Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Interview With Author Rosa Lowinger




1.      What inspired you to write this book? Dwell Time began to take shape in 2009 when I was living in Rome and chanced upon a copy of Primo Levi’s book “The Periodic Table.” I was there to research the history of vandalism to art and public places on a fellowship, having spent three decades working as a conservator of sculpture and buildings. I wanted to write and think about a topic that was vexing me constantly- why people deliberately damage things of value. Was there a common thread between unauthorized attacks on works of art? Between graffiti and the systematic destruction of monumental Buddhas, synagogues and other places of worship? Primo Levi was an Italian chemist who had written several books about his years in Auschwitz. The Periodic Table used his work as a chemist as an organizing metaphor for telling stories about his Jewish Italian ancestors.


Immediately I recognized that the structure of Levi’s book could be used to write about art conservation, a field which delves into the way materials behave, and how we repair art and buildings. No one had ever done this before. Conservators made occasional appearances in fiction; but most depictions of our work were improbable and hyper-romanticized. Levi’s book provided the structure. But the family story and my own personal story took another decade to find. The title references a chemical process.


2.      What exactly is it about and who is it written for? Dwell Time is a Latinx immigrant family story told through the lens of repair. It is about a generational and cultural gap between parents and children that is stitched together by using understanding gained through an esoteric profession of repair. The book is for anyone who reads about Latinx immigrant families, Jewish history, and works of art. It is also the personal reflection of a leading woman entrepreneur who had to come to terms with the fact that being super successful was not all there was to life, and that untangling the urgent need to be always the best at everything was necessary in order to mend old wounds. In some ways, Dwell Time posits a model for understanding others that could be used to create community and heal on a broader societal scale.


3.      What do you hope readers will get out of reading your book?  First, an understanding of art conservation. Understanding the profession and what we do from the inside. Also, a sense that we can reshape and alter ourselves with rigorous inner work and trying to understand our own foibles.


4.      How did you decide on your book’s title and cover design? The title comes from a process in conservation that refers to how long it takes a chemical to do its job on a material surface. It’s also a term that measures the amount of time people live in a city, or immigrants wait at a border. My friend Amy Green, a fellow conservator, suggested the title. The subtitle more or less says what the book is about. The cover design is by the great Janay Nachel Frazier working for Row House. I gave some input and chose the color.


5.      What advice or words of wisdom do you have for fellow writers – other than run!? Writing is work. You must approach it as a serious job if you want to get somewhere. That means you have to have a regular practice, and get words on a page. Even if the words sound terrible, you must write. Practice makes perfect in everything from swimming to salsa dancing to writing. If you can’t take writing as seriously as a job, then you can still write, but you will be doing it as an avocation rather than with rigor and seriousness.


6.      What trends in the book world do you see -- and where do you think the book publishing industry is heading? I have no idea. I don’t even want to think about it. I’m sure there are all sorts of horror stories about people not reading, no one having attention spans, Tik Tok ruining our minds. As a writer, I can’t worry about that. I create from my own point of view, thinking of readers who appreciate story and hope that someone will connect with my material. I don’t feel that the world owes artists a platform or publication. We do what comes to us and hopefully you connect with your audience. I also have a day job, as did Wallace Stevens and T.S. Eliot.


7.      Were there experiences in your personal life or career that came in handy when writing this book? This memoir is full of personal story at every level. The entire thing is a rumination on my family, profession, partnerships, marriage, parenting skills, travels, approaches to work, and mainly my flaws. I go deep into my past, and that of my family. I also go into the stories of what it is like to be a successful woman entrepreneur and how one navigates stature and professionalism with wanting to create camaraderie and community.


8.      How would you describe your writing style? Which writers or books is your writing similar to? I like to think of myself as a lyrical straightforward writer. In fact, Kirkus, in its starred review, praised my use of “simple, straightforward prose.”  I took that as a great compliment. I like to write in normal, mostly grammatical sentences that communicate information but contain lots of detail and rhythm. I am never cynical though I aim to be humorous where appropriate.  I like the work of memoirists Trevor Noah, Helen McDonald, Gary Shteyngart, Reyna Grande, Joan Didion, and Gina Frangello. Joan Didion and Anne Patchett are my style heroes.  I love reading Philip Roth, Rachel Kushner, Dana Spiotta, Lauren Groff, and Mario Vargas Llosa, but I sure as heck don’t have their gifts with language.


