The secretary of White Rock and Surrey Writers’ Club, Ekaterina Lobanova (penname Kate Valery) is a professional musician, journalist, and writer. She was born in Moscow, Russia, and educated at Tchaikovsky Conservatory of Music. In 1996, she immigrated to Canada, where she started to write in English—her second language—and authored seven books. Her latest novels are Midget or Symphony of the Ocean (2020), and Clay Mask (2022). They are both winners of the Gold Seal award for literary excellence from the US Review of Books and now both are accepted by British Columbia Libraries. Currently she is working on her eighth book, memoir/anthology Why I Like Being a Writer.
Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?
a) Midget… I met one woman named Susan who would tell me a story about how she managed a group home in British Columbia and how she abused her patients financially, physically, mentally and sexually. She did it for 20 years until finally was caught and was supposed to move to Alberta and hide from police in a tiny village for years. She was very creative to cover her criminal deeds. She told me there was one little person in her group home whom she called Midget and he was a musician and liked to sing.
Susan pretended that she was helping me to edit my first book Deadly Paradise, but in reality she was stealing it page by page and wanted to publish it under her name to become a writer. When I discovered it, I stopped my friendship with her and decided to use her as a main character for my next book.
I also felt pity and sympathy for this unlucky little guy who was badly abused by Susan and I made him the main character of my book, Jim—little handicapped genius composer from whom the monster Susan (in the book I named her Mona) is stealing his symphony page by page.
So, it was inspired by the monster and also by compassion toward handicapped vulnerable people who resided in her group home. It turned out to become a page-turning crime story where tiny Jim becomes a hero and helps to bring the monster to justice, sacrificing his life to save his roommates.
I would like to use here a quote from the US Review of Books which explains my main idea:
“The novel’s mighty account of the miniature hero, Jim, celebrates a fragile yet powerful beauty of a life lived with passion and purpose.”
Then, one short excerpt from this book, published in Spotlight Magazine in October 2021:
“I have proved to myself that my soul and mind are stronger than my body, Jim thought, considering himself a winner in the last round of the game. I am not an animal, not a slave, not a doll. I am a spiritual being, and I am free.”
Now this book is accepted in British Columbia Libraries. When you are reading this book, you are seeing it as a movie in front of your eyes. It was recommended by the US Review of Books for Hollywood screenplay.
b) Clay Mask… This is my masterpiece. It also received a Gold Seal Medal for Literary Excellence from the US Review of Books and was named an epic novel… “emotionally charged narrative from start to finish… unorthodox love story…” It is also accepted to Libraries of British Columbia.
The main character is based on a newspaper article about a genius scientist in Armenia who invented a cure for schizophrenia with the help of a clay mask. I read this article more than fifty years ago in the Soviet Union, but the invention itself and the unbelievable story of its creator-psychiatrist shocked me so much that I remembered it for many years. In reality he just disappeared, maybe was arrested and died in some prison, which happened with many geniuses in communist regime. But I made him in my book illegally escape from the Soviet Union on a boat over the Black Sea and finally ending up in the USA. I gave him an Armenian name Ashot. He continued his work and cured people from schizophrenia using his invention which was recognized at the end by the Nobel Prize.
Another main character in this book is Rosie, a young mentally ill genius poetess who presents her poems on stage and at age 17 had already published the book of her poetry. I knew this girl personally and attended several of her concerts. She inspired me to include her in my book.
Finally, another main character of Clay Mask is young American doctor Aaron Dispenmore. Would these two doctors (Ashot and Aaron) ever meet, get along as friends and successfully work together toward the Nobel Prize? Or would they become the fatal rivals in the process of healing Rosie, whom they both love to death, though very differently—Aaron as a boyfriend and Ashot as a father? Working really hard for Rosie’s remedy, none of them would ever expect the shocking side effects of the cure the Clay Mask could produce.
Stepping into this unknown path Aaron faced two options: to find a happy future with the woman of his dreams and the triumph of winning the Nobel Prize, or to be murdered. He had no idea which way fate had chosen for him, or could there be both?
Clay Mask is a deeply psychological story of love, and the tragedy of mental illness; the story that is searching for the meaning and goals of humans’ existence, but also it is full of adventure.
It’s a novel. However, it is based on a true research study of the secrets of a human brain—its connections to the holographic universe, three-dimensional time, and the endless unbelievable possibilities hidden in 90% of its unopened part. Those scientific discoveries, plus the invention of the cure for schizophrenia are really worth a Nobel Prize because of their importance to human society.
What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?
I am a professional musician, who graduated from the Moscow Conservatory of Music named after Tchaikovsky in Russia. While working at the International Moscow Radio as a music editor and journalist-correspondent, I authored several books in Russian.
In 1996, I immigrated to Canada and worked there for many years as a pianist and music teacher, and also as the editor of the variety of Russian newspapers in Edmonton, AB. Also, being an immigrant who came to Canada without knowing one word in English, I went through all the difficulties of new and inexperienced person—worked in pubs as a cook helper, washed floors and toilets, changed diapers in daycare, worked as a security guard in hospitals and as a caretaker of high-rise buildings. I went through it all, until I learned English. But all these absolutely new and unusual experiences for my education level gave me a chance to know about life here in Western Free World and to get used to it. Then I started writing in English and being an already previously experienced writer, I got it easily.
Recently one of my readers said that it feels like my books are written not by a Russian person with a second language, but by a real American or Canadian author. What bigger compliment could you dream for?
