An Interview with Emil Rem On The 5 Things You Need To Be A Successful Author or Writer

I do not like to fail. Whatever goals I’ve set I’ve always achieved. I’ve done so by believing there was always a way. You just have to find the right path.

Some writers and authors have a knack for using language that can really move people. Some writers and authors have been able to influence millions with their words alone. What does it take to become an effective and successful author or writer? In this interview series, called “5 Things You Need To Be A Successful Author or Writer” we are talking to successful authors and writers who can share lessons from their experiences.

As a part of this series, Kristin Marquet—Authority Magazine on Medium—had the pleasure of interviewing Emil Rem.

Emil Rem, an eccentric accountant becomes a writer of eccentric characters, in exotic locales—each story taking us on a trip into his fascinating twisted world. Born to a close knit, middle class Muslim East Indian family in Dar-es-Salam, Africa in the 50’s, he is then moved to Maidenhead England at the age of five. The next twenty years are spent shuttling between England and East Africa. Moving to Canada, marrying a woman from the Philippines, and having two boys only adds further texture to his stories.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

My writing career started at a very young age—60. Until then, my all-too-practical Indian mother banned me from any other vocation than accounting. Year by year, the mentors in my life began to die. My younger son badgered me to write about where my family came from. Born and bred in Canada, my son had been wrapped in a cocoon of love and security all his life, unlike the ordeals I had faced since the age of five. It was time to revisit those days and honour their memories.

Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?

The most ridiculous choice in “creative “editors. I needed someone to report to regularly, to spur me to write. Two answered my call. The first lived in my neighbourhood and could come to my home each week. The second emailed me this lengthy message — ”My rate is $45 dollars an hour.” Nothing at all to show her enthusiasm or experience. She lived way away from me. Wanted me to come to her. And of course, forgot to show up at our first interview. Being crazy, I hired her. At our encounter, she was skeptical and as terse as her first email. She sniffed at my chicken-scrawl in contempt. She then read further and pointed. “Do you know what that is? “I had described a building as “a dowager awaiting an audience”. She continued “It’s an iconic phrase. This is what we’re going to do.,,,” It was as though she had hired me, rather than the reverse. My preferred choice was left in the dust.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming a writer? How did you overcome it? Can you share a story about that that other aspiring writers can learn from?

To keep going. Not knowing how much I could write, my first attempt started as a short story. All my friends panned it. But one story led to another. Little by little, my stories improved, while my detractors began to lessen. After months of hard work, the stories were judged good enough to publish in literary magazines. The moral: choose who to share your work with — don’t be discouraged.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

My biggest mistake was hiring an illustrator. He had created a beautiful business card for me, but never a book cover. My stories were set in exotic locations. I expected a skyline of Dubai or an ancient aqueduct set in Cyprus. What did he draw? A giant bathtub set on a hillside with goats drinking from it. In all my writing, I had devoted two sentences to this scene during a bus ride. A giant capital “A” (for Aphrodite, the title), in ghastly sand-yellow, towered over the tub. This ”work of art” had taken him months to create. It took me seconds to reject. Instead of firing him, I ordered him back to the drawing board. Eventually he emerged with one of the best book covers ever seen. The lesson learned? Trust your instinct, even though it may kill you in the process.

In your opinion, were you a “natural born writer” or did you develop that aptitude later on? Can you explain what you mean?

Yes. Yes. Yes. Since a child, I escaped into a world of books. I devoured four large dictionaries ticking each word, discovering its origin. My eccentric style of writing came naturally. My father, an airline employee, gave me wads of free airline tickets. I had no money. There were no guidebooks at that time. I would sleep on airport floors, walk to town and wander every street, coming across the most spectacular sights out of nowhere. I had no camera. My mind and memory became the video camera of all I saw. My stories are exactly that. Written in third person, they never describe the protagonist (me), nor mention my name. They take in eccentrics met in unconventional circumstances across the world.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

A book called Journey Cake, about a family Christmas vacation in the Bahamas. Each of my books compares and contrasts the current to a past. Journey Cake compares the eccentrics met in The Bahamas to the offbeat characters discovered on my journey to authorship. Why “Journey Cake”? The Bahamian Johnny Cake derives from Journey Cake, a nutrient-filled cake the islanders would take with them to nourish them on their migration from one island to the next.

Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need To Be A Successful Author or Writer”?

1. Believe in yourself — no one will believe in you until you do

From the start, when strangers asked, “What work do you do?” I answered, “I’m a world-famous writer.” At that time, I had not sold one copy of my book. I told myself you are way ahead of the times. Eventually, they’ll catch on.

