as I read Pizarro’s work, I found myself continuously thinking that, if my slave character sat down to dinner with hers, the two would likely get on quite well.

Pizarro’s book starts during a largely-ignored period of ethnic cleansing, enforced by royal decree, in the UK.  Though I am not Romanichal, as the majority of Romani people in the UK are, I was very familiar with the research used in this book due to the fact that I do have UK roots and also because I have previously written a screenplay specifically about the genocide inflicted upon the Romanichal population.  As a result of my own extensive research, while reading, I repeatedly wondered just how much this non-Romani author was going to portray accurately.

I hoped for the best.  I admit, after seeing so many other authors portray UK Roma in ridiculous fashions, I expected the worst.  I was stunningly and very pleasantly surprised.

I will first mention some obvious sore spots….  There were several things in the book which do fit the “Gypsy” stereotype.  There is fortune-telling, theft, spell-casting, and a seductive Romani dancer….  That said, what sets Pizarro’s book very apart from when these things are usually portrayed is that she consistently presents them in the context of force and violence.

As the Romani characters are continually, from the first to the last page, aware that they may be, at any point, grabbed and either killed or shipped overseas if the White population recognizes them for what they ethnically are, they are driven repeatedly to desperate actions which do not appeal to them, but there is no way that they can avoid.  Does the Romani man want to steal food?  No.  He’d rather have a regular job, but that’s not on the docket when you can be hung for coming from the wrong race.

Romani women have never fit into the housewife mold at times like these.  In order to put food on the table, an untold multitude have told fortunes.  To fundamentalist Europe, fortune-telling was during the Middle Ages, Renaissance, and, even by some people today, considered sacrilege.  To our culture, ever since we left India, however it was not regarded as evil—instead, quite harmless.  And if this harmless act could feed your children in a time when regular employment was not an option, all the better.  How many Romani palm-readers wound up being branded as witches and subsequently murdered by European mobs?  Impossible to say, but no doubt the numbers ran into the thousands.  Consequently, to this day, while some Romani women in times of financial strain do on the side read a fortune here or there, there remains a great deal of anxiousness when Gadje (non-Romani) authors point this out.  But Pizarro handles an authentic trade tastefully—showcasing it accurately a means of survival during bad times.

The spell-casting, to my mind, was the most uncomfortable bit in the book, but even that had to be put into the context of it taking place during the 16th century—the time when tomatoes where considered poisonous and leeches were placed inside a person’s nose to stop it from bleeding.  The use of and total belief in magic, at that point, was in no way unique to any ethnic group.  Had Pizarro’s book been set in the modern day, with Romani spell-casters, I would indeed agree that she was endorsing a stereotype.  But, in all honesty, to have characters living four hundred years ago in your book that lack superstition is hardly realistic.

As to the last issue…the beautiful, sexy, “exotic” Romani dancer…here, I found the stereotype which has plagued Romani women worldwide put in the most truthful light.  What is this girl—the one who all the White men are ogling and treating like a whore?  She’s a victim of human trafficking—not even a woman, but just a teenage girl.  She has no choice but to do what she does.  When she tries to fight back, she is threatened with physical and sexual violence.  When she continues to fight, those threats are made good on.  Again and again, she is manipulated, humiliated, degraded, and violated without any legal recourse for the sole reason that she is Romani.  To everyone around her, she is an object; a means for them to earn money.  And, on the inside, she is desperately searching for some way to assert her status as a human being; as a child of God.

Does the book have some linguistic and cultural hiccups?  Yes, it does.  But overall, the fact that it highlights an enslavement and genocide which most Gadje readers will have had no previous knowledge ever took place at all is far more important than these minor errors.  The fact that the myth of the hypersexualized Gypsy dancer is shown in reality to be an exploited, terrorized Romani victim of a racist sexual predator…to me, as a Romani woman, leaves me with a feeling of hope that perhaps the time has come when this issue of ethnic gender violence will start finally being portrayed with accuracy in the historical fiction market.  The plight of our Romani ancestresses, of Romani women in general, deserves its fair amount of time on the page of modern fiction….

Pizarro’s readers, I doubt very strongly, will walk away from her book without a greater understanding of some of the horror inflicted upon our people.

Perhaps, to some, that is only my hope or naiveté.

Pizarro’s reviews will reveal whether or not I am right.

In the meantime, I will dissolve from review to interview and allow the audience to hear from her, in her own words, what she aimed to achieve by writing about the slavery of a Romani teen.


G: Welcome, Kelli.  Please introduce yourself to the readers and give a brief summary of your past writing projects.

K: I am a thirty-something Christian fiction author, homeschooling mother of three, wife, and lover of warm drinks, and good books.

My books have all been set in England, due to the rich history—both the good and the bad—and the fact that both sides of my family come from there several generations back. It helps me to connect to a place, knowing that at the time my stories were set, I had family living in the same area that possibly could have taken part in whatever my books entailed, were they not fictional stories! I hope to one day travel to the places I have written about and see them modern day.

The last book I have completed is the topic of discussion today, The Roma Road: A Gypsy Tale.

G: Now let’s start off with the $64,000 dollar question: you are not Romani and you previously had no contact with the Roma, so what prompted you to write a book dedicated to showcasing the abuse of the UK Romani people?

K: This is an interesting question with a long(ish) answer. After finishing Awaiting the Reign, I was at a pause in my writing. A time of recuperation, if you will. I was up one night doing personal research on the history of the circus when I got the idea for a book. It began as a story of a circus performer who falls in love with the ringleader but is abused and eventually makes her escape. Many hours of research brought me to the question: What was the pre-circus like? Traveling freak shows with grotesque displays were popular in different areas and I decided to start from there. I wanted my protagonist to be a woman who was held against her will and mistreated, but also to be on display for something other than a physical abnormality, setting her apart. I found some sources stating that oftentimes, these freak shows had private tents for gentlemen to enter for a fee. This tent usually held an exotic dancer, and also items such as pickled fetuses and other things that women and children wouldn’t be allowed to look upon. My next question was: Who, during the 16th century in this area, would be a people that would be enslaved without question from the government? I found that slavery was quite popular in that time and location, but my next finding was a shock to me. The “gypsies” were often enslaved, and in many places forced to do manual labor, prostitution, or be shipped off. I, like many others, knew nothing of the history of the Roma people. I’m going to be honest with you—I didn’t even know that “gypsy” was a derogatory term! So there began my research into the history of the Romanichal people. I read countless articles, watched YouTube videos detailing the Romani Holocaust, and read papers written by members of the Roma community. I was heartbroken to learn that not only were these people persecuted terribly, in many ways they still are, and many people have no knowledge about any of this! I began to pray for the Roma community and to ask God to show me how I can craft a story that will expose how evil the freak shows were, how the Roma were lumped into the same category as disfigured people or other enslaved races, and show the gospel finding its way to my characters. My story unfolded from there.

