Welcome our newest Board member: Q&A with Alex Duvan

Earlier this year, we welcomed Alex Duvan to the Little Patuxent Review Board. Alex, who publishes under the pen name Tudor Alexander, was born in Bucharest, Romania in 1950, and moved to the United States in 1977. He holds a master’s degree from the Polytechnic Institute of Bucharest and an MBA from the University of Connecticut. He lives in Columbia with his wife, Viorica, and has a son, a daughter, and three grandchildren.

Alex started writing in high school and enjoyed early success, publishing many short stories in established Romanian literary magazines. Although writing was his passion, he studied engineering and management to support his family. After the 1989 Romanian revolution, he published several novels and short story collections in Romania, including The Runners, Smoke, Planet New York, One Morning and One Afternoon, and The Visitor. 

Today Alex writes in both Romanian and English. He tells the story of immigrants struggling to adapt to a new country and a different culture, and finding the courage to overcome the fear of the unknown.

We’re thrilled to have Alex join LPR. He was kind enough to answer some questions for us.

Q: How did you come to be involved in the journal?

AD: A few years ago, I held in my hands a copy of the Little Patuxent Review for the first time during an event at the Howard County Public Library, where I spoke about my latest novel, No Portrait in the Gilded Frame. The graphical presentation of the journal impressed me, as did the quality of the written work, and I’ve tried to follow the publication ever since. When a friend told me that there was an opening on the Board of Directors, I immediately contacted Mike Clark and offered to participate. He was very gracious.

What do you think is the value of the publication in today’s day and age, whether in terms of politics or in terms of the writing landscape?

The Little Patuxent Review is the product of what is best in the artistic community in and around Columbia, Maryland. The fact that writers and artists from all over the country contribute to the journal increases its richness. I think the publication makes an important contribution in the area of the humanities by mirroring contemporary trends, thought, and style. Each poem, each short story, each image, and each interview reflect our commitment to beauty, progress, inclusiveness, love, and the free exchange of ideas. 

Writing a novel is a marathon. I trained for it. I have a plan for it and work on it in an organized and disciplined fashion.

You’ve published extensively under the pen name Tudor Alexander. Can you describe how you came to adopt that name?

To answer this question I need to provide a few autobiographical details. In 1977, I came to the US from communist Romania. Between 1984 and 1986, while I worked for an American company in Copenhagen, I ran into a friend of mine from Bucharest, a stage director who had immigrated to Denmark on political grounds. We decided to write a thriller called The Runners, based on the premise that communist dictators ran their countries – Romania in our novel – like some private American corporations, top to bottom, their rules and policies strictly molded to the whims of the leader. We wrote in Romanian and intended to translate the novel into English and publish it in the US. But that turned out to be a pipe dream.

My assignment ended before we were done with half of the book, and I returned to the US. In December 1989, the communist regime in Romania fell, a short time after the collapse of the Berlin Wall. A new market opened for our book in Romania and I immediately called my friend. To my dismay, he showed no interest. I soon learned he had been diagnosed with cancer. Sadly, he died in Copenhagen after a few months. He was my age. At that point I decided to finish the book for both of us.

My friend’s name was Tudor Florian. When I published the novel in Bucharest several years later, I combined our two first names and signed it as Tudor Alexander. Since then, I have used this pen name for all my literary work, except for my blog on Medium

You’re working on another novel, The Ultimate Patient. What is your writing process for that like?

The Ultimate Patient is a fictionalized account of my family’s history. It is an epic novel starting after the end of WWI in Romania and ending in the 1990s in the United States. In writing it, I struggle to stay within the confines of the main plot line, which is my parents’ amazing love story, while, at the same time, trying to capture and describe a tumultuous backdrop which includes WWII, the fate of Jews during the Nazi domination of Romania, life under communism, the sacrifices of immigration, and the process of adjusting to living in the US.

Writing is not a struggle – it’s what I do. I do it almost every day, six to eight hours a day. I write a minimum of 500 words and the next day I edit what I wrote. Keeping myself focused on the essence of my story is the real challenge. After I finish my first draft, I will have to cut and then cut again. The material I cut out, I plan to convert into short stories. At this point, I wonder if I will have created a very long novel or a trilogy. I am less than a year away from finding out, I hope.  

I think it’s impressive that you blog weekly in addition to writing stories and novels. How do those types of writing differ? What are your practices/rituals to consistently generate so much new writing?

When I was a young man, I didn’t have the endurance to write novels. There was too much life that pulled me away from my desk. Writing short stories was different. You had an idea, you put it on paper in one or several days, you tinkered a little bit at the edges, and voilà! The product was there: instant reward. If you published, so much the better! You made a little money on the side.

