Interview with Delphine Pontvieux

NPL caught up with author Delphine Pontvieux, creator of ETA Estimated Time of Arrest. We asked her a few questions about her publishing experience and inspiration:

1) Your first novel, ETA- Estimated Time of Arrest is a political thriller inspired by Basque history. What was it about Basque culture that drew you to this topic?

It is an interesting chain of events, for I have no roots or family originating from the Basque country at all, other than the fact that my mother lived in the French side of Pays Basque 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 language every morning at school.)

I think that my fascination for the language, the culture and the social and political history of the Basque people stems back from my first trip to Spain, when I was 11 or 12 years old. I was at a summer camp near Barcelona. One night, as we were all sitting around the fire after dinner, a friend gave me a cassette tape. On one side, there was this band called La Polla Records. On the other, a group called Kortatu, from Irun, in the Basque country. Kortatu (fronted by F. Muguruza) was a musical revelation for me, because it was the band that got me into listening to punk rock and ska. Both of these bands were at the forefront of the Rock Radikal Vasco movement in the eighties.

By the time I was a high school teenager, the Basque sociopolitical conflict with Spain was recurrent in the news. Me and my friends also listened to the word on the street, at
shows and we read fanzines. The whole underground/punk rock musical scene was a lot more political then. Looking back at it all today, I guess these times impacted me a lot more than I thought they did, because they got me to write this book, some 20 + years later.

When I started working on the book in 2007, I realized I knew very little about Euskal Herria (the Basque country). I read 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 were of great help to help me
understand the circumstances that led to the sociopolitical 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, and frontman of the band Kortatu), who went above and beyond the call of duty to reply to my million questions with patience and good humor, and became a dear friend in the process. 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 am describing in the book, and as a result, got to appreciate this place, its people and their culture even more. It is hard to describe what makes the Basques such intriguing people, I guess you have to go there to see for yourself. A good start, or so I hope, is to get acquainted with my character, Lorenzo Lartaun Izcoa, to help you better understand the complex times he grew up in.

2) Has living in the USA after 9/11 informed your understanding of ETA’s lead character, Lorenzo, the 21-year old accused of terrorism?

This is mainly a subconscious process, thus I am sure it somehow affected the way I broached the subject of terrorism, even though I had to set my mind back to the eighties and nineties to understand what would have gone through the head of my character, because it corresponds to the story’s timeframe, well before 9/11. I think I relied more on interviews I did with people who dealt with the situation at the time (be it police, separatists, etc) to get into my character’s frame of mind, so I could remain true to the way he would have behaved and dealt with the situation.

3) Will you tell us a bit about the sequel to ETA which you’re currently working on?

Of course. The sequel is titled ‘MIA – Missing In Actun,’ to keep with the theme of “altered” acronyms I like to pick for my book titles.

The story is different from ETA, in the sense that it has less of a sociopolitical content to it. This time around, it is more geared towards the characters and their adventures, which lead them deep in the jungle of the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico, almost two decades after the ending of ETA. It is hard to explain what the sequel is about without spoiling it for the readers who haven’t read ETA yet, so I won’t go there! I am hoping to finish it in 2015. This one is taking me a long time, only because I started another business (Miss Nyet Jewelry) two years ago, which keeps me very busy these days, in addition to acting.

4) We were impressed by your reaching out to artist Fermin Muguruza for help while you were researching ETA. Will the sequel contain input from other contemporary artists too?

So far, no. I have reached out to experts in their respective fields to help me with certain technical and historical aspects of the book, which is common practice, but that’s the extent of it, this time around.

5) What do you think are the strengths and weaknesses of traditional publishing?

Pros: leverage / quality editing / exposure (if you are part of the lucky few authors they are willing to push, that is) / good reputation / shot at getting reviewed in large magazines and newspapers / money (even though that would bring us to the topic of the advance, which is another can of worms) / book tours, cross over marketing and publicity / contacts with the movie industry / contacts with international publishing houses.

Cons: lack of flexibility / old school mentality / If your first effort does not go anywhere, you run the risk of being contractually tied up with the company for a long time, with little or zero shot at success for the subsequent ones because you are no longer on their radar / strenuous deadlines, with contractual obligation to deliver books at a fast pace/ serious loss of creative control over your work.

I doubt I’d be a good fit for a traditional publisher. One, look at my tracking record: you know how the saying goes, you have a lifetime to write your first book and 10 months to publish the second. My first book was published in December of 2009, and here we are, almost 5 years later, and I’m only 3/4 done with my second effort. That would not fly if I was under contract with a traditional publisher. That is why I never tried to go the traditional route, because I never had the desire to turn my love of writing into a full time job/career, and I did not feel the need to deal with the pressure of being prolific just because I am under contract. (Though I sometimes wish, as my own boss, that I would kick my own derriere a little harder to get my work done, already!)

There isn’t a right or wrong way to go with regards to publishing choices, but a writer needs to pursue what makes the most sense for him/her with respect to his/her work ethic and expectations.

6) What do you like best about independent publishing? Is there any advice that you’d give first-time authors considering independent publishing?

When I decided to launch my small press, I got the chance not only to publish my work, but to experience what it is like to be a publisher. I had to start my own business, find a distributor (Baker and Taylor), design my book from scratch (including inside layout and cover with the help of very talented designer friends), get my book out with the goal of getting it (gasp) reviewed, book my own appearances and signings with bookstores and whoever would want me in their premises, get to know the local literary scene, attend conventions, become an accountant/general manager/VP of sales… the list goes on and on. And you know what? I found it all exhilarating, challenging, freeing and downright crazy.

Now, if I had to provide a piece of advice to first time authors, I would say, think hard about what your expectations are; measure them against the list of pros and cons above, and figure out what would be the best fit for you and your work. If you are considering independent publishing, do your research. I know it is tempting to say yes to the first company that expresses any interest in your work, but you need to see how serious, connected and committed they are to work with you, and you with them.

7) Your work is past-paced and very entertaining, while also being thoughtful and socially conscious. Do you think there’s a large readership for writing that’s both popular
and literary?

Yes! When people think about literary work, they think quality; they think classic; but, let’s admit it, in the back of their heads, they also think “boring.” There is a middle ground to be reached. A lot of popular writers these days have mastered the art of entertaining the reader with amazing, entrancing stories, while delivering an important message, or teaching us something in the process. It is a double winner in my book.


Thank you for talking with us, Delphine!


Delphine Pontvieux is a freelance journalist, scuba instructor and runs her own publishing company, Miss Nyet Publishing. The prologue to ETA Estimated Time of Arrest is available to readers here.

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