G: The word “Gypsy” barely occurs in your book at all, yet it is in the book’s subtitle.  Can you explain why?

K: There are terms that are “obviously” racial to some people, and to others they are just informal slurs. The term “Gypsy” was one I was guilty of using, and I was surprised to find that it caused quite a stir in the Roma community. Especially since many Roma people use the word themselves. But after researching, I found that the word’s use is similar to calling Native Americans “Indians.” It is a title based on a misconception and ignorance, but should have been dropped after the true origin of the people was recognized. It is a term that has been watered down by those who aren’t Roma and I do feel that most (now day) mean no disrespect when using it. It is used in ignorance. Due to this, many people interested in that culture search for movies, shows, books, and other points of interest using that as the search term. The key word. And if I had just written “The Roma Road” as the title, I guarantee many, many people would have no clue that this was a book about “Gypsies,” and would have passed it by—and missed an opportunity to learn something. The opportunity to hopefully come to the conclusion that they no longer wished to refer to the Roma people in that way. They could use the words “Roma” and “Romani” instead, and feel confident in doing so. I never intended the use of the word in the title to arouse anger from the Roma community. Conversely, I hoped any Roma who might come upon my book would read it and appreciate someone having had the strong desire to shine light on the oppression of the people. Unfortunately, it has been a split crowd. Having had two members of the Roma community read and offer me feedback on the book, I found that one was determined to be opposed to the book because it contained “stereotypes”, while the other had an appreciation for my delicate telling of the culture at the time, and my disclaimers stating that the people do not all thieve, work witchcraft, or live godless lives.

G: Given that you are portraying a culture not your own, I found the degree of authenticity quite striking.  How long did it take you to research the material to achieve this and, afterward the studying process, how long did the book actually take to write?

K: Had I known I was to be asked this, I would have paid closer attention, but sadly, I have no sure answer for you. As for the research, it was a process of long (up to 8 hour) nights of study, five days a week, over a period of several months. When I say it was a full time job that did not pay, I am being truthful. Of course, the reward of knowledge was all the pay I desired.

The first few months of this work were strictly research. The other months were study done in between chapters, my aim being to take each scene written and dissect it for historical accuracy as much as possible. This is just the way I write. I research before, during, and after a book. I have an author friend aid me in my studies and research, then have her pick my books apart for errors.

G: “The Roma Road: A Gypsy Tale” centers on a 16th century Romani girl being subjected to human trafficking. Some readers unfamiliar with modern Romani history likely have the impression that the topics you portrayed are long-dead issues.  However, in many countries throughout Europe, the rates of human trafficking are quite disproportionately in favor of Roma, rather than Whites, being forced into modern slavery.  Did this current-day problem have anything to do with your decision to write a book on Romani slavery’s history?

K: No, it did not. I had no knowledge of these facts until I was well into writing my story. It was something that I was saddened to learn and hoped that many would read my book, learn of this history, then take up my suggestion to further their own research and find that many of these issues are still current.

G: Generally, when Romani slavery is discussed, those who are aware that it took place at all focus on Eastern Europe—Romania, in particular.  What made you decide to highlight the history of persecution, ethnic cleansing, and enslavement of the Roma in the UK instead?

K: My book started out as a story with the background stage as the pre-circus. Much of that originated in the UK. A few years ago I traced my ancestry back to England and found that, on both sides of my family, my relatives lived for many generations in certain areas. I became fascinated with the culture and history, and like writing books that are set in the times when my family may have lived there. All of these are reasons that I chose the Roma of the UK for my story.

G: Often, when UK slavery is referenced, it is through euphemisms such as “indentured servitude.”  At no point in the book do you once use any of these regular watered-down terms.  You say, every time, “slave.”  Was it especially important to you, as an author, to ensure that the audience understood that there really is no other way to adequately describe the situation?

K: Indentured servitude is a glamorous way of saying, “a person with no freedom who did unpaid labor”. That is a slave, plain and simple. As in every time in history where there have been oppressed people, there have been those who wished they were not treated so, but those were not the majority and the result was catastrophic for the Roma people. It was very important to me that my readers grasp what it meant to be a Roma slave, and that they don’t have any qualms about calling it for what it was after reading this book.

G: Repeatedly throughout the book, you reference how, when Roma are caught, if they are not killed, they are frequently put on ships and sent away.  Was this data included to help American audiences understand that a significant portion of modern Romani-Americans, particularly in Southern States like your native Texas, descend from these brutal UK slave raids?

K: Yes. If the readers learned that the Roma people were shipped off, they would conclude on their own that they began lives in other places. This included the US, and the population here today came from much of this slave trafficking. The land of the free has not always been free for all and that is important to know as well.

G: Most mainstream individuals consider Queen Elizabeth I a great monarch, but you highlight very clearly that it was during her reign, on her personal orders, that anti-Romani ethnic cleansing was going on throughout the county she ruled.  How important is it, do you think, that this fact regarding her time in power be brought to light for modern audiences, given that today’s UK Roma still endure a great deal of bigotry?

K: History belongs to no one in particular, which means it is shared. Therefore, it is crucial to understand the foundation that said bigotry was built on, and such policies at the time poured quite a firm foundation. What a pity, too. The opportunity to glean from a beautiful culture was missed, and was a loss for the UK. They stole what they wished from the Roma people, yet accused them of being the thieves. But just as I have stated previously, it is not the entire UK population that feels so strongly against the Roma people, and if one is to be fair, and careful not to mislead, they must offer disclaimers. Here is mine: I am in no position to speak for anyone but myself. I have seen injustice served, and have attempted to shine a light on it. Those who wish to search out truths should do so.

G: You deal with the topic of racially-based ongoing rape very poignantly, yet at the same time, with tremendous subtlety.  Was this subtlety on your part designed to conform to the standards of the book’s genre, (Christian historical fiction,) or out of respect to Romani culture’s traditions regarding modesty as pertains to both sex and sexual violence?

K: Both. The Christian fiction genre in general is one that I find is best written with a careful pen. I find that my own writing of sexual sins is more blunt and detailed than many Christian authors, so for you to say that it is subtly and poignantly written, I take that as both compliment and a great relief. I have done my best to, while exposing wrongs, not do further harm to the hearts of the Roma people, and have attempted to keep my readers from shutting the book and saying, “This is too much! I can’t go on!”

G: For centuries untold, many Romani children, like your main character, Nadya, have been lied to by their family members, who deny Romani ethnic origins as a means of survival.  These children, who faced the choice of being forced to be “White” or die, grow up with a loss of Romanes language, cultural traditions, and are frequently subjected to varying degrees of ostrazation by those traditionally raised.  How do you hope that books like yours might influence this unfortunate vicious cycle, both for the non-Romani and Romani communities alike?

