Extreme Vetting by debut author Roxama Arma
Author Interview + Book & Author Info
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An immigration lawyer fights to keep her client from being deported and losing his family. But those who want him gone will stop at nothing—including murder.
Seattle, Washington, 2019. Attorney and single mom Laura Holban is an immigrant herself, guiding clients through a Kafkaesque system of ever-changing rules, where overworked judges make life-shattering decisions in minutes. Laura’s newest client is Emilio Ramirez, who was arrested in front of his sons at their high school and thrown in detention.
When Laura files for Emilio’s asylum, the world turns upside down. False criminal charges prevent his release, someone is following his family, and an ICE prosecutor threatens to revoke Laura’s US citizenship. None of it makes sense—until she uncovers a deadly conspiracy involving ICE, stolen data, and human trafficking.
Now the man at the center of it all is coming after Laura and Emilio, who must find a way to survive—and keep their families safe.
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The Interview — Extreme Vetting
Extreme Vetting focuses on an immigration attorney, who is an immigrant herself. You are from Romania, and now live in Seattle, Washington. How did your own experiences impact your novel?
I moved to Seattle more than twenty years ago with a job in software development. As a young college graduate, I thought living in a different country wouldn’t be so hard. I’d watched lots of American movies, and I’d thought I’d fit right in. What I learned, and my protagonist Laura learned too, is that immigrants are always marked as outsiders by their accent, their looks, and their native culture.
And so I began a yearslong journey of not quite fitting in, no matter how hard I tried. Laura deals with this too in the novel, including her relationship with her American-born daughter Alice. Sometimes they don’t have a common language—literally: Alice gets annoyed with Laura’s accent now and then. As an immigrant, I learned to accept that my otherness will always be the first thing people notice about me.
In my thriller, Laura is always worried about how she sounds in court, because her choice of words affects the fate of her clients.
What would you like readers to know about Laura Holban, protagonist of Extreme Vetting?
She’s an immigration attorney, a single mom, and a Romanian American citizen. She’s hardworking and resilient. When I created her character, I put as much on her plate as possible, while still allowing her to function. She’s a single parent to a teenager. She works in an immigration system where rules sometimes change weekly, and she must stay on top of them. She has many cases in different stages of development.
Her mom in Romania complains of loneliness, even though Laura does everything she can to connect and communicate. When one of her clients is deported and soon ends up dead in his hometown, and then another client who should have won her application is denied asylum, she starts losing her confidence that she’s doing right by her clients. Enter David Ramirez, asking her to take his detained father’s case.
Laura hesitates but decides to help David, and the story begins.
Tell us about your writing process for Extreme Vetting:
Writing the manuscript took fourteen months. As soon as I came up with the idea for a legal thriller about immigrants, I started sketching my protagonist.
I interviewed an immigration lawyer extensively to understand what that career entails. I studied court documents from two criminal cases in Washington State where ICE officials had been sentenced to prison for defrauding undocumented immigrants. I read craft books about thriller writing and read all types of thrillers, from espionage to domestic suspense.
My first outline for Extreme Vetting was 29,000 words, including descriptions and bits of dialogue. Then I started developing each scene to its final version while staying in touch with the immigration lawyer, who answered all my legal questions.
Once I had a first draft, I sent it to my professional editor for a developmental pass, and I worked on their feedback. I then sent the revised manuscript out for multiple rounds of sensitivity reading.
You have a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing. How did that experience change you as a writer?
It’s been a while since I got my degree, fourteen years. My first attempt at a novel for my MFA thesis failed because I didn’t completely grasp the structural requirements of long narrative. I had a great idea for a novel, but I didn’t know how to execute it.
During my MFA studies I understood how much more learning and writing there was ahead of me in order to create something that people might one day want to read.
Tell us about your publishing journey.
It’s been hard, and I couldn’t have stayed the course without the support of my husband, who’s also a software developer and who understands my fundamental obsession with storytelling.
The publishing industry has changed dramatically in the last fifteen years, around the time when I started, so the path I thought I was on morphed into something that kept me and my fellow writers constantly learning and adapting. ‘
More than once I thought I had secured the future of a novel I wrote, only to see it obliterated by forces I had no control over. It’s a strange industry, where luck and support matter as much if not more than talent and hard work. I had a lot of support, but not all talented and hardworking writers are as fortunate.
What are you working on now?
A sci-fi thriller about the advent of artificial general intelligence in an alternate history where the Roman Empire survived for another millennium.
It draws from my studies of artificial intelligence in college and from the renaissance of this field in the last decade. When the androids cannot secure the same basic human rights as their creators, they need to figure out where home is for them. It’s another immigration story, but this time with androids and spaceships.
Words of Wisdom for Aspiring Writers:
Understand the publishing industry of today and don’t play by the old rules. Try to stay on top of a fast-moving landscape, with its perils and opportunities. Find your community of writers, which can help you deal with the worst of this journey and give you long-term perspective.
And if possible, try to follow your heart and write what you want.
Great advice! Congratulations on your debut and thank you for joining us today!
Roxana Arama — Author of Extreme Vetting
Roxana Arama is a Romanian American author with a master of fine arts in creative writing from Goddard College. She studied computer science in Bucharest, Romania, and moved to the United States to work in software development. Her short stories and essays have been published in many literary magazines.
Extreme Vetting: A Thriller is her first novel. She lives in Seattle, Washington, with her family.
To learn more about Roxana, click on her photo, name, or the following link: Twitter
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