For Tad Wojnicki to write well, he needs to know that he’s evoking a feeling, identifying with the reader at a gut level. “What are we talking about here?” Wojnicki asks. “We are talking passion! Without passion, which is the heart of writing, we merely have cold facts.”
He has recently followed his own advice in his first novel, Lie Under the Fig Trees, which he calls a thinly disguised autobiography. He leads us through the romance of Teddy and Rosie, starting with a passionate one night stand in Poland the night before Teddy flees the oppressed country. Arriving in America with plenty of advanced education but no job, Teddy ends up flipping pizzas in Manhattan.
While in America, Teddy corresponds with Rosie. “He remembers her in a haze of glory,” writes Stillson Graham in the Pacific Coast Journal, “an angelic figure as perfect as his mind has let him create her.”
When she decides to come to America, Teddy agrees to travel to Mexico to meet her and to plan her entry into the United States. Reality, however, doesn’t taste or smell as sweet as anticipation. Rosie had pictured Teddy as a more well to do man who could pay their way to a new life together.
Teddy, on the other hand, had hopes for a more idealistic woman than the flesh and blood Rosie. “For years I was happy knowing no Polish woman,” Teddy says. “I may be back to the old stuff.”
Kirkus Reviews has this to say about the book. “An unconventional romance, written in English by its Polish author, which examines the inflamed and inflammatory relationship between a pair of Polish emigres who plan a life together in America. . . . They’re a fine mismatched couple, and the earthy raucous tale of their uncommon combination is a real charmer.”
When Wojnicki landed in the JFK airport in 1977, he understood two words of English: I and you. “By 1982,” Wojnicki said, “when I commenced writing a journal in English, inspired by a scholastic magazine I found in a park, I had already acquired the knowledge of the spoken English. But the ability to speak a language is not enough of a skill to write in it.”
“That’s how I felt,” he added. “I felt unworthy of writing in English until one day I remember distinctively how, for the first time, I was able to express a FEELING in my newly acquired language. From that second on, I felt worthy of it.”
And, while Wojnicki agrees that English can be challenging, he doesn’t call it difficult. “I love the English—always have—and all those innumerable times I burned the midnight oil slaving over a thorny patch have never been a chore. Just the opposite. They’ve been the times of intense pleasure.”
Wojnicki speaks seven languages: Polish, Russian, German, French, Spanish, Yiddish, and English, all with a Polish accent. “Learning another language is learning another way of thinking, a different weltanschauung, so to speak,” he said, “and if you want to be a writer worth her salt, you gotta be a shrink.”
Both his computer and his shoe-boxes are chock-full of “false, clumsy, klutzy beginnings and endings” of Lie Under the Fig Tree. For three years, he couldn’t find an ending to the story. “All in all, I’ve thrown on a heap circa 2,000 pages of chaotic ink-slinging and eventually, gradually, slowly boiled the damn haystack down into a 200-page-long squeaky clean manuscript.”
“Finally, writing one day at the Cherry Bean Cafe,” he added, “I had a stroke of—that’s how powerful it felt! I realized that, by revisiting the tropical paradise of Mexico, Rosie and I, unknowingly, had revisited the oldest story of mankind—the story of Adam and Eve, of innocence and temptation, and of Good and Evil. My story was, I saw it suddenly, a Paradise Lost Redux. I knew the ending! Now, I finally knew the beginning.”
His desk drawers, disks, and shoe boxes still hide six book length manuscripts in varying stages of completion. “They are my life record,” he said. “They consist of events I strongly felt were worth telling. Since I have been blessed with experiencing many countries and peoples, my fiction and nonfiction reflect that fact.”
And, since Wojnicki is agentless, he has become a marketing expert. “I started driving my friends positively crazy by sharing with them all those minute intricacies of marketing techniques as well as the kaizen steps of my self-promo blitz,” he said. “Finally, last September, my life partner Marva Hoffman said, ‘Why don’t you jot it all down as it unfolds?’ So I did.”
Using that material, he started writing the nonfiction book he calls, How I Raised Myself from Slush Pile to Bookshelf. After one year, he now has a 1,000-page stack of longhand writing. “Whole lotsa love round here,” he said.
He is also working on another nonfiction book called Write Like a Lover. He has been teaching a weekly workshop on the topic at Hartnell College, at private homes, and at writer’s conferences. “Most of the workshop participants go on writing with joy, getting published, and winning literary contests,” he said. “Soon I will offer the workshop online.”
Wojnicki defines a successful workshop this way. “Getting people to reach down into the deepest depths of their own souls to produce stunning works. As a writer, I tell them, you most likely have fallen for the place where you live, the weather, the people around you. However, when you try to express it, it all fizzles out.”
His Write Like a Lover course started on the America Online campus on October 3, 1996, a month after he joined AOL. “I’ve already seen great results,” he said. “A tiny notice I left on a bulletin board has generated numerous inquiries, my home page has been visited hundreds of times, and a film producer I got in touch with online wants to find out if my novel could be the basis for a Hollywood flick. Whoopie!”
Note: Here is a mini author interview with Tad from 2020 that I just saw online.