9.      What challenges did you overcome in the writing of this book? Mainly the challenge of telling stories about people you love without harming them. It was important to me to say only what needed to be said about people. For example, my ex-husband, who is my friend, and my son, whose name does not appear in the pages at all. My mother is all over the book and some of what I show is not altogether nice. However, it was important to portray her ugly side in order to see the change that took place in our relationship over time. And it was equally relevant to show that she could be terrible at times, and lovely and loving at others to demonstrate how her bad behavior was a product of her own damage and mostly out of her control. And of course, when you write a book of this sort, one has to be harshest with oneself—be brutal about one’s own bad behavior, take responsibility without it coming out cheesy or a toothless mea culpa. Your readers will know if you are being sincere or not.


10.  If people can buy or read one book this week or month, why should it be yours?

In Dwell Time you can read about the history of Cuba, the Jewish presence in Havana, mid-century modern architecture, Afro-Cuban religions, a UNESCO world heritage site nestled between verdant mountains and the Caribbean, the relocation of mosaics, the way human remains are protected in archeological cemeteries, the salvage of a toppled mural after Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, the best way to polish silver without scratching it, the challenges of saving Los Angeles’ Watts Towers, and what you need to consider if you ever plan to site a sculpture outdoors. These stories are tucked between a Jewish-Latinx family tale of double exile—from Eastern Europe to Cuba in the 1920s and then to Miami, expressing all the love, anguish and trauma of my beleaguered and overburdened parents and their fraught 62-year marriage.

If that’s not reason enough to buy this book during Hispanic Heritage month, then do it because this is probably the only time you’ll ever read about a character (my mother, of course) who can blithely translate Cuban boleros into Yiddish on the spot.


About The Author: Rosa Lowinger is a Cuban-born American writer and art conservator. The author of Tropicana Nights: The Life and Times of the Legendary Cuban Nightclub (Harcourt, 2005) and Promising Paradise: Cuban Allure American Seduction (Wolfsonian Museum, 2016), she is the founder and current vice-president of RLA Conservation, LLC, the U.S.’s largest woman-owned materials conservation practice, based in Miami and Los Angeles. A fellow of the American Institute for Conservation, the Association for Preservation Technology, and the American Academy in Rome, Rosa writes regularly for popular and academic media about conservation, the arts, and Cuba. She holds an M.A. in art history and conservation from New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts and divides her time between Los Angeles and Miami. For more information, visit https://rosalowinger.com/.


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Brian Feinblum should be followed on LinkedIn. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog ©2023. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he now resides in Westchester with his wife, two kids, and Ferris, a black lab rescue dog, and El Chapo, a pug rescue dog. His writings are often featured in The Writer and IBPA’s The Independent.  This award-winning blog has generated over 3.4 million pageviews. With 4,600+ posts over the past dozen years, it was named one of the best book marketing blogs by BookBaby  http://blog.bookbaby.com/2013/09/the-best-book-marketing-blogs  and recognized by Feedspot in 2021 and 2018 as one of the top book marketing blogs. It was also named by www.WinningWriters.com as a "best resource.” For the past three decades, including 21 years as the head of marketing for the nation’s largest book publicity firm, and two jobs at two independent presses, Brian has worked with many first-time, self-published, authors of all genres, right along with best-selling authors and celebrities such as: Dr. Ruth, Mark Victor Hansen, Joseph Finder, Katherine Spurway, Neil Rackham, Harvey Mackay, Ken Blanchard, Stephen Covey, Warren Adler, Cindy Adams, Todd Duncan, Susan RoAne, John C. Maxwell, Jeff Foxworthy, Seth Godin, and Henry Winkler. He recently hosted a panel on book publicity for Book Expo America, and has spoken at ASJA, Independent Book Publishers Association Sarah Lawrence College, Nonfiction Writers Association, Cape Cod Writers Association, Willamette (Portland) Writers Association, APEX, and Connecticut Authors and Publishers Association. His letters-to-the-editor have been published in The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, New York Post, NY Daily News, Newsday, The Journal News (Westchester) and The Washington Post. He has been featured in The Sun Sentinel and Miami Herald. For more information, please consult: www.linkedin.com/in/brianfeinblum.  




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