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Discovering Your Own Worth: An Interview with Delphine Pontvieux
Conducted Spring 2010
Estimated Time of Arrest is a fast-paced action thriller, combining politics, romance, and the best of police dramas into one superb tale. In this interview, Delphine describes her motivations, her interactions with reknowned musician Fermin Muguruza, and her experiences in writing and self-publishing her first novel.
Buber's Basque Page: As demonstrated in your novel, Estimated Time of Arrest, you clearly have a great love of the Basque Country. What are your connections to Euskal Herria?
Delphine Pontvieux: It is quite interesting because I have no roots or family originating from the Basque country at all, other than the fact that my mother lived in Iparralde for a couple of years when she was a child. (And I remember her telling us how she had to recite her prayers in Basque every morning at school.) But for some reason, I have always been fascinated by the language, the culture and the social and political history of the Basque people. It stems back from my first trip to Spain when I was a young teenager. I attended a summer camp. A friend gave me a tape. On one side, there was this band called La Polla Records. On the other, Kortatu (the self titled LP). Kortatu was a musical revelation for me. It is THE band that got me listening to punk rock and ska. Both of these bands were at the forefront of the Rock Radikal Vasco movement. Then, as a teenager in the mid-eighties, the Basque conflict was in full swing. We paid attention to the news on national TV and we listened to the word on the street, at shows and in fanzines. Looking back today, I guess these times marked me more than I realized because they inspired me to write this book.
In 2007, I had this idea for the novel, but I knew very little about Euskal Herria, so I started reading a ton of books on the subject, ancient Basque history, the oppression of the Basques during the Franco era, and the creation and development of ETA over their 50 years of existence. These books helped me to understand the circumstances that led to the socio-political struggle in Euskal Herria, but I was missing the human connection to get a better understanding of the situation. That was when I got in touch with Fermin Muguruza (critically acclaimed Basque radical musician, singer, songwriter and award-winning film director whose artistic career spans well over two decades), who went above and beyond to reply to a million questions with patience and good humor. I am very thankful for all his help. Then of course, I traveled to Euskal Herria to get an intimate feel for the places I describe in the book, and as a result, I fell in love with this place. Thanks to Buber.net, by the way, I also got in touch with Guillermo Zubiaga, who drew the striking gold-foil illustration on the hardcover.
BBP: Both rock climbing and the valleys in the French Pyrenees feature prominently in your novel. You must have strong connections to both?
DP: I started rock climbing when I was a teenager living in Burgundy. It quickly developed into my favorite sport and I spent most of my summer evenings and week ends on the cliffs, along with a tight group of like-minded friends. Sometimes we would go climbing in the south of France, in the Verdon (which is the deepest canyon in Europe) or the Calanques (beautiful cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean sea). Of course, I also climbed in the Vallee d'Aspe and fell in love with the beauty of the place. So that found its way into the book as well due to its proximity with the Basque country. After that, I moved to the Netherlands and then Chicago, and the local topography has stopped me from rock climbing altogether.
BBP: You mentioned your contact with Fermin Muguruza. How did that come about? What was the most surprising aspect of that collaboration?
DP: I have always been a huge fan of Kortatu. I had all their vinyls etc. , yet I always managed to miss them wherever they played. Never had an actual connection other than listening and enjoying their music. Then, years later as i was working for a record label in the netherlands, i happened to call a record store in Euskadi and after talking together a while, I realized i was speaking to Fermin. That's how i got to talk to him for the first time, totally by chance. Right away, he struck me as a very warm and open person. Then fast forward a decade when i started to work on my book. I thought i would send him an email and see if he would get back. Not only he did, but he also helped me tremendously and the most rewarding thing of all is that we became friends in the process. Fermin is so kind, curious, optimistic and excited to learn about new countries and people, it is no wonder why he has so many friends all around the world.
BBP: While a work of fiction, the action of your novel is intimately set within the current political situation in Euskal Herria. To what extent is your novel based on real events?