K: Until you have some level of love for a person, it is difficult to have a sympathy deep enough to provoke change. Books like mine make the non-Romani people form a bond with Romani characters. They see them as who they are—people, with strengths, weaknesses, and souls. They grow to love them, to feel for them. Then, they can no longer turn a blind eye when they see such things still happening. These books are not the entire fire with which you burn up racial profiling and injustices. However, they very well can be the tinder.

G: People of mixed Romani-Gadje origin often face double discrimination from both ethnicities, eventually are pressured by both to choose only one heritage which they will acknowledge.  What made you decide that your main character should be of mixed origin, rather than full-blood?

K: Honestly, it just fit. My character needed to see both sides. She had a white father who loved Roma. She had a white grandfather who kidnapped and enslaved Roma. She was raised around Roma who loved her white father and her. She also saw the conflict between her anti-Roma stepmother and the Roma that lived on her land. She saw every facet of this conflict before she was ten years old and enslaved, and then suffered the trauma of being discriminated against herself. How could she not be open-minded and open-hearted to both sides? I believe this is the way to eliminate discrimination against any ethnicity: to learn why they feel the way they do and do offer healing to any who need it. But then also to not place blame on the parties who do not condone the discrimination. Many people are descendants of slave owners and are hated for their heritage. They didn’t ask to descend from such people. It is their own values and choices that should be judged.

Nadya experienced it all, and by the time she was an adult, she desperately needed healing.

G: I found your principal villain to be very well written.  In particular, the emotional complexity he deals with regarding his status as a master was refreshing.  Books typically portray the slave masters as having no belief whatsoever that their actions are immoral, but your villain seems to understand that the system, however beneficial to him personally, is ethically flawed.  What was your inspiration for his internal conundrum?

K: We are born with a conscience. We can’t deny that. Some villains are able to numb theirs completely, and others just deal with it by putting it off. For this character to be as emotionally unstable as he was, he needed to have a conflict within him. He needed to struggle and to attempt to gain control of his situations by pride and power. And it just worked best that he refused to allow himself to feel remorse though he knew it was due.

G: As befits the 16th century setting, your book features some very old-school Romani traditions and beliefs which many modern Roma do not practice/ believe.  Was it difficult to portray time period-accurate things, like the casting of love spells, while knowing that many non-Roma believe this is still par for the course among Roma people today?

K: It was not difficult because, like I said, history is shared. If I can, being no expert on the people, take some time in study and come to the conclusion that things have changed in most cultures over the last 500 years, then anyone can. If someone wants to believe that the Roma people are tarot-card reading, pick-pocketing, traveling musicians, they will. There is nothing that can be done for willful ignorance. The only way I can think to change the minds of people who won’t do their own research is to lure them in with a nicely-woven tale, include the things they “think a Gypsy” is, but show them that these stereotypes were era-specific, family-specific, and even specific to the individual. Disclaimers and clarifying statements then attempt to hit the mark and clear up any confusion that may still remain. The problem isn’t so much that the non-Romani community will read it and say, “See! There’s a palm reader!” or, “See! He stole a duck from a farmer!” Any character can do those things. It is that, after reading the book they will say, “I would have stolen to feed my family, too…” or “The white people who were bold enough to ask for one, seemed to enjoy a good fortune telling…” Even, “I hate that they were oppressed for being so different, when their culture was truly beautiful.” Those are the things that the non-Romani will walk away with. Sadly, due to the subject matter being sensitive, the Roma community may have difficulty seeing it as a “good book” that “does their people any good service.” But the book’s audience wasn’t specific to the Roma community. Instead, it was aimed at those who aren’t familiar with the culture. Each historical fiction book tends to have a message it wishes to convey, and an audience it is speaking to. This books audience is the non-Roma crowd, and the message is, “Do you know of Gypsies, or of the Roma people?”

G: The biggest flaw that I found in the book was that your racist characters referenced “dirty Roma,” “filthy Roma,” et cetera.  To my mind the more accurate phrasing from a racist would be “dirty Gypsy,” “filthy Gyppo,” and other established anti-Romani slurs.  How do you react to this particular criticism of your villains being too educated and politically correct?

K: When given permission by a Roma to use such phrases, I was more confident in going back and using them more freely from the lips of the discriminating characters. I was attempting to be extra sensitive to the Roma community, but after a better understanding, I believe it was better for me to use the slurs in order to have the full effect: showing how hurtful such racist phrases are.

G: Your book’s genre is Christian historical fiction.  Across Europe during the Middle Ages and Renaissance, there were religious institutions from many different sects which exploited, kidnapped, discriminated against, enslaved, or even killed Roma.  The main non-Romani religious figure that you portray does not partake in such behavior as, certainly, many decent clergy did not.  What did you do to attempt to find literary balance and middle ground so that your main character, Nadya, can find peace and healing through genuine love of faith, while your book does not deny a history of church abuse which Christ would certainly not have endorsed to be perpetrated against any race?

K: Research, research, research. The stories of abuse within and without the church are horrifying, and Christ would not have us sweep such sins under a rug. There are evil people everywhere, just as there are good. Like in my other books, I go for a lesson learned. That is one of the key things I hope to convey in this story.

G: As pertains to the previous question, I will give one example that struck me.  You wrote a scene involving one Romani girl covertly reading a cherry vendor’s palm in a market.  Were the pains the characters took to not be noticed a reflection of the Catholic ruling that individuals whose fortunes were read by Roma would be forever excommunicate according to Papal law?

K: The scene was a picture of how careful both sides had to be in order to not find themselves on the wrong side of the law. English law did their part in keeping the cultures very separate. The pains taken to not be seen on both parts are best viewed separately. Papin, the Roma girl, has learned through experience which persons she can approach with her skills and attempt to trade said skills for goods. She risks exposure in order to gain food for her people. The cherry vendor is taken immediately by her good looks and cannot bring himself to step away from the opportunity to see what the Roma can tell him about his life by a quick glimpse at his hand. He risks being punished by church and law for doing such a thing, but calculates the risk and come to the personal conclusion that it was worth it.

G: Texas has a large Christian Romani population.  Do you plan to promote your book to them?

