10 questions with author L. Bordetsky-Williams: ‘A writer should stay true to their vision’


L. Bordetsky-Williams has lived almost all of her life in New York City.  Like most New Yorkers, she has a love/hate relationship with the city, but for the most part she loves it. She spent many years writing her novel, Forget Russia.  It was always tugging at her, refusing to be forgotten. Living in the Soviet Union for four months as a student in 1980 deeply influenced the course of her life. She spent many decades trying to distill the essence of that experience into a work of fiction. Forget Russia will be published by Tailwinds Press in December. 

She is also the author of the memoir, Letters to Virginia Woolf, and three poetry chapbooks—Sky Studies, The Eighth Phrase, and The Early Morning Calling.  She works as a Professor of English at Ramapo College of New Jersey. She loves the teaching and finds it inspires the writing. 

She answers 10 questions..

Forget Russia by L.Bordetsky Williams
Forget Russia by L. Bordetsky-Williams

1.What’s your name and where do you come from? 

My name is L. Bordetsky-Williams, and I live in New York City.  I actually grew up in NYC as well.

2. Do you write fact or fiction and in what genre?

My novel, Forget Russia, is historical fiction.  While it may be based on my family history, in particular, the reverse migration of my grandparents back to the Soviet Union in 1931, it is a work of fiction.  Given the skeleton of stories I had been told, I had to imagine their lives in Leningrad at a very precarious time as well as their early years in shtetls in the Ukraine. I did an enormous amount of research to make this happen, and I spoke to some older American Russian Jews whose parents had returned to the Soviet Union at the very same time.  They helped me make sense of what it must have been like for my mother, at five years old, to find herself transported from Roxbury, MA., to Leningrad.  

I also have published three chapbooks of poetry and a memoir, Letters to Virginia Woolf.

3. Are you traditionally or self-published and which route do you consider best? 

Forget Russia is traditionally published by an independent small press, Tailwinds Press.  I am delighted with the work that the press did on the cover and the excellent editing of the novel.  As long as the writer stays true to their own vision, it doesn’t matter whether the work is self-published or traditionally published.  By the way, it always amazes me that Walt Whitman self-published Leaves of Grass.  Now those first copies are in museums.

4. What’s your work schedule like when you are writing?

I get up early in the morning, since I’m at my best then.  During the academic year, I’m busy teaching poetry, creative writing, and other coursers at Ramapo College in New Jersey.  I love the teaching, so it nurtures the writing even though I devote a lot of time to teaching.  The main thing is that I need to write every day to make any real progress.  I rely on summers when I am not teaching to get a lot done. 

5. What advice would you give to budding writers? 

I would say write every day, even if it’s for a short time.  Don’t throw out or delete anything you write.  You never know when you might want to return to it. It’s amazing to me how I find myself returning to drafts of writing I did a long time ago.

L. Bordetsky-Williams as a student in Moscow
L. Bordetsky-Williams as a student in Moscow

6. Who/what are YOUR favourite authors/ books? 

I love The Hired Man by Aminatta Forna.  When I read it, I felt the book was simply perfect.  I always return to Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf and Beloved by Toni Morrison.  I love Russian literature.  When I re-read Anna Karenina, all curled up in my bed since I had a toothache at the time, I was absolutely in awe of the novel. I also recently read The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nyugen—what an incredible book! 

7. Are you a plotter or a pantster? 

For the most part, I do a lot of writing, and the plot comes after quite a bit has been put down on paper.  I have a strong idea of what I want to express, but figuring out how to get there is the hard part!

8. What helps you focus? 

I find taking a very long, brisk walk in Central Park, NYC, really helps me focus.  I take the same path almost every day. There’s nothing like a 4 mile, fast-paced walk in the midst of urban nature to clear the mind. 

9. How long did it take you to write your books? 

I’m slow!  Forget Russia took many years.  Okay, I’ll admit that in many ways I’ve been working on this novel most of my life.  It just kept tugging at me. I started it as a memoir of my own time in the Soviet Union when I was student there.  But then, following Emily Dickinson’s advice, to “Tell the truth but tell it slant,” I began to fictionalize the story.  Even when I put it down and wrote poetry and my memoir, I never stopped thinking about the book. Fourteen years ago, I came back to the novel, and did enormous amounts of research.  I would think it’s done and sent it out, and get a lot of rejections.  Then I’d go back to it and have another idea about how to tell the story.  I must have received about 75 rejections over the years, but finally I heard from Tailwinds Press who loved the book and wanted to publish it. I’m so excited it’s finally coming out into the world!

10. Where can we find your books? 

All of the books are on Amazon.

Thank you!

Trailer for Forget Russia by L. Bordetsky-Williams

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