Here’s a list of frequently asked questions about me and my book. If your question isn’t listed here, please contact me.
Since the 2016 presidential campaign, our national discourse has focused a lot on immigration. In 2018, after I heard the president of the United States compare immigrants to snakes that should be crushed underfoot, I had a long conversation with my husband. How could anyone look at me and see a dangerous beast instead of a human being? He suggested I write a story that would give people a better sense of what it feels like to be an immigrant. Instead of just feeling hurt, I had the ability to assert my humanity and the humanity of immigrants. I could write about displacement, resilience, and the struggle to build a home in a new land—and maybe encourage a more constructive dialogue about immigration in our country. So I started working.
Some aspects of this story are based on my immigration experience and on my partial understanding of the legal framework. As a naturalized citizen who stays informed and votes in every election, I’m always aware of current immigration issues. Once I decided to write this novel, I followed the news on US immigration even more. I read immigration thrillers and books about the countries relevant to my characters’ backgrounds. I studied court documents from a couple of criminal cases prosecuted in Washington State that sentenced ICE officials to prison for defrauding undocumented immigrants. And I extensively interviewed an immigration lawyer, who also answered my questions while I wrote and edited this story.
The writing of Extreme Vetting took fourteen months. As much as I wanted to write it faster, especially around the 2020 presidential campaign, I just couldn’t. There was a lot of research I had to do, both about immigration and the thriller genre. But this is still a timely story, and I hope readers will find it compelling and thought-provoking.
My background as an immigrant helped shape the story. It took me many years to create a sense of home here, and I tried to show this evolution in my novel. I’m familiar with the legal process as I went through it twice: once with a work visa that was delayed by the backlogs after 9/11, and once through my marriage to an American citizen. Because I worked in software development, I know many immigrants, and we share stories about the struggle to answer the needs of both our US families and those in our native countries.
The Pacific Northwest is a beautiful region and a hub of diversity. When I arrived here more than twenty years ago, I could smell the pine trees, a new and refreshing scent. At work, my team included other people from around the world, and everyone was so supportive. My apprehension about being alone in a new country soon turned into excitement. That’s why when I wrote my immigration thriller, I wanted to share my appreciation for this region and its people. I also wanted to show a greater Seattle area that most readers don’t envision when they think of this place—which works thematically for a book trying to shed light on issues less understood.
Immigration politics is a main topic in your book, what drove you to write a story centered around it?
It’s frustrating to listen to politicians express strong opinions about immigration without getting their facts right, on purpose or due to their ignorance. Of course, trying to compete with these loud voices seems naive. But instead of venting on social media, I painstakingly put together an entertaining and well-researched story that takes the reader beyond politically expedient slogans.
I mostly wanted to reach US citizens interested in current events, readers who might not have the clearest understanding of how immigration works. Without getting too technical about the legal aspects, I tried to reach people who care about the fabric of our society and want to learn more about the forces at work. While I’d love for immigrants to read my book, many of them already deal with these difficult issues in their everyday lives.
Showing immigration in all its complexity. I wanted to write about US immigrants in general, not just those coming from Romania. I tried to depict immigration from multiple angles: documented and undocumented, first generation and their children, people who had support during the process and people at a disadvantage. Because the Pacific Northwest is a hub of immigration from Mexico and Central America, I wanted that reflected in this thriller. I also hoped to show how hard it is for immigrants to make a home away from their native countries, even after many years of living in the US.
I relate the most to Laura, the immigration lawyer and the protagonist. I admire her resilience, her sense of duty to her clients, and her concern for the children caught between two cultures, unsure where they belong. I appreciate David’s desire to protect his family and take on more responsibility than what’s expected from a teenager. I empathize with Emilio’s struggle to leave the past behind and build a new house and a safe home for his family. And I feel for Mason, the ICE prosecutor, who grew up in an unhealthy family and who tried to do better but lost his way. I didn’t have a hard time writing characters, in fact they’re all interesting to me, the good guys and the villains. I was lucky to work with great editors who let me know when I wasn’t giving my characters the space they deserved on the page.
I’ll start with John Grisham, because I studied many of his legal thrillers, but the book that inspired me the most was The Reckoning. It has depth of character, history, twists—even the title has multiple meanings revealed one after another.
When it comes to stories that have a complex cast of characters and a plot that never lets up, I always think of Ken Follett. The Pillars of the Earth was a book I didn’t just read—I studied, even comparing the TV series with the written text to learn how to better create a story with cinematic appeal.
There’s a Romanian author who might not be translated into English—her name is Ileana Vulpescu. Her novel The Art of Conversation is a great course in writing dialogue. The subtle humor in her stories is still an aspiration for me.
One of my all-time role models is Umberto Eco. His novels are complex tapestries that just fascinate me. They stayed with me long after I finished them, especially The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, the saddest story I’ve ever read about the human condition.
I want them to see for themselves how complicated an immigrant’s life really is, even when it’s so-called easy. Leaving your native country and language behind is a traumatic event, no matter what prompted it. Trying to build a new life away from your family and culture is always hard. Immigration will be part of America for a long time, and ignoring it or accepting a false narrative is not healthy for our society. I’d like to put this book out there and add to the conversation.
I didn’t see it at first, but a trusted editor pointed out that my work in progress—a sci-fi about androids and Mars colonization—is actually an immigration story like Extreme Vetting. Its characters can’t survive where they were born and are forced into exile. I guess I keep writing about outsiders because that’s who I am: a storyteller from a foreign land. For people in the United States, I’m someone who speaks with an accent. For people in Romania, I’m an American who writes in English. After many years of trying to fit in, I’m finally embracing my otherness and using it as a source of inspiration.