K: Given the opportunity to have the Christian Romani population in Texas support my book would be an honor, and I certainly hope that it will be approved by many. As I stated, my target audience is non-Roma, as it is meant to educate those who have no knowledge of the Roma’s history. The Romani population, I think, needs no education on such things from a book written by a non-Romani from the perspective of a Roma girl. It may even seem ridiculous to them to read such a thing, as they may feel they could write a more accurate portrayal of the time themselves. This was the opinion of one Roma I had review my book. And I have no doubt that most could offer details that I am still not knowledgeable of. But this book is about more than just the Roma’s oppression, though that is the biggest part of the story. It is about the Protestant church being oppressed as well. It is about a trafficking victim’s struggle. It is about the abuse those with disfigurements suffered when put on display in the traveling shows. It is about love and loss. So these things woven together will reach an audience who wants to learn about those particular years in that certain area of the UK, and hear a moving story as well. If any in the Christian Romani population have those things in mind while searching for a read, they may find my book enjoyable. I certainly hope they do! But to answer your question specifically, I intend to promote my book to any who would enjoy historical fiction hitting on those key things, regardless of ethnicity. I just predict that those most interested would be non-Roma.

G: After the story has ended, you encourage non-Romani Christians at the back of the book to reach out and support their Romani brethren.  What steps do you think churches today could take to make this happen?  Have you considered speaking at churches in your state regarding this issue of greater racial tolerance and understanding on the basis of true Christian doctrine?

K: I think Christians as individuals, not just churches, should first educate themselves on the plight of the Roma people and then ask God specifically to show them what He would have them to do. Whether that would be financially supporting the ministries that aid Roma children in getting a proper education, or forming/aiding other outreaches that extend love and the gospel to the Roma community, there are plenty of ways to get involved. Speaking on any platform, be it social media or a stage at church, can result in having a great influence. I do not consider myself a speaker, nor do I look for opportunities to speak publically. I am a writer and feel my voice is best read, not heard from a platform. However, given the opportunity to speak to a group in the past, I have not declined and if the chance to speak came, I can’t stay that I would automatically decline it due to my stage fright. I do feel that this is an area in which more non-Roma people should speak, especially those with public speaking skills.

G: When I encountered the advertisement for your book, the tag line referenced something to the effect of, “What is a Gypsy soul?”  When pointed out to you that this phrasing is a trigger for the Romani community and carries, for many of us, the implication of non-Roma being able to appropriate our culture/ become “Gypsies,” you changed your tag line to something else.  You also expressed your desire to speak to actual people from the Romani community, halting publication of your book, until it could be scrutinized by them in order to weed out cultural inaccuracies and linguistic glitches.  Why did you make this extreme gesture to wait for the approval of the minority that you are portraying?

K: Because my work was meant to help, not harm. I am not so naïve as to think that I will gain the approval of most Roma in writing this book. The majority is impossible to please in any crowd. My intent was to ensure that I got the facts as straight as possible, to make friends in the community, and to get insight into their hearts. I found that in doing so I bettered my book, but also expanded my own understanding of the modern Roma community. There is so much to be learned from them, and I hope to continue to learn how to better love and pray for them as a people.

All of my books are available at in both paperback and Kindle form.

Can a White Author Put “Gypsy” in a Book Title? Well….

As NaNoWriMo drew to a close, I began to debate how to get back to into my blog, featuring both a weekly Romani rights article as well as an author interview….  Which person to choose first out of the plethora on my to-read list?

That so-simple question would wind up being answered by an epically nasty bit of online drama, the specifics of which, to a very large degree boil down to one simple question: when portraying a minority main character, do White authors have the same rights as the minority itself?

In this instance, a White author’s main character was Romani.  And, in order to reach out to a broader audience, she used the word “Gypsy” in the book’s title.  I was asked to weigh in on this, book unread, on her author’s page….

For me, this indeed presented a tricky situation.  All who follow my activism at all know well that I have been protesting the use of the word “Gypsy” since long before many of my contemporaries.  How great is my dedication to this cause?  Great enough to nearly be arrested.  Below I include the article detailing the specifics of that incident.

Why am I cemented to this word being put in its proper place?  Because I am a three-time anti-Romani hate crime survivor and, with every incident, “Gypsy” was shoved in my face as a verbal excuse for everything that happened to me.

Rape was okay so long as my assailant called me a “Gypsy Princess” afterwards.

Trying to take my newborn son away was okay, so long as the hospital nurse told me, “Gypsies aren’t people.”

Trying to deny me my degree was okay, so long as the teacher told me that he didn’t know how “letting a Gypsy graduate would reflect on the school.”

I don’t need someone to tell me the gravity of what the slur word “Gypsy” can accomplish.  I see it in my face when I look in the mirror—not because of my ethnicity, but because, when I was nineteen, it earned me a broken nose which, to this day, bends just slightly to one side.  I’ve lived with that misshapen part of my face for so long that, usually, I don’t notice it anymore.  But, at the times that I do, it only furthers my resolve that I will be doing battle with that word until my end.

Back when I started campaigning against the G word, nearly twenty years ago, there was a lot more wiggle-room that the Gadje (non-Roma) community had regarding it.  “Roma” and “Romani” were not terms that most of them had much of a chance to ever hear or read without deliberately looking.

But that’s not the case today.  Too many Romani activists throughout the world have put tremendous effort into getting the mainstream population to acknowledge that we, as a people, have the same linguistic right to self-definition as anyone else.  Point of fact, some have even taken it further than I ever intended.  They don’t want to be identified as “Roma” or “Romani,” but instead by their specific tribal identity within the Romani system, much like some Native Americans prefer to be called Pomo, Lakota, Cherokee; et cetera.

Either way, you can’t put “Gypsy” into Google now without the search engine soon enough spitting back the term “slur word” into your face.

So back to the original question: can a Gadjo/ Gadji author write a good book with a Romani main character?  Sure.  That depends mainly on the personal talent of the writer in question than anything else.  But can they then use “Gypsy” in the title to help them sell copies?  The answer here should be an easy “no.”  Any way you slice it, that person is using a slur word for profit.

And yet…sadly…the answer is not so simple.

The fact of it is that, as the market currently stands, many authors know that their books will not find the audience that they are targeting and that they will not make money off the hard work that they have put into their book unless they do put the G word in the title.  No, the authors that I’m referring to here aren’t Gadje.  I’m talking about the majority of the authors who are considered some of the top dogs in Romani literary activism in the world….

So when the Romani author “elite” is consistently doing it, what position do they put those of us in who are trying to tell Whites to stop using this slur for profit?

Sure, sure, some people will inevitably pop up here and say, “Hey, we’re Roma, so it’s okay for us to make money off the slur.  It’s horrible and racist for Gadje, but it’s okay for us.”

I’m sorry, folks, but this argument has a pretty huge flaw in that slur-embracing benefits only an extremely small number of Roma and the rest of us wind up getting screwed.  It also leaves Gadje—especially Gadje authors—with a very mixed message.  And so long as that message continues to be mixed, the status of “Gypsy” as a slur word will continue to be in question among many people who do not necessarily mean it to be harmful; people who do not realize the harm that it has historically caused and will continue to cause.

