I haven’t yet got around to meeting Eva Mazza IRL due to all our bookish events being cancelled so I’m very glad she agreed to do this interview which I thoroughly enjoyed. I loved reading about her journey to getting published plus she has some very important advice for aspiring authors, and she knows what she’s talking about – her debut novel has sold thousands of copies in South Africa (to put this into perspective, a fiction author here is lucky if they sell a thousand copies of their book. Yes, you read that correctly. One thousand.) Enjoy!
Tell us something interesting about you.
I’m not that interesting. I think I am more interested in people than they are in me. I love observing situations, eavesdropping on conversations, listening to other people’s stories. Snooping was my thing when I was a child. It used to get me into huge trouble with my Papou (grandfather) at Sunday lunches. He’d catch me rummaging through drawers or hiding behind a couch while the grown-ups chatted. That’s why I love social media… it’s like one huge open window into people’s lives.
Did you study creative writing? If so, tell us how your course helped you. If not, how did you wind up writing?
I studied Drama at Wits and majored in English. I’ve always loved to write, but I never did write properly until my late forties. Up until then I was raising four children in different batches! I suppose, like most mothers, the fog lifts and you think, Shit! Have I done anything worthwhile in my life besides being a mom? And we all know that despite one’s good parenting intentions, even that isn’t going to be good enough. I have quite a lot of time to myself as my husband has a restaurant, so I decided to try to write a play, a book and a screenplay.
I never did manage the screenplay, but writing ensured that I only had half a mid-life crisis. An advert for a creative writing course with Mike Nichols and Claire Strombeck kept coming up on Facebook for which I eventually registered. (My MS was already complete, but the course was great as it taught me the ABC of creative writing.) Claire did the first edit of my MS now known as SEX, LIES & STELLENBOSCH. The editing process was one of the most helpful ways to learn about writing. I then went on to do a Master Class with Claire and Mike using my second MS, Christine which is still waiting patiently for me to complete.
Tell us about the Sex Trilogy (AKA The Threesome).
Sex, Lies & Stellenbosch is about protagonist, Jen, who on the cusp of fifty finds her husband in a compromising position with sexy wine rep, Patty. Things begin to unravel from there for Jen, and we follow her journey of discovery (sexual discovery included) and growth. Sex, Lies DECLASSIFIED is the second book in the ‘Sex Trilogy’. Jen has found her happy ending, but will it last?
In DECLASSIFIED Jen has moved to Cape Town and believe it or not, she is restless again. She shouldn’t be. She is surrounded by love and friends and swamped with work. But there’s still a niggle. Without giving too much away, the novel’s characters’ lives continue to complicate Jen’s; as with the first book, there are scandals, twists and unexpected turns … and yes, there definitely is sex.
Photo: Eva with publisher Melinda Ferguson and Sex Lies Declassified in the wild.
What inspired you to write this book?
Well, when fifty is fast approaching, you realise that you don’t have that much time left to do the things you had dreamed of doing, and I had always wanted to write a book. Menopause had reared its sweaty head for me and for many of my friends. Mid-life crises abounded and there were a few marriages that had succumbed to affairs, bored spouses and empty nests. I was inspired by the many stories I had heard. One in particular was of a friend whose husband was having an affair with her friend literally under her nose.
The other was the story of a rich man who resided in Stellenbosch and who was brazenly flaunting his girlfriend at polo matches in and around Cape Town. (Clue: He was stinking rich and owned horses.) The story was circulating around Stellenbosch. I never knew his name, that’s how scandal spreads here, you are hardly ever given names, but it got me wondering if his wife knew, and if she did know, why hadn’t she left him? It’s the whole ‘golden-shackles’ issue which weaves through the first book in particular.
Who do you think this book will appeal to?
I really believe that these books should appeal to both sexes and to all races. I have been particularly vocal about the latter. I am so sick of compartmentalizing books especially when it comes to ‘demographics’… and that’s another word South Africans love to bandy about in the name of polarization. I don’t care about your colour or your sexual orientation – if it appeals, great. We all could do with a sexy scandalous local escape. My word! After a heavy dose of bad news our beautiful country often has us gagging over, why shouldn’t we be able to relax with a bit of SEX in hand (indeed!)
