Pump Up Your Book Chats with Anne-Rae Vasquez

ABOUT ANNE-RAE VASQUEZ

Anne-Rae Vasquez authored Gathering Dust – a collection of poems, published by AR Publishing Inc. and Teach Yourself Great Web Design in a Week, published by Sams.net (a division of Macmillan Publishing). She wrote the novel and screenplay and directed Almost a Turkish Soap Opera, an award winning feature film and series produced by Joseph Khalil, Sababa Emporium Film Productions (http://www.sababaemporium.com) produced the feature film and series.

Details of the film production is at http://www.almostaturkishsoapopera.com.

Note from the author:
“The popularity of Turkish soap operas or TV series’ in the Arab speaking world, Europe and Asia is not well known here in the West. The Turkish TV series’ storylines are packed with jealousies and misunderstandings in family life and marriages, mafia encounters, economic problems and societal pressures, which all make for great drama. What I find fascinating in watching Turkish soap operas is how the Middle Eastern culture is woven into the modern way that Turkish people live which has influences from the Western and Eastern societies. I thank our producers Sababa Emporium Film Productions for allowing me to retell the story with so many different lenses – as a feature film, a short and as a series.” – writer/director/associate producer, Anne-Rae Vasquez

Aside from her artistic work, Anne-Rae Vasquez also manages a web design, production and learner support team, specialized in distance and blended learning at the University of British Columbia in Canada. Her expertise in HTML authoring, Web and multimedia design, and project and database management and being a graduate of the Internet Publishing Certificate Program at the University of British Columbia, has provided her with the opportunity to work with many talented people in the industry. She has over 14 years of experience in distance learning and her expertise is in producing and delivering top notch online courses at university level standards.

Q: Can you tell us why you wrote your book?

I wrote Almost a Turkish Soap Opera to focus on the challenges that people face when trying to immigrate into a country—told in the style of a Turkish soap opera. Years ago while working at the English as Second Language Institute at the University of British Columbia, I became aware about the different socio-cultural challenges many international students face coming to study English face while trying to immigrate to Canada.

As my interest in foreign language and cultures grew, it led me to study the Arabic language and is the main reason why I told my story in the style of a Turkish soap opera. So what does studying Arabic have to do with Turkish soap operas? Well to be honest with you, I wrote in the style of a Turkish soap opera, mainly due to my addiction to watching Turkish soap operas (which are really Turkish TV series dubbed in Arabic).

How I became addicted is somewhat of a story in itself. A few years ago, an older couple from the Middle East stayed as guests in my home for a couple of months. I was interested in learning the Arabic language and I thought this was a good opportunity to immerse myself in the language and learn more about the culture.

During their stay, the wife seemed very homesick. I asked her in broken Arabic if there was any way I could help her feel better. After a few minutes of miming what she wanted, along with help of her husband’s basic English, I was able to figure out that back at her home, she usually watches her favourite Turkish soap operas or TV drama series dubbed in Arabic on a daily basis. I did a bit of research online and was astounded at the popularity of the Turkish soap operas in the Middle East, Europe and even Asia. It was not long when I discovered the MBC (Middle Eastern Broadcast Centre) website and found links to her favourite soap operas.

She was ecstatic and soon both of us started watching the Turkish soap operas online together. I personally do not watch American soap operas because I find them to be quite cheesy so my intention, at the time, was to learn Arabic and keep her company. Her husband told me that he had no interest in watching these silly shows but soon enough, he was sitting with us, criticizing the characters and the previous episodes—almost word for word repeating scenes’ dialogue. It made me smile to see the both of them discuss, argue and laugh together as they watched the stories.

For me, I was intrigued about how the shows gave me a sneak peek at the Middle Eastern culture of which I knew very little of. It was fascinating to see generations of a family living in one household for both the rich and the poor.

I enjoyed the cultural humour and drama and was amazed that similar issues we face here in Canada are also encountered in their society, such as affairs, betrayals, divorce, political and religious differences, etc. I learned about arranged marriages with cousins, a practice that is still common in Arab speaking countries and in Turkey. The stories, I was told by the husband, of course, are exaggerated with mafia encounters, action, guns, murder and provocative kissing scenes. Each episode is full of colour, drama, tears and excitement, all against the beautiful backdrop of either Istanbul’s seaside or a smaller quaint Turkish city. Even when my guests finished their visit, I couldn’t stop watching the shows. Soon I realized that I was quite addicted to the soap operas. My addiction was contagious and soon close friends would come over to watch them with me. The series usually run up to 70 or more 50 minute episodes a season.

Q: Can you tell us a little about your childhood?

Being an immigrant myself, I reflected on the journey my parents experienced immigrating to Canada in the early 1970s. Learning the language, trying to find employment in the fields that they graduated in, and making Canada their home were very difficult for them. We lived just below the poverty line and I remember trying my best to pretend that I was just like the other middle class kids in school. When my father’s business went under in the 1980s during the recession, the bank took our home and literally threw my parents, sister, my baby brother and me out in the street. It was a humiliating experience, and one I will never forget. However, you learn from your experiences and as I grew older, I realized that many people face even greater hardships.

Q: Do you remember when the writing bug hit?

When I was a kid, I loved three things… books, movies and the Beatles. If anyone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d say without hesitation, “I’m going to be a writer, director, filmmaker and publisher.”

