There is something very intriguing about Valerie Nifora, the debut author of the award-winning poetry collection, I Asked the Wind. Although she currently enjoys a successful career in marketing and communication, she remembers how tough her journey was and what it took for her to succeed.
“You just need that one person to believe in you, and show you that you are capable of great things. Each and every one of us can be that for another human being. There is tremendous power in belief.”
Now, Valerie is truly excited about the experience of publishing her first book of poetry and becoming a speaker and storyteller. Her personal poetry collection about the ups and downs of love in I Asked the Wind, might also reflect her own life’s adventure to become an award-winning author.
I wanted to find out what motivates this admitted “incurable romantic.”
EYE: The first line in your bio says you are a “natural storyteller.” What is it about being a storyteller that intrigues you?
VALERIE: I think every human being is a storyteller. We just naturally gravitate towards storytelling. It’s how our brains processes and retains information. There’s a great book about it, The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human, by Jonathan Gottshall. I think my family just always told stories.
My mom would talk about when she was little, how she grew up. My aunts and uncles would tell stories. We’d sit around the dinner table and talk. I still do that with my children.
We tell each other stories. And if you’ve ever been on a conference call with me, you probably heard me tell a story.
EYE: It’s hard to believe with the great reviews and awards for your work that at one point in your middle school years, that you thought you were “failing.” How did you overcome that?
VALERIE: I was an academic failure throughout elementary school. My Iowa test scores were poor. My grades were poor. There was very little expected of me. In 5th grade, however, I had a teacher who looked at me and saw potential.
She would absolutely flat out refuse to let me fail. She pushed me hard. I cried…a lot. But a magical thing happened.
I got my first A. I still remember the shock, awe, and excitement when I held that piece of paper in my hand. She then petitioned and got me in the honors program in 6th grade, and the rest is history.
I graduated in the top 10 of my high school; went to Emerson College on scholarship; and IBM paid for my MBA at Fordham University.
You just need that one person to believe in you, and show you that you are capable of great things. Each and every one of us can be that for another human being. There is tremendous power in belief.
EYE: What is the meaning of your book’s title, I Asked the Wind?
VALERIE: I love the wind. It just reminds me of the universe breathing. And, it’s also the title of a poem in the book which I really like. It talks about this invisible lover (the wind) that come and frolics with the speaker until she asks him to appear (a commitment essentially), and then there is silence.
But I’ve heard reviewers have other interpretations of the title, which I find fascinating. That’s the wonderful thing about art, it’s subject to interpretation. People bring things to it and make it their own.
EYE: Has your successful career in marketing and communication helped in writing poetry? Why did Valerie Nifora choose poetry and not write fiction?
VALERIE: I think what’s important in marketing, communications and poetry is the power in a single word. In advertising you have to tell a story, or peak interest in a story with very few words, in a headline, for example.
Poetry works the same way. It highlights the importance of word choice. I do have a fiction and a nonfiction book in the works. I just happened to find a publisher who was interested in the poetry first.
EYE: I understand that it took 15 years to pull together and publish this book, which began by keeping a journal. Did you always intend to publish a book of poetry?
VALERIE: Never in my lifetime did I expect my poetry to ever make it into a book. My friends convinced me to pursue it. I think they got tired of me whining about wanting to write a book one day. My one friend in particular told me she thought it was my gift and my talent.
So, it was their faith in me that made me want to move forward and try. But, yes, the book is 15 years of me falling in and out of love. I remember what I was feeling, and who it was about when I read my poetry.
EYE: Love is your theme. Did you specifically structure the book a certain way to reflect the emotions of love?
VALERIE: The book is broken into three parts, and it tells the story of romantic love. The first part is when you fall madly in love, and you can’t believe how lucky you are.
The second part is when you’re not quite sure what is going on, but something is off.
The third part is when you know this isn’t good, and you can’t believe you were ever a couple.
And then, there’s the epilogue, which gives you the choice, to either forgive and cycle back into that journey, or decide to call it quits and move forward.
EYE: Have you gotten any feedback that struck a chord with you?
VALERIE: I’m just amazed at how much the book resonates with people. It’s a bit overwhelming, but in a good way. One Amazon reviewer said, “If you love to read poetry, read I Asked the Wind. If you haven’t been a lover of reading poetry, read her book and you will become a lover of reading poetry.” That made me smile.
EYE: What hurdles did you face as a debut author?
VALERIE: The biggest hurdle was fear of exposing myself to the interpretation of the world. The lesser hurdle was the constant rejections from agents and publishers.
EYE: When you reread your work, do you garner something new for your own reflection? What do you hope readers will get out of I Asked the Wind?
VALERIE: It just triggers my memories, and I am grateful for every single one of them, including the painful ones. I hope that anyone who reads the book can reflect on her or his own loves and find the beauty in them.
I also hope they realize that they are not alone. Their journey is a collective journey. Hopefully the book also inspires others to keep going and not let others define what they are capable of achieving.
EYE: What have you learned as a result of this experience so far?
VALERIE: Fear holds us back too long. And the key here is that once you let it go, amazing things can happen. If I were speaking to my younger self, I would say, “Keep peddling. It will all work out!”
EYE: You speak of your Greek American heritage. Your parents immigrated here from Greece and didn’t speak any English. How has that influenced you?
VALERIE: I actually learned English going to school. In fact, my mother learned English from TV commercials. I love the sound of words and the meaning of each word.
Being bilingual (Greek and English), I learned very early that words carry with them special meaning.
Sometimes in translating something into Greek from English and vice versa, you have to make a choice between the “word” or the “meaning.”
In poetry you pick a specific word for that meaning and for the way it sounds when you read it out loud or in your mind
EYE: Any thoughts on following up on this wonderful collection with another poetry book?
VALERIE: I have so many stories that come to me. I just need to find the time and space to write them. I have a lovely romance story that I’m writing, I’m just calling it, The Fairmounts for now. My friend, Jami, has graciously volunteered to read my chapters.
I send them to her and she gives me inspiration to keep going. The story, in short, is about this man, Harry, that is thrust into a world not of his own making and has to make choices that he didn’t want to ever make, but he does the right thing.
He’s a good man, and he does what he should with a open and willing heart. I love him, dearly. And, I think that’s the key. You have to genuinely love your characters. If you don’t love them, who will?
EYE: Finally, do you have advice for aspiring poets or authors?
VALERIE: Believe in your art and craft. Don’t let anyone talk you out of what you feel in your heart.
EYE: Who wouldn’t want to take time away from all the world’s cares and explore something we all share, the adventures of love and choices. Congratulations, Valerie, and may you have continued success in all you pursue!
Enjoy our chat with Natalie Jenner, another debut author who wrote an award-winning novel influenced by her heroine, Jane Austen:
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