Tell us about your journey to getting published. Talk us through both your lowest point (when you’ve been ugly crying on the bathroom floor) and your highest point (cracking open the Prosecco).
My MS’s original title was CORKED. I had sent one query letter out in the very early stages of the manuscript with very little hope. The book had been sitting on my computer for at least a year when a friend had been diagnosed with cancer. Estranged from her husband, and with no medical help, she needed financial assistance. We used CORKED as a fundraiser on Facebook. For just R100 or more (if they were feeling generous) they could buy the scandalous tale – with the added incentive that they might just be in it.
The fundraiser was a huge success and my friend got the necessary treatment and she is in remission.
It’s actually a beautiful story (there’s obviously more to that story). I was told however, that nobody would publish the MS after this. So that was a huge disappointment because I had a feeling that with another edit, this book had potential. And I wasn’t sure if this was that ‘one book’ that everyone has in them and my chance to publish had been missed. So that was a low. Again, CORKED sat sadly in word documents.
Then my daughter, who was working for a production company, asked if she could pitch the book as a series, so together with a friend they worked on a pitch for television. It had also given me a second wind and I reworked CORKED again! Fresh from a revamp, I saw Jacana was doing its annual Pitch to Publication – I decided to try out for ‘shits and gigs’, although I knew that novels weren’t really their thing. I was one of twenty selected to pitch.
I flew to Joburg with a rehearsed pitch, which I didn’t really use. It was a fabulous session, but they didn’t really know what to do with me. (Flying home to Cape Town I got positively pissed by myself on the plane; that was my prosecco moment .) Jacana handed me to maverick publisher, Melinda Ferguson, who also didn’t know what she would do with me because she specialises in memoirs. But she met with me anyway and we hit it off. I convinced her that fiction sells.
I had many friends who love a plane and a beach read and this book WOULD SELL! Melinda changed the title and killed off two characters, we tweaked the book some more and there you have it. It sold. And now we finally have the second book, Sex, Lies DECLASSIFIED in bookstores. Lockdown has been a fall-on-the-bathroom-floor-and-cry-for-your-book moment.
If you’ve been long-listed/shortlisted/won any awards/had your book optioned for TV/film/achieved bestseller status tell us about it [this is your moment to BRAG].
Before lockdown I had been talking to a producer about the books as a series. But everything seems to have come to a grinding halt. I believe the SEX TRILOGY screams for a series (all sorts of sexual connotations intended). I leave everything to the Universe; I have no choice because I am swamped with a lifestyle that is full of chores… and now Corona, so let’s see. (Plus she is a bestselling author – she kinda forgot to mention that!!)
Talk us through your writing process. Do you write thousands of words a day, 200 words a day? How does it all come together for you? Do you have A PLAN?
I wish I wrote thousands of words a day. If I get into my serious writing routine, something has to give, and it’s normally my grooming, gym and my children, in that order. That routine is mornings-orientated when the children are at school and before I start teaching in the afternoons (I teach drama). When I’m really into it, I can’t seem to do anything else, and I am crabby to be around. I don’t care for my kids or my husband very much when the creative juices are really flowing, and when I’m in that state they fend for themselves for the most part. Ideas float in my head so it is very inconvenient for me to do anything else if I can help it… but I think that’s the scenario for most writers with children and another job.
I don’t plan my books, I have thoughts about my story and they just seem to spill out of me at the most inconvenient times. Being fifty-something, my memory often fails me (I hear you), so I need to find a notebook or piece of paper to jot down that thought, or else it disappears.
What’s next for you?
Well, what’s next for anybody at this stage is everyone’s guess? But I was lucky to be a part of LOCKDOWN The Corona Chronicles, a collection of stories that was published in eBook by Melinda Ferguson along with her other 17 authors. Sex, Lies DECLASSIFIED has just been released, it’s been so wonderful to finally hold this red hot number in my hands.