To my Romani brothers and sisters, I can only point out what a change it was when, in a courtroom, there could be consequences for employers to call their African-American employees by the N word.  Now that victory didn’t come about easily.  That happened specifically through the decades of hard work, organized activism, and consistency on the part of the African-American people.

Roma people will get there.  We have made leaps and bounds in the last few decades towards improvement in social justice.  So is the degree of compromise where “Gypsy” is put in a book title still necessary for Romani-Americans today to get their readers?  The argument could be made for both yay and nay.  But such compromise definitely would not be necessary if the Romani community took a firm stand and said “no” to the slur word unanimously; said “no” we will not use this word to make money.

We are worth more than a title with “Gypsy” in it.  Our culture and our history are worth more than “Gypsy” will ever provide us with.

We deserve to be known for what we are.  We deserve for our ancestral origins to not be inaccurately attributed to a different country than India.  We deserve for our people to not be mistaken for other ethnic groups simply because they may share a few cultural traits with some of us.

To Gadje authors, I’ll say this: yours is a decision that is very largely based on personal morals.  Is it fair?  No.  Not by a long shot.  You’ve worked hard on a book.  You want to get paid for that.  But it’s a cold, hard fact that you won’t get nearly the paycheck for the job you’ve done if you don’t use the slur.  However, if you use the slur, there will be a backlash for your doing so.  If you don’t, there won’t be…yet likely neither the Gadje or Romani community will even notice your book exists.  Welcome to the wonderful world of writing about the Romani experience.  Either way, you can’t win.

To Roma, I say that if it offends you that a White author uses “Gypsy” in a book title, the best way that you can take a stand against this is to stop acting in a way which enables it.  That means a lot more than ganging up on that particular author online without reading their book.  It means that the people who you associate with yourself, your friends and family, who use “Gypsy” to make money, need to start being called out on the damage they are causing.  Because, make no mistake about it, they are providing Gadje with the shining example of why the use of this word is actually “okay.”

The thought of Roma holding Roma accountable for their actions regarding this is not as radical as many might like to claim.  There’s plenty of other ethnic minorities that have been in precisely the same shoes as us regarding this issue.  Many have managed to pull themselves up by the bootstraps.  We’re still not quite there.  But tick tok, tick tok, we will get there….

Lastly, to the ones on both sides who claim this word is not as bad as I make out, I leave you with the 1828 Webster Dictionary’s definition of its meaning.  How can you defend this?  How can you “take it back” and turn it into a positive term?  If the answer to that leaves you uncomfortable or you hesitate, you know very well whether or not you should be using it to promote your business.

“GIP’SEY, n. The Gipseys are a race of vagabonds which infest Europe, Africa and Asia, strolling about and subsisting mostly by theft, robbery and fortune-telling. The name is supposed to be corrupted from Egyptian, as they were thought to have come from Egypt. But their language indicates that they originated in Hindoostan.

  1. A reproachful name for a dark complexion.
  2. A name of slight reproach to a woman; sometimes implying artifice or cunning.

A slave I am to Clara’s eyes:

The gipsey knows her power and flies.

GIP’SEY, n. The language of the gipseys.”












Interview with and Review by Karthik Lakshminarayanan


Every once in a while, novice authors will ask those published for advice.  You’ll hear tips about how to focus on your skills, but rarely how to focus on anything else.  The proverbial “words of wisdom” that I would impart go as follows: when you undertake the writing profession, there is more that you may wind up being judged by than you might expect.  Personally, when I encounter a colleague of the literary arts, I rate them not only by the plot of their work and the quality of the way which they bring that plot to life but also upon how they treat fellow authors.  The arts are a rough business, no doubt about it.  And, sadly, there are many out there that would happily cut off their own nose if it means spiting another writer’s sales.  So when someone goes the extra mile to support their fellows, they can truly make themselves stand out.  They say that nice guys finish last, but this cliché, like so many others, doesn’t have to be the case.

I met Karthik Lakshminarayanan, (who also writes under the names “Karthik L” and “T F Carthick,”) as I have met so many others like him, through the Facebook group “For Writers by Authors.”  I did not know that he was himself an author, as not all there are.  In addition to novelists, the group has many who have personal blogs and or review the stories of others.

When UnBound Emagazine Issue #2 was released, Karthik wrote a public review of my short story, “Lolo’s Daughter.”

Strength of a Woman

Lolo's Daughter Review

At the release of Issue #3, Karthik once again gave a review for my new story, “The Last Escape from Auschwitz” without prompting.

Karthik Last Escape from Auschwitz

Now, to those who haven’t been in the industry yet, you might take reviews for granted.  Don’t.  There’s a reason that people pay scam artists online just to put out a few words about their work.  Without reviews, your career is going to very likely go just about nowhere.  Reviews equal either sales or higher chances of submission success in the future.  So, when someone goes out of their way to do it for free for you, respect that.  When they make a habit of it, respect them.

I keep a list of everyone that I know that has ever taken the time to so much as give me a star click on amazon, regardless of what that rating was.  Yes, true enough, it takes less than 30 seconds to click that star, but, once you’re published, believe me, you’ll be amazed by the vast number of people who will praise your work to your face, but refuse to take that microscopic amount of time to officially endorse it.  So never underestimate the true value of the word “gratitude.”

When I my two stories, “Calo with Calo” and “The Proposal,” were published in “Flock: The Journey,” I contacted Karthik Lakshminarayanan and ask him if he would be willing to review these tales as well.  Indeed, he was.

Karthik Lakshminarayanan: “I always like to learn about other countries and cultures.  So I was very happy to discover Galina Trefil a few years back.  Her stories give wonderful insights into the life of the Romanis in the modern world.  Each story brings to life a different aspect of the problems the Romanis face in today’s world – struggles the individuals within the community face due to stifling regressive ancient customs that the Roma still hold on to and the struggles Roma as a community face from others who view them as thieving rascals and look for opportunities to hurt them.  The two latest stories published as part of the anthology ‘Flock: The Journey’ touch upon these two aspects.  The first story ‘The Proposal’ touches upon how the Western society persecutes the Roma and the second one ‘Calo with Calo’ talks about the young Roma’s struggle with the regressive customs and traditions.

‘The Proposal’ is a poignant tale of a young man who is faced with grave danger in the form of an attack on the Roma community to avenge the hurt ego of a local from the majority community.  Despite the danger he faces, he manages to keep a cool head and tries to spend the time in hiding trying to cleverly orchestrate a few moments of happiness for the daughter of the family that has given him refuge.  The story flows really well and in some ways reminds one of the movie ‘Life is beautiful.’

‘Calo with Calo’ is a tale of the complex caste system within the Roma.  While Roma as a group are being castigated and persecuted by the rest of society, instead of rallying around, they seem to be intent on maintaining walls within the community. It is a Roma Romeo and Juliet tale set in modern twenty-first century USA.  Only the romance never takes off even beyond the first meeting.  So at least all the drama and grave tragedy is averted.  But enough drama plays out even in the desire of two young people to get to know each other with romantic intent.  This is also a beautifully written tale that takes the reader into the shoes of the protagonist.”