DP: Indeed, while the story itself is entirely fictitious, I strived to keep the story in check within the actual historical context to give it more substance and credibility. For instance, the story alludes to events that really happened, such as the Hotel Mombar shooting, the arrest of ETA leaders in Bidart, France, etc. The 90s were an important turning point because that was when France started to collaborate with Spain to crack down on ETA members living on French soil, after decades of giving them political refugee status. I illustrated this reversal of situation in the book through the candid conversations between the gendarmes and French DST agents. The construction of the tunnel at the Somport was also going on then. What makes the story seem real is that the situations the characters face is plausible during this time and could indeed have happened in the real world, even though their adventures are entirely a product of my imagination.
BBP: What are your literary inspirations? Which Basque authors have most influenced your writing? Which do you most admire?
DP: I don't know too many Basque authors, at least as far as fiction goes, but I am working on that. So far, the bulk of the books I have read from Basque authors has focused on Basque history and my research for the novel. I immensely enjoyed reading Basque Violence: Metaphor and Sacrament by Joseba Zulaika. Even though the complexity of his research far exceeded the kind of information I needed for the novel, it really helped me get a better understanding of the Basque culture as well as the catalysts of and the historical context that led to terrorist violence.
BBP: While not trying to excuse violence, you also try to give voice to those who become militants, try to give a voice from the other side. Was it hard to achieve a balance between these?
DP: My intentions were to not express my own opinion about the situation, but rather to let the characters expose all sides of the conflict, and to give us a better understanding of their beliefs and actions by being who they are. Each character thus plays an important part by letting the reader know why the Basque conflict is such a complex situation. I tried to put myself in their respective shoes, and to talk their talk and walk their walk the way they would according to their respective beliefs and the events that shaped their lives. Events that ultimately put them on the path to become police officers, secret agents, fascists, non-violent activists, disabused militants or even terrorists.
BBP: What where your inspirations for your characters, especially Lartaun, Faustine, and Patxi?
DP: None of the characters were based on one particular person I have ever known or read about in my life. They are rather the result of an interesting patchwork of bits and pieces of people's minds, lives, struggles and beliefs I weaved together inside my head to create each one of these characters. I find there is part of me in all of them, even though their personalities are very different from one another.
BBP: Your novel was published by Miss Nyet Publishing, which I understand is your own publishing business, so essentially you self-published, is that correct? Can you describe some of your experience in going from your idea for a novel to the final product? Will Miss Nyet be publishing other authors as well?
DP: Yes, Miss Nyet publishing is a company I created in July of last year.
And yes I am definitely looking forward to putting out the work of more authors in the future.
All in all, I started working on my book in february of 2007 and I got the final product in my hands just before thanksgiving of 2009. The book was released on December of 2009. I immensely enjoyed having total freedom over how I wanted my book to look, the type of layout, illustrations, colors and even the type of paper it is printed on. And I learnt a ton in the process. How to pick a printer, figure out what the differences between the grades and quality of papers are, the different types of binding and printing techniques, layout etc....
I loved every step of the way, because it was all new and exciting, just like writing the book itself.
I have worked for 10+ years for very successful, 100% independently-owned record labels in the past. As a result, the independent model of doing business has always been very much engrained in me, especially when working for an industry largely dominated by 'major' companies. I always took it upon myself to get the work done. It can be risky at times but also very rewarding. Thus, when my novel was nearing completion, I never really thought about shopping my manuscript to agents and so forth. My editor, who used to work for a big publishing company in New York, advised me to try the 'traditional route' first, because she thought I had a good chance of finding an agent. So she presented my book to four of her prominent agent friends in LA, which is seldom heard of. I got a reply the very next day from one of them. She liked my writing, but thought the story was too political for her audience. I did not hear back from the other three. I told myself, "OK, so we tried that. Now it's time to really get to work."
While I was putting the finishing touches on my novel, I contacted a lawyer and laid the foundations for Miss Nyet Publishing, LLC. It made all the sense in the world to me. I WANTED to create my company, just as much as I wanted my book to be read.
