Dominika Dery was born in Prague in 1975. As a young girl she danced and performed in the National Ballet and National Theater companies. She is the author of four collections of Czech poetry and a play. The Twelve Little Cakes is her first book in English.
Author biography courtesy of Penguin Group (USA).
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Some outtakes from our interview with Dery:
"My first job was given to me by my father. I was three years old and had to knock dry mortar off old bricks. My father and mother kept me busy throughout my childhood and I was very happy to be a part of their hard-working team. I would mix concrete, carry milk pails from a farm across the hill and help my mother push my father's car whenever it broke down, which is what later inspired me to write a book."
"My favorite way to unwind is to walk in nature. Walk and sing and then sit down and have a glass of fine wine with someone I really like. I like making people happy by cooking extravagant meals for them and baking homeland (Czech) recipes. I dislike snakes, both in nature and in business."
"I am interested in history, art and theatre. My hobby is singing and driving my neighbors nuts with it."
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In the fall of 2004, Dominika Dery took some time out to talk with us about some of her favorite books, authors, and interests.
What was the book that most influenced your life or your career as a writer?
There are a number of books by wise and talented writers that influenced me both as a person and as a writer, but none of them touched me as profoundly as the Czech folk fairy tales my mother used to read to me when I was a child. They had been collected by famous Czech writers during the 19th century and accompanied by beautiful illustrations. These simple tales of love and courage formed my outlook on life and even though I had been sad and defeated many times since growing up, I never stopped looking for happy endings and always continued to believe that love and truth have the power to defeat lies and hatred.
What are your ten favorite books, and what makes them special to you?
This is a very difficult question. There are at least a couple of dozen books that moved me and inspired me in different ways, books that made me laugh and cry, ideas and stories that made me think and even change my mind. They really were like good friends to me, especially in times when I questioned friendship. It's really unjust to pick only ten of them, but the following are the standouts:
Milan Kundera's Joke made me realize that the sweet taste of vengeance can become very bitter with time.
The Last Temptation of Christ by Nikos Kazantzakis enabled me to look at the twelve apostles and the personage of Jesus Christ as human beings.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky convinced me in his Crime and Punishment that fear and bad conscience can be more painful than the most severe punishment handed out.
The Plague by Albert Camus taught me to search for metaphors in stories.
Herman Hesse's Glass Bead Game became a constant source of wisdom and spirituality for me.
William Faulkner and his As I Lay Dying proved to me that prose can be written like poetry.
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand gave me courage to be myself and refuse to compromise my beliefs.
Russell Hoban's Riddley Walker made me discover the way myths and symbols can touch our subconscious.
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell astonished me in every way with its complexity and its unrelenting research.
And finally, Watership Down by Richard Adams definitely changed my perspective on both nature and humans.
What are some of your favorite films, and what makes them unforgettable to you?
These are films I can see more than once and never get bored or sick of them:
My Father's Glory and My Mother's Castle by Yves Robert is a perfect remedy for a broken heart. Whenever I feel sad, I rent these two films on video, crying and watching this beautiful testimony of a child's love for his parents.
Amarcord by Frederico Fellini, Amelie from Monmatre by Jean Pierre Jeunet, The Firemen's Ball by Milos Forman, and The Straight Story by David Lynch are films that I can enjoy at any given time. I love their humanity and their sensitive, bittersweet humor.
The Godfather I and II set standarts in the portrayal of lies, life and their victims.
The Deer Hunter by Michael Cimino and Stalingrad by Joseph Vilsmaier are my favorite war movies, depicting the soldiers as human beings, both with their forthcomings and weeknesses, with their dreams and fears.
Then there are films that had a great impact on me and I really loved them whilst I could probably never watch them again, even though their fragments will remain embedded in my heart and mind forever.
Akira Kurosawa's Dreams and Andrei Zvyagintsev's Return made shivers run up and down my spine as I watched the beautiful and symbolic paintings of their cinematography in awe.
The Pianist by Roman Polanski kept me frozen in my seat long after the credits had rolled up, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Milos Forman is still sometimes haunting me in my sleep, and Breaking the Waves by Lars von Trier hurt me for months. Watching this film, I really felt like I was being hit by waves and about to drown.
What types of music do you like? Is there any particular kind you like to listen to when you're writing?
I like any style of music if it's played and sung from heart, but I particularly love classical music, jazz and French chansons, especially by Jacques Brell. Additionally, I like to listen to Billy Joel, David Bowie, Sting and Coldplay, but only after I've finished writing. I find it really difficult to concentrate unless there's an absolute silence.
If you had a book club, what would it be reading?
If I were in a position to tell people what to read, I would try to recommend quality literature from various times and countries. I would encourage readers to learn more about other cultures and history, looking for the differences as well as for what all people always had, have and will have in common.
What are your favorite kinds of books to give -- and get -- as gifts?
Books about art, history and architecture, as well as interesting memoirs.
Do you have any special writing rituals? For example, what do you have on your desk when you're writing?
I don't think that I have any special rituals whilst writing. Every morning I don't feel like getting up, but in the end I convince myself to. I take a long hot shower, and make myself coffee before retreating into my dark study where I usually spend five to six hours, staring at my computer screen. Sometimes I write a page and keep a paragraph, sometimes more and sometimes less. The number of words doesn't count as long as I can do this every day, patiently laying words upon words like bricks on a wall, until the work is completed.
What are you working on now?
At the moment I am beginning to work on a sequel to The Twelve Little Cakes, which is another dozen chapters, depicting my life and that of my family before, during and after the Velvet Revolution in 1989.
Many writers are hardly "overnight success" stories. How long did it take for you to get where you are today? Any rejection-slip horror stories or inspirational anecdotes?
I've been struggling for many years, living in Paris, New York, Sydney and than back in Prague, working as a cleaner, waitress, translator and English teacher, doing whatever I could to survive whilst dreaming about a better future and writing poetry and a play and then finally my memoir in English. I have so many horror stories to tell, it would probably make another book. It took me two years to complete The Twelve Little Cakes, writing and rewriting it, hoping and despairing until one day, I was about to catch the train from Cernosice to Prague when my ancient cell phone rang and a crisp American voice introduced herself as Theresa Park, the literary agent.
My knees gave up and I almost collapsed under the train as it rattled into the station. There was a terrible screeching of brakes and I started to run away from the noise, jumping over the potholes and stirring the dust. This was one of the happiest moments in my life. I almost got run over by a car and squashed by a bus, but I continued running away from the trains, clinging to Theresa's voice on the phone like a drowning person clings to a rope.
What tips or advice do you have for writers still looking to be discovered?
I would advise them to work hard, be patient and persistent and have good faith.
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