2. Tenacity, tenacity, toujours tenacity

For years, I submitted my work religiously to literary magazines. A hundred rejections later, three of my chapters (submitted as short stories) were scooped up within weeks of each other. Thereafter, there was no holding me back.

While it feels like you are hitting your head against a brick wall, you never know how thin the barrier has become under your constant pounding (even if occasionally it lands you in an Emergency Room).

3. Listen to everyone — decide for yourself

Sending out each chapter hot off the press to a dozen friends, I was told my writing style was appalling. It was written in third person. It confused the reader with so many ‘hes’ and ‘hims’.

The worse review I got from them was of a chapter called “St. George and the Saracen” from my first book Chasing Aphrodite. That chapter was the first of my writing to be published in a literary magazine. And what a venerable one it was — The Danforth Review, out of Toronto. I had changed not one word. Nor had I trashed it to begin all over again.

4. Express your own voice on your own terms

I’m lazy. I only write 12 chapters a book (except for my latest one). My first book was less than 30,000 words — not even the length of a novella. I decided I would hire an illustrator for each chapter.

At the end of each chapter, I added an “Author’s Note”. It told of what inspired me to write the chapter and any other detail that appealed to me. It was criticized at the beginning. Yet now, those touches are demanded by my readers.

5. Take risks

A child-immigrant from Africa, lonely and fostered to a English family, books were my escape and sanctuary. But the older I got, the more tiresome became the self-praising forewords and quotes of how wonderful a book was.

I decided to spoof both. In my third book, The Vanished Gardens of Cordova, I began “At the tender age of 60, I rebelled. Now I’m miserable and broke. Why? Because I let writing possess me. It’s a woeful addiction. And there’s no Writers Anonymous to turn to”.

My second book, Heart of New York, quoted Zaphod Beeblebrox in praise of my book “Amazingly amazing.” It was followed by “Yup” — Jacques-Henri Mainguy. That self-deprecating humour and honesty won me a legion of fans.

The above are sacred principles of attaining success in your life, no matter the sphere in which you travel.

What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a great writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study). Can you share a story or example?

I do not like to fail. Whatever goals I’ve set I’ve always achieved. I’ve done so by believing there was always a way. You just have to find the right path. My father allowed me to travel. I wished to do the same for by kids. At the age of 41, I lost our brand-new home on a hill, along with half-a dozen businesses. The oil boom in Calgary had bust, taking my fortune with it. I persevered, founded new businesses; financed them without conceding personal guarantees, precluding any further financial risk. My venture into writing mirrored those same newly acquired principles of action. It took less than a year to prove I could write stories that appealed. But it took 7 years to find the team to help me succeed. It would have been so easy to hand my work to a publisher. I wanted to have full control of my writing and marketing of my books.

Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?

My three favourites are John le Carré, Agatha Christie and P. G. Wodehouse.

John le Carré for his great sadness and nostalgia, never mind his language, syntax and occasional wit and humour. As you read through his work, you are constantly facing the morals of right and wrong. Beneath the façade of murder, Ms. Christie was a chronicler of an English way of life, driven to extinction. Her books spanned 50 years, from post- World War I to 1973. She had an uncanny knack of describing human nature with its character and foibles. P. G. Wodehouse always delivered me guffaws each time he was read — an unquenchable oasis of mirth. Any humour you read in this interview all falls back to him.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would like to have small groups of people “adopt” a homeless person. Not just give the occasional $20 to someone, but find them accommodation, a chance to work, help them to gain physical health from body to teeth. One small group of people, one homeless person at a time. Have small band of dedicated members who identify needs within society and fill them.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Please visit my website: Race immediately to the “Analects” section and do NOT pass GO.

More information can be found at: Meet Emil Rem | Author

Thank you for these fantastic insights! We wish you continued success and good health.

My newest book ‘The Vanished Gardens of Cordova’ is available on Amazon and Kindle.
Click here to learn more and purchase.

Written by Emil Rem

An eccentric accountant becomes a writer of eccentric characters, in exotic locales, with each chapter taking us on a trip into the fascinating twisted world of Emil Rem. Born to a close knit middle class Muslim East Indian family in Dar-es-Salam in the 50’s, he is then moved to Maidenhead England at the age of five. The next twenty years are spent shuttling between England and East Africa, wearing a St. Christopher’s cross one minute and attending church, to wearing a green arm band and attending Muslim religious classes in Africa next minute. Moving to Canada, marrying a woman from the Philippines and having two boys only adds further texture to his stories.


An Interview with Emil Rem On The 5 Things You Need To Be A Successful Author or Writer