When he sent this lengthy reply, I naturally knew that it was only fair to put up any links to his own site that he wanted forwarded.  Because, when someone takes this amount of time for your career, it should not be considered a courtesy to respond in some degree in turn, but instead an obligation.

It was at this point that I realized, much to my embarrassment that I had not noticed before, that Lakshminarayanan also had a book to his credits which I knew nothing about.  And that, while he’d been reviewing me and many others at length, he was more than just a critic, but indeed a full-blown colleague.  Modest, perhaps, to his own detriment, as a great many authors are.

Needless to say, I was on amazon a few minutes later, clicking the “buy” button for his anthology “Sirens Spells Danger.”  (Yes, novices, this again is proper author etiquette if another writer ever purchases your own work.)  Reading his, I knew that he needed to be the next featured author on my blog.  His piece reminded me, though its plot was different, a great deal of 1985’s fantasy film, “Legend.”  The theme, set in current times, was unusually good at the difficult trick of portraying the magical realm amidst I-pads, laptops, and an age of government bureaucracy.  Full of real and imaginary psychological shadows, the writing style was incredibly fluid, gluing the reader in place to the last page.

Admittedly, I am biased, though not because of him reviewing my work.  Horror has always been one of my favorite genres to read and, subsequently, give feedback on.

So, without further ado, my readers, here is the interview of dark fantasy/ horror author Karthik Lakshminarayanan:

G: To an unfamiliar audience, can you give some basic information about yourself?

K: I am an Engineer and a MBA, have worked for 14 years in areas of IT, Operations Consulting and Analytics.  I started writing 9 years back.  I started with a blog, then moved on to short stories and then bigger works.  My favorite genres are science fiction and fantasy with a dash of humor.

G: You co-wrote the book, “Sirens Spell Danger,” with the blogger Radha Sawana and Suresh Chandrasekaran, the best-selling author of “A Dog Eat Dog-Food World.”  For “Sirens Spell Danger,” each one of you came up with your own tale to tell.  How did the three of you decide to undertake this enterprise together?

K: Actually we used to have a writer’s community where we used to set exercises for each other and practice.  6 of us from the group decided to get together and put together an anthology of novellas.  We didn’t want to write romance.  So we decided to go for crime as the next most popular genre.  While the 3 of us love fantasy, the other 3 were not much into fantasy.  So we chose a genre to which all of us could contribute.  The other 3 could not stand the rigors of multiple edits and rewrites.  So they dropped off along the way and we were the ones left standing.

G: Whose idea was it to write on the themes of sirens?

K: Actually the theme came after the stories were written.  We realized that all our stories had charming female characters who lead male characters to their doom like the sirens of the Greek legend.  So we decided to use that as the title.

G: Will you be joining up with Chandrasekaran and Sawana, or any other authors, for another collection in the future?

K: Collaboration is very difficult and requires lot of effort to make it work.  It is also very difficult to find right synergies with people.  The three of us have managed to find it – I am not sure if I will find the same with anyone else.  But somehow not been able to come up with a suitable project to work together on.  For long, we have been wanting to start a blog together to share our takes on mythologies of various cultures.  But it seems to be keep getting delayed.

G: Your story, “Bellary,” uses mythology as the backdrop for a horror setting.  Was the mythology authentic or did you create it?

K: Actually, I started with a story idea of an investigator getting caught in a paranormal events when he goes to investigate a regular crime.  When I was writing the story, the town Bellary was gaining notoriety for the illegal mining activities and local mafia connected to powerful politicians.  So I decided to set the story there. When I began to research the town, I came to know of local myth and the story behind the town’s name.  So I decided to use that for my story.

G: One of the things which stood out to me as both quite charming and on the original side about “Bellary” was that, while it has a very ancient flavor, you manage to very smoothly adapt the belief systems regarding demonology into the modern-day.  Is this type of theme, mixing the archaic into our now highly-technological world, something that you plan to write on again?

K: Yes. I always like to write stories that blend different worlds. I had written a story trying to connect the Stonehenge legends to alien visits, another one about Greek witch Circe visiting the modern world and a third one that involves Pandora’s box being opened in current times.

G: “Bellary” portrays a great deal of sexual harassment and violence against women in a small frame of time, as seen through a decent male character’s eyes.  Was there any particular reason that you chose to showcase this issue so strongly?

K: I think most of the blogger and writer community on social media talk a lot about these issues.  So that must have seeped into my sub-conscious.  My objective as a writer is clear – to entertain.  Any social message that might slip in is purely incidental.

G: Your story’s main character, in many ways, is very relatable to everyday people due to non-stereotypical traits—such as social awkwardness and easy irritability.  Do you feel that the proverbial “guy next door” characters in current fictional trends are getting their due time in the spotlight or do you think that there is still a great deal of pressure for male characters in fantasy to be flawlessly and fearlessly heroic at all turns, as in the days when mythology was so popular?

K: I think these days fantasy fiction has gone past even “guy next door” characters. The characters currently in vogue are highly conflicted grey characters.  I don’t think anyone writes heroic fantasy any more.

G: Your two female characters initially seem to portray stereotypes themselves in the beginning, but you went out of your way to knock the illusions to the side.  Does this reflect your personal thoughts on the “good girl” vs. “bad girl” beliefs which are still quite rife in today’s society?

K: Yes. I have often felt appearances can be quite deceptive. So I thought it would be an interesting plot device to have stereotypes proven wrong. I personally am not judgmental and approach every person with an open mind without prejudices of gender, race, and lifestyle choices. In fact the more different a person is from me, the more interesting I find them.

G: The ending of “Bellary” left some questions for the audience, particularly regarding the two female characters and your main character’s potential oncoming adventures.  Is this because you plan to write a sequel?

K: Generally, I like to leave my stories open for sequels.  But I don’t know if I will get around to writing one for this.

G: “Bellary” was very dark.  Is this your preferred type and genre of writing?  Of reading?

K: Sometimes I get into a mood where I have this desire to write dark fiction.  But I prefer to write humor or highly imaginative works.  As far as reading goes, I don’t prefer to read too dark,

G: Besides “Bellary,” what other writing have you published in the past?  Can readers find more of your fiction available on your blog?

K: I have written over 50 short stories, 4 of which have made their appearance in multi author anthologies. Also a couple have made it to online magazines. The rest I am in the process of putting up on my blog. Some are already there. The rest are yet to be put up. You can find the ones I have already put up here.