Writing a novel is a marathon. I trained for it. I have a plan for it and work on it in an organized and disciplined fashion. It is hard to either ignore or navigate the fits of self-doubt. Working at it every day helps. I finished one novel in less than ten months. Another one took me seven years to complete. When I worked for a living, writing was always difficult. I did it after hours, when the kids were asleep or on weekends. Now I have all the time in the world. I wake up, drink my coffee, and off I go, every day into that world of my own. If I have a bad day and the words that flow out of me don’t sound true, I fight through my desperation with solitaires I play on my computer. But I don’t get up from my desk. It’s too easy to get distracted: a good book, a party, a trip. A bottle of wine.

I belabor each sentence. Kurt Vonnegut said that writers are “either swoopers or bashers. Swoopers write a story quickly, higgledy-piggledy, crinkum-crancum, any which way. Then they go over it again painstakingly, fixing everything that is just plain awful or doesn’t work. Bashers go one sentence at a time, getting it exactly right before they go on to the next one.” He said most men are bashers, and I am sure I’m one of them. Because I write in English, which is not my first language, I am terrified to make mistakes. I check and recheck all the time. I have dictionaries, thesauruses, and grammar books on my desk. The help of a good editor is priceless to me. I belong to two novel workshops and I take the comments of my writer friends to heart.

Sometimes I toggle between Romanian and English. I translate my own work. When I do that, I feel like seeing myself in a room through a crack in the door. I know the meaning and the intent of each word on the page, but when I translate, I see a new light. Mistakes grow out of nowhere, like stalactites. Jhumpa Lahiri went to Rome to learn the language and write in Italian. In her 2015 book In Other Words, she compared writing in two languages to the arched bridges of Venice, connecting the two shores. I agree with her.   

Read: Poet Susan Okie on writing in a second language to free her ideas

Blogging is quite different. I started blogging because I wanted to unclog myself, to let myself go. I put an idea on paper and, puff! Like a short story, it’s done quickly. I publish my blog every Monday at 8 am, which means that by Sunday evening, no matter how busy the weekend, I have to be done. I enjoy writing to a deadline – it’s a new experience. I blog about the writing process, the books I read, my trips, my visits to my grandchildren, about playing tennis, skiing, and playing bridge, rarely about politics, and from time to time, I publish short stories and excepts from my novels. My wife is a trusted friend. She provides me with photographs for my blog and edits what I write.  

Do you have a favorite piece from the new issue of LPR?

I don’t like judging, but since you asked, and since I write prose, I will focus on fiction. I enjoyed The Expression of the Emotions in Girl and Animals by Katherine Arden York. One can’t go wrong when one starts with the sentence, “Dehydration is the second worse thing about surviving a shipwreck.” What is the first? Why a shipwreck? The reader is instantly transported into an imaginary world that is challenging and romantic at the same time. To approach a subject as old as Robinson Crusoe and as recent as Tom Hanks in Cast Away, one needs to be daring. And a good writer. Well, Katherine is. 

I also loved reading the interview with photographer Ben Cricchi. 

Get your copy of Little Patuxent Review‘s latest issue

What are your hopes for LPR in the future?

In the nineties, I enjoyed reading a magazine called Story, which ceased its publication in 2000. It was revived in 2014 and again in 2019, but in the meantime, I discovered Glimmer Train, which unfortunately stopped publishing last year. There are many other literary magazines of renown, but these two influenced my writing the most. Both encouraged first-time authors who went on to enjoy brilliant careers and win prestigious literary awards.

I see LPR as nothing less and would love to contribute to building the publication to a point where its selections and contributors get national recognition. I would envision us holding literary contests as well.    

What’s something your fellow Board members might be surprised to learn about you?

Several weeks ago, I re-read The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas, a novel read mostly by teenagers. Why? Because of an essay in the October 2019 Paris Review by Umberto Eco in which the Italian writer and scholar affirms that, “The Count of Monte Cristo is one of the most exciting novels ever written and on the other hand is one of the most badly written novels of all times and in any literature.” I had to check firsthand why he would critique a book I loved in my youth, and, 1,070 pages later, I concluded that the novel is both banal and sublime.

I think the board members would smile at that.

Planet New York is available on Amazon in English. The novel received an Honorable Mention at the 2007 New York Book Festival. Alex’s short story “Somewhere in the City” received an Honorable Mention at Glimmer Train’s Spring 2017 short story contest. Written in English, No Portrait in the Gilded Frame is Alex’s last novel.

For more information on his literary activity, please check his website. Alex’s blog, at medium.com/@alexduvan, includes short stories and excerpts from his novels. His novel in progress, The Ultimate Patient, is a fictionalized account of his family’s history.

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