RAOUL WIENTZEN: I WANTED TO BE A WRITER SINCE EIGHTH GRADE
Posted by Ognian Georgiev
Three months before the official release of The Assembler of Parts the book received huge positive feedback (av. 4.9 stars from 57 reviews). The Raoul Wientzen’s novel is available now on kindle. Let’s hear more from the author about him and his novel
– What is your book The Assembler of Parts about?
– The main theme of The Assembler of Parts is the central role of forgiveness in completing the full humanity of people. Forgiveness, in fact, is the missing part that everyone needs to have perfect love. And the irony of forgiveness is that it would not be possible were it not for the imperfections in creation, i.e., evil in creation, both moral evil and physical evil. The Hitlers, Pol Pots, mass murderers, the tsunamis, earthquakes, infecting bacteria, malignant cancer cells, all of imperfection in creation, become necessary in order to perfect love through forgiveness.
– How did you decide to write the story?
– My undergraduate education at Georgetown College had a heavy dose of philosophy and theology. A favorite course was The Problem of God, which essentially was a look at why a benign deity would tolerate an imperfect world, one filled with moral and physical evil. I was deeply impressed by Teilhard Chardin’s writing and his concept of creation being “unfinished.” I took that interest to my life in medicine.
My life in medicine ( I am a pediatric infectious disease doctor and spent 32 years in academic practice at Georgetown University Hospital) brought me into daily contact with severely ill children and their families. In working with them I saw the power of forgiveness to perfect love, and saw the necessity in an imperfect creation.
– What was the biggest challenge during the write up process?
– Conveying the idea that the just-deceased narrator, Jess, can recount the story of her life as if she were reliving it with full cognitive understanding as it spun out because in the afterlife one is outside of the constraints of time and physics.
– Tell us something more about your main character Jess? Is she close to someone from your real life?
– She is not, though a great inspiration for her came from my meeting someone with Hilgar Syndrome and being completely taken with that individual’s immense human dignity in the face of such physical “incompletion.” In my medical life, I had the sad experience to care for a good number of young girls who were mortally ill with various infections as complications of underlying malignancies, and their deaths and the grief of their families, affected me deeply.
– How much time did you need to finish the story and to publish it?
– The story sort of ‘wrote itself’ once I had the voice of Jess in my mind. It took about a year to complete my final draft, the one I sent to an agent who thought the story had promise, and who now is my agent, the wonderful Sorche Fairbank. I reworked parts of it under her guidance for another three months. The editing process at Arcade Publishing went on for about four months, and it was a real pleasure (and learning experience) to be in the capable hands of my editor, Cal Barksdale.
– Who are you?
– I grew up in a large (6 kids) Catholic family in Queens, New York. I attended Catholic grade school, and a wonderful Catholic high school, Archbishop Molloy, and a wonderful Catholic college, Georgetown.
Reading was a passion of my father, Raoul Sr., and all 6 of us kids shared in it. We had no TV in our summer home in the little town of Blue Point, on the Great South Bay of Long Island. Even in grade school we’d be sent off to the local library after supper to select the books we’d read over the coming few days. I still remember the dry, sweet smell of books in the library, and the scary dark of the unlighted, tree-canopied streets we’d walk to get back home, and the lights of our little house, shining yellow through the windows like beacons in a lighthouse.
I wanted to be a writer since eighth grade. My parents thought I’d make a good physician. It was a time—the late fifties—when kids thought their parents knew something about life, and were pleased to accept their advice. So I went into medicine after college, and don’t regret it one bit, but I am very happy now to have time and freedom to write. I actually tried to write for many years when I was practicing at Georgetown, but the demands of patients, med students, interns, residents and my own family—a spectacular wife of 41 years, Judy, and four great kids—always trumped the power of the blank page.
– What are your writing habits?
– I try to write 1000 words a day most days of the week, or to do 4 hours of revision. I belong to a writing group and we read and critique each other’s work. It builds character to hear how far off the mark your last ‘perfect’ chapter was.
– Are you satisfied by the sales of the book?
– Yes, I am.
– When will you publish your next novel?
– My next novel is completed in draft form. My agent loves the story, but advises me to pare the writing back by about a third. I find it easier to put words on paper than to take them off, so I anticipate another 6 months of blood-letting before I will be finished. A long way of saying, maybe I’ll have another book out in a year.
– What are you doing to promote your book by the best possible way?
– I attend any book club that reads my work. I’ve done about 25 to date, two by phone, the rest in person. I created a website that I have studiously neglected from the day it was launched. I post updates on my book—it was a semifinalist for the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award, and just took the Writers Center Best First Novel Prize—on the Georgetown Alumni association’s website. I’ve had interviews with Arlington Magazine, Arlington Catholic Herald newspaper, Kirkus Review, Bustle.com. I am not good at promoting my book, I know, so I hope word of mouth and the writing itself does it for me.
– Were you surprised to see so many positive reviews and what is the feeling to receive such a praise for your efforts?
– I am a bit surprised. I thought of my book as rather esoteric—a stab at an answer to the reason bad things happen to good people, to the question of why is there evil in the world—but now I can see the story hit a chord that resonates in so many people. I can’t count the number of women and men who have taken me aside at a book club discussion to tell me how much my book meant to them because of the experience of loss they had suffered, how it clarified that loss and shined a light on it so that it sparkled. So, while the praise of my writing has been sweet for me, sweeter still has been the knowledge I brought some peace and closure to many who have experienced sadness in loss.
– You are having a long practicing career in pediatrics. Would you describe the satisfaction when you witness the entire process of healing a young human being?
– There certainly is satisfaction in making a sick child healthy again. It is the satisfaction from the restoration of order in the world, and in knowing that the trust put in me by my parents, teachers and patients has borne fruit. But that satisfaction is always tinged with a certain sadness (it’s just me and my maternal grandfather’s Lutheranism coming to the surface, I think) that previous generations of children suffered and perhaps even died from this very same condition just decades earlier, and how fair is that???
– What are the worst moments in your work and how you manage to overcome them?
– In my clinical work in infectious disease it’s when a child dies or suffers neurologic sequellae or musculoskeletal loss (amputation) from an infection. I don’t think I do overcome them as much as take the worst moments with me to the next patient and try my best again. In my work for the Rostropovich Foundation (international health) it’s when we have a brilliant program ready to be launched to prevent terrible diseases in underprivileged children in Jordan, Palestine, Georgia, Azerbaijan and elsewhere, only to fail to find funding to make the program realized. I overcome these losses by becoming a professional beggar for funding and by religiously voting Democrat in elections.
– Your honest opinion on American healthcare system?
– Great doctors and nurses, first rate hospitals and technology, stupid fractured imbursement systems that do not reward outcomes.
– If you may ask yourself one question in the interview what it will be? (Don’t forget to answer)
– Dr. Wientzen, what new vegetable will you plant in your summer garden next year?
Well, it’s not entirely new because I did have one plant of this last summer, but I do intend to have many white eggplants this year. They are so mild and sweet and make an excellent eggplant parmesan. Also, they make for great conversation starters at dinner parties when they are arrayed on an orange platter. “Tiger, tiger burning bright,” they make me think, and then I turn the conversation to what else He made, and maybe why.
Learn more about Raoul Wientzen at his Web Page
Take a look at his book
The Assembler of Parts