In conclusion, I suppose this particular article wound up having more than one point to it.  This is very much a field in which nice guys can finish first.  Taking five minutes of your time to do someone else the small favor might wind up going a lot further than you’d guess.  It’s a process through which I, myself, have met many amazing, fascinating people, made many online friendships, and, in the blogging world, the so-called “Golden Rule” can lead to features which will increase your readership and sales.

Karthik’s reviews prompted others to read my work.  He did not, a year later, ask me to interview him.  He did not ask to be featured.  He did not even ask me to read or buy his book.  But that’s what can happen when you, as an author, take the time to review people.  They keep it in mind.  They are grateful.  And if they realize that you have genuine talent, it’s true that some will go out of their way to not forward you—(almost as if giving your work the cold shoulder will increase their own sales.)  But others will appreciate your work for what it is and they’ll say, “Hey, did you read what so-and-so just wrote?  Good stuff!  I recommend buying it.”

Common courtesy, young authors.  It’s definitely food for thought.

Slavery and the Holocaust: Two Points for Non-Romani Authors to Not Forget

A question that has frequently been posed to me by Gadje (non-Romani) authors is how to write Romani characters into their books.  This question in itself merits an entire article to it, but, for the moment, I will share one aspect of Romani culture that tends to be overlooked by horror and fantasy writers, (whose genres tend to be the main ones portraying Roma in them.)

There are two major events that, to grasp the modern Romani mindset and thereby effectively write Romani characters, cannot be ignored—slavery and the Holocaust.

Europe has a documented history of using Roma as slaves almost from the time that they arrived there.  I was once asked to list which countries did this.  I replied that, to be perfectly honest, it would take less time to list which countries did not do it.  Of course, slaves weren’t always titled as “slaves.”  Euphemisms may occasionally be employed to make the slave-owners (and their descendants) feel more comfortable about said cruelty, but, in the end, if there is a sum of money exchanged for the bondage of a human being, the term is not as relevant as the attached agony.

As I am myself a Romani-American, I will enlighten audiences a bit on the subject of the origins of so many of my brothers and sisters on this continent today.

Contrary to the beliefs of many, the first slaves to be brought from to the “New World,” were not African.  Instead, they were Gitanos (Spanish Roma) carried over by none other than Christopher Columbus himself on his second voyage in 1498.  King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella’s infamous Christian Reconquista had, years earlier, labeled the Roma, along with the Jews and the Moors, as undesirables that would no longer be welcome in Spain.  By royal decree, all Roma were ordered to choose a master.  For those that refused, this was the beginning of a long and bloody history of Gitano persecution.  During upcoming centuries, not only would their Hindu-based religion be banned, but their traditional clothing and language as well.  They would, on pain of death, be bred with non-Roma in efforts to dilute their bloodlines and make them “more Spanish.”  Those who not unpredictably preferred the nomadic route, and sometimes even those who had settled, could be rounded up and shipped to both the Americas and to Africa.

In the 17th century, under Oliver Cromwell, the UK was no better in this regard.  People even mistaken for being Romani could be shipped off to the American colonies, Jamaica, and Barbados under the title of “indentured servant.”  A pretty myth about this status is that, after serving the length of your proclaimed sentence, you would simply be set free.  Oh no.  Much to the contrary, in fact.  It took precious little to have the sentence extended, such as the allegation by one’s master that the servant had been too lazy for the master to get their money’s worth.  This grim reality was particularly true for women, who, if impregnated during their sentence, would have their sentences extended for many years.  The children born during the “indenture” were, in turn, the property of the owner, sometimes for decades, even if the owner had himself fathered them.  Romani women, who, from one end of Europe to the other, had a history of being used like cattle for breeding purposes, could therefore be held legally in perpetuity, so long as their masters ensured that, through rape, they produced enough children.  This was, by no means, a brief historical horror.  The UK was still shipping the Roma off to Caribbean plantations to be slaves a century later.

Similar laws and practices abounded throughout Europe, but there was nowhere where the Roma endured slavery quite in the same fashion as they did modern-day Romania.  A common misconception is that Romani and Romanian are the same ethnic group.  No.  One is of Indian origin, (mainly from Rajasthan, Punjab, Sindh, and Haryana;) the other is Balkan European.  Nonetheless, the Romani have been part of Romanian society since roughly the 12th century.  There are different theories as to how they became slaves in the ancient kingdoms of Moldavia, Transylvania, and Wallachia.  The only thing that does remain very clear is that the slavery took hold extremely quickly after this particular branch of Europeans met with the Roma.  It was soon fully institutionalized and no less brutal than the one in the United States.  It continued for five hundred years until, after much effort from Romanian abolitionists, it was finally snuffed out in 1864.  At its end, a large portion of the freed slaves fled the country and, today, many Romani-Americans are the descendants of this particular exodus.

Romani Slaves 1862

(Above, a Romanian Romani family two years prior to the end of slavery.  Many slaves lived their lives in tents, as portrayed above.)

A Prime Lot of Gypsies to Be Sold

(Above, a notice advertising an upcoming auction of enslaved Romani men, women, and children.)

Suffice to say, in fact, whether it be from the UK or from Romania, slavery and escape from slavery were the two main driving forces beyond the majority of Romani-American families being here in the USA at all.  These concepts would be followed by a constant drive to escape the other persecutions of Europe—from which Romani immigrants are still fleeing to the US and Canada today….

For the Romani who stayed in Romania after slavery ended, life was predictably bleak.  During slavery, a Romanian term for a runaway slave translates in English to “incomplete one,” meaning that only a Romani person who was of inferior intellect would not wish to be a slave.  This deeply-ingrained belief in the mental inferiority of freed Romani people continued the economic and scholastic crippling of upcoming generations.  In a country which had previous allowed any White man, whether he owned her or not, to rape any Romani woman that he encountered, the myth of the hypersexual Romani seductress continued as well.  And, to this day, Romani women are more likely in certain areas—(Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia,)—to be targeted for human trafficking than White women, partially because of this.

So, to authors seeking to write Romani characters, that’s a huge chunk of history that is still, however much mainstream European society has sought to sweep it under the rug, very much part of the Romani mindset.  Most Roma you encounter are not only quite aware that we have a significant past as slaves in Europe and the Americas, but that, if we were to ask people on the street about it, ninety-nine percent of them would have no idea that it had ever even happened at all.  We are also aware that, once educated, a huge portion of listeners would be of the “get over it” belief system.  According to mainstream society, our history has profoundly little value.  It is not unusual, when we highlight what happened to our ancestors, for us to simply be called liars.  Yet again, that erases the culpability of the oppressors and, especially in Eastern European countries where, to this day, Romani poverty and lack of education are very major problems, people do not want to understand the true process as to how these conditions came to be.  Yet it is undeniable that post-slavery mistreatment, based on the mindset of slave ownership, remains a key factor to this day.

