"I Don't Believe in Borders."
A chat with Samir Rawas—Editor of Cecile's Writers' Magazine
Samir Rawas is the editor of Cecile’s Writers, an emerging online literary publication with an intercultural focus.
Interview by Robin Kalinich
Cecile’s Writers seeks stories with an intercultural voice. Samir, you have traveled to many places in your life. Tell us a little about yourself and how these experiences in different parts of the world have affected you as a person and as an editor.
I wouldn’t necessarily say I’d traveled to many different places, but I do have quite a mixed upbringing. My mother was pregnant with me when she was visiting her parents, who were then living in Greece, and I arrived two weeks before my due date. When I was a few months old, my mother took me back to Nigeria where my father worked and, where I lived until I was 19. I then moved to Spain for a few years before settling in the Netherlands. And to top it all off, my parents are from Syria (And my dad told me that his grandmother was Turkish…).
So I’ve often struggled with the question of identity, never knowing what to say where I’m from. Ultimately, since my formative years (and memories) were in Nigeria, I always called it home. Lately though, I tend to call home where happiness is, so, here (the Netherlands) is home.
What such a confusing background has taught me is respect for all cultures and to accept differences in people and their opinions. I don’t believe in borders and I hate the concept of nationalism. We’re all equal (or should be anyway).
As an editor, the concept of founding Cecile’s Writers along with Cecile, Sofia and Vanessa, on the premise of interculturalism is quite appealing. The thought of meeting like-minded writers or people with similarly mixed background, all on one platform will be a rewarding experience. It has been rewarding so far with some of the submissions we’ve accepted, and even some of those we’ve rejected but had personal contact with, because we were wowed by their writing. That’s what it’s all about.
A fantastic group of bloggers – Dogpatch Writers Collective – posted about us and our intercultural backgrounds, so for those interested to know about more about us, you can click on this link.
To those writers who don’t have the life experience to claim the descriptor ‘intercultural writer’, but yearn to travel and make their worlds bigger, what advice would you give them to get started?
Do it! Travel and see the world, experience the multitude of cultures out there, the languages and faiths and arts that are different from yours. But do it with an open mind, and respect the differences. And always remember before you judge anyone, whether you’d like to be judged by them in the same manner.
How do the mind-set and perspective of an intercultural writer differ from that of a writer with a narrower set of experiences?
Both have something special to offer to creative writing. However, as our focus is writers with an intercultural background, I’ll respond on this.
Someone who writes in English, even though it isn’t their first language, has to make conscious choices of the words they use, such as sentence construction, grammatical choice or even expressions or metaphors, which may all differ from traditional or conventional standards. As editors of just such a magazine, we walk a fine line when editing the text to publication standards because we have to balance the use of language to an international intelligible standard while keeping the writer’s different style and voice (due to his/her different background) intact.
Another example is someone who’s lived for three years or more in another country. People are confronted with a completely different culture and sometimes learn new words, or even the language, exposing them to different attitudes and modes of expression. I believe such a scenario affects a writer’s output since the experience becomes a part of them, even when their story has nothing to do with interculturalism per se. The experience of moving to a new country teaches most people a new way of observing others, and this is the essence of writing.
Are you a writer as well as an editor? If so, when did you first know that you were a writer?
I’m a writer as well. It actually began 6 years ago, one summer afternoon when I picked up a pen and started writing a fantasy piece because I was frustrated at the quality of fantasy out there. It’s hilarious when I look back because I wrote such drivel that it makes me shiver. What matters from that starting experience though was learning the value of perseverance (something writers desperately need) and discovering where my weaknesses and strengths lay, so I could quickly capitalize on how to best study the craft, which I did.
In your opinion, which is more important in bringing forth success to a burgeoning writer – talent or perseverance?
Oh… I already answered it above. Perseverance is crucial. It keeps us going and it keeps us focused on our goals. Success or failure doesn’t matter, you just keep at it, learning, practicing, improving and you’ll get there. No one is born knowing how to write.
Besides, talent is seriously overrated.
The internet has completely changed the way the world interacts. In fact, Cecile’s Writers is an e-zine and is completely online. What are the pros and cons of this new online world in which we live? How has it changed being a writer? An editor?
For starters, it’s certainly easier to have an e-zine than a print publication both in terms of production and deliverance. The Internet is a wonderful medium to globally share knowledge and stories, and this global aspect is another appealing factor to seek intercultural writers. It’s easier to reach out to them and to be reached by them.
Other advantages include lower costs, immediacy and saving trees (my favorite). It’s also wonderful to have submissions online – to be able to access them anywhere, anytime to work on them without having to trudge piles of paper everywhere.
It’s brilliant for writers, too. They can easily look up publications online, scan the submission forms at their fingertips and submit online, which is cheaper, faster and more secure (snail mail is not so reliable these days).
The best part goes to the readers! We love the fact that once we publish our first edition, it can be read by anyone in the world, whether they themselves are intercultural or not. We want the intercultural writers to be heard/read. That’s why we’re doing this.
Describe the perfect Cecile’s submission.
The perfect submission is one that is short story, flash fiction or personal essay (what we’re publishing at present), which has a strong focus on being character driven. For us, this is what makes good literature. We like it when writers focus the story on the characters and the changes they undergo. The plot is just another subtle and essential element that makes up a good story, like good dialogue with subtext, a theme or appropriate narrative distance.
We do like to publish genre fiction, too, but the challenge of having it character driven is often a big one. Most of these short stories we’ve received so far are mainly plot driven. So another perfect submission would be, say, a chick lit where the heroine undergoes a transformation due to being rejected by several men after a messy break up, or a fantasy where a young wizard in training decides to abandon his studies because after some deliberation he’s realized he’d be happier as a performing musician.
And, of course, the perfect submission should follow the format layout and information required on our submission guidelines. It’s shocking to see how few writers respect these wishes of the editors.
In addition to showcasing the work of writers, Cecile’s Writers also provides a series of prompts, which leads me to believe that Cecile's Writers is working to educate or encourage writers. Discuss the role of literary magazines in the development of the writing community. What do you feel is the primary role of a literary magazine?
We think a literary magazine should be a fair playing ground for writers – both established and up coming. It should offer quality writing, at least to the level that it promises. It should also stimulate writers by encouraging them to write, fostering their skills and motivating them. This is why we like to offer prompts and why we also have a blog , where we show our human side – especially as writers. We’re an easy, down-to-earth group that loves to write as much as we love to edit and publish the work of writers.
That’s where our slogan comes from: where intercultural writers connect. Literary magazines can help keep literature alive by giving a platform for creative writing other than novels, and in our case, the added values of writers with an intercultural background.
Robin Kalinich is an artist, a writer, & a chemist. She believes that every day is another chance for excellence and is doing her best not to squander it. In her spare time, she leads Ink & Alchemy, a group focused on unleashing wild happiness and unbridled success into the world via the written word.