Today, I’m joined by Faren Siminoff.
Faren is the debut novelist of The Transformation: GTE 45—which resulted from a longtime fascination with the question of where we are going as a nation in this political and economic climate. She previously wrote the non-fiction title, Crossing the Sound: The Rise of Atlantic American Communities in Seventeenth-Century Eastern Long Island, and co-authored Tackling College Admissions. A graduate of New York University (Ph.D., American History) and Syracuse University College of Law (J.D.), Faren is a tenured full professor of American History at Nassau Community College. She is currently the Vice-President of the Nassau Community College AAUP Advocacy Chapter.
Praise for The Transformation: GTE 45:
“The author’s writing style is detailed and descriptive … The three main characters are very diverse. The country is seen in a different way from each one’s point of view, based on their classification in the C.S.A. … I rate this book 3 out of 4 stars. Anyone following our country’s presidential primaries would enjoy this novel. You won’t be able to stop thinking about where our country could possibly be headed in the near future.”—OnlineBookClub.org
From the publisher:
The Transformation: GTE 45, is alternately a love triangle, a mystery, and dystopian fantasy of an America that might now be unfolding. The story is set in a fictionalized America forty-five years in the future (GTE 45) after the collapse of the Republican Party and the rise of anew far-right national political party, the Founders Action Party (“FAP”). The FAP ushers in the “Great Transformation” of America. Forty-five years after these events, the U.S.A., now re-branded as the Corporate States of America (“CSA”), has settled into its new reality. The story of this transformed America is told through the eyes of its three main characters: Paul Gaugin, classified as a Wage Earner (“WE”), Layla Saenz, raised in the projects, but now a high-ranking history professor and author, and the powerful head of the Church of the Revealed Saints, Isaac Freeman. Layla becomes entangled in a love triangle with Paul and Isaac. The reader follows Layla as she navigates these relationships while becoming ensnared in the mystery of an illegally uploaded and unofficial history of the events leading up to the Great Transformation.
Now, Faren Siminoff reveals the relevance of her dystopian world …
John Valeri: What first inspired the idea for The Transformation: GTE 45 – and how did you find the process of writing your debut novel to compare to your initial expectations?
Faren Siminoff: As an historian all my writing has been, to date, non-fiction. Around three years ago, as I was watching our history unfold, I began to speculate about where we might be going as a people and as a nation. I think historians often indulge (privately) in using their knowledge of the past to think about the future. This led to my doing just that – I began to imagine what USA might look like in the near future. I’ve been surprised at how closely today’s political landscape is following the book.
Writing a novel was so very different than writing history. When I write a history I use documents to piece together what transpired in the past. When writing this novel I had to mostly rely on my internal imagination. Moreover, I had to create characters to carry the underlying story. This required patience, because I quickly realized that the characters had to evolve slowly over time. Their development could not be forced or rushed. In fact, what truly surprised me was how, after a while, my characters took on a kind of a life of their own and actually “spoke” to me.
JV: While the book is dystopian, it has both relevance and resonance, given today’s political climate. How do you see the story as transcending its time and place – and in what ways using the lens of fiction inform our understanding of reality?
FS: One of the motivations for writing this novel was to demonstrate to the reader how history stays with us and informs today as much as it did yesterday. I always tell my students that understanding history assists in understanding the world they inhabit. The novel demonstrates that if you don’t understand your history politicians, the media, those in power, can tell you anything and you have no idea that you are being misled. In other words, what is it that we, as Americans, value and want to hold onto to maintain a free, equitable and democratic society? The story tells the reader that in a world complicated by technology, huge multinational companies, a message that money equals expertise in everything, a well-educated citizenry is more important than ever. The study of American history should teach us that, but since many people simply find studying or reading history “dry,” I hope that my novel may be a more effective way to impart this message.
JV: In your work, the United States has been rebranded the “Corporate States of America” (CSA). Tell us what the idea of revisionist history reveals about the shaping of public perception. Also, how do you hope that your narrative might influence readers in their interpretation of real-life “fact”?
FS: In the revisionist history as presented in the novel the reader can see that history lends justification and credibility to the new CSA. The reader quickly understands how easy it is to tweak facts to fit the needs or the agenda of those (in this case the CSA) revising history. So, for example, at one point in the novel the children living in the “projects” sing the “hymn” “We Shall Overcome” which, in the 1960s, came to symbolize the Civil Rights movement. In the CSA, however, that song, along with Martin Luther King’s message, has been reinterpreted to mean the students can “overcome” their genetic limitations to become productive members of society. The reader understands how easy it is to manipulate history or information generally, to promote a particular agenda. I hope the reader imbibes the novel’s message that we must all be careful consumers of information.
JV: Tell us about the element of romantic intrigue. What does Layla’s flirtation with Paul and Isaac add to the story – and how does the dynamic between them lend itself to an organic sense of character development?
FS: I liked the idea of the reader entering the world of the CSA and the novel’s underlying message through the lives of its three main characters. As their relationships come together we see how the realities of the CSA impact their personal options. In turn we see how the characters, given their inclinations, needs and desires, react to the options or limitations placed before them.
I wanted the reader to understand the CSA- the world created by America choosing to follow a certain path -through the lives of compelling characters. I always tell my students that people, no matter the era, engage in all the same things we do now. For example, even Abraham Lincoln, a revered historic figure’s actions were played out within the context of his daily life. History is created by real people. As such, I wanted the reader to perceive and become engaged with the world I created through the lives of its main characters, hence the love triangle.
JV: How would you classify your book – and what, in your opinion, are the both the benefits and drawbacks of categorizing by genre?
FS: I would classify my book as a dystopian romance. The book creates a dystopian future but it can also be enjoyed as a romance. Book publishers and sellers for marketing reason find it easier to slot a book into a genre. And I get that. The benefit is that it’s easier to reach readers who tend to gravitate to a certain genres. And that has its advantages. The downside: it can turn off a reader who says, “I don’t want to read that because I don’t like that genre” when that book may contain elements that reader might have found engaging. Like most things, this need to “classify” a book, has its good and not so good points.
JV: Leave us with a teaser: what comes next?
FS: Do you mean for Layla, Paul and Isaac? I have been thinking about a sequel that will focus on the CSA’s themes of Guns, God, and Games which will definitely include Layla, but I’m not sure yet if both Isaac and Paul will be included in that story. We will have to see.
With thanks to Faren Siminoff for her generosity of time and thought and to Skye Wentworth, Book Publicist, for continuing leave literary magic in her midst.