Another simple fact that I like to point out to people is this: those from Romania who were born in slavery lived to see the Nazis take power.  And any Romani person from Romania that was under the age of seventy-five or so, who that was murdered in the concentration camps was the child, grandchild, or great-grandchild of human beings that had been born with the label of being White people’s “property.”

Those who question today, “Why can’t the Roma just pick themselves back up and integrate with mainstream society?” have to understand that, after slavery occurred, there was very little opportunity for the community to organize itself.  Massive PTSD from the tortures of enslavement aside, the general population went out of its way to ensure that Roma people did not have equal job opportunity.  Even now, throughout Eastern Europe, Romani children are frequently kept in segregated schools for the mentally handicapped.  Based on their skin color, they are denied a fair chance at life’s opportunity’s from essentially day one as part of government policy.

And what Romani-led organization to lift the community up there was, in many areas, was then obliterated by the Holocaust.  Psychologically and economically speaking, there was just not enough of a gap between slavery and the mass murder of our people to get ourselves firmly on our feet.

Maria Bihari

(Above, a Romani victim of the Holocaust.)

And about that Romani Holocaust, which most outsiders know next to nothing about, exactly how bad was it?  Most articles that do reference it are badly researched and place the estimate of our dead at a mere few thousand.  The reality is that it might be as high as one and a half million.  Deaths of Roma were not always recorded and, when they were, they were not always recorded as being Roma; rather than as Jews.  As a Romani woman myself, I lean far towards believing the one and a half million figure for the simple reason that every Romani person that I’ve ever met whose family was in Europe, (short of the UK,) during that time period has the same story that I do: their people were almost entirely, if not completely, obliterated.

Romani women from Lublin Ghetto

(Above, Romani Holocaust victims in the Lublin Ghetto.)


Romani Holocaust Victims

(Romani Holocaust victims.)

In all my life, I have never once had a Romani friend from my own tribal background.  My ancestors were slaves in Romania that escaped to what is today’s Czech Republic.  During the Holocaust, it is said that only around six hundred Roma from the entire Czech region survived the war.  That equates to ninety to ninety-five percent of the entire country’s known Romani population being murdered.  Consequently, my tribe, in books, has been called “extinct.”  Many Roma that I encounter have not even heard of our tribe before, as the Roma that currently live in Czech Republic mainly immigrated from other countries after World War II.

I recently published a story, “Shades of Equality,” in UnBound Emagazine.

UnBound 4

The story deals with the current treatment of the Romani people in Slovakia; how they endure hate crimes, neo-Nazism, school segregation, forced sterilization, poverty, arranged marriage, and so-called “Roma walls,” which are built to keep Romani and White communities separate.  As UnBound Emagazine is now being promoted by the publishing platform, Kalaage, I was soon contacted by Kalaage with an offer to put one of my thousand-word short stories in September’s edition of Ink Drift Magazine—another of their featured literary enterprises.

This was quite a thrill, as this particular issue also showcased an article on writing horror novels by my very good friend, Aindrila Roy, the best-selling author of “I See You,” as well as an interview with the well-known Romani author-activist, Oksana Marafioti.  Several other prominent writers–some I knew; some I didn’t–were making appearances and giving feedback on our craft.  And it’s definitely when you are in such good company that you know you have the most to lose by turning in something below par.


Ultimately, I was determined to write something about the Holocaust’s legacy—mainly because the readership from UnBound Emagazine has been incredibly receptive to authentic Romani portrayals, our true history, and not expected any of the usual “Gypsy” stereotypes that plague us.  As they are published out of Mumbai, I can even occasionally throw in a word or two from our language, Romanes, and feel quite confident that the majority of those reading will know what I’m saying—something that I certainly could not expect from a European or American publication.

But how to talk about the Holocaust in one thousand words?  In a short story format, no less?

Romani Holocaust Victim

(Another Romani Holocaust victim.)

Well, I thought first that I would discuss Lety—the concentration camp for Bohemian Roma, which has long been the center of the spotlight as activists have had to wage their own war to bring an end to its usage as a pig farm.


(Lety Concentration Camp for Bohemian Roma.)

Those Roma who did not die in Lety were shipped directly to Auschwitz.  Did I have relatives in Lety?  Through my paternal g-grandmother’s side, probably.  There was never contact with a single one of them after World War II.  One could argue that the silence speaks for itself.

But, as I sat to type, I had to note that there was another concentration camp—Hodonin—which was, like Lety, run by Czechs, not Germans, and had set itself to the task of either personally killing or sending its thousands of surviving victims on to Auschwitz.  As with Lety, Hodonin is another probable place for my family to have died or been transferred from.


(Hodonin Concentration Camp for Moravian Roma.)

So what was the unheard story of Hodonin?  In the average Holocaust film, one sees some semblance of the Nazis being brought down in the end.  This was far from the case for the camps designed for Romani extermination though.  Their guards were not prosecuted.  They did not even have to hide their identities.  They lived in the same communities that they grew up in, with all their neighbors fully knowing them for the murdering bastards they were…and choosing to overlook it because, after all, the dead were “just Gypsies.”

Rather than being turned into a memorial, Hodonin received a reaction from the local populace every bit as disrespectful to the dead as Lety’s pig farm—arguably, more-so.  Its site became a recreational center.  One of the former barracks of the Romani prisoners was turned into a restaurant.  A swimming pool for White tourists to play in was erected where people, only decades earlier, because of the color of their skin fought to not succumb to starvation, complications from Czech-enforced slave labor, and typhoid.

To be perfectly honest, when I submitted the story, “The Fountain of Youth,” about Hodonin, I very well would not have been surprised if it had been refused acceptance by Ink Drift simply because the details that I was having to squeeze into the tiny word count were almost too inhumane to believe—not because the Holocaust had happened, but because of the government’s reaction after the war was over.  That so many locals could, without being able to use the excuse of the Nazis being in power, treat the genocide of their country’s ethnic minority so cavalierly that you could literally walk into a place and order lunch where people died….it simply raised the question, “How could they live with themselves?”

But this is the reality of being Romani.  However much it has been romanticized in literature, ours is, while a proud culture, in many ways not one possessing a history to be envied.  What most Romani worldwide today long for is when that history—the truth of it—will no longer be ignored.

So, writers, the next time that you ask a Romani person for advice on how to include a Romani character in your books, here’s what I would say: do your research first.  Learn what we’ve been through.  Learn what we are still going through.  And, after you’ve done that, then ask the question, do you really want to be the kind of person to portray a caricature or a human being with genuine depth, who just happens to come from a different racial background?  The one is easy and may indeed earn you readers.  But the books that stand the test of time are forged from quality, not clichés.  And, when you ask your questions, a Romani person’s response may very well be, “Are you writing a pot-boiler or actual literature?”