Being an immigrant myself, I use immigrants’ characters in each of my 7 published book because usually immigrants’ stories and very interesting, tragic and unbelievable. In Midget it is Lada, Jim’s girlfriend, immigrant from Ukraine; and Sandra, his mother, immigrant from Italy. In Clay Mask it is Ashot—illegal immigrant from Armenia.
Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?
a) Midget… First, I would like to apologize if someone is finding nowadays the word ‘midget’ offensive to little people. I didn’t mean to hurt anyone’s feelings and especially to diminish my main character, Jim. He is a genius composer who was born handicapped, but to use the word dwarf, which little people prefer nowadays, would be wrong here. Dwarfism is a special medical condition and my Jim is not that. He is much smaller, about half the size of a usual dwarf, but has a normal-size head for a 32-year-old man.
So, the title is about my main character, little handicapped Jim.
The symphony itself is also a main theme next to Jim. Really, if Jim wasn’t writing the symphony, everything would be very different. The story wouldn’t happen. He would be living a boring meaningless life in a group home. Lada wouldn’t fall in love with him, and he probably would be alive much longer because there would be no need for monster-Mona to kill him. She would continue to milk money from him forever. So, the importance of the symphony is huge in the plot and I decided to name it in the title of the book as well. For that reason the double title was born—Midget or Symphony of the Ocean. It was very easy to find.
b) Clay Mask… It was very obvious and very easy to find as well. The scientific invention of a genius—the cure for schizophrenia with the help of Clay Mask is the main point, idea and plot of the whole book. All happening around it and because of it.
How did it feel when you first saw your book cover? Or when you first held your book in your hands?
a) Midget… The photo for the front cover I found in 2006 when I first thought about writing this book and I kept it for many years. When I finally wrote the book in 2020, I used it. It reflected the main idea—Sunrise over the ocean, which Jim dreamed to see, and a tiny black figure at the bottom: Jim.
It feels amazing to see it and to hold it in my hands. I felt accomplished and happy.
b) Clay Mask… My publisher suggested to use a photo from their special website. At first I was upset because I had my own photo, but was not allowed to use it. However, when I looked at their suggestion, I got excited because it was much better than mine. A woman’s face covered with a thin layer of blue clay… Wow! It was exactly what is in the book. And 3 faces… My Rosie had 7 personalities, not 3, but still it was closer. It is unbelievably beautiful and a perfect match to my book, very spiritual and mysterious. I was very thankful for my publisher as a result.
I love these my last two books madly. They are my children, my family. And when I sent manuscripts to the publisher it was a very sad feeling like someone died in my home, someone close and loved is gone forever. I didn’t want to part with my characters. I wanted them to stay with me longer. For that reason I started to translate them to Russian for some friends who still don’t know English properly. It was a very difficult job because I almost forgot Russian and I used an English-Russian dictionary a lot. But it gave me more time together with my beloved characters.
Then they returned in the form of books and it was exciting.
If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?
For Midget it would be a piece played by a symphony orchestra conducted by Andre Riew.
For Clay Mask it would be “Million of Red Roses” by Russian star Alla Pugacheva. The meaning of this song is that not everyone in life is blessed to survive an unbelievable love story. But if you are, you will remember it forever and cherish these memories to the end of your life.
What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?
I wanted to attract attention of the public to the value of handicapped and mentally ill people in modern society. As you could see, for example, on America’s got Talent—many severely handicapped people turned out to be geniuses and won competition with healthy regular talented people.
a) Midget… I heard from some readers that my book really changed their point of view about little people for the best. Before they just ignored them, but after reading my book they started to look at the little people differently, started to realize that these handicappers are real people with real feelings, talents, dreams, goals and achievements. They could be geniuses, they could be heroes. They are worth a lot for human society. It is very visible in my book that I appreciate them, love them, respect and admire them.
I guess that the idea of humanity was one of the reasons why this book received the Gold Seal Medal for Literary Excellence from the US Review of Books, and also it is accepted in BC Libraries.
b) Clay Mask… The same idea of humanity. My Rosie is mentally ill but she is a genius-poetess and has real triumph at her concerts. For that reason, I was supposed to write myself all 13 “Rosie’s poems” used in the plot of the book. Her Book of Poetry is the same important “character” of the novel Clay Mask as Jim’s Symphony is in Midget or Symphony of the Ocean. To write the poems was unusual and not easy for me because I am mostly a prose writer. But I managed it not too bad. Some of my “Rosie’s poems” from Clay Mask were even chosen into White Rock and Surrey Writers’ Club Anthology which is now accepted to BC Libraries as well.
What was the most rewarding/meaningful part of publishing your book?
I wanted people to know my idea of humanity and paid more attention to the handicapped and mentally ill people, respected them more and appreciated their value for modern human society.
Most rewarding is that I did it successfully. My books were recognized and very highly prized by the US Review of Books. My readers love them. Some even read them for several days non-stop because they are really page-turning.
What new writing projects are you currently working on? Or, other projects that are not writing?
I am now writing my 8th book in English—Why I Like Being a Writer.
But it is a pretty unusual memoir—not about me but about each of my English novels, how they were born and created. I myself and my immigration story is a background for that, but not the main point. The main point is the stories of my novels because they all are very unusual and interesting. They all are immigrants’ stories. My novels are Stolen (2007), Deadly Paradise (2007), Curse of Russia (2009), Love Triangle (2010), Love with a Ghost (2011), Midget or Symphony of the Ocean (2020), and Clay Mask (2022). All my works are available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other online bookstores.
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