Finding an Interesting Writer a Phone Call Away Derek Alger From the Editor

perm_identity Finding an Interesting Writer a Phone Call Away

by Derek Alger

Published in Issue No. 161 ~ October, 2010

The other week my brother and sister, who are a year apart in age, and both younger than me, attended a high school reunion.  I can’t believe what year reunion it was because I still think of my siblings as teenagers, even though age wise, they could be very young grandparents.

My brother and sister both had a great time, slipping back into roles they had once upon a time in high school.  In fact, for both of them, particularly my brother, who still lives in the area where he went to high school, an infusion of a new social life with familiar people took place.  Overnight, my brother went from having no close friends to at least having social friends, friends whom he had something in common with, even if all similarities in life were based on what he was like during adolescence.

I even inadvertently learned my brother, not the most outgoing person, was on facebook, when I happened to notice his photo pop up as a friend with my other sister, who is a year younger than me and lives in Canada.  In a flash, my brother went from working two jobs and having no social life to having friends on facebook, all but a couple being classmates from high school.

I have no idea what conclusions I’m trying to draw, or if any conclusions are possible, but when I graduated high school, I walked out the front door of a public high school in Toronto, which I only attended for one year, and caught a flight back to New York City the next day.  While my senior year was spent at Forest Hill Collegiate Institute on Eglington Avenue, where I was the lone American, my previous high school years were at a private college preparatory school in New Jersey, and students there were my true classmates, none of whom I’ve been in touch with, save for a couple exceptions, in some 30 years.

Yes, from time to time I get requests from friends, or more truthfully, acquaintances, from high school days to add on facebook, but I don’t bother, too much has happened and I have no desire to return to the days when I was a different person, someone I only vaguely remember.

I’ve been extremely fortunate on one level, meeting so many wonderful and interesting people, and developing some true friendships, in recent years.  I don’t have time for the past, which wasn’t that great anyway.  And rather than reaching back to see what became of those from high school, I’m more receptive to the new individuals I’m constantly encountering.

After seeing my brother on facebook, and then receiving a request to become friends from a semi-girlfriend in high school, I was curious about others from that age.  I did a quick couple clicks on the computer and checked out some classmates from high school, immediately noticing a familiar pattern.  Most had between 30 and 70 friends, with the majority of those friends being people they, and I, went to high school with, spread across the country, with one guy now a doctor living in Hawaii.  Another common thread was several of my New Jersey classmates were now friends with classmates they didn’t particularly like when we were all pre-college kids.

So, what does this all mean, if anything?  Actually, it doesn’t mean anything, except perhaps a rather long introduction to an interesting woman writer whom I recently chanced upon.  I wanted to find out more about her after I learned she was over 50 when, as she says, she “shed the shackles and became a writer.”

She went on to state, “Don’t let anyone tell you you’re too old to do something you want to do.”  And she backed her assertion with proof, the proof being that she has published seven novels, not bad for any writer, but especially encouraging to many since she was past the mid-century mark when she first made the leap to become a published novelist.

I suppose I should be grateful for my years of experience as a reporter, where different editors drummed into me, if you’re not sure of something, or you want to learn more, pick up the phone, so that’s what I did.  As a result, I now know Nina Vida, an exceptional writer, and interesting person, out Los Angeles way, a resident of Huntington Beach where she is well known as a collector of antique Asian porcelain.

The first thing I learned was she was in a wonderful and enduring marriage with a man she met when she was 11, and married when she was 19, after he returned from serving as a Navy  journalist during the Korean War.

Originally, Vida hoped to become a concert pianist, but subsequently decided she wasn’t good enough, and also realized she became too nervous when it came to playing in front of others.  She was a good student, class valedictorian, and supposed to go to college, but financial reality, meaning lack of finances, prevented her from doing so until her two children were old enough to go off to college.

Vida enrolled in the University Without Walls program at California State University Dominguez Hills, with her husband’s encouragement, to pursue a long-deferred degree in English.  All was well, until she became terrified, something with which I can relate, when she learned one of the requirements to earn her degree involved taking a semester of creative writing.

“Creative writing, oh no, I can’t do that,” Vida said was her original reaction, but she took a deep breath, and buckled down, and wrote a short story about her younger sister who unexpectedly had open heart surgery at the age of 38, but, today, thankfully, is doing fine.

When Vida’s husband read the story, he had no doubt she had the makings of a writer, and encouraged her to try and write a novel, which she did, reporting that she became a better writer after each subsequent novel she completed.

From the early days of marriage, Vida said she and her husband had a practical approach to life.  “He’s a very smart, very practical, reasonable man,” Vida said about her husband, who became an attorney, attending Southwestern Law School, which he could attend in the evening, eventually also becoming a small claims court judge.

“My husband made me start writing, he’s my number one fan,” Vida said.  “I was mature, I had lots of experience, but craft takes a long time to mature, but I stuck with it, did what I could do, and wondered where do I go from here?”

Fortunately, once again with the support of her husband, Vida wasn’t deterred by the literary elite at the time, whom she saw, rightly or wrongly, as mostly east coast based and primarily writing about domestic problems.  “That’s great,” she said, “but there are all sorts of ideas and experiences, and all out there in the rest of the country.”

Whether writing about the Vietnamese community in Westminster, California, circa 1993, as in her novel, Little Saigon, or Texas in the mid-nineteenth century in the novel, Texicans, Vida tells compelling stories with a variety of interesting characters, in many cases, capturing the voices of outsiders, particularly those who are usually not recognized in most narratives.

It shouldn’t have surprised me, it turned out Vida knew the writer Allen Wier, author of the epic novel, Tehano, whom I met in Chicago last year, and that opened up the conversation even more, reminding us of other writers we knew in common, and how paths cross from time to time with folks you can pick up with in mid-sentence as if you had last talked with them the day before.

“The state of publishing is interesting, everything resolves itself in time,” Vida said.  “I think publishing will get its act in shape, with all the garbage being published, good writing will eventually rise to the surface.  I still feel print is important.  Many of the writers I know who are a presence online still long to appear in print.”

Vida recently completed her eighth novel, tentatively titled “Lilli,” which is about a seventeen-year-old Jewish girl who flees from Kovno, Lithuania to Shanghai during World War Two, and her subsequent involvement in the black market in the Far East.

“I have great hope for writers, those like me who are stubborn, and competitive, and will never give up,” Vida said.   “I believe I’m now writing at the peak of my craft.  The literary road is strewn with carcasses of those who don’t have the heart and the guts to continue, and everybody loses if they give up.”

In addition to hoping to see Vida’s new novel published, I was also prompted to buy two of her novels, and, of course, found something to write about in this month’s column.

  • Diana

    Nice piece, Derek!