Then Mel has worked on the print version of the two Corona Chronicle e books she’s published in this time… and I’m honoured, seriously, to be amongst the many brilliant authors’ contributions. Look out for it, it’s titled LOCKDOWN Collection.
And then my aim is to begin to write the third in the sequel, Sex, Lies & Alibis (great title!) and complete Christine who has waited so patiently for me to finish writing her story.
Photo credit: Esmarie Joubert
Advice to aspiring writers (you may not say ‘rather go work at Beefcakes’).
My advice to aspiring authors is to write. Write! And write what you want to write. Don’t think about publishing first. Write first and then see where it takes you. If you make publishing your first goal I believe it screws with your process (YES!!). I would never have written the sex scenes I wrote if I knew that my kids’ friends’ parents would be reading them. Seriously, I would have held back on everything and nothing would have been good enough. And that’s the thing. I never feel I’m good enough anyway. Learn to live with that when you do get published (oh yeah).
Any book recommendations for our readers?
I would recommend you start off with Sex, Lies & Stellenbosch if you haven’t read it then try get your hands on DECLASSIFIED. As far as other books go, I loved reading THREE WOMEN by Lisa Taddeo and I managed to finally finish reading The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. I love historical fiction. I can recommend the two Corona Chronicle books written and published under Lockdown, as the submissions are short and varied … and if you are like me during lockdown … finding it difficult to concentrate for a long period of time, these two books are a win.
How are you keeping sane during the #coronalockdown? Have you managed to write/read during the lockdown?
You would think that this was the kind of moment in terms of being at home and not having to lift children or teach that would be a writer’s wet dream… except the stress of this period has affected my creative juices and my concentration. My husband’s business was affected, his staff, our future, my launches, my children, financial stresses and, and, and (go here http://www.ginos.co.za/ to order from Gino’s). The cleaning, the cooking, the garden. I haven’t had much inclination to read or to write. I am not going to say I haven’t had the time.
But there have been moments of sheer paralysis. I mean I’ve functioned with daily chores but I will spend hours wasting time on social media just scrolling and commenting (I am awfully opinionated, it’s a terrible trait) because it is just so easy. I haven’t even managed to watch a TV series. I’ve watched one movie in its entirety and read two books. That’s it. And the guilt. It’s like I’ve missed my chance, but I’ve had to reconcile myself to the very clichéd thought that ‘it is what it is’.
It is indeed and you’re not alone! Thank you so much for taking part in #ReadingMatters, you can buy Eva’s latest book Sex, Lies DECLASSIFIED online AND you can now get it at bookshops (Woo hoo!) It’s in the wild at Exclusive’s and the Book Lounge or order it from Love Books Jozi or your favourite independent bookstore.
Join Eva for the virtual launch next Tuesday, 2nd June 2020 at 6pm when she will be in conversation with Melinda Ferguson. Go to the NB Publishers Facebook page for more details.
PS…Eva is also a passionate supporter of LOVE TO GIVE and she would love it if you could make a donation:
LOVE TO GIVE – COVID-19 Emergency Relief
Love to Give has been declared an Essential Service, and our centre is open every morning. We are currently supporting 800 families with monthly food parcels and/or food vouchers. The demand is growing daily. We do not have enough food parcels.
Please assist us by donating either a monthly food parcel or financially towards a monthly food voucher which we will procure on your behalf.
- Name: Stellenbosch Community Development Programme
- Bank: ABSA
- Acc. No.: 406 384 1099
- SWIFT: ABSAZAJJ
Monthly food parcel contents:
6 cans Pilchards, 10kg Maize Meal, 1kg Morvite, 2kg Rice, 2.5kg Samp, 500g Sugar beans, 500g Macaroni, 4 cans Baked Beans, 4 cans Corned Meat, 800g Peanut butter, 1 dozen eggs, 2 long life milk, 4 toilet paper, fresh fruit & vegetables and a bar of soap.