When I was younger, I participated in drama clubs, young author writing groups, local theatre; and wrote and produced my own screenplays, etc. But unfortunately, life got in the way and I had to pursue a “real” job. I turned my creative energy into becoming an Internet web designer, which eventually landed me a writing contract with Sams.net/Macmillan Publishing who hired me to write “Teach Yourself Great Web Design”. After that, I became very busy with my “day” job, working at the university—designing course websites for online and blended courses and managing a (fantastic) web design, production and learner support team.

For many years, I was so busy with my life that I stopped my personal creative projects. Three years ago, I approached Joseph Khalil, Sababa Emporium Film Productions, with the first draft of my novel and he was impressed with the story and my writing ability. He said he believed in my work and said he would support me in making it into a feature film. He became the producer of the feature film and web series and continues to support me with the publication of my novel and other projects.

Q: Besides books, what else do you write?

I love to write. I write short stories, poems, fiction and non-fiction books and recently a cookbook. I blog and write content for web sites and online courses related to far ranging topics such as web design, user interface navigation, training, scripts for screencasts, popular Turkish TV series, book and film reviews, etc.

Recently I wrote and directed the screenplay for an award winning independent feature film and web series, Almost a Turkish Soap Opera which is an adaptation from my book of the same name. The film and series were screened at US and Canadian film festivals. My book will be released on October 24, 2012, which will coincide, with the DVD release of the film.

Q: Do you have a writing tip you’d like to share?

My advice to new writers is:

1. Look at each of your projects as products. Before you even start writing, you need to make a business plan on how you intend to produce, market, and sell your product—be it an article, a short story or a novel. Unless you can hire a marketer, you need to be your own publicist from day one. Make sure you start branding your book and determining whom your audience is. The more targeted you are with who your readers are, the easier it will be to package your work.

2. Create a web space (you can use free online sites such as Google’s Blogger, Squidoo, etc. and later move on to your own domain name) and start reaching out to your audience. Find out what things your readers like to do and where they like to share these things. The internet has a vast number of groups, clubs, blogs, etc. where readers gather to discuss their favourite books, topics, etc. Start early and join these same sites and start interacting. What you need to focus on is building relationships and networking. You can’t expect that after you have slogged away at your computer writing your life memoirs, you can just publish them on Amazon or B&N and suddenly a mass of people will start buying your book. Your book is but one of many hundreds of thousands of books available for readers to buy. Unless you are extremely lucky, you need to gather your fan base, and yes that does take time to do, so my biggest advice is to writers… start early.

3. Make sure that what you write is well written. Have a professional editor go through your work with a fine toothcomb.

4. Find good reputable marketing services to help you launch your book and publicize your work. You have to know when you can’t do it all on your own.

5. Finally, believe in your work, because if you don’t believe in it, how can you convince anyone else to?

Q: What do you do to get away from it all?

What do I do to get away from it all? Simple… I go read a good book.

Q: Are you familiar with the social networks and do you actively participate?

When I’m not busy writing, cooking, filming, you’ll find me writing on my blogs, tweeting the universe, and or uploading videos to my YouTube channel. You can find my blog at www.anne-raevasquez.com, follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/write2film, watch my web series on YouTube (www.youtube.com/3arnb9/), or follow me on GoodReads at http://www.goodreads.com/annerae .

Q: How do you think book publishing has changed over the years?

Answer: In the last three years, I learned the ins and outs of writing a novel, screenplay; and directing, producing a feature film. But most of all, I learned the hard knocks of marketing and distribution, first in the independent film industry and now in self-publishing.

I purposely chose self-distribution of the film and self-publishing for the book after analyzing the trends of traditional film distribution and publishing over the past four years. The growing shift of social media has given the independent creator much more options to market, distribute and publish their own work. Having been involved with the internet in my professional day job for the past 15 years, both in the technical and the marketing side, I have leveraged this knowledge with the marketing and distribution of the film and the book. Currently our film’s Facebook page has over 8400 fans, and our YouTube channel has 8100 subscribers with over 220,850 video views. In addition, our web series is syndicated on multiple sites such as Blip.tv, Viki.com, iTunes, OpenFilm, Daily Motion, Web Series Channel, and more. You can check it out at www.almostaturkishsoapopera.com

Q: If you had one wish, what would that be?

I wish my fan base would grow to the point where I can just focus on my creative projects such as writing and making more feature films.

Q: Thank you so much for this interview, (name of author). Do you have any final words?

Big piece of advice to those who are thinking about becoming writers… it’s never too late, just create. If you have a story that is burning inside you, tell it. The tools and resources are at your fingertips, all courtesy of the web. All you need is a sustainable plan; surround yourself with experts; and tap into your own determination to follow through.

Almost A Turkish Soap OperaABOUT ALMOST A TURKISH SOAP OPERA

Almost a Turkish Soap Opera is about Adel, a young Turkish man whose family has lived in poverty while his grand uncle controls the inheritance money which rightfully belongs to his father. Adel travels to the USA with his best friend Kamil, works illegally, and is deported back to Istanbul. He flies to Canada, marries his rich grand uncle’s spoiled obnoxious granddaughter in exchange for his permanent resident status. He becomes infatuated with his beautiful English teacher and tries to hide this from his wife. How did his life turn into a Turkish soap opera?