By releasing my own work first, I am learning the ropes, as well as getting acquainted with many interesting people who work in retail and media. I make mistakes, learn from them and find a better way to do things. I am laying the foundation so that I am ready to release the work of other authors when the right time and opportunity come my way. It is a tough road, but there is not a day that I don't learn something new, or regret the decision I took, and it is all very exciting. I am lucky I can put the experience and expertise I acquired while working in the music industry to the book-publishing business. I think my outlook is a bit unique because I have a fresh take on things, and I'm not afraid of breaking the rules because I don't really know what they are just yet.
My motto is don't wait around for someone to discover your worth. It may take years, or it may never even happen. Be proactive about the goals you set out to achieve!
BBP: In self-publishing and now promoting your novel, what has surprised you the most about the experience, both good and not so good?
DP: The bad that is good in my case: a lot of people view self publishing as a bad thing because they immediately assume that the writer tried to get published the traditional way but got rejected everywhere, so he/she self-published as a last resort. I always knew from the beginning I wanted to start a publishing company so I did not go ahead and query agents etc. I'd rather prove myself, and if a bigger publisher finds out about my work and wants to strike a deal, then all is well. I did not want to waste my time, but rather be proactive about the goals I set for myself. The great thing is that industry people are always amazed when they see the quality of my book. They're like: it looks so professional! Well, yes, I would never settle for mediocrity. Plus my goal is to put put more books by other authors in the future. Also, I have 10 years of promotion and marketing experience in the entertainment business, so that definitely comes handy, too. Also, some said I would never get to the chains because I "self-published" my book. Well, I proved them wrong. My book is now available for order pretty much anywhere, from Amazon to Borders to Barnes and Noble etc. I am proud of that achievement. Still, the bad is when it comes to promotion. When not backed up by a large traditional publisher, it is extremely difficult to get any reviews in the mainstream press and media. So I have to be more creative and find other venues to get the word of mouth going.
BBP: Have you had any response to your novel from people in the Basque Country?
DP: So far not too much, because it is not available for sale there to date. I would love to sell it there though. I am in touch with a Basque publisher, we will see how that goes. I hope that once the book is available in Euskal herria, I will be able to promote it through the local media. I am focusing mainly on the states right now, as well as on the Basque community living in the USA. I have received feedback from American Basques who have read it already, and they really loved it and found the story very credible, so that's a good thing!
BBP: Clearly you are a person who relishes in challenges. Do you have any big happenings -- besides writing your second novel -- on the horizon?
DP: Focus on promoting and marketing my book and my company until it becomes successful. Between that and everything else, that should keep me plenty busy!
BBP: You've traveled and lived in a number of places. Do you hope to visit places other than Euskal Herria in future novels?
DP: I hope so, yes! so far there is a scene out of the new novel which takes place in Mexico on the Riviera Maya, and I am thinking of locales such as Australia...but it is too early to tell which places my characters will drag me to this time around!
BBP: Your novel ends such that there are more stories to tell. Do you have plans for another novel involving these characters? Or another related to the Basque Country?
DP: Ha! That is indeed a recurring question from many who have just finished reading my novel and I take it as a great compliment. I must say that it's been hard for me as well to put my characters to "rest" when the book was done, especially after living with them in my head for over two years. I grew quite fond of them and I, too, wonder: 'What are they going to do next?'
I am currently working on my second novel, but I am still in the early stages of writing it. It'll be a surprise!
BBP: Is there anything you'd like to say to the readers of Buber's Basque Page before we wrap up?
DP: A lot of people in the states who bought my book had never heard of the Basque country before. Now they are quite well versed on the subject. Not only they enjoyed the read, but they learnt about a country and a culture at the same time. That makes me happy. So I thank you very much for your interest in my work, I hope that you'll be curious to read it in your turn and, later on, to spread the word to everyone you know!
And thank you very much, Blas, for your fantastic support. it means a lot to me!
BBP: Eskerrik asko zuri, Delphine!