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 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.

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?”